The many deaths of John Grene, Gentleman.

King’s bench records are full of oddities and light on details. I have no idea if the very thorough killing of John Grene, in July 1457 will lead to anything useful for my thesis but it has some promise. If only I could explain why he keeps showing up with new murderers, that would be great.

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coram rege

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

Back in October, at the formal start of my doctoral programme, my supervisor suggested I start looking for relevant examples of gentry behaving badly in the archival records of the Court of King’s Bench. A substantial quantity of those records (specifically, the plea and controlment rolls, which record the workings of that particular judicial body) are online as digital photos in the AALT database (the Anglo-American Legal Tradition project) hosted by the University of Houston. While this makes them much more accessible it does not make them any easier to understand.

Over the last six months, wedged between the conference papers, background reading, archival workshops, and seminars, I have slowly and tediously, learned how to ‘read’ these documents in a way that actually helps with my work. Although, I can’t claim fluency yet. In an effort to remind myself that there has been some actual progress during that time, and because I don’t trust my own memory to keep any of this strait, I will share what little I have learned about the King’s Bench over a few blog entries.

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Say John, what’s in the bag?

I’m sure John Crok of Tetworth, Cambridgeshire, enjoyed his game of ‘guess what’s in the bag’, and won drinks at some public house in Southwark until a disgruntled husbandman, blabbed to the bailiffs. What no-one could manage to guess, and what became known to the bailiffs, was that John Crok was walking around the south bank of the Thames, with a head in a bag—capud cuiusdam Sarisini—a certain Saracen head, from Toledo.

In October of 1371, Crok was called before the court of King’s Bench at Westminster to explain himself (and the head).

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George Clooney will get the role of John Baker when this is adapted to film

While I dig through the tedious and often illegible cases in the coram rege rolls, looking for elites behaving badly, I am occasional rewarded with something neat. This one isn’t very relevant to my interests but it has its charm.

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