18 Backus v Mountford

The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640.

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John Backus of Trumpington, co. Cambridge, gent v Simon Mountford of Cambridge, gent

January 1637 - April 1638

Figure 18:

Early Stuart Cambridge. John Backus and Simon Mountford quarrelled in the Harts Horn Inn in spring 1636 (From, John Speed, Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (1611))


Backus alleged that around the spring of 1636 at the Hart's Horn in Cambridge Mountford had said of him that he was 'a base fellow and no gentleman.' Mountford claimed that Backus had provoked him by calling him 'a base fellow' and 'the son of a whore.' He also claimed that Backus was a notorious debtor who had spent much of his time in the Fleet prison and that his father and grandfather were yeomen. Depositions were taken at the Bull in Cambridge on 28 March 1638. They suggested that the quarrel had started when Backus failed to repay a debt to Mountford, but had been resolved at the time, with the two men drinking healths together. A sentence survives, but is too damaged to make out.

Initial proceedings

3/46, Defendant's bond

7 November 1637

Bound to appear 'in the Court in the painted Chamber within the Pallace of Westminster'.

Signed by Simon Mountford, John Shilborne and Thomas Craford, all of Cambridge.

Sealed, subscribed and delivered in the presence of Herbert Stanford and Titus Tillett, notary public.

3/85, Defendant's bond

20 November 1637

Bound to appear 'in the Court in the painted Chamber within the Pallace of Westminster'.

Signed by Simon Mountford.

Sealed, subscribed and delivered in the presence of Humphrey Terrick.

Cur Mil I, fo. 139, Libel

1. Backus was descended from a family that had been ancient gentry for up to 200 years.

2. Between December 1635 and April 1636 in Cambridge, Mountford had publicly said of Backus that he was 'a base fellow and no gentleman', which words were provocative of a duel.

Dated 28 November 1637.

Signed by Thomas Exton.

Plaintiff's case

Cur Mil I, fo. 140, Letters commissory for the plaintiff

Addressed to commissioners Nicholas Wicks, gent, George Harrington, gent, William Baron, gent, and Richard Harbin, gent, and also, Charles Eden and Toby Worlich, M.A.s, Robert Wiseman and Richard St George, bachelors of law, to meet in a cause of scandalous words provocative of a duel, from 28 to 30 March 1638, at the Bull Inn, Cambridge.

Dethick assigned William Stirrop as notary public.

Dated 27 January 1638.

Signed by Gilbert Dethick.

Cur Mil I, fos. 154-5, Defence interrogatories

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

2. Was the witness related to Backus and if so in what degree? Were they in any way obliged or indebted to Backus, and if so for what sum? Were they a tenant or household servant to Backus?

3. Was the witness 'present when such words were spoken as he shall depose of'? When and where were the words spoken and who was present?

4. Had Backus spoken 'words of provocation and disgrace' to Mountford? If so, what? Did Backus say that Mountford 'was a base fellow and that he scorned him', and that 'he scorned to come into so petty a house as Mumfords house'? Did Backus then and there say that Mountford 'was the son of a whore'? Let 'such witness set down in what order such words as he shall depose of passed from Bacchus and Mumford, which first and which last, and how and in what manner they were spoken.'

5. After all had been said, did Backus and Mountford 'drinke to and pledge one another in a friendly manner often or at least once'?

6. Whether Edmund Backus the grandfather and Bartholomew Backus the father 'lived and dwelt and died at Trumpington near Cambridge and they both for all the time they there abode, lived and had the reputation of yeomen and not of gentlemen, and that both or one of them was high constable of the hundred there, and soe, and of no higher callinge or place they were commonly accompted.'

7. Had Backus 'spent all or most part of his meanes which his father and grandfather left unto him'? 'Hath he not sold his land at Trumpington? Hath he not been a prisoner in the Fleet for divers years last past for debt? Is he not soe still? Are not the premises commonly reported to be soe in Cambridge and Trumpington and thereabouts'?

8. Had Backus been 'a great frequenter of innes and alehouses in Cambridge and elsewhere'? 'Hath he not spent much money in such places, vainely, disorderly and idlely? Is he not for such a one commonly accompted, reputed and taken?'

No date.

Signed by Thomas Eden.

