692 Watts v Elliott

The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640.

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'692 Watts v Elliott', in The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640, (, ) pp. . British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/court-of-chivalry/692-watts-elliott [accessed 5 March 2024]

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Sir John Watts of Ware, co. Hertford, knt v George Elliott of Hunsdon, co. Hertford, yeoman

May 1639 - April 1640


Watts, a Hertfordshire J.P. for around thirty years and a veteran of the Elizabethan wars, complained that in January 1639 Elliott said 'that he were as good be hanged' as go to him for justice, and '(holding a pitchforke in his hand)' that Sir John 'had rather see the pitchforke in Elliott's gutts, then doe him justice.' Elliott maintained he had been provoked into these words because on 15 June 1637 Watts had refused to bind William Chambers to the peace after Chambers had threatened to knife him. However, Sir John maintained that Elliott had admitted before Sir Richard Lucy and John Gore, esq., at a monthly sessions meeting that he had done him no injustice. Nonetheless, he was still letting it be known around Hunsdon that Watts had been threatening him for years, 'but never durst meddle with him.' Process was granted on 9 May 1639 and Elliott's witnesses were heard on 21 January 1640 at the George Inn at Hertford before a high-powered commission consisting of Lucy, Sir Edward Bashe, Sir John Boteler, Sir Thomas Dacre and John Snelling, gent. Boteler, Dacre and Snelling all testified, but largely supported Sir John's version of events. Watts won the verdict and Elliott performed his submission on 13 April 1640 before the justices of the peace in the sessions house in Hertford, apologising for his 'inconsiderate and abusive speeches' and acknowledging Sir John to be 'worthy of the title and offices conferred upon him. Watts wrote to Dr Duck on 23 April 1640 to say that Elliott had paid him his £25 for costs and he now wished to make speedy arrangement for payment of his damages which he magnanimously intended to remit, 'if Eliot's comportment be not worse than hitherto it hath been.'

Initial proceedings

6/158, Petition to Maltravers

'Your petitioner is a gent. discended of an ancient family, having beene imployed by Queene Elizabeth of famous memory in the warres for 13 yeares, and in divers publique services by King James of blessed memory; and hath been justice of the peace for the county of Hartford for these thirty yeares last past. That in the month of January last past he was very scandalously abused with disgracefull and contemptible speeches uttered against him by one George Eliott of Hunsdon in the said county, yeoman, who in a very malicious manner said of your petitioner that he could have noe justice done him by your petitioner; that he were as good be hanged as goe to your petitioner for justice: and (holding a pitchforke in his hand) said further, that your petitioner had rather see the pitchforke in Eliott's gutts, then doe him justice.'

Petitioned that Elliott be brought to answer.

Maltravers granted process on 9 May 1639.

Defendant's case

11/33c, Defence

1. William Rutt, John Pricklove, William Denton, Samuel Calton, John Wilson, George Denton, Edward Jude, John Gates and Thomas Howe, witnesses examined on behalf of Sir John Watts were capital enemies to Elliott who could be brought to testify untruths.

2. 'No faith or credit is to be given to the testimony of William Rutt; and John Pricklove is a poore needy fellow and oftentimes when he wanteth work receiveth relief from his neighbours. Pricklove is soe poore and needy that he, his wife and children are upon the almes of the parish and are such as are beleeved may easily be drawne to depose an untruth for reward or gaine.'

3. Between May and July 1637, especially on 15 June 1637 William Chambers of Hunsdon, without any provocation, 'having violently strooke and beaten George Elliott and drawne his knife at him, threatening therewith to stab George Elliott, George repaired to Sir John Watts, knight, one of his Majestie's justices of peace for the county and complained to him of the violence and threats offered to him by William Chambers, and desired Sir John Watts to grant him his warrant for Chambers, and that he would be pleased to bind Chambers to the peace. But Sir John Watts refused and denyed soe to doe. Neither indeed did he or would he grant him his warrant; and soe much Sir John Watts hath often or at least once confessed and acknowledged.'

