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The Peasant Family and Crime in Fourteenth-Century England1

  • Barbara Hanawalt Westman

Extract

Since the reading of their father's will, Robert and Thomas le Parker had been arguing over a piece of land which their father left to Thomas. Robert decided to force Thomas into a settlement and on the day of the murder had taken two of his kinsmen to Thomas's house. Abducting Thomas to his own house, Robert locked the door and began to threaten Thomas with a knife. Thomas tried to escape but, finding the door locked, he seized the knife from Robert and killed his brother in self-defense. When discussing the involvement of family in criminal activities, it seems appropriate to begin with the oldest crime in our tradition — that of brother killing brother, Cain killing Abel. But despite the sensational qualities of this type of dispute, normally the families who appear in medieval criminal records were cooperating in felonious activities rather than directing their wrath toward each other. More typical is the rather pedestrian case of Simon Tut of Wappenham and his son Richard, who were convicted for stealing sheep in Bodecote in Northamptonshire. This paper will examine several quantitative indices which will shed light on both intrafamilial crime and that involving family cooperation: the frequency of familial as compared with non-familial crimes; the specific types of crimes involving family and the degree of kinship between family members appearing in criminal courts. Finally, the essay will suggest some general conclusions about tensions in rural society and within the medieval peasant family which contributed to family involvement in crime.

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1

I would like to thank the American Philosophical Society for the financial support they have given me through the Penrose Fund and also the American Association of University Women for their aid in 1968-69 with the Irma E. Voight Fellowship. Without the aid of these two foundations, I would not have been able to carry out the research for this paper and for my broader study of crime in fourteenth-century England. I am also very grateful to Professor M. M. Postan and Professor Eleanor Searle for their aid on the uses of manorial record's and for reading the article. A shorter version of this paper was given at the joint meetings of the Medieval Academy of America and the Medieval Association of the Pacific, April 1972.

Footnotes

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2. PRO, Justice Itinerant III 48 m. 13. [Hereafter listed as JI 3.]

3. PRO, JI 3/100 m. 16.

4. Baildon, W. P. and others (eds.), Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield [Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series] (19011945).

5. Massingberd, W. O. (ed. and tr.), Court Rolls of the Manor of Ingoldmells in the County of Lincolnshire (London, 1902).

6. PRO, Justice Itinerant II or JI 2.

7. Hunnisett, R. F. (ed.), Bedfordshire Coroners' Rolls [Bedfordshire Historical Society, XVI] (1960).

8. The time period covered is 1300-48. There are approximately 10,500 cases in the three counties for these years.

9. The felonies tried in gaol delivery include larceny, burglary, robbery, arson, rape, homicide and receiving. In addition minor treason cases like counterfeiting and spying also came into gaol delivery sessions.

10. I would like to thank Professor Eleanor Searle for her suggestion of this point in a letter to the author, 20 Nov. 1972.

11. Marriage cases were often handled in ecclesiastical court but morals cases were frequently regulated by the manorial court. See Sheehan, Michael M., “The Formation and Stability of Marriage in Fourteenth-Century England: Evidence of an Ely Register,” Medieval Studies, XXXIII (1971), 228–63. Most property disputes were settled in the manorial court because villeins could not make wills. Once again I would like to thank Professors Searle and Postan for this information.

12. McFarlane, A., Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; a Regional and Comparative Study (London, 1970), pp. 169–70. The practice of witchcraft on family members was rare in Essex although it is common in African families.

13. Only 5% were burglary and 3% were robbery. There was no simple larceny. These figures contrast with the overall distribution of crime in which homicide accounted for only 22%, burglary for 19%, robbery for 8% and larceny was the largest category with 67%.

14. In non-familial actions in manorial courts only 21.6% were assaults and 67% were property disputes. Raftis, J. A., “The Concentration of Responsibility in Five Villages,” Medieval Studies, XXVIII (1966), 108–15. Using figures from Raftis, 71.1% of court actions were for trespass, 16% for debt, 6.1% for receiving, .2% for assault, 6.1% for pleas and .5% for slander. These figures leave out actions for breaking the assize of bread and beer.

15. Morris, T. and Bloom-Cooper, L., A Calendar of Murder; Criminal Homicide in England since 1957 (London, 1964), p. 280.

16. Chaulot, P. and Susini, J., Le crime en France (Paris, 1959), p. 50.

17. Wolfgang, M. E., Patterns in Criminal Homicide (Philadelphia, 1958), p. 209.

18. Even if we assume that only a half or a third or even less of the familial cases are mentioned in our records, the medieval family still would be less criminal toward each other than the modern family.

19. Hunnisett, R. F., The Medieval Coroner (Cambridge, 1961), p. 19.

20. Sheehan, , “The Formation and Stability of Marriage,” Medieval Studies, XXXIII, 249–52.

21. For this section on motivations for disputes see Appendix III, Tables I and II.

22. Baildon, et al., Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, II, 140, 141.

23. Massingberd, , Court Rolls of the Manor of Ingoldmells, pp. 119–20.

24. Myres, R. H., The Chinese Peasant Economy; Agricultural Development in Hopei and Shantung 1890-1949 (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 164–66. Disputes between the members of the royal families of medieval Europe have also received a great deal of attention from historians. Likewise, the struggles for land among the seignorial families have been fairly well documented. See, for instance, Bloch, M., Feudal Society, tr. Manyon, L. A. (London, 1962), pp. 134–36. But the scope of inquiry for the present article will be limited to the peasantry and their particular problems.

