Court reports from 1299
Over the centuries justice in Jersey has usually been dispensed by island officials. The Royal Court has been the main court of criminal justice, although in earlier times the Seigneurs of the major fiefs held their own courts, and some even ordered the ultimate penalty to be carried out on their own gallows.
Very few records of this era exist, but there are records of assizes held by visiting justices – the Justices in Eyre – sent to the island by English kings, sometimes to deal with a backlog of cases, sometimes to hear complaints against the island officials.
In 1296, during the reign of Edward I, war broke out with the French and the Channel Islands were caught in the middle. The English fleet won the first engagement off Brittany and the French took their revenge on Jersey, razing most of the Island to the ground.
A call for assistance was sent out and troops and munitions were brought over to Gorey Castle. Unfortunately the Castle needed to be strengthened and the Garrison fed and, as the Island's resources were already depleted by the raids, commandeering of provisions and the seizure of boats caused a large amount of complaints, which reached the King's ear in 1298.
Edward ordered an Eyre - A court of travelling Royal Justices. They arrived in Jersey late the following year and spent six weeks dealing with a huge backlog of civil and criminal cases.
George Balleine's History of Jersey describes their arrival: :"On St Clement's Day 1299 the Justices rode from the Castle to the town with a clattering escort of knights. In the Royal Court, a large wooden shed on the site of the present Court room, all the officials of the Island were gathered, Bailiff, Jurats, Seigneurs and 72 jurors, six of them acting in each of the 12 parishes, whose duty was to present the criminals."
The official records of the various Assizes in the 13th and 14th centuries survive in the Public Records Office in London and were published in their original Latin with translation into French by La Société Jersiaise in the late 19th century.
They provide lists of the various officials which are invaluable to genealogists. In 1299 Dionisius de Tilbury was Warden of the Island, Peter Dartys, Jurat and Receiver of the Island and John de Carteret was both the Chief Bailiff and a Jurat.
The rest of the Jurats of the King's Court were: Reginald de Carteret, Thomas Payn, Philip Levesque, Nicholas Turgys, Gilbert Le Petit, Ralph de Augerez, William Le Petit, Jordan Dumaresq, Henry Payn, Philip Fundenck and Jordan Horman.
Here are reports of some of the cases heard. What is particularly striking is that offences which in later years would undoubtedly have carried the death penalty, or long periods of imprisonment, were at this time dealt with by the imposition of fines. The level of these fines was not recorded at the time, but was to be determined later.
Monday 23 November 1299
William de Dononvant accused Robert de la Hogue of 'borrowing' without his permission, an ox worth 40 sols and taking it to the castle at Gorey. De la Hogue admitted this, but protested that he was under orders from Henri de Cobham, Warden of the Island, to procure the ox for the maintenance of the garrison, and the English soldiers there had paid him for it. Evidence to this fact was produced and the complainant was therefore found guilty of bringing a false suit and put at the mercy of the King, with a fine to be set later.
Peter Salomon, already on a charge of stealing several sheaves of corn from Nicolas de Surville, broke arrest and did not appear. He was found guilty in his absence of carting away at night 60 sheaves of corn belonging to the King and ordered to restore them. He was ordered to be sent to prison when apprehended.
Philip Le Breton claimed that the Abbot of Mont St Michel and the Prior of St Clement had taken his land away from him, leaving him unable to make a living. Represented by Thomas de Vinchelez, the Abbot argued that he was not obliged to reply as the King owned all Le Breton's lands and possessions. He also said that, to stop further appeals of this nature, a judgment should be made against the complainant. The court agreed and Le Breton was found guilty of bringing a false suit and put at the mercy of the King, with a fine to be set later. Falling to his knees, he pleaded that he had no way of paying a fine as he had been dispossessed, so it was decided that he should be pardoned "in the name of God" because he was poor.
Felicia, wife of Nicolas de Vinchelez, stated that Jordan Norman and Johanna Lenglesche, the heirs of Nicolas, had delayed sealing a legal document that made arrangements for her division of property under their common inheritance. They appeared and agreed to do so immediately, but were still put at the mercy of the King, with a fine to be set later, for failing to do so before.
Payment for millstone
Felicia de Vinchelez also claimed 53 sols tournois from Jordan Norman, which she time given him some time before to pay for a millstone. He admitted this and was ordered to pay up. He was also put at the mercy of the King, with a fine to be set later, for unjustly retaining the money.
