Poaching, fraud and trespass: October 1415 in Essex

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here

Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3 

These lines from Shakespeare’s Henry V suggest that every Englishman had wished he could have taken part in the Battle of Agincourt, 600 years ago on 25 October 1415. But just what was on the minds of those ‘gentlemen in England now a-bed’? Documents such as this one can give us some clues.

This court roll from the manor of Earls Colne records the proceedings of the court which met on Friday 4 October 1415 (D/DPr 67). (You can find out more about manorial courts and the records they produced here.)

Earls Colne manorial court record 1415

The manor of Earls Colne (in this document referred to as Colne Comitis – Comitis being Latin for ‘count’, the continental version of the Anglo-Saxon ‘earl’) was part of the lands of the Earl of Oxford.  Richard de Vere, the 11th earl, played a prominent part in the Battle of Agincourt, having supplied 39 men-at-arms and 60 archers to the campaign.  He was rewarded for his part by being made Knight of the Garter in May 1416. He died the following year and was buried at Colne Priory.

Manorial court roll, Earls Colne, 1415

In the top left corner of the document are the words ‘Colne Comts’ – an abbreviation for ‘Colne Comitis’, the Latin version of Earl’s Colne (‘comitis’ being the Latin for ‘count’, the continental equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon title ‘earl’

Effigy of Richard de Vere

The effigy of Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford, at Earls Colne

This court, held only three weeks before the Battle of Agincourt, records the usual business of a manor court.  Entries include Richard Hosyer fined 6d. for being a common poacher [venator] within the lord’s warren and fishgarth.   Nine women were fined a total of 23d. for breaking the assize of ale and Christina and Rose Mason were fined 3d. each for breaking the assize of white bread.  The assize regulated the price, weight and quality what was produced.  Ralph Preston was fined 2s. 4d. for trespass and cutting down two oaks and an ash tree on Heyhous, the lord’s land.

Land transactions were an important part of manorial business and those recorded include the surrender by John Turner of land called Berecroft (later Windmill Field) and the admission of Thomas Kelet, Robert Sebryght, John Bonjoon and Alice his wife on payment of a fine of 12d.  John Dunstale was granted (for a fine of 6d.) the rent of a croft called Litelreycroft (later Rycroft) opposite the Hallegardyn for ten years at an annual rent of 7s.  Robert Mathew was fined 68s. 6d. and lost his cattle for having claimed lands that did not belong to him by right of a false charter or deed of the Earl of Oxford.  This was continued from the previous court held on 4 June where it was found that the deed dated from the reign of Edward III but the red wax seal was less than one year old (we feel this one needs some further investigation…).

The roll will be on display in the Searchroom alongside two other Essex documents dating from 1415 as we prepare for Essex at Agincourt on Saturday 31 October 2015. Join us for talks from experts on one of the most famous battles in British history – all the details of the day are here.

Saffron Walden: 1758

This coming Saturday, 8 November 2014, come and join us at Saffron Walden Town Hall for a look at one of the most spectacular maps in our collection.

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The map shows the town of Saffron Walden and the surrounding area, and is so large we’ve had to give serious thought to how we will transport it!

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The map was made in 1758 by Edward John Eyre, along with a survey book, recording all the individual pieces of land, and how they were being used. The day will include a talk from an ERO Archivist about how the map and survey book work together.

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The map shows the town of Saffron Walden, and lots of other local details.

IMG_4489-1 IMG_4487 IMG_4485 IMG_4465 editIf you would like to join us on Saturday to see the map, here are all the details:

Saffron Walden 1758 At Saffron Walden Town Hall

In 1758 an extensive survey was carried out covering lands surrounding Saffron Walden, and several maps were made to accompany the survey books. This is a unique opportunity to see these maps and the survey books displayed together, to explore what the town and surrounding countryside looked like in the mid-eighteenth century.

The day will include a talk by Paul Marden of the Essex Place Names Project at 11.30am explaining the origins of some of the field names on the map. Allyson Lewis, archivist at the ERO will then give a talk at 12.00noon about the survey which accompanies the map.

