The jurors: a cautionary tale

Almost all IPMs list the names of at least twelve jurors on whose testimony - at least in theory - the IPM was based. In the language of the inquisitions, the jurors say 'on their oath' what lands a tenant held,  what day he died, and so on. The names of these jurors were omitted from most of the printed calendars and only appear in the volumes covering the period from 1422 to 1447. The editors of those volumes rightly judged that the identity of the jurors could have a significant bearing on an IPM's reliability, for example if the locality of the jurors (and hence the extent of their local knowledge) could be ascertained, or if they could be shown to be retainers or servants of an interested party. The jurors were also judged to be worthy of research in their own right, as the men (they were of course all men) through whom royal government operated at a local level, representatives of a 'middling sort' in rural society that had not received the attention it deserved from historians. [1. For a general summary of work on the jurors, see M. Holford, ' 'Thrifty men of the country?': The jurors and their role', in Companion, ed. Hicks, which also provides references for several of the examples discussed below.]

Finally, of course, the jurors' names are interesting for family historians, since they potentially extend the genealogical interest of the IPMs beyond the ranks of tenants-in-chief (generally from the gentry class and above) to the substantial villagers from whom juries were typically chosen. (Sadly, only about a fifth of jurors have their residences listed in the IPMs - interestingly, practice in recording such details seems to vary from county to county, and these idiosyncracies deserve further exploration. However, the residences of many other jurors can often be identified by research in other sources.)

For all these reasons, as part of the present project's enhancement of the volumes for 1399 to 1422 (to be described in more detail in a future post), we decided to add the jurors' names to the calendared text. This will add over 45,000 names and provide a vast resource for genealogists and historians of local government.

Our enhancement, and the work of various historians on the jurors, assumes that the jury lists are what they say to be -- that the named jurors were, in some way, associated with a particular IPM. There are good grounds for this assumption. Various sources suggest that many, perhaps most IPMs did result in some way from an actual inquiry, held by the escheator, at which jurors were present. In one instance those jurors later confessed that they had perjured themselves - but the important point is that they had originally been present and given testimony. And finally many jurors can be traced in other sources, notably legal records and manorial documents.

On the other hand, what we know from other sources invites a certain caution. We know of at least one occasion when supposed jurors claimed that they had not been summoned, and in many cases it seems clear that the contents of an IPM owe much more to the representations of an heir or other interested party than to the jurors. When an IPM seems to have been prepared and presented to the escheator, as for example with John Paston in 1466, there are grounds for suspecting that the jurors may never genuinely have been summoned or even have existed.

Such suspicions are confirmed by the discovery that, on one occasion at least, a jury list was duplicated between counties. The IPMs for Elizabeth, widow of John Holand, earl of Kent (CIPM xix.861-74), taken in 1411, show varous signs of being prepared collectively, presumably by the family's council, rather than being the 'genuine' findings of local inquisitions held separately by different escheators.  Not only are the contents of the IPMs very similar, but several are similar (and untypical) in layout, and many of the IPMs appear to have been drawn up by a small number of scribes.  This kind of central oversight, as we shall see in another post, is not uncommon in IPMs relating to magnates with estates in several counties. It does not necessarily cast doubt on the accuracy of the IPMs' findings, although the claim that such findings came from the jurors - 'they say on their oath' - is clearly not to be taken literally. Historians have usually assumed that in such cases a local jury was actually summoned by the escheator (at the place and date recorded in the IPM) and that this jury endorsed the pre-prepared narrative that was presented to them. However, this would not explain how the extant inquisitions came to be written by a small number of scribes. Various explanations are possible. Perhaps draft inquisitions were returned by the escheators to the family's council, or perhaps councillors simply liaised with escheators (rather as William Paston's kin did in 1444) to obtain the names of suitable jurors to insert in the IPMs. In such cases, it must sometimes have been tempting on to fabricate the list of jurors, a temptation that in this instance was not resisted.

The jurors for the Gloucestershire inquistion, taken on 25 June 1411, were as follows:

John Veye; Robert de Mille; John Lemerek; William Colet; John atte Melle; Henry Peres; John Emot; John Smyth of Lechelade; Thomas Saye; Richard Lardener; John Sayltmerssh; and John Gray.

C 137/83/35 m. 2

And these were the jurors in Somerset on 29 June 1411:

John Voye [sic]; Robert le Melne; John Lemerek; William Colet; John atte Melne; Henry Peret; John Emot; John Smyth of Lychelfeld (or possibly Lythelfeld); Thomas Saye; Richard Lardener; John Saltmersh; and John Gray.



C 137/83/35 m. 9. Images reproduced courtesy of the National Archives

The Gloucestershire list is probably authentic - at least, several jurors (including John Vey, Thomas Say, and John Emot) occur in other Gloucestershire inquisitions. The Somerset list is then clearly a copy, with scribal misreadings and variants, and with the Gloucestershire placename (Lechlade) removed. (It was not necessarily converted to a genuine local equivalent, although there is a modern Littlefields near South Petherton.) Detail of a juror's residence is evidently no guarantee of his actual existence.

It must be emphasized that this appears to be an isolated case, and there is every reason to think that most jury lists do name real individuals from the locality of a tenant's holdings. The lists therefore remain a valuable source for all the reasons described above. Nevertheless, this example is a notable illustration that they cannot always be taken at face value. In that respect, of course, the lists are typical of the IPMs as a whole.