25. The importance of inheritance customs to the structure of medieval English peasant society has been raised by Homans, G. C. in English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (New York, 1941) and in Rural Sociology of Medieval England,” Past and Present, no. 4 (Nov., 1953), pp. 3243.

26. Baildon, et al., Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, III, 34, 41, 51.

27. Hunnisett, , Bedfordshire Coroners' Rolls, XVI, 10.

28. PRO, JI 3/38 m. 29. For another case see Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, IV, 146.

29. Quoted in Mannheim, H., Comparative Criminology (2nd ed.; Boston, 1967), p. 306.

30. Bennett, H. S., Life on the English Manor (Cambridge, 1938), pp. 223–74, describes well the problems of a peasant's life: cramped housing with no privacy, death by disease and starvation, heavy rents and dues, unending field work and poor diet.

31. Green, T. A., “Societal Concepts of Criminal Liability for Homicide in Medieval England,” Speculum, XLVII, no. 4 (1972), 680 has found another case.

32. Hunnisett, , Bedfordshire Coroners' Rolls, XVI, 106.

33. Baildon, et al., Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, III, 108. A similar case, 109.

34. Ibid., II, 93. Also see III, 45.

35. Sheehan, , “The Formation and Stability of Marriage,” Medieval Studies, XXXIII, 262. Sheehan found only two cases of adultery involved in ecclesiasticāl cases. It is possible that some of the bigamy cases disguised adultery cases.

36. Hunnisett, , Bedfordshire Coroners' Rolls, XVI, 13.

37. One example can be found in PRO, JI 3/49/2 m. 9.

38. Baildon, et al., Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, V, 18.

39. PRO, JI 3/107 m. 7.

40. PRO, JI 3/108a m. 1.

41. PRO, JI 2/107 m. 1.

42. PRO, JI 3/112 m. l4d.

43. PRO, JI 3/48 m. 6.

44. PRO, KB 27/327 m. 36d.

45. Weihofen, H., Menial Disorders as a Criminal Defense (New York, 1954), p. 15. See also Sullivan, W. C., Crime and Insanity (New York, 1924), pp. 8994.

46. Sullivan, , Crime and Insanity, pp. 95100.

47. Sutherland, E. H. and Cressey, D. R., Principles of Criminology (17th ed.; New York, 1960), pp. 276–77.

48. Mannheim, , Comparative Criminology, p. 637.

49. Ibid., p. 638.

50. Stones, E. L. G., “The Folvilles of Ashby-Folville, Leicestershire, and Their Associates in Crime,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 15th series, VII (1957), 91116.

51. Bellamy, J. G., “The Coterel Gang: An Anatomy of a Band of Fourteenth-Century Criminals,” E.R.H., LXXIX (Oct., 1964), 698717.

52. PRO, JI 3/125 m. 9d.

53. Baildon, et al., Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, IV, 168.

54. Bellamy, , “The Coterel Gang,” English Historical Review, LXXIX, 700. Stones, , “The Folvilles of Ashby-Folville,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, VII, 118.

55. Baildon, et al., Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, IV, 8.

56. PRO, JI 3/75 m. 34.

57. PRO, JI 3/49/1 m. 35.

58. PRO, JI 3/49/1 m. 36.

59. PRO, JI 3/49/1 m. 39.

60. PRO, JI 3/117 m. 11.

61. PRO, JI 3/117 m. 10.

62. PRO, JI 3/117 m. 15.

63. Westman, B. H., A Study of Crime in Norfolk, Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, 1300-1348 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1970), pp. 98106.

64. Postan, M. M., “Medieval Agrarian Society at its Prime: England,” in Cambridge Economic History of the Middle Ages, ed. Postan, M. M. (Cambridge, 1966), I, 565–70. Postan, M. M. and Titow, J. Z., “Heriots and Prices on Winchester Manors,” Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd. series, XI (1959), 392411.

65. Homans, , “Rural Sociology of Medieval England,” Past and Present, no. 4, pp. 3243.

66. Stones, , “The Folvilles of Ashby-Folville,” Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th series, VII, 118.

67. Hunnisett, , Bedfordshire, Coroners' Rolls, XVI, 73.

1 I would like to thank the American Philosophical Society for the financial support they have given me through the Penrose Fund and also the American Association of University Women for their aid in 1968-69 with the Irma E. Voight Fellowship. Without the aid of these two foundations, I would not have been able to carry out the research for this paper and for my broader study of crime in fourteenth-century England. I am also very grateful to Professor M. M. Postan and Professor Eleanor Searle for their aid on the uses of manorial record's and for reading the article. A shorter version of this paper was given at the joint meetings of the Medieval Academy of America and the Medieval Association of the Pacific, April 1972.

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