90 Cage v Smithson

The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640.

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William Cage of Lindsey, co. Suffolk, gent v William Smithson of the same

November 1638 - October 1639

Figure 90:

The Abbot's Palace, Bury St Edmunds, in the eighteenth century. It was in the palace yard, during the meeting of the summer assizes in 1639, that William Smithson was ordered to perform his submission


Cage complained that on 17 November 1637, during an argument in Amersonne's field, in the parish of Lindsey, Suffolk, Smithson had said of him that 'I was or am a base lowsye knave, and that I would be hanged'. Smithson claimed in his defence that Cage had provoked him by calling him 'a sheepestealer' who 'had stolne some of his sheep' and declaring, 'Thy mother is a whore, Thou art my bastard.' Cage called as witnesses three yeomen and husbandmen who had been working in the fields at the time and they testified on 2 January 1639 at the Crown Inn, Sudbury, Suffolk, before a commission headed by John James esq. In February and March 1639 Dr Eden presented material for the defence, but Cage won the case and was awarded £40 damages and £20 costs. Smithson was ordered to perform his submission at the summer assizes 1639, in the abbey yard at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, where he was to crave forgiveness for his 'false and scandalous' words, and promise to behave himself 'with all due respect towards Mr Cage and all other the gentrye of the kingdome.' The following October another witness for Cage deposed that he had tried to settle the matter by arbitration, but that Smithson had refused, declaring that he would fight on while Cage was 'worth a groate' and he was 'able to make a groate'.

Initial proceedings

16/3b, Libel

1. Cage's family had been ancient gentry for up to 50 years.

2. Between September and December 1637, in the parish of Lindsey, Smithson had said of Cage that 'I was or am a base lowsye knave, and that I would be hanged', words provocative of a duel.

No date.

Signed by Clere Talbot.

Plaintiff's case

16/3a, Letters commissory for the plaintiff

Addressed to commissioners John James, John Cole, William Doyle, esqs, and also, John Wenlock, William Hobert, Nathaniel Bacon and Nathaniel Joyner, esqs, to meet from 2 to 4 January 1639, at the Crown Inn, Sudbury, co. Suffolk.

William Dethick assigned William Colman as notary public

Dated 20 November 1638.

Signed by William Dethick.

16/3c, Defence interrogatories

1. The witnesses were warned of the penalty for perjury and bearing false witness. What was the witness's age, occupation and condition of living? Where had they lived for all the years of their life?

2. Was the witness related to Cage and if so, by what degree? Was the witness a farmer, tenant or servant, and if so, for what property or wage?

3. Was the witness indebted or obliged to Cage, and if so, for what sum?

4. How much was the witness worth in goods with his debts paid, and 'whether he be not a very poore man, and soe commonly accompted, and whether he hath not received Almes from the parishe where he dwelleth'? If so, when and how much?

5. If the witness deposed of any words spoken by Smithson to or of Cage, the witness was to specify when and where the words were spoken, at what day and place and in whose presence?

6. Declare 'upon what occasion and upon what provocation from Cage such words were spoken by Smythson. And let every such witness set downe all the words which then and there passed between the parties, vizt. Cage and Smythson, in such manner and in such order as they were then and there spoken without altering any thing or word as neare as he can.'

7. 'Whether William Cage did not then and there speak and say to Smythson these words, viz. Thy mother is a whore, Thou art my bastard.' Declare 'whether the words were not spoken by William Cage before Smithson gave Cage any base language.'

8. 'Whether William Cage did not then and there say that Smithson was a sheepstealer and had stolne some of his sheep?' Declare 'whether such words were not spoken by way of provocation and afore any words of disgrace passed from Smithson to or of William Cage.'

No date.

Signed by Thomas Eden.

16/3d, Plaintiff depositions

Taken before commissioners John James, John Cole, John Wenlock, esqs, on the 2 January 1638/9, at the Crown Inn, Sudbury, co. Suffolk, with William Colman as notary public.

(Witness 1), John Norman of Lindsey, co. Suffolk, husbandman, born at Cockfield, co. Suffolk, lived in Lindsey for 20 years, aged about 44

To Cage's libel:

2. Twelve months ago he was in John Green's field in Lindsey when he heard Smithson in the next field speaking 'in an angry and passionate manner' to Cage, saying you 'art a base lowsey knave and wold be hanged'. John Hawkyns and one William Goyner, now deceased, were also present.

