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Manor Court Procedures, Debt Litigation Levels, and Rural Credit Provision in England, c.1290—c.1380

  • Chris Briggs

In the last two decades or so, questions of law have moved back to the top of the research agenda in work on medieval English manor courts. This marks a shift away from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, when the historians on both sides of the Atlantic who established the court roll as the pre-eminent source for everyday life in the countryside sought inspiration from the social sciences rather than legal history. The court roll studies published in that period generated much methodological debate about use of these records to study peasants and their communities. Nonetheless, in most of those studies, consideration of the manor court as a legal forum first and foremost, or of the implications of reliance on a legal source to study social and economic history, was secondary to analysis of the data in the rolls. More recently, though, scholars have started once again to look at the court roll from the perspective adopted by Maitland in his Select Pleas in Manorial and Other Seigniorial Courts. These historians are concerned with defining and characterizing “customary law”: that is, with the nature and principles of the law applied in manor courts; the extent to which those principles were malleable or unchanging; the relationship between the rulings pronounced in the manor courts and those recorded in other areas of the legal system, most importantly the common law courts; and the machinery of manor courts with respect to procedures, personnel, and record keeping.

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1. In that era, the sociologist George Caspar Homans through his book English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (1941; New York: Russell and Russell, 1960) was the key influence; for acknowledgments of Homans's impact, see Raftis, J. Ambrose, Tenure and Mobility: Studies in the Social History of the Mediaeval English Village (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1964), 13; DeWindt, Edwin Brezette, Land and People in Holywellcum-Needingworth (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1972), 276.

2. Razi, Zvi, “The Toronto School's Reconstitution of Medieval Peasant Society: A Critical View,” Past and Present 85 (1979): 141–57; Razi, Zvi, Life, Marriage and Death in a Medieval Parish: Economy, Society and Demography in Halesowen, 1270–1400 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 1124; Bennett, Judith M., “Spouses, Siblings and Surnames: Reconstructing Families from Medieval Village Court Rolls,” Journal of British Studies 23 (1983): 2646; Bennett, Judith M., Women in the Medieval English Countryside: Gender and Household in Brigstock before the Plague (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 199205; Poos, L. R. and Smith, R. M., “‘Legal Windows onto Historical Populations’? Recent Research on Demography and the Manor Court in Medieval England,” Law and History Review 2 (1984): 128–52; Razi, Zvi, “The Use of Manorial Court Rolls in Demographic Analysis: A Reconsideration,” Law and History Review 3 (1985): 191200; Poos, L. R. and Smith, R. M., “Shades Still on the Window: A Reply to Zvi Razi,” Law and History Review 4 (1986): 409–29; Razi, Zvi, “The Demographic Transparency of Manorial Court Rolls,” Law and History Review 5 (1987): 523–35. The debate contained in the four preceding articles is reprinted as Poos, L. R., Razi, Zvi, and Smith, Richard M., “The Population History of Medieval English Villages: A Debate on the Use of Manor Court Records,” in Medieval Society and the Manor Court, ed. Razi, Zvi and Smith, Richard (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 298368.

3. An important exception is Beckerman, John S., “Customary Law in English Manorial Courts in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries” (Ph.D. diss., University of London, 1972). The writings of one prominent court roll scholar illustrate well the shift from a social-scientific to a legal-historical approach. Richard Smith's earlier work applies complex techniques to court roll data with little attention to its institutional provenance, especially Smith, R. M., “Kin and Neighbours in a Thirteenth-Century Suffolk Community,” Journal of Family History 4 (1979): 219–56. But by 1983 Smith was heralding later developments by calling for “the procedures and instruments of customary law and its tribunals” to be fully understood as a sound basis for “the more elaborate exercises in village ‘reconstitution’”: Smith, R. M., “Some Thoughts on ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Proprietary’ Rights in Land under Customary Law in Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Century England,” Law and History Review 1 (1983): 127; similar themes also feature in Poos, Razi, and Smith, “Population History of Medieval English Villages.” Smith's subsequent publications document the emergence and social effects of new legal devices for land transfer in manorial courts: see especially Smith, R. M., “Women's Property Rights under Customary Law: Some Developments in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 36 (1986): 165–94; Smith, Richard M., “Coping with Uncertainty: Women's Tenure of Customary Land in England c. 1370–1430,” in Enterprise and Individuals in Fifteenth-Century England, ed. Kermode, Jennifer (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1991), 4367.

4. Maitland, F. W., ed., Select Pleas in Manorial and Other Seignorial Courts, Publications of the Selden Society 2 (London: B. Quaritch, 1889).