Saturday 8 November, 10.30am-3.00pm

Free entry, suggested £2.00 donation

Saffron Walden Town Hall, Market Square, Saffron Walden, CB10 1HR

In association with the Saffron Walden Archive Access Point

Supported by Saffron Walden Town Council

Wading into a Polystyrene Sea

After our recent posts on how to run a manorwhat a manor was, and the records produced by manorial courts today we had an exciting package which arrived from Professor Lawrence Poos all the way from America. It’s another manorial document for our collection! You can find out more about manorial records and how you can use them in your own research from Professor Poos and others at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014.

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ERO Archivist Katharine Schofield and Public Service Team Manager Neil Wiffen eagerly anticipating opening the package!

We thought we’d provide a little photo story of the unboxing. I think the pictures below will give you some idea of the lengths people go to to transport the documents they want to deposit with us. Documents arrive with us in all sorts of forms and conditions and it is always exciting to unwrap them for the first time.  As always, stay tuned for more details about this new document! 

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Don’t worry, Neil is a fully trained knife wielder.

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Nearly there!

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Hey Presto! One new Copyhold Deed for the Essex Record Office Collection.

Hey Presto! One new Copyhold Deed for the Essex Record Office Collection.

 Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

How to run your manor

Following our recent posts on what a manor was, and the records produced by manorial courts, today we have the final instalment in our manorial mini-series from Archivist Katharine Schofield. Running a manor produced all sorts documents, which record boundaries, customs and obligations owed between tenants and lords – read on for just a few examples. You can find out more about manorial records and how you can use them in your own research at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014.

Imagine you are lord of a medieval manor. You might even own several manors, and they might be scattered around a county, or indeed the country.

To make sure you are making the most of your manors (and getting the most from your tenants), you are going to need to establish how much and what type of land your manors include, how much your manors cost to run, and how much income you can expect to get from them.

All of this took a great deal of estate management, and has left us with a rich archive of administrative records. This includes extents, surveys and custumals, accounts or compoti, and later maps, rentals, perambulations and terriers. Handily for the modern researcher, they were often produced in English from as early as the 15th century.

Custumals

Custumals record the customs of a manor; that is, the labour services and rents owed by tenants in return for their lands, and any obligations owed to or by the lord. The famous Dunmow Flitch ceremony, for example, has its origins in a custom of the manor of Little Dunmow.

The extent and custumal of 1329-1330 from the manor of Stansgate in Steeple (which survives as a copy of c.1450 (D/DCf M34)), records a number of customs, including the obligation of all tenants resident in Ramsey Island, Steeple and Stansgate with their own boats or barges to take the Prior of Stansgate (the priory owned the manor), monks and servants by water to and from Maldon market every Saturday with their food. In return the Priory would give them dinner on the following Sunday.

Surveys, maps, terriers and perambulations

These are all different types of document that establish the boundaries of a manor, and which bits of the manor were held by which tenants.

The survey of the manor of Ingatestone of c.1275 (D/DP M150) is stitched into a rental and names the tenants, with a brief description of their holdings and a more detailed list of the service they owed the lord. For the tenants the survey recorded the extent of their liabilities and offered the assurance that the lord could not demand more work from them. This document was known as the ‘Domesday of Barking’ (Barking Abbey owned the manor) and appears as such in a court roll of 1322-1323 where it was produced as evidence in a dispute about a customary fine.

Title page of the ‘Domesday of Barking’, for the manor of Ingatestone, here called ‘Gynges’

Title page of the ‘Domesday of Barking’, for the manor of Ingatestone, here called ‘Gynges’

The ‘Domesday of Barking’ records that Juliana Strapel (you can make out her name at the beginning of the first full line shown here) held one messuage and 10 acres. Her obligations from this landholding included the payment of 5s 3d. annually, 9d. ‘lardsilver’ (a payment to the larder of Barking Abbey), and payment of one ploughshare at Michaelmas. She was also obliged to plough twice a year, hoe and harrow each for one and a half days, make hay, reap one acre in the autumn, and provide a man to work for three days. She also owed pannage, where pigs were allowed to roam in the wood to feed off acorns, and was obliged to collect nuts

