Whele meet again: the continuing adventures of a suspected Scot
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Anglo-Scots tension and uncertainty amongst those in the south of England as to who is and is not a Scot seems to be something of a theme in cases of the last years of Edward IV’s reign. I have noted previously the case of John Marcyell v. Thomas Hannfert (1482, CP 40/882 m. 410d, AALT image 1970; see blog post 12/1/2014), a Lincolnshire case alleging trespass, removal of cattle and threats to John, interrupting his business, in which the defendants pleaded that they did not need to answer John, because he was an alien, in Scotland, in the allegiance of the king of Scots, the king’s enemy, and had entered England without safe conduct.
Another contemporary suspected Scot, known to the Year Books, was Richard Whele, a clerk of the King’s Bench. Richard and Isabel Whele’s case (1483) appears in YB Hil. 22 Edw IV; Seipp 1483.009 and 010. Here, Whele claimed that both husband and wife had been imprisoned without proper cause, he on the supposed grounds that he was a Scot and she on suspicion of insanity, after being informed of her husband’s arrest. Both cases as reported in the Year Books spent most time discussing pleading technicalities (the ‘only obeying orders’ defence and the details of pleading an insanity-based justification) but there is also much food for thought here on the ‘national’ tensions made evident in the cases. One relevant plea roll entry is at KB 27/885 m. 39d, and there is more on Richard Whele’s problems with the allegation of being a Scot on KB 27/884 m. 91. Here, we see description of a dramatic scene – Whele accused in court, during a session before Chief Justice Huse and his fellows, of being a Scot. His accuser was one John Popley, ‘holyer’, and Holyer’s words are quoted: ‘I defy the[e], proud Scotte: thow art no better and that shall I prove.’
As with John Marcyell, who claimed that he was not an alien, but a native of England, in King Edward’s allegiance, born at Black Heddon in the parish of Stanford[ham], co. Northumberland, Richard Whele claimed to have been born in the far north-east of England: in his case at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In both cases, nationality was a question put to a jury from the location of the claimed birth, but while I have not found the conclusion of the Marcyell case, Richard Whele certainly managed to secure confirmation that he was English, and was able to produce documentation under the privy seal to this effect. He won his case and recovered £48 6s 8d.
The real story behind such characters and events remains murky. It may have been entirely made up in an attempt to discredit a reasonably prominent individual, but I am very interested in the possibility of there having been confusion, away from the border, over who was and who was not a Scot. It appears in other Year Book and plea roll cases, and is well worth further consideration – one of my ‘back-burner’ projects.