Cur Mil I, fos. 151r-153r, Preamble to plaintiff depositions

Taken before commissioners Nicholas Wicks, gent, William Baron, gent, Charles Eden, M.A., and Richard St George, bachelor of law, on 28 March 1638, at the Bull Inn, Cambridge.

Cur Mil I, fos. 141-53, Plaintiff depositions

fos. 141r-142v (Witness 1), Philip Williams of St Benedict's parish, Cambridge, innholder, lived there for about 6 years, before that in St Botulph's parish, for about 7 years, before that in Corpus Christi college for about 5 years, and before that at Horningsea, co. Cambridge where he was born, aged about 40

To Backus's libel:

1. He had known Backus and his father for 9 or 10 years, and Backus was 'commonly reputed a gent'.

2. About 2 years ago [c. March 1636] he was at the Hart's Horn in Cambridge where he heard Mountford say to Backus upon some quarrel over paying of an old debt at Mountford's house that Backus 'was not a gentleman to do so, or used words to that effect meaning as he conceived for refusing to pay his parte towards the old reckoning.' There were present Backus and Mountford, his servant Francis Hughes, and others whose names he did not recall.

To Mountford's interrogatories:

2. Backus was indebted to the witness for between 30 and 40 shillings 'upon an old score'.

3. The words were spoken in 'a low roome'.

6. Both Backus and his father lived at Trumpington.

7. 'John Bacchus hath sold his land in Trumpington and spent parte of his estate and hath been a prisoner in the Fleet divers yeares.'

28 March 1638

Signed by Philip Williams, and by the four commissioners.

fos. 142v-144r (Witness 2), Francis Hughes of St Botulph's parish, Cambridge, yeoman, lived there for about 10 years, before that at Peterborough, co. Northampton for 14 years, before that at Milton, co. Northampton, for 5 years, and before at Salop, born there, aged about 38

To Backus's libel:

1. He had known Backus for 10 years, and 'hath heard him often called by divers persons Mr Bacchus.'

2. He was at the Hart's Horn in Cambridge 'but the time he cannot guess at', where the quarrel occurred over a reckoning. Backus took him by the shoulder and told him 'he would fetch up Simon Mumford and make him know Mr Bacchus was a gentleman.' There were present Backus and Mountford, the witness and others 'whom he cannot certainly name'.

To Mountford's interrogatories:

6. Both Backus and his father lived at Trumpington, 'and were called by the name of Mr Bacchus and sometimes his father was called *Batt* Bacchus'.

7. As witness 1.

28 March 1638

Signed by Francis Hughes, and by the four commissioners.

fos. 144r-145v (Witness 3), Elizabeth Griffin of St Benedict's parish, Cambridge, spinster, lived there for about 2 years, before that in Cambridge for a year, before that at Chesterton, co. Cambridge, for about 2 years, before that at Histon, co. Cambridge, for about a year, before that at Little Shelford, co. Cambridge, where she was born, aged about 21

To Backus's libel:

1. She had known Backus for 1 or 2 years, and 'hath heard him often called Mr Bacchus.'

2. She was 'present in the house of her now master, Richard Curtis, at the Harts Horne in Cambridge in a low room a year or year and a half ago or more but the time certainly she cannot remember', when she heard Mountford say that Backus was no gentleman. Francis Hughes and Francis White were also present among others whom she could not name.

To Mountford's interrogatories:

5. After the words Mountford drank to Backus 'and once or twice Mr Bacchus refused to pledge him but afterwards Mr Bacchus did pledge Mr Mumford and they drank both out of one cup twice or thrice after that.'

6. The Backus family lived at Trumpington.

7. As witness 1.

28 March 1638

Signed by Eliz Griffin [her mark], and by the four commissioners.

fos. 145v-146v (Witness 4), Mary, wife of Richard Curtis of St Benedict's parish, Cambridge, lived there for about 20 years, before that at Kelshall, co. Hertford, where she was born, aged about 54

To Backus's libel:

1. She had known Backus for 1 and a half years or more.

2. 1 and a half or 2 years ago 'there was some wrangling amongst the gentlemen being in a low roome' in her house in Cambridge 'especially between Mr Bacchus and Simon Mumford about gentilitie, but what the words were she cannot depose.'

To Mountford's interrogatories:

6. She had heard that Backus lived at Trumpington.

7. She had heard that 'John Bacchus hath sold the best part of his meanes and hath sold his land in Trumpington and was a prisoner in the Fleet.'

