Category Archives: trespass/tort

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Arrest, authority and a poisoning allegation: excusing trespass in fourteenth-century Leicestershire

Here is what looks like a YB-Plea Roll match. It took some finding, in a long roll with lots of very dull, terse, entries in writing which is on the turn towards (shudder) early modern style (a little enlivened, it is true, by some great footnote doodles). The case is Richard Wynslowe v. John Cleypole (1489),[i] a Common Pleas trespass case which starts off in fairly banal fashion, but gets quite intriguing, quite soon.

We are in Leicestershire, and John Cleypole, of Halloughton, gentleman, is answering a case of trespass. It was alleged that, on 4th March 1488 he had broken into the house of Richard Wynslowe, clerk, of Halloughton, and assaulted and threatened his servants, Robert Tyrlyngton and Isabelle his wife; whose services Richard lost for a month, which, so he claimed, caused him loss of 10 marks). Thus far, this is fairly common-or-garden stuff. The interesting bit comes with the defence argument.

John denied most of the allegations, except for the part about entering Richard’s property. As far as this was concerned, however, he argued that Richard should not succeed in bringing this action, because his entry had been to arrest a felony suspect. He explained that Isabelle was suspected of poisoning one Thomas Shepherd at Houghton. According to John, ‘long before’ the day of the alleged trespass, Thomas had been poisoned (intoxicatus), and Thomas, languishing on his deathbed at Halloughton, had contacted John and had told him, openly, that Isabelle had given him a poisoned draught (potum venenosum), of which he died, before the alleged trespass, at Uppingham in Rutland. John said that, after that, suspecting Isabelle of causing the death, he had gone to Richard’s property, had entered to arrest Isabelle, and had then taken her to the king’s gaol of Leicester. The thrust of his argument was that this was not the trespass alleged by Richard, and Richard should not succeed.

There are small variations in the Year Book. For example, the report simplifies the facts, making the allegation that it was the plaintiff (Richard) who was suspected of the poisoning, rather than a servant of his. Both Robert and Isabelle disappear from view. In addition, there is some difference in the way the two sources deal with the way the poisoning allegation was supposed to have reached John. The YB describes this as coming via ‘common voice and fame’. There seems to have been some dispute as to whether this was sufficient (perhaps leading to the version we see in the plea roll, with the idea of a specific report by Thomas to John).

The YB deals in more detail than does the PR with the question of authority. In the YB there is discussion of the fact that John was acting on the orders of the sheriff, which does not appear in the PR. The YB shows discussion of whether John should be allowed to interpose the sheriff and his command here, and apparently it was resolved that he needed to remove the sheriff from the equation, basing his conduct on his own suspicion of Isabelle’s felony. There is also discussion of the way in which the poisoning allegation itself should be handled: was it acceptable to use it as a basis for John’s conduct, without allowing an opportunity for it to be denied? Here, discussion in the YB suffers from its simplification: having treated the plaintiff and the alleged poisoner as identical, this distorts what appears to have been the true situation – a justification of conduct complained of by X, on the ground of a serious allegation against Y. Basing themselves on their simplified model of the case, so the YB tells us, ‘All the Court’ thought that John ought to have put the poisoning allegation in such a way that Richard could have traversed it: he had to be given the opportunity to say it simply did not happen. It is not clear, though, that they agreed on what this meant: did it need to be amenable to a traverse under normal pleading rules  within this case, or was it enough that there was a theoretical possibility of bringing a separate writ de odio et atia, as one judge was reported to have said?

The PR entry ends with Richard’s final gambit. Careful not to admit that Thomas had been poisoned as John alleged, he made the argument that Thomas did not notify John that Isabelle gave him the potum venenosum, as John had said, and that John had trespassed in the way he, Richard, had stated. This was the issue which went to the jury.


So what?

