This page is divided into four sections: (1) The Courts of the City of London, (2) The Church Courts of London, (3) The Central (Royal) Courts in London, and (4) The Anglo-American Legal Tradition Project. See also the Religion page for courts involving Jews.
(1) The Courts of the City of London
Calendar of Early Mayor’s Court Rolls Preserved among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Guildhall A.D. 1298-1307, ed. A. H. Thomas. Cambridge, 1924. The only surviving rolls of the Mayor’s court, though some later proceedings are recorded in the Letter Books and the Plea and Memoranda Rolls. Originating in the thirteenth century, it became the city’s most important court for personal actions, especially debt. It did not deal with deal with cases involving property ownership. On BHO and Haithi Trust.
Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London, 6 vols. Vols. 1-4 were edited by A. H. Thomas and published in London: Vol. 1: 1323-1364 (1926); Vol. 2: 1364-1381 (1929); Vol. 3, 1381-1412 (1932). Vol. 4: 1413-1437 (1943). Vols. 5-6 were edited by Philip E. Jones and published in Cambridge: Vol. 5: 1437-1457 (1954); Vol. 6: 1458-1482 (1961). Detailed abstracts of actions in the Mayor’s court that medieval clerks chose as legal precedents or as examples of the city’s rights. Latin entries translated into English, but entries are increasingly in Middle English. Vol. 3 is titled Calendar of Select Pleas and Memoranda of the City of London because it excludes smaller debt actions and some formal entries. Vol. 4 contains presentments of the Wardmotes in 1422 and 1423. The volumes contain valuable introductions on specific issues. Vols. 1-3 are on BHO.
London Assize of Nuisance London Assize of Nuisance 1301-1431: A Calendar, ed. Helena M. Chew and William Kellaway. London Record Society, vol. 10, 1973. English abstracts of complaints regarding offenses against the city’s assize of nuisance, held before the mayor and aldermen. The complaints offer vivid details on the difficulties that could arise in the densely inhabited neighborhoods of medieval London, as well as information on buildings and other structures. On BHO.
Courts of Common Council and Aldermen Calendar of Letter-Books Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Guildhall. Ed. R. R. Sharpe, 11 vols (A-L) (London, 1899-1912). English calendar of the entries in the eleven extant medieval Letter Books, which contain much miscellaneous business of the city of London, including parts of the pre fifteenth-century proceedings in the Court of Common Council (later recorded in the Journals, which are only in manuscript) and the Court of Aldermen (later recorded in the Repertories, which are also in manuscript). The memoranda are often recorded out of chronological order by a variety of clerks, but each volume largely relates to a specific period, as follows (links go to archive.org) : A: 1275-1298; B: 1275-1313; C: 1291-1309; D: 1309-1314; E: 1314-1337; F: 1337-1352; G: 1352-1375; H: 1375-1399; I: 1400-1422; K: 1422-1461; L: 1461-97. Letter Book J was lost by c. 1541, and there is no Letter Book J. Digital editions are available on BHO and Google Books and electronic pdfs on the subscription-based MEMSO.
Sheriffs’ Court Roll, 1320. “The London Sheriffs’ Court Roll of 1320,” ed. Matthew Stephens (London: Centre for Metropolitan History, 2010). This is the only roll of the Sheriffs’ Court to survive, probably because the proceedings were considered the property of the Sheriff, even after the end of his annual term. The original roll is in Latin and contains 26 membranes; the (unattributed) translation has been checked against the original by the editor. The roll contains c. 1590 entries covering c. 550 disputes heard before sheriff John de Preston over almost three months. About 60 per cent of the cases involve debt and 30 per cent trespass. Also includes a helpful introduction, and indices of personal names and cases by plaintiff surnames. From London Metropolitan Archives, CLA/025/CT/01/001 & 002.
The Portsoken presentments ‘The Portsoken presentments: an analysis of a London ward in the 15th century’, by Christine Winter. Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, 56 (2005), 97–161. English translation of mainly nuisance indictments made by the jurors of a London suburban wardmote for fourteen years, 1465-83. The jurors’ presentments focus in particular on fire hazards and prostitutes and their maintainers.
J.B. Post, ‘A Fifteenth-century Customary of the Southwark Stews’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 5 (1977): 418–428. Because prostitutes were forbidden to reside in the city of London, brothels were concentrated in its suburbs, especially the Bankside area of Southwark, over which the bishop of Winchester had jurisdiction. These ordinances governing the ‘stews’ or brothels are in a manuscript made for the steward of the bishop and appear to be Middle English transcripts from an earlier Latin manuscript dating to around 1430 but purporting to originate in the twelfth century. They dictate the pay and working conditions of prostitutes, as well as the responsibilities of the stewholders. For a modern English version of the text, see R. M. Karras, “The Regulation of Brothels in Later Medieval England,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14:2 (1989): 399-433.
