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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Norwich leet court tithing jury crime detection market offences misdemeanour

Subject: Presentments in the Norwich leet court
Original source: Norfolk Record Office, Norwich leet roll, 16 Edward I
Transcription in: William Hudson, ed. Leet Jurisdiction in the City of Norwich, Selden Society, V (1892), 4-6.
Original language: Latin
Location: Norwich
Date: 1288


Leet of Conesford, 8 February 1288
Berstreet [sub-leet]

Geoffrey de Howe harboured William de Stirston, who was not in tithing. William Calf in mercy for showing great contempt to the bailiffs by refusing to to take oath [as a capital pledge]; afterwards he swore [his oath]. William de Denne has harboured Robert de Howe, son of Alexander de Brakendenne, for two years. He is consequently in mercy because he [Robert?] was out of tithing. Robert de Mendham (sworn), William Godynow (sworn), Henry Pope (sworn), Geoffrey de Howe (discharged), Edmund de Stafford (sworn), Geoffrey fitz Baldwin (sworn), John de Ashill (sworn), Henry de Hoyland (sworn), Simon le Prude (sworn), Simon fitz Ranulph (sworn), Eudo de Tybenham (sworn), William Calf (sworn), Thomas le Neve (sworn), who present on their oath that John the servant of Robert Cann drew blood from Ralph de Aslakton baker. They say that Beatrice la Qwyte and her associate Acilia habitually steal fleece from sheep and removed the fleece from the sheep of John Molle chaplain, and they stole a surcoat priced at 40d. from the house of Henry Gylur; they carried off the fleeces and surcoat to the house of Geoffrey Munne, who knew about the felony and harboured them. They say also that Richard Cokard is a thief and habitually steals geese and hens, and has been a thief for seven years. Also they present Robert Scot and the husband of Emma le Hauteyn for the same. They also present that Beatrice daughter of Robert Beumund raised the hue and it was pursued as far as the Tolbooth. They present also that Henry de Caumbys is a thief, and they consider him suspicious, and that he acts contrary to the peace, and that he is well-dressed and no-one knows by what means [he can afford good clothes], and he is always wandering around at night. They also present that the Prioress of Carrow and Robert Gerveys of Bracondale use the greenery in the city ditches as pasturage and have pigs and sheep there in the keeping of swineherds and shepherds. They also present that Thomas le Schowthere, residing by Trowse bridge, buys grain before it reaches the market, with the result that etc. [i.e. the bailiffs lose the toll payable from the importer of the grain]. Roger de Clakeston for the same. Robert Gerveys of Bracondale for the same. Geoffrey Ringolf for the same. They present that all brewers sell contrary to the assize. They also say that Adam de Barsham drew blood from Matilda le Ledbettere. Adam also drew blood from William son of Richard de Gontorth. John Gylur drew blood from Geoffrey Munne. They say that all fishermen and poulterers have bought before the hour etc. [i.e. when the market opened for trading]. They also present that Vincent and Adam de Saham dug up the highway at the Old Swinemarket. Nicholas de Reymerston made an encroachment eighteen feet long and three inches wide. They also say that John de Ely linendraper sells beer for a penny. They also say that Thomas Gerveys skinner and Walter Hee have fuller's blocks for conducting fraudulent work on old clothes. They also present that Walter Hee has an unsealed measure so that those measures make a gallon [sic]. They also say that Roger Burgeys broke down the door of Simon le Prude. They also say that John Qwyt, John Hert senior of Trowse, Walter Hunne, Stephen le Carecter, John Croke, Walter Bely, and John Strike sell unwholesome meat. John Pekok baker drew blood from Ralph the servant of Richard de Aylesham at the bakery of Peter de Wyleby. They also say that the anchorite of All Saints has blocked up the Cockey so that no-one can cross over it there. They also say that Roger de Lakenham has sold Jewish meat known as trephah. They also say that Humphrey de Alderford drew blood from Alexander Cully with a cudgel and Alexander raised the hue. They also say that Ralph de Mangrene blocked the highway for 6 feet of its width opposite his stall, so that carts cannot get past there. Roger Beumund has an extremely unpleasant dunghill. William de Kesewyk for the same. Martin le Rede, lodging with Richard de Aylesham, is out of tithing. John Keye [is] out of tithing. Roger son of Richard de Aylesham [is] out of tithing. Henry de Bekles chaplain raised the hue on William de Lakenham in the parish of St. Martin. Marion, wife of Roger de Corston, raised the hue on Reginald de Lakenham in the same parish. Gundredale Puddingwyf raised the hue on William le Linnite. Richard de Hemenhale raped Hawisia Balle. Hamo the smith of Trowse bought grain, with the result that the bailiffs etc. The wife of Thomas le Cordewaner raised the hue on Reginald de Lakenham. They say that the poulterers and fishermen (as above). They present also that the wife of Andrew Skeppere, who lodges in the house of William de Buretoft, is a thief and stole from the house of William de Lakenham butcher a surcoat priced at 12d. And she is habitually doing this kind of thing. They present also that Robert Scot habitually climbs over walls at night and breaks through walls [of houses?] and carries out other felonies.

