Resource: The Acts of Parliament

Notice: I’ve now taken up the task of scanning these volumes, proofing the OCR and organizing the statutes. Watch for progress.

The law is an important historical source, and especially so for the history of debt. Over the 200 years from Restoration to the abolition of incarceration for insolvency in 1868, there was a constant flow of acts directed at debtors, whether as defaulters, frauds, prisoners, fugitives, pitiable creatures or “evil-disposed and wicked persons.” Hundreds of acts were passed, releasing prisoners, offering amnesties to fugitives, establishing ‘Courts of Conscience’ and regulating debtor prisons. I have transcribed and published some of these statutes, and more will follow. (I’ve re-organized the site to make them easier to find: check the Statutes page for links to the various acts).

These laws have posed two problems: firstly in finding them, and then in understanding their tortuous prose. For the first, quite simply there is no free and complete repository of the legislation. The Official Home of U.K. Legislation has none of the material I require. Much as I appreciate what the National Archive has achieved – and it is a great deal – their remit has been to put current legislation online, not the historic. So although they have published everything in force from 1988 onwards, the vast majority of historic, meaning repealed, legislation is not available. The various proprietary legal databases have either been beyond my reach and pocket, or provide little more than the digital scans available elsewhere.

Which means to find old laws one has to turn to the magnificent libraries and awful metadata of Google Books and Internet Archive. There one can find many different collections of the statutes, albeit of varying quality and completeness, and in the usual disorder that results from mass, indiscriminate digitization.

These digital copies are images of the original works, pictures of books rather than transcriptions of the text, which mean they may be readable by the human eye, but not by the machine. This brings us to the second problem, of the law’s labyrinthine prose. Part of the very nature of law is that it is constantly rewritten, by parliaments and courts, who go about renewing, repealing, interpreting and clarifying, without any guarantee of consistency. The resulting vast, unwieldy corpus is difficult to navigate, full of linguistic peculiarities, tangled and convoluted. To make ones way through this maze would be far easier if one could use the computer to do some of the heavy lifting: searching, digesting, comparing, cross-referencing and so on.

The nascent field of Computational Legal Studies has produced some interesting digital research into law; for example, the Legal Language Explorer, (now dead, but preserved on producing ngrams from U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and the attempts to measure the complexity of the U.S. law by Katz and Bommarito (article and slides). If such explorations imply greater spaces to be discovered, and beyond the legal profession, they also show that useful data is an essential prerequisite. In the case of English and British statutes, that requirement is not met by the volumes scanned by Google and the Internet Archive.

It is of course a fundamental right that everyone should have access to the laws governing them; that’s not only the inevitable corollary of the principle ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’, but also an essential check on state power. This means more than just publishing laws and judgements; they must be published freely, openly, useably and re-usably. A number of organizations are campaigning to open up the law: for example the Free Access to Law Movement, the Law.Gov campaign, and the Open Knowledge Foundation’s legislation working group.

I personally believe that this right to the law should encompass the entirety of the legislation to include the historical, the repealed, for three reasons:

One: Repeal does not mean reversal. Every enclosure bill shows this, for when struck from the book the land did not revert to common ownership. The effects of laws persist beyond their lifetimes.

Two: Repeal does not mean disappearance. The law is historically constituted and continually refers back to itself. Revoked acts and their related judgements remain a part of the legal record.

Three: Repeal does not mean forgetting. We do not live in an eternal present. We have a capacity, a need and a right to memory.

It is in this spirit that I list here all the various freely-available editions of the statutes. They may not be adequate, they may not even be accurate, but it is a gesture towards making this legislation accessible.

The next step will be to transcribe the statutes; a great and arduous task that requires collaboration and infrastructure. Happily, Wikisource have taken the digital copies of Ruffhead’s Statutes At Large, covering 1225 to 1763, and inserted it into their open transcription system. If little of it has actually been transcribed yet, it does at least show the potential for crowdsourcing legal texts, and the usefulness of Wikimedia’s infrastructure for supporting such a project.

Legislation to 1800

There are many collections of statutes; some bibliographic details can be found on Wikipedia. As they have different editorial policies and selection criteria, and as none are fully comprehensive, I’ve listed a number of sets here.

For laws up to 1811, one place to start is with the 4 volumes of The Statutes: Revised Edition from 1870. It is far from complete, as legislation repealed by 1870 is absent, but there is a handy chronological table in each volume to indicate what is present and what is not. The first four volumes of this are online at, the first three also at Google; I haven’t been able to locate any further, freely available volumes, and I’m not even sure there were any more.

Update 9 May 2015: I have located a handful of  volumes beyond the first four, and from the metadata we can see that there were at least 13 volumes.

Volume 1: Henry III to James II: 1235 – 1685:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 2: William & Mary to 10 George III: 1688 – 1770:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 3: 11 George III to 41 George III: 1770 – 1800:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 4: 41 George III to 51 George III: 1801 – 1811:   Internet Archive
Volume 7: 2&3 William IV to 6&7 William IV: 1831 – 1836: Internet Archive
Volume 9: 6&7 Victoria to 9&10 Victoria: 1843 – 1846 : Internet Archive
Volume 12: 17&18 Victoria to 19&20 Victoria: 1854 – 1856: Hathi Trust
Volume 13: 20 Victoria to 24&25 Victoria: 1857 – 1861: Hathi Trust

Ruffhead’s series covers 1225 to 1763, the whole run being digitized by the Internet Archive, and is in Wikisource’s transcription system, as described above.  In 9 volumes, there is a supplementary volume with a subject index.

Volume 1: 1225 – 1460
Volume 2: 1461 – 1601
Volume 3: 1604 – 1698
Volume 4: 1699 – 1713
Volume 5: 1714 – 1729
Volume 6: 1730 – 1746
Volume 7: 1747 – 1756
Volume 8: 1757 – 1762
Volume 9: 1762 – 1763, Index and Appendix
Complete Index to the Statutes At Large

Perhaps the most often cited collection is that of Danby Pickering. The first 24 volumes were historical, going  from 1225 to 1760. After that, it became a contemporary series, publishing the legislation as it was passed. I am deeply indebted to the pseudonymous contributor on the Paradox forums for finding all the google links; I’ve added links to those volumes I’ve found on

vol. 1 – 9 Henry III to 14 Edward III (1225-1340);
vol. 2 – 15 Edward III to 13 Henry IV (1341-1411);
vol. 3 – 1 Henry V to 23 Edward IV (1412-1482);
vol. 4 – 1 Richard III to 31 Henry VIII (1484-1539);
vol. 5 – 32 Henry VIII to 7 Edward VI (1540-1553)
vol. 6 – 1 Mary I – 35 Elizabeth I (1553-1593);
vol. 7 – 39 Elizabeth to 12 Charles II (1597-1660);
vol. 8 – 12 Charles II to 1 James II (1661-1685)
vol. 9 – 1 William & Mary to 8 William III (1688-1696);
vol. 10 – 8 William III to 1 Anne (1696-1701);
vol. 11 – 2 & 3 Anne to 8 Anne (1703-1708);
vol. 12 – 8 Anne to 12 Anne (1709-1711);
vol. 13 – 12 Anne to 5 George I (1713-1717);
vol. 14 – 5 George I to 9 George I (1718-1721);
vol. 15 – 9 George I to 2 George II (1722-1728);
vol. 16 – 2 George II to 9 George II (1729-1735);
vol. 17 – 9 George II to 15 George II (1736-1741);
vol. 18 – 15 George II to 20 George II (1742-1746);
vol. 19 – 20 George II to 22 George II (1747-1749);
vol. 20 – 23 George II to 26 George II (1750-1752);
vol. 21 – 26 George II to 30 George II (1753-1756);
vol. 22 – 30 George II to 32 George II (1757-1759);
vol. 23 – 33 George II to 1 George III (1760);
vol. 24 – Index to all Volumes

The continuation of the Pickering series gets rather confusing. Some books appear to be split into parts, others have ‘Part 1’ on the title page but don’t appear to have a sequel. Volume 44 (1802) doesn’t appear to have been digitized. Update 25 November 2015: Volume 44 part 1 can be found through Hathi Trust. Update 28 September 2016: Located the volume on Google Books.

vol. 25 2 George III to 3 George III (1761-1763);
vol. 26 4 George III to 5 George III (1764-1765);
vol. 27 6 George III to 7 George III (1765-1766);
vol. 28 8 George III to 10 George III (1767-1769);
vol. 29 11 George III to 12 George III (1770-1772);
vol. 30 13 George III to 14 George III (1773-1774);
vol. 31 15 George III to 17 George III (1775-1777)
vol. 32 18 George III to 19 George III (1778-1779)
vol. 33 20 George III to 21 George III (1780-1781);
vol. 34 22 George III to 24 George III (1782-1784)
vol. 35 25 George III to 26 George III (1785-1786)
vol. 36 27 George III to 29 George III (1787-1789)
vol. 37 30 George III to 32 George III (1790-1792)
vol. 38 General Index from 1 George III to 32 George III;
vol. 39 Pt. 1: 33 George III to 34 George III (1793-1794)
vol. 39 Pt. 2: 34 George III (1794);
vol. 40 35 George III to 36 George III (1795);
vol. 41 37 George III to 38 George III (1796-1797);
vol. 42 Pt. 1: 39 George III (1798-1799);
vol. 42 Pt. 2: 39 Geo III (Local & Personal) (1800)
vol. 43 41 George III (1801);
vol. 44 Pt. 1: 43 George III (1802-1803); Hathi Trust
vol. 45 44 George III (1803-1804);
vol. 46 46 George III (1806)

Nineteenth Century Legislation

Although my main focus is on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I’ve also needed to find various nineteenth century laws. The following list is incomplete, composed of at least two different series, mainly found in the Internet Archive, but with some from Google. Links to years and volumes I’ve missed will be very much appreciated; please leave them in the comments.

