CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Shrewsbury Stafford Newcastle-under-Lyme eyre lawyers professional misconduct fraud lawsuits property disputes education
Subject: Unethical behaviour from lawyers
Original source: Documents in the Public Record Office
Transcription in: William Craddock Bolland, ed. Select Bills in Eyre, A.D. 1292-1333, Selden Society, vol.30, (1914), 3-4, 52-53.
Original language: French
Location: Shrewsbury and Stafford
Date: 1292-93


[Complaint to the Shropshire Eyre of 1292]

Avice Kylot of Shrewsbury complains to the king's justices about Adam de la Roue of Shrewsbury. Adam made a contract with Avice to manage her [legal] business faithfully and purchase writs from the king for her against Robert de Grymmesby, his wife Alice, Thomas the son of Alice, and Alice Hagereng, regarding a half-share in a shop in Shrewsbury, and [against] others regarding a tenement and a one-third share in a tenement and its appurtenances in Shrewsbury, and he has received 5s. of her money for honestly and faithfully pursuing [these legal actions] in the county court in Shrewsbury and also before you. Instead, through a sham prosecution and collusion with her opponents, he has caused her writs to be abated, and he has faithlessly switched from counselling Avice to counselling her opponents, to Avice's damage in the amount of £20; for which she begs redress, in God's name.

[Endorsed:] She failed to prosecute. Adam de la Roue cannot be found and has nothing by which he can be attached.

[Complaint to the Staffordshire Eyre of 1293]

Your Honour, this is a complaint and a grievance brought before you by Lovekin Semon of Stafford against John Organ of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Lovekin covered the costs of John going to London for three and a half years, to the amount of over 100s., on condition that he give assistance to Lovekin if he needed to go to court. It happened that Lovekin sued one Henry Meyler of Shrewsbury regarding a tenement with appurtenances in the town of Shrewsbury. In relation to that tenement, John Organ purchased a writ in Lovekin's name, and brought the writ before the court, and pursued the legal action at Lovekin's cost, and was his attorney for a good three and a half years. When the action was so far advanced that the tenement was on the verge of being lost or won, Lovekin's pleader John Organ went to Henry Meyler, the tenant of the property, and took £6.13s.4d from him to thwart Lovekin's claim. He forged for Henry Meyler 4 pairs of charters under the names of ancestors of Lovekin, which ancestors had been dead for sixty years or more before that time. For the last ten years he [i.e. Lovekin] has been unable to recover that property, but throughout that time has been beggared; nor did he ever receive back a penny, or even a halfpenny, of that 100s., except for his [i.e. John's?] horse in lieu of 20s. although it was not worth more than 6s.8d. Nor did he ever receive anything of the £6.13s.4d. To his damage in the amount of £20 and more. And Lovekin begs Your Honour for redress, in God's name and for the good of the king's soul.

[Endorsed:] He failed to prosecute.


Duplicity on the part of lawyers – taking money from both parties in a case, in order to betray the interests of one to the benefit of the other – was sufficiently common that it was occasionally among the list of articles that justices in eyre were specifically authorized to enquire about. Forgery of property deeds was also a common charge levied at lawyers.

We should not assume, of course, that all or a majority of lawyers were like to behave in this fashion. Avice Kylot and Lovekin Semon made bad choices in who to trust. Avice's lawyer sabotaged his own case in order to have judgement go against his client, and for the writ she had bought to come to initiate the action come to nothing. The fact that Adam de la Roue had no possessions that could be found in Shrewsbury that could be used as a lever to force him to answer to justice itself suggests that he was a shady character, and may be the explanation of why Avice, seemingly a widow of limited resources, was unable to pursue her action against him.

Lovekin had been prepared to loan the money necessary to support John Organ in London while he studied law there; the reference to John as a "pleader" uses a term applied to those permitted to argue cases in the king's courts and Lovekin's purpose behind his subsidization of a legal education was not simply to acquire an attorney, but a barrister with experience in the highest courts in the land. Whether the three and a half years in which John served faithfully as Lovekin's attorney were the same as the period of training in London is difficult to say. But John was evidently no youth when he decided on a legal career, for another bill presented to the justices in eyre was from John himself, complaining that one Master Richard de Thyknes had failed to completely fulfill an assignment given him by John's father Adam fitz Juliana on January 1, 1271 (at Newcastle-under-Lyme), to deliver to John, then in Orleans, some money and a gold ring. Even if we suppose that John had then been an apprentice or factor for his father, pursuing some commercial business abroad, his interest in the law could not have come until he had entered his twenties.

Then, as today, there was wealth to be made from a legal practice. The entrepreneurial outlook of medieval townsmen made the pursuit of law one of many avenues to making money, whether honestly or not. There existed a measure of suspicion of lawyers; that, for example, they were inclined to stir up legal disputes in order to create business for themselves. At the same time there seems a genuine concern, on the part of the monarchy and of the royal judicial system, and presumably the local courts as well, for the ethical behaviour and impartiality of the legal profession. Disgruntled clients had avenues for complaint and lawyers (or judges) who were proven to have transgressed the standards of conduct expected of them would be punished.

It was perhaps unavoidable that lawyers as a group would become scapegoats for popular disaffection with the administration of justice, and indeed government generally, for they played a pivotal role in the fortunes of so many. Those who come out winners in legal contests tend to relish their victories privately and get on with their lives, whilst the losers (and those close to them) resent a ‘failure of justice’ publicly, and nurse grudges. ‘Men of law’ – whether lawyers or judges – were blamed for this failure, as well as for the expanding scope of law and increasing complexity of the legal system in the later Middle Ages. Hence, men of law and legal records were targets in 1381 of the rebellious peasants, who wanted a return to a simpler time – expressed as the age of the “law of Winchester” (perhaps referring to the Anglo-Saxon period), when lawyers did not exist and, the rebels imagined, only fundamental principles of equitable justice were in force.



"caused her writs to be abated"
To abate a writ was to judge it to be ineffective or void.

"perhaps referring"
Alternatively the reference may have been to the Statute of Winchester, representing a time when policing and justice were still administered primarily locally through communal, grass-roots mechanisms.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 4, 2013 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2013