Details of Subseries within C 47
Reference: Subseries within C 47

The documents in C 47/6, with a few exceptions, comprise proceedings taken under the law of arms in the Court of Chivalry, and under law maritime in the Court of Admiralty (records otherwise in HCA). They are all of fourteenth and fifteenth century date.

Many of the documents in these files can be read at more than one level: as evidence of the procedure and jurisdiction of the courts to which they relate; as particular evidence for the cases themselves, and for the history of the principal parties to them; and as source material evidence for a far wider range of subjects touched on by deponents or by the parties by way of circumstantial evidence in support of their case.

Both courts proceeded by way of a bill and answer process, under variant names for the formal documentation, and took proofs in the form of depositions, supported by the examination of deeds and other instruments and, if necessary, examination of other physical evidence. The copy proceedings may thus include enrolments of both pleadings and proofs, as well as of the acta of the courts themselves.

Of the three earliest items in this section, one, C 47/6/6 no 1, appears to be a stray from the diplomatic process before the Anglo-French tribunal sitting at Montreuil to deal with mutual claims of piracy by both English and French, going back to 1293, and is misplaced here. C 47/6/6 no 2 is a return on a certiorari concerning the arrest of a ship by the admiral in a context which both pre-dates the formal establishment of the Court of Admiralty, and which does not predicate a legal action. C 47/6/6 no 3 is an example of the council's jurisdiction in Admiralty matters.

The remaining records are copies of proceedings in the courts of Chivalry and Admiralty, or are subordinate to the jurisdiction of those courts. Most of these records appear to have been returned into Chancery under a writ of certiorari. The writ ran certis de causis, for certain causes, which are neither recited nor indicated. The context, however, suggests either an appeal against the judgement of the specified court, or a request for enforcement of that judgement.

One possible administrative course following the return of the certiorari might be a scire facias to summon the case into Chancery for an initial hearing , followed by a mittimus into King's Bench for jury trial; and it is known that some Admiralty cases subsequently appear in King's Bench. An appeal from the Court of Chivalry proper lay to the Crown in Chancery which might then respond by the issue of commissions delegating responsibility to specified persons, most usually both knights and doctors of law, to hear the case. A number of commissions in appeals from the Court of Chivalry are enrolled on the Patent Rolls.

The king's council might also take cognisance of matters which might otherwise come before these courts; and Chancery, or the council in parliament, appears in the first half of the fourteenth century to have heard cases involving the law of the sea, a jurisdiction which continued, in cases of piracy at least, for much of the fifteenth century, both in tandem with the Admiralty Court and in de facto preemption of it.

It is possible that the proceedings alluded to in Lovell v Morley, C 47/6/1, referring to an earlier process Burnell v Morley at the time of the siege of Calais, 1345-1347, may record one of the earliest known proceedings of the court; equally, they may record a process taken under commission rather than of a single court, of which there are other examples in C 47/6.

A number of the documents in C 47/6 bear evidence of early use or sortation, probably going back at least to William Prynne.

Related material:

Many of the original records of the court for the period between 1631 and 1710 are in the College of Arms.

Publication note:

A list of constables and marshals, and a partial listing of other officers of the Court of Chivalry which includes a few entries for the period of these records, is in G D Squibb, The High Court of Chivalry (Oxford, 1959), pp 228-238 .

Administrative / biographical background:

Court of Chivalry

The Court of Chivalry was the court of the constable and marshal, acting either in person or through their designated lieutenants. Both the Court of Chivalry, as a permanent court proceeding in accordance with the forms the civil law, and the Court of Admiralty, which was likewise a civilian, rather than a common law, court, appear to have been institutionalised during the middle years of the reign of Edward III.

The Court of Chivalry is the only surviving civil law court in England, presided over by the Constable and Marshal of England, and with jurisdiction in heraldic disputes and those military matters not governed by the common law. It has during its history been known by a variety of names: the Court of the Constable and the Marshal; the High Court of Chivalry; the Court Military; the Court of Honour; and the Earl Marshal's Court. Its powers derived originally from the king's council, and it came into existence by 1348 at, or shortly after about the concluding period of the siege of Calais. Its original jurisdiction concerned military disputes arising from the conduct of war, including breaches of the code of knighthood and matters such as the unjust detention of prisoners; exchanges of prisoners; and entitlement to ransom. One example of the latter is the long-running and recurrent dispute over the ransom of the Count of Denia, an Aragonese nobleman captured at the battle of Najera in 1367.

Appeals from the court lay to the Chancery. In 1384 and 1389 the court was prohibited by statute from holding pleas touching the common law. On the latter occasion its jurisdiction was defined as 'cognisance of contracts touching deeds of arms and of war outside the realm', and of those same matters within it which could not be determined or discussed by the common law; the limits of its jurisdiction were to remain in the power of the council.

On the criminal side it could deal with criminal appeals, mostly in matters of treason and homicide committed abroad. The appeal was initiated by petition to the council but then referred to the court, and which sometimes lead to trial by battle. In 1388 this jurisdiction was encroached upon by the 'Merciless' parliament. This precedent was overturned in the first parliament of Henry IV, when by statute such matters were reserved to the court.

Court of Admiralty

The origin of the Court of Admiralty appears to belong to the middle years of the reign of Edward III. Before that time, matters later dealt with by the Court of Admiralty might come before the Chancery, the Council, or the courts of common law. Piracy, for example, and the determination of ownership of goods taken at sea, was largely the prerogative of the Chancery, although particular cases might be directed out of Chancery into King's Bench, or to commissioners specially appointed, for determination.

Piracy might also be tried before the council, or, through the diplomatic process, by a tribunal of arbiters specially appointed to hear suits between English and those of other nations.

The origin of the Court of Admiralty arose from the delegation of part of the jurisdiction of the king's council over maritime law to the Lord High Admiral. This process cannot be precisely dated, but occurred some time between the battle of Sluys, 1340, which brought the English supremacy in the seas bordering its litoral, especially against France, and 1357, and it provided a mechanism for dealing with cases involving piracy and the spoils of war.

References indicating that the admiral, whether appointed to a regional authority in the north, south, or west, or with command of all the fleets, enjoyed a specific maritime jurisidiction, begin to appear from about 1360. The court's jurisdiction in England ended at the high water mark of the tides, and the court sat 'within the flow of the sea'; matters considered include both civil and criminal cases. Certain places were exempt from the admiral's jurisdiction, the most notable being the Cinque Ports.

As with the Court of Chivalry, the early years of the Court of Admiralty saw some clarification of its jurisdiction. Wreck was confirmed by statute to the common law; whereas its criminal jurisdiction in trespasses and felonies committed on the high seas was upheld by writ. Much business on Admiralty matters was still dealt with in the fifteenth century in the Chancery, and the court comes of age only in the reign of Henry VIII.

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