1807 47 Geo 3
1808 48 Geo 3
1809 49 Geo 3
1810 50 Geo 3
1811 51 Geo 3
1812 52 Geo 3
1813 53 Geo 3
1814 54 Geo 3
1815 55 Geo 3
1816 56 Geo 3
1817 57 Geo 3
1818 58 Geo 3
1819 59 Geo 3
1820 60 Geo 3 & 1 Geo 4
1821 1 & 2 Geo 4
1822 3 Geo 4
1823 4 Geo 4
1824 5 Geo 4
1825 6 Geo 4
1826 7 Geo 4
1827 7 & 8 Geo 4
1828 9 Geo 4
1829 10 Geo 4
1830 11 Geo 4 / 1 Will 4
1831 1 Will 4
1832 2 & 3 Will 4
1833  3 & 4 Will 4
1834  4 & 5 Will 4
1835  5 & 6 Will 4
1836  6 & 7 Will 4
1837  7 Will 4 / 1 Vic
1837-8  1 & 2 Vic
1839  2 & 3 Vic
1840  3 & 4 Vic
1841  4 & 5 Vic
1842  5 & 6 Vic
1843  6 & 7 Vic
1844  7 & 8 Vic
1845  8 & 9 Vic
1846 9 & 10 Vic
1847 10 & 11 Vic

1847-8 11 Vic / 11 & 12 Vic
1849  12 & 13 Vic
1850  13 & 14 Vic
1851 14 & 15 Vic & on Google
1852 15 & 16 Vic
1853 16 & 17 Vic
1854 17 & 18 Vic
1854-5 18 & 19 Vic
1855-6 19 & 20 Vic
1857  20 Vic
1858  21 & 22 Vic
1859 22 Vic
1860 22 & 23 Vic
1861  24 & 25 Vic
1862 25 & 26 Vic
1863 26 & 27 Vic
1864 27 & 28 Vic
1865  28 & 29 Vic
1866  29 & 30 Vic
1867  30 Vic / 30 & 31 Vic
1867-8 31 & 32 Vic
1869  32 & 33 Vic  Another ed.
1870  33 & 34 Vic
1871 34 & 35 Vic
1872  35 & 36 Vic
1873 36 & 37 Vic
1874  37 & 38 Vic
1875 38 & 39 Vic
1877  40 & 41 Vic
1881  44 & 45 Vic
1882 45 & 46 Vic
1884 48 & 49 Vic
1892  55 & 56 Vic
1896  59 & 60 Vic
1902  2 Edw 7
1904  4 Edw 7
1906  6 Edw 7

Update 6/5/2014

I have found some more volumes from the early nineteenth century, many of which I have added to the list above. I’ve also found that there were two related series – the Statutes at Large of England and Great Britain, and The Statutes at Large of Great Britain and Ireland –  published at that time, edited first by Tomlins and then Raithby, and then Simons. The former goes up to 1800, and so there’s considerable overlap with all the other editions listed above. Raithby also produced a three volume index, covering the period from the Magna Carta to 49 George III.

Raithby, Statutes At Large of England and Great Britain, in 20 volumes.

Volume 2: 1 Richard II 1377 to 19 Henry VII 1504: Archive  Google
Volume 3: 1 Henry VIII 1509 to 7 Edward VI 1553: Archive  Google
Volume 4: 1 Mary 1553 to 16 Charles I 1604: Archive  Google
Volume 6: 8 William III to 6 Anne 1707: Google
Volume 7: 7 Anne 1708 to 1 George I 1715: Google
Volume 8: 3 George I 1716 to 13 George I 1726: Google
Volume 9: 1 George II 1727 to 15 George II 1742: Google
Volume 10: 16 George II 1743 to 23 George II 1750: Google
Volume 12: 1 George III 1760 to 7 George III 1767: Google
Volume 13: 8 George III 1768 to 14 George III 1774: Google
Volume 14: 15 George III 1775 to 19 George III 1779: Google
Volume 15: 20 George III 1780 to 24 George III 1784: Google
Volume 17: 28 George III 1788 to 32 George III 1792: Google
Volume 18: 33 George III 1793 to 35 George III 1795: Google
Volume 20: 39 George III 1798 to 41 George III 1800: Google

Raithby’s Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland:

Updates 28/8/2016 and 11/10/2016: A set of these volumes, annoyingly without volume 10, has been uploaded to the Internet Archive by the University of Southampton. But hallelujah, the elusive Volume the Tenth has been located on Google, as has the 14th through to the 18th, which appears to be the last of this series. Note that later volumes are edited by one N. Simons, rather than Raithby.

Volume 1: 41 George III 1801 to 43 George III 1803: Google
Volume 2: 44 George II 1804 to 46 George II 1806:
Volume 3: 47 George III 1807 to 49 George III 1809: Google
Volume 4: 50 George III 1810 to 52 George III 1812: Google
Volume 5: 53 George III to 54 George III 1814: Google
Volume 6: 55 George III 1815 to 56 George III 1816: Google
Volume 7: 57 George III 1817 to 59 George III 1819:
Volume 8: 60 George III 1820 to 3 George IV 1822:
Volume 9: 4 George IV 1823 to 5 George IV 1824: Google
Volume 10: 6 George IV 1825 to 7 George IV 1826: Google
Volume 11: 7 & 8 George IV 1827 to 10 George IV 1829: Google
Volume 12: 11 George IV 1829 to 2 & 3 William IV 1832: Google
Volume 13: 3 & 4 William IV 1833 to 5 & 6 Willian IV 1835:
Volume 14: 6 & 7 William IV 1836 to 1 & 2 Victoria 1838:  Google
Volume 15: 2 & 3 Victoria 1839 to 5 Victoria 1841: Google
Volume 16:  5 & 6 Victoria 1842 to 6 & 7 Victoria 1843. Pt 1: Google Pt 2: Google
Volume 17: 7 & 8  Victoria 1844 to 8 & 9 Victoria 1845. Pt 1: Google Pt 2: Google
Volume 18: 9 & 10 Victoria 1846 to 10 & 11 Victoria 1847: Google

Raithby’s An index to the statutes at large: from Magna Carta, to the forty ninth year of George III inclusive:

Volume 1: Abatement to Inrolment. Google
Volume 2: Insane Persons to Roly Poly. Google
Volume 3: Roman Catholics to Zouch (Souche) and Seymour (Lord). Google

Other Sources

British History Online has two sets of legislation, available under somewhat restrictive terms of use: the complete Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, from 1642 to 1660, and volumes 5, 6 and 7 (out of 11) of  Raithby’s Statutes of the Realm, covering 1628 to 1701. Various copies of the Interregnum collection are available, readable but not downloadable without a partner account, at Hathi Trust; the final volume, containing the introduction, chronology and index, is freely available at Similarly, Hathi Trust has a complete set of Statutes of the Realm available for reading online, but downloadable only by a select few.

Update 28/8/2016: The University of Southampton has uploaded some volumes of Raithby’s Statutes to the Internet Archive.

The National Archives’ offical government repository site, as mentioned above, has all legislation from 1988 onwards, and some  historic material. For laws before the Magna Carta, there is the Early English Laws project, although I’m not sure whether it is still active.

As mentioned above, Wikipedia have a great many useful entries describing, listing and classifying the laws and their attendant structure. The best entry page for these, containing links to lists of statutes by parliament and period, is the List of Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

Acknowledgements: Big tip of the hat to Andrew Gray of Wikipedia for introducing me to the crowd-sourced transcription on WikiSource, and for other wikipedia help. Likewise to the pseudonymous Abdul Goatherd, who did most of the legwork gathering Google’s Danby Pickering editions, and published it on this old forum.

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Resource: The Harleian Miscellany

Once again, a post on the disorganized digitized, this time the Harleian Miscellany (Wikipedia entry), a selection of pamphlets and texts from the archive of the first two Earls of Oxford. First published in the mid eighteenth century, two new editions were simultaneously published in the early nineteenth century, one augmented and one reorganized.

