Prior and Convent of Blackmore c. Edward Clovell

This is a tithe dispute: Edward Clovell – evidently a prosperous farmer with several servants working for him – allegedly refused to render the tithe he owed from his harvest on one of his fields when the collectors came for it. Tithes were to be one-tenth of one’s produce or income, given to the church: in theory it was given to God, in practice it went to support the significant infrastructure of the church. The collecting of tithes was, not surprisingly, sometimes controversial. In this case, the tithes of the parish of Margaretting, Essex, were “held” by Blackmore Priory, a small religious house of Austin canons in Essex five miles away.[1] The testimony here gives some interesting details about the mechanics of tithe collection from harvests.

LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065, fols. 50r-52r, 58r. [The manuscript is a bit damaged here, accounting for some of the lacunae […].]

Testimony of John Wilton, Witness for the Plaintiff, 31 Jan. 1489

On behalf of the prior and convent of Blackmore c. Edward Clovell

Last day of January, in the house of the lord Official, by him, in Spencer’s presence

John Wilton of Margaretting [Essex], London diocese, where he has lived from the time of his birth and where he was born, illiterate, of free condition, thirty years old or thereabouts as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known the prior of Blackmore for eight or ten years and the convent there as it now exists for twelve years, and Edward Clovell for ten years. To the first, second, and third articles, he says that the Prior of the house of Blackmore and the convent of that same place are commonly said and reputed to be rectors of the church of Margaretting for those last ten years, and have been and are reputed now as such among almost all the parishioners of the church of Margaretting, as he says. And as rectors of the church, they have administered and administer it and as the rectors of the church they receive and have its fruits and tithes to this witness’s knowledge, as he says. To the fourth article, he says that for the last three years, John Tredway the collector for the prior and convent has received and had in their right and name many grain tithes and other greater tithes belong to and coming from within the parish within its boundaries and bounds by this witness’s knowledge as he says. To the fifth, sixth, seventh, [and eighth] articles, he says that for last the two years, John Tredway, by right and name of the proprietors, received and collected in the autumn on their behalf [tithes] coming from the field called Millfield, and he had freely taken them away without impediment or objection from anyone as far as this witness understood. And he says that before him a certain John Tabur had the collection of the tithes belonging to the proprietors for about ten years or thereabouts, and during those years he also received and had the tithes in the name of the rectors. And also he says that he has heard many old and trustworthy men whom he trusts saying that in their times the proprietors had always had and received peacefully and quietly the tithes due to them from the field and others within the bounds and boundaries of the parish, nor has this witness ever known the contrary until this last year, as he says. To the ninth, tenth, and eleventh articles, he says that their contents are true. To the twelfth article, he says that on the day before the vigil of St. Giles last past [30 Aug.], this witness was hired by John Tredway to carry the tithes of sheaves due to the proprietors with his cart, together with Robert Freman. He went to the field called Millfield in order to carry away the tithes of wheat and oats there laid out in the name of tithe, and after he had come to the field [Edward] Clovell’s servants, that is John Hale and Thomas Hutte, working in the field, called to Robert and, as Robert told this witness afterwards, the servants, in Edward’s name, warned them not to carry away any tithes until they had first spoken with Edward. And so this witness with his empty cart left the field, and Robert went to Edward to talk to him about the tithes. And he says that he does not know the value of the tithes thus laid out in the field. And to its other contents, he knows nothing, but he says that the collector carried away no tithes from the field until Edward carried away his part from the field, and in the meantime, the tithes were ruined by rain and birds. But how much in value he does not know, because he is a labourer and is ignorant of the value of such grain, as he says. To the thirteenth and fourteenth articles, he does not know concerning their contents except from what he has heard from others. To the fifteenth article, he says that it is in fact in dispute. To the sixteenth, he says that what he deposed above is true. To the seventeenth article, he says that public voice and fame circulated and circulate concerning what the things he has deposed, as he says.

