Arguing about Alehouses: Local Petitions and Parish Politics in Early Modern England

[This post by Brodie Waddell was commissioned and first published by My-Parish on 23 April 2021. It is posted here with an additional postscript.]

In the early seventeenth century, the parishioners of Bayton had a problem with alehouses. This small village at the edge of Worcestershire’s Wyre Forest had a population of only a couple hundred people, but disputes over local drinking establishments sparked a series of complaints and counter-complaints between 1610 and 1621 that illuminate a broader issue in the history of early modern parish politics: the rising importance of petitioning.

In 1610, some of Bayton’s parishioners complained to the county magistrates that an ale-seller called Thomas Morely (or Morley) allowed ‘abuses and disorders’ in his establishment and they asked for his alehouse to be ‘putt downe’. Soon after, twenty men of the parish signed and submitted a counter petition claiming that Morely was ‘honeste and cyville’, poor but hardworking, and without his alehouse there would be nowhere in the locality for travellers to stay or workmen to be supplied with provisions. Two years later, a group of parishioners petitioned about this again, now targeting Elizabeth, Thomas’s wife, who allegedly sold ‘extraordinary’ powerful beer very cheaply, causing all sorts of ‘disorders’ including idleness, drunkenness, violence and theft. Around the same time, nineteen named parishioners submitted similar petition against John Kempster and Thomas Bird, also claiming disorder caused by their ale-selling. Then in 1613 the churchwardens of the parish petitioned the magistrates, now complaining about Thomas and Elizabeth Morely as well as Kempster and Bird, for continuing to sell beer and causing ‘abuses’ despite a warrant issued to supress them. Finally, in 1621, eleven men signed their names to a petition accusing William Bryan and our old friend Thomas Morely of running alehouses full of ‘vagraunt’, lewd and disorderly people.

Bayton petition of 1610
The first surviving Bayton petition, defending Thomas Morely from an earlier complaint, subscribed by 20 men, including ‘George Shawe, clerke’, in 1610. Transcribed in ‘Worcestershire Quarter Sessions: 1610’, in Petitions to the Worcestershire Quarter Sessions, 1592-1797, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/petitions/worcs-quarter-sessions/1610. Image courtesy of Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, Ref.110 BA1/1/7/84.

What does this flurry of complaint tell us about parish politics? It was merely an example of the rise of a broader culture of parochial petitioning, through which increasing numbers of ordinary people become heavily involved in seeking to win the support of state authorities through collective claims to represent the ‘voice of the people’ at the local level.

As part of a collaborative project on ‘The Power of Petitioning’, we have photographed, transcribed and published just over 1,400 petitions to county magistrates on British History Online. Although our initial analysis is still provisional, it appears that almost 20 percent of these petitions were from ‘the inhabitants’ of a specific place or similar collective entities and another 10 percent were by groups of named individuals. So, although there were few places quite as enthusiastic as Bayton in the early seventeenth century, the number of parishes where groups of locals banded together to petition the county magistrates was substantial and growing even before the mass petitioning campaigns of the 1640s.

These parochial requests and complaints concerned a huge range of issues, but groups of parishioners frequently focused on ‘fiscal’ issues such as eligibility for poor relief, liability for taxation or raising funds to maintain local roads and bridges. Collective petitions about alehouses – whether complaining about alehousekeepers or supporting their requests for licences – were also very common, showing the importance of new regulatory responsibilities imposed by Tudor statutes on local communities.

The Bayton petitions also allow us to look more closely at how parishioners represented themselves in their addresses to the authorities. For example, it is notable that they usually supported their claims with lists of subscribers, a practice that seems to have been relatively rare until the seventeenth century. Three of the documents together include 36 individual men’s names, with 14 of these appearing on more than one petition. Another had a subscription list which unfortunately has not survived and a fifth document – now lost – may have included still more names. Given the parish had only 30 men who contributed to the Lay Subsidy tax in 1524, it seems clear that most of Bayton’s householders probably signed their names to one or more of these petitions.

