Magna Carta: Essex Connections – Roger de Mescinges

In our final blog post in the run up to Magna Carta: Essex Connections on Saturday 23 May, we look at a document that is something of a post-script to our recent Magna Carta, but it is an interesting medieval document we wanted to share.

The document is a grant made by Roger de Mescinges [Messing] of all his lands, knights and other tenements of his fee to his son-in-law Thomas Bainard (D/DH VB11).

There are two key features which make it particularly interesting: first, it is possible to give this a definite date, which is unusual in medieval deeds, and second, it gives us an insight into the mindset of a landowner during the unrest following the granting of the Magna Carta in 1215.

Its date can be narrowed down very precisely, because of the reference it makes to the Treaty of Lambeth, which was agreed on 11 September 1217 between the rebel barons, the new King Henry III, and Prince Louis of France, who agreed to give up his claim to the English crown.

After listing the witnesses, this deed states that it was made in the time ‘when peace was made between the lord Henry, King of England and Louis son of the King of France and between the barons of the king’.

It’s also interesting to read that Roger de Mescinges was giving his land to his son-in-law because his own body was ‘so debilitated’ that it was not possible for him to defend his land, labourers and possessions. Land and with it wealth and possessions were held by those able to physically defend it.  After nearly three years of civil war, with a great deal of fighting taking place in Essex, Roger de Mescinges had decided that a younger man was needed to defend his land.

D-DH VB11 watermarked

Find out more about Essex connections with the Magna Carta with us on Saturday 23 May.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Magna Carta: Essex Connections – the fighting that followed

In almost our last blog post in the run up to Magna Carta: Essex Connections on Saturday 23 May, we take a look at some of the fighting that occurred in the county as a result of the unrest between King John and the rebel barons in 1215.

Within a few weeks of King John’s meeting with the barons at Runnymede on 19 June 1215 it was evident that Magna Carta had not brought peace. The king started to recruit mercenaries from overseas and the barons in turn refused to surrender London.

The barons went to France and offered the crown to King Philip’s son Louis. At the end of November Prince Louis sent a small army to help the barons; they landed in the Orwell estuary and marched on London

King John divided his force into two, setting off north with part of his force. The chronicler Roger of Wendover described the king’s campaign in the north:

The whole land was covered with these limbs of the devil like locusts, who assembled to blot out every thing from the face of the earth: for, running about with drawn swords and knives, they ransacked towns, houses, cemeteries, and churches, robbing everyone, sparing neither women nor children.

The other part of the forces under Savary de Mauléon (one of the king’s mercenaries) and the Earl of Salisbury (John’s half-brother) headed into Essex.  The chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall described the effect of the royal forces in the county.  By Christmas Eve they were besieging Geoffrey de Mandeville’s castle at Pleshey and from there the royal forces were laying the surrounding countryside to waste, demanding money and men and burning houses, destroying parks and cutting down trees.

On Christmas Day 1215 one of these raiding parties broke into Tilty Abbey during mass, destroying furnishings and breaking open the cellars and carrying away items stored there which had been deposited by merchants.

Tilty Abbey

Watercolour of Tilty Abbey by A.B. Bamford, c.1905 (I/Ba 72/1)

A week later on 1 January Ralph of Coggeshall described how they broke into his own abbey at Coggeshall, and stole 22 horses belonging to the bishop of London, the treasurer, the monks and others.

Savary de Mauléon went on to besiege Colchester Castle in January 1216, retreating to Bury St. Edmunds when he heard that the barons were heading towards Colchester.

Following the conclusion of the king’s campaign in the north, he headed south to Essex. By the end of March both Colchester and Hedingham Castles had surrendered to the king.  In May 1216 Prince Louis landed in England with a larger French force.  In the next few months, three forces ranged through Essex – the army of the king, the barons’ forces led by William de Mandeville, Earl of Essex (brother of the recently dead Geoffrey de Mandeville), Robert FitzWalter and William de Huntingfield (another Magna Carta baron) and a mostly French force, supporting the barons.

