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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Northampton leet court jury oath tithing frankpledge offences assizes crime detection

Subject: Tithingman's oath of office
Original source: Liber Custumarum, ff.119b-120
Transcription in: Christopher Markham, ed. The Records of the Borough of Northampton, (Northampton, 1898), vol.1, 393-94.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Northampton
Date: mid-15th century


You shall well and truly make enquiry and present all manner of brawls [and] bloodshed [with] daggers, swords, bills, knives, and all kinds of weapons. And staves used against the peace. And of attachments rescued from bailiffs or their officers. And of all harbourers [of suspected criminals, prostitutes etc.]. [Of offences] against the assizes [of bread, ale and wine]. And of all housebreaking. And those who eavesdrop under men's windows. And of all common scolds and common night-wanderers and of all common Sunday diners, all who breakfast at the time of divine services and sermons. And everyone who buys foodstuffs – such as eggs, butter and cheese and other other victuals – before they reach the market designated for [their sale], and that you shall present all persons so doing. Also you shall make enquiry and presentments at the time of the leets. And at all times you shall make honest enquiry and honest presentment of these articles, and everything else that pertains to the office [of tithingman], and will not allow friendship, bribe, or obligation to any person [to cause you] to do other than your best in disclosing [offences] etc. And their ale is to comprise 12 gallons of clear ale according to the mayor's proclamation, and that they make presentment of all ale-houses and drinking-houses that are not licenced according to the act of the king's parliament made on that subject, and are to present all who behave poorly by playing at dice, cards, bowls and other illegal games. [You are to make presentment] of all obstructions and dunghills in the streets which cause nuisance. And that you go to see that all brewers brew good, wholesome ale suitable to be drunk by men and that their [brewing-]tubs are in good condition, and that they use only sealed measures to sell [ale].


The tithingman, as the leader of a unit of those sworn to frankpledge within a community, took the lead in enquiring among the members of his unit (or more broadly), into things that needed to be reported to the authorities.



A pike with a hook-shaped blade.

"attachments rescued"
The rescue of attachments refers to goods distrained by city officers to oblige someone to answer to justice, but subsequently and illegally recovered by the owners by subterfuge, theft or force.

Common in this context means habitual.

"Sunday diners"
The offence of Sunday diners and breakfasters was that they should have been attending church instead of feasting. The section "all who breakfast ... all persons so doing" is an interpolation in a later hand, but the concern with forestalling is typical of the later Middle Ages as a whole.

"And their ale"
The section from "And their ale ..." to the close of the oath is a later interpolation. This section seems to begin mid-sentence.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 23, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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