590 Sheffield v Wheeler

The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640.

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Sampson Sheffield of Seaton, co. Rutland, esq v. John Wheeler, apothecary, and his wife of St Dunstan in the West, London, and Jonathan Ward of the same

November 1639 - May 1640

Figure 590:

Mid seventeenth-century London, showing Fleet Street where Sampson Sheffield and John Wheeler quarrelled so openly that the whole street 'took publique notice thereof'.


Sheffield, a kinsman of the Earl of Mulgrave and gentleman pensioner to the king, complained that Wheeler and his wife, and Jonathan Ward, gave him the lie and called him 'base stinking fellowe', and 'base cavilling fellowe' so openly that the whole of Fleet Street, London, 'took publique notice thereof'. The incident took place late at night on Friday 19 April 1639 in Wheeler's house in Fleet Street, the quarrel arising over Sheffield's refusal to pay a bill he owed Wheeler for accommodation. The details of what followed were set out in the depositions made in response to Wheeler's counter suit [see cause 703].

Sheffield petitioned against the defendants immediately after the incident, but he was then been absent waiting on the king during the First Bishops' War. Process was finally granted on 27 November 1639 and Sheffield's witnesses were examined before Sir Henry Marten from 10 April to 4 May 1640. However, no indication of sentence survives either for this case or for Wheeler's counter suit.

Initial proceedings

2/100, Petition to Maltravers

'Your petitioner, being of kin to the right honorable the Earle of Mulgrave Lord Sheffield, as may appeare by certificate under his hand and seale, did suffer extreame injuryes from one John Wheeler and his wife, and one Jonathan Ward, a little before your petitioner waited upon his Majesty in his expedicons into the North; and thereupon the petitioner complained unto your honor by way of petition, and had your honor's process to call the parties before your honor, but by reason of your petitioner's absence in the employment and other his urgent occasions since, nothing hath been done. Your petitioner findeth that the hearing of the business will by reason of many deposicons of witnesses on both sides for the clearing of the trueth in the cause, growe so intricate, that a summary hearing will much perplex the petitioner in point of making his proofes soe evident, as he is able more fully to deduce and prove in an ordinary hearing.

This humble petition unto your honor is, that in consideracon of the premises and likewise for that the injury done your petitioner was so publique, that the whole streete of Fleetestreete took publique notice thereof, Your honor wilbe pleased to grant your petitioner your honor's process to call the parties to answer your petitioner in the Court of Honor.'

Maltravers granted process on 27 November 1639.

'The words complained of in the former petition are, vizt. that John Wheeler and his wife and Jonathan Warde called the petitioner, Base stinking fellowe, base cavilling fellowe and gave him the lye.'

2/101, Plaintiff's bond

28 November 1639

Bound to appear 'in the said court in the Painted Chamber within the Pallace of Westminster'.

Signed by Sampson Sheffield.

Sealed, subscribed and delivered in the presence of John Watson.

Plaintiff's case

10/12/3, 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 all their lives? How did they know the parties? Whom did they favour and to whom would they give the victory if it were within their power?

2. 'Whether such witness or his fellow witnesses hath not, or have not, beene formerly examined on the behalfe of Mr Sheffield against Mr Wheeler in a cause dependingbetween the parties in this honorable court concerning the matter' in the libel?

No date.

Signed by Robert King.

Cur Mil 1631-1642, fos. 51r-54v, Plaintiff depositions

fos. 51r-53r (Witness 1), Alice Clithero, spinster, household servant of George Langley of St Dunstan-in-the-West, London, lived there for 9 years, born at Newport Pagnell, co. Buckingham, aged about 30

10 April 1640

To Sheffield's libel:

2. On Friday night during last Easter week she was in an upper room of Mr Wheeler's house in Fleet Street where she heard him quarrel with Mr Sheffield about the payment of a bill that Sheffield owed him. She heard Mr Wheeler tell Mr Sheffield that he had been told Sheffield 'would be a bafler'. The argument worsened and Mr Ashwell and other watchmen entered the house. Wheeler gave Sheffield 'divers provoking speeches', and Sheffield informed the watch of them. Mr Wheeler, standing by Sheffield's chamber door, confessed he had said such, and told Sheffield in the watchmen's presence 'that he was a stinking fellowe and used these words unto him, vizt. You lie sirrah, and repeated the same words several times in a very angrie manner'. John Watson, Mr Sheffield's boy 'came after or at the premises'.

