Tag Archives: Lincolnshire

Lechery, pressure and escape in medieval Lincolnshire?

The entry I am interested in today is from the Michaelmas 1371 King’s Bench plea roll,[i] arising as part of a series of indictments relating to an alleged ne’er-do-well of Lincolnshire, Robert Gascall of Wold Newton. A Lincolnshire jury had accused Robert of a series of offences, some of them dating back several years, to 1364, ranging from homicide, through theft, to general menacing behaviour. The one I am interested in is a little more unusual, however.

Robert was accused of what we might define as sexual harassment or using sexual harassment as pressure for financial gain. The story was that one Joan Fettys of Bondeby had come to Glanford Brigg, apparently having business with an ecclesiastical court, on 3rd October, 1368, and Robert somehow got her into his room (I am assuming bedroom). Joan was said not to have known anything to Robert’s discredit (though by this point, according to the list of allegations, he had committed a number of offences, including homicide). When Robert had her in his room, he said he should have her as his concubine, and she refused. That, though, was not an end to the matter. Robert would not allow her to leave until she paid him off. The deal involved three pounds of silver and a purse with a silver clasp, price 40d.

There was difficulty, or reluctance, about getting him to appear for trial, but eventually Robert did appear to face this and the other charges. He was (surprise!) acquitted. A royal pardon was involved in relation to the homicide,[ii] but for the offence relating to Joan, and the other offences, he was simply found not guilty.

 

So what?

This one is interesting to me, in relation to the general picture of the treatment of women in medieval common law, but also, in particular, in relation to a paper I am preparing on traces of ideas about sexual misconduct/harassment other than rape, in medieval common law records, for the AVISA project. Such traces are rather scarce, and this one has some interesting aspects and hints, which I am currently turning over in my mind.

What can I do with it? Well, obviously there’s no way of getting anywhere with the ‘truth question’.  I think, though, that I can at least say that the entry shows that people (men) thought:

  • that the law might, or should, act here;
  • that this was unacceptable treatment of Joan
  • that it was something which added to their other accusations of Robert, who was clearly seen as a trouble-maker.

(It also strikes me that there might be a worthwhile investigation of the ways in which such multi-part indictments were put together, and their overall narrative. One interesting little touch here is the description of the exchange between Robert and Joan, when he is suggesting that he should have her as his concubine: reference is made to God’s help, as being involved in her resistance to this proposition. This does seem both to raise sympathy for Joan, and also to condemn Robert further).

In terms of the project aim to try and elucidate a historical background to condemnation of sexual misconduct, it is one of the fragments of evidence which show that ‘popular’ understanding of the relationship between law and sexual misconduct was much more complex and interesting than we might imagine, from the grim procession of appeals and indictments of rape. I look forward to discussing this further.

 

GS

21/5/2021[iii]

 

(Featured image – somewhere in the general vicinity. Hard to know what sort of image to use with a story of sexual harassment/pressure, so geography seemed a half-decent option).

 

 

[i] KB 27/443 Rex m. 34 (IMG 0223).

[ii] I have not found this yet. The homicide charge is mentioned in CPR 1367-70 p. 262.

[iii] (You know you are a dyed-in-the-wool legal history obsessive when all that is keeping you going through a hugely tiring and stressful time with ‘it all kicking off’ in the day job is the thought of that interesting little case which is crying out for a quick think and write up … That has very much been me today: good to get to it at last!)

The grim tale of a Lincolnshire tailor: sin and crime in a medieval gaol delivery roll

Well, this one’s very nasty (be warned – violence, and abusive sexual behaviour), but also interesting from a legal history point of view, so worthy of a quick note.

It’s in the gaol delivery roll for a session at Lincoln castle on 1st August, 1392, which contains a series of allegations against Robert de Spalding, tailor, living in Horbling.[i] Sadly, the roll has a big chunk missing from the right hand side, but there is still enough to reconstruct the charges.

In July 1391, Robert had been arrested for homicide, in relation to a newborn (and unbaptised) child, in a house in Horbling. That in itself is pretty horrible, but there was more. The entry notes that Robert had two (apparently living) wives, the first somewhere in Holland (Lincs, not Netherlands) and the second at Folkingham (also Lincs), but even so, on a Sunday in November 1390, he had taken his biological daughter Agnes, shut all of the windows and doors and raped her [the entry on the roll mentions force and the fact that this was conttrary to Agnes’s will]. It goes on to say that he  continued in this sin [it’s definitely singular] with the result that Agnes became pregnant. When the time came for the baby to be born, on Wednesday 28th June, 1391, in a house at Horbling, Robert shut all the windows and doors again, and drew his knife on the prostrate Agnes, swearing by the body of Christ that if she made any noise, he would kill her (so that nobody would learn of his misconduct). In this way, Agnes gave birth to the ‘creature’ which on that day, Robert killed and buried at the same house.

Robert was found ‘guilty of the felonies’ with which he was charged, and was hanged.