4. 'The words were spoken and uttered for the reason and cause in the former article expressed.'

No date.

Signed by Thomas Exton.

R.19, fo. 23r, Summary of defence

'Says that the witnesses are poore needy persons and such as live upon the almes of the parish, and may be easily drawne to sweare an untruth for reward andc. Sayes that (such a day), being violently struck and beaten by one William Chambers, Elliot repaired to Sir John Watts, being then one his Majestie's justices of peace, and desired his warrant for Chambers, and that he would bind him to the peace. But Sir John refused and would not grant his warrant. Sayes that if any the words were spoken by Elliott (which he does not confesse), yet they were spoken for the reasons above expressed.'


No signature.

11/33b, Letters commissory for the defendant

Addressed to commissioners Sir Richard Lucy, knight and baronet, Sir Thomas Fanshaw, Sir Edward Bashe, knight, Sir John Ferris, knight, Sir John Boteler, knight, Sir Thomas Dacres, knight, John Snelling and John Gower, gents, to meet from 21 to 23 January 1640 at the George Inn at Hertford.

Humphrey Terrick assigned Richard Meade as notary public.

Signed Humphrey Terrick.

Dated 26 Novermber 1639.

11/33a, Plaintiff 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 during the last seven years? How did they know the parties in this cause and to whom would they give the victory if it were within their power?

2. Was the witness related to Elliott, and if so, by what degree? Was the witness a household servant or otherwise connect to Elliott?

3. Was he a subsidy man, or was he taxed for ship money? What was he taxed at and what had he paid?

4. Had the witness talked with anyone concerning his deposition, or been instructed how to depose? If yes, by whom?

5. Were William Ratt, John Pricklowe, William Denton, Samuel Calton, John Wilson, George Denton, Edward Jude, John Hales and Thomas Howe, 'persons of honest life and conversation, and such as will not forsweare themselves, or be drawen to depose falsely on their oathes, and are they not so commonly accompted, reputed and taken'?

6. Had Sir John Watts been a knight for 30 or 20 years? Had Watts been a J.P. for co. Hertford, and for how long? Was George Elliott a yeoman and not a gentleman, 'and soe commonly accounted, reputed and taken'?

7. Between November and February 1639, was Elliott instructed to go to Sir John Watts for justice? Did Elliott answer 'that he was as good as hanged as come to Sir John Watts for justice'? Did George Elliott '(who had then a pitchforke in his hands) say that Sir John Watts would rather thrust the pitchfork in his gutts then doe him justice, or would rather see the pitchfork in his guts then doe him justice'? 'What words did George Elliott utter and speake of and against Sir John Watts to the same or the like effecte, in contempt and scorne of Sir John Watts within the time aforesaid within the parish of Hunsdon in the county of Hartford, and other places thereabouts'?

8. In January and February 1639 did Elliott in Hunsdon 'publikely say that Sir John Watts had threatened him twoe or three yeares but never durst meddle with him or to the same effecte, in scorne and contempt of Sir John Watts'?

9. If the witness deposed that Watts had refused to grant Elliott a warrant against Mr Chambers, they were to be asked how they knew that Mr Chambers 'did violently strike, beate, drawe his knife and offer to stabbe George Elliott; when, where, in whose presence, on what day was the same done or offered to be done'?

10. Had George Elliott since between May and July 1637, 'the pretended time that he was beaten strooke or offered to be stabbed (as is pretended) by Mr Chambers, and since the pretended time that he came to Sir John Watts and desired his warrant against Chambers, acknowledged and confessed divers times, or att least once, and especially att a monethly meeting of divers knights and gent of the Country before Sir Richard Lucy, knight and barronett, and John Gore, esq., that Sir John Watts had never done Elliott any wrong or injustice or denyed or refused to doe him Justice or to that effect'?

