1621, Giles Waters complains that the mayor of Winchelsea killed his dog and imprisoned him

Giles Waters. SP 14/119 f. 97 (1621)

The humble peticion of Giles Waters

Humblie sheweing

Your good lordshipp that Master Maior of the towne of Winchelsea bearing causles malice against your poore peticioner did willfully kill a faire masty dogg of your poore peticioners with a gunne allthough neither your peticioner nor the dogg did any way offende him at which your poore peticioner being much greived in regard the dogg was very usefull to him both for the defence of his howse and ordering of his cattell, repaired to Master Maior to know the cause why he should use your peticioner soe hardly and toulde him it was ill done and said he might live to requite his kindnes, which were the worst wordes that passed from your peticioner

Neverthelesse Master Maior hath thereupon caused your poore peticioner to be clapped [up?] in prison where he still lies and cannot be releast exec without putting in sureties for his good behaviour which would be to the great discreditt of your poore peticioner who hath allwaies lived and caried himselfe honestly amongst his neighbours

That therefore your lordshippes to releive your poore peticioner in this distres and free him from oppression would be pleased to take this cause into your lordshippes hearing and in the meane tyme to give your honourable direccions for the inlargement of your poore peticioner out of prison and he shall ever pray for your lordshippes long health and happines.

Report by Lesley Scott-Stapleton

Although it may be suspected that the dog was not the substantive issue in this case; the control of feral animals was considered a serious matter. Dogs (and indeed cats) were widely viewed carriers of disease – especially plague – a belief that was still strongly held at and beyond the time of the 1666 outbreak.[1] Like Rye, Winchelsea was a Cinque Port and almost certainly had similar orders regarding the control of dogs. The Rye order distinguishes between domestic and potentially feral dogs “All dogs to be kept in and all curs to be killed out of hand, and whoever shall find any dogs in the streets to kill them.”[2] Whilst this dealt with a perceived risk, it was bad luck if a pet wandered from the house. However by this time, Winchelsea was no longer a working port of any kind; by the end of the 15th century, it is recorded that the last merchant had left the town, the port having silted up beyond repair.[3] Further, this period had the lowest level of plague activity in several decades and so there cannot have been a heightened awareness of its risk.[4]

The only further information found regarding this incident is a clarification that Waters will neither admit fault or agree to guarantee his behaviour.[5] Giles Waters appears in the records between 1615 and 1636.[6] Described as a yeoman[7] and as a grazier,[8] meaning that his livelihood came from buying calves or lambs and keeping them on grazing land until ready for market. He would not have owned much or any land, but relied upon leases.[9] His wife Ann, is first mentioned in 1617,[10] and again in 1629;[11] but beyond possible relatives in Rye, no details have been established.

The Mayor in question has been identified as Robert Boteler.[12] He appears to have held office between 1610 and 1622 and is further recorded in 1611.[13] Only seven individuals are listed as mayor during the entire seventeenth century; so either they stayed in office for long periods, or that some names have not remained in the record. If the latter, there is evidence that the affairs of the town corporation were not always orderly:- “Robt. Boteler to Nicholas. Thanks for the Lord Warden’s letter to the Corporation of Winchelsea to restore him to his franchise. They have not obeyed, but have replied by idle and frivolous objections against him. Has merited well of the town.”[14]

If the initial impression of Giles Waters is an unruly one, other events of 1621 paint a different picture. Within three months of the dog incident, application is made for him to be made a Jurat of the corporation.[15] The term Jurat is still in use in the Channel Islands,[16] and equates to something akin to the function of a modern local councillor, being a panel of townspeople sworn in to act as judges of fact, (rather than law) presiding over such matters as land conveyances and liquor licensing.

There was clearly opposition to Waters being accepted, with objections raised about his eligibility, suggestive of manipulation.[17] Waters’ status in the town seems to have been sufficient for him to be empanelled, however in the following year, the objectors may have felt themselves justified. Waters is reported to have disposed of his assets in a bid to avoid bankruptcy proceedings against him.[18] This appears to have been credible, though worthy of overlooking, since in 1623 a corporation official writes to Lord Zouch, “commends the character of Giles Waters, and hopes he may be restored to his lordship’s favour.”[19] In pursuance of this, there is an undertaking that he “will carefully execute the Lord Warden’s commission for the gathering of his droits, [customary rights or perquisites] but little opportunity for performance of service has yet occurred.”[20] Clearly favour was retained, since Waters is still listed as a Jurat in 1626 and 1629.

Irrespective of their disagreement five years earlier, Waters and Boteler are chosen to travel to Whitehall to represent the town corporation in the matter of malpractice on the part of two past mayors (terms of office not found) and others of the town: “Mayor and Jurats of Winchelsea to the same [Duke of Buckingham]. Have chosen Robert Boteler and Giles Waters to travel to London to prevent the mischievous practices of the late disfranchised mayors, Mr. Collins and Mr. Roberts, with the rest. The Mayor and Jurats recommend their messengers to Nicholas, who was acquainted, when in the service of Lord Zouch, with their troubles respecting their late disfranchised corporation.”[21] Exactly what is supposed to have happened has not come to light, but in the light of the above, local government here was far from placid and individual honesty somewhat variable.