The ‘Domesday of Barking’ records that Juliana Strapel (you can make out her name at the beginning of the first full line shown here) held one messuage and 10 acres. Her obligations from this landholding included the payment of 5s 3d. annually, 9d. ‘lardsilver’ (a payment to the larder of Barking Abbey), and payment of one ploughshare at Michaelmas. She was also obliged to plough twice a year, hoe and harrow each for one and a half days, make hay, reap one acre in the autumn, and provide a man to work for three days. She also owed pannage, where pigs were allowed to roam in the wood to feed off acorns, and was obliged to collect nuts

Originally, records dealing with boundaries used written descriptions of the land in question.  During the 16th century these written descriptions developed into maps and some of the earliest local maps in the Essex Record Office were produced by manors. In 1592 Israel Amyce produced a written survey of the manor and lordship of Castle Hedingham (D/DMh M1). In order to make the written descriptions clearer he included marginal sketch maps and larger pull-out maps.

Pull-out map of centre pf Castle Hedingham in survey of manor and lordship of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592 (D/DMh M1)

Pull-out map of centre pf Castle Hedingham in survey of manor and lordship of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592 (D/DMh M1)

A survey of manor and lordship of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592, using a combination of written descriptions and  maps (D/DMh M1)

A survey of manor and lordship of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592, using a combination of written descriptions and maps (D/DMh M1)

Maps were costly to produce as it usually required the employment of somebody with the cartographical skills of Amyce or Walker. Terriers and perambulations (where the boundaries were walked) and a written description was produced, continued as a cheaper alternative to describe the bounds of a manor.

Rentals

After the Black Death of 1348-1349 and the estimated loss of between a third and half of the population, lords of the manor found it much more difficult to enforce labour obligations on their tenants. This made it much less profitable for lords of the manor to farm the land themselves and increasingly the lords commuted the labour services into a rent.  At Thaxted in 1393 the survey (D/DHu M58) lists all of the labour services which had been due from each tenant and then concludes ‘now pays to farm’. The rent payable quit the tenant of any further labour obligations and from the 15th century onwards rentals or quit rentals are found among manorial records. Rentals name the tenants, and often give a description or even names of the copyhold premises they occupied, with the amount that they owed to lord.

Accounts (compoti)

When lords of the manor farmed the lands of the manor themselves, detailed bailiff’s accounts or compoti (from the Latin computare to calculate or estimate) were produced. The parchment membranes of accounts and rentals are usually stitched together end to end to produce an effect like a giant till roll. When unrolled they can be several feet long.

D/DBw Q1, which is about 18 feet long

D/DBw Q1, which is about 18 feet long

A compotus usually runs from Michaelmas to Michaelmas and there is a set pattern, beginning with the cash amounts to be charged and then discharged, the corn and stock (in a specified order) and then labour services. The compotus for the manor of Terling, 1328-1330 (D/DU 206/22) is the record kept by the bailiff William Knott. He accounted first for all of the money and goods coming in, including the sale of produce and purchase and birth of livestock. He then continued by listing every charge on the lord’s income including shoeing horses, making wheels, wages for work including ditching the park and roofing and repairing the gutters of the hall, chapel and dovecot. Knott also accounted for every loss of livestock, including deaths from the ‘murrain’ (a catch-all word used to describe unidentifiable animal diseases) and payments of eggs to the lord’s household and to the church. One of the biggest items of expenditure was bringing a watermill from Prittlewell (£10). There were further payments for the mill including digging the pond for it and removing the earth, buying nails and tiles and timber from Boreham and paying a carpenter.

Extract from the compotus for the manor of Terling, 1328-1330 (D/DU 206/22), which records the purchase of a watermill [molend’ aquatic] from Prittlewell [Priterewelle] to be moved to Terling.

Extract from the compotus for the manor of Terling, 1328-1330 (D/DU 206/22), which records the purchase of a watermill [molend’ aquatic] from Prittlewell [Priterewelle] to be moved to Terling.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

Common scolds, evildoers and hedge maintenance – the lives of ordinary Essex people as told by manorial court rolls

Following our recent post on what a manor was, Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a more detailed look at manorial court rolls. You can find out more about manorial records and how you can use them in your own research at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014.

The majority of manorial records in the Essex Record Office are the records of the manorial courts, which are among the most important sources for medieval social and economic history.

