Star Chamber Proceedings: Introduction

Pages 307-310

Cardiff Records: Volume 1. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1898.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


Star Chamber Proceedings.

All readers of English history are familiar with the name of the Star Chamber, "Camera Stellata." This was a tribunal immediately subject to the sovereign, the object of which was to decide urgent causes without the cumbrous procedure of the ordinary lawcourts. Under the absolutism of the Tudors and early Stuarts this Chamber made itself obnoxious to the people, and its jurisdiction was abolished shortly before the Revolution. The historical value of its archives lies in their minuteness of detail, and the consequent wealth of information they afford on the social condition of our forefathers. The matters dealt with in the Star Chamber Proceedings are, moreover, usually of a picturesque and eventful character; they are thus likely to interest a wider class of readers than the more formal though not more valuable records with which we have hitherto been concerned.

Our first gleaning from the proceedings of this Court refers to a case, tried in 1538, in which the Earl of Worcester, Constable of Cardiff Castle, was charged with tyrannous behaviour towards one Richard Hore, owner and master of a vessel which had put into Cogan Pill. The matter is set out at great length in the original; but I have made extracts which comprise every point worthy of notice. The matters alleged may be briefly summed up thus:—The ship Valentine, of London, Richard Hore owner and master, in August 1538 came into Cogan Pill laden with wine, salt, alum and tunny from Andalusia. Walter Herbert of Chepstow, as agent for the Earl of Worcester, seized ship and cargo, on the charge of failure to pay dues and of having on board certain Portuguese who were fleeing from justice in their own country. Hore was imprisoned in Cardiff Castle, but released on surety in order that he might bring the Portuguese passengers to the Castle for examination. He only succeeded in bringing some of them, the rest having escaped. Among the latter was a woman named Agnes Fernandez, who fled into the woods near Cogan Pill and there very soon died. Hore was then arrested, in John Loveday's house in Cardiff, at night, on suspicion of having caused her death. The Coroner, William Carne, without having obtained a verdict in due legal form from his Jury, committed Hore on the charge of manslaughter. Hore was thereupon again imprisoned in Cardiff Castle, and thence soon transferred to the Castle of Chepstow. Meanwhile Walter Herbert took the ship to Chepstow, and disposed of her cargo to his own use. Hore remained in prison until liberated by the order of Thomas Cromwell. As soon as he regained his liberty he brought a suit against Herbert in the Star Chamber; wherein he alleged that he had been persecuted by Herbert and Carne, the said Herbert desiring to become possessed of his vessel and her cargo.

For the year 1544 we have a curious complaint brought by the Bishop and Chapter of Llandaff against Thomas Mathewe and others, respecting the burial of one Richard Harry. The affair is mysterious. It was alleged, on the one hand, that the Chapter refused to bury the deceased within the cathedral fabric; and on the other, that the Defendants prevented the ceremony taking place. Doubtless the religious feuds of the time were at the bottom of the matter.

Next we have, under the year 1585, a Bill of Complaint brought by David Morgan and Thomas Hughes of Usk, gentlemen, against the Sheriff of Glamorgan, Edward Kemys, esquire; of which I have made an epitome. It charges the Sheriff with gross venality and corruption in the discharge of his office. The exact date of this document was unknown, but I have ascertained it by reference to the Gaol Files.

A good deal of romantic interest attaches to the next set of documents, of 1596. They relate to one of the faction feuds which at that date not uncommonly raged among the chief families of this neighbourhood. In this case the contending parties were members and adherents of the families of Mathew, Baudrip and Basset on the one hand, and the Lewises and Herberts and their retainers on the other. The Interrogatories and Answers, taken together, show the following facts:—A muster of the trained bands, on St. Lythan's Down, afforded an occasion for a renewal of dormant hostility between the rival factions. The Lewises and their supporters marched through Llandaff in warlike array, flinging defiance at the Mathews; but they were routed, and Mr. George Lewis had to fly for his life from Llandaff bridge to Mynachdy, pursued by an armed rabble. On the evening of that day, 31 January 1595-6, Mr. Edmund Mathew returned from London to his house at Cardiff, and a throng of his opponents celebrated his home-coming by throwing stones at his windows. The gentlemen inside replied with pistols, and a very pretty fight ensued, in which the combattants, armed with various weapons, inflicted grievous hurts on divers persons. One of the Bailiffs of Cardiff repaired to the scene of the affray, and read a proclamation in the Queen's name, that the rioters should disperse. At the same time the Town Hall bell was rung, to call upon loyal Burgesses to help in keeping the peace. Such is the picture of Elizabethan Cardiff painted for us by the rapid quill of the examining official. It is interesting to note that James Prichard, of the Van, yeoman, gave his evidence in Welsh, through a sworn interpreter.

A further trace of the hostility between the families of Mathew and Lewis appears in the proceedings of 1597, wherein AttorneyGeneral Edward Coke formulates a Bill of Complaint against the abovenamed Edmund Mathew, and charges him with high misdemeanours in the conduct of his office of Sheriff of Glamorgan in the previous year. It was alleged that Sheriff Mathew unlawfully and tyrannously imprisoned and oppressed divers inhabitants of the County, and extorted from them certain sums of money which he applied to his own private uses. Part of such moneys were said to have been exacted for the express purpose of defraying the great expense Edmund Mathew had been put to in law-suits between him and Thomas Lewis of the Van. It is difficult to avoid the impression that these accusations were set on foot by the opposite faction, and the accused met them by an absolute and detailed denial.

Note.—In reproducing old English documents in the course of this work I supply punctuation but preserve the irregular employment of capital and small initial letters, with other peculiarities of spelling. In some paragraphs I give a condensed version of the original passages; and in these cases the primitive orthography is not retained, except where the exact reproduction of the original phraseology is indicated by inverted commas.