[1] Stephen Porter, ‘Disease and the City’, https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lecture/transcript/print/17th-century-plague/

[2] Historical Manuscripts Commission, ‘The corporation of Rye: 1578-80’, in The Manuscripts of Rye and Hereford Corporations, Etc. Thirteenth Report, Appendix: Part IV (London, 1892), pp. 60-74. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/hist-mss-comm/vol31/pt4/pp60-74.

[3] https://www.winchelsea.com/the-town-story/history/decay-and-revival/

[4] Eckert E.A.,’The Structure of Plagues and Pestilences in Early Modern Europe. Central Europe, 1560-1640.’ Basel, Karger, 1996, pp 128-131, https://www.karger.com/Article/Pdf/425212

[5] ‘James 1 – volume 119: February 1621’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1619-23, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1858), pp. 218-230. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1619-23/pp218-230.

[6] East Sussex Record Office, RYE/29/184: William Valentyne (Valentine), son of Henry Valentyne (Valentine) of  Winchelsea, gentleman, deceased, to Henry Jeake, baker; W: Giles Waters, John Bottinge, John Westborne, Date: 1 Feb 1636, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/dd384a38-dc07-4a16-8c8b-b410698155ea

[7] Kent History and Library Centre, TE/ZB/1/1: Winchelsea to Tenterden   Description: Edward Jervis of Tenterden, gent, owes Giles Waters of Winchelsea, yeoman, 20 li. Damages of 5 li requested. Original letters of process, 12 January 1615/16, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/fec14f48-1542-4d34-b923-8287d0f852e5

[8] East Sussex Record Office, WIN/56: Court Book of the Court of Record  305v fine, 18 Nov 1623, William Cooper of Ticehurst yeoman and wife Ann, John Darby of Ticehurst yeoman and wife Ann, George Sampson of Brede yeoman and Giles Waters of Winchelsea grazier and wife Ann to Thomas Roberts of Winchelsea gent and wife Elizabeth.  Messuage, buildings and land in Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 (S,W: road; E: land now or late Richard Waterman)  318 Thomas Butler of Camber Castle, freeman, admitted underbailiff to Henry Guildford kt; 24 Aug 1624, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/4faf7c75-33d4-42e4-b081-e0401dddc528

[9] East Sussex Record Office, WIN/55: Court Book Assemblies & Hundreds, Winchelsea Corporation, 218v renewal of lease of Bartholomew Field to Giles Waters for 21 years; 1619. 249 grant of Bartholomew Field and adjoining town dyke to Mr Waters in fee-farm at 2d, entry-fine £35; 1622 https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/623ef842-8896-427a-8b9a-3ec9f21e7bbc

[10] East Sussex Record Office, WIN/56: Court Book of the Court of Record 194 final concord, 5 Aug 1617, Samuel Sampson late of Edmonton in Mx, yeoman, and wife Jane to Giles Waters of Winchelsea, yeoman and wife Ann.  1 Messuage, barn, close, garden and orchard with all appurtenances in Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 (S,W: streets; N: lands of Oliver St John, gent; E: land late Adam White, gent, land late Timothy Foster) 2 small piece in Quarter 25 (E,S: roads; W,N: land late John Milward called The Cherry Garden), https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/4faf7c75-33d4-42e4-b081-e0401dddc528

[11]  ibid. 364 Conveyance for £14, 31 Mar 1629, Giles Waters of Winchelsea jurat and his wife Ann to William Neve of Winchelsea blacksmith  1 Messuage with annexed shop with adjoining garden or close in Quarter 7 (N,W: street; S: land of Robert Thompson clerk; E: tenement and land of heirs of the heirs of Thomas Holden)   2 piece of land or garden in Quarter 2 (S: street; N,W: land of Thomas Roberts gt; E: land of the heirs of Ralph Cobb)

[12] William Durrant Cooper, The History of Winchelsea: One of the Ancient Towns Added to the Cinque Ports, London and Hastings, 1801, p. 238 (via Google Books)

[13] East Sussex Record Office, SAS-WH/400, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/789eae43-8edb-4e2b-981d-af3857190137

[14] ‘James 1 – volume 116: July 1620’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1619-23, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1858), pp. 159-170. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1619-23/pp159-170.

[15] ‘James 1 – volume 120: April 1621’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1619-23, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1858), pp. 243-251. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1619-23/pp243-251.

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jurat

[17] ‘James 1 – volume 121: May 1621’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1619-23, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1858), pp. 251-260. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1619-23/pp251-260.

[18] ‘James 1 – volume 127: February 1622’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1619-23, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1858), pp. 341-353. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1619-23/pp341-353.

[19] ‘James 1 – volume 151: August 18-31, 1623’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1623-25, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1859), pp. 58-72. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1623-5/pp58-72.

[20] ‘James 1 – volume 152: September 1623’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1623-25, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1859), pp. 72-86. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/jas1/1623-5/pp72-86 .

[21] ‘Charles I – volume 25: April 16-30, 1626’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1625-26, ed. John Bruce (London, 1858), pp. 311-324. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1625-6/pp311-324 .


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.