University of Guelph: Master’s Thesis (2014)
This thesis examines the offenses of abduction, assault, and housebreaking before the Court of Common Pleas in England, from 1399-1500. The evidence for this study is provided by the digitized, archived records of the Common Pleas, created by Dr. Jonathan Mackman and Dr. Matthew Stevens. The records of the Common Pleas have, until quite recently, been an untapped resource for examining the social, legal, and cultural history of medieval England. Through examining these records, I suggest the concept of patriarchal legal stewardship greatly informed how these cases were pleaded, and in what ways individuals and households could be involved in these civil suits. Research reveals that although it was mostly men who act as a stewarding plaintiff, it was possible for women to fulfill a similar role. Largely, the intersection of social status, gender and the household informed how individuals experienced the offenses of abduction, assault, and housebreaking.
Fifteenth-century English society was characterized by the concept of “good governance.” To govern well in the late Middle Ages was to both protect and provide for those who were governed, but also to provide judicious discipline in the face of misbehaviour or wrongdoing. In the late medieval era, this concept was reflected in the structure and operation of the household. Studying the influence of governance on community roles, social standing and familial relationships in late medieval England is a complex and multi-faceted undertaking. Ideas on good governance were present in the civic structures used by government and citizens. Governance was also present in the formation, development and use of the common law courts. These law courts, such as the Court of Common Pleas, were used in the late medieval period to negotiate status, repair affronts to household standing, and establish guidelines of good governance for communities.