The Price of Fish: Formal and Informal Justice in London’s 17th-Century Docklands

The next post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is by Graham Moore. Graham is a PhD student, studying as part of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership with the University of Reading and The National Archives. His research focuses on the High Court of Admiralty in the early seventeenth century, with an interest in piracy, maritime law, and littoral communities. You can find him on twitter at @moregreyham

Justice was a booming business in seventeenth-century England. English legal culture had seen rapid growth during the sixteenth century, and this growth had led to greater accessibility. Accessibility in turn led to profit, and greater profit led to heightened competition between England’s different courts. This meant that, by the turn of the century and the accession of King James I/VI, potential litigants had a veritable wealth of options to choose from when bringing forth a case.

Jane Cockyn was one such litigant, and when one day in July 1609 she found her purse missing – presumed stolen – Jane’s quest for justice took her to surprising destinations, ranging from the local Constable to ‘sorcerers and wise men’, and eventually to the High Court of Admiralty. Jane’s story is not extraordinary; her name is not one you would typically find in a history book. But, that is precisely why it is so interesting. Jane’s exploits help us consider such questions as: how did ‘ordinary’ people use the early modern English justice system? Was justice sought formally, or informally? And, finally – what’s all this got to do with the price of fish?

‘A guide for cuntrey men in the famous cittey of London…’, Speculum Britanniae (London, 1653). British Library, Crace 1.33.]

In her deposition (HCA 1/47/f22r), Jane (described as ‘wife of John Cockyn of Wapping, ship carpenter’) states that on Wednesday 22 July she was at Bell Wharf in a boat belonging to William Cowper. Jane, William, and Elizabeth (William’s wife) had bought a stock of herring together which they had sold that day for a profit. Quite a considerable profit, it seems – Jane had on her person a leather purse, containing £3 and 3 shillings. Putting this amount into The National Archives’ currency converter gives us an approximate modern value of £422.40.

However, Jane claims that when she went ashore the purse fell into the boat, whereupon William and Elizabeth rowed away:

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A ‘slanderous & scandalous’ petition: the Dyers’ Company and a burdensome petitioning campaign in early Jacobean England

Our latest post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is from Ellen Paterson. Ellen is a DPhil candidate and Clarendon scholar at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, researching anti-monopoly petitioning activity in late Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Find her on twitter at @elpatersonPhD.

In July 1605, the London Company of Dyers not only upset the Privy Council through their writing and attempted presentation of a ‘slanderous & scandalous’ petition, but also the King himself who was ‘much offended’ by their appearance before him at court.[1] Whilst petitioning was an accepted and common practice in the early modern period, the petitioning of the Dyers’ Company in this instance generated a degree of concern amongst the Council, who promptly ordered Thomas Sackville, the Earl of Dorset, to investigate their petitioning activity.

The Dyers had petitioned the King and Council to express their discontent with a new patent of monopoly granted for the product of logwood. This was a type of dyeing wood which had been introduced into England in the sixteenth century, which produced black, grey, and red dyes. The use of it was prohibited as it was thought to produce defective colours, but licences were sometimes issued allowing limited imports of the commodity, as part of the Crown’s larger reliance on patents and grants as a much-needed source of revenue. In August 1604, a group of courtiers led by Sir Arthur Aston had been given such a grant, allowing them to import logwood and to make a new dyeing mixture from it. This was a cause of vexation to the Dyers’ Company; not only did they complain in their petition that this dyeing mixture was sold at an ‘intollerable’ price, but they also alleged that it was unfit for use and consequently ‘unprofitable to the comon Welthe.’[2]

Painting of a Logwood/Sappan tree. Credit: Ming herbal (painting): Sappan tree, Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Painting of a Logwood/Sappan tree. Credit: Ming herbal (painting): Sappan tree, Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

In many ways this case was not unique. Groups of artisans and traders often came together to protest against grants and monopolies which were seen as infringing on their trades and livelihoods. However, the response of the Council and the investigation that the Dyers’ petition provoked is certainly interesting. Why was this particular petitioning episode worthy of investigation?