Hedingham Castle (I/Mb 176/1/32)

Hedingham Castle (I/Mb 176/1/32)

On 19 October 1216 King John died at Newark. His eldest son Henry III (aged 9) was crowned at Gloucester Cathedral as the barons and Prince Louis still controlled London.  The regent for the king was a much respected baron William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Marshal gradually persuaded many of the barons to support the king.  In May 1217 the remaining barons were defeated at the Battle of Lincoln, with many being captured, including Robert FitzWalter, Richard de Mountfitchet and Gilbert de Clare. On 11 September 1217 the Treaty of Lambeth was agreed, with Prince Louis agreeing to give up his claim to the English crown.  As well as settling with the French, the treaty made peace with the barons; Richard de Mountfitchet, for example, not only regained his lands, but also his custody of the forest of Essex.

Find out more about Essex connections with the Magna Carta with us on Saturday 23 May.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Magna Carta: Essex Connections – the other Essex barons

In our series of posts about the Essex connections with the people involved in the granting of the Magna Carta in 1215, we have previously mentioned that six of the 25 rebel barons named in the document had strong Essex connections.

We have already whisked through the involvement of Geoffrey de Mandeville and Robert FitzWalter, and here we take a quick look at the other four; Robert de Vere, Robert de Mountfitchet, John FitzRobert and William de Lanvallei.

Robert de Vere

Effigy of Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, in Hatfield Broad Oak church

Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford (his effigy in Hatfield Broad Oak church is to the right) and Richard de Mountfitchet could trace their Essex lands back to the Norman Conquest. The de Vere family were based at Castle Hedingham and the Mountfitchets at Stansted. Together with the de Clare and Bigod families they owned extensive lands in the north of the county.

John FitzRobert was lord of the manor of Clavering and related to the Bigod family. He was also lord of Warkworth in Northumberland, and so part of the other significant group of Magna Carta barons described by chroniclers as ‘the Northerners’.

The final Essex baron was William de Lanvallei, constable of Colchester Castle and lord of the manors of Lexden, Stanway, Great Bromley and Great Hallingbury.  He also held lands in Hertfordshire.

Many of the barons benefited directly from their involvement.  Within a few days of Magna Carta, the king granted Hertford Castle to Robert FitzWalter; William de Lanvallei became constable of Colchester Castle again; Richard de Clare gained the town of Buckingham; and Richard de Montfitchet was appointed forester of Essex, a title held by his father and grandfather (more on this here).

Find out more about Essex connections with the Magna Carta with us on Saturday 23 May.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Magna Carta: Essex Connections – Robert FitzWalter

In our series of posts about the Essex connections with the people involved in the granting of the Magna Carta in 1215, we have previously mentioned that six of the 25 rebel barons named in the document had strong Essex connections.

One of these men was Robert FitzWalter, lord of Little Dunmow, who was generally seen as one of the leaders of the barons against the king.

He and another Magna Carta baron, Eustace de Vesci had been implicated in a plot against the king in 1212 and fled to France, before later being reconciled and returning to England. During the rebellion against the king he described himself as ‘Marshal of the Army of God’.

FitzWalter alleged that John had attempted to rape his daughter Matilda and following her resistance had seized Matilda and imprisoned her in the Tower of London. Matilda continued to resist John so he sent her an egg filled with poison which she ate and died.

One chronicler, Matthew Paris, described FitzWalter’s daughter as Matilda or Maud the Fair called Maid Marion. However, it was not until a 17th century play that the character became associated with the legend of Maid Marion and Robin Hood.

Matilda FitzwalterIt has been suggested that the female FitzWalter effigy in Little Dunmow church (right) marks the burial place of Matilda.

Matilda FitzWalter was in fact the first wife of another Magna Carta baron Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex. The de Mandevilles had held extensive lands in Essex since the Norman Conquest of 1066, with castles at Pleshey and Saffron Walden.