5. Poos, L. R. and Bonfield, Lloyd, eds., Select Cases in Manorial Courts, 1250–1550: Property and Family Law, Publications of the Selden Society 114 (London: Selden Society, 1998); Beckerman, John S., “Procedural Innovation and Institutional Change in Medieval English Manorial Courts,” Law and History Review 10 (1992): 197252, based on Beck-erman, “Customary Law”; Bonfield, Lloyd, “The Nature of Customary Law in the Manorial Courts of Medieval England,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 (1989): 514–34; Bonfield, Lloyd, “What Did English Villagers Mean by ‘Customary Law'?,” in Medieval Society and the Manor Court, ed. Razi, and Smith, , 103–16; Beckerman, John S., “Towards a Theory of Medieval Manorial Adjudication: The Nature of Communal Judgements in a System of Customary Law,” Law and History Review 13 (1995): 122; Hyams, Paul R., “What Did Edwardian Villagers Understand by Law?” in Medieval Society and the Manor Court, ed. Razi, and Smith, , 69102. See also Smith, Richard M., “The English Peasantry, 1250–1650,” in The Peasantries of Europe from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries, ed. Scott, Tom (London and New York: Longman, 1998), 339–71; Bonfield, Lloyd, ed., Seigneurial Jurisdiction, Comparative Studies in Continental and Anglo-American Legal History 21 (Berlin: Dunker and Humblot, 2000); Mulholland, Maureen, “Trials in Manorial Courts in Late Medieval England,” in Judicial Tribunals in England and Europe, 1200–1700, ed. Mulholland, Maureen and Pullan, Brian (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 81101. For critical comments on these developments, see Parkin, Kate, “Courts and the Community: Reconstructing the Fourteenth-Century Peasant Society of Wisbech Hundred, Cambridgeshire, from Manor Court Rolls” (Ph.D. diss., University of Leicester, 1998), 2134.

6. For brief criticisms along these lines, see Bonfield, , “Nature of Customary Law,” 517, and Hyams, , “What Did Edwardian Villagers Understand by Law?,” 6970.

7. Poos, Razi, and Smith, , “Population History of Medieval English Villages,” 301–2, 327–28, 341–43, 359–63, debating methods used in Razi, Life, Marriage and Death.

8. For Smith, see n. 3 above; Bennett, Women; Bennett, Judith M., “Writing Fornication: Medieval Leyrwite and Its Historians,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 13 (2003): 131–62.

9. Schofield, Phillipp R., “Peasants and the Manor Court: Gossip and Litigation in a Suffolk Village at the Close of the Thirteenth Century,” Past and Present 159 (1998): 342.

10. The terms plaint, plea, case, and action are used interchangeably in this study to mean “civil lawsuit.”

11. The pioneering studies are Clark, Elaine G., “Medieval Debt Litigation: Essex and Norfolk, 1270–1490” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1977), and Clark, Elaine, “Debt Litigation in a Late Medieval English Vill,” in Pathways to Medieval Peasants, ed. Raftis, J. A. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1981), 247–79. For key recent research, see Schofield, Phillipp R., “L'Endettement et le crédit dans la campagne anglaise au moyen age,” in Endettement paysan et crédit rural dans l'Europe médiévale et moderne: Actes des XVIIes journées internationales d'histoire de l'abbaye de Flaran, Septembre 1995, ed. Berthe, M. (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1998), 6997; Schofield, P. R. and Mayhew, N. J., eds., Credit and Debt in Medieval England c. 1180-c.1350 (Oxford: Oxbow, 2002). See also Briggs, Christopher D., “Rural Credit, Debt Litigation and Manor Courts in England c.1290-c.1380” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 2002).

12. Schofield, , “L'Endettement,” 9496.

13. In the period studied, 1345 (Great Horwood) is the only year for which no court records survive at all.

14. Litigation about real property is ignored.

15. Beckerman, , “Medieval Manorial Adjudication,” 56; for the general problem of the concealment of substantive principles within procedural forms, see Ibbetson, David, A Historical Introduction to the Law of Obligations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1112.

16. Cambridge University Library (hereafter CUL), Queens' College (hereafter Q) boxes 3, 4, and 11 (Oakington court rolls, numbers 1–7 and 12). Court roll references are given by number of court roll and membrane and date of court session e.g., Q 1, m.1 (12 Mar. 1291). An edition of the rolls relating to 26 of the 418 court sessions of the period 1291–1380 with surviving records was published in Page, Frances M., The Estates of Crowland Abbey: A Study in Manorial Organisation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934), 333412. For other manors in the three villages, see Briggs, Chris, “Creditors and Debtors and Their Relationships at Oakington, Cottenham and Dry Drayton (Cambridgeshire), 1291–1350,” in Credit and Debt, ed. Schofield, and Mayhew, , 129, 143–44.

