|SOME NOTES ON MEDIEVAL ENGLISH GENEALOGY|
Copyright Stephen Swailes.
The office of coroner has existed in England from the late twelfth century and coroners' records survive for many counties. Northamptonshire has a relatively good level of coverage for the fourteenth century and these pages contain abstracts of the coroners' rolls for the county held at the National Archives and which can be seen on the Anglo-American Legal Tradition (AALT) website. In particular, coroners' rolls in the JUST2 series which run from the early fourteenth to the early fifteenth centuries are indexed. However, records have not survived for all years so there are gaps. After the fourteenth century the survival of coroners' rolls falls sharply.
The rolls include a range of material but primarily contain;
For each roll, each index page shows the corresponding image number on the AALT website and, where identifiable, the membrane number in the roll and the regnal year of the event. Exact dates of events are sometimes included and, if not, they can be derived from the feast days mentioned in the original reports.
Note that these pages are indexes not translations and as such further information may be available in the original reports particularly concerning the circumstances of a person's death or their offences.
Some of the content of Northamptonshire rolls appears in 'Select Cases from the Coroners' Rolls A.D. 1265-1413' published by the Selden Society, volume IX, 1895, and the basic details given in that volume are included in these indexes. Coroners also heard the confessions of people who had taken sanctuary in a church and summaries of cases of sanctuary seekers in Northamptonshire are contained in Reports and Papers Read at the Meetings of the Architectural Societies, volume XXXII, 1913/14, part I pp. 179-228 and part II pp. 423-484.
Inquest reports contain a range of information but each roll varies in the amount it contains. They all include the place where the inquest took place, the name of the deceased, a very brief summary of the circumstances and a jury verdict. Additional information often includes the name of the person who first found them and the names of two or more people who pledged that the first finder was telling the truth. Jurors’ names are often included and some rolls include the names of others present at the inquest. In the event of a felony the name of the suspected felon is given. Where a person lived long enough to provide information on what happened to them and receive the last rites then the names of the person who found them and those who would have produced pledges are not given. Names of jurors were more often given for unlawful killings than for accidental deaths.
Most inquests reached a verdict of unlawful killing or death by accident and occasionally suicide or natural causes. Where 'misfortune' is shown in the index that was the verdict of the inquest jury (infortunium). The basic style of an inquest report is as follows.
It happened at [place] on [date] that [name] was found dead. The person who first found the body was [name] and he/she provides pledges from [name] and [name]. The body was viewed by the coroner [named] and a jury of 12 men [sometimes named] was assembled from nearby villages. A short report of the jurors on oath is then given. If a person was slain then the suspected felon is named and the value of the weapon used is given, such as a knife worth one penny. If a person died by misadventure then the value of the item that led to their death was given. These sums were forfeit to the Crown by the village/town. A list of chattels owned by the felon and their value is sometimes given as is the outcome, for example, that the felon has fled, should be arrested or that they had been captured. Inquest verdicts of felony were not necessarily upheld by subsequent trials.
The reports sometimes include place names within a parish, for example a field name or the name of a mill and they are included here.
For further information on inquests relating to felonious killings in medieval Northamptonshire, see the article by Dr M. Thornton published in Northamptonshire Past and Present, Number, 67, (2014) available online at northamptonshirerecordsociety.org.uk.
See also B.A. Hanawalt, (1976), 'Violent death in fourteenth and early fifteenth-century England', Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 297-320.
Sanctuary and abjuration of the realm
The rolls also include cases in which a person sought sanctuary in a church, confessed their crimes before a coroner and abjured the realm. Brief details of crimes are given and individuals were sent to a port to take passage out of the realm usually for ever.
Writs of outlawry
Some rolls contain orders from the king to the county sheriff that a person or persons should be exacted (charged) for suspected crimes and outlawed if they failed to appear at court. The sheriff would respond giving details of the dates at which the person was exacted and the outcome which was usually that they did not appear at court and were thus outlawed.
Appeals of approvers
Some rolls contain appeals in which a person turned king's evidence and accused (appealed) others of assisting them in their crimes.
Some rolls or parts thereof are badly damaged and/or practically illegible such that only fragmentary information was extracted in some cases. This index was compiled in good faith to help local and family historians but misreading does occur and the original sources should always be consulted.