To Smithson's interrogatories:

2. He was sometimes a labourer for Cage.

4. He was a poor man who lived by his labour and was 'little or nothing worth.'

5. Cage was in the field called Ammersonne's before Smithson came in, and Smithson asked Cage what he was doing there. Cage replied 'that he was upon his own grounds'; at which Smithson 'taking exception did use or speak the words afore by him deposed... saving that the words were spoken on the sixteenth day of the month but of what month he cannot depose.'

6. Norman was present from the time they met until they parted, and he did not hear Cage use any provoking speeches, but he did hear Cage ask him and the other witnesses 'to bear witness of Smithson's words.'

7. That these were the only words Norman heard on that occasion; 'neither did he hear William Cage to speak the words' in the interrogatory.

Signed by John Norman [his mark], and the three commissioners.

(Witness 2), John Hawkyns of Lindsey, co. Suffolk, clothier, born at Boxford, co. Suffolk, lived at Lindsey for 14 years, aged 54

To Cage's libel:

2. On 16 November 1637, he 'happening by accident to come near a field called Amerson's situate in Linsey', Cage and Smythson 'were then present, and then and there William Smithson, in an angry manner, speaking to and of William Cage, was a base lowsey knave, and that he would be hanged'. John Norman and the late William Gaymer were also present.

To Smithson's interrogatories:

5. 'The words were spoken in a field called Amersons being in Linsey' in the presence of Hawkyns, 'John Norman and Wm Gaymer, there being no other witnesses present that he did see.'

6. Cage at Smithson's speaking of words 'was very patient' and did not before or after use provoking speeches towards Smithson.

7. Cage did not 'speak any of the words' in theinterrogatory.'

Signed by John Hawkins and the three commissioners.

(Witness 3), John Green of Lindsey, co. Suffolk, yeoman, born at Chelsworth, co. Suffolk, lived at Lindsey for 8 years, aged about 36

To Cage's libel:

2. In November 1637, Green sold to Gaymer 'the choppings of a tree', and so Gaymer hired Norman to cut it 'and to make it up into fagots, which being done he, at the request of Gaymer, went with his cart to fetch the wood and to carry it to Gaymer's house, and being come into the field Gaymer told [him] that William Smithson and William Cage had been there in the field that day; and William Smithson had used certaine opprobrious termes or speeches to William Cage.'

To Smithson's libel:

5-7. 'Gaymer did tell [him] that William Cage was very patient when William Smithson did abraid him, and wondered at his patience.'

Signed by John Greene and the three commissioners.

16/3e, Notary public's certificate

Certificate in Latin signed by William Colman, notary public that the above examinations had been completed and were now being returned.

Notary's mark.

No date.

Sentence / Arbitration

13/3e, Plaintiff's sentence

Plaintiff awarded £40 and £20 respectively.

13/3jj, Plaintiff's bill of costs

Michaelmas term, 1638 to Hilary term, 1638

Total: £43-6s-8d

Signed by William Merrick.


13/3x, Submission

On Monday 29 July [1639] between 2 and 4pm 'in the Abbey Yard of St Edmunds Bury, Suffolk, before the judges of the assizes then and there judicially sittinge, standinge bareheaded in some eminent place to bee appointed him by the judges, or one of them, shall with an audible voyce read, or after the clerk of the assize or his deputy readinge the same unto, him say as followeth:

Whereas I, William Smithson, stand convicted by sentence diffinitive given against me in the court militarie by the right honourable Henry Lord Maltravers, Lieutenant to the right honourable Thomas Earl of Arundel and Surrey, Earl Marshal of England, to have much abused and vilefyed in words Mr William Cage of Linsey, gent, and in particuler to have sayd that hee was a base, lowsie knave and that hee would bee hanged or the like wordes in effect. I doe hereby humbly acknowledge that I am hartily sorry for my such rash and unadvised speakinge of the wordes of and against Mr Cage, whome I doe hereby acknowledge to bee an honest gentleman, and noe such manner of man as might bee intimated by my utteringe of those wordes which I doe hereby acknowledge to bee most false and scandalous; and doe humbly pray the forgivenes of Mr Cage for my utteringe of the same, and doe hereby promise ever hereafter to behave myselfe with all due respect towards Mr Cage and all other the gentrye of the kingdome.'

