The Court Rolls of Wakefield, Yorkshire are one of the most extensive sets of judicial records, running from the 13th to the 19th centuries. They are full of gems. Cayleys feature quite often in the medieval period, usually with just a record of their having given excuses for non-attendance (a landlord could command all tenants to attend and fine them if they did not have an acceptable excuse for not doing so), a pledge that someone would attend at a future hearing or a guarantee of someone’s good behaviour. But some entries tell rather more of a story.
In the 1290s there was clearly some ill-feeling between members of the Cayley family and one Richard del Bothem. On 16 November 1296 Richard made a formal complaint that Nicholas de Caylli had assaulted him: Nicholas countered with a suit for trespass against Richard. A few weeks later, on 6 December, Richard del Bothem sued Nicholas de Caylli for “assaulting him and wounding him on the head with his sword in his own house, also for carrying off one of his horses which Richard had impounded in his corn, after cutting the tether with his sword”, and sought damages of 100 shillings. The defendant denies it, saying that when he came to redeem his horse, impounded in the common pasture, Richard beat him with a stick, and used insulting words, etc.; he claims damages 100s., and says that he had only acted in self-defence. They both crave an inquisition [a formal court hearing].”
On 1 January 1297 a day is set for the hearing. By then Richard del Bothem is also accusing John de Cailly of trespass as well.
But – as such quarrels must frequently have been – a settlement was reached. On 15 February 1297 “Richard del Bothem and Nicholas de Caylly have a love-day” – a splendid term, highly appropriate for the morrow of St Valentine’s! A ‘love day’ was a day set by a court for arbitration between parties to a legal dispute: it was not always successful, and sometimes one of the parties would even attack the other on the way to arbitration (on one notorious occasion in 1411 a litigant with some 500 men ambushed his opponent on his way to a love day). The arbitration clearly worked in this instance: in the first week of Lent, 1297 Nicholas is recorded as giving 12 pence “for license of concord with Richard del Bothem” and another 12 pence for withdrawing his suit against Richard.
Richard del Bothem must have been quite a difficult character. The Wakefield Court Rolls record other quarrels in which he was engaged, other allegations of assault and insult, theft of timber and nuts from woodlands, a case in which he denied having been paid for a feather-bed, accusations of trespass, and a fine on his guarantor because he was not “faithful” to his earl. I don’t set too much store by the thefts of forest produce – forest laws were strict and such fines were a welcome source of income for feudal landlords. But Richard clearly tended to get caught up in fractious disputes.