17. Oxford, New College Archives (hereafter NCA) 3912–15 (Great Horwood court rolls). The Horwood rolls are notable for their lengthy entries concerning disputes over land and for numerous bylaws. For examples, see respectively Poos and Bonfield, Select Cases, and Ault, W. O., Open-Field Farming in Medieval England. A Study of Village By-Laws (London: Allen and Unwin, 1972). Fourteenth-century Great Horwood contained the manorial units of Singleborough and the “Bradwell fee” in addition to the Newton Longville manor: Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 4854.

18. Of course, the threat of manor court assistance in recovery was not the only enforcement mechanism available to creditors. Land could be used as security for peasant debts, but for the possibility that this was not especially widespread in England in this period, see Chris Briggs, “Connections between Land Transfer and Credit Provision in English Villages c. 1250-c. 1350,” in Credit and the Rural Economy in Europe c. 1100–1850, ed. Thys Lambrecht and Phillipp R. Schofield (forthcoming).

19. These comments apply only to the ordinary manor court (also known as the court baron or halmote). Many lords of manors also enjoyed the franchisal rights of the view of frankpledge, exercised in a court leet. On the differences between manor and leet courts, see Bailey, Mark, ed., The English Manor c. 1200-c.1500 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 167–83. On the wide functions of the manor court, some of which were more administrative than legal, see Bonfield, , “Nature of Customary Law,” 517–18; for an attempt to quantify different types of business in one court, see Williamson, Janet, “Dispute Settlement in the Manorial Court: Early Fourteenth-Century Lakenheath,” Reading Medieval Studies 11 (1985): 3341.

20. Oxford, Merton College Records 5781–5789 (court rolls 1279–1343).

21. Evans, Ralph, “Merton College's Control over Its Tenants at Thorncroft, 1270–1349,” in Medieval Society and the Manor Court, ed. Razi, and Smith, , 203, 236. The fifteen un-free holdings comprised one full yardland, six half-yardlands of either eight or ten acres, one quarter-yardland, and seven one-acre cottage holdings. The majority of the free holdings were under ten acres by this date. At Oakington in 1344, by comparison, there were thirty-nine unfree holdings (twenty-six ten-acre holdings, seven five-acre holdings, and six croftmen/cottars), and twelve free holdings (mostly smallholdings of a few acres): Briggs, “Rural Credit,” 212, 216–18. Typically, most manor court debt litigants were drawn from the manor's unfree tenant population, rather than from among the free tenants or outsiders. Since Oakington had more unfree tenants than Thorncroft, we would therefore expect more inter-tenant litigation at Oakington than Thorncroft. But the almost complete lack of debt litigation at Thorncroft cannot be explained by an absence of unfree tenants.

22. Evans, , “Merton College's Control over Its Tenants,” 204; see also Evans, Ralph, “Whose Was the Manorial Court?” in Lordship and Learning: Studies in Memory of Trevor Aston, ed. Evans, Ralph (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2004), 155–68.

23. For other court roll series containing little or no litigation, see the survey of medieval manorial court rolls in England in Medieval Society and the Manor Court, ed. Razi, and Smith, , 569637; Schofield, , “L'Endettement,” 74. Another example is the prior of Ely's manor court of Winston (Suffolk): CUL EDC 7/17/1–17. In the 153 court sessions of the years 1306–61 for which records survive, only forty personal plaints were begun. Twenty-one of these were debt, giving an average of just 0.1 new debt plaints per court session (for comparisons, see Table 2).

24. Mesne process is defined as the steps taken by a court to secure the initial appearance of a defendant.

25. Beckerman, , “Medieval Manorial Adjudication,” 1116; Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 243. Schofield, (“Peasants and the Manor Court,” 12), drawing on Beckerman, suggests that actions and processes in the court rolls of Hinderclay (Suffolk) closely parallel those of the common law.

26. Bonfield, , “What Did English Villagers Mean by ‘Customary Law’?,” 111; see also Bonfield, Lloyd, “The Role of Seigneurial Jurisdiction after the Norman Conquest and the Nature of Customary Law in Medieval England,” in Seigneurial Jurisdiction, ed. Bonfield, , 177–94.

27. “Independence and Uniformity in England's Manorial Courts,” in Seigneurial Jurisdiction, ed. Bonfield, , 223.

