CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval King's Lynn judicial administration gaol delivery indictments felony theft assault
Subject: Indictments for felonies before the justices of gaol delivery
Original source: Norfolk Record Office, King's Lynn archives, KL/C18/1
Transcription in: Dorothy M. Owen, ed. The Making of King's Lynn: A Documentary Survey, British Academy Records of Social and Economic History, new series, vol.9 (1984), 429-30.
Original language: Latin
Location: King's Lynn
Date: 1455


Delivery of the gaol of Bishop's Lynn of prisoners there, before William Yelverton, one of the king's justices for hearing pleas coram rege, Simon Pygot mayor of Bishop's Lynn, John ...atham, Thomas Burgh, on 21 March 1455.

John Hide yeoman of Setchey in the county of Norfolk, Peter Mower labourer of Setchey, William Lekyngfeld weaver of the same town, John Boston of Hardwick next to Bishop's Lynn in the county of Norfolk, John Glover glover of Downham Market in the county of Norfolk, John Ogan sailor of Bishop's Lynn in the county of Norfolk, Thomas Lekinfeld husbandman of South Lynn in the county of Norfolk, [and] ... Blakenham thatcher of Gaywood in the county of Norfolk, are indicted for having, on [date partly obliterated, but see below], broken into and entered the close of Thomas Wodehous at Bishop's Lynn, within the hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, and having feloniously taken and carried off [goods] found there.

John Hide ... Peter Mower ... John Ogan ... and William Lekyngfeld are indicted before the keepers [of the peace] on the grounds that on 6 March 1455 they with force and arms (viz. swords, glaives, and cudgels) feloniously entered the close of John Pygot in the location called Le Balle at Bishop's Lynn and feloniously took, carried away and stole from there a dozen of white, coloured, wide, woollen cloth worth 10s. belonging to John Byrde fuller, as well as 24 yards of white, coloured, narrow, woollen cloth worth 8s. belonging to John Litill fuller ....

John Shomaker cobbler of Downham Market in the county of Norfolk is indicted ... on the grounds that, on 6 March 1455, he and others with force and arms (viz. glaives, bows and arrows) broke into the close and buildings of Thomas Wodehous at Bishop's Lynn, within the hospital of St. Mary Magdalene, and feloniously took and carried off goods and possessions they found there belonging to Thomas Wodehous; viz.: a partly gilded chalice with a silver dish, worth 30s.; a purse; a book of services, worth 26s.8d; eight books called primers, worth 27s.; a gown, hood, and bonnet, worth 16s.; a silk belt woven through with silver, worth 8s.; along with other items to the value of 46s.8d ....

John Kyng formerly of Middleton in the county of Norfolk, alias John Kyng of West Lexham in the county of Norfolk, yeoman, and John Neyburgh innkeeper of Bishop's Lynn are indicted before ... on the grounds that, on 20 January 1454, they and others with force and arms (viz. bows and arrows) committed an assault upon William Gilberd clerk within the inn called the Swan in Gresemarket at Lynn, beating, wounding and mistreating him so that his life was despaired of; besides which, [they took] William's goods and possessions in the form of cash to the value of £2.13s.4d.

Walter Walshe sailor of Lynn was arrested at Bishop's Lynn by the mayor on suspicion of felony.

John Smyth porter of Bishop's Lynn likewise.

William Launde porter was arrested by William Caly for the same.

William Davy of Wormegay, Frenchman, likewise.

John Lomb porter likewise.

Robert Watson tailor of South Lynn [likewise].

Isabella Doraunt of South Lynn was arrested by Ralph Geyton for the same.

John Kyng of West Lexham likewise.


Offenders who were not bailable were kept in gaol until their cases could be tried before a judge. In theory, the king was the ultimate judge of criminals, and in the thirteenth century, the highest courts of the land were those of King's Bench and Common Pleas, the former also referred to as coram rege, since the king nominally presided. In practice of course he delegated judicial authority to others. To ease the difficulty of parties to cases having to travel to wherever the king was, judges journeyed throughout England, sometimes on prescribed circuits through multiple counties. The eyre was the principal form of this itinerant justice. But, as it became weighed down with too much work, a backlog of cases waiting to be heard presented a problem.

One way of relieving the pressure on gaols was to issue commissions to deliver prisoners to trial; these might be general commissions covering all prisoners in an identified locality or region, or special commissions to deal with specific prisoners or with all persons accused of a particular type of offence. The fourteenth century saw increasing reliance on gaol delivery, with each locality in which there was a gaol being visited by the commissioners once or twice a year. Each group of commissioners usually included a professional justice, with the other judges drawn from the local gentry.

The fifteenth century saw an increase in the number of judicial commissions to prominent local men, as well as the extension of justices' powers to borough executives. Commissions of gaol delivery were issued frequently, to ensure crimes subject to the king's jurisdiction could be dealt with periodically, without too many cases having to be remanded until the next visit.



"Bishop's Lynn"
Until the king took over lordship of Lynn, in the 16th century, Lynn's lord was the Bishop of Norwich.

"William Yelverton"
Yelverton had a long and distinguished career in royal judicial administration, based in Norfolk; his early career included the roles of judicial commissioner at and recorder of Norwich, where he was later the architect of political settlements, as well as bishop's steward in Lynn (1441). From at least 1459, and probably from 1443, he was a Justice of the King's Bench until his retirement in 1470.

"Simon Pygot" "John ...atham" "Thomas Burgh"
Symon Pygot was mayor 1454-55. Thomas Burgh was alderman of the Merchant Gild. The middle-named person (whose name is lost due to damage to the document) was probably the bishop's steward – only that official could rank high enough to be named before the alderman. Unfortunately, I do not know who held the steward's office at that time.

The date of 1453 given in Mrs. Owen's heading to the document is a typographical error.

An enclosed piece of land.

A pole, several feet long, topped by a broad, single-edged blade.

A "dozen" was a volume rather than a quantity.

"William Caly" "Ralph Geyton"
Geyton may have been acting in the official capacity of coroner in making the arrest. He was certainly one of the coroners by 1466. Caly was perhaps the other coroner (I have no reference to him in any other official capacity); although he might have been the bishop's steward, since members of that family had served the bishop in the past.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: May 29, 2007 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2007