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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

13th Century Law in Carlow

The records of early Irish court cases deposited in Dublin Castle in the sixteenth century contain information on proceedings in the court of Justiciar of Ireland. This court presided over by the Custos of Ireland sat at Welles, Co. Carlow on Wednesday 13th July, in the year 1295.

Illustration of Carlow Castle, probably eighteenth or early nineteenth century.
Source: Photo Carlow County Museum.

13th Century Law in Carlow

By Michael J. Farry
Lecturer in Law, Austin Waldron R.T.C., Carlow

Previously published in the 1991/1992 edition of Carloviana pages 12 & 13.

THE court of Justiciar was the Irish equiv-lent of the English Curia Regis (The King's Court). The chief Justiciarius of England presided in the King's court and was vice regent in the absence of the King. In Ireland a similar capitalis Justiciarius presided over the Irish Supreme Court and was Vice-Regent of the country.

The Justiciar travelled on circuit to hear pleas but because the office was vacant at the time, Thomas, son of Maurice, the head of the Munster Geraldines who was created Gustos of Ireland (temporary Justiciar) presided over the court at Welles on Wednesday before the feast of St. Margaret, 1295.

There were two interesting cases tried that day. The first case concerns a debt due to a Florentine merchant. The debt was acknowledged as being due and agreed to be paid for by transferring crops and cattle in Co. Cork.

The records state: "Lopo Tynache, merchant of Florence complains of Patrik Ralph, Patrik Thomas from and Patrik, Ralph junior. Peter Lopin and Rycher Ferman of Co. Katurlachforthe goods of theirs to the value of 100 1. should have been taken into the King's hand by writ of the Exchequer, until they should come to the Exchequer to answer for a debt of 1741. 5s. 10d. of the one past and 311. 5s. 10d. and 100 crannoes of wheat and oats in the other."

Acknowledged debt to merchants of Florence

Although the debt was acknowledged as due there appears to have been a dispute as to who would pay it. Afterwards one of the defendants Lopin give half a mark for licence to agree by pledge of Ralph and the others who ought to pay.

Patrik Ralph and Patrik Thomas acknowledged themselves bound to Lopo Tynache, and their fellows, merchants of Florence in 54 marks 10s. 8d. for which they gave Lopo the whole crop (vesture) of their land in Co. Cork and all cattle there. If those did not amount to the required value, they were to pay the rest of the debt in money.

They are to put Lopin in prison before the assumption of B.V.M. next.

The case gives no indication of how the debt was accrued. It could indicate that people in Carlow were engaged in trading with merchants in Florence but it is more likely to have arisen from a money lending transaction.

In 1305 foreign traders were granted licences to trade in Ireland by the King. These included the Spini, Alemanni, de Castyloun and Frescobaldi families of Florence. Merchants and moneylenders, they imported wine, silks, spices, salt, etc and they exported wool and hides. The Frescobaldi family are to day among the richest in Italy.

Abbot of Duisk in debt to moneylender

Their money lending is illustrated by a transaction recorded on 27 January 1305 in which the Abbot of Duisk obtained 70 marks from a moneylender to pay the Papal Tenth being collected by the Bishop of Meath. In return the Abbot transferred land in Fethard to the money lender for 20 years.

Jan 27,1305 John de Fresingfeud acknowledged that the Abbot of Dowysky (Duiske) demised to him the grange called Batesgrange in Fethard, for 20 years from Christmas provided that John would hold the grange for life, the Abbot to enter and add it after 20 years completed. Besides this he will aquit the Abbot against the Bishop of Meath and Dean of St. Patrick, Dublin, collectors of the Papal Tenth, of 70 marks for the issue of the grange for said 20 years.

The King also found the presence of the Florentine traders useful when there was no money in the treasury.

On Dec. 14, 1305 the Justiciar, by writ of the King "because the King's treasure did not suffice to pay the wages of the men at arms crossing from Ireland into Scotland for the King's war there took from the merchants names 1851 of sterling which he delivered to the exchequer of Dublin. He took 8651.18s 11d of pollands and delivered them to the merchants of the society of the Frescoboldi in Ireland for 4001. which he delivered to the exchequer to pay said wages."