It truly is a miscellany, comprising many and various “small tracts and fugitive pieces” as Samuel Johnson describes them, covering a wide range of subjects over two centuries. Johnson defends these apparently ephemeral texts as central to English freedom:

There is, perhaps, no Nation, in which it is so necessary, as in our own, to assemble, from Time to Time, the small Tracts and fugitive Pieces, which are occasionally published: For, besides the general Subjects of Enquiry, which are cultivated by us, in common with every other learned Nation, our Constitution in Church and State naturally gives Birth to a Multitude of Performances, which would either not have been written, or could not have been made publick in any other Place.

and goes on to make a case for their intellectual and literary values as well. He also offers a novel explanation for the lack of organization in the compilation:

Of the different Methods which present themselves, upon the first View of the great Heaps of Pamphlets, which the Harleian Library exhibits, the two which merit most Attention, are to distribute the Treatises according to their Subjects or their Dates …. By ranging our Collection in Order of Time, we must necessarily publish those Pieces first, which least engage the Curiosity of the Bulk of Mankind …. By confining ourselves for any long Time to any Single Subject, we shall reduce our Readers to one Class, and, as we shall lose all the Grace of Variety, shall disgust all those who read chiefly to be diverted.

The original series comes in 8 volumes published between 1744 and 1746 and was ‘printed for T. Osborne in Gray’s Inn’. The second set, re-typeset with the same texts but in (nearly) chronological order, was issued in 12 volumes between 1808 and 1811, by Robert Dutton of  Gracechurch Street. The third edition was issued between 1808 and 1813 in 10 volumes, the texts printed in the same order as the original, two supplementary volumes providing some new material, and was published by Messrs White, Cochrane and Murray of Fleet Street, and Harding of St. James’s Street.

For the original and reissue, I’ve given links to both Google and copies, for each interface has its own advantages. With Google books, search works far better, but for reading and for downloading I prefer the interface. The third, revised  edition is, as far as I can tell, only on, as it was digitized by them from the copies held by Brigham Young University.

The Original Series, 1744-1746

The Second Edition, 1808-1811

Contents and index to the second edition digitized at and transcribed with linkage.

The Third, Revised Edition, 1808-1813

All digitized by, and hosted at,, from copies at Brigham Young University. The last volume has an index to the entire series.

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Resource: The Somers’ Tracts

Continuing with the sifting of the voluminous and chaotic sources available on the web, having previously codified Luttrell,  I now present the  Somers’ Tracts. This is a collection of texts and pamphlets from the library of Baron John Somers, first published in the mid eighteenth century, then re-ordered and revised in the early nineteenth century, by no less than Walter Scott. I’ve linked to the latter series, as it is ordered chronologically, the page images easy on the eye, and every volume can be found online on the ‘open web’, rather than stuck behind a paywall. The difficulty with it is that there is no consolidated index, just those in each individual volume, nor a machine-readable text version. This reduces serendipity, but does not prevent it.

The Somers’ tracts focus on high politics and serious matters; there is little that is light-hearted. Scott compares them to the other great collection of the time thus:

[T]he tracts upon all controversies, civil and religious, are so numerous and well selected, that, if the Harleian Miscellany afford most amusement to the antiquary, it may be safely said, that Somers’ Tracts promise most information to the historian.

Market differentiation perhaps. But it is worth noting that I first came across the earliest use of Alsatia in print via the mid-1700s collection of these tracts, and that text – H.C.s The Character of an Honest Lawyer – is not included in Scott’s version. Scott, of course, was the author of The Misfortunes of Nigel, partly set in  Whitefriars, albeit a good 60 years before it became a sanctuary, and so introduced Alsatia to a nineteenth century audience. Scott refers to his literary pursuits in his introduction to the first volume:

The editor has only further to hope, that the circumstance of his name having been prefixed to works of a lighter and more popular nature, will not be objected to him as a personal disqualification for his present task. The Muse (to use the established language) found him engaged in the pursuit of historical and traditional antiquities, and the excursions which he has made in her company, have been of a nature which increases his attachment to his original study.

This makes the absence all the more suprising.

The Somers Tracts, in 13 volumes, edited by Walter Scott.

Volume 1, 1809: From King John to Elizabeth I.

Volume 2, 1809: James I, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 3, 1810: James I, Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 4, 1810: Charles I, Ecclesiastical, Historical and relating to the earl of Strafford.

Volume 5, 1811: Charles I, Historical and Military tracts.

Volume 6, 1811: Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 7, 1812: Commonwealth, Military and Miscellaneous tracts; Charles II, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 8, 1812: Charles II, Civil and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 9, 1813: James II; William III, Ecclesiastical tracts.

Volume 10, 1813: William III, Historical tracts.

Volume 11, 1814: William III, Historical, Military and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 12, 1814: William III, Miscellaneous tracts; Queen Anne, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 13, 1815: Queen Anne, Civil and Military tracts; George I.

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Resource: Narcissus Luttrell’s State Affairs

Luttrell's Brief Relation flyleaf

Luttrell caressed

I’ve previously commented on some of the difficulties with the voluminous digital archives available on the web. Google Books and offer an extraordinary amount of material, but the curation – meaning the organization and metadata – is often deficient. Finding a complete series of a publication, or just a specific volume, is far more difficult than it should be; choosing the best digitization from the many copies turns the labyrinth into a maze.

Sifting and sorting  documents is part and parcel of the historian’s task. I hope that sharing the results will become standard practice too, for not only does a gift produce a rosy glow, but it prevents an arduous task being repeated.

This post is the first of three such siftings, dealing with Narcissus Luttrell’s Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs. (Also sifted are The Harleian Miscellany and The Statutes At Large.) Luttrell was a minor political figure, being an MP twice, a JP. His posthumous importance is due to his book collecting and political diary-keeping, the Brief Historical Relation…., first published very posthumously in 1857, being a product of both.

It is a somewhat chaotic compilation of news from home and abroad, jumbling up accounts of military campaigns, political manoeuvres, criminal charges and births, deaths and marriages. One thing follows another, the only connection being the date. A single page carries news of the Ottoman Empire and Flanders, the sailing of the West India fleet, a patent for the preservation of “fish or foul a considerable time after ’tis killed”, a bookseller sent to Newgate for publishing libels, and more besides. But it gives a sense of the great business of government, sometimes has information unavailable elsewhere, and is useful for establishing chronologies.

I’ve put links to both the and Google Books versions as each has its own advantages. Google has more reliable search and better OCR, but offers more formats and has a better online presentation. I hope I have found the cleanest and clearest versions, but cannot say I’ve checked every page.

Volume 1: Sept 1678 – Dec 1689.  Google Books

Volume 2: Jan 1690 – Jan 1st 1693.  Google Books

Volume 3: Jan 1693 – Dec 1695.  Google Books

Volume 4: Jan 1696 – Dec 1700.  Google Books

Volume 5: Jan 1701 – Dec 1705.  Google Books

Volume 6: Jan 1706 – April 1714, and index to the whole series.  Google Books

Further reading: Luttrell on Wikipedia  Luttrell in History of Parliament Online

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Alsatia: A Very Short Introduction

Two weeks ago, I – along with 10 other PhD students – to give a brief talk at the Long Eighteenth Century Seminar at Senate House. In a variant of the Pecha Kucha format, we had just 3 minutes each to describe our projects.

My slides and talk are below. It’s more an introduction to what I am doing than the subject itself; nearly half of it is about methodology, especially the digital aspects. I hit the three minute mark – just! – and what I said was very close to the prepared text.

There was also time for a few questions, again with a strict time limit. Would I be using literary material? Yes. Was there a ‘normal’ community living in these areas? Not sure, although there certainly were landlords profiting from the added value the privileges bestowed. And what is my argument, as opposed to my subject? This is a tricky one that’s given me much pause for thought. I have themes (the geography of sanctuary, the challenge sanctuary poses to debt and prison), but not yet theories.

There were also questions posed to all the presenters, about space (most of the talks had an important geographical aspect) and about historical influences and schools. E.P. Thompson garnered the most votes there, but then, this was a social history seminar.


The Debtor Sanctuaries of London, 1660-1724
John Levin, University of Southampton

ABSTRACT: From around 1660, until the abolition of Wapping Mint in 1724, there were areas of London apparently exempt from certain aspects of the law. The most famous of these was Whitefriars, nicknamed ‘Alsatia’, on the north bank of the Thames; the most successful was Southwark Mint, eventually dissolved in 1723.
Although frequently portrayed as criminal dens, their core population were debtors seeking – and organizing – refuge from bailiffs and imprisonment.
Starting from the Southwark amnesty lists printed in the London Gazette, my PhD seeks to create a prosopography of the debtors, to build a collective profile of those who resisted prosecution for debt.

Slide 1: Introduction
Good afternoon. I’m John Levin, and I’ve just started a PhD at Southampton, on Debtors’ sanctuaries in London, from around 1660 until 1725.

