Medieval Debt recovery
One of the tests of any legal system is its ability to efficiently manage issues relating to credit and outstanding debts. In the modern world, we can apply for county court judgements.
Debt and the role of the Medieval Sheriff
The medieval world had a manageable system too. On 22 October 1465, a memorandum was dispatched to the Sheriff of Middlesex relating to an outstanding debt. One Hugh Brice, a goldsmith, had failed to adhere to a recognisance made the previous November.
Debtors and Medieval Prisons
The method of ensuring payment is simple and straightforward. If payment is not made, Brice would be imprisoned until payment is made, the court could seize his lands and use them to recoup the debt. To ensure that the debt is fully recovered, the same memorandum is sent to all the neighbouring sheriffs.
The debt memorandum, from the Close Rolls of Edward IV, is as follows:
Memorandum of delivery to the sheriff of Middlesex, 5th February this year, of a writ (text follows), tested at Westminster, 22nd October, 4 Edward IV, reciting a recognisance made 19th November then last, before Geoffrey Feldynge mayor of the staple of Westminster by John lord Straunge knight, lord of Knokyn and Mowghune, to Hugh Brice citizen and goldsmith of London for 56l. payable at Easter then next and not yet paid it is said, and directing the sheriff to take and imprison the said John until the same be paid, to cause his lands and chattels to be extended and appraised and to be seized into the King’s hand for livery to the said Hugh, and to certify the execution of the same in chancery; the King having given like command to the sheriffs of Buckingham, Southampton, Warwick, Oxford, Northampton, Salop and Devon.