Points of interest

It often seems to me that the most surprising and interesting material comes out of situations like this, when we are dealing with a bit of ‘freestyling’ on the part of those who drew up the accusations. There is a fair bit here which goes beyond what was legally necessary – if we strip it all down, all that was needed for a capital trial in this case was the allegation that Robert had killed the baby, or a charge that he had raped Agnes (though, if you’ve spent any time with medieval records, you’ll know that that does not tend to end with a conviction). The rest of it – the two wives, the incest, the swearing and the threats – was not really needed. For some reason, though, those drawing up the indictment, and the clerk recording the session, decided to give us the whole story, granting us unusual access to the thoughts of medieval laymen. We see disapproval of bigamy and incest – and despite the fact that there seems to have been continuing sexual activity, only Robert, and not Agnes, is blamed for it (I don’t think that would have been the case in non-incest situations, and it is rather at odds with other statements in common law sources in which pregnancy was said to be impossible without the woman’s consent/pleasure).

Although the bigamy and incest were not strictly the felonies which ended up ending Robert, it is interesting that they were brought up. Each year, rather glibly perhaps, in the part of the Legal History unit dealing with sexual offences, I tell my students that bigamy and incest weren’t within the scope of the medieval common law: they were left to the church. It looks as if medieval people did not always make that neat jurisdictional distinction. Certainly something to think about.

From a human point of view, I do hope that things improved for Agnes after this – but rather fear that she would have been left in a poor position. She did not even get Robert’s property, for his chattels (1 mark) were forfeit, as was usual after a felony conviction.

GS

11/4/2021

 

Picture: Lincoln Castle, Lincoln © Dave Hitchborne cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Britain and Ireland

[i] JUST 3/177 m. 83 (AALT IMG 179) which you can see at AALT Page (uh.edu)

Stabbing stories: a Lincolnshire brawl

Travelling justices in Lincolnshire in 1287 dealt with a complaint of violent misconduct brought by Robert Salemon or Saleman, against Hugh de Mixerton (Misterton?).[i] This rough translation [Covid, no access to the big Medieval Latin dictionary …] gives an idea of how matters proceeded.

See the source image

Robert’s story was that, on a particular day just before the hearing,  he had been on the royal highway in the parish of St Benedict, Lincoln, when Hugh had got in his way and first abused him,  then he had taken out his knife and given Robert a really large wound in the arm, in contempt of the king and his justices, who were in the town, against the king’s peace and damaging Robert to the tune of £40.

Hugh denied that he had done anything which amounted to force and injury, anything in contempt or against the king’s peace, and any trespass against Robert. He said that it was in fact Robert who blocked his way and abused him, rather than the other way round. Robert, he said, had threatened to kill him and had drawn his knife, knocked him to the ground and attempted to stab him in the neck, but the knife thrust had failed to hit flesh, instead ripping Hugh’s hood. Hugh said that while he was being held down on the ground, he stabbed Robert to avoid being killed, this stab being quick and barely scratching Robert. He insisted that he could not have avoided his own death in any other way.

Both men put themselves on the jury.

The jurors (including, it is noted, some who had seen and heard the brawl) gave, on oath, a third version of the events in question. They said that Robert was on the high road and found Hugh’s wife standing with Hugh, that Robert lifted this woman’s clothes up, part of the way up her lower leg (usque ad dimidiam tibiam). At this, Hugh asked him to stop, and Robert grabbed Hugh by the arms, threw him to the ground, slashed at him with his dagger and ripped his hood, but did not wound him. Hugh, getting up, wounded Robert with his own dagger, but he could have got away without using his dagger on Robert, if he had wanted. The justices examined the wound in court and decided that it did not amount to a mayhem, and could easily be healed.

For this reason and also because the jury found that Robert had started the fight, it was decided that both Robert and Hugh should be custodiatur for a trespass done while the justices were present in town. Afterwards, both Hugh and Robert made fine with a mark (each).

 

And this is interesting because ….?

Well, it is always instructive to see records in which we actually get a flavour of opposing cases being put. Here, the two protagonists presented opposed versions of events (Hugh attacked Robert, Robert attacked Hugh) but neither told a tale much resembling that of the jurors. Both men left out the involvement of Hugh’s wife and Robert’s apparently predatory behaviour towards her. It is easy to see why Robert left it out – he wanted the story to be about a totally unprovoked attack. Perhaps the reason why Hugh left it out is a little less obvious – it would seem that he felt it was a safer bet to construct a story of self defence against Robert’s attack on him, rather than suggesting that he was acting in defence of his wife’s reputation. The law on self-defence pleas in homicide was by no means settled at this point (see, e.g., Green, Verdict According to Conscience), and it seems likely that the contours of self-defence as a saving plea in other areas was at least as unsettled. The simple, two-man, story may have seemed the best tactic. Alternatively, we might speculate as to whether the jury might have considered Hugh’s wife to be ‘no better than she ought to be’ one way or another. In any case, it was a bold strategy to tell a story contrary to events which had taken place in the sight and hearing of jurors.

I also find interesting the way in which the wound is discussed here. One of my projects for next year’s study leave will involve mayhem offences, so I am on the lookout for references to it. Here, we have an inspection in court, in which judges seem perfectly happy that they can determine whether or not a wound will easily be cured (no idea of ‘expert’ assessment) and a sense that the borderline between mayhem and trespass is defined partly in terms of permanence, as well as seriousness, of injury.

Finally, it shows the difference in outcome, depending when an offence occurred: Robert and Hugh were in particular trouble because all of this happened while the royal justices were in town, and was therefore worse than an everyday low-level brawl, since it was taken to be a contempt of the justices, and, through them, the king whose law was being administered.

 

GS

21/12/2020

[i] JUST 1/503 m. 37 (IMG 7961). Mettingham’s Lincolnshire assize roll 1285-9, hearing in 1287.