Slide 2: Sanctuaries
Sanctuary is an old – and global – phenomena, especially in its religious form, of a space overseen by the Church, with various temporary or permanent exceptions to secular legal process. Although frequently reformed and abolished, a form of sanctuary revived in London, starting in the 1660s and ending with the suppression of Wapping Mint in 1725.

These sanctuaries were not exempt from criminal law: those seeking asylum were debtors under threat of imprisonment through civil actions started by their creditors.

However, such areas attracted other groups: Southwark Mint hosted a Molly House, criminals, protesting weavers, Fleet Marriages; and also ejected the press gang in one notable riot.

Slide 3: Dimensions
I am analysing the Debtors’ sanctuaries under four headings.

First, space and place. Place is the geography of the sanctuaries themselves; space how they related to the wider context of London and the nation.

Secondly, economics. How can loans – essential to the economy, and inevitable at this time due to the lack of specie – be enforced, when repayment is simply impossible? How does sanctuary subvert such contracts? Can imprisonment adequately enforce them?

Thirdly, governance. What was the attitude of the authorities to both contract law and the sanctuaries? What were the extents and limits to their powers over these?

Finally, opposition. That is, the self-organisation of the Debtors, and how they constituted what were described as ‘Little Republicks.’

Slide 4: Methodology
There is a strong digital component as to how I analyse the refuges.

There is mapping: I need to map and ‘gazetteer’ the sanctuaries and their relation to the city. What were their limits? How many people could they house? What other facilities – inns, taverns, shops – were within? How were they distributed around London?

There is topic modelling and text mining, most especially in relation to the changing language of the statutes concerning contract, debt and debtors.

And there is prosopography.

Slide 5: Prosopography
With the dissolution of the Southwark Mint in 1723, an amnesty was offered to all those Minters with debts under £50. 6,254 people applied for this, their names, trades and home parishes being published in the London Gazette. There is an abundance of digitized material available, whether free – such as Connected Histories – or behind paywalls – Ancestry. The number of people I am dealing with makes individual searches ‘by hand’ implausible, but open to automation.

Automation allows for the creation of collective biographies, and for tools that can be applied to other social groupings.

Slide 6: End
And whilst I do this PhD, I will – I hope! – be blogging regularly.
I’m John Levin, and thank you for listening to me.

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From Blog to PhD

I am happy to announce that, come September, I will be starting a PhD at the University of Southampton, with the debtors’ sanctuaries of late seventeenth and early eighteenth London as my subject.

I started this blog for three reasons. The first was simply to find out what lay behind this enigmatic word ‘Alsatia’. Consulting the usual histories of London would not suffice for what little is known of the sanctuaries is eclipsed by presumption and fiction. This tale was yet to be told. In order to tell it,  the sources needed collecting, transcribing, organizing; and reading, teasing out their many attributes, contents and contexts. Research requires some level of organization (but not too much of it); the ad-hoc nature of the blogging format seemed suitable for it.

This happily coincided with my second ambition, to have a digital history project to call my own. I wanted to get experience of every aspect of building it, from writing and design to curation and coding, and all the mundane maintenance. The total is more than the sum of the parts, yet the parts are entwined and and work upon each other. The nature of the subject has meant that this hasn’t been particularly taxing; being mainly text-based and lacking numerical data there’s little need for anything beyond the standard WordPress features. (This will be changing when I get the amnesty lists in good order.) There are, however, a host of tweaks yet to be made to the site.

Beyond the technical and academic aspects, such a project also has a social dimension. By publishing on the internet, I’m inviting others to read my work; by publishing documents – and specifying their status as public domain – I’m inviting others to share and reuse. And in turn I’ve re-used others’ work – ballads from EBBA, accounts from the Old Bailey Online. This is one example of the happy effects the open internet has on historical practice; without it this blog would not be possible. Partaking of this network – giving and taking, joining in – was my third aim.

The PhD will change my circumstances more than anything else. It gives me time and space to focus on the subject, allows access to those infuriatingly restricted-access databases, and opens some archival doors. The blog will continue, at a higher tempo I hope, gathering the sources but also giving more and broader analysis.

What will not change is my commitment to an open history. I think it essential that any historical argument should exhibit its method and evidence. I see the internet as augmenting the text with all its ‘dependencies.’ I consider the computer to be a most versatile tool for reading. I know that potentially everything can be at everyone’s fingertips.

Yet I am astonished that so much great research is so difficult to access.  I am outraged that documents long in the public domain should – at the very moment when reproduction becomes trivial – be locked up by copyright and paywall. I am mystified that those same documents are often poorly curated. I am dumbstruck at the prices charged for them.

And given that the past flows into our present, that it materially affects our lives, I believe it an ethical imperative that history should be a commons for all to partake of.


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The Women of Southwark Mint

For my second post on women in the Mint, I turn from fiction to data. The final clause of the Act against Southwark Mint offered an amnesty to those Minters, discharging debts below £50, albeit at the cost of “assigning all their estates and effects whatsoever, for the benefit of their creditors.” Some 6,254 people applied for this relief, their names, trade or status and parishes being published over 10 months in the London Gazette.

Whilst this sounds like a dream data set, there are a number of difficulties with it, aside from the sheer hard work of transcribing so many words from images of worn pages. Not every entry is complete. Some have extra details, such as aliases. Some information, such as familial connections and gender, cannot always be reliably deduced. Some of the applicants were probably ineligible for the amnesty; some may have known this, others not. Reading this archive requires forensic skill. Nevertheless, it is the only such source for any sanctuary, and offers a real chance to investigate the social composition of the Mint at the end of its existence.

So as a first step in analysing this data I have extracted the records of those I could identify as female. The first question is simply how many women were on the amnesty lists. The gender can be divined from two fields: forename and status. For the latter, many entries were of marital status, generally widow or spinster, very occasionally wife. Only in a handful of cases could I not work out the gender.

Minters by gender

We can see that women were very much in the minority, but it is a significant minority that won’t be affected by resolving the gender of the unknowns. The next chart breaks the 464 women down by their status.

Female Status

As some women gave their marital status, others a trade, in some cases both or two trades, the total number of pieces of information is 527. Although this introduces some complexity into the data-crunching, we can clearly see that the majority of women were either widowed or unmarried.

Following on from this, we can examine the professions the women practiced. In total, 84 different trades are given, which makes visualizing them in a pie chart rather difficult, so I have amalgamated all those with less than 4 respondants.

Female Minters' Trades

This is the least satisfactory of the charts as the trades should really be grouped together by sector: clothing, food, services, etc.

This data set can also be used for other investigations. Here is a pie chart of women’s first names, the most popular being at the top of the key.

I’ve standardized spellings, combining variants such as Anne, Hannah and Anna into one group. As the chart shows, Mary (107) and Elizabeth (96) were by far the most common female names, and with Ann, Sarah, Margaret and Catherine account for over 75% of the total, with 49 other names making up the remainder. Of the 7 Gentlewomen on the lists 3 were called Mary and 1 Margaret, the others were Deborah, Henrietta and Charlotte. I had wondered whether there would be a noticeable difference between higher and lower class forenames, but the sample is inadequate for investigating this.

How accurate was Defoe’s portrayal of the Mint through the eyes of Moll Flanders? Firstly, I think he understated the number of female debtors. At a little over 7% they make up a sizable contingent, even if this is far from being equal to the number of men. And this is just the number of women applying for amnesty; there may have been others as well. Women are not a negligible presence in the Mint.

However, having Moll take on the role of widow, and having her find a friend in another widow, does reflect the marital status of many of the women. Why there were so many widows seeking sanctuary, and how they fell into debt, are very important questions. The number of spinsters also suggests that single women in general were particularly vulnerable to pursuit by their creditors.

These charts are my first attempt at sifting through the amnesty lists. They’re not really satisfactory, technically, statistically or historically. I’d like them to be more interactive, with statistics for each segment shown; there needs to be a way of coping better with those women that gave two professions or marital status and profession; and they need far more careful analysis. Nevertheless they give some indication of the composition of this debtor community, and the place of women within it.

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Moll Flanders in the Mint

For International Women’s Day, and for Women’s History Month, the first of two posts about women in the Southwark Mint.

Published in 1721, a few years before the dissolution of the Mint, Moll Flanders gives a rare view of that sanctuary through female eyes. Defoe himself had a chequered business career, that included bankruptcy, seizure of his property (civet cats!), imprisonment and possibly refuge in Southwark. He was a proponent of bankruptcy reform, playing a role in the passage of the 1705 Act to Prevent Frauds Frequently Committed by Bankrupts, but also a stern critic of the sanctuaries, calling them “those nurseries of rogues” in his Essay Upon Projects.

Defoe’s interest in these debates must wait for another time; suffice to note he took a position against the sanctuaries and probably had stayed in one. What interests me here is the gendered account of it. Few accounts of the Mint mention women, and when they do generally only in passing. There are references to the debtors being accompanied by their families; the trade in marriage licenses required a woman to be present; there is sometimes mention of prostitution. But here we have a female character in the central role, observing the men en masse, as a type rather than individuals.