D. L. Boyd and R. M. Karras, “The Interrogation of a Male Transvestite Prostitute in Fourteenth-Century London,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1 (1995): 459-65; Includes a transcript and translation of a case in London’s Plea and Memoranda Roll A34), which was left out of the published version. The case includes testimony from John Rykener, “calling himself Eleano ,” who dressed like a woman and worked as a female prostitute but also claimed to have had sex with many women. The case is also included and further discussed in R. M. Karras and D. L. Boyd, “‘Ut cum mulier,’: A Male Transvestite in Fourteenth-Century London,” in Premodern Sexualities, ed. L. Fradenburg and C. Freccero (New York, 1996), 99-116.
(2) The Church Courts in London
Medieval church courts handled a wide variety of business involving moral offences or the sacraments, including marriage disputes, sexual offences, defamation, debt, clerical wrongdoing, the probate of wills, and the granting of administration of a will. The courts of the diocese of London covered not only the city of London, but also the largely rural counties of Essex and Middlesex and part of Hertfordshire. The Consistory court was the highest court of the bishop, presided over by a judge trained in canon and civil law. It treated mostly “instance” cases initiated by a plaintiff’s complain and relied on advocates (who had studied law at university) and proctors (who often had no formal legal training) to represent the litigants. The Commissary court of London was a lower court which had jurisdiction over about half of the city of London parishes and a bit over 40 parishes in the county of Middlesex; commissaries were deputies of the bishop. Other lower courts were the court of the Archdeacon of London and Archdeacon of Middlesex. Southwark was under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Winchester. See the section on Wills for more on these courts.
Commissary Court Books. For a discussion of the courts and ecclesiastical legal system in late medieval London, see R. M. Wunderli, London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of the Reformation (Cambridge, 1981), an ACLS Humanities E-Book. Appendix B contains Latin transcripts of sample folios from five different court books to show the range of cases in the Commissary court.
Depositions from two church courts: Love and Marriage in Late Medieval London, ed. Shannon McSheffrey, TEAMS Documents of Practice Series (Kalamazoo, 1995). Translations of depositions from the Consistory Court of London in 1467-76 and the Commissary Court of London in 1489-97 regarding marriage disputes, especially of those in the middling and lower ranks of London society. The depositions offer insights into courtship, marriage rituals, disputed marriage contracts, bigamy, divorce, and adultery, although the resolution of the cases are unknown. Accompanied by a useful introduction.
Consistory: Testimony in the Late Medieval London Consistory Court, ed. Shannon McSheffrey, (Concordia University, 2008- ). An in-progress database of over 550 (out of an eventual total of 1100) witness depositions before 1500 in the Consistory court of the diocese of London, in original Latin and English translation. Users can search on cases, depositions, people, places, and subjects. The depositions made by witnesses in support of either the plaintiffs or defendants are especially revealing of everyday life among the middling and poorer ranks of London society. The site also contains an introduction to the canon (church) law about marriage, divorce, debt, breaches of faith, and other types of cases in this court.
(3) The Central (Royal) Courts in London
The Eyre Courts in London. The eyre justices travelled on circuits to administer the king’s justice throughout the realm. They dealt with a wide variety of offences, including civil pleas (lawsuits over debt, account, contract, and account between plaintiffs), criminal offences and infringements of the king’s rights (both known as crown pleas), and inquests into the property and rights held by local lords that could be claimed for the crown (know as quo warranto proceedings). They date from the second half of the thirteenth century and lasted until the 1340s, though they were in decline by the 1320s.
- The London Eyre of 1244, ed. M. Chew and M. Weinbaum, London Record Society, 6 (1970). Gives the original Latin and English translations of crown pleas for 1225-1243, as well as appeals, the city’s responses to questions (articles) about specific rights and offenses; constitutions (local customs regarding legal procedures, property rights, and tolls, with examples of relevant complaints. Also included is a 1246 inquest into purprestures (encroachments on public property). On BHO.
- The London Eyre of 1276, M. Weinbaum, London Record Society, 12 (1976). English translations (with some Latin) of the crown pleas for 1251-1276, responses to the articles of the eyre; inquest into purprestures and measures; civil pleas; legal notations on specific pleas; and lists of amercements (fines), including for breaking the assize of cloth and false claims.