In terms of Legal History, and the development of law, I think there are a couple of Interesting points. I have noted above some of the differences between YB and PR. Looking at them together gives snapshots of the process of formulating issues, and the way in which medieval lawyers worked by simplifying complex facts – sometimes, we might think, over-simplifying them.

It is worth thinking about what all of this reveals about attitudes to ‘policing’ and (massive anachronism alert …) ‘civil liberties’. In relation to the arrest power which features in John’s defence, the thinking does not seem to be that a person could not arrest another on the (to us, nebulous) ‘fame of the country’, even though, in the end, John conveniently seems to find that there was actually a direct communication to him from the languishing poison victim, but that, for ‘common fame’  to be an acceptable basis for arrest, defeating a claim of trespass, the person doing the arresting had to take responsibility, as an ordinary citizen, rather than shielding behind the authority of the sheriff. We see, I think, co-existing ideas of community and official responsibility, and perhaps some tension between them. Richard certainly decided to proceed with caution, in framing a narrow issue based on John’s claim of actual notification by the deceased.

There are, of course, questions about the real story, and how it ended. It may be possible to find out whether Isabelle was convicted of the poisoning, and it may be possible to find an ending for this trespass case. I will certainly be looking. Other things may well remain murky – in particular, why was Richard so keen to protect an alleged poisoner, what was the role and relevance of Robert, and was there some other ‘beef’ (poisoned or otherwise) between Richard and John lying behind this?






[i] CP 40/910 m. 340 (IMG 665); Seipp 1489.041; BU Law | Our Faculty | Scholarship | Legal History: The Year Books : Report #1489.041

Defamation with a Welsh accent?

‘Oh my country, my country! Her Majesty’s Commissioners say we are a drunken, lying and dishonest race – men without honour, women without chastity …’[i]


One of the projects I want to take off the back-burner in the next year deals with defamation in relation to Welsh, and the Welsh people. My initial interest was in the early period of common law actions on the case for defamation – which come to prominence, and show rapid development, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at a most interesting period for both Welsh governance and the Welsh language, and, as far as I am aware, there has not yet been a full consideration of the way in which actions on the case for defamation dealt with the bilingual reality of Wales. This is something of a stretch for me, in that this is not a period in which I would claim any great expertise, and there may be a need for a bit of hand-holding from those who know it better, but I am not sure that any individual has all of the various skills and knowledge relevant to this, so it does not seem totally out of order for me to have a go at it. At the moment, of course, it is difficult to make any progress, given the inaccessibility of archives. I decided to do a little exploration of such sources as are available to me, and am currently searching through the excellent Welsh Newspapers Online – Home ( This is proving interesting both in terms of what I have thought of as the ‘core’ of the project – the doctrinal development of defamation law in relation to Wales, Welsh and the Welsh – and also in terms of wider ways in which defamation might have had a distinct role, a distinct accent, for the Welsh, over a much longer period.

I had imagined that my main questions for the doctrinal core would be:

  • in what ways might calling somebody Welsh (alone, or in combination with something else) be defamatory?
  • when might an insult in Welsh be actionable?
  • how would such an insult be evaluated?

I have found some good material on some of these points in the archive in the past, and today turned up a nice quote relevant to the last point, from a letter in a newspaper in 1821:

‘ In cases of libel or defamation, which originated in the Welsh, and are now brought into Court to be tried in the English language, the parties are frequently foiled, and the ends of justice defeated. No language will admit of a literal translation, or is always capable of giving every word its full force and meaning in another.  The Judges are totally ignorant of the Welsh, the Barristers equally so, and the Attornies, not uncommonly without any knowledge of it. The issue of the whole matter then rests on the fidelity of the Interpreter, who is not, at all times, the most competent for his office. And how, I would ask, can justice and equity be administered in such a case?’[ii]

