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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London rape trial children hue-and-cry legal procedure eyre gender bias

Subject: Accusation of rape
Original source: Public Record Office: 1) Coram Rege roll, KB27/240, m.104d.; 2) Eyre roll, JI/1/547A, m.66d
Transcription in: Helen Cam, ed. The Eyre of London, 14 Edward II, A.D. 1321, vol.1, Selden Society, Year Books of Edward II, vol.26, (1968), 90-92.
Original language: Latin and French
Location: London
Date: 1321


[1. Initial complaint of rape made before the King's Bench]

London. The sheriffs had been ordered to attach Raymond de Lymoges, so as to have him before the king on this day, that is on 13 April [1320], to answer a charge of rape and breach of the king's peace brought by Joan daughter of Eustace le Seler of London. The sheriffs had responded with the names of pledges for prosecution: Eustace le Seler and John le Boys; and also [confirmation] that they would attach Raymond so as to have him on hand before the king on that date. And now Joan comes, and likewise Raymond. Joan accuses Raymond of rape and breach of the present king's peace. She states that at curfew on the night of 9 March 1320 in Walbrook ward in the parish of St. Mary Woolchurch in London, just outside Eustace's house, by force and against her will, Raymond took Joan by her left hand and led her off to his room in St. Martin Vintry parish. There he threw her to the ground and had sex with her against her will, feloniously as a king's felon, and completely deprived her of her virginity contrary to the peace of the king, his crown and his dignity etc. Having committed this felony, he fled and Joan pursued him, raising hue-and-cry from ward to ward, as far as the nearest 4 wards, and beyond into the king's court, so that Raymond might be arrested on Joan's charge. If Raymond chooses to deny this felony, Joan is ready to prove it against him in whatever way [the court decides].

Raymond comes and says that he is a cleric and that he cannot answer to this without his Ordinaries. To determine in what manner he should be turned over to the Ordinary, an enquiry is to be held into the truth [of Raymond's claim] by a jury. A jury is therefore to come before the king on 2 June etc.

Afterwards, on that date, Raymond comes, led by the marshal. And Joan likewise, and also the jury. Notwithstanding that he had previously said that he was a cleric, Raymond now declares that he is in no way guilty of it [i.e. the rape] and submits himself, win or lose, to this jury. When the jurors return with their verdict, Joan is formally summoned but fails to come to prosecute her charge. Therefore her pledges for prosecution are to be amerced, and she herself to be arrested. However, she is pardoned because underage. Raymond is acquitted of the charge brought by Joan. As for the Crown's case, being asked how he wishes clear himself of the felony, he denies any felony or rape or anything against the king's peace; and he submits his complete innocence of the charges to a jury, win or lose. Therefore a jury is to come before the king on 25 June.

On which day, Raymond comes, led by the marshal. And likewise the jurors, who say under oath that Raymond is not guilty of the rape and felony. Therefore he is acquitted. Furthermore, questioned as to what damages Raymond has incurred because of this matter, they say that his damages are to the value of forty pounds. Asked whether Joan has the means to pay those damages, they say no. Asked also who had aided and abetted in bringing the accusation and in drawing up the charge, they say that Eustace le Seler of London, John le Botoner le Clop', John Lungchaump, Thomas Shereman of Walbrook, and John de Goiz locksmith had abetted the charge. The sheriffs are therefore ordered to distrain them by all their lands etc., and that the what issues from that etc., and that their persons should be brought before the king on 6 October, to answer both to the king and to Raymond.

[2. Review of the case by the eyre]

Joan, daughter of Eustace le Seler came before the coroners of London on 7 February 1321 and accused Raymond de Lymoges of rape and breach of the king's peace, in these words: Joan the daughter of Eustace le Seler accuses Raymond de Lymoges of raping her body, feloniously and against the peace, on 9 March 1320 in Walbrook in the parish of St. Mary Woolchurch in London, two feet from Eustace's house. Raymond came there after the hour of curfew, feloniously as a felon; he seized the body of Joan, 11 years old, and carried her off, taking her into his own house – that is, to the house rented by Ellis Pers in the parish of St. Martin Vintry in London, into his room, which was a solar in the upper storey. There he kept Joan throughout the night and deflowered her, feloniously as a felon, against her will and in breach of the peace; so cruelly and horrendously did he handle her physically that her life was despaired of, and still is, and there remains little hope of her recovery. Therefore Joan begs the help of the king, so that she may have legal retribution and justice for this felony committed in defiance of the king and his crown and against the peace.