Their greatest importance is in recording the lives of the ‘ordinary people’ of the county; in the years before parish registers began to be kept in 1538, these might be the only records in which a relatively ordinary person might appear. Some of the Essex manorial rolls also contain evidence of events of national significance, such as the Black Death of 1348-1349 and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

The manor courts dealt with everything from maintaining hedges and ditches to keeping the peace when disagreements (and sometimes violence) broke out amongst the manor’s tenants.

The court was presided over by the lord of the manor, or more usually by his steward. The records were kept in Latin until 1733, but if you don’t read Latin don’t let that put you off; the later material is in English and these records are stuffed full with fascinating details of daily life in the past.

The earliest records are rolls made up of membranes of parchment stitched together at the top.  Although these records are cumbersome and unwieldy to use today, this was the quickest and easiest way to maintain a working accessible record

The earliest records are rolls made up of membranes of parchment stitched together at the top. Although these records are cumbersome and unwieldy to use today, this was the quickest and easiest way to maintain a working accessible record

There were two types of manorial court, the court baron and the court leet, although the earlier rolls do not distinguish between the two. Broadly speaking, the court baron dealt with matters pertaining to the administration of the manor, and the court leet handled minor criminal offences.

The court baron

The court baron handled the administration of the manor, including customs (such as the use of common land for pasture, and maintaining buildings, paths and hedges), settling disputes between tenants, enforcing the rights of the lord and any infringements, and on occasion requiring the lord to fulfil his obligations towards the tenants.

The court rolls record fines levied on tenants for breaking the rules of the manor, such as trespass against the rights of the lord or other tenants, or failing to keep roads, paths and ditches clear. In Writtle in 1452 for example, seven animals of John Croucheman strayed on to the land of another tenant and ate two haycocks (a small cone-shaped pile of hay left in the field until dry enough to carry to the rick or barn), and in 1477 two tenants of the manor of Great Burstead were fined for leaving dung in the main street of Billericay in front of the chapel. There were also cases where tenants were bound to keep the peace towards each other and occasions where women were presented as a ‘common scold’.  At High Roding in 1525 Agnes Norwood was presented as a scold and disturber of the peace and no tenant was to allow her to live in their house on pain of a fine of 3s.4d (D/DU 886/3).

Extract from court roll of High Roding, 1525 (D/DU 886/3), in which Agnes Norwood (you can read her name in the third and fourth words on the first full line shown) was denounced as a scold and disturber of the peace. She had been living in the house of John Baker – you can make out his name in the third full line shown.

Extract from court roll of High Roding, 1525 (D/DU 886/3), in which Agnes Norwood (you can read her name in the third and fourth words on the first full line shown) was denounced as a scold and disturber of the peace. She had been living in the house of John Baker – you can make out his name in the third full line shown.

The rolls also record the customary fines tenants owed.  These included ‘chevage’, the right to live outside the manor. In 1356, for example, a tenant of the manor of Bulphan paid 6d. for a licence.

The court baron was also responsible for the appointment of various officers, including the reeve who would collect rents and ensure that the tenants fulfilled their obligations, and the haywards and woodwards who were responsible for the maintenance of hedges, fences and woods. By the 16th century this business had become much less important.

The deaths of tenants and admissions of new tenants to land were also recorded by the court baron. The lord was entitled to the payment of a ‘heriot’ (usually the best beast) on the death of a tenant and an entry fine by the incoming tenant. Tenants of manors were described as ‘copyholders’ as they held land by copy of the court roll. Copyhold land could be bought and sold and left by will and many hundreds of copyhold deeds survive in the Essex Record Office. From the 16th to the 20th century most of the business of manorial courts related to the recording of admissions and surrenders of copyhold land. With the decline and eventual cessation of this type of landholding in 1922, the business of the courts baron ceased.

The court leet

The court leet was the lowest court of law enforcement and dealt with minor offences, such as nuisances, affray or assault, selling faulty goods, using false weights and measures, playing unlawful games, keeping disorderly alehouses, disturbing the peace and keeping inmates and vagabonds.  The court was also responsible for the election of the constable.