Signed by Mary Curtis [her mark], and by the four commissioners.

Note added on 24 May 1638 by H. Marten.

Cur Mil I, fos. 148r, Notary public's certificate

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

9 April 1638.

Notary's mark.

Sentence / Arbitration

12/2b, Plaintiff's sentence

[Badly damaged]

Summary of proceedings

Dr Exton acted as counsel for Backus and Dr Eden for Mountford. On 16 February 1637,Mountford was warned to appear, and was bound to the King for £100, a sum later paid by Abel Tashe of St Giles Cripplegate on Mountford's behalf. On 27 January 1638, Dr Eden responded to the libel on Mountford's behalf.


John Backus was the second son of Bartholomew Backus of Trumpington, and Elizabeth, daughter of John Ware of Foulborne. He appeared in the Visitation of Cambridgeshire in 1619.

J. W. Clay (ed.), The Visitations of Cambridge, 1575 and 1619 (Publications of the Harleian Society, 41, 1897), p. 73.


  • Initial proceedings
    • Defendant's bond: 3/46 (7 Nov 1637)
    • Defendant's bond: 3/85 (20 Nov 1637)
    • Libel: Cur Mil I, fo. 139 (28 Nov 1637)
  • Plaintiff's case
    • Letters commissory for the plaintiff: Cur Mil I, fo. 140 (27 Jan 1638)
    • Defence interrogatories: Cur Mil I, fos. 154-5 (no date)
    • Latin preamble to plaintiff's depositions: Cur Mil I, fos. 151-3 (28 Mar 1638)
    • Plaintiff's depositions: Cur Mil I, fos. 144-6 (28 Mar 1638)
    • Notary public's certificate: Cur Mil I, fo. 148 (9 Apr 1638)
  • Sentence / Arbitration
    • Plaintiff's sentence: 12/2b (no date)
  • Proceedings
    • Proceedings before Arundel: College of Arms MS 'Court of Chivalry' (act book, 1636-8) [pressmark R.R. 68C], (hereafter 68C), fos. 51r-59r (28 Jan 1637)
    • Proceedings: 68C, fos. 1r-11r (16 Feb 1637)
    • Proceedings: 68C, fos. 37r-41v (29 Apr 1637)
    • Proceedings before Maltravers: 8/29 (18 Nov 1637)
    • Proceedings before Maltravers: 8/30 (28 Nov 1637)
    • Proceedings before Maltravers: 1/5, fos. 1-15 (27 Jan 1638)

People mentioned in the case

  • Backus, Bartholomew, gent (also Bacchus)
  • Backus, Elizabeth (also Bacchus)
  • Backus, John, gent (also Bacchus)
  • Baron, William, gent
  • Craford, Thomas
  • Curtis, Mary
  • Curtis, Richard, innkeeper
  • Eden, Charles, M.A.
  • Eden, Thomas, lawyer
  • Exton, Thomas, lawyer
  • Griffin, Elizabeth, spinster
  • Harbin, Richard, gent
  • Harrington, George, gent
  • Howard, Henry, baron Maltravers
  • Howard, Thomas, earl of Arundel and Surrey
  • Hughes, Francis, yeoman
  • Mountford, Simon, gent (also Mumford)
  • St George, Richard, lawyer
  • Shilborne, John
  • Stanford, Herbert
  • Stuart, Charles I, king
  • Stirrop, William, notary public (also Styrroppe)
  • Tashe, Abel
  • Terrick, Humphrey, lawyer
  • Tillett, Titus, notary public
  • Ware, John
  • White, Francis
  • Wicks, Nicholas, gent (also Wykes)
  • Williams, Philip, innkeeper
  • Wiseman, Robert, lawyer
  • Worlich, Toby, M.A.

Places mentioned in the case

  • Cambridgeshire
    • St Benedict, Cambridge
    • St Botulph, Cambridge
    • Chesterton
    • Corpus Christi College
    • Histon
    • Horningsea
    • Little Shelford
    • Trumpington
  • Hertfordshire
    • Kelshall
  • Northamptonshire
    • Milton
    • Peterborough
  • London
    • The Fleet
    • St Giles Cripplegate
    • Foulborne

Topics of the case

  • allegation of bankruptcy
  • denial of gentility
  • high constable
  • office-holding
  • reconciliation
  • sexual insult