Among the thousands of medeval petitions in The National Archives (Special Collections: SC 8) at Kew are many hundreds dealing with maritime matters, dating primarily from the mid thirteenth to mid fifteenth century. Most of the petitions were from named individuals, but many were from port towns or groups of mariners, fishermen, or shipowners, and some claimed to be from the commons or people of the realm. Although most of the petitioners resided in England, there are also many from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and parts of France (such as Aquitaine) under English control. The majority were addressed to the king, or the king and council, or the chancellor, and asked for help with grievances for which no remedy was available in common law. Maritime grievances included complaints about unjust detention or capture of ships and cargoes, reimbursement of costs arising from naval service or coastal defence, and restrictions on trade or infringments on the liberties of port towns, as well as requests for safe-conducts, back pay for naval service, help with ransoms, and the restoration of confiscated goods or vessels, to name only a few of the wide variety of the maritime legal issues covered by the petitions.

Using the Advanced Search function on the TNA website, almost 1200 medieval petitions can be found searching on the terms “mariner,” “ship,” and “port” at the TNA for the years 1250-1499. Most of the petitions are in Anglo-French (some are in Latin and by the fifteenth century, more appear in Middle English), but the TNA website offers short descriptions of the content and lists all names and places recorded in each petition. The petitions are often undated, but hints in the petition or the survival of associated documents such as an authorizing writ or references in the Charter, Close, Fine, Gascon, or Patent Rolls, or Chancery and Exchequer records can help to date a petition.

Below are examples of the types of maritime information to be found in petitions.

  1. TNA, SC 8/320/E433: Petition in three parts from the barons of the Cinque Ports asking for the king’s help against the usurpation of their privileges at Yarmouth and an attack on one of their ships by the people of Yarmouth.
  2. TNA, SC 8/320/E434: Petition in four parts from Great Yarmouth against the Cinque Ports complaining of attacks on their shipping, unauthorized use of nearby ports during the herring fair, and illegal collection of customs.
From “The Cinque Ports,” Wilcuma.

The following offers a transcription of the two original petitions by Dr Jiazhu Hu (, which appeared in “Voices of Medieval English Maritime Towns: Petitions concerning the Cinque Ports, 1272-1377” (Ph.D. thesis, University of St Andrews, 2021), pp. 98-101 and are discussed in detail in her “The Cinque Ports and Great Yarmouth in Dispute in 1316: Maritime Violence, Royal Mediation and Political Language,” International Journal of Maritime History 32:3 (2020): 666-80. She thanks Prof. Christian Liddy for his help in refining her transcriptions. Dr Hu’s transcriptions are preceded by the English summaries offered on the TNA website.

For the intervention of the king in this dispute, see the Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-17, p. 514.

Editorial notes: The petition from the Cinque Ports was written in three parts, and contains thirteen lines in total, while the petition submitted by Great Yarmouth was written in four parts, having twenty-six lines in total, as shown in the transcriptions below. In the following transcriptions, abbreviations are expanded. Majuscules are kept as they appear in the manuscript. Inserted words between lines are put back into the text but marked out as inserted. Stained or illegible parts of the text are marked by dots, or hyphens replacing the unrecognizable letters. Uncertain readings are signaled by a bracketed question mark to indicate the uncertainty of the transcription. Certain words, though hardly legible in the manuscript, are completed in square brackets, if the missing words can be determined with reference to common usage.

I. TNA website summary of SC 8/320/E433: [Petition in three parts:]

1) Whereas the barons are enfranchised of to have the Strand and Dene at Yarmouth and real justice to amend and redress the purprestures, the people of Yarmouth have come and enclosed the Strand so that they cannot have their ways as they and their ancestors have had, and the people of Yarmouth have raised certain houses on certain parts of the Strand to the detriment of the king and his people, and have made purprestures upon ‘le Ryvage’ so that their ships cannot arrive in times of the fair as they ought to their disinheritance.

2) Whereas they ought, in times of fair, to carry the banner of the king and their horn for their people assembled, there came the people of Yarmouth and cut their horn from their sergeant and broke it against the peace of the king, and detain it still, and will not suffer their bailiffs to do their office as they ought to do to their disinheritance and great damage.

3) The barons complain of an assault by a ship of Yarmouth on a ship of Winchelsea that was going against the king’s enemies. They put all these matters they rely upon the king [for remedy].

Endorsement: This petition was received by the king from the Cinque Ports at the third week of Easter at Westminster in the 9th year, and upon this the king wishes to have advice and will say his will, and likewise the petition of the people of Yarmouth have delivered to him against those of the Cinque Ports is attached to this petition.