[ .... ]

[Other types of offences presented in this roll, ibid, 1-19, include:]

  • Nicholas le Jay wounded a certain clerk, an outsider, and cut off two of the clerk's fingers, and the hue was raised there and Nicholas was captured and imprisoned on a charge by Hugh de Bromholm, constable of the leet, and Ernald [de Castro, who wounded Hugh during the pursuit] and others escaped.
  • All the alewives sell two gallons for a penny and two gallons for a penny-halfpenny.
  • The lodgers in the renter of master Godfrey de Norton have a window that is a nuisance [i.e. probably an impediment] to passers-by and pedestrians on the highway.
  • The servant of Robert de Daleby found a cow and led it away, but they don't know to where.
  • Master Roger de Gernemutha brought a plea of debt against Richard de Melton in the Court Christian, contrary to the king's prohibition.
  • Master Alan de Freton caused an obstruction in the river with dung and ashes, contrary to the king's prohibition.
  • John Howard of Surlingham has goods belonging to him at the house of Margaret Sumeres in the parish of St. Peter Southgate and trades in the city, yet is not in tithing nor in the franchise of Norwich.
  • Ralph Perconal found and keeps a plank cast up by the river and has not turned it over to the bailiffs.
  • Roger de Lakenham drew blood from Richard Warinhale and the wife of Richard Warinhale raised the hue, [but] they did not bring the matter to court but reached a private settlement among themselves.
  • Men of Sprowston who sell sausages and puddings knowingly buy poor quality pigs and sell in Norwich market the said sausages and puddings which are unfit for human consumption.
  • Roger de Nedham smith habitually raises the hue on his servants, night and day, and has done this constantly since the last leet.
  • Walter Jolyf has made a watercourse where none ever existed before, across [the property of] William Bele and to the nuisance of William, his neighbour.
  • Geoffrey de Lenn sold a poorly-tanned hide to Richard de Knapton junior, and habitually does that kind of thing.
  • The daughter of John de Sculthorpe by night stole a bucket and rope from the house of Hugh de Castro and [planned to?] deposit them in the Jewry. Ralph Brid and Lucas de Brunne encountered her en route to the Jewry and took the rope and bucket out of her hands and kept them until Hugh de Castro gave [them] five pence; and they said they found them pawned in the Jewry.
  • Emma de Ashwell bought 6 coombs of corn from the servant of the parson of Pulham and, because she did not receive a heaped measure she withholds a halfpenny from him .... Emma de Ashwell and the wife of Martin Whiteside regularly refuse [to buy] razed measures of corn and malt.
  • The tanners have a gild among themselves, so that if any member wrongs another the complaint is to be made to the alderman, with the result that the bailiffs etc. [i.e. are deprived of their authority and of revenues from court fines].
  • All cooks and pastry-cooks re-heat pasties and meat on the second and third days.
  • Isabella who lodges next to the Cockey in a renter of Geoffrey Costinoble harbours a certain woman whom they believe a thief and they suspect her [i.e. Isabella] for harbouring [thieves].
  • Thomas, formerly the servant of William de Intwodde, habitually receives stolen goods at Yarmouth and brings them to Norwich to sell; sometimes he says that these goods are feathers.
  • John Janne bought eight drowned sheep from Alan de Catton and sold them as if good meat.
  • Roger le Caly, Gerard le Especer and his sons John and William hold a market at the gate of Holy Trinity to the damage of the community marketplace.
  • The servant of Mabel, wife of Henry le Scriven, climbed up a gutter [i.e. drainpipe] of Geoffrey de Wyleby and removed and carried of lead placed there priced at 1d.
  • Robert le Fuler spends much yet has nothing from which [to spend] and he wanders about at night; a bad opinion is held of him because it must have been he who stole John de Ingham's goods from his tavern in Cookrowe.... Robert le Fuler is acquainted with thieves and cutpurses and he receives rewards from them to prevent them being arrested.


