621 Starkey v Bestney

The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640.

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'621 Starkey v Bestney', in The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640, (, ) pp. . British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/court-of-chivalry/621-starkey-bestney [accessed 29 February 2024]

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Thomas Starkey of St Bride, London, gent v Nicholas Bestney of St Dunstan-in-the-West, London, gent

October 1634 - May 1636


Starkey complained that in 1633 or 1634, in the parish of St Bride's, London, in the presence of 'divers persons of dignity', Bestney said that he was 'a foundling, found in a ditch in Lancashyre and taken out of a ditch from under a hedge; and that I was a base fellowe, or a base rascall or rogue, and that I was fedd on the scrapps from Bestney's brothers' and sisters' trenchers'. In his defence, Bestney maintained that Starkey was no gentleman but a 'vile mechanic...a broker and tailor of remnants of cloth,' and was well known as such in Shoe Lane, London. Starkey presented his libel on 30 October 1634 and Bestney challenged his gentility on 29 November. On 2 May 1635, after Starkey had presented his pedigree, Sir Henry Marten affirmed his gentility and pronounced sentence in his favour, ordering Bestney to pay £20 in costs and £10 in damages, and, in due course, perform a submission. Following sentence Bestney was confined to the King's Bench prison at Starkey's behest, where he grew dangerously ill. He petitioned Arundel to authorise Sir John Lenthall, Knight Marshal, to release him.

Initial proceedings

9/4/27, Libel

Thomas was the legitimate son of Laurence Starkey of Mosswood in Stretton, in the parish of Great Budworth, co. Chester and his wife Mary, daughter of Richard Banister of 'the Peel', co. Lancaster. He and his ancestors were sprung from an ancient gentry family. Nicholas Bestney in 1633 or 34, in the parish of St Dunstan or St Bridget, alias St Bride's, in the presence of divers persons of dignity said that 'I, Thomas Starkey, was a foundling, found in a ditch in Lancashyre and taken out of a ditch from under a hedge; and that I was a base fellowe, or a base rascall or rogue, and that I was fedd on the scrapps from Bestney's brothers' and sisters' trenchers'.

Endorsed 30 October 1634

Signed by Arthur Duck.

9/4/32, Defence [Latin]

Bestney alleged that for the last 5 to 10 years Starkey had openly earned his living as a 'vile mechanic' and was 'a broker and tailor of remnants of cloth'. He alleged also that Starkey was well known as such in Shoe Lane, London where he lived.

[Endorsement that this was exhibited and read out in court 29 November 1634].

Sentence / Arbitration

9/4/13, Plaintiff's sentence

Sir Henry Marten pronounced sentence declaring that Thomas Starkey was of a gentry family, that he was the natural and legitimate son of Lawrence Starkey of Mosswood in Stretton, in the parish of Great Budworth, co. Cheshire, and that Bestney had said that Starkey was 'a foundling found in a ditch in Lancashyre, taken upp from under a hedge; a base rogue and a base rascall, fedd with the scrapps of Bestney his brothers' and sisters' trenchers', or words to that effect, in breach of the king's peace and offence to Starkey. Ordered that Bestney should give satisfaction to Starkey in a place and manner to be designated; and in the meantime Bestney is to be bound for good behaviour, to pay £20 in costs and £10 in damages to Starkey.

Endorsed 2 May 1635.


7/72, Defendant's petition to Arundel

'The humble petition of Nicholas Bestney gent, prisoner in the King's Bench

Humbly sheweth unto your good honor that your petitioner, being called in question in your honour's courte, for the pretended calling of one Starkey, base fellow, sithence which time of the supposed speaking of those words, Starkey hath taken forth his pedegree and your petitioner was fyned in Easter terme last, before your honour's Lieutenant, Sir Henry Martin knight, to paye unto Starkey, Thirtie pounds. Notwithstanding your honour hath been induced, by his suggestions, to direct your lordship's warrant unto Sir John Lenthall, Knight Marshall of the King's Bench, commanding him to keepe your petitioner close prisoner, wherby hee is debarred the societie and comfort of his wife and friends, hee your petitioner, having beene sick, and soe dangerously visited, that he hath not gone abroad, but kept his bedd, by the space of 16 dayes last past, and still is very weake and sickly. And your petitioner is informed, by his keeper, that Starkey, dayly cometh into alehouses in Southwark in deryding manner, saying, "In faith I would fayne see if Bestney dares peepe out of dores," offering moneys into divers persons that cann bring him word, that your petitioner stirreth forth of dores.

