Court of Common Pleas: the National Archives, Cp40 1399-1500. Originally published by Centre for Metropolitan History, London, 2010.
This free content was born digital. All rights reserved.
This online resource contains draft summary translations of pleaded cases, involving London litigants or disputed events supposed to have taken place at London, heard before the Court of Common Pleas in the years 1399–1409, 1420–1429, 1445–1450, 1460–1468, 1480 and 1500 (all dates inclusive). In total it contains approximately 6,300 pleaded cases, involving over 30,000 individuals and 8,000 events. For a complete list of documents examined, by National Archives catalogue number, see Appendix 1. This online resource has been created, with the generous support of the Marc Fitch Fund, to make available to the general public data gathered as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Londoners and the law, pleadings in the court of Common Pleas, 1399–1509' (Award Ref. AR119247) and augmented by the AHRC-funded project 'London Women and the economy before and after the Black Death' (Award Ref. RES-000-22-3343).
The content of this online resource is described as being in 'draft' form (i.e. 'draft summary translations') because it represents a working document produced over the duration of the 'Londoners and the law' and 'London women and the economy' projects. This resource was not conceived as, nor does it purport to be, a polished calendar of Court of Common Pleas cases pertaining to London and Londoners. But rather, it is an effort to make available to other researchers a substantial body of valuable data produced with public funding, so that others may make use of it and, through annotation, improve upon it. With the support of the Marc Fitch Fund it has been possible to edit, to a certain degree, the project-produced content presented here. That is to say, names, dates and locations have generally been re-checked for accuracy, but, beyond proof-reading, the prose of the summary translations reflects the un-edited work of the project researchers, Dr. Jonathan Mackman and Dr. Matthew Frank Stevens.
Cases were extracted from the above sample periods (see also Appendix 1) where they met two basic criteria: i) the case reached the stage of pleading before the justices; ii) the case was either laid and enrolled under the country heading of London, or the case identified a person party to the litigation as 'of London'.
This electronic resource has been consciously arranged in such a manner so as to be as reflective as possible of the layout of the original document. Each link from the resource home page corresponds to a single roll, and the page for each roll contains the individual cases extracted from that roll in a single sequence which can be scrolled through from top to bottom. Also, the principal content of each case, its 'pleadings' and 'posteas', are arranged in sequence, as on the original roll. The text of most, shorter, cases is a direct translation of the original pleadings and posteas, while the pleadings of particularly long and involved cases have been subject to a small degree of summarization. In all cases an effort has been made to maintain the general form and tenor of the original Latin. Only details of extremely common events and financial arrangements, such as assaults and bonds (respectively), and individuals' personal information, such as titles, occupations and places of residence, have been routinely shortened (see below).
Abbreviations have, generally speaking, been employed only with regard to county and personal names. County name abbreviations follow standard forms. Personal names have been given, in the first instance, as full first and second names, or full first name and second name initial. In second and subsequent instances personal names have been given as first and second name initials only. In instances where two or more persons have the same initials, individuals' first and second names have been written out in full, in each instance. Conventions adopted for further, more atypical occurrences of similarly named individuals are intuitive. The 'Individuals' table at the bottom of each case entry contains all descriptive information appearing in the original document for each individual, and is arranged alphabetically on the first initial of individuals' first names in order to make it as convenient as possible to quickly reference persons' full names upon reading their initials in pleading and postea texts. A similar tabular approach has been taken with the presentation of details pertaining to specific events described in the pleading, such as contracts, bonds, indentures assaults, etc. Events are detailed in the 'Events' table, which includes both those events around which the case's central dispute revolved, and those events mentioned incidentally in the course of pleadings.
As exemplified by the 'Individuals' and 'Events' tables, each case has been enhanced with quick reference information in order to make case content more easily accessible. Further summarized information from the original document includes the case's law-term and county of enrolment, and, where applicable, the damages claimed by the plaintiff – this appears at the head of each electronic-resource entry. In addition to information in the original document, secondary and interpretive information has been added to each case entry. Secondary information includes the document's National Archives catalogue reference and 'Case notes' added by the researcher who authored the translated summary, often indicating where a later re-entry of the case appears on the common plea rolls – pleaded-case entries were often re-entered on subsequent rolls with additional information, particularly in the latter half of the fifteenth century. Interpretive information includes: the type of original writ on which the the case was brought, as extrapolated from the case dispute; and the 'case type', which is an artificial system of classification devised by this resource's authors in order to help users more easily determine the substance of the litigants' disputes (see Appendix 2 for case types and definitions). 'Case type' tags have been added to cases on an 'all that apply' basis.
Further, regarding 'Case notes', some specific types of note appear which require further explanation. Where the word 'photo' appears, followed by a number, this number corresponds to an image on the 'Anglo American Legal Tradition' web site (see section II.4 below) in the image folder ('fronts' or 'dorses') for the common plea roll on which the pleaded case was first enrolled. Where the acronym 'VCH' appears, followed by a county name, volume and page number, these references relate to the Victory County History series. Likewise, 'CIPM' refers to the Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem and 'STAT' (and close variants) refers to Statutes of the Realm. Further abbreviated titles are intuitive. Lastly, where the word 'day' appears alone, this indicates that, at the initial enrolment of the case, the suit proceeded no further than both parties, or their representatives, appearing before the justices, upon which a 'day' was designated for the parties to enter their pleadings at a future court.
Publications arising from this resource
M. Stevens, 'Failed arbitrations in the Court of Common Pleas: cases relating to London and Londoners', The Journal of Legal History 31 (2010), 21–44.
Jonathan Mackman, '"Hidden gems" in the records of the common pleas: new evidence on the legacy of Lucy Visconti', in L. Clark (ed.), The Fifteenth Century VIII: Rule, Redemption and Representation in Late Medieval England and France (Woodbridge, 2008), 58–72.