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A Poor Hand-Maid’s Tale: Love, Petitioning and Print in Seventeenth-Century England

The second post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover comes from Scott Eaton, an ECR interested in early modern witchcraft, religion, art and print cultures. His book on the witch-finder John Stearne is available from Routledge now. You can follow him on twitter: @StjEaton.

On 22 August 1651 Christopher Love was executed for treason for conspiring with Royalists to restore the King, Charles II, to the throne. His wife, Mary Love, had worked tirelessly to try and save him. While he was being held in the Tower of London, Love petitioned, ‘stood dailie’ at Parliament’s doors and even sent messages to Cromwell in Scotland (at the cost of £100!) in the hope she might secure her husband’s release. Unfortunately, she failed in her efforts. Shortly after Christopher’s death, however, Mary published her petitions and included letters they had written to each other before he was executed. Her publications can provide insight into petitioning, print and gender roles in seventeenth-century England.  

Petitioning was an acceptable way for the ‘ruled’ to address the authorities and make their voices heard, whether seeking action, intercession or mercy, like Love. The 1640s saw a breakdown over censorship of the press and a rise of female assertiveness in the political arena, allowing printed petitions attributed to women to proliferation more widely than before. Mary Love’s printed petitions obviously came after these events had happened, giving her a precedent to follow.

The Resolution of the Women of London to the Parliament (1642), EEBO
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‘The devil will tear me in pieces’: Self-destruction and sympathy in a seventeenth-century witchcraft case

We are delighted to launch our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover with this post from Imogen Knox. Imogen is an M4C funded doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick whose work focuses on suicide, self-harm and the supernatural in Britain, 1560-1735. Find her on twitter at @Imogen_Knox.

Self-destruction was interwoven with the roles of both witch and bewitched in early modern Britain. Witches committed spiritual suicide in signing themselves over to the devil, and in turn the devil tempted his imprisoned servants to self-destruction to secure his grip on their souls. The spiritual and actual suicide of witches, like criminals, reinforced their guilt in the contemporary imagination. Witches also tormented their victims with temptation to self-destruction.

Witches making a pact with the devil. Compendium maleficarum. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Both those afflicted by witchcraft and witches themselves expressed self-destructive temptations. One such admission would produce sympathy, the other scorn. In this post I examine the case of the witchcraft of Anne Bodenham and her victim Anne Styles to show how, by mirroring each other’s self-destructive behaviours, the women negotiated contemporary ideas around innocence, guilt, female nature, and spirituality. One would emerge as an innocent victim, the other an unrepentant sinner.

Dr John Lambe, Anne Bodenham’s reputed tutor. John Lambe, an infamous medical practitioner and magician. Wood engraving. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Anne Bodenham, of Fisherton Anger, near Salisbury, was a reputed cunning woman. It was her ability to locate stolen goods that first brought Anne Styles to her in 1653. Styles, a young woman employed as a maid in the Goddard household, was illiterate and ‘altogether ignorant of the Fundamentall grounds of Religion’ according to the court clerk Edmund Bower. In contrast, the eighty-year-old Bodenham owned ‘a great many notable books’ and claimed to have been taught by the infamous Dr Lambe. Styles made multiple visits to Bodenham, to consult on various issues for the Goddard family, chief among the fear of Styles’ mistress that she was to be poisoned. After several visits, Bodenham offered to take Styles on, ‘to live with her’ and ‘teach her to doe as she did’. However, when Bodenham transformed herself into a cat, Styles was ‘very much affrighted’. Bodenham, seeing that she had misjudged the situation, let Styles go. To ensure that Styles would not ‘discover her’, Bodenham had Styles sign her name in blood in a book, while two conjured spirits looked on.

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