It is due to her husband that Moll Flanders moves to the Mint; she is escaping his, rather than her, creditors, and she takes the opportunity to change her identity and take on the role of widow.  Once in the sanctuary she sees how the male debtors conduct themselves, and describes them in the most cutting terms, “sinning on, as a remedy for sin past”:

…. these men were too wicked, even for me. There was something horrid and absurd in their way of sinning, for it was all a force even upon themselves; they did not only act against conscience, but against nature ….

Special mention is made of the suffering of their families, “objects of their own terror and other people’s charity”, the “poor weeping wife” responsible for the children, facing eviction whilst the husband drinks up what little money they have left.

Using her charm and guile she takes advantage of their weakness for ‘an agreeable woman’, but such company, and the scandal of being a whore without the joy, disgusts her. It is through another woman that she escapes the Mint; like Moll a widow indebted not through any fault of her own, but by her husband.

Is this an accurate picture of the sanctuaries? Did women seek refuge within them, and if so, under what circumstances? In my next post I’ll look at some data that illuminates the female presence.


From Moll Flanders

Vanity is the perfection of a fop. My husband had this excellence, that he valued nothing of expense; and as his history, you may be sure, has very little weight in it, ’tis enough to tell you that in about two years and a quarter he broke, and was not so happy to get over into the Mint, but got into a sponging-house, being arrested in an action too heavy from him to give bail to, so he sent for me to come to him.

It was no surprise to me, for I had foreseen some time that all was going to wreck, and had been taking care to reserve something if I could, though it was not much, for myself. But when he sent for me, he behaved much better than I expected, and told me plainly he had played the fool, and suffered himself to be surprised, which he might have prevented; that now he foresaw he could not stand it, and therefore he would have me go home, and in the night take away everything I had in the house of any value, and secure it; and after that, he told me that if I could get away one hundred or two hundred pounds in goods out of the shop, I should do it; ‘only,’ says he, ‘let me know nothing of it, neither what you take nor whither you carry it; for as for me,’ says he, ‘I am resolved to get out of this house and be gone; and if you never hear of me more, my dear,’ says he, ‘I wish you well; I am only sorry for the injury I have done you.’ He said some very handsome things to me indeed at parting; for I told you he was a gentleman, and that was all the benefit I had of his being so; that he used me very handsomely and with good manners upon all occasions, even to the last, only spent all I had, and left me to rob the creditors for something to subsist on.

However, I did as he bade me, that you may be sure; and having thus taken my leave of him, I never saw him more, for he found means to break out of the bailiff’s house that night or the next, and go over into France, and for the rest of the creditors scrambled for it as well as they could. How, I knew not, for I could come at no knowledge of anything, more than this, that he came home about three o’clock in the morning, caused the rest of his goods to be removed into the Mint, and the shop to be shut up; and having raised what money he could get together, he got over, as I said, to France, from whence I had one or two letters from him, and no more. I did not see him when he came home, for he having given me such instructions as above, and I having made the best of my time, I had no more business back again at the house, not knowing but I might have been stopped there by the creditors; for a commission of bankrupt being soon after issued, they might have stopped me by orders from the commissioners. But my husband, having so dexterously got out of the bailiff’s house by letting himself down in a most desperate manner from almost the top of the house to the top of another building, and leaping from thence, which was almost two storeys, and which was enough indeed to have broken his neck, he came home and got away his goods before the creditors could come to seize; that is to say, before they could get out the commission, and be ready to send their officers to take possession.

My husband was so civil to me, for still I say he was much of a gentleman, that in the first letter he wrote me from France, he let me know where he had pawned twenty pieces of fine holland for £30, which were really worth £90, and enclosed me the token and an order for the taking them up, paying the money, which I did, and made in time above £100 of them, having leisure to cut them and sell them, some and some, to private families, as opportunity offered.

However, with all this, and all that I had secured before, I found, upon casting things up, my case was very much altered, any my fortune much lessened; for, including the hollands and a parcel of fine muslins, which I carried off before, and some plate, and other things,
I found I could hardly muster up £500; and my condition was very odd, for though I had no child (I had had one by my gentleman draper, but it was buried), yet I was a widow bewitched; I had a husband and no husband, and I could not pretend to marry again, though I knew well enough my husband would never see England any more, if he lived fifty years. Thus, I say, I was limited from marriage, what offer might soever be made me; and I had not one friend to advise with in the condition I was in, least not one I durst trust the secret of my circumstances to, for if the commissioners were to have been informed where I was, I should have been fetched up and examined upon oath, and all I have saved be taken away from me.

Upon these apprehensions, the first thing I did was to go quite out of my knowledge, and go by another name.  This I did effectually, for I went into the Mint too, took lodgings in a very private place, dressed up in the habit of a widow, and called myself Mrs. Flanders.

Here, however, I concealed myself, and though my new acquaintances knew nothing of me, yet I soon got a great deal of company about me; and whether it be that women are scarce among the sorts of people that generally are to be found there, or that some consolations in the miseries of the place are more requisite than on other occasions, I soon found an agreeable woman was exceedingly valuable among the sons of affliction there, and that those that wanted money to pay half a crown on the pound to their creditors, and that run in debt at the sign of the Bull for their dinners, would yet find money for a supper, if they liked the woman.

However, I kept myself safe yet, though I began, like my Lord Rochester’s mistress, that loved his company, but would not admit him farther, to have the scandal of a whore, without the joy; and upon this score, tired with the place, and indeed with the company too, I began to think of removing.

It was indeed a subject of strange reflection to me to see men who were overwhelmed in perplexed circumstances, who were reduced some degrees below being ruined, whose families were objects of their own terror and other people’s charity, yet while a penny lasted, nay, even beyond it, endeavouring to drown themselves, labouring to forget former things, which now it was the proper time to remember, making more work for repentance, and sinning on, as a remedy for sin past.

But it is none of my talent to preach; these men were too wicked, even for me. There was something horrid and absurd in their way of sinning, for it was all a force even upon themselves; they did not only act against conscience, but against nature; they put a rape upon their temper to drown the reflections, which their circumstances continually gave them; and nothing was more easy than to see how sighs would interrupt their songs, and paleness and anguish sit upon their brows, in spite of the forced smiles they put on; nay, sometimes it would break out at their very mouths when they had parted with their money for a lewd treat or a wicked embrace.  I have heard them, turning about, fetch a deep sigh, and cry, ‘What a dog am I!  Well, Betty, my dear, I’ll drink thy health, though’; meaning the honest wife, that perhaps had not a half-crown for herself and three or four children. The next morning they are at their penitentials again; and perhaps the
poor weeping wife comes over to him, either brings him some account of what his creditors are doing, and how she and the children are turned out of doors, or some other dreadful news; and this adds to his self-reproaches; but when he has thought and pored on it till he is almost mad, having no principles to support him, nothing within him or above him to comfort him, but finding it all darkness on every side, he flies to the same relief again, viz. to drink it away, debauch it away, and falling into company of men in just the same condition with himself, he repeats the crime, and thus he goes every day one step onward of his way to destruction.

I was not wicked enough for such fellows as these yet. On the contrary, I began to consider here very seriously what I had to do; how things stood with me, and what course I ought to take. I knew I had no friends, no, not one friend or relation in the world; and that little I had left apparently wasted, which when it was gone, I saw nothing but misery and starving was before me.  Upon these considerations, I say, and filled with horror at the place I was in, and the dreadful objects which I had always before me, I resolved to be gone.

I had made an acquaintance with a very sober, good sort of a woman, who was a widow too, like me, but in better circumstances.  Her husband had been a captain of a merchant ship, and having had the misfortune to be cast away coming home on a voyage from the West Indies, which would have been very profitable if he had come safe, was so reduced by the loss, that though he had saved his life then, it broke his heart, and killed him afterwards; and his widow, being pursued by the creditors, was forced to take shelter in the Mint.  She soon made things up with the help of friends, and was at liberty again; and finding that I rather was there to be concealed, than by any particular prosecutions and finding also that I agreed with her, or rather she with me, in a just abhorrence of the place and of the company, she invited to go home with her till I could put myself in some posture of settling in the world to my mind; withal telling me, that it was ten to one but some good captain of a ship might take a fancy to me, and court me, in that part of the town where she lived.

Text taken from Gutenberg

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The Minters petition Parliament

So far, most of the texts I have found concerning the debtor sanctuaries of London have been written by their opponents: laws and indictments, and also the last dying words transmitted via the Ordinary of Newgate. There has also been some street literature and popular and historical accounts, written by third parties. So far, the only item that can be said to have come directly from a debtor and a minter is the pamphlet by Thomas Baston.

Here I present a petition sent from Southwark Mint to Parliament, debated on February 11 1723 (new style), as recorded in the eighth volume of Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England. Presented as coming from “several thousands of his Majesty’s subjects” – but without transcribing the names – this can be considered as a sort of collective voice, probably dictated by a handful of people but echoed by many. (I don’t know if the original still exists, with the names intact. Nothing has turned up through searching the archives’ catalogues; my guess is that it was consumed in the Burning of Parliament in 1834.)