After starting to look at the newspaper archive, however, I have an additional question: how would it be ascertained whether a person alleged to have uttered an insult in Welsh could in fact speak Welsh? This came up in a report of 1808 from North Wales.[iii] The case was Williams (an infant) v. Read and his wife. How much of an ‘infant’ Williams was is not clear – and nor, sadly, though unsurprisingly, are the words, the nature of the alleged insult is not set out. We are told that Mrs Read tried to plead justification, and failed, and that then there was the issue of whether she could have said the words in question (those pleas seem rather contradictory to me, but perhaps I am missing something!). The point was made that Mrs Read came from Cheshire, and that, despite living for 30 years in what was a seriously Welsh-speaking part of the country she had not learned any Welsh, or at least not enough to speak the words in question (were they particularly challenging to a non-native speaker? Lots of Ll and Ch? Had she allegedly described young Williams as the worst thief in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch?). The jury didn’t accept this anyway, and Mrs Read was found to have defamed the infant Williams. (I am definitely going to have a poke about to see if there are other, more informative, reports: nothing so far!)

There are a number of leads like this to follow up, but also some wider contexts and trends to consider. I do wonder whether there is a particular vehemence to the condemnation of defamation in a community condemned in the way suggested by the quote at the head of this post, but which emphasises, in one of its central cultural institutions, the Eisteddfod, its own heroically truthful tradition: Y Gwir yn Erbyn y Byd (‘[The duty to uphold] the truth against the world’). It is interesting to note how regularly the Welsh language papers seem to leave ‘defamation of character’ in English – a nasty Saxon practice? Also, my superficial perusing has me musing (going a little bardic there?) about the regular mentioning of slander and defamation in relation to the bitter fighting over the position of the Anglican church, and native dissent, in the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century. From a modern, secular, viewpoint, this sometimes looks like a battle over trivial differences, but the feelings were very deep and real, and accusing the Tory/high church powers of defamation against the Welsh in general, and their dissenting churches and their ministers in particular, was a complaint which seems to have been something of a rallying cry.  One example gives a flavour – ‘The Church Times has out-Heroded HEROD in its superfluity of libellous traducement. We have occasinally noticed the sluice of persistent slander against the Welsh people which this High Church paper keeps continually open’.[iv]

Much to ponder, and to investigate further, when it becomes possible. I am encouraged, though, that there is something here. It just might be less the one painless article I had looked forward to, after more or less escaping the long pressure of the Women and the Medieval Common Law book, and more a set of linked pieces of a rather amorphous blobby nature. Ah well – Wales, Welsh and the Welsh never have been straightforward. Croeso i Gymru.






[i] North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality, 22nd February, 1848, p.2. Letter from ‘A Loyal Welshman’.

[ii] D.W., The Cambrian, 16th June, 1821, Letter, ‘The Welsh Language’, p.3,

[iii] North Wales Gazette, 24th November, 1808, p. 3, dealing with proceedings in ‘Carnarvonshire’ County Court.

[iv] South Wales Daily News, 22nd December, 1896, p. 4.

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The price of contempt? Menacing a King’s Bench jury

It has been a while since I managed to marry up a record and report, but I am sure this is a Yearbook/Plea Roll match, despite some details which differ – and it’s quite a case! The Yearbook, is Seipp 1345.237rs, and the Plea Roll entry is KB 27/341 Rex m. 30 (AALT IMG 334) (roll of Trinity 1345, with later additions).

