There’s some interesting evidence about local conflict-resolution through arbitration in this case. It involves a quarrel between a vicar and a layman about rent on a piece of land; there is also something obscure about the defendant having to perform penance, which may simply relate to an earlier stage of this same case or hint at a more wide-ranging dispute between the two. The actual substance of the case was a breach of faith allegation, in other words the breaking of a solemn oath: to solve their conflict about the land, both men had sworn before witnesses to abide by the award made by four arbitrators, two chosen by each men. When the arbitration award was made, however, in the vicar’s favour, Thomas Pumpe refused to honour it, occasioning this suit.
NB: the title “Sir” was an honorific used for priests as well as knights in fifteenth-century England, in the same way “Father” or “Reverend” might be used today.
Testimony of John Dew, witness for the plaintiff, 20 Nov. 1488
On behalf of Sir John Bolsar c.Thomas Pumpe
20 November in the house of the lord Official, by him, in Spencer’s presence
John Dew of the parish of Great Wakering [Essex], diocese of London, where he has lived for nineteen years, illiterate, of free condition, fifty years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known Sir John Bolsar for seven years and Thomas Pumpe for thirty years. To the first part of the libel, which thus begins, “That Thomas,” etc., and thus finishes, “swore bodily,” he says that on a certain day falling between the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mary [2 Feb.] and Lent [from 20 Feb.] last past, which day he cannot otherwise specify, this witness was present in the parish church of Great Wakering in the afternoon on that day and after vespers said in that church, together with Sir John Bolsar, Thomas Pumpe, William Burfeld, John Brightmay, William Taylour, John Cragge, and others whom he does not now recall. There and then, after many things were said, and after an altercation between them about a certain previous [quarrel] concerning the rent on a certain parcel of land, at length the vicar said to him, “Will ye abide the award of four men in high and low in this?” Thomas Pumpe said to him yes, and the vicar took him by the right hand and said, “Will you do this by your faith?” And Thomas responded to him, “Yea, by my faith.” And then the vicar in the same way promised Thomas that he would conform completely to the award of four men named by them, by his faith. And after this faith was given, the vicar immediately for his part named and chose as arbitrators Ralph Pyke and William Daw, and Thomas for his part named and chose Richard Gill and John Smyth. This witness deposes these things from his own sight and hearing, as he says. And he says that he heard it commonly said in that parish that afterwards the four arbitrators gave award and that public voice and fame circulated and circulate in the parish that Thomas refused and yet refuses to abide by their award, as he says. To the first interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents, as far as he knows, as he says. To the third interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents. To the fourth interrogatory, he says that he would confer victory on the vicar, if law and conscience are thus served and otherwise not. To the fifth interrogatory, he says as he said above. To the sixth interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents except that the vicar to this point has given him his expenses, but not all of them, and he believes he will have his expenses when he returns.
Testimony of William Burfeld, witness for the plaintiff, 20 Nov. 1488
William Burfeld of the parish of Great Wakering aforesaid, where he has lived for thirty years, literate, of free condition, forty-two years old at the next feast of Christmas. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known Sir John Bolsar for twelve years, Thomas Pumpe for thirty years. To the first part of the libel, this witness agrees with John Dew examined above, adding that he says that they gave those promises and faith on a certain day between the last feast of the Purification and the beginning of Lent. To the second part of the libel, he says that since the promise was made, he heard it said that the four men awarded that Thomas should give John seven nobles and that Thomas expressly refused their award and thus it is commonly said and reputed in the parish among this witness’s neighbours. And he says that on last Sunday this witness heard the rector of the parish church of Leigh [Leigh-on-Sea, Essex], Thomas’s curate [parish priest], saying to this witness and the vicar that Thomas would not abide by the award and judgment of the four men, because, as Thomas had told the rector, he had not undergone the rite and performed the public penance, as he said then. And otherwise he knows nothing regarding its contents. To the fifth part of the libel, he says that the things he said above are true and that public voice and fame circulated and circulate concerning them in the parish, as he says. To the first interrogatory, he says as he said above. To the second and third interrogatories, he responds negatively to all its contents, except that Thomas Pumpe married this witness’s blood relative. To the fourth interrogatory, he says that he would not confer victory on either party but wishes justice to be done. To the fifth and sixth interrogatories, he says as he said above, and he responds negatively to their other contents except that he believes that he will have his expenses, as he says.
Testimony of John Brightmay, witness for the plaintiff, 20 Nov. 1488
John Brightmay of the aforesaid Wakering, where he has lived for almost nine years, illiterate, of free condition, forty-two years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known Sir John Bolsar for six or seven years, and Thomas Pumpe for twenty years. To the first part of the aforesaid libel, he says that on the day and at the place about which the first witness testified above, this witness was present and heard when the vicar, after vespers, asked Thomas whether he would abide by the arbitration or award of four men chosen by them, by Sir John for his part Ralph Pyke and William Daw, and for Thomas and chosen by him Richard Gill and John Smyth. The vicar said, holding Thomas by the hand, “Will ye abide by the award of the four men, by your faith?” Thomas responded, “Yea, by my faith and my troth.” And the vicar said and swore likewise, by his faith, that he would abide by the award or arbitration to be made in high and in low as far as he was concerned, there being present there the witnesses named by the first witness. To the second part, he agrees with the previous witness above, and otherwise he knows nothing concerning its contents. To the third part, he agrees with him. To the first interrogatory, this witness being warned about the danger of perjury, he says as he said above. To the second and third interrogatories, he responds negatively to all their contents. To the fourth interrogatory, he says that he does not care about victory, nor would he otherwise confer victory than would be advised by law and conscience. To the fifth interrogatory, he says as he said above. To the sixth interrogatory, he says that he hopes to receive his expenses, and to its other contents he responds negatively.
 A noble was worth 6s 8d; seven nobles were thus worth £2 6s. 8d.