But it is not an unproblematic, unmediated or ‘authentic’ voice. As a petition it conforms to the standard language of the genre: respectful, pleading, supplicating. Protest is not the tone of this text: it is begging the authorities to intercede for them. The Minters describe themselves as “poor unfortunate gentlemen, merchants, and tradesmen, &c”, respectable and miserable rather than criminal, dissolute or lazy. Their ills are blamed upon “the late calamitous times” and the contractual severity of their creditors; their rents  are “thrice the real value”, and their homes are overcrowded gaols; they have no possibility of paying their debts due to the depredations of their landlords. In short, their situation is due to no fault of their own, and they beg Parliament grant them a remedy.

But there is an undercurrent of antagonism here. There is a reference to industry fleeing abroad, “to the improving of their manufactures abroad, and impoverishing our own, which is the life and treasure of this nation.” Perhaps this is just patriotic rhetoric; it certainly posits a threat to national wealth. The landlords of the Mint are singled out as a cause for distress, charging high rents and seizing the goods of their tenants, suggesting conflict within the sanctuary. (How debtors could pay rent, and what resources they took with them into the Mint is a central question, to which I shall return.) Finally, in obliquely referring to earlier debtor legislation – I think, to the Bankrupts Act of 1720 – the law is censured as being too narrow and too expensive.

Cobbett also records the debate on the Southwark Mint act, a few months after this petition, in which he reproduces two anonymous letters. Those are far more assertive in their language, yet also have some similarities with this petition. They’ll be the subject of my next post.

Note that although the petition was rejected, the final law was far less draconian than either the 1697 act or the act the following year against Wapping Mint. An amnesty was offered and debts were written off; much more than the “limitation of time for the payment of their just debts” asked for here.


A Petition of the Minters rejected
Feb 11 [1722 old style; 1723 new style]
A Petition of several thousands of his Majesty’s subjects under Insolvency in Suffolk-place, in the borough of Southwark, was presented to the House, and read; setting forth,

“That the Petitioners, who, by great losses sustained in merchandize, trade, and unavoidable misfortunes which fell upon us, through decay of trade, by the late calamitous times; by which we are rendered uncapable to make payment according to our dealings; having offered, according to our powers, divers sums in part; praying time for payment for the rest; yet, by refusal and severity of some of our creditors, we are deprived, and cast out of, the world, without any law to help, having nothing left but a natural right to the liberty of our persons, and are even deprived of that: by which severity our effects are wasted, and we rendered insufficient to pay our whole debts, according to our former proposals; as also to defray the great expences of a statute of bankruptcy; and, many thousands of us not coming within the description of the statute, &c. others of us have submitted to a statute, finished our examination, and delivered up our all, upon oath several years since: and our distresses having forced us either to make our houses our gaols, or defraud our creditors by carrying away our effects, with our arts and sciences, into foreign countries, to the improving of their manufactures abroad, and impoverishing our own, which is the life and treasure of this nation; and are drove to take refuge in Suffolk-place, Southwark, commonly called the Mint, a place of great poverty and want; and, though not prisoners in the King’s-bench, are, by being debarred of our liberty, as if we were actually confined; and the vast numbers crouding in houses, &c. hath advanced the rents to thrice the real value; and the landlords are daily distraining upon the goods of poor unfortunate gentlemen, merchants, and tradesmen, &c. And praying, That the House will grant the petitioners such a limitation of time for the payment of their just debts, in proportion to their extreme poverty.”

And a motion being made, and the question being put, That the Petition be referred to a Committee; it passed in the negative. Resolved, That the Petition be rejected.

Source: Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England, volume 8, col. 88. Google books. Oxford digital library.

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The 1697 ‘Escape of Debtors’ act

I have previously – and only briefly – discussed the 1697 act against the sanctuaries, looking at those places named in it, and their geographical distribution. Below, I present the full text of the statute. The abolition of ‘pretended privileged places’ is just one clause, number 15, out of 22. The rest of the act concerns the management of the prisons, specifically the Fleet and the King’s Bench, the escape of imprisoned debtors, and extortionate practices against prisoners. Certain provisions tacked on the end are made for particular individuals.

Again, as with the other legislation I’ve transcribed, it’s nearly impossible to read. Every clause is a single sentence, every sentence a clause, terms are continually repeated, singulars reinforced with plurals. And that’s before considering the archaic and latin terms used. Add to this the need for context – the motivations driving the law, the parliamentary debate around it, the manner of its writing, the whole legal apparatus producing and enforcing it – and the modern reader is at a considerable distance from it. This distance is further increased given the way the laws inter-relate with each other, defining terms, clarifying clauses, repealing some sections, augmenting others. The whole of the law is more than the sum of its statutes.

So this body of texts requires different ways of reading, to bring out the structures, links and patterns embodied within. Laws can be data-mined, to pull out names and locations for example. The vocabulary can be counted, to show stock phrases and unusual occurrences. Texts can be visualized, with ‘graphs, maps and trees’, to use Franco Moretti’s taxonomy. The computer now allows us to do this, although not as easily as one might think. In this way one can read the whole of the law, going beyond the time-consuming, comprehension-limited and mind-melting strictures of turning every page.

My next few posts will look at ways of analyzing the tortured prose below. But as a quick taster, note that the section pertaining to the sanctuaries adds ‘she’ and ‘her’ to the list of subjects, as in “he, she or they.” Only in this one clause, and then only towards the end, in the parts relating to the aiding, abetting and concealing escapees, are women so specified. From the other legislation I’ve read, this is quite rare; a quick search has revealed a solitary ‘she’ in the Black Act §2. Gender in the law is an important question, and one eminently susceptible to the digital techniques as mentioned above.

Note: Spelling has not been modernised; italics and marginalia have been omitted.


8 & 9 William III c.27 An act for the more effectual relief of creditors in cases of escapes, and for preventing abuses in prisons and pretended privileged places.

Whereas by reason of the many grievous extortions and ill practices of such persons who have for several years past respectively executed the offices of marshal of the King’s Bench, warden of the Fleet, and keeper of the Marshalsea, Newgate, and other prisons, and by several pretended privileged places within this realm, both creditors and debtors have been notoriously abused, and the good intents on the law wholly eluded: for reformation thereof be it enacted by the King’s most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That from and after the first day of May, one thousand six hundred ninety seven, all prisoners, either upon contempt or mesne process, or in execution, who are or shall be committed to the custody of the marshal of the King’s bench prison, or the warden of the Fleet, shall be actually detained within the said prisons of the King’s Bench and Fleet, or the respective rules of the same, until they shall be from thence discharged by due course of law; and if at any time from and after the said first day of May, the said marshal or warden, or any other keeper or keepers of any prison, shall permit and suffer any prisoner committed to their custody, either on mesne process or in execution, to go or be at large out of the rules of their respective prisons (except by virtue of some writ of Habeas Corpus, or rule of court, which rule of court shall not be granted but by motion made or petition read in open court) every such going or being out of the said rules shall be adjudged and deemed, and is hereby declared to be an escape.

II. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said first day of May, every person or persons obtaining judgement in any action of escape against the said marshal or warden, or their respective lawful deputy or deputies, shall and may have, not only several remedies already by law allowed for obtaining satisfaction thereon, but the judges of the respective courts where such judgement shall be obtained (upon oath before them made by the persons or persons obtaining such judgement, that the same was obtained without fraud or covin, and that the debt of the prisoner making such an escape was a true and real debt and unsatisfied) shall, upon motion made to them in open court for that purpose, sequester the fees and profits of the office of marshall or warden, or so much, or such part or proportion thereof, as the said court wherein such motion shall be made shall think it fit and reasonable, with respect to the debt or debts due from such prisoner or prisoners so escaping, and in the first place apply the same towards satisfaction of the debt or debts due from the prisoner or prisoners who escaped, together with all costs and damages recovered in such action of escape.

III. And to the end that such satisfaction may not be deferred by any writ of error brought for delay only, be it enacted, That if the said marshal or warden, or their respective deputy or deputies, shall at any time after the said first day of May, sue forth any writ or writs of error to reverse any judgment given in any action of escape, such marshal or warden, or their respective deputy of deputies, shall be obliged to put in special bail, or in default thereof no execution shall be stayed, nor any sequestration of the profits delayed.

IV. And whereas it is notorious that divers great sums of money and other rewards have been given to, and actually received by, the several persons executing the respective offices of marshal and warden, and other keepers of the several prisons within this kingdom, to assist or permit prisoners in their custody to escape, in open defiance and contempt of the laws of this realm: for preventing the like evil practices for the time to come, be it further enacted, That if any marshal or warden, or their respective deputy or deputies, or any keeper of any other person within this kingdom, shall take any sum of money, reward or gratuity whatsoever, or security for the same, to procure, assist, connive at, or permit any such escape, and shall thereof be lawfully convicted, the said marshal or warden, or their respective deputy or deputies, or such other keeper of any prisons as aforesaid, shall for every such offence forfeit the sum of five hundred pounds, and his said office, and be for ever after incapable of executing any such office.