William Albert Green, ‘Bayton, Worcestershire’ (drawn 1940s)
William Albert Green, ‘Bayton, Worcestershire’ (drawn 1940s), Historic Buildings in Art (n.d.) <http://www.ewgreen.org.uk/pack-b/fullpage-b/bayton-1.htm>

The language they used to describe themselves is equally revealing. In the 1610 petition, they did not use a particular label but notably referred to themselves in the first person: ‘wee whose names are underwritten’. One added his position too – ‘George Shawe, clerke’ – thus giving the subscribers a slight boost to their credibility. In 1612-13 and 1621, they again used ‘we’ and now also represented themselves as ‘the inhabitants’ and ‘the parishioners’, turning an assortment of individuals into a collective entity. Intriguingly, in 1613, only two men actually sign the petition – John Geers and Edward Sutton, churchwardens – showing how these officers took on the role of representing the entire parish in some circumstances. In contrast, the 1621 list includes one man listed as a constable among 10 others with no specified titles or occupations, rather like the clerk in the middle of the 1610 list. While it is not possible to untangle the exact meaning of these variations, the Bayton petitions suggests that both the inclusion of parochial officeholders and sheer weight of numbers were considered potentially important when trying to project an image of credible and overwhelming local public opinion.

Over the course of the early seventeenth century many, if not most, English parishes witnessed similar attempts to persuade the state authorities through collective petitioning. Groups of neighbours all across the kingdom formulated their grievances, organised subscription lists, and articulated their own role in the polity as ‘the inhabitants’ or ‘the parishioners’ of a particular community. In so doing, they not only directly shaped their own ‘little commonwealths’ but also unintentionally helped to clear a path for the immense wave of political mobilisation that swept through England in the 1640s.

 

Sources and Further Reading

The petitions from Bayton to the county quarter sessions are transcribed in ‘The inhabitants of Bayton. Ref.110 BA1/1/7/84 (1610)’, ‘The inhabitants of Bayton. Ref.110 BA1/1/19/85 (1612)’, ‘The inhabitants of Bayton. Ref.110 BA1/1/19/86 (1612)’, ‘The inhabitants of Bayton. Ref.110 BA1/1/20/58 (1613)’, ‘The inhabitants of Bayton. Ref.110 BA1/1/44/33 (1621)’, in Petitions to the Worcestershire Quarter Sessions, 1592-1797, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/petitions/worcs-quarter-sessions/>.

The original petitions are held at the Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, Ref.110 BA1/1/7/84; Ref.110 BA1/1/19/85; Ref.110 BA1/1/19/86; Ref.110 BA1/1/20/58; Ref.110 BA1/1/44/33.

For a brief overview of petitioning in this period, see Brodie Waddell, ‘Petitions in Early Modern England: A Very Short Introduction’, The Power of Petitioning (2019) <https://petitioning.history.ac.uk/blog/2019/06/petitions-in-early-modern-england-a-very-short-introduction/>

For the parish of Bayton itself, including population estimates, see Murray Andrews, ‘Counting people: demographic change in medieval Bayton’, Medieval Bayton (2013), <https://medievalbayton.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/counting-people-demographic-change-in-medieval-bayton/>; ‘Bayton, Worcestershire’, A Vision of Britain Through Time (n.d.) <https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/9595>; ‘Parishes: Bayton’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 237-241, British History Online <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp237-241>.

For alehouse politics and petitions, see Mark Hailwood, Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England (2014), pp. 29-58, 90-94. For a new study of anti-alehouse petitioning, see Heather Falvey, ‘‘Scandalus to all us’: presenting an anti-alehouse petition from late Elizabethan Rickmansworth (Hertfordshire)’, Rural History, 31 (2020), pp. 1-15.

 

Postscript

Since sending the post to My-Parish, I have found a few more bits and pieces of information that help to contextualise this particular case.

The Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service catalogue reveals several more relevant documents from this period. For example, Bayton was listed as already having two victuallers in 1604, only one aleseller in 1615 but then two alehouses ‘unlicensed and to be indicted’ in 1616. There is also confirmation of action against – and reaction from – the Morleys in 1613 as Elizabeth was bound to appear at the sessions and five of that family were indicted for ‘rescuing’ her from Abraham Wolverey, the village constable. Two decades later, in 1634, Ralph Morley, husbandman, was one of four men indicted for keeping an unlicenced tippling house in Bayton, so evidently the family were involved in this trade well after the final surviving petition.

The original complaint in 1610 against Thomas Morley was not a ‘petition’, so was not photographed and transcribed as part of this project. However, the ‘articles’ that resulted from this initial complaint have survived, and help to explain the counter-petition.

As noted in the post, Bayton had only 30 contributors to the Lay Subsidy tax of the 1520s. An additional hint about the parish’s size is its listing in the Compton Census of 1676, which James Harris very kindly shared with me. There it is recorded as having 150 conformist and 5 non-conformist communicants, which implies a population of around 220 or perhaps 50 households.

Post-postscript

After this was posted, Jonathan Healey rightly pointed out that – although the village is in the Malvern Hills District according to modern administrative boundaries – Bayton is north of the topographical extent of the Malvern Hills, so the post has been amended accordingly.

A Family Feud and Parallel Petitioning to the Crown from Sixteenth-Century Devon

Laura Flannigan

[This post explores the case of two feuding families who submitted a long series of judicial petitions against each other to a variety of different courts. It is written by Dr Laura Flannigan (@LFlannigan17), who is Lecturer in History at Christ Church College, Oxford.]

Petitioning for justice before the highest authorities in early modern England involved decisions and strategies. By the middle of the sixteenth century, numerous royal courts with overlapping jurisdictions were crammed into the legal marketplace of Westminster: Common Pleas, King’s/Queen’s Bench, and Chancery in Westminster Hall itself, and the courts of Star Chamber, Exchequer, Requests, and Wards in adjoining spaces. Why choose one forum over another? On what grounds did litigants and the lawyers they hired make these choices?

View of the north end of Westminster Hall, showing the Courts of Chancery and King’s Bench in session with lawyers in gowns. The British Museum, early seventeenth century (available under Creative Commons license)
View of the north end of Westminster Hall, showing the Courts of Chancery and King’s Bench in session with lawyers in gowns. The British Museum, early seventeenth century (Creative Commons)

Of course, while royal justice was positioned as a last resort and poorer suitors may have been priced out of its costly proceedings, the more resourceful petitioner sued in as many of these forums as possible. To understand why cross-litigating before the Crown was so popular, and why pluralism developed in this jurisdiction at all, we can examine petitions for cases that appeared repeatedly.

One family feud ran through almost all the central equity courts in the early sixteenth century. Its dramatis personae were the Halswell and Strode families, hailing from Devon. The gentry family of Strode from Plympton St Mary was headed by the elderly William Strode and his brother Richard until both of their deaths in 1518, and thereafter by Richard’s son, also called Richard. Men of considerable standing in the county, they acted as local officials and both Richards sat as MP for Plympton Erle. In managing their estates, they were voracious users of the law. All three men appear regularly in both the central common-law courts and in the equity courts, as petitioners and defendants in suits with their tenants.

Family trees of the Halswells of Dartmouth and the Strodes of Plympton St Mary, Devon, in the early sixteenth century.
Family trees of the Halswells of Dartmouth and the Strodes of Plympton St Mary, Devon, in the early sixteenth century.

Leading the Halswells of Dartmouth were the brothers John and Richard, Richard’s wife Joan, and their children, John and Jane. The Halswells left little trace in the historical record, so were presumably poorer than the Strodes. John Halswell senior had sold his lands to make up for various debts owed and was described at one point as a ‘common land seller’. But the younger John Halswell was said to be a ‘yeoman’ and was able to hire a serjeant at law as his legal counsel.

