Tag Archives: medieval trespass

Shave a prayer? A chaplain’s excuse

OK, this one is not going to advance the cause of knowledge very much, but I just like it: it’s one of those little passages that somehow seem to bring medieval people off the page for me.

It comes in an entry on the King’s Bench plea roll for Easter term 1476 (KB 27/859 m. 23d).  This notes that a certain John Stokys had brought an action (by bill) against William Yorke, lately of Southwark, chaplain, alleging trespass (to land and goods). Specifically, John said that William had, on 3rd September 1476, broken into John’s home in Southwark, and made off with household goods (including linen, candlesticks, and some fancy rosary beads) worth 20 marks, plus some money – £7 6s 8d.

It’s William’s defence that interested me: rather than just denying it all, as most defendants are reported to have done, he had a more specific story. The place he was alleged to have broken into was, he said a communis shopa barbitonsoris – so he was not burgling, but going to the barber’s (and so one of the allegations in John’s bill was untrue, since anybody was allowed to be there – it was a ‘common’ shop, i.e. one open to all). William claimed that he was there to get his beard shaved. We will note that he did not specifically say that he did not take the loot, though pleading rules meant he did not have to.

Presumably William thought the shaving story was plausible. The jury brought in to try the case, however, disagreed, finding him guilty, and liable to pay John £15 6s 8d, probably leaving him unable to afford professional attention to his facial hair for quite some time, if he complied.

So, a bit of fluff (not to mention stubble) from the famously dodgy area of Southwark, and, of course, questions – as to truth, the character of medieval chaplains, and the security issues involved in running a medieval barbering business.




Image (yes, I know: anachronistic …) photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash