Here’s one that’s socially unpleasant but interesting in terms of the ideas about law that might be found amongst those preparing indictments.
An entry in the King’s Bench Indictment File for Easter term 1478 (KB 9/346 m. 42) notes that a Middlesex jury presented that Thomas Wyche of London, tailor, with various other, unknown, malefactors, on 2nd August 1475, with force and arms, i.e. bows and arrows etc. attacked a girl called Anna, daughter of Katherine Milner, widow of John Huchyn, Anna being described as ‘of tender age’, i.e. two years old. This took place on the king’s highway at Holloway, Middlesex. Thomas put an arrow to his bow and hit Anna’s neck, beside her throat, and left her for dead, frightening her a great deal and putting her in danger of death, against the peace of the lord king,
This was found to be a ‘true bill’, according to the endorsement.
Well, why is that interesting?
Aside from the horrible thought of a two year old perhaps having been shot, deliberately, and left in a bad state. It seems interesting to me, in relation to early ideas about non-fatal injury. Here we have an assault with a deadly weapon, in a potentially vulnerable area of a small child’s body, but the child recovers. It is not the sort of thing which would count as a mayhem, and there is no mention of compensation for trespass – it is framed as a ‘criminal’ offence. Clearly it was thought to be a serious wrong, which deserved some punishment, but the fact that it was felt necessary to labour the point that the misdeed had occurred on the king’s highway perhaps shows some understanding that this was not something which would necessarily succeed in the normal course of things.
There are also two more interesting little touches relating to the child. First, the description of Anna as being ‘of tender age’ is touching, and cannot have been strictly necessary, given that we are also told that she was two. Secondly, as well as the physical damage, we are told that all of this caused the child to be very frightened. Probably an understatement, but an interesting bit of ‘emotional’ content, and perhaps a distant precursor of tort ideas relating to psychiatric harm?
Anyway, as ever, who knows what actually happened – a deliberate attack? A stupid accident? Nothing at all? But there is always something to learn from the way these unusual indictments were put together.