History in Deed: Medieval Society & The Law in England, 1100-1600

An Exhibition by the Harvard Law Library (Special Collections)

Summary by Pat Marsden

In 1988 David de Lorenzo, the Curator of Manuscripts and Archives at Harvard Law School Library came across a mysterious package tucked away in a dark corner of the Treasure Room stacks. On investigation it was revealed that the items were collected by the English antiquarian Frederick Arthur Crisp over many years and sold by him to A.T. Butler of the Royal College of Arms from whom they were purchased by the Harvard College Library in 1923. They were later transferred to the Law Library in 1925.

The package contained charters specifically relating to the conveyance of land and as such provide snapshots of a time, a place, and its people. The items tell us much about how classes of people survived in an agrarian monarchy, how the land provided their sustenance, how the family unit was composed, what place the church had in their lives, and what status women held.

A number of items in the package specifically refer to Wivenhoe, Elmstead, Alresford and Colchester and are here briefly summarised. Many of the names are familiar to local historians; being those of notable families or names attached to local properties:

Item 3. c.1180 Grant, Wivenhoe, Essex

Referring to a grant by Robert de Spereburne to Sir Richard Bataille relating to his marsh which he held of Geoffrey de Cokama saving for an eight foot wide route coming from his house, used for riding, carting and driving his beasts to the great road leading from “Cokama” (in Elmstead) to Wivenhoe.

Item 12. c.1250 Grant, Elmstead, Essex

Grant by Philip de Hobruge to Richard Batayle of all the land which Robert son of Reginald held of the grantor in Elmested of the hide of Ribald, at a rent of 6 shillings a year and 12 pence for a scutage of 20 shillings; for which the said Richard has given 12 marks.

Item 39. 1338 July 5 Grant and Livery of seisin, Wivenhoe, Essex

Grant by John de Suttone of Wyvenhoe, knight, to John de Suttone his eldest son of all his tenement called “Cokayne” in the vill of Elmestede, with its appurtenances and the services of tenants free and bond; with annual rents from holdings in Great Benteleye, namely 3s. from the earl of Oxford, 11s. 6d. from Hugh de Roklonde, and 3s. 11d. from Richard Drawesword.

Item 67. 1512 Wivenhoe, Essex

A quitclaim by 23 knights, squires, and gentlemen of Essex of their right in various manors in Essex, which they had of the gift and feoffment of John de Vere, earl of Oxford. 23 signatures and 22 seals survive.

Item 74. 1387

Seal of Roger de Wolferstone (Essex)
Legend: Sigillii:Rogeri:Wolferstone::

Item 116. 1254 November 22 Indenture of agreement, Colchester, Essex

Memorandum of an agreement made between the abbot and convent of St. John’s, Colchester, and other bailiffs and burgesses grant to the abbot and convent and their successors that they may have free warren in their lands of “West Dunilaund.” Provision is also made for them to enclose as much as they will for a park in “Grenstede.” In return for which, the abbot and convent grant that the burgesses may hunt the hare, fox, and cat in the warren of West Dunilaunde, saving to the abbot and convent their park in Grenstede. It is added that if the dogs of the burgesses hunting the hare enter into the warren of the abbot and catch hare in the warren, provided that they draw off their dogs in due course they shall not be hindered. But if the men or dogs of either party do damage in the corn or any other damage, amendment shall be made to the injured party by a view of four men to be chosen from both sides. If the party that did the damage refuse to make amends, he shall not hunt until he do so.

Item 117. 1341 October 1 Indenture of agreement, Colchester, Essex

Indenture witnessing an agreement made between Sir John de Sutton of Wivenhoe, knight, of the one part, and John de Fordham and William Buk, bailiffs of Colchester, in settlement of certain suits and disputes between them concerning lands near the harbor at Colchester. Whereby the said Sir John grants that the bailiffs and commonalty may henceforth have their part there for themselves and all other sailors and merchants, and may put in, load and unload, and build and repair ships in a place called “le Sole,” saving to the said John and his heirs the feeding and herbage in the said place for all manner of beasts at all times of the year.

Item 118. 1408 May 10 Grant, Colchester, Essex

Grant by John Lenew, William Priour, and John Taselere, weaver, to Godfrey Dalaver and Thomas Noblett of a tenement in Northstret’ in the suburbs of the vill of Colchester, which they had of the feoffment of John Beste, clerk, and which was formerly of Alice wife of Richard Drury, afterwards of Semann Clerk and John Balle of the gift and feoffment of the said Alice; to hold according to the liberty and custom of the borough of Colchester. Witnessed in the first instance by Thomas Fraunceys and John Pod, then bailiffs of Colchester.

