Catalogue description Court of Star Chamber: Proceedings, James I

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Details of STAC 8
Reference: STAC 8
Title: Court of Star Chamber: Proceedings, James I

This series contains pleadings and proofs in criminal equity heard in the Court of Star Chamber during the reign of James I. Some proceedings from both earlier and later periods are also included. Fuller descriptions of these cases were completed in 2019, from exisiting typescript catalogues, and with further data from the work of Thomas G Barnes.

The records in this series preserve evidence of more than 8,200 actions, of which in this reign a tiny proportion were brought directly on behalf of the Crown by the Attorney General. Other cases brought by him were usually at the relation of a party. The King's Almoner also brought cases about the non-payment to him of the goods of suicides, or of deodands (objects causing accidental death).

Star Chamber under James I was a criminal court. But although the court would not try title, the underlying motive behind about four-fifths of the suits brought between 1603 and 1625 turned on real or personal property. The corollary to this is that the nature of the alleged offences needs to some extent to be set at a discount: allegations of conspiracy and riot, for example, were often designed to bring an essentially civil matter within the court's jurisdiction. Despite this, individual case files contain a wealth of biographical, topographical and social information on a wide range of topics.

More than one crime could be, and frequently was, alleged. Each case now has a category of offence included in the description, which now makes them searchable by offence (see below under 'arrangement' for search terms).

Offences included sedition and subversion directed against King, Church or state; offences against religion, including fighting in church, sorcery, and the unlawful exhumation or burial of bodies; malfeasance and malpractice by any sworn officer, by lawyers, and other officials of the courts; wilful contempt of proclamations; fraud, perjury, forgery of documents, including deeds and in testamentary actions; maintenance, champerty, embracery, and conspiracy to indict; contempt of court and of court process; vexatious litigation; and subornation, that is, bribery of an official.

Enclosure, with consequent decay of tillage or interruption of common and customary rights; tithe disputes; and unlawful hunting continued to provide Star Chamber matter in this, as in earlier, periods. Violent crimes both real and alleged included riot, rescue and escape, assault, destruction of property, and abduction. Trade offences and economic crimes included deceit, embezzlement, forstalling and engrossing of goods.

Date: c1603-c1625

Most of the documents are in a nineteenth-century arrangement by which the several elements of pleadings and proof were drawn together in an alphabetical arrangement of case files. Some, however, retain the original arrangement whereby the bills, the answers and demurrers, the replications and the rejoinders were each filed in separate series on thongs according to the first letter of the surname of the plaintiff. The proofs were gathered together in terminal files, with separate sequences for examinations taken by the officers of the court and for depositions taken by commission outside the court. However, this arrangement has been partly disturbed by Thomas G Barnes, who was allowed to reunite separate parts of many law suits in the early 1970s: note of these moves were published by him in the first volume of his 3 volumes of computer analysis (see the publication field).

With the permission of the American Bar Foundation, extra data has been added to these catalogue descriptions from the Barnes analysis: notably, the date (usually the earliest date found), and the category of offence. These categories are therefore now searchable. What they cover is explained in detail in Barnes, Vol I, pp 33-36. The search terms comprise:-

  • sedition;
  • subversion;
  • offences against religion;
  • duelling;
  • officer's malfeasance;
  • lawyer's offences;
  • trade deceit;
  • proclamation contemned;
  • abduction;
  • assault;
  • attempt;
  • conspiracy / confederation;
  • conspiracy to indict;
  • counterfeiting;
  • defamation;
  • destruction of property;
  • forgery;
  • fraud;
  • hunting;
  • maintenance (including jury offences);
  • embracery;
  • perjury;
  • riot / rout / unlawful assembly;
  • subornation;
  • contempt;
  • vexatious litigation;
  • extortion;
  • engrossing;
  • embezzlement;
  • rescue;
  • compounding a felony.

Some further subject categories have also been added: 'religious differences', and 'theatre'.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and Latin
Physical description: 314 bundle(s)
Publication note:

T G Barnes ed, List and Index to the Proceedings in Star Chamber for the Reign of James I, 3 vols (American Bar Foundation, Chicago, 1975)

Unpublished finding aids:

T G Barnes 'Fines in the Court of Star Chamber 1596-1641'. Please speak to staff at the Map and Large Document Room enquiry desk for the precise location.

Administrative / biographical background:

Under James I, the Court of Star Chamber had a developed bureaucracy, established procedures, and attempted checks on frivolous litigation. The reign saw one major change in practice on determination of a suit. After 1614 damages were readily given, and might be generous. Otherwise, records and procedure in Star Chamber under James I were essentially those that had operated since the latter years of Henry VIII.

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