Category Archives: trespass/tort

Kissing and trespass in the fifteenth century King’s Bench

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 Colman 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.

Gwen Seabourne

21/2/2014

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Not sparing the rod: a fifteenth century schoolmaster’s defence

The King’s Bench plea roll for Trinity term 1410 has a trespass case which sheds a little light on ideas about discipline in medieval education.

John Bolter v John Fferlogh (1410 KB 27/597 m. 44d; AALT image 0382) is a Devon case. John Bolter alleged that Fferlogh had assaulted and beaten him in Ottery St Mary, on Monday after the feast of All Saints in the first year of Henry IV (Monday 3rd November, 1399). Fferlogh’s attorney denied any wrongdoing, saying that, at the time in question, Bolter had been ‘of tender age’ and had been his pupil, learning grammar, living with him at Ottery St Mary. Bolter, he said, had frequently got himself into the company of bad boys, and company which did not befit his status, was not learning either grammar or good morals nor obeying Fferlogh. Fferlogh had taken action to chastise and inform Bolter, had removed him from the bad company he had been frequenting, told him off and had chastised him with a small rod on a number of occasions, and it was stressed that he (Fferlogh) had not beaten him through malice, but only in this way.   Bolter stuck to his story that this was a trespass and Fferlogh to his excuse, and so the matter was sent out to proof.

As ever, it is impossible to say whether or not Fferlogh was telling the truth that he had acted only in the manner he stated, or whether he might have acted with a different intention, or more violently. It is interesting, however, to see what both sides presumably regarded as appropriate chastisement. Fferlogh’s story would not have been stated in this fashion, had such chastisement, for such causes, at such a level, been regarded as inappropriate. Note in particular the insistence that the rod in question was ‘small’ – suggesting a degree of thought about what was legitimate practice in informal corporal punishment, and the construction of a test in terms of size of weapon as opposed to damage to the person being punished. Such a rule would later be said to have applied in the context of marital chastisement.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the former pupil had waited so long to bring this action – perhaps only doing so once he was of an age to start his own litigation. No limitation principle operated to stop him doing so.

GS 31/1/2014

For an earlier ‘school corporal punishment’ case, see William Cornewalle of London, taverner,  v. Adam Aas, vicar of the church of Oakley (Beds) CP 40/430 m.241d (1368). This is also an allegation from some time before – from 25 Edw III (1351-2). Adam claimed that William was his pupil, and he had his him as was customary, with a rod, (no size specified) for his faults. The jury did not agree with Adam’s defence, and William was awarded damages.  Both cases are quite illuminating on the subject of what was regarded as ‘reasonable chastisement’ in the educational context, and show that grudges could be borne over long periods for perceived brutality. Also, it is interesting to note that the jury here found it perfectly plausible that a cleric might be brutal to his pupil.

Chobham’s Broken Bell

I have matched the plea roll record of John Payn and Richard atte Felde, wardens of fabric of the church of Chobham (Surrey) v. Robert, vicar of that church (1409) KB 27/594 m.20 (AALT image 47) with the Year Book report – Seipp 1409.036, YB Mich. 11 Henry IV pl. 25 f. 12a-12b

This is a King’s Bench trespass case involving, amongst other things, breaking a bell. The legal interest for the Year Book reporter comes in an argument about who should be the plaintiffs. Those who brought the case considered that they were entitled to do so because the bell had been entrusted to them. The defendants argued that the writ ought to have been brought by all of the parishioners because all of the parishioners owned the bell (as it had been bought from parish funds). There was also some interesting discussion which seems to be tending towards a fixtures/chattels point. Once the bell was in the church, was it part of the church so that in fact it would be the parson who should have the action? The court decided that it was still an ‘ornament’, so that avenue of pleading was closed down to Robert.

The Plea Roll adds detail as to parties, and the price of the bell (20 l). It does not explain how Robert was supposed to have broken it. The entry expands the grievance to include other property besides the bell – Robert was alleged to have made off with another 20 l. worth of chattels, including clerical vestments. Robert denied everything. He disputed the value of the objects, and, as to the vestments and equipment, claimed to have been using them in his work. The churchwardens disagreed – he had taken them out of the church, they said. An issue had been reached and a jury was ordered to be summoned.

It seems likely that there was some underlying squabble which the rolls do not disclose. The bells of the Church of St Lawrence, Chobham, are, however, apparently still ringing despite this early difficulty.

GS 29/1/2014.