Moreover, your honour have been pleased, by Starkey's procurement, to grant your honour's warrant against your petitioner for a supposed contempt in not appearing before your honur, upon the 14 of February last, upon which daye, your petitioner was att the poynte of death, as appeare under the hands of the doctors and apothecaries. Nevertheless, Mr Coxe, about 3 weeks after, apprehended your petitioner with your lordship's warrant, and kept your petitioner in custodie 8 dayes.

Maye itt please your good honour, your petitioner being a pure gent., of an ancient familie, and for many yeares lived in Graye's Inn, and being at this time sick and weake, that your honour would vouchsafe in pittie to your petitioner and his pore grieved wife to give order, to Sir John Lenthall for the discharging of your petitioner of his close imprisonment.

And your honour's petitioner shall not only, and wholly, submit himselfe to your honour's desposeing, but (as in duty bound) shall ever praye for your honour's health, happiness and continuall preservation, and c.'

No date.

No signatures.

Summary of proceedings

Dr Duck acted as counsel for Starkey. On 24 January 1635 the court was to hear sentence in response to Starkey's petition, saving the need to introduce a certificate from the heralds. On 30 May 1635 sentence against Bestney and his submission were mentioned. On 7 May 1636 there was further mention of the cause in relation to proceedings in King's Bench.


G. D. Squibb, Reports of Heraldic Cases in the Court of Chivalry, 1623-1732 (London, 1956), p. 10.

Thomas Starkey of London, merchant tailor, was entered in the 1634 Visitation as of Faringdon Without. He was the son of Lawrence Starkey of Mosswood in the parish of Great Budworth, co. Chester, and Mary, daughter of one Banester. Thomas Starkey married Anne, daughter of Peter Bettesworth of Chithurst, co. Sussex.

J. Jackson Howard (ed.), The Visitation of London, 1633, 1634 and, 1635, vol. II (Publications of the Harleian Society, 17, 1883), p. 260.

On 18 June 1604 Nicholas Bestney, the son and heir of Nicholas Bestney of Gray's Inn, esq, was admitted to Gray's Inn. A Nicholas Bestney of Gray's Inn, gent, married Catherine Temple of St Andrew's Holborn in 1634.

J. Foster (ed.), The Register of Admissions to Gray's Inn, 1521-1889 (London, 1889), p. 110; J. L. Chester and G. J. Armytage (eds.), Allegations for Marriage Licences issued by the Bishop of London, 1611 to 1828, vol. II (Publications of the Harleian Society, 26, 1887), p. 218.


  • Initial proceedings
    • Libel: 9/4/27 (30 Oct 1634)
  • Defendant's case
    • Defence: 9/4/32 (29 Nov 1634)
  • Sentence / Arbitration
    • Plaintiff's sentence: 9/4/13 (2 May 1635)
  • Submission
    • Defendant's petition: 7/72 (no date)
  • Proceedings
    • Proceedings before Maltravers: 1/2 (24 Jan 1635)
    • Proceedings: EM349 (30 May 1635)
    • Undated proceedings: R.19, fos. 64r-67r (c. Apr 1636)
    • Proceedings before Maltravers: College of Arms MS. 'Court of Chivalry' (act book, 1636-8) [pressmark R.R. 68C], fos. 74r-83v (7 May 1636)

People mentioned in the case

  • Banister, Mary
  • Banister, Richard
  • Bestney, Catherine
  • Bestney, Nicholas, gent
  • Bettesworth, Anne
  • Bettesworth, Peter
  • Duck, Arthur, lawyer
  • Howard, Henry, baron Maltravers
  • Howard, Thomas, earl of Arundel and Surrey
  • Lenthall, John, knight
  • Marten, Henry, knight
  • Starkey, Laurence
  • Starkey, Mary
  • Starkey, Thomas, gent
  • Temple, Catherine

Places mentioned in the case

  • Cheshire
    • Great Budworth
    • Mosswood in Stretton
  • Lancashire
    • Peel
  • London
    • Faringdon
    • Gray's Inn
    • King's Bench prison
    • St Bride's
    • St Dunstan-in-the-West
    • Shoe Lane
  • Middlesex
    • St Andrew's Holborn
  • Surrey
    • Southwark
  • Sussex
    • Chithurst

Topics of the case

  • allegation of tradesman status
  • denial of gentility
  • inns of court