Testimony of Robert Freman, Witness for the Plaintiff, 31 Jan. 1489

Robert Freman of the parish of Mountnessing [Essex], where he has lived from the last feast of St. Michael [29 Sept.], and before that time in Margaretting for two years, illiterate, of free condition, twenty-seven years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness, he says that he has known the present prior of Blackmore for twelve years, the prior and convent there for sixteen years, and Edward Clovell for seven years. To the first, second, and third articles, he agrees with the first witness examined above. To the fourth article, he agrees with John Wilton examined above. To the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth articles, he agrees with John Wilton. To the ninth, tenth, and eleventh articles, he says their contents are true. To the twelfth article, he says that on the Saturday before the feast of St. Giles last past [30 Aug.], this witness and John Wilton were hired by John Tredway, collector for the prior and convent for collecting their tithes of sheaves. They went together with a certain cart to the field called Millfield, within the bounds and boundaries of the church, for the sake of carrying away the tithes from there in the name of the collector. And when they came to the field immediately before they were to load the cart, John Hale and Thomas Hutte, Edward’s servants, at that time working in the field, called this witness to them, and on Edward’s behalf they warned and ordered him not to carry away any tithes from that field until he had spoken about it with Edward, their master. This witness told this to John Wilton, his co-worker, who left the field with his empty cart. And this witness went immediately to Edward’s house and asked him whether he could carry the tithes away from that field or not, and he answered thus, “Ye shall none set there till I understand how I shall be served of the alms corn.” And after seven or eight days following, this witness along with Thomas Pecchy went again to the field to carry away out in the name of the collector the tithes of wheat and oats that had been there laid out, and immediately after they had entered the field Edward, who was then busy there with his servants in a far part of the field supervising, came up to this witness and Thomas and said, “I charge you, carry not a tithe sheaf out of any ground till all my corn be gone.” And he says that this field called Millfield belongs to Edward [….] of Goldhall. And thus they left emptyhanded. And he says that besides Millfield Edward has another field with barley in which tithes were laid out and from which he similarly wanted to carry away tithes in the name of the prior and convent, but because of those words this witness did not dare do it, nor Thomas, and thus empty-handed etc., as he says. And he says that after thirteen or fourteen days following that day, after Edward had carried away his grain from that field, this witness again went to the field called Millfield and there he load his cart twice with tithes of sheaves of wheat, that is twenty-seven shocks, and took that to the rectory of Margaretting to the house called Prior’s [?Bernes], and he says […] that [….] the tithable wheat, barley, and oats coming from Edward’s fields deteriorated because of the rain that came and eating by birds, to the value of 20s., as he firmly believes in his conscience, such that as he says both the wheat and the barley began to sprout again, that is to spire[2] in English, and he says that they would never be taken off the fields. To the thirteenth and fourteenth articles, he says he knows nothing about their contents except from what he has heard from others. To the fifteenth article, he says that its contents are true. To the sixteenth article, he says that the things he has deposed above are true. To the seventeenth article, he says that public voice and fame circulated and circulated concerning the things he deposed in the parish of Margaretting, as he says.

Testimony of Thomas Pecchy, Witness for the Plaintiff, 31 Jan. 1489

Thomas Pecchy of the parish of Margaretting aforesaid, where he has lived from the time of his birth and was there born, illiterate, of free condition, twenty-eight years old or thereabouts, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known the prior of Blackmore for ten years and the convent there for the same time, as he says. To the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth articles, he agrees with the first witness examined above, adding that he says he recalls that he saw a certain Walter Pecche, collector of the prior and convent, who also in his time received tithes from the places situated in the parish, in right and name of the prior and convent, as he heard said, without impediment or interruption from anyone. To the ninth, tenth, and eleventh articles, he says that their contents are true. To the twelfth article, he says that about seven days after the last feast of St. Giles [30 Aug.], this witness and Robert went to the field called Millfield to carry away from it the tithes of wheat and other grains, that is oats, laid out there for tithes. And while they were busy there in the field loading the cart with the tithes, Edward came up to them and said, “I charge you, carry not one sheaf out of this ground till mine own be had in.” And so they left with the cart and fourteen days later or thereabouts this witness and Robert went at the same time to the field they would have carried away those tithes peacefully without impediment from Edward or anyone else. And he says that because of the delay [in collecting] the tithes, that is, the tithes and grains of wheat, barley, and oats from the field called Millfield and in a certain field lying near the manor of Goldhall [?rye] with barley […] Goldhall [?rye] with barley [….] and through the moist air and the eating of birds, over that time they had been ruined, as he firmly believes in his conscience, to the value of 20s., or at least 13s. 4d., as he says. To the thirteenth and fourteenth articles, he says that he knows nothing concerning its contents. To the fifteenth article, he says that he believes it is in dispute. To the sixteenth and seventeenth articles, he says that the things he deposed above are true, and that public voice and fame circulated and circulate concerning them in the parish and other neighbouring places, as he says.

Testimony of Edward Clovell, Defendant, 15 Oct. 1489

Michaelmas term, in the year of the Lord 1489, eighth indiction, the sixth year of the pontificate of Pope Innocent VIII

Responses personally made by Edward Clovell, 15 October in my, Spencer’s, house, before Master Shenkwyn, commissary

Edward Clovell, sworn etc. on the positions etc. To the first, second, and third positions, he says that from the time that this witness has lived in the parish, the prior and convent were commonly said, held, and reputed to be rectors and proprietors of the church, although this witness doubts the other contents of those positions, as he says. To the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions, he says and believes that from the time that this witness has lived within the parish, the prior and convent through their deputies have received and had every and all tithes of sheaves of whatever kind of grain and [?hay] from the fields called Millfield and other places within the parish, although the witness does not know by what or by whom they are reputed the rectors of the church, as he says. To the seventh and eighth positions, he believes their contents to be true. To the ninth, tenth, and eleventh positions, he believes their content to be true. To the twelfth position, he does not believe its contents to be true but he says that in the year specified in the position, the aforesaid proprietors gathered the whole tithe from the field without any loss for the tithes coming from this witness or his representatives, but he says that the servants of the prior came to the field before the tithe had been laid out. He said to them when they came, “Your tithe is not ready,” and he does not believe its other contents. To the thirteenth and fourteenth, he does not believe them. To the fifteenth position, he believes that it is disputed, but not legitimately. To the sixteenth position, he says that what he confessed above is true and well-known. To the seventeenth position, he says that public voice and fame circulated and circulate concerning what he confessed, as he says.


[1] The prior in 1489 may still have been Thomas Basset, who became prior in 1476. At its dissolution in 1525, Blackmore Priory housed a prior and three canons.  William Page and J. Horace Round, eds., A History of the County of Essex, Victoria County Histories, Volume 2 (1907), 146-48.

[2] spire: To send forth or develop shoots, esp. the first shoot or acrospire; to germinate, sprout (OED, s.v. spire, v1).

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