Find out more about Robert FitzWalter and other Essex connections with the Magna Carta with us on Saturday 23 May.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Magna Carta: Essex Connections – Hugh de Neville

In the run up to Magna Carta: Essex Connections we take a more detailed look at the Essex connections of Hugh de Neville, a friend of King John who eventually rebelled against him.

Hugh de Neville appears a witness in the royal grant of 2 May 1203 that we hold here at ERO (D/DB T1437/1). He was King John’s Chief Forester, one of the great officers of state, and is named in Magna Carta as one of John’s officials – the men whom the chronicler Roger of Wendover referred to as the king’s ‘evil councillors’. One of the aims of Magna Carta was to curb the powers of royal positions such as Chief Forester.

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Hugh de Neville named in a royal charter of 1203 (D/DB T1437/1)

Before John’s reign, Hugh de Neville had served briefly under Henry II, then throughout the reign of Richard I, fighting with him on the Third Crusade. The Essex historian Revd. Philip Morant records that ‘he performed a valorous exploit, by shooting an arrow into a Lion’s breast, and when he rose against him, catching him by the beard, and running his sword into his heart’. This feat was represented on his seal.

Hugh was given lands by both Richard and John, many of them in Essex. Over time he acquired the manors of Langham, Wethersfield, Little Hallingbury and Abbots in East Horndon and served as sheriff of Essex, 1197-1200 and 1202-1203.

Despite being on friendly terms with King John for most of his reign, de Neville appears to have suffered as a result of John’s philandering. John had a reputation for forcing himself on the wives of his courtiers.  A French chronicler wrote that he was ‘too desirous of fair women … by which he brought great shame upon the highest men of the land, for which he was much hated’. A chronicler in Yorkshire wrote of John that he ‘deflowered the wives and daughters of the nobility, spared the wives of none whom he chose to stain with the ardour of his desires’. The Oblate Roll for Christmas 1204 recorded that Joan ‘the wife of Hugh de Neville gives the lord King 200 chickens that she might lie one night with her lord’ (i.e. paying the King to allow her a night with her own husband).

John moved quickly to rescind the Magna Carta and the rebel barons invited Prince Louis of France to take the English throne. Louis arrived with an army in May 1216, and this is when de Neville finally abandoned John and joined the rebel barons. When John died and his son became Henry III, de Neville pledged his loyalty to him.

De Neville died in 1234, and was buried in Waltham Abbey.

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The interior of Waltham Abbey, 1860 (I/Mb 385/1/86)

There is more to come in our Magna Carta series, but in the meantime get in touch on 033301 32500 to book your ticket for Magna Carta: Essex Connections.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Magna Carta: Essex Connections – the de Mandevilles

In the run up to Magna Carta: Essex Connections we take a more detailed look at the Essex connections of Geoffrey de Mandeville, one of the rebel barons.

One of the most radical things about Magna Carta was that the rebel barons chose 25 representatives to ‘observe, hold and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties which we have granted and confirmed’.  King John was not trusted and the barons were to ensure that the promises made were kept by distraint if necessary.  Distraint is the process by which property can be seized to pay money owed, but can also be used to ensure that an obligation is carried out.  It was a well-established practice in the Middle Ages, but Magna Carta extended its use against the king by his subjects.

Among the 25 Magna Carta barons there were six with strong Essex connections – Robert FitzWalter, Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Robert de Mountfitchet, John FitzRobert and William de Lanvallei.  In addition another four – Richard de Clare, Earl of Clare and his son Gilbert de Clare and Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and his son Hugh Bigod, also held lands in the north of the county, although they were more usually associated with Suffolk and Norfolk.

Here we look at Geoffrey de Mandeville and his father, Geoffrey FitzPeter, who we mentioned in our recent post on our two documents from the reign of King John.