3. Wheeler's wife called Mr Sheffield 'base fellow'.

4. Sheffield was inside his chamber with the door shut, when Jonathan Ward standing on the stairs said to Mr Sheffield 'goe, goe you are a base fellow in a verie angrie manner'.

To Wheeler's interrogatories:

1. She was a maidservant who lived by her labour. Before serving Langley, she had been Mr Sheffield's servant for half a year. Before that she was Mr Wheeler's servant for three quarters of a year, and 'she wisheth right may take place, and careth not who hath the better'.

2. Negative.

3. Mr Sheffield knew she had been present and so caused her to be a witness.

4. Negative.

5. She testified at Mr Sheffield's request, and at his costs, but had received nothing.

6. The words were spoken at midnight or 1am. At the time she was Mr Sheffield's servant, and in company with Mr Sheffield and Mrs Wheeler in Sheffield's chamber. Mr Wheeler and the watchmen were at Mr Sheffield's chamber door '*the dore being shut*' at the speaking of the words.

7. She was not present at the beginning of the quarrel but heard a noise and ran to them. She saw Mr Sheffield with his sword drawn demanding his money, and as Mrs Wheeler gave him some money, he 'told her he would do her noe wrong, but she said she did not see Mr Sheffield run with his sword at Mr Wheeler, or his wife, or either of them'. When Sheffield came near Mrs Wheeler with his sword, Mrs Wheeler 'shreeked out'.

8. About a quarter hour after Mrs Wheeler's shriek, the watchmen came to the house, but Sheffield's door was shut, and the witness was in his chamber with him. Mr Sheffield said 'that if anyone offered to come within the dore he would be the death of him; but afterwards he understanding who they were did open the dore and let the deputy constable and another in.'

9. When Mr Wheeler spoke the words, Mr Sheffield called him 'base fellow, rogue and rascall, and said he was one that lived by the turdes and fartes of gentlemen and had sold his lands to buy hangeinges; but whether Mr Sheffield used the wordes before or after Mr Wheeler had used the words before deposed she doth not nowe remember and cannot certainly depose.'

Signed by Alice Clithero [her mark]

Repeated in court before Sir Henry Marten on 10 April 1640.

fos. 53r-54v (Witness 2), Richard Urian of St Bridget's parish, London, farrier, lived there for 12 years, aged about 58, born in Bodmin, co. Cornwall

To Sheffield's libel:

2-4. On the night of 19 April 1639, he was a watchman at Shoe Lane End, and was called with Mr Ashwell and other watchmen to Mr Wheeler's house in Fleet Street. He went with Ashwell to Sheffield's chamber door, where Sheffield, who knew the witness, let them both in, and shut the door. As Sheffield was telling them of his quarrel with Wheeler, Mr and Mrs Wheeler, and Jonathan Ward came to the chamber door, where Mr Wheeler said 'you are a stinking base fellow'. Sheffield replied that Wheeler 'lived by the turdes and excrements of gentlemen'. Wheeler answered, 'Sirrah, you lye, and further told Mr Sheffield that he bought land and sold it againe; to which Mr Sheffield replied that he sold his land for profit, and told Wheeler that he sold his land to buy hangeinges'. Other speeches passed between them, and Wheeler told Sheffield he had been warned that he was a 'bafling fellow' before Sheffield came to his house. Mr Sheffield, Mrs Sheffield and her maidservant, Mr Ashwell, this deponent, Mr and Mrs Wheeler, Jonathan Ward and several watchmen were present.