The court leet was also where the lord of a manor would hold something called ‘the view of frankpledge’. Many, but not all, manorial lords had the right to do this.  This was a practice with Anglo-Saxon origins.  All able-bodied men in a manor were grouped in tithings (roughly 10 men).  All the men of the tithing were bound in mutual assurance to observe and uphold the law – if a member of a tithing broke the law then the rest were obliged to report the crime and deliver the culprit to the constable.  Failure to do this would result in everybody in the tithing being fined.  If the lord of the manor had the right to hold the view of frankpledge then the chief man of each tithing (called variously tithing men, headboroughs, decenners or capital pledges) would report to the court leet to represent his tithing.

Tenants could also be fined by the court for failing to obey the law. Offences included keeping unlicensed alehouses, not practising archery (all men were required by law to practise their archery so their skills could be drawn upon in times of war), and playing unlawful games; in 1564 and 1565 14 men in Ingatestone were each fined 4d. or 8d. for bowling.

There were also more serious crimes, including cases of assault. In 1467 Thomas Hurst of West Hanningfield was fined for breaking into his neighbour’s house by force, taking his goods and claiming him to be outlaw. In 1472 in Earls Colne a mob of gathered with bows, arrows, pitchforks and other weapons and broke into the houses of three tenants, dragging one out in his shirt, and beating them severely. You can read a full translation of the passage here.

Extract from D/DPr 69, a court roll from Earls Colne, which describes a serious assault. The court seems to have given up trying to translate ‘pitchforks’ into Latin, and written it as ‘pycheforkes’ (underlined in red).

Extract from D/DPr 69, a court roll from Earls Colne, which describes a serious assault. The court seems to have given up trying to translate ‘pitchforks’ into Latin, and written it as ‘pycheforkes’ (underlined in red).

During the 16th century most of the legal cases were being dealt with by Quarter Sessions and by the 17th century the court leet had no significance and rarely, if ever, met.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

What is a manor and what are manorial records?

Ahead of Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July, we begin a manorial mini-series exploring what these fascinating documents can tell us about Essex in the past. In this first post Archivist Katharine Schofield writes for us about what a manor actually was…

A manor was essentially a unit of land.  Manors were at the heart of the post-Norman Conquest feudal system whereby all land was owned by the King.  He rewarded his followers (or tenants-in-chief) by giving them land which they held in return for military service to the King.  They in turn rewarded their followers (or tenants) on the same basis.  At the bottom of the structure was the knight’s fee, the amount of land considered sufficient to finance the service of one knight.  Domesday Book, produced in 1086, shows the beginnings of this system and is arranged by manors rather than towns or villages.  It is for this reason that a number of places appear in it more than once.

Manors and parishes rarely coincided.  Domesday Book, for example, records three manors in the parish of Takeley, owned by Eudo Dapifer [the steward], Robert Gernon and the Priory of St. Valéry in Picardy.  By the time that the Revd. Philip Morant wrote The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex in 1768 there were four manors in the parish – Waltham Hall, Colchester Hall, St. Valerys or Warish Hall and Bassingborns which could trace their ownership back to the three Domesday manors.  Manors could also have land in a number of different parishes; for example, records of the manor of Berechurch or West Donyland in Colchester included property in Old Heath and on East Hill and St. John’s Green, all in other parishes.

The lord of the manor owned everything in and of the manor – the crops, animals, mineral, hunting and fishing rights and also the tenants, who could be bought and sold and who owed days of labour and items of produce to the lord.  The lord would either keep the land and farm it using the labour of his tenants or he would rent the land, retaining jurisdiction over it.

Among the earliest deeds in the Essex Record Office are a small number of early 13th century grants where named individuals, with their belongings and descendants, or chattels and issue [catallis et sequela – underlined in red below]), are sold or exchanged for land.

Grant by Thoby Priory of William le Beggere to Barking Abbey, c.1202-1201 (D/DP T1/1582). William had originally been purchased by the Priory from Robert de Saincler. In return for this grant, the abbey gave the priory land in Mountnessing.

 

As tenants were considered part of the property, the lord was also entitled to customary dues which would be paid as compensation for the loss of income that the tenant or members of his family would bring.  These included payments which were required when a son was sent to school or entered holy orders, as well as ‘merchet’ which was paid when a daughter married and ‘chevage’ paid to live the outside the manor.

The territorial rights of the lord over the tenants and their lands were enforced in the manorial court – the court baron.  Some, but not all, manorial lords also had jurisdiction over minor criminal matters in the court leet.

