Saturday, April 25, 2015

Henry Tyrel, outlaw

In this blog post, as promised, I will be talking about Henry Tyrel, an outlaw whose execution I mentioned in my previous post. I also mentioned Henry in my very first post, and I expect I'll be mentioning him in future posts. I'm very fond of Henry. He appeared in an article I wrote on violence and crime in fourteenth-century Ireland, which was published in Medieval Dublin X (ed. Seán Duffy): I also dealt with him in my book (see previous post for image of book and link, I won't be shameless enough to post it again!) ;-)

Lots of comparisons can be made between outlaws that lived in late medieval Ireland, and their counterparts in England. The early fourteenth century in England was a period when outlaw gangs, whose exploits were somewhat similar to those that were committed by the legendary Robin Hood and his gang, reigned supreme. Outlaws like the Coterels of Derbyshire and the Folvilles of Leicestershire have received much attention from English social historians. Surprisingly, the criminal gangs that existed in Ireland in this same period have received less attention in spite of the fact that their exploits are recorded in the plea rolls. There are plenty of them to look at, and I will do so in future blogs.

In my head, this is what Henry Tyrel looks like! :)

Who was Henry Tyrel? Henry was a member of the burgeoning gentry class. His father was Gerald Tyrel, a knight who held the manor of Lyons in north county Kildare. Gerald was a close associate of two important men: John Fitz Thomas, lord of Offaly and future first earl of Kildare, and Ralph Pipard, who as well as owning extensive lands in county Louth and Monaghan also owned the manors of Leixlip, Oughterard and Castlewarden in county Kildare. These manors had originally been granted to Adam de Hereford by Strongbow just after the invasion and came into the Pipard family’s possession when Adam’s daughter Auda married William Pipard. Although he was a major landholder in Ireland, by the beginning of the fourteenth century Ralph Pipard was spending all of his time in England and Gerald Tyrel served as seneschal of his lands in Ireland. Eventually, Ralph relinquished his Irish lands to the crown and they quickly passed into the hands of Eustace le Poer, and Gerald may have served as his seneschal too. Gerald liked to use the courts on a frequent basis, and will probably be the subject of a future post.

Henry had at least two brothers: Roger and Thomas. It is also likely that Maurice Tyrel, who served as seneschal of the royal demesne (i.e. he was the main administrator of the king's manors located in south-west Dublin) in 1314, was another brother. Sometime before 1309 Gerald had granted lands in Saggart and Newcastle Lyons to Maurice, which would suggest some sort of close kinship. It appears that Maurice avoided a life of crime by becoming a royal administrator. Roger, probably the eldest son, also avoided the life of an outlaw by inheriting his father's lands. He does appears in the court records briefly in 1302 (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls, 1295-1303, p. 449), when he was involved in a trespass with Richard Tyrel of Castleknock, but generally appears to have avoided his brothers' criminal lifestyle.

Map of south county Dublin, including royal manors of Newcastle, Saggart, Esker and Crumlin

Did real-life outlaws like Henry in any way resemble their literary counterparts like Robin Hood? In a superficial sense they probably did, and it is likely that these tales were based on the exploits of real outlaws. Certainly, the outlaws depicted in medieval tales could behave just as violently as their real-life counterparts. The difference was that these outlaws probably didn't share Robin Hood's socialist sensibilities. They probably stole from the rich, but that was because they had something worth stealing, it's highly unlikely that there was any redistribution of wealth. Most leaders of outlaw gangs, like our Henry, would have been members of the gentry class. Barbara Hanawalt uses the phrase “fur-collar crime”, a perfect description of the medieval equivalent of white collar crime. Why did these young men, of high social status, turn to a life of crime? Simply put, many participated in criminal activities in order to maintain their social status. It was usual for the eldest son (or at least just one individual son) to inherit his father's property, the eldest brother of the Folville gang in England, for example, inherited from his father, thus becoming a country gentleman while the rest of his brothers became criminals. This meant that, unless their father made other provisions, there was little left for the other sons to inherit. Additionally, many of these men would have had previous military service. It is possible that, as a knight’s son, Henry had served in the king’s overseas campaigns. Gerald had certainly served in royal military expeditions, and his sons may have accompanied him. After serving in the army, the men who returned home must have found it hard to settle back into a civilian life, especially considering that killing, looting and other criminal behaviour was intrinsic to the life of a soldier. Henry (and his brother Thomas) may also have been behaving violently as a way of enforcing their father's authority or settle his disputes, or they may have been working for a more powerful lord. Although they had access to courts, members of the ruling class felt that they had the right to resolve disputes by more direct, and often violent, means.

