CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum


Keywords: medieval York sheriff court jury trial lawsuits assault slander theft abduction legal procedure
Subject: Counter-suits for trespass
Original source: York City Archives, Memorandum Book A/Y, ff.186-187
Transcription in: Maud Sellers, ed. York Memorandum Book, part II (1388-1493), Surtees Society, vol.125 (1914), 60-62.
Original language: Latin
Location: York
Date: 1416


TRANSLATION

Session of the king's court of the city of York, held there 4 July 1416 before Thomas Bracebrig and Robert Burton, sheriffs of the city. John Bell of Thirsk brings a complaint against John Cooke, Zealander, in a plea of trespass. Pledge for the prosecution: John Asper spicer; the defendant is attached by pledges Thomas de Aton and John Louth. In which regard the plaintiff, in person, says that on 14 June 1416 in Bootham, in the parish of St. Olave within the liberty of the city of York, the defendant came with armed force – that is, swords and other weapons, etc. – and assaulted the plaintiff there and called him false and treacherous, whereby his good reputation and credibility were greatly diminished and he suffers that loss up to the present; and he took six pounds in coin that he found on the plaintiff, and unjustly carried it off in breach of the king's peace. So that, the plaintiff says, he suffered losses and damages to the value of £20; and for that reason he has brought this action etc. The defendant, by his attorney John Alman, came and denied the force etc., everything which etc., when etc., and the damages of £20 etc., and he says that the defendant is in no way guilty of the charges laid against him by the plaintiff etc., and that this is the case he submits to a jury etc. The plaintiff says that the defendant is guilty exactly as he earlier declared him to be; and that this is the case he likewise submits to a jury etc. Therefore a jury is to be brought into the dispute between them etc. Thereafter the [legal] process continued from day to day, according to the custom of the city, because of default of jurors, until 12 August of that year, when the 12 jurors – selected, inspected and sworn according to custom etc. – state under oath that the defendant is in no way guilty of the charges laid against him by the plaintiff etc. Therefore it is the judgement of the court that the plaintiff take nothing by his plea but is to be amerced for his unfounded accusation. The case against the defendant is dismissed.

Session of the king's court of the city of York, held there 4 July 1416 before Thomas Bracebrig and Robert Burton, sheriffs of the city. John Cooke, Zealander, brings a complaint against John Bell of Thirsk in a plea of trespass. Pledge for the prosecution: Thomas de Aton; the defendant is attached by pledges Andrew Ferur and John Asper spicer. In which regard the plaintiff, by his attorney John Alman, says that here within the liberty of York on 15 June 1416 the defendant unjustly came with armed force – that is, daggers and other weapons – and assaulted the plaintiff and called him false and treacherous, whereby his good reputation and credibility were greatly diminished, and made such serious threats to assault and beat the plaintiff that he was in fear of his life; and that he took, removed and carried off goods and possessions of the plaintiff that he found there: a horse with saddle and bridle, worth 50s.; a sword, a dagger, a wallet, a pair of "lynclathes", and 1 kerchief, together worth 10s.; a leather purse, worth 12d.; together with 12s.6d. in coin. And, unjustly and in breach of the king's peace, he imprisoned the plaintiff and, from the 15th to the 21st, held him imprisoned, so that the plaintiff was in fear of his life and was unable to go about his business or perform his necessaries or go anywhere. So that, the plaintiff says, he suffered losses and damages to the value of £20; and for that reason he has brought this action etc. The defendant, by his attorney Robert Orwell, came and denied the force etc., everything which etc., when etc., and the damages of £20 etc., and he says that the defendant is in no way guilty of what he has been accused etc., and that this is the case he submits to a jury etc. The plaintiff says that the defendant is guilty exactly as he earlier declared him to be; and that this is the case he likewise submits to a jury etc. Therefore a jury is to be brought into the dispute between them etc. Thereafter the [legal] process continued from day to day, according to the custom of the city, because of default of jurors, until 11 July of that year, when the 12 jurors – selected, inspected and sworn according to custom etc. – state under oath that the defendant is guilty of the trespass just as was stated against him previously, except in the manner of the armed assault, and they assess damages for the plaintiff in regard to the trespass at £5. Therefore it is the judgement of the court that the plaintiff recover his damages, assessed by the inquest at £5, and the defendant is to be amerced. At which point the plaintiff requests execution against the defendant's pledges for his damages etc.; and the court grants this.



DISCUSSION

These records of suit and counter-suit brought before the sheriffs' court of York, by two non-residents – one a Yorkshire man, the other from Bruges – found their way into one of the city's books of memoranda because copies of the records were demanded the following year by the Duke of Bedford in relation to a case brought before his court by John Bell. The latter was suing John Lough (probably the John Louth who stood as pledge for John Cooke) and Robert Jarom (a prominent York man whose surname may indicate a possible Flemish background), on some matter related to the failed suit against Cooke; the defendants had made reference to York records of the earlier plea.

From the letters exchanged between the Duke and the city authorities, we learn that on 29 June 1416, several days following the confrontation between Bell and Cooke that resulted in the former holding the latter prisoner, Bell's son William presented to the mayor and aldermen a paper petition (subsequently attached to the sheriffs' court record). This demanded that Cooke be arrested and imprisoned as a felon, pending the next session of justices of gaol delivery, on the charge of having stolen over £6 of the king's tax money from John Bell's house in Thirsk (along with other of John's possessions); Cooke, said the petition, had already been indicted for the crime. Since the crime had not been committed in York, the case could not be heard before the city court.

The city authorities responded to this rather peremptory request with a public proclamation that if Bell or anyone else had any charge to bring against Cooke they should do so the following Saturday in the city court. The sheriffs then arrested Cooke pending that court session, on which day the mayor and sheriffs received information from sources they considered credible that Cooke had not, contrary to the petition, been anywhere indicted on that or any other charge. The petition was not in the name of any authority and it may have been that William Bell, a clerk, had written it himself. The sheriffs therefore set Cooke free. This perhaps explains why Bell felt obliged to concoct the story of Cooke having robbed him at Bootham, a desperate attempt to bring Cooke to justice (assuming that Bell's charge was in fact warranted).

This ploy having failed, it appears that Bell sought revenge, from the court of the Constable of England, against those who had helped Cooke.

Because the York case involved outsiders, the trial proceeded on a daily basis, to ensure expeditious justice. Much of what is presented in the complaint and defence is legal formulae.

flourish

NOTES

"Bootham"
A suburb of York.

"assaulted"
The Latin insultus could refer to either a physical or a verbal assault. In both cases, it appears that the confrontations (if one accepts that there were two separate incidents) were more in the nature of intimidation and coercion than direct physical violence.

"inspected"
The parties had the opportunity to review the jurors list, in case they wished to veto the participation of any juror they felt might be prejudiced against them, or whom the court found otherwise unsuitable.

"lynclathes"
Possibly an article of linen clothing or napkins?




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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 23, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003