28. Reworking of court roll information results in some very slight differences between the tables and figures in this article and earlier presentations of related Oakington data in Briggs, “Rural Credit,” and Briggs, “Creditors and Debtors and Their Relationships.”

29. “Debt” comprises all cases mentioning debt or detinue of money or goods, or explicitly called “plea of debt” or “plea of detinue.” “Trespass” comprises all cases labeled “plea of trespass” or using any form of the word “trespass” (transgressio). “Unspecified” consists of disputes that concern matters dealt with in trespass cases but do not use the word “trespass.” The “unspecified” category includes no debt cases, however, as these can be distinguished by their content. Plaints of “unknown” type say nothing about the cause of the dispute, for example: “Thomas ad Fontem and John Colyn are agreed by licence and John places himself [in mercy] pledge the reeve” (Q 2, m.6d, 21 Oct. 1309).

30. Where the estimated total of court sessions (column 8) was higher than the total of recorded court sessions (column 1), a revised estimate of the total number of plaints in each decade was also produced. At Oakington in 1291–1300, for example, two extra court sessions were added to give the estimated total in column 8. As the average number of debt plaints per court session in that decade was 1.4 (column 6 divided by column 1), a further 2.8 plaints were added to the decadal total when generating the figure in column 9.

31. Aschewy brought 12 of the 21 debt cases of 1349: NCA 3914, mm. 49, 51 (25 Feb. 1349, ?29 Apr. 1349).

32. Broken covenant cases totaled fifty-two at Oakington and twenty-three at Horwood. Of nine Horwood covenant cases specifying the nature of the broken agreement, three were equivalent to debt actions because they involved a promise to pay. If around one third of all Horwood covenant actions actually involved debts, then the data on new debt disputes in Figure 2 would require very slight adjustment upward. However, adding one-third of Horwood covenant actions to the debt actions would hardly change the picture for the 1330s and 1340s at all, since there was a total of only two covenant actions in 1331–40 and three such actions in 1341–50. At Oakington, none of the twelve cases specifying the nature of the broken agreement mentions a promise to pay.

33. Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 2632, considers the possibility that some court roll debt entries record the formation of new credit relationships (“recognizances”) rather than recovery upon default at the end of a credit relationship, reaching the conclusion that this issue can be ignored because examples of possible recognizances are extremely rare in these rolls.

34. For these conditions, see Fryde, E. B., “Parliament and the French War, 1336–40,” in Historical Studies of the English Parliament, vol. 1, Origins to 1399, ed. Fryde, E. B. and Miller, Edward (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 255–61; Maddicott, J. R., “The English Peasantry and the Demands of the Crown, 1294–1341,” in Landlords, Peasants and Politics in Medieval England, ed. Aston, T. H. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 285359; Prestwich, Michael, “Currency and the Economy of Early Fourteenth-Century England,” in Edwardian Monetary Affairs, ed. Mayhew, N. J., British Archaeological Reports 35 (Oxford, 1977), 4558.

35. Schofield, Phillipp R., “Dearth, Debt and the Local Land Market in a Late Thirteenth-Century Village Community,” Agricultural History Review 45 (1997): 1516. Harvest failure forms another major explanation for the rise in Hinderclay debt litigation.

36. Razi, , Life, Marriage and Death, 37.

37. Bennett, , Women, 207, 217.

38. Maddicott, , “The English Peasantry,” 301. Purveyance was the system whereby royal officials requisitioned foodstuffs from the populace for military campaigns.

39. Nonarum Inquisitiones in Curia Scaccarii, temp. Regis Edwardi III (London: Record Commission, 1807), 203–4, 326–40; Baker, Alan R. H., “Evidence in the Nonarum Inquisitiones of Contracting Arable Lands in England during the Early Fourteenth Century,” Economic History Review 19 (1966): 518–32; Venables, Edmund, “The Results of an Examination of the ‘Nonae Rolls’ as They Relate to Cambridgeshire,” Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society 1 (1859): 714. Livingstone, Marilyn R., “The Nonae: the Records of the Taxation of the Ninth in England, 1340–41” (Ph.D. diss., Queen's University Belfast, 2003) is an exhaustive study of unpublished documents pertaining to the ninth; I thank Marilyn Livingstone for confirming the absence of a return for Great Horwood.

40. Peasants' difficulties in the later 1330s arose from problems such as low prices and livestock disease as well as the demands of the Crown; see, for example, Mate, Mavis, “The Agrarian Economy of South-East England before the Black Death: Depressed or Bouyant?” in Before the Black Death: Studies in the “Crisis” of the Early Fourteenth Century, ed. Campbell, B. M. S. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 90103.