The rights of manorial lords did not change significantly over the centuries, but the nature of the manor did.  Some rights ceased to be exercised and others became more important.  It is estimated that the Black Death of 1348-1349 killed around a third of the national population and possibly as much as half of the population of East Anglia.  This ultimately led to lords being unable to find tenants willing to work the land as they had done previously, and the labour dues of tenants being commuted to rents or quit rents.  This, in turn, meant that records which commonly appeared in the early Middle Ages disappeared to be replaced with rentals.  Similarly by the 18th century the business of the manorial courts was mostly taken up with the admission and surrender of land by copyhold tenants.

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Manorial survey of Castle Hedingham by Israel Amyce, 1592. This survey book includes written descriptions of pieces of land illustrated with maps. (D/DMh M1)

The Manorial Documents Register (MDR) was established in 1926, the year after manorial landholding (copyhold) was abolished, to record the location of documents and ensure that they could be traced if they were required for legal purposes.  The two main types of manorial records listed by the MDR are:

  • Court records – court rolls, later books, estreat and suit rolls, stewards’ papers, admissions and surrenders
  • Assessment of land and financial records – surveys, extents, custumals, accounts (or compoti), rentals, and quit rents

As well as the records listed by the MDR, the Essex Record Office holds many deeds of copyhold properties and of the manors themselves.  Manorial titles remain and still retain some rights, including the extraction of minerals and fishing and any remaining rights must have been registered with the Land Registry before October 2013 if a lord intends to continue enforcing them.

Over the last few years, the ERO has been contributing to a major update to the Manorial Documents Register, improving the catalogue and getting information online to make these useful and fascinating documents more available to researchers. Even if you don’t want to attempt reading the earlier Latin documents, from 1733 they were kept in English, so there may well be information contained within them of interest to your research in family history, house history, or local history. Essex through the ages on 12 July marks the completion of our contribution to the project, and celebrates the improved accessibility of these records for researchers.

Whether you are interested in using manorial records in your own research, or just want to enjoy hearing experts talk about them, join us for Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July 2014 to find out how you can discover centuries of Essex life using these fascinating documents. There are more details, including how to book, here.

Reconstructing late-medieval and Tudor Stebbing from its manorial records


PoosPortrait1In this guest blog post, Prof. L.R. Poos shares a preview of the research he will be sharing with us at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial records on Saturday 12 July (more information here). Prof. Poos is an expert in late-medieval and early-modern English social and legal history, and is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

 

In 1922 the British Library acquired most of the muniments of the Capells, Earls of Essex, from their estate at Cassiobury Park.   The Cassiobury Papers include collections of documents from many manors in Essex.  Among these are extensive document collections from Porters Hall and Stebbing Hall, the two principal manors in the parish of Stebbing, acquired by the Capells in 1481 and 1546 respectively.

Neither of the published guides to the Cassiobury Papers – the Historical Manuscripts Commission’s Report on Manuscripts in Various Collections, vol. vii, and the British Museum’s Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts, 1921-1925 – contains much more than summary descriptions of the collection.  It has taken several trips to the U.K. and significant time in the B.L. Manuscripts Room to begin to appreciate the possibilities of the records for a reconstruction of late-medieval and Tudor Stebbing.  How appropriate that I should have the opportunity to talk about them as part of an event honouring the Manorial Documents Register and its dedication to making manorial collections more accessible to historians!

I had worked briefly with Stebbing’s manorial records years ago as part of the research for a book, A rural society after the Black Death: Essex 1350-1525.  My re-acquaintance with those records is a story in its own right: two years ago I received an email out of the blue from Graham Jolliffe, Chairman of the Stebbing Local History Society, who had seen my references in A rural society to Stebbing documents and enquired politely whether I had any translations of the texts of them that I could share.  The answer was no, then.  But as we continued to chat I realised this was a chance for a worthwhile project.

Tithe map of Stebbing (D/CT 332B)

Tithe map of Stebbing, c.1840 (D/CT 332B)

The Stebbing records are not rich in manorial court rolls and even less so in manorial accounts.   However, they are exceptionally rich in surveys, rentals, and other records setting out the landholding patterns of Porters Hall and Stebbing Hall from the late thirteenth into the seventeenth century.  In addition, the collection includes some remarkable records that are not typical of manorial documentation and in some cases pertain to the parish as opposed to the manor.