To Wheeler's interrogatories:

1. He 'careth not whoe hath the better in this cause, but wisheth right may take place'.

2-3. Negative.

4. He had only received a shilling for testifying.

5. He testified at Mr Sheffield's request, and at his cost.

7. He was not present at the beginning of the quarrel. He saw Mr Sheffield with his sword in its scabbard in his hand. He did not see him with it drawn.

10. Sheffield said that Wheeler should not come into his chamber.

11. He did not hear Mr Sheffield call Mr Wheeler rogue.

Signed by Richard Urian [his mark]

Repeated in court before Sir Henry Marten on 10 April 1640.

Cur Mil 1631-1642, fos.74r-77r, Plaintiff depositions
fos. 74r-75v (Witness 3), John Watson, household servant to Sheffield for 2 years, born at Upper Broughton, co. Nottingham, aged about 18

23 April 1640

To Sheffield's libel:

1. Sheffield had been 'one of the gentleman pensioners in ordinarie to the King's Majestie' for 3 years.

2. During one night in April 1639 he was in the kitchen of Mr Wheeler's house in St Dunstan's parish, when he heard an argument between his master and Mr Wheeler. He went up to his master's chamber and heard Mr Wheeler call his master 'base stinking fellow and called him Sirrah oftentimes'. Sheffield drew his sword but the chamber door was shut so he could not get to him. He did not see Sheffield give Wheeler any provocation. There was also present Mrs Sheffield, Alice Clithero, Richard Urin and others he did not remember.

3. Wheeler called Sheffield 'base fellow and Sirrah oftentimes, and also gave him the lye in an angrie and provoking manner.'

4. Jonathan Ward also called Mr Sheffield 'base fellow and told him he lyed in a very provoking and contumelious manner'.

To Wheeler's interrogatories:

1. He was born at Upper Broughton in co. Nottingham where he lived before he entered Mr Sheffield's service, and 'he wisheth right may take place'.

3. He was servant to Mr Sheffield.

4. Negative.

5. He was told to testify by his master, but had received nothing and expected to receive nothing for doing so.

7. He was not present at the beginning of the quarrel. He stood in Mr Sheffield's chamber when he heard the words aforesaid, but did not see Mr Sheffield draw his sword.

8. 'William Ashwell and divers watchmen came to see what the matter was.'

9. He was present when Mr Sheffield opened the chamber door and let the deputy constable in, but he did not hear Mr Sheffield use any of the words in the interrogatory.

10. 'He did not see Mr Sheffield have his sword in hand neither did he hear him use any of the words in the interrogatory of, or to, Mr Wheeler'.

11. Mr Sheffield told Mr Wheeler 'that he lived upon gentlemen, and that he had sold his landes to buy hangeinges.'

Signed by John Watson.

Repeated on 24 April 1640 in court before Sir Henry Marten, lieutenant and Richard Meade, notary public.

fos. 76r-77r (Witness 4), Edward Grange of St Dunstan-in-the-West, London, seamster, lived there for 2 years, born at Wells, co. Norfolk, aged about 29

23 April 1640

To Sheffield's libel:

2. About a year ago he was at the chamber of the Recorder of London in the Temple with Sheffield and Wheeler, where he heard Sheffield say to Wheeler 'that he would lay his life that Wheeler had invented of his owne head to say that he was told that Mr Sheffield was a bafler; whereto Mr Wheeler replied that he did not invent it of his owne head but said he was told so by a gentleman whome he then named, which speeches were uttered in the presence of Mr Dillingham, one Mr Foster and this deponent.' He believed that Mr Wheeler's 'first saying that he had heard that Mr Sheffield was a baffler was the cause of their first falling out'.

3. On the same day as above, he was in Mr Foster's shop on Fleet Street, where he heard Mrs Wheeler say that Sheffield 'was a base fellow in drawing his sword and putting her in feare of her life'. Mrs Foster and some others were also there present.