41. Maddicott, , “The English Peasantry,” 289, 351, suggests that the crisis of 1340–41 marked a turning point; see also Ormrod, W. M., “The Crown and the English Economy, 1290–1348,” in Before the Black Death, ed. Campbell, , 158–59. However, Allen, Martin, “The Volume of the English Currency, 1158–1470,” Economic History Review 54 (2001): 595611, stresses that the 1330s marked the beginning of a sustained rather than temporary downturn in the amount of coin in circulation.

42. On increased post-plague per capita circulation of coin, see Mayhew, N. J., “Money and Prices in England from Henry III to Edward III,” Agricultural History Review 35 (1987): 129; Allen, , “Volume of the English Currency,” 606; see also Bolton, Jim, “‘The World Turned Upside Down’: Plague as an Agent of Social and Economic Change,” in The Black Death in England, ed. Ormrod, Mark and Lindley, Phillip (Stamford: Paul Watkins, 1996), 4243.

43. For the argument that medieval credit was constrained by the coin supply, see Nightingale, Pamela, “Monetary Contraction and Mercantile Credit in Later Medieval England,” Economic History Review 43 (1990): 560–75.

44. For Broughton in particular, the number of court sessions for which records survive is much smaller than in the case of Oakington or Harvey, Horwood. P. D. A., A Medieval Oxfordshire Village: Cuxham, 1240 to 1400 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 1112, 146–47, argues that relatively few Cuxham sessions were held for which rolls are unavailable.

45. As at Thorncroft, the Cuxham court became primarily a forum for protecting seigniorial interests, as reflected in the predominance from the 1320s of business such as encroachments on the demesne.

46. Small pieces of parchment containing notes about a case are sometimes found sewn to a court roll. These were working documents of curial officers used to record necessary details, essentially parties' names and the type of action. Examples: Newton Longville (Buckinghamshire), NCA 3873 (27 Oct. 1373); Bottisham (Cambridgeshire), London, The National Archives, SC2 155/47 (31 July 1322). Similar ancillary documentation was also used to keep track of personal actions in the complex of courts within Wisbech Hundred (Cambridgeshire): Parkin, “Courts and the Community,” 55. The low survival rate of such ephemeral documents probably underestimates the true extent of their use.

47. This form appears sporadically in the earlier rolls, involving no more than twenty-two plaints before 1329. The fourteenth-century court rolls of West Halton (Lincolnshire) provide another instance of a querele section: Westminster Abbey Muniments 14545, 14546, 14563.

48. For instance, at Newton Longville on 10 July 1331 (NCA 3873), Richard Bacon brought a plea of trespass against John le Sweyn, complaining that John had depastured his hay to his damage 6d. John replied that he had committed a trespass against Richard, but it had taken place over a year ago, and Richard had already sued him in the same court on account of that trespass. The case had been terminated, he said, by licence to agree. John claimed that since then he had not done any trespass to Richard. An inquest decided that John was indeed innocent of any trespass other than that for which Richard had already had satisfaction through his earlier action. The entry does not tell us whether the jury searched the rolls to trace the earlier case, but it is obvious that a verdict reached using the evidence of the rolls stood most chance of being accepted by all parties. Tracing the earlier suit in the records and determining when it had begun and ended required, of course, that the court roll contained a sufficiently full note of each stage of the suit. For another example of an enquiry as to whether a trespass dispute had already been settled, see William v. Hadenham, court of Landbeach (Cambridgeshire) (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Archives XXXV/122, 15 Aug. 1382).

49. Terminations in the absence of the defendant occurred when the plaintiff failed to prosecute or “receded” (see Table 4 for termination methods).

50. Maitland, , Select Pleas, 107, 114–15, cited by Clark, , “Medieval Debt Litigation,” 69; Beckerman, , “Customary Law,” 253–54; Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 243; Poos, and Bonfield, , Select Cases, xl. See also Homans, , English Villagers, 315 : “The defendant was allowed a certain delay before he was forced to make his defence or lose the case by default. The usual custom was that he was allowed three summonses, three distraints, and three essoins.”

51. This involved use of the “little writ of right,” a privilege of villein sokemen of ancient demesne manors (land belonging to the royal estate at the time of Edward the Confessor).

52. For a fuller account, see Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 5586.

53. Orders to summon are recorded in only twenty-six Oakington and nine Horwood personal cases. Numerous precepts in the form “AB is summoned to respond to CD in a plea of debt and does not come, therefore order is made to attach/distrain” suggest that a summons was never made more than once.

