Sunday 10 February 2013

1485 - the record keeper's dilemma!

In a week of remarkable revelations about the life and death of Richard III comes evidence from Chester's medieval records of how local government responded to regime change - with understandable caution!

One of our regular researchers using the Sheriffs Pentice Court Rolls was stunned to find a piece of political commentary. The Pentice Court in Chester, named after the building it was held in, dealt largely with cases of debt and trespass and the records of its proceedings are dry and factual. Dates are recorded using regnal years, the format refers to the year of the monarch's reign. But in bringing a case against one man after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 the clerk needed to refer back to events when Richard III was king. He notes the offence in the year 3 Richard III, and presumably so that there can be no question as to the court's loyalties by the end of August, after 3 Richard III appears a note 'de facto non de iure' - expressing the opinion that Richard had reigned in practice but not in law!

The use of regnal years also appears to have posed similar problems for clerks compiling the Mayor's Books around the time of Henry VII's invasion up to the events at Bosworth Field on 22nd August.

One matter before the Mayor is dated by the feast of St Peter ad Vincula 3 Richard III so, 1st August, 1485. By the time of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the 15th August, the regnal year is ignored completely and the clerk chooses to use roman numerals instead. By the end of August and the 'Beheading of John the Baptist' on the 29th, 1 Henry VII appears along with a numeric 1485 for the last time, and the system reverts to regnal years once more.

Records of a month's routine administration in Chester, the fascinating evidence of people trying to keep pace with fast-moving national events!