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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London eyre trial homicide children misadventure arson spousal abuse

Subject: Cases perceived as precedents or illustrating points of law
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Liber Albus, ff. 31-33
Transcription in: Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Liber Albus, Rolls Series, no.12, vol.1 (1859), 94-95, 97-98, 100-101.
Original language: Latin
Location: London
Date: early 13th century


That an underage boy not be subject to judgement

On 30 August in the same year [1231] etc. it happened that a certain man by the name of Osbert was found in St. Andrew street with a serious head wound [caused] by a cudgel; he died as a result of the wound the following day. John le Syre of Kingston and his son John [sic ?William] were arrested as suspects in the death and put in prison. Afterwards they were released for 40 days by order of Richard Renger, then a Justice of the Bench, without any other warrant, and the sheriffs were amerced.

John has died; William appears. Richard de Wyndunberi, his wife Wymarca, and Richard's sons Hamo and Thomas – in whose house a cudgel had been found – likewise come; they deny [complicity in] the felony and any infringement of the king's peace, and put themselves on the verdict of the mayor and citizens of London. Which is allowed them, since there are only slight grounds for the suspicion. Because Hamo and Thomas, attached for the homicide, were then infants and thus underage, they are therefore not subject to judgement but are acquitted of it; but the others are kept in custody.

Afterwards the mayor and citizens stated, under their oath of loyalty by which they were bound to the king, that neither the aforementioned [parties] nor anyone else was guilty of the death. Because, they say, a certain horse belonging to Sir William de Stuteville collapsed in the street and fractured his [i.e. Osbert's] head, so that he died. Consequently it is decided that everyone be acquitted of the death. Judgement of [death by] misadventure. And because the sheriffs and chamberlain did not mount an adequate investigation, they are to be amerced.

Concerning irresponsible behaviour

In the same year [1235/36], it happened that in Walbrook street a certain youth, Robert the son of Payne, fell off the horse that he was riding when Robert de Donestaple gave the horse a scare; as a result, he died within the month. Robert comes and he is not considered guilty of the death. But because he scared [the horse] through stupidity and thoughtlessness, it is decided that he be put in gaol for his irresponsibility. Judgement of [death by] misadventure. And because the sheriffs and chamberlain did not hold an inquisition on the horse, which was the cause of the youth's death, they are to be amerced.

Abjuration of the realm

In the same year [1239/40] at "la Garre" in Kent: it happened that a certain Roger le Sauser and a certain maid, named Inga, left the house of Isolde de Tateshale in London and went to la Garre, taking with them fire in a pot for the purpose of burning down the house of Joce de la Garre. Which house there they did burn down, and Roger killed Joce with an arrow, and fled to the church of Upchurch. There he admitted his deed and abjured the realm. Asked why and for what reason he did it, he said that Isabella [sic] put him up to it, to protect Inga and burn down the house.

The following day Inga returned to London, to Isolde's house. She was immediately arrested there and imprisoned, and thereafter convicted of the deed and burned.

Concerning someone who remained at large after mortally wounding his wife, and who was not attached.

A certain man, John de Londoneston, struck his wife Agnes with a sword on Easter Sunday [1241], so that she died of the wound the following Friday. Upon her death, John fled and is believed to be guilty. Judgement that he is to be exacted and outlawed according to due form etc. His possessions [are worth] 4s.8d; for which the sheriffs are to answer. Since it was proved that John, for five days after striking her, remained resident in his house among his neighbours and did not take to flight until after her death; and since John Clerk dubber and Thomas de Marisco of Barking, members of John's family who were with him when he committed the deed and afterwards, up to the time he fled, neither raised hue-and-cry upon him nor reported anything of the matter to the chamberlain or the sheriffs (which the justices consider puts them under suspicion), they have been committed to prison, and meanwhile [i.e. pending trial] the matter will be discussed with the king.


The above are synopses of cases dealt with by the eyre of 1244 and considered, by some later London official, of significance in terms of either establishing a precedent or illustrating some point of law or city custom. Over seventy such extracts from the eyre records were made, arranged chronologically under the year in which the offence was committed (ranging between 1228 and the year the eyre was held), with the titles assigned by the compiler to each extract indicating the particular point of law of interest to him. A consequence of the record being a synopsis rather than a full verbatim copy is that some of the facts have evidently been left out.

Gaps are apparent in the first case, where players are introduced abruptly. The reason for the sheriffs being amerced is not explained (it being irrelevant to the compiler's interests), although it was perhaps for having made an arrest without proper investigation or a formal charge against the suspects. There is also the abrupt switch from 1231 to 1244, although this was a characteristic of the original eyre records too. One of the interesting points of this case is that it suggests that an investigation of a felony might involve searches of properties in the vicinity of the crime.

Another of the synopses deals with a case of trial by combat.



Probably Kingston upon Thames.

"mayor and citizens"
The Londoners claimed the right for presentments of crimes to be made by the mayor and council, without the need to put together juries specially for the eyre, and this passage suggests the same for the rendering of verdicts. They also maintained that their oath of loyalty to the king was sufficient to guarantee the truth of what they said, without any special oath administered by the court.

"inquisition on the horse"
There should have been an official identification of the horse as the instrument of the death, since that would have resulted in the forfeiture of the horse to the king.

"la Garre"
Possibly Harry Green, on the banks of the Medway, just a couple of miles from Upchurch.

Sentence of outlawry was pronounced in the folkmoot (as an official and very public gathering).

An artisan who beat leather (or cloth) as part of the industrial process.

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

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