'This submission beinge performed in manner aforesaid Mr Smythson is to subscribe his name thereto and to desire two or three persons present to subscribe their names as wittnesses of his performaunce thereof and to certifie the same with these presents in the Court militarie the first court day in the Michaelmas Term.'

17/5k, Deposition on behalf of the plaintiff [damaged]

It appears that Cage sought to settle the cause with arbitration, but: 'then did William Smithson answer this deponent William Cage in a most *refractory* manner that he would not refer it neither would he leave this deponent as long as this deponent Cage was worth a groate and Smithson able to make a groate.'

Dated 10 October 1639.

Signed by Jo. Mychell.

Brought in court on 12 October 1639 by Robert Fairebeard, gent.

Summary of proceedings

Dr Talbot acted as counsel for Cage and Dr Eden for Smythson. On 20 November 1638 Dr Talbot was to deliver the libel and Dr Eden was to reply. On 23 February and 2 March 1639 Dr Eden presented material for the defence.


William Cage of Lindsey may have been the William Cage of Burstall and Ipswich (1575-1656) who was the son of Edward and Mary Cage. In 1636 this William married Alice, daughter of John Lea of Coddenham, co. Suffolk. This William Cage became a burgess of Ipswich, holding several municipal offices. In 1637 he was among the justices accused of failing to extinguish the riots that damaged the bishop's property in the town. He was M.P. for the town during the Long Parliament from 1640 to 1645, and became an active parliamentarian committee man. William Cage of Ipswich was mentioned as the father of Mary, wife of Thomas Blosse of Belstead in the Visitation of Suffolk in 1664-8.

W. H. Rylands (ed.), A Visitation of the County of Suffolk, 1664-1668 (Publications of the Harleian Society, 61, 1910), p. 112; M. F. Keeler, The Long Parliament, 1640-1641: A Biographical Dictionary of its Members (Philadelphia, 1954), pp. 124-5.


  • Initial proceedings
    • Libel: 16/3b (no date)
  • Plaintiff's case
    • Letters commissory for the plaintiff: 16/3a (20 Nov 1638)
    • Defence interrogatories: 16/3c (no date)
    • Plaintiff depositions: 16/3d (2 Jan 1639)
    • Notary public's certificate: 16/3e (no date)
  • Sentence / Arbitration
    • Plaintiff sentence: 13/3e (no date)
    • Plaintiff's bill of costs: 13/3jj (Hil 1638/9)
  • Submission
    • Submission: 13/3x (no date)
    • Deposition for the plaintiff: 17/5k (10 Oct 1639)
  • Proceedings

People mentioned in the case

  • Bacon, Nathaniel, esq
  • Blosse, Thomas
  • Cage, Alice
  • Cage, Edward
  • Cage, Mary
  • Cage, William, gent
  • Cole, John, esq
  • Colman, William, notary public
  • Dethick, William
  • Doyle, William, esq
  • Eden, Thomas, lawyer
  • Fairebeard, Robert, gent (also Fairbeard)
  • Goyner, William (also Gaymer)
  • Green, John, yeoman
  • Hawkyns, John, clothier (also Hawkins)
  • Hobert, William, esq (also Hobart)
  • Howard, Henry, baron Maltravers
  • Howard, Thomas, earl of Arundel and Surrey
  • James, John, esq
  • Joyner, Nathaniel, esq (also Joiner)
  • Lea, Alice
  • Lea, John
  • Merrick, William, lawyer
  • Mychell, John (also Mitchell)
  • Mychell (also Michell, Mitchell)
  • Norman, John, husbandman
  • Smithson, William (also Smythson)
  • Talbot, Clere, lawyer
  • Wenlock, John, esq

Places mentioned in the case

  • Suffolk
    • Belstead
    • Boxford
    • Burstall
    • Bury St Edmunds
    • Chelsworth
    • Cockfield
    • Coddenham
    • Ipswich
    • Lindsey
    • Sudbury

Topics of the case

  • allegation of cheating
  • arbitration
  • civil war
  • denial of gentility
  • Long Parliament
  • member of parliament
  • office-holding
  • parliamentarian
  • sexual insult
  • threatened killing