- The 1321 Eyre: Placita de quo warranto temporibus Edw. I, II. Et III. in curia receptae Scaccarii Westm. asservata (Record Commission, 1818), pp. 445-74. Latin transcript in record type of pleas concerning royal rights claimed by the city, religious houses, and individual citizens. See E. Jeffries Davis and M. Weinbaum, “Sources for the London Eyre of 1321,” Historical Research 7:19 (1929): 35–38. On Haithi Trust and Google books.
- Year Book, Eyre of London 14 Edward II (1321), ed. R. V. Rogers, Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, n.s., vol. 19, no. 1 (Boston, 1941); available on JStor (subscription required). Year Books were reports of court cases taken as notes by law students who both summarized the case and the discussions of the justices. This is an edition of one of the eight extant manuscripts for the famous 1321 eyre of London, done in facing columns of original French and English translation. With introduction and indices. See the more complete edition in The Eyre of London: 14 Edward II (1321), ed. H. M. Cam, 2 vols, Selden Society, vols. 85 and 86, Year Book Series, vol. 26 (London, 1968-69). On HeinOnline (subscription required).
Coroners Rolls of the City of London. The medieval coroner was responsible for investigating sudden or unnatural deaths on behalf of the crown, which received forfeitures of the estates of murderers and suicides, as well as the value of the objects (called “deodand”) associated with a death, such as the boat from which the deceased fell and drowned. There were also fees assessed if the ‘first finder’ did not raise the hue and cry, or if local officials failed to notify the coroner of a suspicious death. The resulting inquests before local jurors can contain very full details about the identity of the perpetrators, victims, their kin, and witnesses, as well as the location, time and circumstances of the death. Before 1478, the coroner was the king’s chamberlain, later the king’s butler. The extant rolls are as follows.
- “Coroners Inquests for 1276-78” in Calendar of Letter-Book B, ed. R. R. Sharpe, pp. 256-79; extracts are in Memorials of London and London Life, ed. H. T. Riley (1868) pp 3-20, with some additional notes. Also on BHO.
- Calendar of Coroners Rolls of the City of London A.D. 1300-1378, ed. Reginald R. Sharpe (London, 1913) covers cover eight years: 1300-01, 1321-22, 1323-24, 1324-25, 1325-26, 1336-37, 1338-39, and 1339-40. Also on Haithi Trust. See also the Medieval Murder Map of the 142 murders recorded in these rolls; the map includes murders from a transcript of a coroner’s roll for 1315-16 at the LMA.
Londoners in Common Pleas cases. Jonathan Mackman and Matthew Stevens, Court of Common Pleas: the National Archives, CP40 1399-1500 (London, 2010), British History Online. This project provides summary translations in tabular form of c. 6,300 pleaded cases involving London litigants or events supposed to have taken place at London, heard before the Court of Common Pleas in the sample years 1399–1409, 1420–1429, 1445–1450, 1460–1468, 1480 and 1500. About 3,600 of the c. 30,000 individuals mentioned were explicitly described as citizens of London, although it is likely that there were also other non-citizen Londoners who appeared. The Court of Common Pleas was the chief central court for hearing civil pleas in England, including actions to assert title to land, complaints of trespass, and personal pleas of account, contract, and debts involving sums over 40s, among other actions. See the Introduction for further details on the project and court, and the TNA CP40 listing for more details on this document class. The London cases provide considerable data on financial and commercial issues.
See also the Curia Regis Rolls on the National Records page.
(4) The Anglo-American Legal Tradition Project (AALT)
The AALT is a massive project that aims to digitize medieval and early-modern English legal records at The National Archives and make the images freely available online. Run by Robert Palmer at the University of Houston Law School, the site currently contains many millions of images of records dating from 1217 to 1800. These are the original records, so users need to have some experience reading medieval Latin handwriting and coping with the many abbreviations that Latin legal records employ. They will also need to use the TNA Discovery catalogue to locate the records they want to use. The medieval record classes that contain London material are: C 1, C 33, C 54 [1509-1540], C 60 [1529-1573], C 62, C 66 [1237-1281], C 78, CP 21, CP 25 [to 1509], CP 40, E 9, E 13, E 101, E 123, E 124, E 126, E 159, E 361, E 364, E 368, E 372, JUST 1, JUST 2 [to 1483], JUST 3 [to 1483], KB 9 [to 1560], KB 21, KB 26, KB 27, KB 29, LR 1, REQ 1 and SP 12 [to 1580]. The site Wiki (WAALT) contains lists of (only a few at this time) documents that mention London officials, London documents, and London court records, with links to the relevant images. There are also very useful indices for medieval CP40 records, which are organized by plaintiff but which has a location field that allows users to easily find cases involving Londoners.