11. If the witness deposed that Watts 'did injustice, or refused to do justice at the complaint or request of Elliott', they were to be asked 'in what manner did Elliott come to Sir John Watts for justice and what wordes did Elliott use to Sir John Watts at such pretended time when he denyed or refused to do justice'? 'When, where and in whose presence was it done'? 'Whether at the time aforesaid did Elliott use wordes or contempt, neglect and slighting of Sir John Watts, and what wordes did Elliott use to that effect, as such witness doth knowe hath heard or beleeveth.'

No date, 1639

Signed by Arthur Duck.

11/33d, Defence depositions

Taken before commissioners Sir Richard Lucy, knt. and bart., and Sir Edward Bashe, knt., at the George Inn, Hertford, on 21 January 1639/40, with Richard Meade as notary public.

(Witness 1), Sir John Boteler of Watton at Stone, co. Hertford, knt, had known Watts for 30 years, aged 52

To Elliott's defence:

3. He never heard 'Sir John Watts confesse that he denyed Elliott a warrant against Chambers but hath heard some rumor there was a falling out betweene Elliott and Chambers, but the certaynty thereof he never heard.'

To Watts's interrogatories:

6. 'Sir John Watts hath been a knight *and a justice of peace for the county of Hertford* for a long tyme, but the certayne tyme he knoweth not... saving that George Elliott is a yeoman and noe gentleman as he beleiveth, and is soe comonly accompted, reputed and taken.'

Signed by John Boteler and by the two commissioners.

(Witness 2), Sir Thomas Dacre of Cheshunt, co. Hertford, knt, had known Watts for 20 years, aged 50

To Watts's interrogatories:

4. On 13 January 1640 at the Hertford quarter sessions, Elliott entreated him 'to call to memory what speeches had passed at Ware at the commission, and to remember that Sir John Watts had confessed that he had refused the granting Elliott his warrant (which denyall of his warrant Elliott said was the occasion of this difference betweene Sir John Watts and Elliott)'. He told Elliott that 'he did not remember Sir John Watts confessed any such thinge, at the tyme aforesaid, but sayed unto Elliott that he would aske Sir John Watts, whome, as he said, he knew would not deny anything, that Sir John Watts had sayed'. So, he went to Sir John Watts and asked him whether he did ever confess that he denied Elliott his warrant. Watts replied 'I said noe such thinge lett him prove what I sayed I denyed him not, he might goe to Mr Goore.'

6. 'Sir John Watts for the greatest parte of his knowledge of him hath been a justice of peace for the county of Hertford, and he hath been a knight for the space of twelve yeares or thereabouts. And *believeth that* Elliott is accompted and reputed a yeoman and noe gentleman for ought he ever knew.'

Signed by Thomas Dacre and by the two commissioners.

(Witness 3), John Snelling of Hunsdon, co. Hertford, gent, had known Elliott for 2 years and Watts for 40 years

To Elliott's defence:

2. 'Rutt and Pricklove are poore needy men, and that Pricklove's wife being sicke or distracted the last sumer, Pricklove did live upon the almes of the parish during the tyme of his wive's sickness or distraction... saving he believeth that if Rutt should be sicke he is soe poore that he is likely to be mayntayned by the parish where he liveth.'

4. He heard 'Elliott say that Sir John Watts did deny Elliott a warrant against Chambers menconed in the third article of this allegacon.'

To Watts's interrogatories:

5. All were 'such men as he believeth will not forsweare themselves and for such persons they and every of them are comonly accompted reputed and taken for ought he ever heard to the contrary.'

10. He 'heard Elliott say that Sir John Watts did never refuse to do him justice but in not granting his warrant against Mr Chambers; but for the especiall tyme specified, he for his parte doth not remember any such words did passe at that tyme.'

Signed by John Snelling and by the two commissioners.

(Witness 4), Edward Jude of Hunsdon, co. Hertford, clerk, had lived there for 18 years, had known Elliott for 18 years and Watts for 10 years, aged about 56

To Elliott's defence:

2. 'Rutt and Sticklove are such as that good credit may be given to theire testimony for ought he ever knew or heard to the contrary'. Around August 1639 'Pricklove's wife being distracted Pricklove had some releife from the parishe *where he liveth* duringe the tyme of his wife her distraction as aforesaid *and not otherwise*.'