These extracts from the record of the leet session held at Lent give a sense of the range of offences and misdemeanours committed by townspeople or outsiders or strangers. The injured party might be an individual or the community in general. Sometimes the report was not of a specific crime, but simply of suspicious behaviour (e.g. Henry de Campesse). Some offences were be serious enough to require referring to a higher court, such as the eyre – the accused were ordered arrested. Most were punishable by moderate fines, ranging – to judge from a roll of amercements from 1288/89 – from 12d. to 6s.8d.

The lightest fines were for being out of tithing – a very common offence – raising hue and cry, or for jurors who failed to present offences; while the heaviest were for serious market offences such as being engaged in trade without being a freeman or forestalling. But there were not fixed fines for different offences; circumstances surrounding the particular offence, the number of offences, and the capability of the offender to pay were taken into consideration; thus for example one man not in tithing was fined 2s. because he had married while in that condition, while the bailiffs cancelled some fines because of the poverty of the offenders. The repeated blanket accusations against brewers, cooks, fishermen, etc., show however that the fines were not sufficient deterrent and were perhaps perceived simply as the price of doing (illicit) business.

The record of the presentment of offences in each sub-leet, by a 12-man jury selected from the principal tithingmen (or "capital pledges") of each sub-leet, usually began with a list of those selected to take the juror's oath, followed by a list of the offences they reported. The offences identified prior to the listing of jurors seems in part associated with the process of selection: one juror was disqualified because himself an offender (which put him in a conflict of interest), while another initially refused to serve on the jury – informing on friends or neighbours doubtless not being popular, while jurors were themselves subject to fines if an offence came to notice that they did not report – but changed his mind when threatened with amercement. On the other hand, part of these initial presentments may have had to do with administration of the tithing system itself, since two of the three are concerned with men not affiliated with tithings. The few other examples of this that occur in the roll support this hypothesis up to a point.

It appears that the presentments of the juries were accepted at face value, unless clear evidence to the contrary appeared. The capital pledges had presumably consulted with members of their tithing before bringing forward accusations at the view of frankpledge, and there is slight evidence that the jury as a whole needed to support accusations by any of its members. There is no evidence of witnesses being sought. While accused parties may have had the opportunity to defend themselves, it was not a given that they would be present at the session at all; the word of an individual against that of a group of twelve townsmen would not have counted for much. On the other hand, there are several cases where fines were cancelled because the bailiffs concluded that the accusation was without substance, and in one case a capital pledge was fined for false accusation against a woman concerning a crime committed within his sub-leet, after the bailiffs (apparently) cross-checked with the accused's tithing denied her involvement.



"Robert Scot and the husband of Emma le Hauteyn"
The pair were more specifically charged by the jury for Southern Conesford sub-leet: that they robbed the servant of Robert le Parchiminer of fourpence farthing, just south of Norwich in Bracondale.

"Robert Gerveys"
The Southern Conesford jury also accused Robert Gerveys (likely a tenant of Carrow Priory) of forestalling corn, probably in Bracondale which was just on the other side of the defensive perimeter.

"all brewers"
The blanket charge against brewers indicates both how commonly the assize of ale was ignored, and how taken for granted it was in the community that the terms of the assize would be infringed.

"fishermen and poulterers"
The crime of the fishermen and poulterers, as indicated more clearly by the same charge brought by another sub-leet's jury, was that they bought up meat and fish coming to the market in order to control the supply and raise prices. The seriousness of this offence, in terms of its aggravation to the community, is reflected in the fact that several juries separately presented it.

An encroachment, or purpresture, was an act of trespassing onto private or public property, as part of (for example) constructing or extending a building or its appurtenance, digging a drain, etc.

"fuller's blocks"
These, Hudson explains, were likely troughs in which old clothing – possibly stolen clothing, the law suspected – was beaten to raise the cloth (a treatment similar to fulling); which, when combined with other alterations, might make them appear new.

Meat unacceptable for consumption according to Jewish dietary laws. Jewish butchers sold any such meat to Christian butchers, but prejudice grew against it among Christians and it evidently became an offence to sell such meat to Christians.

"Court Christian"
The Court Christian could claim jurisdiction in matters with obvious religious overtones, such as marriage or testaments, but this would not normally extend to pleas of debt.

"private settlement"
Thus forestalling the course of justice and depriving the court of revenue in fines.

"tanners have a gild"
The complaint about a tanners' gild was based on a clause in the royal charter of liberties granted in 1256, that "No gild may henceforth be held in the city to the detriment of the city."

The concern about the private market, which was evidently on Tombland (Holy Trinity being the cathedral) relates to the ongoing disputes between the city and the priory as to jurisdiction on Tombland, where the Prior claimed the right to hold a market.

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

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