Both of the 1203 documents we have mention Geoffrey FitzPeter, who served as justiciar under both Richard the Lionheart and King John. The justiciar was the chief political and judicial officer of the king, roughly equivalent to today’s prime minister.

The justiciar was accustomed to govern the country in the king’s absence.  The Essex historian Revd. Philip Morant in 1768 described FitzPeter as the ‘firmest Pillar of the realm, generous, skilful in the laws, and in money and everything else and allied to all the great men of England either in blood or friendship’.

D-DT T1437-1 crop

Extract from D/DB T1437/1, where Geoffrey FitzPeter is named (‘Gauf[r]i[d]o filo Pet’[ri] Com[itato] Essex’)

Geoffrey FitzPeter had married Beatrice de Say who was the great-niece of Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex.  When Geoffrey de Mandeville’s youngest son William, 3rd Earl of Essex died without an heir, his extensive lands in Essex and elsewhere were disputed between two branches of the de Say family. Geoffrey FitzPeter, with his royal influence, won out, and King John appointed him Earl of Essex on his coronation day in 1213.

His sons Geoffrey and William both assumed the name de Mandeville and both succeeded him as Earl of Essex. His eldest son Geoffrey de Mandeville was one of the 25 barons appointed to ensure that King John kept to the promises made in Magna Carta.

It is not surprising to find Geoffrey de Mandeville on the rebel side in 1215. His first wife Maud was the daughter of Robert FitzWalter, another important Essex landowner and effectively the rebel leader (more on him and his daughter coming soon).

After Maud’s death, Geoffrey married Isabella, the divorced ex-wife of King John. The marriage was probably forced upon him, and John charged him a ruinous fine for the privilege.

In December 1215 the de Mandeville castle at Pleshey was besieged by the royal forces.  Geoffrey was killed at a tournament in February 1216 and was succeeded by his brother William, another opponent of King John, who fought royal forces in Essex in 1216.

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Aerial photograph of earthworks at Pleshey Castle, 1951 (I/Mb 275/1/11)

There are more posts to come exploring the Essex connections with the Magna Carta, but in the meantime give us a ring on 033301 32500 to book for Magna Carta: Essex Connections on Saturday 23 May.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Magna Carta: Essex Connections – 1203 charter and letters patent of King John

Ahead of Magna Carta: Essex Connections on Saturday 23 May, thought we would take a look at two ERO documents from the reign of the infamous King John (1199-1216).

These two documents are featured on the University of East Anglia’s Magna Carta Project website which brings together all of the charters of King John’s reign.  Professor Nicholas Vincent, an expert on Magna Carta, leads this project and he will be speaking about Magna Carta at the Essex Record Office’s mini conference on 23 May.

King John issued several thousand charters during his reign. The Magna Carta Project site explains that:

‘The word ‘charter’ covers a multitude of possibilities, but in essence defines a single sheet of parchment on which were recorded commands, requests or most often grants by one party to another… [charters] are often our best, and sometimes our only means of access to the realities of power, of landholding and of administration.’

The Magna Carta Project has been tracking down all the surviving charters of King John’s reign, which can be found in archives around the country (including here at ERO) and bringing digital versions of them together online

The two ERO documents which have been included in the project date from 1203. One is a charter, and the other a letters patent.

The oldest Essex royal charter in the Record Office was granted by King John on 2 May 1203 (D/DB T1437/1).  The charter confirmed the judgement made by the king’s justiciar Geoffrey FitzPeter (‘fil Petri’ son of Peter) in the royal court (more on him in another post coming soon).  The judgement was that Constance Furre should inherit the lands in Heydon (‘Heyden’) and London of her father Robert Furre, having been judged to be the rightful heir in the court.

D-DT T1437-1

This charter was granted while the king was at ‘Auriualla’, the modern Roche d’Orival near Rouen in Normandy.  At a time when royal justice was only dispensed by the king or his chief officer, and the ability to defend land through military might was essential, the inheritances of women were particularly vulnerable to counter-claims by others.