Of course, Henry may have simply become an outlaw because he was attracted to that lifestyle. The dissemination of outlaw tales may have offered the lifestyle a sort of glamour. Could outlaws have possibly been the fourteenth-century equivalents of rock stars?

Eagles: rock stars who wanted to be outlaws (admittedly not medieval ones)

Henry embarked on a life of crime he did not move beyond his own locality. An examination of the justiciary rolls reveal that most of his crimes were committed between Lyons and Oughterard:

Pleas of the crown and gaol-delivery, at Dublin, before John Wogan, Justiciar, on Tuesday the morrow of St. Lucia the Virgin, anno regni 34 Edward I. [14 December 1305] 
[Henry Tyrel] charged that he is a common robber and thief of oxen and afers and that he waylays (foristallat) faithful men passing [between] Lyouns and Ughtrard and exhorts from them money and other their goods under pretence of a courtesy... (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 1305-1307, p. 477 – for whole entry see previous blog post).

John Bellamy has noted that most criminal gangs in England operated in the locality where their leader either originated from or held lands. Obviously they were more comfortable in their own locality because they understood the lay of the land. The location of Lyons manor was also important strategically, it was located in north Kildare, close to the border with county Dublin. This meant that when Tyrel and his gang of outlaws committed crimes in Dublin, they could quickly escape back over the border to Kildare. The sheriff of one county did not have jurisdiction in another, and could not, or would not, pursue a criminal over the county line. Criminals were escaping justice and this motivated the passing of a statute in 1351 that ordered sheriffs and other county officers to pursue felons into other counties and apprehend them. The statute also ordered the sheriff of the county into which the felon escaped was to provide aid in his capture. This reflects trends in England, where criminal gangs had a tendency to establish themselves in areas where two or more counties met, and escaping into one county after committing crimes in another. Coincidentally, American outlaws of the Depression-era behaved in an almost identical fashion. Criminals, like the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, committed some of their crimes near county lines, and escaped over the border to avoid arrest. A practice that proved successful until different jurisdictions coordinated their efforts to apprehend them.

Bonnie and Clyde

Parallels can also be made between the Irish colony in the early fourteenth-century and Depression-era America. The United States plunged into an economic recession in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash in 1929, and this was further exacerbated by the severe droughts of the 1930s that turned the agricultural heartland into a dust bowl. Centuries earlier, Edward I's military expeditions and the construction of his Welsh castles were partly funded by Irish revenues. The frequent taxes levied on his Irish subjects financially crippled the colony and helped contribute to the lawless conditions here. The situation was made worse by the Bruce Invasion, which began in 1315, and the Great Famine that coincided with it. In both cases a combination of economic recklessness and natural disasters (and in Ireland's case, trouble-making Scots) helped breed a situation where lawless behaviour thrived.

The similarities do not end there. Much like Clyde Barrow, Henry Tyrel had his own Bonnie Parker. A court roll entry says:

[and he entered] the house of Arnald de Penrys, and wastes his goods against the will of Arnald . . . . . . uses [her as] his own wife, and brings her to and fro with him at his will. (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 1305-1307, p. 477)
BL Egerton MS 881, f. 141v K061043

This entry is pretty fragmented, but it appears that Tyrel was committing adultery with Arnald de Penrys' wife, who is not named in the justiciary roll entry, and bringing her with him on his travels. Her feelings on the matter were not recorded, but because she was travelling around with Henry and he was not charged with abducting her, she may in fact have been his willing companion. It is possible that de Penrys’ wife was an Irishwoman. A very fragmented entry in the justiciary rolls for 1306 describes a concubine named Mcnabyth associated with an outlaw called Henry.