She found guarantors that she will prosecute her case, viz. Henry le Sadelere porter and William atte Wode saddlemaker. Consequently the sheriffs were ordered by the coroners to attach Raymond to appear before the justices here [i.e. at the eyre]. And Joan comes, and likewise Raymond, attached by the sheriffs. And Joan accuses Raymond of raping her of her virginity in the location mentioned on 19 March 1320, in contempt of the king's peace, his crown and his dignity. And this she offers to prove in whatever way etc.

Raymond entirely denies the rape and felony, etc. He says that Joan, in the accusation she made before the coroners, asserted that she had been raped on the night of 9 March. But now, in the accusation she lays before the justices, she asserts that she was raped on the 19th, and does not prosecute the accusation that she previously made before the coroners, which was in effect the original. He requests that inconsistency be taken into account, not least because she could not twice be deprived of one and the same virginity, etc. Joan is unable to deny this.

Therefore the charge brought against Raymond by Joan herself is dismissed. Joan is to be imprisoned for false accusation; however, she is pardoned because underage.

As for the Crown's case, Raymond, asked how he wishes to clear himself of rape and felony, states that he had elsewhere been acquitted of that rape and felony, before Henry le Scrop and his fellow justices of the King's Bench, by a local jury to whose verdict he had submitted himself, win or lose. He presents a record of his acquittal, under the seal of that Henry, together with the king's writ addressed to Henry [ordering him] to send that record to the justices here; he also presents the king's writ to the justices here, [ordering them] to admit the document [into evidence] and furthermore to do justice etc. The document having been inspected, it was verified that Raymond had been acquitted of rape and felony at the king's suit. Therefore he is acquitted.


Apart from illustrating how a young girl might become a pawn in the affairs of men, this case – which later became part of a compilation of examples used to help law students learn about legal manoeuvring – gives an indication of the drawbacks of medieval legal records.

The legal system required careful adherence to formulae, both in the procedure of a complaint and in the narrative of the accusation and defence. Bracton outlined the procedure to be followed by a virgin who had been raped; the record of the case above reflects that procedure and the emphasis on loss of virginity. Rape of a married woman or widow was considered less serious, but rape of a virgin – at least from the time of the second Statute of Westminster (1285) – was a felony and punishable by mutilation or death.

The information provided for the legal record is shaped at least as much by what the law required as by the real details of events. This included drawing the crime to the immediate attention of neighbours who could witness wounds and torn clothing, then to the attention of the authorities, and – after Raymond has won his first acquittal, before the King's Bench – subsequently to the coroners, who would ensure the trial came before the eyre. Joan must have had to repeat the facts of her charge on several occasions, very carefully to ensure the formulae were respected; in this she would surely have received coaching from family and neighbours, who also may well have taken a leading role in the hue-and-cry following Joan's ordeal, since Joan would surely have fled home first.

We can also see that the formal record of the case is only a summary of the evidence presented during court proceedings. For the legal report which happens to have survived for this eyre provides fuller information. It describes, for instance, the location of the alleged rape in greater detail, while the description of the assault itself is even more detailed:

In the middle of the room ... [Raymond] took the same Joan ... between his two arms and, without her consent and against her will, lay her down on the floor, her belly facing up and her back against the ground, and with his right hand pulled Joan's clothing – she being dressed in a coat of blue say and a dress of a light cloth – up as far as her navel.... Using both hands he pushed apart Joan's legs and thighs and, with his right hand took his penis of length etc. and of size etc. and put it into Joan's cunt, breaking through her "watershed" and laying her open, making her bleed, and depriving her of her virginity.
And yet this level of detail is open to question, for we may doubt whether a probably terrified young girl would have been able to focus on the details of what was being done to her. Again, we may be seeing instead an emphasis for legal purposes on the force and injury.

Due in part to the brevity of the legal records, it is difficult for us to reach our own conclusions as to the true guilt or innocence of accused parties. The case against Raymond of Limoges who, as his surname suggests and as evidence from another source indicates, was a merchant of Bordeaux and presumably only in London on a business trip, appears to be strong. His attempt to delay matters – perhaps a panic reaction, prompted by the prospect of being hung – by claiming benefit of clergy cannot endear us to him. His defence strategy rested more on the discrepancies in Joan's case – the inexplicable inconsistency in the dates of the alleged rape, and the question of whether he could be tried twice for the same offence (such being an issue debated by the eyre lawyers) – than on grounds to believe his innocence.

