The trials of service in the fifteenth century

A record which throws an interesting sidelight on the life of servants in late medieval England is to be found in the Michaelmas 1421 plea roll of the King’s Bench (KB 27/642 m. 65d:

The case was from London. Margaret Sysand of London  tapster, was attached to answer the king and Joan Cokerell as to why, against the labour legislation, she had left Joan’s service while under contract. without reasonable cause or licence.  Joan had an attorney, but Margaret made her case in person, pleading that she did have a reasonable cause for leaving – Joan had grabbed her by the throat and would have suffocated her, if Margaret had not at once escaped from her. She had left to save her life. Joan, naturally, denied this, and the relevant authorities were instructed to put this issue to proof.

Whatever was the outcome, the record shows (i) that it did not seem entirely unreasonable to suggest that a mistress would be very violent with her employee and (ii) that if this attack did take place, it would be regarded as ‘reasonable cause’ for leaving employment.

GS 4/1/2014