Treasures from Worcestershire’s Past: ~40~ A Court Roll from the Reign of Richard III

  • 29th August 2014

22 August 2014 is the 529th anniversary of the Battle Bosworth, where Richard III was killed.  It is also two years on from the discovery in Leicester of the remains later identified as those of the king, so we have decided to explore our collections to see what they could tell us about Worcestershire’s experience during Richard III’s reign.  Although the Archive Service holds nothing directly related to the king, we do have plenty of documents providing a glimpse into ordinary life in the late 15th century.

One example is a manor court roll from Kempsey, near Worcester, dating from 20th May, 1485, just a few months before Richard’s death at Bosworth Field.

This is a typical medieval court roll, illustrating how the court could regulate life on the manor.  Courts Baron were held every three weeks, and dealt with land transactions, enforcement of the customs or rules which governed the manor, and disputes between tenants.  The functions of this court were combined with another type of court, the Court Leet or View of Frankpledge.  This was associated with a policing system in which groups of local men were responsible for overseeing the behaviour of group members and reporting infractions to the court.  This court also dealt with petty crime and those who fell foul of the regulations governing the price and quality of bread and ale. 

Below are a few examples of the proceedings of this court.

The roll tells us that a Thomas Forster took two ‘wegges’ (wedges or pegs) of iron from Thomas Herdman, and that Joan Forster took some rye and malt from the house of Thomas Pendesham.

Thomas Salter and Thomas Lee assaulted one another, and both were fined by the court.

We also hear that a Thomas Peres had recently died, and Joan his widow, after paying a heriot (tax payable to the lord of the manor on the death of a tenant), and paying fealty (swearing an oath of allegiance to the lord), was able to claim the property for the remainder of her life.  Interestingly, by the time of the court held on 13th July, Joan had found a new husband, one Richard Thomas, who paid ten shillings for a license to marry her—and share property she had recently claimed.

There seems to be little direct indication here of national conflict, discontent with Richard’s rule or the encroaching threat of Henry Tudor, but manorial documents provide a wealth of information about the lives and deaths of people in Worcestershire.

Other sources for the history of late 15th-century Worcestershire held here include title deeds recording the transfer of land, bishop’s registers and wills.

This document can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at The Hive by using reference b705:4/BA54B.

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