Ric. de Bother, charged with the death of David de Naungle, [comes and defends], and puts himself on the country . . . . Naungle, a felon, was slain, but not by Ricard. And John . . . . Will. Seys, Stephen son of Gilbert, Thomas Seys, John son of Ricard, Thomas . . . . the white of Tauelauth, Henry son of Ricard of Balymargy, Will. . . . . . . of Tassagard, Ric. Daniel, John Colynm jurors, say that [David was] a felon, of the company of the Ototheles, notorious felons, who lived with Henry . . . . . a concubine, one Mcnabyth, who is with said Irish felons. And . . . . continually with Henry, knowingly. And Ricard slew him . . . .but would have rather taken him alive if he could. And Ricard, after he slew David, took from him . . . . . And because the Jurors testify that David was a common thief, and that the slaying of him . . . . by grace let him go quit. (Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 1305-1307, p. 500).

I have highlighted the relevant bit of this entry. Mcnabyth appears to have been either the concubine of Henry or one of his followers, David de Naungle. Though Henry's surname isn't given, this is undoubtedly Tyrel, all the jurors (who can be identified) come from the same locality as Tyrel (as was usual in this period) and this case comes soon after Henry's trial and execution, so chronologically it fits too. James Mills, the editor of the justiciary rolls, was also of the opinion that this may have been Henry Tyrel and he records this in the index. She was also an associate of the O’Tooles and if this is the case Arnald, an Englishman, was married into one of the most notorious Gaelic families in the locality. Mcnabyth may have found life with Arnald dull, and chose to accompany Henry on his adventures, terrorizing the surrounding countryside.

From the Codex Manesse

I was going to deal with Henry's followers (including his brother Thomas) in this post, but it has grown longer than expected, so I will deal with them in my next post. Thanks for reading. :) x  

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Monday, April 13, 2015

“To be kept there without food or drink till he should die” an unusual form of execution in fourteenth century Ireland.

Thanks to everyone for the positive response to my first blog post, it has encouraged me to start writing more, so you won't have to wait two years for this one! ;-) I can do special requests too, so if there is a person, place or topic that interests you let me know and I'll see if I can work it into a future post.

I mentioned my main man Henry Tyrel in post #1. Henry features in a plea roll dating to 1305, which was published in the Calendar of the Justiciary Rolls of Ireland, 1305-1307, p. 477. Here's the entry in full:
Pleas of the crown and gaol-delivery, at Dublin, before John Wogan, Justiciar, on Tuesday the morrow of St. Lucia the Virgin, anno regni 34 Edward I. [14 December 1305] 
[Henry Tyrel] charged that he is a common robber and thief of oxen and afers and that he waylays (foristallat) faithful men passing [between] Lyouns and Ughtrard and exhorts from them money and other their goods under pretence of a courtesy; [and he entered] the house of Arnald de Penrys, and wastes his goods against the will of Arnald . . . . . . uses [her as] his own wife, and brings her to and fro with him at his will. And Adam son of . . . .rche charged with associating with Henry. They come and defend all robbery, etc., and put themselves on the country.
Reginald Berneual, Robert de Caunteton, Walter . . . . as above, say that they are guilty. Therefore Adam is hanged.
And because the Justiciar . . . . delivered by mainprise the said Henry from the prison in which he was detained upon similar charges . . . . . that he should amend himself. Who now committed worse crimes than before. And Gerald father of Henry took Henry . . . Henry is remitted to prison to die there of hunger. And the constable of the Castle is commanded not to permit Henry henceforth to have food or drink whereby his life may be sustained.

This entry is pretty fragmented, and you do have to read between the lines in places to establish what is going on. I'm going to focus on Henry, his followers and his family in my next post, here I'm just focusing on the punishment he received. Henry was sent back to prison, in Dublin Castle, “to die there of hunger.” When I first read this I thought that this was extraordinary. The vast majority of felons in Ireland at this time would have been hanged. What made Henry so special? Additionally, was he the only one punished this way?

Some naughty outlaw types.

