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?
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:Continue reading