Combining and cross-referencing the Stebbing manorial and parish records have set in motion several lines of investigation.   These include:  Stebbing’s involvement in the 1381 revolt – which appears to have been previously unknown – and the backgrounds of some of its participants; a remarkable farmer’s account for the year (1482-1483) after William Capell acquired Porters Hall, and the detailed view it affords of local trading networks; the very rare survival of an assessment roll for parishioners’ contributions to wax money for the parish church and the glimpse this affords into the parish community and economy.  The main Stebbing project currently underway is editing and translating for publication the series of land surveys and rentals, and – in collaboration with Graham Jolliffe and with an American colleague who is an expert in GIS (Geographical Information Systems) – to create a computer map of Stebbing and its tenancies.  ‘Essex through the ages’ will be the first opportunity to present these projects to an audience.

Join us to hear more from Prof. Poos about this fascinating project at Essex through the ages: tracing the past using manorial documents on Saturday 12 July 2014. There are more details, including how to book, here.

St George and the dragon

To mark St George’s Day, Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a look at a very rare pen and ink decoration of George slaying the dragon on a manorial court roll from Great Waltham, dating from 1541.

D/DHh M151

Extract from D/DHh M151, a manorial court roll of 1541 from Great Waltham, showing St George slaying the dragon

D/DHh M151

George and the dragon sit in the initial letter of the document. The words ‘Waltham Magna’ appear just beneath the decoration

Among the hundreds of manorial court rolls deposited in the Essex Record Office, a very small number have pen and ink decorations.  These include a court roll for the manor of Great Waltham alias Waltham Bury (D/DHh M151) where the court for Easter 1541 has a drawing showing St. George slaying the dragon in the letter V (for visus or view, the view of frankpledge carried out twice a year in the court leet).  The original is approximately 3.5 cm high and 7.5 cm across.  The rolls were the working records of the court and not intended to be decorated so a ‘doodle’ as elaborate as this is a rarity.

Court rolls form the majority of the manorial records held in the Essex Record Office, which are held by Act of Parliament of 1924 under the authorisation of the Master of the Rolls.  The Manorial Documents Register (MDR) was established two years later to record the location of the documents to ensure that they could be traced if they were required for legal evidence.  The National Archives is in the process of computerising the Manorial Documents Register county by county and the work completed so far can be seen on the National Archives’ website here.

After more than two years of work the Essex contribution to the MDR is complete; you can find out more about the project and how you can use these fascinating documents at Essex through the ages on Saturday 12 July. (Details here.)

Manorial titles are not part of the MDR and records such as the letters patent of 1467, although relating to the rights of the lord of the manor, do not form part of the register.  However, a search of Seax will locate this and many other ‘ancillary’ manorial documents, including deeds of sale of manors and also of copyhold premises.

By the later 15th century St. George’s Day was a well-established feast day in England.  In June 1467 Edward IV granted Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex (his uncle by marriage), lord of the manor of Stansted in Halstead, the right to hold two three day fairs in the town, one of which was to take place on St. George’s Day and the two days either side (D/DVz 3).  The other fair was to be held on the feast day of St. Edward the Confessor and the two adjoining days, 12-14 October.  After the Reformation St. George’s Day was one of the saints’ days that continued to be celebrated in the Church of England and today churches throughout England will fly the flag of St. George on the feast day.

St. George was a soldier in the Roman army who became a Christian martyr.  He came from a Greek Christian family and became one of the foremost military saints, venerated in the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches.  The flag of St. George is also used as the basis of the national flag of Georgia.

The adoption of St. George as the patron saint of England was a phenomenon of the Middle Ages.  In 1222 the Synod of Oxford declared St. George’s Day (23 April) a feast day.  At that date the most venerated saints in England were St. Edmund King and Martyr, whose shrine was at Bury St. Edmunds and St. [King] Edward the Confessor.  This changed after 1348 when Edward III founded the Order of the Garter and associated St. George with the country’s highest order of chivalry.  The chronicler Froissart recorded that English soldiers used St. George as a battle-cry at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and throughout the Hundred Years War of the 14th and 15th centuries.  Famously Shakespeare copied this in Henry V with Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!