The dispute between them produced at least seventeen separate suits, with twelve surviving petitions in the central archives.[1] Taken together, they illustrate the perceived differences in the character of each royal court and the strategies adopted when petitioning to them. Continue reading “A Family Feud and Parallel Petitioning to the Crown from Sixteenth-Century Devon”

Now Online: Nearly 150 Investigations into Seventeenth-Century Petitioners

Tens of thousands of people submitted requests and complaints to the king and other high-ranking royal officials in seventeenth-century England. Each of these ‘petitions’ tells a story and investigating them further can reveal much about life during this tumultuous century.

As part of ‘The Power of Petitioning’ project, we completed a six-month Shared Learning Project with a group of 46 amateur researchers from the London Region of the University of the Third Age. Each of these researchers wrote one or more reports about the petitioners and their requests or complaints. All of these 149 short pieces of research are now online at ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’, so please take a look at these new investigations to learn more.

A petition from Kent just before a Royalist revolt in 1648, discussed in a report by Sarah Harris.

We are extremely grateful to the many people involved in this project who made it possible. In addition to the main U3A researchers – listed in full on Investigating Petitioners – we would like to thank Peter Cox, who coordinated the project from the U3A side; Frank Edwards, David Moffatt and Sarah Birt, who helped to edit the reports and get them online; the London Metropolitan Archives and Westminster Archives for introducing the researchers to their collections and offering palaeography training; and of course to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding most of the associated costs.

The reports each began with one of the almost 400 transcribed State Paper petitions from across the seventeenth century that we have published on British History Online. These are based on images of manuscripts held at The National Archives at Kew. The photographs were collected by Sharon Howard, transcribed by Gavin Robinson and edited by Brodie Waddell.

The U3A group also completed reports about a number of seventeenth-century petitions submitted to the magistrates of the City of Westminster, which we are preparing organising for publication online. Keep an eye on our project site for a further announcement.

Crime and Women’s Petitions to the post-Restoration Stuart Monarchs

Emily Rhodes

[This post examines petitions for mercy from women on behalf of themselves or their male relatives who were accused or convicted of serious crimes. It is written by Emily Rhodes (@elrhodes96), a PhD candidate at Christ’s College, Cambridge.]

In 1666, Susan Coe of Rochester, Kent sent a ‘humble Peticion’ to King Charles II.[1] Within, she explained that her husband, the mariner William Coe, ‘being out of Employment and haueing A considerable sume of money due to him from your Majestie’ and ‘destitute of all meanes to subsist by’, stole gunpowder from the Dead Dock at Chatham in order to sell it. The petition further relates how William Coe had been apprehended and ‘confessed the whole matter’ to a Commander Cox, showing that he ‘was heartily penitent’ for the crime. At the bottom of the manuscript and indented, Susan Coe made her request:

‘May it therefore please your Majestie according to your accustomed Clemency & Charitable Disposition in favour of your Petitioner’s husband and in recompence of his former good Services to vouchsafe that his life may be spared for this Offence by your Majestie’s Gratious pardon.’[2]

The State Papers in The National Archives at Kew include thousands of petitions submitted to the Crown on behalf of criminals — mostly for pardons, but also to request improved prison accommodation, prison transfers, visitation or fee waivers — which provide historians incredible insight into the lives of common people in late seventeenth century England. Particularly striking is that between 1660 and 1702, at least 160 of these petitions came from women, offering one of the only examples in the early modern period of a direct relationship between even plebeian women and their monarch.[3]

‘British Library Add. MSS 5759, f.5. A page from Gervase Holles’ entry book of petitions submitted to the crown in August 1660. Two entries can be seen pertaining to cases involving women. These records show that women’s petitions were common and treated just like men’s.