54. The capias writ allowed the sheriff to arrest the defendant so that he might “have the body”; the writ of grand distress allowed him to distrain all the defendant's land and chattels: Sutherland, Donald W., “Mesne Process upon Personal Actions in the Early Common Law,” Law Quarterly Review 82 (1966): 482–96.

55. Nichols, Francis Morgan, ed., Britton (1865; repr., Holmes Beach, Fla.: W. W. Gaunt, 1983), 1:128, 160.

56. Default in personal actions discussed here was distinct from default of “common suit” owed by manorial tenants at every court session; see Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 6566.

57. Most but not all cases lasting for more than one court session specifically mention the defendant's default and an order to attach or distrain him or her. At other times, the reasons for adjournments or delays are unclear. There were of course delays owing to an essoin or (occasionally) a loveday (a day appointed for informal extra-curial settlement of parties' differences), which were legitimate options and do not indicate slackness in mesne process. Overall, however, the number of court sessions in which a case appeared is a good measure of the speed of justice.

58. Here and in the remainder of this paragraph cases are treated as resolved only where a settlement is recorded.

59. Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 244–45. Between 1351 and 1380, the average gap between Oakington court sessions was 77.4 days. Personal plaints terminated in three court sessions therefore lasted on average for 154.8 days, or just over five months.

60. Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 226–50.

61. Significantly, at Oakington the average number of court sessions held each year in the post-1350 decades did not fall below the pre-1350 norm. The average annual number of court sessions was: 1291–1300: 4.4; 1301–10: 4.1; 1311–20: 4.3; 1321–30: 4.1; 1331–40: 4.5; 1341–50: 6.3; 1351–60: 4.3; 1361–70: 5.2; 1371–80: 4.7. Beckerman cites Horwood as a prime example of a court that held fewer sessions after the Black Death than previously: “Procedural Innovation,” 244. It is true that by the end of the fourteenth century a pattern emerges suggesting that few sessions were held there other than the two annual “great courts.” This contrasts with the earlier period when up to nine were held annually, though that peak year (1325) was exceptional. Yet Beckerman ignores the issue of record survival, which undoubtedly becomes poor after 1360. For example, between 1360 and 1400 no records at all survive for the years 1363, 1372, and 1375–82, and for numerous other years records of only one “great court” survive. Deteriorating record survival makes it difficult to determine the number of court sessions actually held after 1360.

62. For use of these same termination methods elsewhere, see McIntosh, Marjorie Keniston, Autonomy and Community: The Royal Manor of Havering, 1200–1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 195–99, and Schofield, , “Peasants and the Manor Court,” 1617.

63. Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 202–19.

64. On litigation strategies, see Schofield, , “Peasants and the Manor Court,” 1026.

65. Beckerman, John S., “Law-Writing and Law Teaching: Treatise Evidence of the Formal Teaching of English Law in the Late Thirteenth Century,” in Learning the Law: Teaching and the Transmission of Law in England, 1150–1900, ed. Bush, Jonathan A. and Wijffels, Alain (London: Hambledon Press, 1999), 3350.

66. Rather than being concerned with understanding how juries did their work, most studies of manorial juries and jurors are part of an attempt to identify and characterize village elite families; see, most recently, Olson, Sherri, “Jurors of the Village Court: Local Leadership before and after the Plague in Ellington, Huntingdonshire,” Journal of British Studies 30 (1991): 237–56.

67. Only six Horwood actions (all non-debt) and twenty-eight Oakington actions (eleven debt and seventeen non-debt) feature entries where jury trial is requested and then ordered by the court to return its verdict at a subsequent court session. The entries recording the remaining 455 jury verdicts take one or other of the forms illustrated by the following examples: “It appears by the inquest (compertum est per inquisitionem) in which Robert Cademan plaintiff and John Burman defendant place themselves in a plea of trespass that the aforesaid John trespassed against the aforesaid Robert namely by killing Robert's two sheep with his dog to damages of 2s. 6d. Therefore it is considered etc. that the aforesaid Robert shall recover the said 2s. 6d. damages and the aforesaid John is in mercy and order is made to levy” (Q 5, m.14d, ?17 June 1354); “John Churchyard is attached to respond to Agnes Stephens concerning a plea as to why he took and carried away the grain of Agnes namely wheat and beans to the value of 2s. growing at le Flete against the peace etc., whereof she says that she has damages to the value 2s. etc. and John comes and defends etc. and well defends that he neither took nor carried away Agnes' grain and places himself upon inquest. The jurors say upon their oath that the aforesaid John carried away grain to Agnes' damage 1d. therefore she shall recover 1 d. against him and John is in mercy” (NCA 3913, m.15, 15 Oct. 1314).