To Wheeler's interrogatories:

1. He had known Sheffield for 3 years and Wheeler for 2 years 'and wisheth right may take place'.

3-4. Negative.

5. He was worth over £20 with his debts paid but had received nothing for his testimony.

6. The words spoken in Mr Recorder's chamber were at 9am and those by Mrs Wheeler were at 2pm.

7-12. The words deposed above were said the day after the falling out between Sheffield and Wheeler.

Signed by Edward Grange.

Repeated on 24 April 1640 in court before Sir Henry Marten.

Cur Mil 1631-1642, fos. 80r-81r, Plaintiff depositions fos. 80r-81r (Witness 5), Fulk Jones, household servant of Sampson Sheffield, esq, for 7 years, born at Eaton, co. Leicester, aged about 36

24 April 1640

To Sheffield's libel:

1. Sheffield had been one of the king's gentleman pensioners for 2 years.

2. During one night in April 1639 he was in an upper room in Mr Wheeler's house, and hearing a noise went down to investigate. He saw Mr Wheeler with 'a sword drawn in his hand and going up and downe the staires and Mr Sheffield told Mr Wheeler that he lived upon the excrements of gentlemen'. Wheeler replied that Sheffield lied, 'and was a stinking base fellow, and called Mr Sheffield, Sirrah, and used divers other provoking speeches'. Sheffield was in his chamber up one set of stairs and the door was shut. 'And other people were above in the upper roomes of the house; but whether they heard the words he knoweth not.'

To Wheeler's interrogatories:

1. He had known Wheeler for a year 'and wisheth right may take place.'

2. Negative.

3. He was a household servant to Mr Sheffield.

4. He did not expect to receive anything for his testimony.

5. 'He is worth little or nothing, but liveth by his service.'

6. 'The occasion of their falling out was about reckonings betweene the parties.'

7. He was not present at the beginning of the quarrel and did not see his master draw his sword.

8. He heard Mrs Wheeler shriek out, and Mr Wheeler sent his servant to fetch the watchmen.

9. He did not hear his master use any such words.

Signed by Fulk Jones.

Repeated on 24 April 1640.

Cur Mil 1631-1642, fos. 86v-87v, Plaintiff depositions fos. 86v-87v (Witness 6), John Dillingham, of Whitefriars, London, draper, lived there

4 May 1640

To Sheffield's libel:

2. Sheffield was at his house in Whitefriars the morning after the quarrel, when a man came to serve a warrant upon him. Sheffield desired Dillingham to accompany him 'to the Temple to the Recorder's chamber of London'. Dillingham went with him and in that chamber met Mr and Mrs Wheeler. Dillingham asked one of them why they had called Mr Sheffield 'a baffler and rangler, and that he had dealt so with every man'. One of them replied 'that they had been told so by one whoe was ready to justify the same'. One Grange and some other strangers were also present. He did not know Jonathan Ward.

To Wheeler's interrogatories:

1. He was a tailor 'and wisheth right may take place.'

2. Negative.

3-4. He was Mr Sheffield's tailor.

5. He testified at Mr Sheffield's request and costs. He expected to receive nothing for his testimony. He was worth £100 with his debts paid.

6. The words were spoken at Mr Recorder's chamber in the Temple, in the morning.

7. He was not present at the quarrel between Sheffield and Wheeler.

Signed by John Dillingham.

Repeated in court before Sir Henry Marten on 4 May 1640, and in the presence of John Rainshaw.

Summary of proceedings

Dr Merrick and Dr Exton were counsel for Sheffield with Dr King for the Wheelers and Ward. On 4 February 1640 Dr King had the libel and the cause was required to continue to the first session of the next term.