Castle duties payment
William Godel claimed that he was owed 60 sols 8 denarii tournois for ‘standing to’ at the garrison of the Castle for 12 weeks. The warden was represented by William de la Hogue, who agreed the money was owed. The court ordered payment to be made immediately and put de la Hogue at the mercy of the King, with a fine to be set later, for unjust detention of the money.
Peter Salomon arrived late at court, but pleaded that he was seeking guarantors to ensure he could repay his debts, as he no longer had the corn. Peter Le Gros of St Helier and Jordan Gilbert stood up to confirm this and were also willing to act as guarantors, so he was discharged. Le Gros and Gilbert were warned that if he absconded they would be liable to repay the debt.
Wednesday 25 November 1299
Philip Avlet appeared charged with tearing off, with his teeth, the lip of Nicholas Malzard. He admitted the offence and was put at the mercy of the King, with a fine to be set later. He found two guarantors for the fine, Thomas Aulet and William Jean.
John, the son of Ranulf, was also indicted as an accomplice to the aoffence, but failed to appear. Witnesses testified that he had fled to Normandy where he had been hanged.
John Geoffrey admitted beating Philip Sirot and drawing blood. He should have appeared on the first day of the Assizes and so Jordan Dumaresq and William de Layck, who were responsible for bringing him, along with the accused himself, were put at the mercy of the King, with fines to be set later.
Wounded by scythe
Nicholas Pinel, fisherman, admitted attacking and wounding Robert Carey with a scythe and was sent to prison.
Oliver de Montibus, was charged with assaulting William Castelein on the King's highway, beating him quite badly. He failed to appear and was banished as an outlaw.
The Viscount, Peter Espiard, and Ralph Leir seized him later the same day to bring him to trial, but he escaped and fled the Island, therefore his captors are placed at the King's mercy, with a fine to be set later.
Assault on woman
Robert Le Broket admitted beating the daughter of Richard de Gruchy and throwing her to the ground. He was placed at the King's mercy, with a fine to be set later, guaranteed by Richard Jorram.
Nicholas de Mara admitted beating John Le Beuf on his property and throwing him from his cart. Le Beuf claimed de Mara had also seized and took away his cart, which he also admitted. He was placed at the King's mercy, with a fine to be set later, guaranteed by Philip Fondan.
Ralph Perchard faced several accusers. Hawisia Fretillo complained he had struck her in the face spilling blood and Simon Le Coverur claimed he had wounded him with a dagger, but Perchard then accused him of doing the same to him. Eventually it was decided to place both of them at the King's Mercy, with fines to be set later.
Simon Le Coverur was not allowed to leave the court as there were two other complaints against him; first for striking Peter Desert with his fist and second for wounding William Malet and throwing him to the ground by the side of his home at night. He failed to find guarantors and was sent to prison.
Nicholas Maugier, John Perchard and Peter Perchard appeared to guarantee that Ralph Perchard would in the future conduct himself properly in the country. This was a mistake as immediately Philip Payn stepped forward and accused Ralph Perchard and Jordan Perchard of beating him up in a tavern. Encouraged by this, Peter de Villebus, Ralph Hubert and the son of Jocelin complained that Perchard has struck each of them at different times in the King's market.
The guarantors also found themselves thrown at the King's mercy, with fines to be set later. Thomas Le Maygnew and Ralph Le Valleyn stepped forward to ensure all parties would be released.
Robert Le Cras, son of Jordan, admitted beating the wife of Ralph Hoel and spilling her blood, after breaking into her home at night. He then stole some of the contents of her house and her husband's horse. He was put at the King's mercy, with a fine to be set later.
Durant Delaune, a leper, was accused of smashing the doors and windows of Robert Fanegot's house and throwing him to the ground. A second complaint was raised by Ralph Lemere that Durant Delaune drew a dagger on him. This was proved and Delaune was place at the King's mercy, with a fine to be set later. The Court recognised that he would probably be unable to pay the fine and warned him that if he failed he would have to leave the island.
Durant Delaune then registered a complaint against Robert Fanegot, his wife and daughter in law, for beating him up. The Court decided that, as the complainant was a "common malefactor and a contemptner of Justice", they would be pardoned.
Set alight victim’s hair
John Fillote, William (the son of Nicholas) and Ralph Le Norman were brought before the Court, accused of beating up the son of Robert Le Feuvre at night in a tavern. They had dragged him around the room by his hair, which they then set alight with a candle. They admitted the assault and were put at the King's mercy, with a fine to be set later. Guarantors stepped forward, with one of the accused, John Fillote, unusually offering his own guarantee. The others were Thomas Payn and Robert Nicholas.