Department of History

Petitions from Lincolnshire, c. 1200–c. 1500

Project summary

This research arose from a previous project Petitions to the Crown from English Religious Houses, c. 1272-c. 1485, published by the Canterbury and York Society, vol 100, in 2010. In the course of selecting petitions from The National Archives (TNA) series SC 8 (‘Ancient Petitions’), it became evident that there was a rich store of Lincolnshire material, which we could have used, so we back-pedalled on Lincolnshire examples for that volume – which quickly sold out – and reserved them for this one. In selecting petitions from the large county of Lincoln during the Middle Ages we were faced with an embarrassment of choice. The series SC 8 includes almost 1,000 cases arising from Lincolnshire, the great bulk of these dating from the fourteenth century. We have also included a small selection of letters (TNA, SC 1: ‘Ancient Correspondence’), and for chronological balance we have selected a number of chancery bills (TNA, C 1: ‘Chancery Bills’), which mainly date to the fifteenth century. 

Lincoln map


With such a wealth of material we could, therefore, be very selective and choose the most interesting and illuminating documents which illustrate the history of the county, and, indeed, the country, from c. 1200 to c. 1509. Our final selection numbers 186 items. The petitions/letters/bills range widely across the county, as indicated in the map. Many of the place-names mentioned in these documents will be familiar to the modern reader and can be visited today, but in one instance – the vill of Ravenser Odd – this will be less easy, since the settlement now lies off the coast of Yorkshire, the victim of coastal erosion in the fourteenth century. The Lincoln Record Society funded our research assistant Lisa Liddy (who had worked with us on the previous project) to transcribe the texts, and we have greatly expanded the English descriptions of these on the TNA Discovery website, to cater for a largely non-specialist readership. The volume was published as part of the Lincoln Record Society series.

The petitions we have selected illustrate all aspects of English history over 300 years. In particular, they tell us much about political history, starting with the civil war at the end of John’s reign and the siege of Lincoln castle, and the power-struggles among landowners with widely-spaced interests during the years around Magna Carta. Debts to the Jews (Lincoln city had a large Jewish community) also figure. The turbulent reign of Edward II is especially well-documented. Two of the king’s fiercest opponents, John Mowbray of Axholme, and Thomas of Lancaster, were mainly based in Lincolnshire, so that, although the civil war took place elsewhere, there was immense scope for mayhem and misbehaviour within the county. For the remainder of the period national politics are less evident, and economic and social concerns come to the fore. Notable is the wide variety of those who used this way of approaching government to right wrongs or to ask for favours: the whole county, urban communities of Grimsby, Lincoln and Boston, rural communities being harassed by their landlords, and individuals of every kind. In rank they range from a duke of Brittany (lord of the manor of Boston), several bishops of Lincoln, lords, knights, abbots, priors, and individuals, both clerical and lay. Women too, could petition, and even children; our youngest petitioner was a girl aged six. We have added to the texts background information about the petitioners and about the circumstances of their case, as well as explanation of technical terms. We called the writing of these notes ‘adding value’, and they often resulted in small essays which we hope will enable readers to derive the maximum interest from the texts. They were certainly hugely enjoyable and satisfying to write. In some cases what seemed like promising material had to be rejected because we were unable provide any useful background on the complainants or their case. Some of these will doubtless be revealed when the records of the royal courts (currently online through the AALT website) are indexed and fully searchable. We have to leave something for future generations of scholars to do. 



Department of History

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