By John Marshall Carter
Journal of Sport History, Vol. 15:2 (1988)
Synopsis: This article presents what has been gleaned about sports, pastimes, and recreations of thirteenth-century people from a representative sample of the public records of medieval England. By sports and recreations we mean any activity engaged in by people that took them outside of their everyday occupational activities.
Introduction: In an interesting and important article on the connections between medieval English and Flemish ball games Heiner Gillmeister, Chaucerian scholar at the University of Bonn, delineates the various types of evidence an investigator of medieval ball games must use to get a fuller, clearer picture of ball play in the Middle Ages. He notes that legal documents, especially the statutes of English medieval kings and the church’s bans on tournaments, contained only sketchy information about the sports that the documents prohibited. But, what about two other types of legal documents, the eyre and coroners’ rolls of thirteenth century England? Because Gillmeister’s conclusion about the relative lack of utility of medieval legal documents was based primarily on statutes and ecclesiastical prohibitions and excluded eyre and coroners’ rolls, I investigated a selection of the latter types to determine if they had any value for the historian of medieval sports.
The public records of medieval English kings, particularly the criminal records known as the rolls of the itinerant justices, have yielded valuable information about many aspects of medieval English life. C.A.F. Meekings, probably the greatest scholar of the English medieval legal records, provided many insights into crime, prosecution, and jurisdiction based on his thorough knowledge of the eyre and coroners’ rolls. Indeed, Meekings’ articles are models of scholarship and demonstrate what the public records might yield for the interested researcher. Yet, his suggestions about the eyre and coroners’ rolls were mainly for criminal, legal, and jurisdictional matters. What will the same records offer the historian of medieval English sports and recreations?