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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: April 2021

Introduction

Summary

The text which follows constitutes the second and concluding portion of the roll of the Suffolk eyre of 1240, and is made up of the pleas of the crown and the record of their financial yield. The first part of the roll, recording the county's civil pleas, consisted almost entirely of litigation over land. The crown pleas, by contrast, were made up of what today would be described as criminal business, together with matters affecting the government of the county and the interests of the King, and in particular his revenues. A modest number of people involved in civil litigation can be identified as having also taken part in the conduct of criminal proceedings, and a very few suits over land gave rise to, or were associated with, acts of violence which were recorded among pleas of the crown. The two sections are numbered continuously, but overall the differences between them, as well as editorial convenience, are such as to justify their being presented separately.

Suffolk in 1240

The value of an eyre roll does not lie only in the light it can shed on the operations of the medieval legal system, or on the functions of local and central government; it can also illuminate many aspects of the life of a county, and do so at social levels which are otherwise hard to penetrate. For Suffolk in 1240, moreover, it can serve this purpose for decades not especially well provided for by other sources – positively murky, indeed, when looked at between the searchlights provided by Domesday Book at the end of the eleventh century, and the growing numbers of court rolls and estate accounts which from the last decades of the thirteenth century onwards have provided so many insights into the workings of East Anglian society. In its physical shape the county has changed little in the last 800 years, except along its North Sea coast, already fighting a largely losing battle against erosion. Prosperous Dunwich had yet to disappear under the waves, but in 1228 a lawsuit between the men of Yarmouth and the keeper of the royal manor of Lothingland, at Suffolk's north-east tip, found that the latter's market, presumably at Southtown (formerly known as Little Yarmouth), had recently had to be moved to a site where it was less likely to be ‘swamped and covered by the sea’.