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SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Coventry recreation sport hunting archery offences

Subject: Recreational activities at Coventry
Original source: Coventry City Record Office, Leet Book
Transcription in: Mary Dormer Harris, ed. The Coventry Leet Book or Mayor's Register, London: Early English Text Society, old series, vol.134 (1907), 27, 197.
Original language: Middle English, Latin
Location: Coventry
Date: 15th century


[1. Brawling and hunting, January 1421]

[We command] that there be no gatherings for the purpose of the group supporting the quarrels of its individuals, nor that [anyone] go to any bede-ale held outside the city, nor that anyone ride into the countryside, without permission from the mayor and bailiffs, upon penalty of up to 40s. for every infringement. Also that no man should be so bold or foolhardy to go into the countryside and break into any lord's park, for the purpose of hunting his deer or rabbits, under penalty of 100s. fine and imprisonment.

[ .... ]

Also, that no man walk large hounds or bitches along the highway, upon penalty of 40d. for every infringement.

[2. Archery and cock-fighting, 22 April 1441]

It is their wish that William Oxton remove the butts specified herein, located at the muckhill in Little Park Street, without anyone objecting (by order of the mayor); and that those being made at present should be erected elsewhere. No-one is henceforth to practice archery in the place for cock-fighting.


Recreational or sporting activities in towns are usually evidenced through authorities' prohibitions of those considered undesirable. Prohibitions were, however, no more effective than their enforcement, which relied largely upon charges being brought by private individuals or presented by the leet jury. It was a not uncommon complaint from owners of estates surrounding towns that townsmen would trespass and poach thereon. In 1480, for example, the Prior of Coventry was complaining to the mayor that (among other things) townspeople: were hunting and hawking on his lands within and outside the city bounds; had damaged his hedges and crops by a reckless sport called "roving" which involved shooting arrows at movable targets; were surreptitiously, during the day and at night, fishing in his ponds; had made a "sporting place" on his land where they practised archery and played "other games". The mayor's response was basically that all these were offences committed by individuals and it was incumbent upon the Prior to prosecute any guilty party; the mayor noted that roving was a problem commonly encountered in large cities and prohibited in Coventry by ordinance.

Archery was one of the few sports sanctioned by authority, since it built skills useful in times of war or local defence. In the passage above, the concern was not with archery per se, but with it being practiced in a location where it was not likely to prove a danger to bystanders.



An ale was a drinking party thrown for the purpose of fundraising. Such parties might be the subject of a general invitation (probably as here) or of specific invitations; in some cases these became opportunities for a form of extortion by local officials, in which invitees – coerced into participating – were expected to pay high prices for the ale they drank.

"large hounds"
This would probably refer to hunting hounds.

This refers to the leet jury, who acted with the mayor and other officials as the legislative body of the city.

"William Oxton"
The common sergeant of the city.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 27, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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