Central Courts

Given the slow process in the Admiralty courts, the ability to appeal its decisions to the king, and the statutory limits placed on what cases the Admiralty could hear, it is not surprising that many involved in maritime disputes sought justice in the central courts. Complainants could file a petition seeking the king’s justice if common law remedies were not available, so that the king could order the grievance be heard in one of his courts.

Court of King’s Bench, c. 1460. © Inner Temple Library.

Select Cases before the King’s Council, 1243-1482, ed. I. S. Leadam and J. F. Baldwin, Selden Society 35 (1918). Foreign suitors such as alien merchants and suits involving felonies (such as the violent seizure of a ship at sea) were among the types of maritime cases brought before the king and his council. Such suits were instigated by petition or bill. The council could then direct the suit to a specific court, appoint a commission of oyer and terminer to investigate, or hear the case itself. Provides original text (in Latin or Anglo-French), English translation, and extensive notes on each case.

A Calendar of Early Chancery Proceedings relating to West Country Shipping 1388-1493, ed. Dorothy A. Gardiner, Devon and Cornwall Record Society n.s. 21 (Torquay, 1976). English abstracts of proceedings in the equitycourt of Chancery (TNA C1) which list the chancellor, likely dates of the case, and the outcome of the request by the petitioner, with notes on the case and its outcome (often in the Close or Patent Rolls). Most cases involve the capture of ships, cargoes, and crews at sea during enemy action or a truce, under letters of marque, or while visiting a hostile port.

Appendix,” in C. L. Kingsford, Prejudice and Promise in Fifteenth Century England (Oxford, 1925; reprint 1962), 177-203. Prints original texts in Middle English (except for one schedule in Latin) from the Early Chancery Proceedings that provides evidence for his chapter on West Country piracy. Includes five cases involving the attack of the French on Plymouth in 1461 (TNA C1/29/327); William Kyd and the Marie of St Andrews; the piracy of the Edward of Polruan; the piracy of Richard Penpons; and the piracy of Thomas Bodulgate.

Documents Relating to the Law and Custom of the Sea, vol. I, A.D. 1205-1648, ed. R. G. Marsden, Navy Records Society 49 (1915). Includes a wide variety of documents, most taken from the records of the central government, such as the Patent, Close, Gascon, and Treaty rolls, and the Chancery and Exchequer miscellanea and plea rolls. Provides the original text (usually in Latin) and English translation. Documents related to the Admiralty courts include orders to the admiral and his officials regarding safe-conducts, letters of marque, and disputes about prize.  

Select Cases concerning the Law Merchant A.D. 1239-1633. Vol. III: Central Courts, ed. Hubert Hall, Selden Society 46 (London, 1930). Cases no. 10, 31, 38, and 41, as well as unrelated documents in the Introduction (Appendix III, VI, VII, ) and related documents at the end of the volume (Appendix V) all treat issues in medieval maritime law that came before the court of King’s Bench. Text includes facing page translation of the original Latin or Anglo-French.