Before I answer those questions I want to go back and look at a couple of earlier examples of death by starvation, though they're a bit different, as I consider them to be murder rather than executions. Both of these incidences occurred in England during King John's reign.

King John sneaks into another post, the bugger!
Image from a manuscript of 'Abbreviatio chronicorum Angliae', an abridged version of Matthew Paris's chronicle, produced in St Albans, mid-thirteenth century.

The first incident is a very famous one and it involved Maud de Braose and her eldest son William, who were locked up and starved to death in 1210. We don't know exactly why John had Maud and William killed, but it may have been because Maud had gossiped about John's part in the murder of his nephew, Arthur. There is a rather macabre account of Maud gnawing on her son's cheeks, hopefully after he was dead! Beat that Game of Thrones! The second incident, reported by William le Breton, is when John had forty knights imprisoned in Mirabeau Castle (correction: these knights were probably executed in Corfe Castle, thanks to Marc Morris for this correction) and instructed that they be given neither food or water. He wanted them to die a “discrete sort of death” (Source: Oeuvres de Rigord et de Guillaume le Breton, ed H.F. Delaborde (2 vols, Paris, 1885), vol 2: p. 169. Thanks to Colin Veach for bringing this to my attention).

Corfe Castle, where Maud and William de Braose perished.

The fourteenth century Justiciar's court may have had similar motivations when they executed Henry Tyrel in the same manner. Henry, too, was given a discreet sort of death. Henry was the son of a knight and men of his social class were not typically executed for this sort of behaviour. Those executed for felonies in medieval period were predominantly of low social status. The nobility and gentry were rarely executed, and even then it was usually for acts of treason. It is also possible that the courts were worried that members of Henry's gang would help him escape before they could hang him. Several individuals were outlawed on the same day that Henry was convicted, including his brother Thomas, and he clearly had a large group of followers. It is also possible that Henry's family requested that he be executed privately. Another case, dating to 13 October 1316, also suggests that a prisoner was quietly executed in prison to spare family or associates from the humiliation of a public execution.

Pleas of the Crown and Gaol Delivery at Dublin before Edmund le Botiller, Justiciar of Ireland, in the fifteen days from St Michael's Day, anno regni 10 Edward II. [13 October 1316] 
Roger de Fynglas accused that he, in company with other robbers, by night stole from John Otyr and Walter Ocolyn at Werne divers goods and chattels to the value of one hundred shillings, and also of stealing ten cows at Syaldwyn and that he is a common thief and receiver of stolen goods in parts of Fyngal and that the whole country suffers by him and the thieves who are received with him, comes and says that he is not guilty and puts himself upon the country. And Adam de Houth, Reginald de Berneuale, William de la Felde, John Oweyn, Thomas le Waleys, William Luterel, Richard Athelard, Andrew Tyrel, Reginald de la Felde, William le Blount of Corauntestoñ, Robert Schirlok and Henry Godefelawe, Jurors, say that he is guilty of the said charges. Therefore let him be hanged. He has no chattels and no free land. Afterwards, by grace, at the instance of Geoffrey de Tryuers, Knight, it is granted by the Justiciar that the said Roger be recommitted to the gaol of the Castle of Dublin there to stay without having any food until he be dead.
(Source: NAI, KB 2/8, pp 26-7).

Dublin Castle.

Though Roger was sentenced to be hanged, this sentence was changed at the request of Geoffrey Travers. Geoffrey was possibly a descendent of John Travers, who was sheriff of Dublin in 1228 and an ancestor of Gilbert Travers, who was also sheriff of Dublin in 1337 (see my list of the sheriffs of Dublin in Medieval Dublin XII, edited by Seán Duffy for more details

Medieval Dublin XII, includes a list of the sheriffs of Dublin.

The Travers held lands in Monkstown, in south Dublin, but they may have had holdings in north Dublin too, and it's possible Roger de Fynglas was a relative or an associate of Robert's. Alternatively, Roger may have been a relation of William de Finglas, who served as sheriff of Dublin in 1327. However, it is difficult to establish family connections from toponymic surnames, Roger may have simply come from the Finglas area.