Item 134. 1288/9 February 2 Indenture of lease, Elmstead, Essex

Agreement made between John Hervy of Great Bentley and Pleasance his wife, widow (relicta) of Richard Fraunceys of Elmestede of the one part, and Eleanor Fraunceys of the other part, whereby the said John and Pleasance have let to farm to the same Eleanor all the lands, etcetera, which Pleasance holds as dower for her life in Elmestede, for a term of twelve years from the Purification of Blessed Mary Virgin, 17 Edward [I].

Item 135. 1334 September 11 Grant, Elmstead, Essex

Grant by Eleanor, formerly the wife of Robert Fraunceys of Elmestede to John de Sutton, lord of Wivenhoe and to Agatha his wife all her lands and homages in Elmstead, with one reversion: namely, a third part of the said tenement which Pleasance the wife of the late Richard Fraunceys held in dower after the death of Richard.

Further details can be obtained from:

There are also a handful of similar deeds which can be viewed at the Harvard OnLine Library Information System (HOLLIS) at:


These are:

Grant, 1437, November 6.

Grant by John de Veer, earl of Oxford, and Elizabeth his wife to John Portyer of Wyvenho of a piece of land in their demesne of Wyvenho for building, containing about 1 acre and lying in a field at the west end of the church of Wyvenhoe, except a footpath at the east end of the said piece of land and a processional way at the south end, “in the same manner as the parishioners were accustomed to have it of old”; rent 20d. yearly; distraint if the rent be in arrear. Given at Wyvenhoe on the Monday after All Saints, 16 Henry VI.

Quitclaim, 1433, Sept 26.

Quitclaim by John Sweyn of Wevenhoe, clerk, to Elizabeth, wife of John Veer, earl of Oxford, of all his right in the manor of Wevenhoe (Essex) and in the other manors, lands, etc., in the same county, and in the county of Suffolk which are in the possession of the aforesaid John and Elizabeth, in the right of the said Elizabeth and her heirs. Given at Wevenhoo, 26 September, 12 Henry VI.

Grant, 1387, March 23.

Grant by Roger de Wolferstone to John de Sutton of Wyvenho (Essex), knight, of the manor and advowson of Wyvenho with lands, etc., in Elmestede, Bentlegh Magna, Grenstede, Doneland, and Stanweye (Essex), as he had them of the gift of the said John de Sutton jointly with John Aubre, citizen of London, Thomas Tu, John de Pelham, and John Presteney, clerics. Given at Wyvenhoe on the Saturday before the fest of the Annunciation of the Blessed Mary, 10 Richard II.

Grant, 1385, June 28.

Grant by Thomas Mandevill the Younger, knight, and Anne his wife to John de Sutton, knight, of a marsh called “Elmestedmerssh” in Elmestede (Essex), bounded by the land of the said John called “Cokaynelond” and the salt water heading from Colnewatre to Colchestre, the marsh of the late John Stephen to the east and the marsh called “Pirymannes merssh” to the west. Given at Elmstede on the Wednesday after the nativity of St. John the Baptist, 9 Richard II.

Quitclaim, 1335, Feb. 27.

Quitclaim by John Alrich of Great Bentleye and Plesancia his wife, relict of Richard Fraunceys of Elmested, to John de Suttone of Wyvenhoe, knight, of all their right in the land and tenemanets in the vill of Elmested which Plesancia held in dower after the death of Richard her former husband. Dated at Wyvenho on the Tuesday after St. Matthias the Apostle, 10 Edward III.

Grant, 1293, November 22.

Grant by Richard Batayle, brother and heir of Sir Simon Batayle, to Margaret, daughter of Emma de Kyrketone and the heirs of her body, of all the lands, etc., which Matilde de Noers held in Wyvenho, except 2 fish ponds [vivaries] and the grantor’s warren, and of 1/2 acre of meadow called Scarlettesmed at the head of the fish pond, for a yearly rent of 2s. to the Church of Cressinge; with the remainder to the grantor and his heirs. Done at Wyvenho on the Saturday after St. Edmund, King and Martyr, 22 Edward I.

[Material reproduced by courtesy of Harvard Law Library]

This page was added on 17/02/2016.

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