Felixstowe Court Roll,1363 (HA119/1/3/2/1/2)
At Ipswich Record Office a previously unknown Felixstowe manor court roll of 1363 has been discovered during the Suffolk Manorial Documents Register Project. During this project Suffolk Record Office volunteers checked the date ranges of Suffolk’s manorial court rolls and books to identify any large gaps not recorded in the catalogue descriptions. This has improved the quality of the information available to researchers through the online database on the National Archives. This date checking not only identified gaps within the records, but also helped to find stray items.
A search through a Felixstowe Priory court roll, dated between 1399 and 1412 in the catalogue, revealed a previously unrecorded membrane or sheet dated 1363. The story is even more interesting because in 1381 during the Peasants’ Revolt the Felixstowe Priory was attacked by a mob and the court rolls and other manorial records were supposedly all burnt. This activity occurred in many parts of the country since records contained written proof of the status of unfree tenants and were seen as a physical sign of the control of tenants by landowners. The court rolls of Felixstowe Priory were therefore believed to start in 1381, the first membrane was actually headed ‘Prima cur’ post combustione Librorum’’ (First court after the burning of the books). Nothing was thought to have survived this burning, until the volunteer came across this single membrane with the regnal year date of the 37th year of the reign of Edward III, and fourteenth century handwriting, which clearly dates the membrane to 1363, several years before the riot.
Manorial records are important for historians undertaking in-depth population analysis in the pre-parish register period, as many people were manorial tenants. Their surrenders and admissions to holdings are recorded in manorial court rolls and books like this one for Felixstowe, including information on their deaths and the succession of their heirs. Surveys include lists of tenants of both copyhold (held from the Lord of the Manor) and freehold lands.