The fact that Roger de Fynglas had no chattels (that is, movable property) and no free land, does not mean he was of low social status, like Henry Tyrel, he could have been a younger son of someone of high social status. If Roger was the leader of the gang, he may have had a similar background to Henry Tyrel. In my next post I will explore why members of the gentry became criminals.

Around the same time that Roger was executed, William son of David le Poer also suffered the same fate. Though the plea roll for this case no longer exists it can be found in Cambridge University Library, Additional MS 3104, fo. 37ii and it is also usefully transcribed in Robin Frame's Colonial Ireland (p. 146):

William son of David le Poer was convicted of felony and adjudged to be hanged. Afterwards because the baron of Donoil (who is named John le Poer) captured the said William and brought him to court, at the petition of the said baron, on the grounds that William is of the lineage of the le Poers, it was agreed and granted that William should not be hanged, but should be sent back to gaol, to be kept there without food or drink till he should die.

Both Henry Tyrel and Roger de Finglas were described as common robbers in the sources, and William le Poer was convicted of felony, however there are at least two examples of the same method of execution being used on men accused of treason.

The court records of these trials and executions no longer exist, but the were extraordinary enough to be recorded in other sources. The execution of John Lacy, in the spring of 1318 was mentioned in Pembridge's Annals :

Item, die Dominica in mense Pasche ductus fuit Johannes Lacy de Castro Dublin usque Trym ad audiendum et ibi judicium suum recipiendum, qui adjudicatus fuit ad dietam et in carcere moriebatur. (J.T. Gilbert, Chartularies of St Mary's Abbey, Dublin and annals of Ireland, vol. ii, p. 358)
Item, on Sunday in the month of Easter John Lacy was led from Dublin Castle to Trim, there to hear and receive his judgement, which judgement was to be put on a diet, and he died in prison.

John Lacy’s removal to Trim from Dublin reflects trends in England to execute those guilty of treason in their own locality. (see, J.S. Bothwell, Falling from Grace: Reversal of fortune and the English nobility, 1075–1455, p. 67.) John Gilbert provides us with a bit more information about de Lacy’s execution and that of Sir Robert de Coulragh in Viceroys of Ireland, p. 147:

Jean de Lasci and Sir Robert de Coulragh, who fell into the hands of the colonial government, were, as adherents of Bruce, starved to death in prison, under a sentence which allowed each of them but three morsels of the worst bread, and three draughts of foul water, on alternate days, till life became extinct.

It is likely that this description of their execution comes from the original plea roll, Gilbert made extensive use of the primary sources, which are now lost to us. It gives us an idea of how painfully slow and agonising this method of execution must have been, and prisoners would have died of thirst rather than starvation. The fact that there was a sense of ritual to it might imply that it was used more often than the sources would suggest. Legal treatises from the thirteenth century established that those guilty of treason should be executed by torment. (J.G., Bellamy. The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge 1970) p. 20.) This method of execution would certainly fulfil this requirement.

Walter Harris provided us with a little more information on Robert de Coulragh and why he was sentenced to death in The History and Antiquities of the City of Dublin, published in 1766 (p. 260):

Edward Bruce, brother to the king of Scotland, having this year landed 6,000 men at Carrickfergus, overran a good part of the north, and possessed himself of Green-Castle. But the citizens of Dublin sent out a strong party by sea, and soon recovered it for the king. They took therein the governor Sir Robert de Coulragh, whom they brought with them to Dublin, and cast him in prison; where being stinted to a hard diet, he died for want.

Robert the Bruce (because there are no handy images of Edward).

Sir Robert de Coulragh, like John de Lacy, was executed for his part in the Bruce Invasion. Sir Robert had served as constable of Greencastle on behalf of Bruce. Robert was possibly the constable of Greencastle before Edward Bruce captured it, if he gave the castle up to Bruce willingly and held it for him against the king than the charge of treason was a reasonable one.

