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.

Men Behaving Badly: Sir Hugh de Badewe

Ahead of The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century on 8 March 2014, we take a sneak preview at another of our speaker’s subjects – Gloria Harris’s research on medieval Essex knight Sir Hugh de Badewe.

Sir Hugh de Badewe (c.1315 – c.1380), of Great Baddow near Chelmsford, was a prominent Essex knight of the mid-fourteenth century. He took part in military expeditions to the Low Countries at the beginning of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) in the retinue of William de Bohun, 1st Earl of Northampton, and may have fought at the naval Battle of Sluys in 1340. In a military capacity he is next heard of on August 8th 1347 at Calais. It was here that he was rewarded by Edward III with an exemption for life from serving on assizes, juries and from appointments as mayor or sheriff for ‘good service in parts on this side of the sea’. The Siege of Calais, following on from the English victory at Crecy, had lasted for nearly a year and took a major effort on the part of the English Crown to succeed. Possibly Sir Hugh was being rewarded for having taken either crucial supplies or reinforcements of troops from Essex over to France; perhaps he even fought in the siege lines himself.

The Battle of Crecy, from a 15th-century illuminated manuscript of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles

So, a near contemporary of the successful Edward III and a participant in the chivalric deeds of the times, living up to our modern-day image of the medieval knight. However, Sir Hugh was certainly not ‘a verray, parfit, gentil knight’, but, as with many other knights of the time, he was also involved in a certain amount of law breaking, or to be more precise, gang warfare. Gang warfare, in which Sir Hugh seems to have participated wholeheartedly, took place in the wider, later-medieval context of criminal activity generally and of criminal bands in particular. Lawlessness on this scale was not new and it was not confined to Essex. Organised crime was perhaps the biggest danger to public order during the later medieval period. Criminal bands could number from two or three members to two or three hundred, depending on the type of offence. In many cases the criminals themselves were often assisted by local men and women, called receivers, who were not involved directly in the attacks but helped the gangs in other ways such as providing food and shelter or perhaps valuable information based on local knowledge.

Mostly criminal gangs were drawn from members of the gentry, men like Hugh who were knights, and esquires. Although the gentry were certainly most prominent in the criminal bands, other members might be engaged in a variety of occupations. Of the three attacks in which Hugh is known to have taken part, it is the first in 1340 that is, arguably, the most interesting in terms of the numbers involved and in the social composition of the criminal band. Upwards of thirty four men were involved when they mounted the attack on John de Segrave’s property in Great Chesterford. Heading the list of offenders was the magnate John, earl of Oxford. Second on the list was John Fitz Walter, a young Essex land owner who was to gain much notoriety as an Essex criminal in future years and third was Bartholomew Berghersh, whose father was Lord Chamberlain to Edward III.

While some gangs may well have had their origins in the halls of the nobility, the links between Hugh and the gang members involved the 1340 attack appear to have had more to do with their military connections than adherence to a particular magnate household, although it is often difficult to make a distinction. While Hugh’s maiden expedition to France, at the very beginning of the Hundred Years War in 1337, may well have been his first introduction to particular noblemen and knights of the military community, some of these men were already acquainted with each other following their shared experience of active service in the war against Scotland.

Sir Hugh de Badewe is not an extraordinary case, but is all the more interesting for it, since his story is a typical one of the time. To find out more about the life and crimes Sir Hugh de Badewe, join us for Gloria’s talk at The Fighting Essex Soldier on Saturday 8 March.

The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century

Saturday 8 March 2014, 9.30am-4.15pm

More details here

One of our speakers, Dr Jennifer Ward, has also curated a display of fourteenth-century documents from our collections to accompany the conference which will be in the Searchroom from January-March.

‘Mutual preservation’ in eighteenth-century Great Oakley

Archivist Allyson Lewis blogs for us about an exciting new accession…

We recently purchased the Articles of Association of an Association ‘for the mutual preservation of property and the more effectual prosecution and bringing to justice of house-breakers, horse stealers and thieves of every kind’ (Accession A13635 (D/DU 2835)).  This early form of insurance/neighbourhood watch scheme was formed by the inhabitants of Great Oakley and surrounding parishes on 4 February 1794.  The deed is signed by all the members, including new members to 1899.  

The heading of the Articles of Association (click for larger version)

Each member paid a membership fee of at least 10s 6d.  This money was used to publish a description of stolen property on hand bills and in the newspapers and to offer rewards for information leading to the recovery of stolen property.  The Articles specify the following rewards to be offered to anyone apprehending and convicting offenders who had committed a crime:

House breaking                               £5 5s

Stealing of horses or cattle                        £5 5s

Highway or footpad robbery           £5 5s

Breaking open barns, stables or outhouses       £3 3s

Stealing poultry, turnips, apples, pears, damaging hedges etc           £1 1s

Signatures of members of the Association

In the days before any police force, local associations of this kind were felt necessary, particularly in times of war or trouble.  This Association dates from the period of the Napoleonic wars which gave rise to a general fear of revolution and invasion.  The parishes are in the neighbourhood of Harwich where many men would be stationed in the Martello tower and as militia organised to defend the county from attack by the French.  Perhaps the members of the Association had experienced thefts from deserters or militia men trying to head home.  It is surprising that the Association was still considered necessary at the end of the 19th century, long after the formation of the county police force in 1840.

Your favourite ERO documents: a death penalty debate

As part of our 75th anniversary celebrations this year, we recently asked you, our users, to nominate your favourite ERO documents. Thank you very much to those of you who have sent in nominations so far – today we bring you the next in a series of your favourites.

Today’s nomination (D/DEb 85/6) comes from Kate Masheder, who has been using the ERO for over ten years:

This letter relates to William Palmer who was condemned to death for sheep stealing in 1819.  He was the husband of Hannah Noakes Reeve, my gt gt gt grandmother but not (so far as we know) the father of Joseph, her firstborn, my gt gt grandfather.  William’s death left Hannah with a young son and baby, plus the six children from his first marriage.  Although Thomas Gardiner Bramston (MP) sent a letter appealing to Mr Justice Bayley for clemency, the death penalty was upheld.  I often wonder how Hannah managed during the year following his death and what happened to William’s children.  She did remarry but died in 1824 at the age of thirty.

In his letter, Mr Justice Bayley asked T.G. Bramston if he could think of any special grounds for clemency but none were forthcoming.  The crime was not a violent one but, because of his occupation as a butcher (with the means to get rid of the evidence) it was felt an example should be made of him.

The death penalty was a harsh one for a man with eight children but perhaps transportation would have left Hannah in worse circumstances as, even after a short sentence, he might not have returned home and she would have been unable to remarry.

 

The letter from Mr Justice Bayley discusses why it was decided to make an example of William Palmer by sentencing him to death for sheepstealing. As a butcher, he was able to easily conceal his crimes, and had stolen for sale rather than for food. Bayley discusses the problem of sheepstealing in Essex and the need to deter others, even though Bayley wrote that ‘it would have relieved my mind from great uneasiness, could I have found any Circumstances in the Case which would have warranted me … to have granted a Reprieve’.

Thank you very much to Kate for nominating this document as a favourite. We’ll be bringing you more favourites over the next few months. Nominate yours by downloading our form and either returning it in to the Searchroom desk or e-mailing it to hannahjane.salisbury[at]essex.gov.uk