Women would write for themselves, or on behalf of their male relatives: husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, fiancés and sons-in-law. They came from a wide socio-economic background. While some came from the upper echelons of society, others had humble lives — the wives and daughters of labourers and mariners — who frequently stated that without the pardon, they would likely be forced to rely ‘on the parish’. No crime was too big or small to warrant a petition; pleas were submitted for accused and convicted robbers, debtors, coiners, murderers and traitors. Of the female petitions with known outcomes, eighty percent were decided in the supplicant’s favour, demonstrating the political efficacy of early modern women’s voices.

While the number of women’s petitions pales in comparison to the hundreds to thousands of petitions submitted by criminal men, that the female petitions come from so many different backgrounds, regions and circumstances suggests that this practice was widespread. Furthermore, the fact that so many women of so many backgrounds turned to petitioning sheds light on women’s roles outside of the domestic and in the political sphere. Continue reading “Crime and Women’s Petitions to the post-Restoration Stuart Monarchs”

Letting the people speak: 2,526 early modern petitions on British History Online

[This post by Philip Carter, Director of Digital and Publishing at the Institute of Historical Research, was original published on the IHR’s ‘On History’ blog on 11 November 2020.]

This autumn the Institute of Historical Research’s British History Online completed a project to digitize and publish over 2,500 petitions from early modern England. The digitization project forms part of The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England, run by historians from Birkbeck and University College London.

The petitions, all now available free on BHO, offer remarkable insight into personal and community relations, preoccupations and language of grievance in early modern England. This makes for an excellent resource for research and teaching. In the final phase of the project, IHR Digital is now building a web interface to work with the BHO data, allowing this rich dataset to be explored in new ways.

Over recent months, editors at British History Online (BHO) have been hearing voices from early modern England. These are not the voices to which historians are most accustomed—those of the elite, literate or powerful whose views come down to us through official records and correspondence. Rather these are the voices of ordinary men and women who came together to raise concerns, submit requests or issue protests, and whose opinions were captured in thousands of signed petitions submitted to local officials, the crown and parliament.

BHO’s encounter with these voices comes from its involvement, as technical partner, in ‘The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England’. This is a two-year digitization and interpretation project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Council and Economic History Society, and led by early modern historians from Birkbeck and University College London: Brodie Waddell, Jason Peacey and Sharon Howard. For the IHR, the project’s been run by Jonathan Blaney, editor of BHO, and our senior developer, Kunika Kono. The original manuscripts were transcribed by Gavin Robinson and Tim Wales.

The ‘humble petition’ of Elizabeth Sandes (1620) in which she sought relief from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey; shown here alongside the transcript published in British History Online. Unless granted, ‘your peticioner is liklie to perishe and dy in the streetes’

In seventeenth-century England, petitioning was commonplace. It offered one of the few ways to seek redress, reprieve or to express personal and communal interests. Petitions were the means by which the ‘ruled’ spoke directly to those in power. As communications, they took many forms. Some were carefully crafted demands signed by thousands and sent to crown and parliament. Others were hastily written—and deeply personal—expressions of need or anger. Whatever their form, petitions reflect the seldom-heard concerns of supposedly ‘powerless’ people in early modern society. Continue reading “Letting the people speak: 2,526 early modern petitions on British History Online”

‘Infamus calumniations’, or, a petition goes awry at Rothwell Church, 1603

[This post from Dr Andy Burn (@aj_burn) was previously posted on the Durham History Blog. It examines a dispute about a petition to King James I from a group of tenants against their landlord, showing the danger of taking such complaints at face value and the conflict they could create.]

