In early 1422, Amice Everard brought a trespass case against John Bennet of London, servant [KB 27/643 m.5 AALT image 10]. Her allegation was that, on Sunday next before the feast of St Bartholomew the apostle, in the ninth year of King Henry V [August 24th, 1422], he had, with force and arms, i.e. swords, clubs, and daggers, broken into her home, in the parish of St Olave, in the ward of Coleman Street, in London, and had assaulted, beaten and mistreated her, and committed other enormities, against the king’s peace, causing her £40 worth of damage. This allegation followed a stereotyped formula which had evolved over the previous couple of centuries, and is not therefore particularly informative. All we really know is that she was saying that he had come into her house and committed some sort of trespass to her person. The defence, however, is more than usually full, and of some interest in relation to medieval gender relations.
John made his defence in person (in contrast to Amice, who spoke through her attorney). He denied most of Amice’s allegation outright. As far as the entry into her home was concerned, he said that he had, at the time concerned, Amice’s permission to enter the house when he wished, so that, on this occasion, he was in the house with her consent. As for the assault on Alice, he said that, at the time of the supposed trespass, he entered the house as stated, and had a romantic tryst (colloquium … causa Amoris) with Amice. With Amice’s agreement, consent and free will, he took her in his arms, put her on her bed and kissed her. He said that this was the assault of which Amice complained in her writ, and asked for judgment whether she should be allowed such an action against him. Amice stuck to her story that there had been a wrongful entry and assault, without such cause as John alleged, and the matter was referred to a jury for trial in a future term – sadly then disappearing from the record.
As usual, there is no way of knowing the truth of allegation and counter-allegation. Was Amice complaining about a kiss, some other intimate assault, or about some other assault entirely? Were the two parties known to each other at all, and, if so, in what capacity? Nevertheless, there is useful material here. From the point of view of social history, it is welcome to find some hints of what was thought of as plausible romantic conduct, and to note that John was a ‘servant’ while Amice appears to have been a householder. From the point of view of legal history, it is interesting to obtain some small insights into views on consent in the sexual context, beyond what can be gleaned from ‘criminal’ cases of rape or cases of ravishment of wives with their husbands’ goods. In particular, it noteworthy that John is so insistent on Amice’s willingness that he uses not one but three terms to signify consent to his presence and actions. There may be some contrast here to the apparently low level required for consent in cases of alleged felonious rape.
Image: public domain.