Sampson Sheffield (b. c.1606), was the son and heir of Sampson Sheffield of Seaton and Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Woodroffe of London. Sampson Sheffield was appointed a parliamentary commissioner for subscriptions in Ongar division, Essex, on 11 July 1642. He was a county committee man released from Colchester by the royalists during the siege in 1648. Sheffield had formerly been a servant to the king but had been discharged for disloyalty for refusing to serve against Parliament in the first civil war. He was an active parliamentarian and after the king's execution asked for a grant out of the dead king's estate. He was among the commissioners appointed for the trial of Henry Rich, earl of Holland, George, Lord Goring and Arthur, Lord Capell and Sir John Owen, knt, in 1649.

Robert Ashton, Counter-Revolution: The Second Civil War and its Origins, 1646-8 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 106-7; Lords Journals , vol. 5, p. 203;

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Osborn Shelves, fb155, John Browne, Commonplace Book, fo. 307; G. J. Armytage (ed.), The Visitation of the County of Rutland in the year 1618-1619 (Publications of the Harleian Society, 3, 1870), p. 19.

Elizabeth, daughter of John Wheeler of London, merchant, had married the grocer Simon Aston by the time of the Visitation of 1634.

J. J. Howard and J. L. Chester (eds.), The Visitation of London, 1633, 1634 and 1635 (Publications of the Harleian Society, 15, 1880), p. 29.


  • Initial proceedings
    • Petition to Maltravers: 2/100 (27 Nov 1639)
    • Plaintiff's bond: 2/101 (28 Nov 1639)
  • Plaintiff's case
    • Defence interrogatories: 10/12/3 (no date)
    • Plaintiff depositions: Cur Mil 1631-42, fos. 51-4 (10 Apr 1640)
    • Plaintiff depositions: Cur Mil 1631-42, fos. 74r-77r (23 Apr 1640)
    • Plaintiff deposition: Cur Mil 1631-42, fos. 80-1 (24 Apr 1640)
    • Plaintiff deposition: Cur Mil 1631-42, fos. 86-7 (4 May 1640)
  • Proceedings
    • Proceedings before Maltravers: 8/31 (4 Feb 1640)

People mentioned in the case

  • Ashwell, William
  • Aston, Elizabeth
  • Aston, Simon, grocer
  • Capel, Arthur, baron Capel
  • Clithero, Alice, servant
  • Dillingham, John, draper
  • Exton, Thomas, lawyer
  • Foster, Mr
  • Foster, Mrs
  • Goring, George, baron Goring
  • Grange, Edward, semster
  • Howard, Henry, baron Maltravers
  • Jones, Fulk, servant
  • King, Robert, lawyer
  • Langley, George
  • Marten, Henry, knight
  • Meade, Richard, notary public
  • Merrick, William, lawyer
  • Owen, John, knight
  • Rainshaw, John
  • Rich, Henry, earl of Holland
  • Sheffield, Edmund, earl of Mulgrave
  • Sheffield, Elizabeth
  • Sheffield, Mrs
  • Sheffield, Sampson, gent
  • Stuart, Charles I, king
  • Urian, Richard, farrier (also Urin)
  • Ward, Jonathan
  • Watson, John
  • Watson, John, servant
  • Wheeler, Elizabeth
  • Wheeler, John, apothecary
  • Wheeler, Mrs
  • Woodroffe, Elizabeth
  • Woodroffe, Robert

Places mentioned in the case

  • Buckinghamshire
    • Newport Pagnell
  • Cornwall
    • Bodmin
  • Essex
    • Colchester
    • Ongar
  • Leicestershire
    • Eaton
  • London
    • Fleet Street
    • St Bridget's
    • St Dunstan-in-the-West
    • Shoe Lane End
    • Whitefriars
  • Norfolk
    • Wells
  • Northamptonshire
    • Cranford
  • Nottinghamshire
    • Upper Broughton
  • Rutland
    • Seaton

Topics of the case

  • Bishops' Wars
  • calling sirrah
  • civil war
  • constable
  • debt
  • denial of gentility
  • giving the lie
  • parliamentarian
  • royal servant
  • scatological insult
  • threatened violence
  • weapon