On the morning of 13 October, 1603, Sir Thomas Tresham summoned his tenants to Rothwell parish church, Northamptonshire, like naughty students to the headteacher’s study. He had got wind of a petition they sent to the King in the summer ‘to prevent sr Thomas from renewinge his lease’ of their home village of Orton, on the basis that he had been a cruel landlord. Sir Thomas had been fuming for a while but, ‘respectinge their harvest tyme’, postponed his florid telling-off until after Michaelmas – a not entirely unselfish pause, since they’d been reaping in his rent money during the harvest. And so he dragged the tenants to Church on a Thursday morning to give them an alliterative earful, and to ‘defend his Credytt, … against the infammus imputations which they impudently taxed on him in their petition to the kinge’.[1]

Information signed by JPs concerning complaints against Sir Thomas Tresham, 1603. The National Archives, E 163/16/19.
Information signed by JPs concerning complaints against Sir Thomas Tresham, 1603. The National Archives, E 163/16/19.

That the tenants had put their names to a petition was not unusual. Then, as now, petitioning was a popular form of politics that attracted wide participation – as the ‘Addressing Authority’ symposium over on the Many-Headed Monster blog laid out. Early modern petitions survive in their tens of thousands, and were used by people of all social ranks to try to improve their lot, or get their voices heard. And, on occasion, to lie through their teeth. Continue reading “‘Infamus calumniations’, or, a petition goes awry at Rothwell Church, 1603”

Edmund Felton’s petitions for justice, 1621-53

This post by Jason Peacey has also been posted on the UK Parliament ‘Petition of the Month’ blog and draws on petitions transcribed in our newly published volume of petitions to the House of Lords.

In 1653, an embittered petitioner called Edmund Felton printed ‘An Out-cry for Justice’, reflecting upon the failure to get his complaints addressed, and upon a long struggle against a powerful opponent. His enemy, Sir Henry Spiller, was accused of foul deeds, including bribery, corruption, and conspiracy, as well as imprisonment and attempted murder, and Edmund wondered whether ‘anyone can tell where he may have justice against oppressors’. He bemoaned the danger posed to the ‘commonwealth’ by ‘want of justice’, and exclaimed that men were ‘made poor by oppression, and then despised because poor’.

It is difficult to know what to make of such claims, but it is vital not to dismiss them, just as they were not written off at the time. Edmund Felton’s tale of woe demands attention because it is loaded with lessons about how to study petitioners, their experiences, and their behaviour.

Continue reading “Edmund Felton’s petitions for justice, 1621-53”

‘For signing a Petition … [he] was put into the Stocks’ – Petitioning from within the Debtors’ Prison

Alex Wakelam

[This blogpost examines the petitions submitted by prisoners for debt in early modern England, especially their complaints against prison officials. It uses the case from Ludgate Prison in 1710 to show how the limits of such petitioning and the harsh consequences that could result for those who failed to gather enough support. The post is written by Dr Alex Wakelam (@A_Wakelam), author of Credit and Debt in Eighteenth-Century England: An Economic History of Debtors’ Prisons (Routledge, 2020).]

Every year throughout the early modern period, thousands of English men and women were imprisoned for failing to pay their debts. Most were confined without trial and had little formal recourse to legal aid. They were, however, surprisingly well placed to submit petitions to alleviate or remedy the worst aspects of their experience.

Unlike the felons they were confined alongside, most debtors were drawn from the middling sorts rather than the working poor. Even though they were cash-poor this population of shopkeepers, craftsmen, professionals (regularly including lawyers), and minor gentry were literate, familiar with civic administration, and expected a degree of public sympathy which allowed them to maximise the potential of petitioning.

Courts of Quarter Sessions and civic councils were thus deluged with appeals originating in the debtors’ prisons under their purview. Much of this volume did not, however, require much effort or time to resolve. Thousands of petitions were submitted between 1649 and 1830 to apply for one of the amnesties occasionally passed by Parliament known as the Insolvency Acts. This process was formulaic as courts were only required to collect and catalogue applications; by the 1720s printed petitions were widely available which only required an applicant to fill in their name and address.

