A Year Book note on curtesy, and the requirements which a man must meet in order to claim to hold by the curtesy of England (proof of a live birth to his wife – specifically a baby’s cry being heard) YB Trin. 20 Edw I pl 39; Seipp 1292.88 refers to the case of Richard Danyel v Richard de la Bere (Herefordshire Eyre 1292) JUST 1/303 m. 6. Richard Danyel, claiming the land formerly held by his mother, argued that Richard had not had qualifying issue with Cecily. De la Bere claimed that Cecily had given birth to his (qualifyingly noisy) child at Bishopston. A jury was summoned (the Year Book has some comments on the appropriate place from which to draw a jury when the alleged birth was in one place and the land in another). The jury told a sad tale of a very sick baby and an emergency baptism at home, then a brief visit to the church, after which it died, without having qualified, in auditory terms, as the right kind of offspring to give the father a right to curtesy. The crying test for curtesy is being taken seriously – and, as this case shows, could be used to exclude severely unwell children, even if they appear to have been viewed alive by at least a priest. Richard Danyel did not pursue the case, and should have been amerced for this failure, but was forgiven because he was a minor. Exactly what his role was in this story is unclear, but it does not suggest a happy family.
Reporters in the King’s Bench in 1354 seem to have been interested in defining mayhem and refining the rules relating to proving and pleading in this area. There are three reports in the Seipp database.
Seipp 1354.043 is probably KB 27/376 m. 10 [AALT IMG 3179], Robert de Yakesle v. Thomas de Ribbeford (KB 1354T). In both roll and report, there is a request that the wound in question should be looked at by two London doctors, to see whether or not it amounts to mayhem. The Year Book makes it clear that this is at the defendant’s risk – he is putting himself entirely on this issue. This does seem to put quite a burden on the defence, and is worth thinking about with regard to the balance between accusers and accused. The facts of 1354.099ass also deal with medical evidence in a mayhem case, though with some more details, and suggesting a degree of recognition by the court of its own lack of expertise in terms of assessing the fresh wound. Might this be the same case?
Seipp 1354.044 looks to me like KB 27/376 m.10 (AALT IMG 2925), John, parson of the Church of Stowe v Hugh the Ironmonger of Daventry (KB, 1354T). since both cases involve injury to the finger next to the little finger. The Year Book suggests a querying by D of whether this could amount to mayhem, followed by a clear ruling that it could, and an alternative plea of self-defence. The Plea Roll, as one would expect, only records the self-defence plea actually relied upon. My immediate thoughts on seeing this pleading were that mayhem seems to have been a slightly ill-defined concept at this period, and that this is something of a contrast with all those specific penalties/ sums due in conpensation for different injuries which are listed in the Leges Henrici Primi.
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.
The Easter 1457 record and report of a Hereford appeal make intriguing reading. I will be examining several aspects of this case in my forthcoming book on women in the medieval common law. It is also of great interest for the history of Herefordshire and the Welsh marches in this troubled period, for the history of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ and for the history of subjects’ rights and due process of law. The case is Agnes Glover v Walter Devereux, William Herbert and others, YB Pasch. 35 Hen. VI f. 57b-58b; Seipp 1457.022. I identify this with KB 27/784 m. 85 (AALT image 180).
Agnes brought an appeal against Walter and several others (thirteen others are named in the plea roll) for the felonious homicide of her husband, John Glover, dyer.
The accused defended themselves by saying that the dead man had been convicted. at a session of the peace held at Hereford, of aiding and abetting ‘J.W.’, the murderer of one ‘J Vowant’, (who might, I speculate, be a Vaughan, connected with, or to be identified with Watkin Vaughan, killed in 1456). JW and the deceased husband were, they said, arrested tried, pleaded not guilty but convicted and hanged. The accused said that they were ready to show this and that they were not guilty of felony.
The Year Book dwells on the argument as to whether this was correct pleading, or whether they should just have pleaded ‘not guilty’. Were things different when someone in authority, as opposed to some stranger, had executed a man, and his widow claimed that this was done without proper process or warrant? There are some interesting discussions of the rights of widows and heirs of felons more widely, and of the scope of orders for execution.
The report gives more information about the accused – prominent men many of whom seem connected to the Herbert/Vaughan families. It also sets out Agnes’s case. She or her lawyer made the hanging of John Glover sound as much as possible like a lynching.
Most of the accused did not turn up. Matters dragged on and in the end, Agnes appears to have given up (or settled the case informally) and the accused were acquitted. We cannot know whether John Glover was indeed guilty, but, even if so, Agnes probably had little chance against the combined influence of the men she had tried to take on.
The case took a few more twists and turns as I pursued it backwards in the King’s Bench Plea Rolls. There are relevant entries on KB 27/781 Rex mm. 1d and 26d (AALT images 592 and 650) and KB 27/782 Rex m.22 (AALT image 299). The homicide in question was indeed that of Walter Vaughan. The part of Agnes in proceedings becomes more interesting – she was initially herself on trial as an accessory, but was acquitted because the indictment was insufficiently specific. There may have been some confusion about her husband’s name as well – some records call him John Dyer, others John Glover, Dyer. But he was accused as a principal not an accessory = the year Book report is confused on that point, perhaps because there were other accessory accusations in the case – with regard to Agnes, and with regard to the large group involved in John Glover’s hanging.
The Prior’s Case (1368) YB 42 Edw III f.3 pl. 14; Co. Litt. 385a
Looking for something else entirely, I came across the record of this case, much beloved by all students of land law called upon to tussle with covenants. Check out the Year Book – Plea Roll matching page for the Plea Roll information.