(This was King Edward's expedition) Cusack, (The Illustrated History of Ireland, Kenmare, 1868 at page 338) points out that "The crown revenues and customs were frequently pawned out to associations of Italian moneylenders; and the 'Ricardi' of Lucca, and 'Frescobaldi' of Florence, had agents in the principal towns in Ireland."

The Second case, a criminal assault where the defendant made an unsuccessful plea about the writ system. A witness testified that he had committed the assault. Two persons went bail for him but ultimately he was found guilty and sent to prison in Dublin Castle.

"Had to fly to the church of Lechlyn"

"John, son of Gilbert complains of Nicholas Cheucre, that when he was in the King's peace, in the Highway (regia strata) at Lechlyn on Monday before the feast of Nat. S. J.B. Nicholas assaulted him, so that he had to fly to the church ofLechlyn until help came to him.

Nicholas says he is not bound to answer this complaint without a writ, because a writ in Chancery lies for this. He says moreover that he never assaulted John and puts himself on the country.

Jury says that Nicholas assaulted John against the peace; therefore let them be committed to prison. Afterwards Regin de Lynet of Co. Katterlac and John Haket of Co. Tipperary became pledges for Nicholas to satisfy the king at the next coming of the Custos to those parts, or to have his body; also to John as shall be just, and to make security of pease to him and his. Afterwards he came to Lechlyn on Monday before the feast of St. Martin, and is sent to Dublin to prison of the Castle there."

Another case was a dispute over land. Involved a false claim made by a desperate widow.

English controlled ten counties

"Margery, widow of William, Senekyl complains of Maurice, son of Adam sergeant of the King in the Cross of Leighlin, that where as William her late husband held to farm 3 acres of land in Hannonston, and 6 acres in Welles and bequeated said land to Margery in discharge of his debts; Maurice took the farm (firma) which ought to have remained to her for 7 years.

Maurice says that he did not take the farm unjustly or on his own authority, but Hammond Cheucre gave him 3 acres to farm and Simon Madok 6 acres.

The jury found against Margery and "Margery mercy for falce claim is pardoned because she is poor."

The Cross of Leighlin is often mentioned in reports of the time. It was not a cross in the monumental sense but rather a term used to denote land held by the Church or religious communities. The English controlled only ten counties and the Liberties. Carlow and Kilkenny were Liberties under the control of important Lords. Cusack refers to them as absolute palatines who exercised high justice within their territory and erected their own courts.

The Kings writ did not run within these territories except in church lands called the "Cross" where the King appointed a sheriff. There were thus two sheriffs one of the "Cross" and another of the Liberty. The nobility did not want the benefits of English Law extended to the native Irish because it would have restricted their activities and meant sharing their wealth with the crown. An Englishman could not be subject to Brehon or Irish law, and Irishmen did not have a right to appeal to an English judge.

Four years later a case of assault was heard by Richard de Burgo Earl of Ulster, locum tenens of John Wogan, Chief Justiciar on the 3 Nov. 1299 at Cassell.

Arnold Doneden by his attorney appears against master Jordan de Kildenen and Nickolas's son, of a plea that they assaulted and wounded him at Lechlyn, and took the goods to the value of 40s to his damage of 201. They do not come.

And the sheriff returns that master Jordan was attacked by Richard Aylmer and Nickolas son of Philip, who now have him not: therefore let them be in mercy.

The sheriff is commanded to distrain him by all his lands and have him on the quinzaine of S. Hilary. As to Nickolas, the sheriff says he is not found, nor has he anything. He is commanded to take and have him at said term."

And where the cloister silence reigned profound
Discordant clamour now has made its den,
The ancient walls re-echo sad the sound
Of trucks and wagons, horses, motors, men.
Through this old doorway where the clinging briar
And rain wet leaves of ivy darkly hang,
How many a holy brother of the choir
Passed when the bell for midnight office rang.

A Dirge for Duiske


Previously published in the 1991/1992 edition of Carloviana pages 12 & 13.

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