POLITICS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Northampton politics conspiracy factionalism office-holding pluralism coroner assault intimidation trial eyre fines
Subject: Pluralism as an excuse for political conflict
Original source: Law reports (versions in the British Library, Lincoln's Inn library, various university libraries, and elsewhere)
Transcription in: Donald W. Sutherland, ed. The Eyre of Northamptonshire, 3-4 Edward III, A.D. 1329-1330, vol.1, Selden Society, vol.97 (1981), 194-95.
Original language: French
Location: Northampton
Date: 1329


Three Northampton men were indicted on the grounds that, because of a sworn alliance made among themselves, they had entered the house of a man who was a coroner of the town, had beaten him, trampled on him, and dragged him by the hair out of the house, and made him come the following day to the Gildhall where they removed him from his office of coroner and made him take an oath that he would never again hold office in the town unless it was by the king's command. They were asked how they wanted to clear themselves. They asked permission to take counsel, which was granted to them by grace [of the court]. Having discussed among themselves, they returned and pleaded "not guilty" as to the sworn alliance, and "not guilty" as to the battery. Regarding removal of the man from office, they said that the sheriff received a writ from the king [ordering] a new coroner to be made, and they said that the sheriff delivered the writ to the town bailiff. Pursuant to this writ, because of his malfeasance, since he was suspected of various misdeeds and since he was the incumbent of several offices, so that it would not be possible for him to give proper attention to that office [of coroner], they thus removed him, without committing any other wrong. As for the oath that he took, he did so of his own free will.

It was ordered that an inquest [jury] be assembled on the following day. On that day:
   SCROPE. At the opening of the eyre we promised to be gracious in matters falling within our discretion, saving our duty as justices. We are still willing to be so. Therefore, consider whether you wish to pay a fine – it would be better to pay a fine [voluntarily] than to risk a conviction by the 12 [jurors] or to have the twelve perjure themselves.
   They [i.e. the accused] were nervous, but they persisted in their not guilty plea regarding the alliance and the battery; and, as to the removal from office, they wished to submit themselves to the king's grace and begged the justices to be gracious to them. The justices asked each of them separately what he was prepared to pay [as a fine]. One of them offered 6s.8d.
   SCROPE. For offences such as this, or less bad, Sir Hervey imposed fines of £40, £26.13s.4d, and £66.13s.4d on people who owned lands worth no more than £10 [a year].
   Scrope demanded he pay £40. The accused offered 40s.
   SCROPE. You shall not pay less than £6.13s.4d.
   Another paid a fine of 30s., and the third 13s.4d. because they were poor.


Such was the account of this case made by law reporters, attending the court to record practice and precedents that could be of guidance to law students and practitioners of the law. The official enrolment in the eyre rolls throws some additional light. It identifies as the victim Walter de Pateshull, the mayor of Northampton at the time of the incident, and the conspirators as a larger party than the three men indicated by the reporters: Simon de Laushull, also a former mayor (1326-28), William Elys, John de Staunford junior, Adam de Naylesworth, Richard de Stratford, Robert de Stormesworth, Robert Mangeben, Thomas de Leycestre junior, Walter de Multon cordwainer, William son of Richard de Stratford (who had fled), and John de Naylesworth chaplain.

Despite the accused's defence that Pateshull was unfit to be coroner and a pluralist, what we more likely have here is political opponents, with the party out of power afraid that the party in power was obtaining too much power through pluralism. The lawlessness and national political strife of Edward II's reign encouraged, and even fostered, force and violence as tools of political conflict in towns. It will be noted that the conspirators were not in a position to oust Pateshull from power entirely – despite the charges of official misconduct, which were not pursued here or on other occasion in the eyre – but resorted to obtaining a writ from the king to have someone elected coroner in place of Pateshull. The patent rolls indicate that the king issued such a writ on 26 August 1323, on the grounds that Pateshull could not attend to the duties of coroner because he was clerk to the bailiffs of Northampton. The fact that the conspirators were able to intimidate Pateshull, by death threats, to renounce the coroner's office in an open court session in the town hall, also reflects the political (rather than personal) character of the conflict. Since Pateshull's oath not to exercise office in the town was unless the king commanded or the community agreed to his appointment, there may be some underlying grievance about the manner of Pateshull's appointment to the coroner's office – perhaps even to the mayoralty – for Northampton claimed to elect its coroners.

The negotiations as to fines were preceded by the threat of imprisonment. The ringleader, Simon de Laushull, was the one who paid £6.13s.4d. His accomplices paid smaller fines, ranging from 40s. to 6s.8d, except that Walter de Multon (despite already being in prison on the charge of having broken into a shop and stolen two dozen pairs of shoes – for which he was acquitted), was not fined because he was poor; it was often easier to let the poor off, rather than commit them to prison indefinitely for a fine they could not pay. Richard de Stratford also was not fined, he having shrewdly purchased on 12 March 1327 a royal pardon for all crimes committed before that date; a not uncommon strategy during this period. It had been just a few days before the date of that pardon that the king appointed a commission of oyer and terminer to investigate a complaint by William Trussel that 20 men – including Pateshull and other prominent Northampton men (including other ex-mayors) – had ransacked his property at Flore (a village a few miles west of Northampton). Pateshull himself is found taking out political insurance, in the form of a royal protection for one year, in August 1331.



"perjure themselves"
I.e. if the jury, through favouritism to their fellow townsmen, declared the accused innocent. Scrope may have feared such an acquittal likely, given that Laushull must have been a man of local influence, and so thought it better to persuade the accused to pay fines voluntarily.

"Sir Hervey"
Hervey de Stanton was another of the king's justices.

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Created: May 27, 2003. © Stephen Alsford, 2003