This document begins in the conventional way:

‘Joh[anne]s d[e]I gr[ati]a Rex Angl[orum] Dominus Hyb[ern]ie, Dux Norm[annie] et Aquit[annie] Com[es] And[egavie] archiepi[scopi]s epi[scopi]s abb[ati]b[u]s com[itibus] bar[onibus] justice[ariis] vic[ecomitibus] prepo[si]tis minist[ri]s et omnib[u]s ball[ivi]s et fidelib[u]s suis sal[u]t[em]’

(John by the Grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, reeves, officers and all bailiffs and subjects greetings.)

This is almost identical with the opening of Magna Carta, which included foresters between the justices and the sheriffs.  John was the first English monarch to describe himself as Lord of Ireland, a title he held before he became king.

The Great Seal affixed to the charter confirmed the king’s approval of the contents and would have been used to signify his agreement to Magna Carta.  Seals were made of wax and the royal seal was produced using a double-sided metal mould (matrix).  It is conventional for royal seals to show the monarch seated on one side holding the orb and sceptre, ready to dispense justice which comes down from the crown.  On the other side it is customary to show the monarch on a horse ready to defend the country. The seal here has survived remarkable well considering it is over 800 years old, and it is still possible to make out traces of the royal images impressed into it.

D-DB T1437-1-01 D-DB T1437-1-02

The charter was accompanied by a royal grant by letters patent of 2 April 1203 (D/DB T1437/2).  This document confirms that the lands had been delivered to Constance and in turn she declared (quitclaimed) that she had no further claim to the lands, having been paid 15 marks by Thomas de Heydene (the lord of the manor) when she married.  Constance kept 1 virgate (approximately 30 acres) of land for herself.  A mark was valued at 13s. 4d. and it is estimated that today 13 marks would be worth around £5,000.  These letters patent were given at ‘Mullinell’ (Moulineux) in France.  The green wax on this seal was used because it was a grant by letters patent (open letter).

D-DB T1437-2 watermarked

Two of the men named as witnesses in this document – Geoffrey FitzPeter and Hugh de Neville – both have interesting stories and Essex connections which we will explore in forthcoming posts.

In the meantime, get in touch on 033301 32500 to book your ticket for Magna Carta: Essex Connections.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

Document of the Month, May 2015: 50th anniversary of the five Essex London Boroughs

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the 5 London Boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge, Newham and Waltham Forest in the metropolitan area of the ancient county of Essex.

To mark this anniversary, we have cheated slightly with Document of the Month and chosen images of those places when they were still part of Essex.

The old Court House or Market Hall or Old Town Hall at Barking was built and paid for by Elizabeth I.  By 1920 it had fallen into disrepair and was demolished in 1923.

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Dagenham will always be associated with Fords.  This photograph shows Edsel Ford cutting the first sod for the factory c. 1929.

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Havering was named for the ancient Royal Liberty of Havering-atte-Bower.  The Round House, Havering was built in 1792 for William Sheldon, a wealthy tea merchant, and was later home to Rev Joseph Pemberton who developed the hybrid musk rose in the 1900s.

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Newham was formed from the County Boroughs of West Ham and East Ham.  This illustration shows the Old Town Hall at Stratford, built in 1869.

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Redbridge was named for a bridge over the River Roding.  Situated in the Borough was the Fairlop Oak, an ancient place for fairs.  Its name continues in the Fairlop Waters Country Park.

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Vestry House, Walthamstow is where the Waltham Forest archives are held.  This watercolour is by A. B. Bamford and dates from 1926.

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The expanding Essex electorate

As the 2015 General Election approaches, we take a look at some of the records of voting history in the Essex Record Office archives…

The right to vote is something which we are all today well accustomed to, and perhaps even take for granted. In the 2010 General Election 847,090 people voted in Essex. Not all that long ago, many of these people would have been barred from the polling station.