Joan's complaint, whether on 9th or 19th March, was taken seriously enough to warrant Raymond's arrest on 23 March and his imprisonment until 25 June, when he was acquitted. After acquittal, Raymond pursued legal damages of £100 against Joan's father and the others, claiming a conspiracy to frame him had been formed in February 1320. This case dragged on from October 1320 to at least June 1321; its conclusion is not known. Meanwhile, Eustace's daughter's complaint of rape had been renewed before the coroner, despite the 40-day limitation for such a complaint under London custom (also a subject debated by the lawyers), in order to have the case referred to the eyre.

It is possible that Raymond used the delay won from his claim of clergy to influence the jurors to support him – although such influence (e.g. bribery) could not have been easy from within prison unless he had others to help him – or to have Joan or her father intimidated into dropping their prosecution. That Raymond was able to obtain a royal writ obliging the eyre court to admit into evidence the copy of his earlier acquittal suggests he had money and/or influence.

A further factor in Raymond's acquittal was the fact that a legal system dominated by men may have been reluctant to condemn their fellows to mutilation or hanging for a crime they did not consider warranted such severity. Professor Hanawalt (Of Good and Ill Repute: Gender in Social Control in Medieval England, Oxford: University Press, 1998), who has analyzed the Seler vs. Lymoges case from this perspective, points out that rape charges were far less common than homicides, few of the rape charges that were brought obtained a conviction, and convictions leading to capital punishment are virtually non-existent. Unless the accused admitted guilt by fleeing, leading to outlawry, the best a complainant might hope for would be to damage the reputation of her attacker.

On the other hand, without clearer evidence, we cannot dismiss the possibility that Eustace and his friends had fabricated the story of the rape in order to have Raymond imprisoned, perhaps in relation to business dealings; Professor Cam suggests it may have been to prevent Raymond claiming a debt owed him. That Raymond avoided in his defence addressing the substance of the accusation does not help us in determining whether there was any substance.

Raymond's countersuit implies a connection with Eustace prior to the date of the alleged rape, and conceivably Eustace may have been looking to obtain the financial compensation due from a convicted rapist, to counterbalance a debt he owed. Nor is it beyond the realm of possibility that Eustace was pimping his own daughter – something Raymond could not have used as a defence, given the age of the girl. It was not unknown for women to be used as tools to bring charges before the courts; in fact, the royal justices at Wigan in 1323 were assigned, as one of their articles of investigation, to enquire about any cases of persons making use of underage children to accuse others of felony and obtain their incarceration.

We will probably never know if poor Joan suffered a terrible rape, only to see her attacker go free through legal technicalities and, possibly, corruption or bias of a jury; or whether Eustace was heartlessly using his own daughter to bring pressure on a creditor. As Professor Cam (Eyre of London, cxxiv) concluded: "Either way it was a dirty business."



A saddlemaker.

"raising hue-and-cry"
After raising hue-and-cry, the law report tells us, Joan sought out the ward beadles, who took her to the sheriff; the complaint was next referred to the coroner (who had the authority to refer complaints to a court) before being brought before the king. This – the correct legal procedure from the point of view of the king's court – would have seem a remarkably clear-headed response from a young girl who had just undergone a traumatic experience. However, Joan's hue-and-cry may perhaps have taken place later than we might infer from the text; her rationale for hue-and-cry was likely to establish public witness to the physical signs of the harm done her (i.e. bloodstains, torn clothing).

"says that he is a cleric"
Claiming "benefit of clergy", if the claim could be supported, was a way for the defendant to transfer a case to a church court, which could be expected to impose a less harsh sentence. Many members of society were in lesser orders. In Raymond's case it was only a delaying tactic.

An Ordinary was a cleric having a jurisdiction associated with an ecclesiastical office that involved judicial, legislative or governmental authority.

"the Crown's case"
Since rape was a felony, the defendant had to answer not only Joan's appeal, but an indictment from the Crown.

A type of woollen cloth similar to serge.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: July 17, 2003 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003

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