Too pally by half? The Shopshire inquisition of Humphrey Hille

TNA C 141/2/24.[1] Medieval juries differed from those of today, which are empanelled from genuinely impartial people who know nothing in advance of the inquiry. Medieval jurors in contrast were selected from local people who knew the circumstances and properties – especially necessary, of course, when it came to drawing up extents or making valuations. Often they denied knowledge of the tenure and very often of the service due to the lord. Details of title, such as entails and enfeoffments, were often supplied by the family. IPMs always listed the jurors and in some counties (or particular inquisitions) their place of residence, which elsewhere has to be researched. The recent calendars have included this data. Matthew Holford has established that most jurors were genuinely local, served only once – presumably where best informed – and were of  substantial status,[2] the serious and sober leaders of their communities.

The Shropshire IPM of Humphrey Hille, who died in 1484, goes one stage further. The addresses of eight jurors are included.  More interesting is that three of the jurors feature in the inquisitions themselves. Thus the deceased conveyed a messuage, water mill and fulling mill in Buntingsdale (a mile south-west of Market Drayton) to Thomas Condon, vicar of Drayton in Hales, Ralph Gramens esquire, and Ralph Cotton of Chestilgrange, which feoffees held the properties to his use at his death. The last two feoffees, Gramens and Cotton, were jurors at Hille’s inquisition. Hille also held 3 acres of pasture in Little Stonche of Ralph Sonford esquire for 5s. a year in rent. His landlord Sonford was another of the IPM jurors. These three jurors were certainly well-placed to testify about his property. Were they too close to the deceased to provide trustworthy testimony? Certainly they were more closely connected to the deceased than was normal.

These locations and the homes of the jurors were concentrated in the area  of north-east Shropshire around the two market towns of Market Drayton and Newport. Gramens and Sonford head the list of jurors. In this local community, they were the social superiors of Hille, who was a tenant in chief in possession of ⅛ of a knight’s fee, but whose total estate at IPM valuations was worth only £6 2s. – well under the minimum level for a gentleman. Hille’s IPM thus illustrates how far down the social scale feudal titles and services had percolated by the end of the middle ages.

[1] This IPM has been calendared by Dr Gordon McKelvie as part of the IPMs of Richard III project.

[2] This is a principal finding of M.L. Holford’s ‘”Thrifty Men of the Country?” The Jurors and their Role’, in The Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions post mortem: A Companion, ed. M. Hicks (Woodbridge, 2012), 201-22.