The de Lacy family had sided enthusiastically with Edward Bruce when he invaded Ireland – so John’s fate is of little surprise. However, there may have been some ulterior motives to his execution. Roger Mortimer was Lord of Trim and he oversaw de Lacy’s execution, it proved to be a very handy way of disposing of a local opponent. The plea rolls may also show evidence of Mortimer's antagonistic behaviour driving the Lacys into the arms of Edward Bruce, and this will be examined in a future blog.

Aside from these few cases I haven't found any more examples in Ireland of the Crown using starvation as a form of capital punishment. It should be noted that all the executions, apart from Henry Tyrel’s, took place during the Great Famine. Bruce’s presence in Ireland certainly exacerbated a difficult situation and perhaps the method in which de Lacy and Coulragh were executed reflected the suffering felt by the community at large (thanks to Clare Downham for this suggestion). If anyone has any other examples of execution by starvation, I would be very interested in knowing more about them, especially any occurrences of it in England.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Introducing the Irish plea rolls.

What are the Irish plea rolls? Simply put, plea rolls are court records. They include a summary of judicial cases, verdicts and the punishments or awards meted out.

These are actually manorial rolls, but you get the idea.

The administration of royal justice in late medieval Ireland was conducted in the justiciar's court (the justiciar was the English king's representative in Ireland, therefore the justiciar's court was the equivalent of the king's bench in Ireland) and the common bench, or by itinerant justices (that is judges wandering around the country, um, dispensing justice). The lordship of Ireland was a colony of England, and the English king was also lord of Ireland. This means if you see a Henry, Edward or Richard with a Roman numeral after his name in this blog, you will know that it is a king I'm referring to. There was a John as well, but he doesn't need a numeral since he was a one-off, in all senses of the word.

King John, not a fan of hipster beards...or barons.
Source: De Rege Johanne, 1300-1400. MS Cott. Claud DII, folio 116, British Library.

I won't be mentioning him much, since we don't have any plea rolls from his reign. Basically, we're stuck with the Henrys, Edwards and Richards.

Lots of Henrys, Edwards and Richards.

In administrative records you will often see a number before their names too, this denotes their regnal year, more information on regnal years can be found here: Each regnal year began at the date of the king's accession, so Edward II's reign began on 8 July 1307, the day after his father (Edward I) died. The first regnal year of his reign was 8 July 1307 until 7 July 1308, the second year started on the following day, and so on. To make matters even more complicated documents were usually dated to the nearest feast day – for example 31 March 1316 is the Wednesday next after the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary anno regni (translates as in the year of the reign) 9 Edward II. Confusing? You bet.

Thanks to an explosion in 1922 that destroyed the Public Records Office of Ireland [PROI], located in the Four Courts, most of our medieval judicial records are now gone. Some genius thought it would be a good idea to store ammunition in the same building as irreplaceable historical documents. Before the explosion, 488 medieval plea rolls were stored in the PROI, afterwards only three complete rolls, and various fragments of other rolls survived. I could weep! Fortunately, before this calamitous event, the PROI had started to calendar these valuable records, though what survives can't possibly make up for the devastating loss of so much of our past. To date, the Justiciary Rolls dating from 1295 to 1314 have been published.

Destruction of the Four Courts.

What else remains? Quite a bit as it happens, and the late (and brilliant!) Philomena Connolly provided us with a useful summation of what survives in her book Medieval Record Sources. If you have any interest in medieval Ireland then you need to pick up a copy of this book. You can find it here:

Just in case you don't have a copy to hand, this is what is left: two original justiciary rolls for 6-7 Edward II (1312-13) and a common bench roll from 6 Edward IV (1466-7). (See, I told you those regnal years were going to be important.) Also, two rolls that had gone astray sometime before the explosion (and isn't it a shame that whoever stuffed them under his jacket didn't take more of them) found their way back to the PROI back in the 1960s. One is a justiciary roll from Edward II's reign and the other is a common roll from Henry V's reign. The National Archives of Ireland [NAI, previously the PROI] also has unpublished calendars, particularly RC 7 and KB 2, though some plea rolls can also be found in RC 8. Other calendars and copies of court proceedings can be found in the Royal Irish Academy, the National Library of Ireland and The National Archives of the United Kingdom. Of course there's always the chance that more material will be found in archives.