3. He had heard Elliott report something to this effect at that time.

To Watts's interrogatories:

5. 'He believeth that all the partyes are men of honest life and conversacon and such as will not forsweare themselves for such persons they every and each of them are *and have been* comonly accompted, reputed and taken for ought he ever knew or heard to the contrary.'

Signed by Henry Grave [his mark] and by commissioners Sir Richard Lucy, Sir Edward Bashe, Sir John Boteler, Sir Thomas Dacres and John Snelling.

(Witness 5), Henry Grave of Hunsdon, co. Hertford, cordwainer, lived there for 7 years and before that at Great Hallingbury, co. Essex, had known Elliott for 7 years, aged about 40

To Elliott's defence:

2. '... that Rutt doth pay to the mayntenance of the poore of the parish where he liveth, and Pricklove is a poore man; but believeth that good creddit may be given to theire testimonies... saving Pricklove did the last sumer when his wife was distracted receive some reliefe from the parishe duringe her distraccon.'

3. '... that about the tyme [referred to] Elliott tould [Grave] that he had beene with Sir John Watts for a warrant for Mr Chambers and that Sir John Watts was rideing from home; and therefore Sir John Watts wished Elliott to goe to Mr Goore for his warrant, and Mr Goore wished Elliott to speake to [Grave], being then constable for the parishe of Hunsdon, to wishe Mr Chambers to come before him to answeare the complainte of Elliott. and accordingly [Grave] did speake to Mr Chambers *to goe accordingly* and Mr Chambers did goe to Mr Goore's, *together with [Grave]* to answeare the complaint. and Elliott did then and there sweare that Mr Chambers did drawe his knife upon him.'

To Watts's interrogatories:

5. '... that he knoweth all the partyes menconed in this interr[ogator]y and he believeth that they are all honest persons, and such as will not forsweare themselves. and for such persons they and each of them for all the tyme of his knowledge of them have beene and are commonly accompted, reputed and taken.'

Signed by Henry Grave [his mark] and commissioners Sir Richard Lucy, Sir Edward Bashe, Sir John Boteler, Sir Thomas Dacres and John Snelling.


4/37, Submission

Elliot was to perform his submission, standing 'bareheaded' between 2 and 4 p.m. on 13 April 1640 before the justices of the peace in the sessions house in Hertford and 'with an audible voyce read, or after the clerk of peace reading unto him, say as followeth:

Whereas I, George Elliot, stand convict... to have much wronged and abused in words the worshipful Sir John Wattes of Ware in the county of Hertford, knight, and in particular to have said that Sir John Watts would as soone see a pitchforke in my guttes as doe me justice, and that Sir John Watts would not doe me justice, or to that effect, I doe now hereby humblie confesse and acknowledge that I am hertely sorry for those my inconsiderate and abusive speeches and doe acknowledge the sentence of the high court militarie given against me for the same to be most just and honourable. And I doe further acknowledge Sir John Watts to be a worthy knight and one of his Majestie's justices of the peace of the county of Hertford, and worthie of the title and office conferred upon him. And I do humbly pray Sir John Watts to forgive my such scandalous and abusive speeches as aforesayd, and to accept of this my humble submission promisinge forever hereafter to behave myself withall dutifull observance toward all his Majestie's justices of the peace and all other gentrie of this kingdom in general, and in particular toward Sir John Watts.'

Subscribed by Arundel and Surrey.

After this performance Elliot was to subscribe his name and desire the clerk of the peace and some persons of quality present were to testify his performance to the court on 25 April 1640.

Signed by William Lewin, registrar.

18/4m, Certificate of submission

Text of the submission the same as 4/37 above

John Snelling and Nicholas Davis signed that Elliott had made the submission as directed on 13 April 1640.

18/4p, Letter from Sir John Watts

'To his worthy friend Doctor Ducke, present these at the doctors commons:

Eliot hath paid me 25li for costs, he hath performed his submission, and now I intreat you to move for my damages, what time the court will appoint for payment; and I desire that it may be short for I intend to remit the greatest part of it if Eliot's comportment be not worse then hitherto it hath been. I commend my best wishes to you and I rest your affectionate friend to serve you'.

