Written Culture and the Late Medieval Manor Court
By Charlotte Harrison, University of Liverpool
Session: Rural Experience in Late Medieval England: Manorial Records and Law
This paper discussed the court roll as a seigneural device that challenged the verbal culture that was used before and examined whether this change was organic or forced.
During the 14th and 15th century written evidence became required in English manor courts. The rolls were seigneural devices that challenged the long standing verbal culture. This paper focused on the Wakefield rolls of the 13th and 14th centuries. This period saw an increased reliance on documentary evidence.
Between 1341-1342 and 1345-1346, the rolls were used extensively, however, only in 20 cases (out of 78) was written evidence used to come to the final decision. 944 cases were brought forward, 78 vouched, and 42 of these had a final verdict, and 20 had written evidence. In 1376, tenure was not guaranteed secure; while the authenticity of the copies were not called into doubt, if the person had the right to grant the land was called into question. This demonstrates that previous grants could be overturned. There were many claims of land being alienated when the complaining party was not of sound mind, not of age or when not in agreement, i.e., a wife was unable to contradict her husband when he decided to surrender the land.
The Case of John Swan: In 1368, John Swan sued for land that was given to him as a gift by his father. Richard and Juliana claimed for this gift and the court rolls would indicate whether they should respond to his challenge. Swan had not produced any records and was asked to prove “specialty”; 4 years later, “specialty” is demanded again. The rolls were wanting for the year Swan made his claim and the case seems to have disappeared.