V. Provided always, That this act, nor any thing therein contained, shall extend, or be construed to extend to make void such securities, or any of them, as shall at any time or times hereafter be given by any prisoner or prisoners for his or their lodging or lodgings without the aforesaid prisones, or ether of them, within the rules of the said prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet, or either of them, so as such security or securities be not taken for the enlargement of any prisoner or prisoners out of or beyond the rules of the said prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet, or either of them respectively.

VI. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said first day of May, no retaking on fresh pursuit shall be given in evidence on the trial of any issue in any action of escape against the said marshal or warden, or their respective deputy or deputies, or against any other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons as aforesaid, unless the same be specially pleaded, nor shall any special plea be taken, received, or allowed, unless oath can be first made in writing by the marshal or warden, or their respective deputy or deputies, or by such other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons as aforesaid, against whom such action shall be brought, and filed in the proper office of the respective courts, that the prisoner for whose escape such action is brought did without his consent, privity, or knowledge make such escape; and if such affidavit shall at any time afterwards appear to be false, and the marshal or warden or other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons, shall be convicted thereof by due course of law, such marshal or warden or other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons shall forfeit the sum of five hundred pounds.

VII. And be it further enacted and declared by the authority aforesaid, That if at any time after the said first day of May, any prisoner who is or shall be committed in execution to either or any of the said respective prisons, shall escape from thence by any ways or means howsoever, the creditor or creditors, at whose suit such prisoner was charged in execution at the time of his escape, shall or may retake such prisoner by any new Capias, or Capias ad satisfaciendum, or sure forth any other kind of execution on the judgment, as if the body of such prisoner had never been taken in execution.

VIII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if the said marshal or warden for the time being, or their respective deputy or deputies, or other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons, shall, after one day’s notice in writing given for that purpose, refuse to shew any prisoner committed in execution to the creditor at whose suit such prisoner was committed or charged, or to his attorney, every such refusal shall be adjudged to be an escape in law.

IX. And be it further enacted and declared by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons whatsoever, desiring to charge any person with any action or execution, shall desire to be informed by the said marshal or warden, or their respective deputy or deputies, or by any other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons, whether such person be a prisoner in his custody, or not, the said marshal or warden, or such other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons, shall give a true note in writing thereof to the person so requesting the same, or to his lawful attorney, upon demand at his office for that purpose, or in default thereof shall forfeit the sum of fifty pounds; and if such marshal or warden, or their respective deputy or deputies exercising the said office, or other keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons, shall give a note in writing that such person is an actual prisoner in her custody, every such note shall be accepted and taken as sufficient evidence that such person was at that time a prisoner in actual custody.

X. And be it further enacted and declared by the authority aforesaid, That on or before the four and twentieth day of June, one thousand six hundred ninety seven, all and every the conveyances, grants, and mortgages of the inheritance of the aforesaid prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet, or either of them, and of the prison-houses, lands, tenements, buildings, and other hereditaments to the said prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet or either of them respectively belonging, or in any wise appertaining, and all leases thereof, and the respective titles of the marshal of the King’s Bench and warden of the Fleet prisons thereunto, or of him or them in whom the inheritance or inheritances of, in, and to the said prisons, and prison-houses, and premises, or either of them, now are, and all trusts and declarations of trusts thereunto, or unto either of them relating, shall be inrolled (viz.) that of the marshal of the King’s Bench in the King’s Bench court, and that of the warden of the Fleet in the court of Common Pleas at Westminster; and that all future conveyances, grants, and mortgages, of the inheritance of the said prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet, or of either of them, or of any part of either of them, and all leases thereof, and all trusts and declarations of trust thereunto or unto either of them relating, shall be so inrolled in the respective courts, as aforesaid, within six months next after the executing of every or any such conveyances, grants, mortgages, or leases, or such trusts or declarations of trusts thereunto or unto either of them relating, or of any of them; and if any such conveyances, grants, or mortgages, of the inheritance of the said prisons of King’s Bench or Fleet, or either of them, or of any part of either of them, of any such trusts or declarations of trust thereunto or unto either of them relating, or any leases of the said premisses, be not so inrolled within the times limited as aforesaid, in the said courts respectively, as aforesaid, that then and in such case, as well the present as all future conveyances, grants, and mortgages of every of them, and the inheritance of the said prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet, or either of them, or of any part of either of them, and all leases thereof, and all trusts and declarations of trust thereunto, or unto any of them relating, shall be and are hereby declared to be utterly void and of none effect, as if the same had never been executed; any law, statute, or custom, to the contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding.

XI. And be it further enacted and declared by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said first day of May, the said offices of marshal of the King’s bench prison, and warden of the Fleet, and each of them, shall be executed by the several persons to whom the inheritance of the prisons, prison-houses, lands, tenements, and other hereditaments, of the said prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet, or either of them, shall then belong or appertain respectively, in his or their respective proper person or persons, or by his or their sufficient deputy or deputies; for which deputy or deputies, and for all forfeitures, escapes, and other misdemeanors, in their respective offices by such deputy or deputies permitted, suffered, or committed, the said person or persons, in whom the aforesaid inheritances respectively are or shall then be, shall be answerable, and the profits and aforesaid inheritances of the said several offices shall be sequestred, seized, or extended to make satisfaction for such forfeitures, escapes, and misdeameanors respectively, as if permitted, suffered, or committed by the person or persons themselves, or either of them, in whom the respective inheritances of the said prisons shall then be.

XII. And whereas the way of proceeding against the warden of the Fleet prison by bill in the courts of Common Pleas and Exchequer at Westminster is found to be very dilatory; be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said first day of May, it shall and may be lawful to and for any person or persons, having cause of action against the warden of the Fleet prison, upon bill filed in the said courts of Common Please or Exchequer against the said warden, and a rule being given to plead thereto, to be out eight days at most after filing such bill, to sign judgment against the said warden of the Fleet, unless he plead to the said bill within three days after such rule is out.

XIII. And for the more easy and quick obtaining of judgment against any person or persons who now is or hereafter shall be a prisoner or prisoners in the aforesaid prison of the Fleet; be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said first day of May, it shall and may be lawful to and for any person or persons, who hath or shall have any cause of action against any prisoner or prisoners, who now is, or are, or hereafter shall be committed to the said prison of the Fleet, after filing or entring of a declaration in such action with the proper officer, to deliver a copy of such declaration or declarations to any such defendant or defendants in any personal action or actions, or to the turnkey or porter of the said Fleet prison, and, after rule given thereupon to plead, to be out at eight days at most after delivery of such copy of declaration or declarations, and affidavit made of such delivery before the lord chief justice, or one other of the justices of the Common Pleas, or before the lord chief baron, or some other of the barons of the coif of the Exchequer at Westminster, of the delivery of such declaration or declarations to the defendant or defendants, in such action or actions, or to the turnkey or porter of the said Fleet prison, as aforesaid, to sign judgment in such action or actions against such defendant or defendants, as if such defendant or defendants had been actually charged at the bar of the Common Pleas or Exchequer with such action or actions; any law, statute, usage, or custom, to the contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding.

XIV. And whereas great sums of money have been and are still taken of the prisoners of the aforesaid prisons of King’s Bench and Fleet, and other prisons, under pretence of chamber rent, although the said prisoners have not had the actual possession of any chamber within the said prisons, or any of them; for the avoiding of that inconvenience for the future be it enacted, That from and after the said first day of May, no prisoner or prisoners shall pay, or be compellable to pay any chamber rent for any chamber within either or any of the said prisons, for an longer time than he or they is or are actually in possession of the said chamber or chambers, and that during such time as he or they is or are actually in possession of any such chamber or chambers within either or any of the said prisons as aforesaid, such prisoner or prisoners shall not pay above the sum of two shillings and six pence per week for any such chamber; and if the marshal of the King’s Bench prison, warden of the Fleet, or keeper or keepers of any other prison or prisons, as aforesaid, shall take or demand any greater sum or sums of money for the use of such chamber, than the sum of two shillings and six pence per week, he or they so taking or demanding shall in such case, for every such offence, forfeit the sum of twenty pounds.

