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A Robbery in Sherwood Forest in 1335

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Evidence for the actions and lives of the people of medieval Sherwood Forest, the administration of the forest and often its landscape comes from many different primary sources.

These include the court rolls of the shire, or the king’s Bench, charters, quit claims, writs and many other documents including the courts of the forest themselves.

One such important source to the medieval historian are the Inquisitions Post Mortem. These examine cases usually of inheritance.

The inquisitions post mortem for Nottinghamshire for 1335 reveal evidence of a robbery in Sherwood Forest.

This robbery is of a black horse worth 5 marks from a Henry de Cossale of Nottingham who was aged about 30 at the time.

He was attacked by a gang of unknown robbers in the forest of Schirwode on the Wednesday after the feast of St. John in the 6th year of the reign of Edward II - May 9th 1313.

The evidence comes in a roundabout way… it is not a case into the robbery itself…

The inquisitions post mortem examines the case of Henry son of John de Nottingham, and is dated at York 25th May in the 9th year of Edward III (1335).

The case is a proof of age case for inheritance.

Henry is reported as having been 21 on Monday after the feast of St. George the Martyr.

He was born at Nottingham and baptized in the church of St. Nicholas.

This is ascertained by the testimony of 12 jurors chosen because they know and remember the birth or baptism of Henry from that year.

Henry de Cossale gave the above statement as a reason as to why he remembered the birth of Henry- he was robbed of his black horse in Sherwood Forest shortly after…

The jurors each give reasons that they remember the baptism, they are sometimes bizarre to say the least, the following is a summary of these testimonies:

Stephen de Segrave knows this because he and Henry de Segrave together with Christiana de Segrave lifted him from the sacred font of the said church. He remembers the date because his daughter was born soon after and she too is now 21.

Another man (who’s name is damaged and illegible on the document) remembers the day because he buried his wife in the churchyard the week after and that was 21 years ago.

Another man (also lost) but listed as a knight knows it to be true he married Agnes, daughter of Richard de nelowe of Nottingham 21 years ago.

John de Colwick knows because he had a son William born soon after.

Robert Morewode knows because on the Monday that the said Henry was born he fell from a cart and broke his left arm!!!

Simon Folevile remembers because on Tuesday next before the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, 6th year of Edward II after the said Henry was born, he recovered a messuage and a carucate of land from Robert Raumpryn by writ of novel disseisin before the king’s Justices of the Bench, this was 21 years ago…

Laureance le Spicer took possession of a messuage and a virgate of land in Nottingham from William le Botiler by charter and that was 21 years before…

John Colier of Nottingham knowns because William his son was buried in the church of St. Mary’s Nottingham soon after Henry was born…

Ralph de Wolaton had a daughter Alice born at Nottingham at the same time…

Roger de Derby remembers because the Saturday after Henry was born he fell from a tree and broke his right leg!!!

Thomas Suthorp who had been in custody of the lands during Henry’s minority saw no reason as to why the lands should not be inherited…

This inquisition tells us much about the lives of people in Medieval Sherwood Forest, showing us the lives, births, marriages and deaths of everyday life.

We also get glimpse of how land and houses could change hands as deals were struck and people sought to make a living.

We can also get a feel for the jobs people undertook:

Was John Colier a trader in charcoal? Was Laurence le Spicer a trader in spices? Perhaps with a stall in the great Saturday market?

Was Simon Folevile related to the notorious Foleville family who’s gang of outlaws terrorised the area for decades?

A Simon Foleville is recorded in 1327 as committing a series of robberies in Lincolnshire:

…and the Sheriff of Nottingham was informed by the government:

Robert and Simon de Folville, with a band of malefactors, were roaming abroad in search of victims to beat, wound, and hold to ransom’.

…Had Ralphe de Morwode been drinking when he fell from his cart and broke his arm??...

…What was Roger of Derby up to falling from a tree and breaking his right leg at the age of 30?!

The inquest also show how much the life of the time was dominated by the feasts and festivals of the religious calendar- perhaps with ‘festas’ and parties similar to those which still take place in modern day Malta.

These festivals helped to divide the year and provided a religious structure to its passing. The medieval world followed the annual natural cycle of the seasons and of work and harvest. The church also marked this passing with constant reminders of the religious story. The church and religion were at the centre of peoples understandings of life and death.

This was a spiritual age.

The years were not recorded as we think of them now, but in terms of Regnal years (years of the King’s reigns). Showing the importance of the crown in every aspect of Medieval life.

The Medieval world was certainly a colourful place and its inhabitants were certainly no less colourful themselves.

The above inquest is from: Blagg, T.M 1939. Abstracts of the Inquisitiones Post Mortem relating to Nottinghamshire Vol. III: Edward II and Edward III 1321-1350. Thotoron Society Record Series VI.

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