CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Oxford crime detection jury investigations felony housebreaking theft rape harbouring frankpledge assault disturbances peace
Subject: Investigations of various crimes
Original source: Document now known only through Twyne's transcription of 1624 (Bodleian Library)
Transcription in: J.E. Thorold Rogers, ed. Oxford City Documents, Financial and Judicial, 1268-1665, Oxford Historical Society, vol.18 (1891), 176-77, 180-81.
Original language: Latin
Location: Oxford
Date: 1305, 1428


[1. A break-in]

An inquisition taken, according to the requirements of the Statute of Winchester, before John Wyth king's coroner of the town of Oxford, Richard de Waleden bailiff of the same, Andrew de Pirye, Thomas de Henxeye and Ralph de Stoke, constables of that town, on 25 August 1305, by the oath of Geoffrey de Henxeye, Thomas de Morton, Gilbert de Ros, William de Sancta Frideswyda, Rogert le Lacemaker, Geoffrey Langeford, John de Lenne, Henry de Abindon tailor, Thomas de Wesenham, Nicholas Brutes, William Wynderhout, John Fikeys, William le Fletcher, Thomas de Boys, John Scot, Richard le Cha, Thomas de Walton, Adam de Padenhall, William le Barber, Nicholas de Radinge, John le Beste, Walter de Sancto Aldato, and Roger le Sherman, jurors to enquire into which evildoers and disturbers of the peace kicked down the door of Edith de Denyses in St. Aldate parish in the dark of night on 24 August 1305, entered Edith's house that same night, broke open a certain chest that they found there, removed and carried off goods found in that chest (viz. 2 tablecloths, 2 towels, and 9s. in cash), and similarly broke into another strongbox, according to Edith.

All the jurors state under oath that on that date around the hour of vespers Edith told her neighbours that a certain clerk, whose name she did not reveal, had physically threatened her so that she dared not sleep in her own home that night. Consequently she took all her linens, woollens, and all her other possessions and carried them out of there; later she went to the house of Seuy the goldsmith and stayed there overnight. They also state that, after she had left her house, 8 clerks coming from their sport in Cowmede approached her house. One of them went up to her door and beat on it with his hand. When that failed to open it, he drew back a little, took a run at it, and struck the door with his foot, so that it opened. They say however, under oath, that they have no idea of the names of any of that party. Furthermore, they say that if any damage was done, or if any chest or strongbox were broken open, or any goods or possessions were removed from the house, they have no idea who was guilty of it unless it was his [i.e. the door-breaker's] followers. Asked who those followers were, they say under oath that they do not know any of their names, nor do they know of any other guilty party unless she herself.

In testimony of which, the jurors have put their seals to this [record of the] inquisition.

[2. Crimes reported by frankpledge jury]

An inquisition taken at Oxford before Thomas Coventre mayor of the town, Thomas Dagvile and John Michell bailiffs of the town, Thomas Gibbys, William Offord and John Shawe aldermen of the town, for the view of frankpledge held there 27 April 1428 by the oath of John Barton, Robert Walford, Thomas Gare, John Boseworth, Thomas Sprigge, Stephen Gosselin, John Leper, Geoffrey Morice, Henry Sadel, William Person, Roger Olney, and Philip Caspi. They say under oath that on 29 September 1427 William Squyer manciple of Oxford in Oxfordshire feloniously raped Joan the wife of Henry Cappelani at Oxford and feloniously robbed Henry of 3 silver spoons worth 6s. and other goods to the value of £13.6s.8d. They say that on 29 December 1427 student John Crosse of Mollington in Oxfordshire lay in wait at Oxford for the purpose of robbing the public and, in that regard, waylaid Thomas Dagvile, feloniously robbing him of a scarlet hood worth 10s. They say that William Whitechurch, Thomas Spratt, Hugh Thomas and Geoffrey Taylur regularly prowl by night and waylay pedestrians. They say that on 22 March 1428 at Oxford James Jope of Oxford in Oxfordshire, a student, and parson of Mixbury, kitted out as if for war, along with many other clerks, assaulted Richard Barthelot one of the king's officers of Oxford when he was performing his official duties, and feloniously robbed Richard of a black hood worth 6s. They say that John Lodewyth is a common harbourer of thieves. They say that John Hynbert is a common regrator of leather. They say that on 2 August 1426 at Oxford William Collyng clerk of Oxford in Oxfordshire and John Hugat student of Oxford in Oxfordshire broke into the king's prison of the town of Oxford, entered it, and feloniously took out Thomas Thorsby, who was there for various felonies. Also that Hugh Basseling is a common thief. That say that John Olde is a common harbourer of thieves. Also that on 6 October last at Oxford Robert Beverly student of Oxford in Oxfordshire feloniously raped [the remainder is lost].


Felonies and other breaches of the peace were the general responsibility of the town authorities to investigate, although trial and punishment (if culpable parties could be identified and apprehended) was a matter for the king's justices until powers of justices of the peace were granted to urban officials. As with coroners' inquests, the purpose of the jury was to provide any evidence its members might know, or that they might believe from the testimony of other witnesses, if such there were.

In the first case, an ad hoc inquisition was held to investigate a breaking-and-entering and theft while memory of the event was still fresh. We have to allow for legal formulae in the description of the alleged crime; for example, it was requisite that an accusation of larceny include that goods involved were not merely handled, but were carried away (although this did not necessarily mean removal from the house, but could simply entail displacement of items from their proper place). In the second case, one of the periodic "views of frankpledge" put on record a series of crimes that had occurred since the last view.

On an unrelated note, observe the differences in the style of jurors last names between the two periods, reflecting the transition from differentiators to fixed surnames.



"clerks coming from their sport"
The clerks who had been at play in the meadow were doubtless university students.

Much hinges here upon the translation of sectatores suos whom the jury suggests may have been responsible for the theft. Rogers seems to have thought this referred to "companions" of Edith, perhaps meaning her servants or tenants. However, if she had servants or tenants she would surely have felt less nervous about sleeping in her home that night, and their names could surely have been provided by Edith. Therefore I rather think the jury was referring to the group of clerks who accompanied the one who broke down the door; whether he was the same who had earlier threatened Edith, we cannot know.

An officer of a university college whose duties were similar to those of a steward, e.g. ensuring the household was provisioned.

"Richard Barthelot"
Barthelot was probably a town sergeant

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: March 10, 2010 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2010