Okay, now we know what plea rolls are, and what survives, but why am I looking at them? In 2004 I embarked on my post-graduate thesis, which dealt with lands held by the English crown in south-west county Dublin. During the course of my research I became fascinated by the published justiciary rolls, particularly by the case of the outlaw Henry Tyrel, I will discuss Henry in my next post, and possibly the one after that too. Henry is my pet.

If you can't wait that long to find out more about Henry, (because, let's face it, it could be two years before I write my next post) I've written about him in Medieval Dublin X: He also pops up in my book, if they ever find his bones in a carpark I'm going to be one excited girl. Here's a gratuitous book plug:

My book. It's pink!

I think court records are a valuable resource for social historians, they offer us a window into the lives of people who lived long ago and they help us reconstruct their lives. I am writing this blog to demonstrate how much valuable material, both published and unpublished survives. The aim here is to be entertaining and light-hearted, but also to be informative and (hopefully) occasionally scholarly. There will be lots of very lame attempts at humour (see above), and I apologise in advance. Some of the cases dealt with in the plea rolls can be dark, and justice was often harsh, so a bit of gallows humour is always good. There will also be actual gallows.

Execution gallows on a town square. Brussels, Royal Library, Ms. 9231, fol. 90v, ca. 1450

If you have any feedback or comments, please feel free to comment below, or email me at

After all this, I feel like I should leave you with an odd and interesting plea roll entry. This one is unpublished and can be found in the National Archives of Ireland [NAI], the source is KB 2/8 pp 40-1. I have left the spelling as it is in the calendar, and haven't modernised names. The dashes in document denotes gaps in record. It is a classic twist on the dog-ate-my-homework excuse, except it was a patent letter, and the dog was framed. Enjoy.

Pleas of the Crown at Cassell [Cashel] before Edmund le Botiller Justiciar of Ireland on the Thursday next after the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a.r. 10 Ed. II.f
9 December 1316

Margaret daughter of Luke de Stoketon accused that whereas Luke de Stoketon by his deed had enfeoffed Thomas de Stoketon his son of the manor of Moygorban with its appurtenances and by another letter patent of his had granted to Thomas all his goods and chattels as well living as dead being at time in the said manor, and by another letter patent had commanded all the tenants of the said manor to be as intendent to Thomas as they had been accustomed to be to him before the making of the said feoffment, the said Margaret stole the deed and letters patent which she found in the chamber of Thomas his brother in the said manor deposited in a certain box (pyx) under the head of the bed of Thomas, at the instigation of the said Luke her father, and handed the box, deed and letters patent who afterwards broke their seals, comes and says that she is not guilty and puts herself upon the country. And John de Lond, Stephen de Lond, Adam Byford, Andrew Sauce, John de Cantewell, Milo de Cantewell, John de Valle, Henry Euijas, Henry Haket, _ _ O Conagh, Abel Brysky, John de Stokes, Roger le Bret, Joceus Manclerk, and Philip Haket of S_ _ _ _ say that Margaret is guilty. Therefore let her be recommitted _ _ _ _ to await judgment. She has no chattels and no free land.
And Luke de Stoketon, accused of aiding and abetting his daughter Margaret to commit the said theft and receiving from her hand the box, deed and letters patent and breaking the seals, comes and says that he is not guilty and puts himself upon the country. 
And [John de] Lond, Stephen de Lond, Adam Byford, Andrew Sauce, John de Cantewell, Milo de Cantewell, _ _ _ _ Vaal, Henry Ewyas, John de Stokes, Andrew Seysell, Maurice son of Walter, and Elyas Burdon, jurors, say that Luke aided and abetted Margaret in committing the said theft and that Luke received the box, deed and letters patent which she had stolen, at her hands and broke the box with his teeth and threw it into the manger of Thomas' stable, so that when it was found it would be thought that mastiffs or other dogs of that house had broken it and gnawed the deed and letters patent, and afterwards tore off the seals from the deed and letters patent and broke them, well knowing that they had been stolen by Margaret. Therefore let him be recommitted to gaol to await his sentence. He has no chattels and no free land.