XV. And for the preventing for the future the many notorious and scandalous practices used in many pretended privileged places in and about the cities of London and Westminster, and borough of Southwark in the county of Surrey, by obstructing the execution of legal process there, and thereby defrauding and cheating great numbers of people of their honest and just debts; be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the said first day of May, it shall and may be lawful for any person or persons, who have or hath any debt or debts, sum or sums of money due or owing to him from any person or persons who now is, or hereafter shall be and reside within the White Friers, Savoy, Salisbury Court, Ram Alley, Mitre Court, Fuller’s Rents, Baldwin’s Gardens, Montague Close, or the Minories, Mint, Clink, or Deadman’s Place, upon legal process taken out against such person or persons, to demand and require the sheriffs of London and Middlesex, head bailiff of the liberty of the duchy of Lancaster, or high sheriff of the county of Surrey, or bailiff of the liberty of the borough of Southwark for the time being (as the case shall require, if the plaintiff think it requisite) or their respective deputy or deputies, officer or officers, to take, and they are hereby enabled respectively to take the Posse Comitatus, or such other power as to him or them or any of them shall seem requisite, and enter the said pretended privileged place, and any or either of them (as the case shall require) and to arrest, and in the case of resistance or refusal to open the doors, to break open any door or doors to arrest such person or persons upon any mesne or other process, extent or execution, or to seize the goods of any such person or persons upon any execution or extent; and if the said sheriff or sheriffs, head bailiff, or their deputy or deputies, officer or officers, or either or any of them shall neglect or refuse (upon such request) with such force to do their best endeavours for the executing of such process, execution or extent, he or they so neglecting or refusing to execute such process, execution or extent, shall forfeit to the plaintiff or plaintiffs in such action the sum of one hundred pounds, to be recovered by action of debt, bill, plaint or information, in which no essoin, protection, or wager of law, or more than one imparlance shall be allowed; and if in the executing of such process, execution or extent, any person or persons shall oppose or resist any such officer or officers, or any of them, or any who shall be aiding or assisting to him, them, or any of them, in the executing of such process, execution or extent, he or they so offending shall, for every time he or they shall so offend, forfeit the sum of fifty pounds, and moreover shall be by some justice of the peace committed to the common gaol of such county, city or place where such offence shall be committed, there to remain without bail or mainprize until the next assizes, sessions of oyer and terminer, and general gaol delivery, to be held for such county, city or place; and such offender or offenders being of such offence or offences duly convicted, every such offender shall suffer and undergo such imprisonment, and be set in the pillory, as the court where such conviction shall be shall think fit; and if any rescous shall be made of any prisoner taken by any such officer or officers as aforesaid, upon any such process, execution or extent, within the limits of any the before mentioned pretended privileged places, by any person or persons whatsoever, such person or persons so making such rescous, or aiding, assisting or abetting the same, and being thereof lawfully convicted, shall respectively forfeit to the plaintiff in any such action the sum of five hundred pounds, to be recovered by action of debt, bill, plaint or information, in any of his Majesty’s courts at Westminster, in which action, bill, plaint or information, no essoin, privilege, protection, wager of law, or more than one imparlance shall be allowed; and if after such recovery had against any person or persons for such rescous, or for aiding, assisting or abetting the same, the person or persons against whom such recovery shall be had, shall refuse or neglect to pay to the plaintiff in such action, or to his, her or their executors, administrators or assigns, the sum or sums of money recovered, with full costs of suit, within one month after judgment signed upon such recovery, and demand made, that then the person or persons so refusing or neglecting as aforesaid, upon producing a copy of the judgment upon which such recovery shall be had, and oath made that the money recovered is not paid, shall, by order of such court wherein the said person or persons was or were so convicted, of or for any suit rescous, or for aiding, assisting or abetting the same, be transported by the sheriff or sheriffs of the county, city or place where such conviction shall happen to be, to one of his Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years; and if the person or persons so transported, shall return again to this kingdom within the space of seven years, he, she or they so returning, shall be and is hereby adjudged guilty of felony, and shall not be allowed the benefit of clergy, but shall suffer and forfeit as in cases of felony where clergy is not allowed; and if any person or persons, inhabiting within either or any of the aforesaid pretended privileged places, shall receive, conceal or harbour any person or persons, who shall have made any rescous as aforesaid, he, she or they so receiving, concealing or harbouring any such person or persons, knowing or having had notice that such person or persons had been guilty of such offence, being thereof convicted by due course of law, shall be, by order of that court where such conviction shall happen to be, by the sheriff or sheriffs of the county, city of place where the offence was committed, transported to some or one of his Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years, unless such person or persons shall, within the space of one month next after such conviction, pay to the plaintiff or plaintiffs in such action or suit, the full debt or duty for which such action or suit was brought, with full costs; and if he, she or they shall return into this kingdom within the said space of seven years, he, she or they so returning, shall be and is hereby adjudged guilty of felony, and shall not be allowed the benefit of clergy, but shall suffer and forfeit as in cases of felony, where clergy is not allowed.

XVI. And be it further enacted, That the several penalties before in and by this act inflicted, and not particularly disposed of, shall go one half to his Majesty, his heirs and successors, and the other half to him or them that will sue for the same, to be recovered as aforesaid.

XVII. And for the prevention of disputes touching this act, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the same, and every clause and thing therein contained, shall be deemed, adjudged, and taken to be a general law, and that it shall not be needful to shew or set forth the same or any clause thereof in pleading, and that the same, and all clauses therein, shall be construed most largely and beneficially for the preventing of all the mischiefs, abuses, escapes, and other inconveniences herein provided against; and further, that if any person or persons shall at any time be sued for putting in execution any power or authority given by this act, such person and persons shall and may plead the general issue, and give in evidence this act, and the special matter; and if the plaintiff or plaintiffs in such action shall be nonsuit, or a verdict given for a defendant or defendants, or if the plaintiff or plaintiffs discontinue their action, or if upon demurrer judgment shall be given for the defendant or defendants, every such defendant or defendants shall have his or their double costs.

XVIII. Saving unto Martha Johnson widow, Thomas Johnson, and John Johnson, sons of the said Martha, and Frances her daughter, their heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, all such right, title, estate, equity, interest and demand, as she or they now have, or shall or may have, challenge or claim, of, in or unto all or any of the houses and shops belonging to the office of the warden of the Fleet, or to the prison of the Fleet, herein before contained, as fully and effectually, to all intents and purposes, as she or they had before the making of this act, as if this act had never been had or made.

XIX. Provided nevertheless, That nothing in this act contained shall extend to prejudice, impeach, or lessen any security or securities for any sum or sums of money made or given, by or out of the said office of marshal of the Marshalsea of the couret of King’s bench, or the profits thereof, by William Lenthall esquire, to Sir John Cutler baronet deceased, or to Edmund Boulter esquire, executor of the said Sir John Cutler, or to any other person or persons in trust for them or either of them, or to subject the said office, or the profits thereof, or the person or persons in whom the same are or shall be vested, to any of the forfeitures or penalties in this act contained, other than such as they are or may be liable unto before the making of this act, until such sum or sums of money, secured thereby, shall be fully satisfied and paid; any thing in this act contained to the contrary thereof notwithstanding.

XX. Saving unto Anthony Smith mariner, his heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, all such right, title, estate, equity, interest and demand, as he or they now have, or shall or may have, challenge or claim, of, in or unto the office of the warden of the Fleet, or the prison of the Fleet, or all or any of the houses and shops belonging to the office of warden of the Fleet, or to the prison of the Fleet, or herein before contained (by virtue of two decrees in Chancery, the one of them made the two and twentieth day of June, one thousand six hundred eighty three, and the other of them the six and twentieth day of January, one thousand six hundred eighty five, whereby four hundred twenty five pounds, and the interest thereof, was and is decreed to be paid to the said Anthony Smith out of the said office, houses, shops and appurtenances, after a mortgage made thereof by Thomas Bromhall unto Henry Norwood esquire was satisfied) as fully and effectually to all intents and purposes, as he or they had before the making of this act, and as if this act had never been had or made.

XXI. Provided nevertheless, That nothing in this act contained shall be deemed, construed or adjudged to take away, lessen, charge or prejudice the right, title or interest of Thomas Norwood, surviving executor of Henry Norwood, as for, touching or concerning a debt of two thousand one hundred fifty and three pounds, and interest, secured to the said Henry Norwood, by virtue of a mortgage of the office of warden of the Fleet prison, bearing date the twenty third day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred seventy and six, or so much thereof as is justly due thereupon; nor to take away, lessen or prejudice the right, title or interest of John Clements of the Middle Temple, London, gentleman, as for, touching or concerning a debt of two thousand two hundred ninety nine pounds, and interest, secured to the said John Clement, in trust for himself and others, by virtue of a mortgage of the said office of warden, bearing date the third of May, one thousand six hundred seventy and eight, or so much thereof as is justly due thereupon.

XXII. And be it further enacted and declared by the authority aforesaid, That all and every deputation or deputations, grant or grants, at any time heretofore made or executed by William Lenthall esquire, of the said office of marshal of the Marshalsea of the said court of King’s Bench, is and are hereby declared void and of none effect; and that all and every succeeding marshal shall from time to time, and at all times hereafter, be constituted and appointed by the said William Lenthall, his heirs and assigns, by and with the consent in writing under the hand and seal of Edmund Boulter esquire, his executors, administrators and assigns, until the debt owing by the said William Lenthall to the said Edmund Boulter, executor of Sir John Cutler baronet deceased, be satisfied.

Source: Pickering, Danby, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 10.

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