Turn the clock back 100 years and what we today recognise as a fair electorate would be halved straight away by the exclusion of women. Go back a little further and many men were excluded on the grounds of not owning enough property. Return to 1830, and only about 10% of the adult male population qualified to vote. Essex had a population of about 300,000 people at this time, only about 6,000 of whom could vote.

Although not exactly a scientific comparison the pictures below give you some sense of just how much the electorate expanded during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This first, slender volume from 1833-34 is one of the earliest electoral registers held at the ERO. There were so few voters at this time that they are all listed in just two volumes this size, one for the northern part of the county and one for the south.

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By the time the super-sized registers for the Walthamstow Division pictures below were created in 1914 and 1915 most men had the vote, but women were still excluded. The population in metropolitan Essex had increased considerably in this time, but even taking this into account the difference in the size of the books and the changes this represent in voting qualifications are remarkable.

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Today Essex elects 18 MPs but in the 1700s and 1800s there were only four places in Essex where polling could take place for parliamentary elections – the Boroughs of Maldon, Harwich and Colchester, and the county town of Chelmsford – with each sending two MPs to Westminster.

Elections themselves were conducted very differently too. The secret ballot was not introduced until 1872; before then, voting was done openly, by a show of hands or voices, and with lists published of who had voted for whom. Thus a vote was not exactly a free one; at a time when your landlord, boss and local magistrate might all be the same person, who would be brave enough to vote against the candidate he had put up? A further Act in 1883 (the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act) criminalised attempts to bribe voters.

Before the reforms of the 19th and early 20th centuries parliamentary seats in Essex were monopolised by leading county families such as the Bramstons of Skreens, the Luthers of Brizes, the Conyers of Copped Hall, the Maynards of Easton Lodge, the Harveys of Rolls Park, the Houblons of Hallingbury Place and the Bullocks of Faulkbourne Hall. Often there was only one candidate standing; between 1734 and 1832, only 8 elections in Chelmsford were actually contested.

The ERO looks after hundreds of electoral registers dating back to the 1830s. As well as telling us something about the expansion of the electorate, they can also be useful in tracing people and their historic addresses. The registers for 1918 and 1929 have been digitised and can be viewed on Seax as they were the first years in which women could vote (married women over 30 in 1918 and all women over 21 in 1929). We are planning to continue to digitise our historic electoral registers and make them available online.

The UK has only had universal suffrage and equal voting rights for men and women since 1928 – just 87 years ago – something that is worth bearing in mind as we prepare to make our way to the polling stations on 7th May.

Major Essex Ancestors update: remaining wills now all online

Essex Ancestors, our online subscription service which allows users to view digital images of historic parish registers and wills, has undergone its latest major update.

Our collections include about 70,000 original wills which date from the 1400s to 1858 – images of all of which are now available on Essex Ancestors.

Where wills exist, they can be of great help in establishing family connections and for finding out about people’s property and belongings.  As we have indexed the testators’ occupations and their places of residence as well as their names these images are also a goldmine for social and local history.

This is the third and final batch of the original wills that we have uploaded to Essex Ancestors and represents many months of work by our digitisers, conservators and archivists.

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This batch of wills included some extra large documents which had to be flattened in our Conservation Studio before they could be digitised

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The ERO Digitsation Studio has been hard at work preparing the latest upload

With all the parish registers and wills digitised, the total number of images on Essex Ancestors is now over 750,000. We hope that researchers all over the world will enjoy using this resource to find out about the lives of all the thousands of Essex people past who are included within these fascinating records.

A particularly ornate opening to a will belonging to John Gardener of Little Bromley (D/ACW 25/18)

A particularly ornate opening to a will belonging to John Gardener of Little Bromley (D/ACW 25/18)

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the ERO Searchroom in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow. Opening hours vary so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you are interested in exist and have been digitised by searching Seax. You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

We will continue to add to and improve Essex Ancestors, so watch out for more material being added in the future. Happy searching!