68. This is probably related to the fact that in personal actions the defendant sought the jury, whereas in real actions the claimant did so; see Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 212 n. 76.

69. Beckerman refers to a permanent panel of jurors at Rickleigh (Yorkshire) in 1351, but does not indicate how he concludes the jury was of this type: Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 215; Beckerman, , “Customary Law,” 3334. At Oakington after 1350, clues about the appointment of trial juries emerge. The bailiff was amerced more than once for failing to return the “list” (panellus) that apparently contained the names of the jurors, thereby preventing the inquest from appearing and giving judgment. A panellus suggests jurors appointed specially in order to hear a particular case. For examples, see Q 7, m.9d (15 Dec. 1372); Q 8, m.3d (1 Aug. 1379).

70. At Horwood, a variety of different terms are used to describe the presentment juries at the view of frankpledge and the halmote. It is possible that this reflects the diversity of the juries in composition and function, though certainty is difficult because the individuals serving on each body are often unnamed. The main presentment body at the view of frank-pledge (whose members, usually ten in number, are named) consisted of the chief pledges (heads of tithings, the basic unit of local peacekeeping) acting together (from 1328) with the aletasters and constables. “Double presentment” operated at the Horwood views of frank-pledge, whereby a secondary jury or juries responded to its own set of articles and reported on the accuracy of the main jury's report. That secondary body or bodies is called either an “inquest” (inquisitio; see e. g., NCA 3913, m.7d), “the twelve jurors” (duodecim iurati; see e. g., NCA 3914, m.72), or the “free tenants” (liberi tenentes; see e.g., 3913, m.21d). At the halmote, presentments were made by a body or bodies referred to variously as “the homage” (homagium; see e.g., NCA 3914, m.54), “the customary tenants” (custumarii; see e.g., 3914, m.47), or an “inquest” (see e.g., NCA 3914, m.8). The Horwood situation is further complicated by the appointment of bodies with a variety of different names to present verdicts on specific matters of fact or custom. At Oakington, the situation was apparently simpler, with a single presentment jury usually called “the jurors” from each of the three vills reporting in both the “great courts” (where their names are usually listed from 1327 onward) and the halmotes. See Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 104–11.

71. See Q 3, m.15d (12 Oct. 1331) in an “unspecified” case; Q 3, m.18 (Apr. 1333) in debt. Most entries using the term iurata begin “it appears by the jury (compertum est per iuratam) in which [AB & CD] place themselves that.…”

72. After 1350, most references to trial juries take the form “it appears by the inquest (compertum est per inquisitionem) in which [AB & CD] place themselves that.…”

73. See n. 67 above.

74. Q 3, mm. 43–43d (11 July 1341, 26 Sept. 1341). See also, among other examples, Q 3, m.26d (12 May 1337) where an inquisitio was ordered in a plea of trespass (R. Sturmy v. W. Miller), although seven other cases heard per iuratam.

75. Q 4, m.10d (22 Nov. 1346).

76. Beckerman, , “Procedural Innovation,” 215–16.

77. Though rare, court records containing information on jury composition adequate for this purpose can be identified, such as the late fourteenth-century court rolls of Willingham (Cambridgeshire): Cambridge, Cambridgeshire Record Office L1/177. I hope elsewhere to publish a study of juries using these records and others.

78. For example, “Matilda Wyot gives the lord 6d. to levy five bushels of wheat from Margaret Lemmar and John Cosyn which she previously recovered in this court and the said Margaret and said John are in mercy for the aforesaid detention” (Q 1, m.14, 2 Nov. 1298). For fuller discussion, see Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 118–20. For similar payments at Castle Acre and Fulmodestone (Norfolk), see Clark, , “Medieval Debt Litigation,” 8586.

79. For example, “Robert son of Ralph Deye gives the lord 2s. for having speedy justice against William Fraunce, pledge the hayward of Drayton” (Q 2, m.9, 21 May 1313). See also Q 1, m.14 (22 Dec. 1298); Q 1, m.18d (26 May 1300); Q 1, m.17 (19 Nov. 1302); Q 2, m.2d (22 Jan. 1306). A payment of this type was also made in one covenant action: Q 1, m.14d (13 July 1299).

80. In all but one instance the payment was made and the case settled at the same court session. These payments apparently gave the plaintiff access to a summary process that bypassed the normal steps of plaint initiation and mesne process.

