Until 30th April 2021, because of the UK lockdown, it is possible to access all transcribed content on British History Online for free. This is a contribution to the work of researchers while library and archive access is difficult or impossible. Taking advantage of this offer and entering the keyword “Badsey”, the first item in the list is an article about a 17th-century court case which involved Thomas Spragg, gentleman of Badsey, as one of the commissioners. The case gives us a fascinating glimpse of the kind of case that was heard in the Court of Chivalry.
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The Court of Chivalry
The Court of Chivalry, otherwise known as the Court of Honour or the Earl Marshal’s Court, is a civil law court in English and Welsh law with jurisdiction over matters of heraldry. The court came into existence in the 14th century, but these days rarely sits. Most of the records of the court's activities, for the post-medieval period, are held by the College of Arms. The original case papers are located at the College of Arms in London and the Earl Marshal’s archive at Arundel Castle, Sussex. The cases cover a wide variety of topics relating to the social, political and cultural history of the period, from ship money and the Bishops Wars to pew disputes and duelling, from heralds’ visitations and grants of arms to brawls in the street and quarrels at race meetings.
A recent project by scholars from the University of Birmingham has entailed a great deal of research in these records, particularly for the 17th century. One of the court cases relates to two men from Mickleton, a village in Gloucestershire, some eight miles distant from Badsey, at which Thomas Spragg, a Badsey resident, sat as commissioner.
Fisher v Perkes
The plaintiff was Sir Edward Fisher of Mickleton, Knight, who claimed that Edmund Perkes, yeoman, also of Mickleton had called him “a vagrant knight” at The Spread Eagle, and later at The Swan Inn, in Gloucester, at the time of the midsummer quarter sessions in 1636. In the presence of a gentleman and several yeomen “of credit”, Perkes had said that Fisher was “noe gentleman, and that he was as good a gentleman as Sir Edward Fisher, and that he cared not a fart nor a turd for him, and that Sir Edward Fisher was a madd man, and that neither his word nor his oath would be taken for threepence”. Process was granted on 16th June 1637.
The Commissioners meet in Gloucester
The commissioners met at The Swan Inn, Gloucester, to consider the case in January 1638. Thomas Spragg, described as a gentleman of Badsey, was one of eight commissioners appointed “to take depositions in a case of scandalous words provocative of a duel”.
They spent three days, from 9th-11th January, examining Fisher’s witnesses. In addition to Thomas Spragg, four of the commissioners were from Charingworth, Gloucestershire, one was from Gloucester and one was from Worcester. The last-named commissioner was William Millington, but there was no indication as to where he was from. It is possible that he may well have been the same William Millington who became Vicar of Badsey and Wickhamford in the 1660s.
Unfortunately, the outcome is unknown! Dr Tooker acted as counsel for Fisher and Dr Eden for Perkes. Dr Eden related material for the defence on 3rd February 1638 and sentence was appointed to be heard on 12th February; but nothing further survives in the court record.
Sir Edward Fisher (1587-1654) was of an ancient gentry family whilst Perkes (1600-1644) was of plebeian stock. Sir Edward lived at Mickleton Manor with his wife, Mary, and family. On his death in 1654, his son, Edward, a theologian, succeeded to the estate but, finding it much encumbered, sold it in 1656. He retired to Carmarthen, but left for Ireland when his creditors found him. Edmund Perkes died in 1644. It appears that his family remained living in Mickleton as an Edmund Perkes, thought to be his son, died at Mickleton in 1693.
Who was Thomas Spragg?
Thomas Spragg does not appear to have been born in Badsey but spent most of his adult life living in the village. He was described as “gentleman” when he appeared as commissioner in 1638. He is next heard of on 22nd June 1652 when he married Marian Pigeon (née Stone), the widow of Richard Pigeon, at St James’ Church, Badsey. The Spraggs remained in Badsey for the rest of their lives, Thomas dying in 1668 and Marian in 1669. They are not thought to have had any children.
Maureen Spinks, April 2021
The Court of Chivalry records for the years 1634-1640 have been transcribed and edited by Richard Cust and Andrew Hopper. They provide abstracts, calendars and transcript of the surviving material relating to 738 cases heard in the Court of Chivalry. The records may be viewed at British History Online.