The case involved the misdeeds of (according to the YB) ‘N. the tailor of Carlisle’, and (according to the Plea Roll), Richard de Karliol of London, tailor, and Alan of Cambridge, tailor, with others unknown. They were in serious trouble for having menaced and hit inquest jurors in front of the royal justices. The Plea Roll has details: there had been a trespass case in the King’s Bench in June 1345, Alice de Legh of Tottenham v. William Brangwayn. [This is on the main roll at m. 48d,  at AALT IMG 99 – a short entry about a break in at Alice’s place, and removal of goods – with William obliged to pay damages and a fine to the king] Richard de Karliol of London, tailor, and Alan of Cambridge, tailor, with others unknown, threatened the jurors when the jurors were at the bar before the king’s justices, in order to give their verdict, and, when the verdict had been given, pursued them to the gates of the king’s palace of Westminster towards the Thames, and beat up and mistreated the jurors (one is named – John de Edelmerton) against the king’s peace and in contempt of his court, to the hurt and nullification of the laws of the land, and the king’s people. The sheriff was ordered to have Richard and Alan before the court. Richard was there in Michaelmas 1345. At first, he pleaded not guilty of all of this, and the matter was set to be put to a jury, but Richard (either because he realised that there were quite a few credible witnesses to what had happened, or else because he JUST REALLY HAD A THING ABOUT JURIES, OK?) then changed his plea and admitted that he had done it after all. He put himself on the king’s mercy. He was imprisoned while it was decided what to do with him, and the sheriff of London was ordered to take his land and chattels into the king’s hand. He was brought back into court a few days afterwards, to hear his doom. The Plea Roll notes that there had been discussions in the Chancery with the justices of Common Pleas and King’s Bench, and other faithful men of the king, while the Year Book says it was ‘the Council’ [quite what the difference was at this point, I leave to those who know their way around these royal institutions rather better than I do]. The court was sure that the trespass had been in great contempt of the king and his crown, to the injury of his peace, in prejudice of and detraction from the laws and statutes of the land, (iuris et legis), and the manifest terror of the population. The Year Book attributes the pronouncement of judgment to Thorp J. There is agreement in both sources that the sentence passed was that Richard would have perpetual imprisonment, and would be committed to the king’s prison in the Tower of London, to remain there as long as he lived. In addition, his right hand would be amputated, and his land and chattels would be seized for the king (‘into the king’s hand’, as this is put – perhaps somewhat tactlessly in the circumstances). He was committed to the constable of the Tower’s deputy/locum. The judges put off execution of the amputation, however, to check with the king what his will was.

But there it ends. Did Richard lose his hand in the end, or had he chosen wisely in recognising his misdeeds and asking for mercy? No news on that one yet! Perhaps he might have had reason for optimism – at least one other roughly contemporary episode of rowdiness in court had ended up in a pardon.[i]

There is a reference to the background of this incident in a roll for 1346 – KB 27/344 m. 2d (AALT IMG 9147). Here, William Brangwayn (who is identified as a vintner) is accused of having been behind the misconduct of Richard and the others. While it was found that Richard was working with or for William, and was in his pay, and it sounds as if there might have been some attempt at influencing the the jury in the earlier case, the later jury acquitted him on the charge actually brought here – which was to do with the assault outside court, saying that this was not on William’s orders, but on Richard’s own initiative. I wonder whether they might, perhaps have been a little scared to do anything else,

So what?

It seems to me that the two big (and intertwined) aspects of medieval law to which this speaks are (i) offences against the crown/justice and (ii) punishment.

This is all going on just before the big restatement/reorganisation of the law of treason which would take place in the Statute of Treasons 1352, and it shows some interesting thought around which offences should be considered so closely associated with the king/crown that they must result in particularly notable and symbolic punishment. This case does not use ‘treason words’, but it does include an unusual sentence of imprisonment for life, and the amputation. Why amputation of the right hand? Well, clearly this was a seriously damaging thing to do to somebody, but presumably there was some symbolism going on there too – he raised his hand against royal justice and the law, so off the hand must come.

We should bear in mind that, in terms of the offences themselves, considered apart from their setting, this does not sound especially serious violence – no ‘maiming’ wounds, no deaths, as far as the details tell us. Context, therefore, is all, and both proximity to royal justices, and to royal justice, are seen as serious aggravating factors, as well, presumably, as proximity to the king as represented by the judges, and the common law. The conversations between judges and other advisers suggests a high degree of concern, and a fair amount of doubt as to what to do with those who would disrupt legal proceedings in the king’s courts. Richard of Carlisle and his case probably deserve some more attention.



[i] CPR 1343-5 p 270.

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



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.