81. Other long-lasting recording changes were made in this period, such as the provision of the names of the presentment jurors from 1327, and the separation of view of frank-pledge business from halmote business on the rolls of the “great courts” from 1339. Also, 1349 saw the beginning of routine use of marginal notations to indicate which village of the three an entry pertained to (this included personal suits). Harvey, P. D. A. has noticed this reorganization; see his remarks on the Crowland rolls in Manorial Records, rev. ed. (London: British Records Association, 1999), 51. The amount of parchment used reflects the “reforms”: 1291–1320, forty-one membranes; 1321–50, eighty-eight membranes; 1351–80, sixty-one membranes. The membranes themselves are larger from the 1330s.

82. For these conditions, see n. 34 above.

83. Schofield, , “Dearth, Debt and the Local Land Market,” 13, advances such an argument concerning the effects of similar economic difficulties on credit availability at Hinderclay in the 1290s.

84. It is also worth speculating whether the date of transaction was specified in the six cases in Table 7 precisely because the debt was exceptionally old.

85. For discussion of similar evidence on “consumer demand” from the court rolls of Littleport (Cambridgeshire), see Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 122.

86. Christopher Dyer, “The Social and Economic Background to the Rural Revolt of 1381,” in Dyer, , Everyday Life in Medieval England (London: Hambledon Press, 1994), 207–8; Razi, Zvi, “The Struggles between the Abbots of Halesowen and Their Tenants in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries,” in Social Relations and Ideas: Essays in Honour of R. H. Hilton, ed. Aston, T. H.Coss, P. R.Dyer, C., and Thirsk, J. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 164; Smith, , “Some Thoughts,” 116–17.

87. Smith, David M. and London, Vera C. M., eds., The Heads of Religious Houses: England and Wales, vol. 2, 1216–1377 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 37.

88. Lincoln, Lincolnshire Archives (hereafter LA) ANC 6/1–42 (court rolls 1252–1354). The archival catalogue indicates that records of 61 court sessions appear on 29 membranes covering the years from 1252 to the start of Henry of Casewick's abbacy in 1324, while records of 109 court sessions appear on 103 membranes covering the first eighteen years of Henry's abbacy (1324/5–1341/2). Record survival is clearly poor for the first of these periods (though court rolls from 1343 to 1352 are also missing), so claims about a growth in court sessions must be cautious. Nonetheless, these figures do reveal how increased business in Henry's abbacy meant that more parchment was required to enroll each court session than previously. See also Lincolnshire Archives Committee, Archivist's Report 12 (1960-1961), 1013.

89. LA ANC 6/37/1–7, seven large membranes filled with little space remaining.

90. LA ANC 6/2. The Abbot Thomas referred to in the headings to these courts is probably Thomas de Welle. The only other pre-1354 Langtoft rolls currently available for inspection are LA ANC 6/27/2 and LA ANC 6/29/1.

91. For further evidence of this abbacy as a period of significant administrative change at Crowland, relating in this instance to Henry of Casewick's practice of granting fees and pensions to retainers (apparently a novelty under Henry), see Jones, E. D., “The Church and ‘Bastard Feudalism’: The Case of Crowland Abbey from the 1320s to the 1350s,” Journal of Religious History 10 (1978): 142–50.

92. For debt plaints against a non-resident defendant, see Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 192–97.

93. On this rule, see Beckerman, , “Customary Law,” 257–60; Brand, Paul, Kings, Barons and Justices: The Making and Enforcement of Legislation in Thirteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 9495, 193.

94. On non-tenants of the Crowland manors attracted to Oakington as plaintiffs, see Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 198203; for further discussion of the numbers and identity of debt litigants in the 1330s and 1340s, see Briggs, , “Creditors and Debtors and Their Relationships,” 133–35.

95. As Razi notes, the lord of Gressenhall attracted litigants “by providing them with an efficient curial service for resolving personal disputes. When such disputes were brought to the court they were settled either immediately or within a very short time. The court's efficiency was a consequence of the strong measures taken against defendants who did not appear there or failed to honour their obligations”: Razi, Z., “Manorial Court Rolls and Local Population: An East Anglian Case Study,” Economic History Review 49 (1996): 761–62.

96. See Briggs, , “Rural Credit,” 4054.

97. Horwood non-debt litigation also remained at a relatively high level into the 1350s— with peaks in numbers of new plaints occurring in 1351 and 1357 (nineteen plaints in both years)— which is perhaps a sign that the Black Death had an especially disruptive impact upon social relations in this village.

98. This is one aim of collaborative research I am undertaking with Phillipp R. Schofield, which will lead to a volume of select debt actions in manorial courts 1250–1350, to be published by the Selden Society.

99. On peasants and the market, see Bailey, Mark, “Peasant Welfare in England, 1290–348,” Economic History Review 51 (1998): 223–51.

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