Tag Archives: nose

More mayhem matching

The attempt to ‘stitch together’ the severed members of Year Book and plea roll mayhem cases goes on … (yes, I am pleased with that stretch of an image …) with a possible identification, from the reign of Richard III. It’s not exactly a body in a Leicester car park, but I think it solves a smaller-scale mystery, as far as we ever will.

The Year Book report, YB Mich. 2 Ric. III pl. 38 f.13b, noted here in Seipp,  has ‘a man of Devon’ bringing an appeal with regard to an alleged mayhem, involving the knocking out three of his teeth,[i] and the breaking of his nose, so that he lost his sense of smell. There was some debate as to whether this (presumably the nasal aspect) amounted to mayhem: the rules did seem to suggest that neither nose injury nor loss of the sense of smell would fit those standard definitions of mayhem which tied the offence to loss of fighting capacity. As is frequently the case, we do not get a final outcome in the YB.

Looking at the relevant King’s Bench plea roll, I found a possible contender for a match, though only if we are prepared to assume that there was some change in pleading (or some alteration in the tale of sensory deprivation, as well as the county, between the court-room and the report …

This is in the KB plea roll for 1484 Michaelmas, KB 27/893 m. 69 and 69d (here and here, courtesy of AALT). It is a case from Middlesex rather than Devon, and is an appeal brought by Thomas Gate against Sir Oliver Mannyngham. The allegation was that, on Tuesday 13th February, 1481, a certain William Palmer had lain in wait for Thomas at Westminster, and had assaulted Thomas with a knife called a ‘hanger’, held in his right hand, hitting him in the head (all of his actions, naturally, being done ‘feloniously’).[ii] It was claimed that this blow had damaged the ‘veins and nerves which illuminated the right eye of Thomas’, so that he lost sight in that eye, and that, as a result of the violent blow, one of Thomas’s upper front teeth had also fallen out. Oliver Mannyngham was, so it was said, an accessory to this felonious conduct by Palmer.

Oliver’s defence was that there had actually been an arbitration and a settlement, at Westminster on 13th February 1483, with both Thomas and Oliver submitting to the judgment of Sir William Hastings and Sir William Huse. The (English language) arbitration award is copied, and involves a payment of 100 marks from Oliver to Thomas, for the ‘trespasses, offences and hurts’, and no further trespass action, the money to be paid in two years. So, was Thomas trying to pull a fast one, and get double recovery, making Oliver pay up for mayhem as well as the trespass settlement, or had Oliver not paid the money? There was disagreement as to whether he had paid in an acceptable way, and the case was kicked on into the next term.

It is not impossible that that case had some influence on the YB report, even if it is not ‘the one’, as it had a sensory deprivation idea, though admittedly not the sense of smell.[iii] Probably the better match, though, is one which can be seen in the next KB plea roll, KB 27/894 m. 36, here.

This one is a Devon case, and we see Edward Rudmore bringing his appeal of mayhem against John Bell, lately of Parkham, Devon, clerk, Baldwin Seller of the same, husbandman, and six others, husbandmen, a yeoman and a ‘gentleman’ (John Colebroke, lately of Chittlehampton, Devon, who might be more likely to be traceable than the ‘lesser’ folk). The allegation was that they had lain in wait for Edward at Parkham on 1st June 1483, at about 10 a.m., and that John Colebroke had hit him across the face with a sword (worth 2s, all, as ever, ‘feloniously’). Six teeth (front ones) were said to have fallen from his mouth from the violence of the blow. The ‘across the face’ stroke in the story, as well as the Devon location, and the teeth (if we skate over the difference in number), would seem to make the identification stronger. And, though there is no mention at all of the nose/smell issue, surely a good whack across the face with a sword would be likely to strike the nose.  The YB report also mentions accessory issues, which are present here – the others, apart from the sword-swinging ‘gentleman’ were present, encouraging and helping etc., in the plea roll account.

The likeliest reconstruction would seem to be that the nose/smell issue was severed (sorry!) from the rest of the appeal at some point during the pleading game. Since six front teeth would certainly work for a mayhem, on the classic definitions, the other part was not really needed. So, reasonably confident of the identification, and things to think about, both with the characters involved, and also with what to make of the attempt to include the olfactory aspect in the appeal. One for the mayhem book.




[i] Despite the translation in Seipp, these are ‘anterior’ teeth.

[ii] The site of the blow brings one of those interesting insights into ‘educated lay’ knowledge of anatomy – with a translation of anticipem as ‘the fore part of the hed’.

[iii] Certainly some of the trespass/mayhem language and the arbitration procedure will be worth some further excavation.