23 April 1640.

Signed by John Watts.


Summary of proceedings

Dr Tooker acted as counsel for Watts and Dr Merrick for Elliott. On 4 February 1640 a motion of contempt was promoted for Watts against Elliott.


Sir John Watts was knighted in 1625 and served on the expedition to Cadiz that year. He married Mary, daughter of Thomas Bayning of co. Suffolk. Watts attempted to raise royalist troops by a commission of array at the Bell Inn at Hertford but was forced to retire at the approach of parliamentary troops. He commanded a troop of horse under Arthur, Lord Capell. He was again appointed a commissioner of array in 1648. He was captured in Colchester at the end of the siege in August 1648 and compounded for his estates. His son John was a royalist colonel and governor of Chirk castle, co. Denbigh. A fragmentary funeral monument to him is allegedly in Hertingfordbury church.

W. C. Metcalfe (ed.), The Visitations of Hertfordshire, 1572 and 1634 (Publications of the Harleian Society, 22, 1886), p. 102; P. R. Newman, Royalist officers in England and Wales, 1642-1660: A biographical dictionary (London, 1981), p. 400; A. Kingston, Hertfordshire during the Great Civil War and the Long Parliament (London, 1894), pp. 10, 15, 17, 81, 130.


  • Initial proceedings
    • Petition to Maltravers: 6/158 (9 May 1639)
  • Defendant's case
    • Defence 11/33c (no date)
    • Summary of defence: R.19, fo. 23r (1639)
    • Letters commissory for the defendant: 11/33b (26 Nov 1639)
    • Plaintiff interrogatories: 11/33a (no date)
    • Defence depositions: 11/33d (21 Jan 1640)
  • Submission
    • Submission: 4/37 (13 Apr 1640)
    • Submission and certificate of submission: 18/4m (13 Apr 1640)
    • Letter from Sir John Watts: 18/4p (23 Apr 1640)
  • Proceedings
    • Proceedings before Maltravers: 8/31 (4 Feb 1640)

People mentioned in the case

  • Bashe, Edward, knight
  • Bayning, Mary
  • Bayning, Thomas
  • Boteler, John, knight
  • Calton, Samuel
  • Capell, Arthur, baron Capell of Hadham
  • Chambers, William
  • Dacre, Thomas, knight (also Dacres)
  • Davis, Nicholas
  • Denton, George
  • Denton, William
  • Duck, Arthur, lawyer
  • Elliott, George, yeoman (also Elliot, Eliott)
  • Exton, Thomas, lawyer
  • Fanshaw, Thomas, knight
  • Ferris, John, knight
  • Gates, John
  • Gore, John, esq
  • Gower, John, gent
  • Grave, Henry, cordwainer
  • Hales, John
  • Howard, Henry, baron Maltravers
  • Howard, Thomas, earl of Arundel and Surrey
  • Howe, Thomas
  • Jude, Edward, clerk
  • Lewin, William, registrar
  • Lucy, Richard, knight
  • Meade, Richard, notary public
  • Merrick, William, lawyer
  • Pricklove, John (also Pricklowe)
  • Rutt, William (also Ratt)
  • Snelling, John, gent
  • Terrick, Humphrey
  • Tooker, Charles, lawyer
  • Tudor, Elizabeth I, queen
  • Watts, John, esq (also Wattes)
  • Watts, John, knight (also Wattes)
  • Wilson, John

Places mentioned in the case

  • Denbighshire
    • Chirk Castle
  • Essex
    • Colchester
    • Great Hallingbury
  • Hertford
    • Cheshunt
    • Hertingfordbury
    • Hunsdon
    • Little Hadham
    • Ware
    • Watton at Stone
  • Spain
    • Cadiz
  • Suffolk

Topics of the case

  • assault
  • justice of the peace
  • military officer
  • other courts
  • royalist
  • threatened violence