Appeals for financial aid might be similarly formulaic. Petitions for financial aid in late seventeenth-century London were almost always seeking a ‘Charitable gift of five pounds for their relief’ implying that this was a routine award which courts merely signed off on.[1] In these instances petitioning was simply a tool of bureaucracy, a method by which debtors claimed aid they were entitled to but for which they had to grovel.

LMA, CLA/032/01/021
“The Humble Petition of the poore prisoners in the Poultry Compter”, 1698. Image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives, CLA/032/01/021.Copyright of LMA and not for reproduction.

Debtors did raise more specific complaints which touched on all aspects of prison life such as broken pipes, bad ale, leaking windows, their proximity to felons, or, as at the Poultry Compter in 1698, that new toilets (‘the Jakes or House of Office’) be constructed.[2] While these necessitated an active response from the court, they were still probably simple to dispense, merely requiring a release of funds to the prison officers. This did not stop debtors couching such minor grievances in dramatic terms. The debtors of Newgate were far from unusual when in their petition to the Lord Mayor in 1742 for a new pot capable of holding twelve gallons of broth they declared that ‘most of us are So Miserable poor … wee are in A Manner Burried Alive’.[3] Continue reading “‘For signing a Petition … [he] was put into the Stocks’ – Petitioning from within the Debtors’ Prison”

Women, gender and non-lethal violence in Quarter Sessions petitioning narratives

We have spent much of the last year and a half transcribing, editing and publishing hundreds of petitions to local magistrates in early modern England. But what can you actually do with all these new sources?

Sharon Howard has a new post on her blog showing that they can be used explore how people described and responded to violence in their communities. She focuses on 85 petitions about non-lethal violence, most involving a women as either victim or perpetrator or both.

She found that petitioners crafted narratives of violence that emphasised malice, public reputation, fear, material losses and of course physical trauma. Moreover, these narratives were highly gendered, with women often highlighting issues such as pregnancy, motherhood or marriage when trying to make their case to the magistrates.

The details are fascinating, so read the full post to find out more:

In 1594 Allys Whittingham, William Bealey and Margery his wife petitioned Cheshire Quarter Sessions, setting out the many abuses and outrages perpetrated against them by Anne Lingard. She had had unjust warrants against them, claiming to be afraid of “bodily harm”. This was “greatly astonishing” to the petitioners, who were “well known never to have disturbed her majesties peace” or threatened Anne herself. … [Read the rest of the full post here]

Allys Whittingham, William Bealey and Margery his wife. QJF 24/1/25 (1594)
The petition of Allys Whittingham, William Bealey and Margery his wife, 1594. Image courtesy of Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, QJF 24/1/25.

The petition of Elizabeth Skory: A young woman seeks redress against a powerful man in 1621

This post by Sharon Howard has also been posted on the UK Parliament ‘Petition of the Month’ blog and uses transcriptions from our newly published volume of petitions to the House of Lords.

The 1621 Parliament was summoned reluctantly by the king and achieved little in the way of legislation before being dissolved in early 1622. But it is remembered for other developments that would have long-lasting consequences: the revivals of impeachment, of the Lords’ role as a court of appeal, and of petitioning.

There are just 13 surviving petitions addressed to the House of Lords in the parliamentary archives up to 1620 compared to more than 60 in 1621. Here I look at one of those 1621 petitioners, Elizabeth Skory, who was also among the first women to petition the Lords in the early modern period.

The petition of Elizabeth Skory, 1621
‘The Petitcion of Elizabeth Skorey touch Sir John Bennett, 18 May 1621’. Image courtesy of the Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/18.

Most famously, the 1621 Parliament brought about the downfall of Sir Francis Bacon, the lord chancellor, for corruption. But Parliament also pursued two other men and their associates during the spring of 1621: Sir Gilles Mompesson and Sir John Bennet. It was the latter who was the subject of Elizabeth Skory’s petition. Continue reading “The petition of Elizabeth Skory: A young woman seeks redress against a powerful man in 1621”