Transcription of SC 8/320/E433

(1) A nostre seignur le Roi monstrent ces Barouns des Cink portz qe h…… sount enfranchiz de avor Strand et Den a Gernemuc

(2) et reale justice ales purprestures amender et redress la vyenent les gents de Gernemuc et fount enclos sur meismes le Strand

(3) ensi qe eux ne poent avere lor chartres ….. eux et lur ancestres ount………………. et en aucun lu sur meismes le Strand ount levez meisons

(4) [en] blemissement de nostre seignur le Roi et son peuple et autres purprestures fount sur le ryvage qe lur niefs ne poent ariver en

(5) temps de faire come fere deverount a lur desheritaunce et blemisement de lur franchise a lur gref damage.

(6) Auxi(?) pren– les dites Barounes qe la ou eux devient en temps de feyre porter la banere nostre seignur le Roy et lur corn pur les gents

(7) ensembler vienent les dites gents de Gernemuc et le dit corn colerent [inserted: se lui(?) per-a–] et le debuiserent contre la pees nostre seignur le Roy et les …

(8) [en]core et ne suffrent pas lur Baillifs feir lur office come fere deverount et soleient alur desheritaunce et lur gref damage.

(9) Auxi sut le mescredy en la symaine de pas[c]h… prochein passe la ou les gents de Wynchelese furent apparailment en una Nief

(10) ….. lour batel de aler sur … et sur les enemyes nostre seignur le Roi la viene une Nief de Gernemuc ove gents bien arriez

(11) et apelerent les gents del bat de Wynchelese et les p……   l……ire…………….. x ensi le firent et apres ce qe eux estre

(12) prisonez en lur nief tantost les corerent sure et les baterent nauvrerent maynerent ou …… de eux tuerent. De totes …

(13) choses et autres eux tochauntes eux se mettent en le dit nostre seignur le Roy.

II. TNA website summary of SC 8/320/E434

1) The people show that the people of Winchelsea and Rye have entered an alliance to destroy the navy of Great Yarmouth and have equipped their ships and on a certain day attacked a ship of Yarmouth called took their goods into their barge and killed and wounded many of the crew in contempt of the king and against his peace.

2) They complain of a similar attack on a ship called ‘le Amlete de Jernem”.

3) They complain of the people of the ports who brought their goods and merchandises to the vills of Little Yarmouth and Gorleston at the time of the fair of Great Yarmouth, and held a fair and market to the great impoverishment of the town of Great Yarmouth.

4) They complain of the actions of the people of the ports who take only customs from each ship coming to Great Yarmouth during its fair, but now take it at other times. They request remedy having regard for their voluntary service to the king.

Endorsement: This petition was delivered by . . . of Yarmouth to the king on behalf of the people of Yarmouth at the third week of Easter in the . . . year at Westminster and upon this the king wishes to have advice and will say his will, and likewise to the petition of the of the Cinque Ports delivered to him against those of Yarmouth is attached to it.

Transcription of SC 8/320/E434

(1) A nostre seignur le Roi et a son Counseil mustrent ses lyges genz de sa ville de [grante Jernemuth] qe les genz

(2) de Wynchelese et de la Rye se sunt ore de novel entre allyez a destrure la navye [de] Jernemuth

(3) et aceo fere unt(?) atirez nefs et Barges des queux le mescredi en la semeyne de Pasche [prochein]

(4) passe une nef de la dite ville de Jernemuth apelle la Becon en haute [mer] en cel … pes et dam…

(5) entrement, et qant eux furent entrez lur armeurex  et  lur  autres  bon[es]      regeterent(?) en lur barge

(6) et plusurs genz en la dite nef esteanz tuerent et navererent en despit de nostre seignur le Roy [et] contre

(7) sa pees et la furme du dist en afermance de la pees entre … par son(?) pere ……

(8) Et auxi le jodi en la semayne penouse dum(?) passe –tre-………………. appelle [Amlete] de [Jernemuth]

(9) en la haute [mer] a faitz(?) et as arme[urex] et bens ……eny ……………… ment et san–sas a la vailaunce

(10) de xx £ pristent et amenerent et plusurs ………… unt … a………….. tis armes(?)

(11) Estre     ceo    la    ou    contenu     est     …   le    dist(?)     avandit     qe     m…. e seyt………… ment a la grante Jernemuth et

(12) nourye aillurs les ge[ntz  de] …… …ttre……….. lur boens et lur marchandies a les villes de petite Jernemuth

(13) de Gorleston… et illoqes de ce ……. feyre et [market]……………… de la dite ville de grante Jernemuth

(14) encore … la fairre…………. fare le dist

(15) Derichef la … en…n…ries(?) ……. contre no– … les [gentz] …….s Portz de …… prendre tant(?) son…….

(16) de trehe….. nos …… -mor de la dite feire …… …s i qe………… appellez firpenyes pur deux

(17) feu…. ……………………..ez pur …….. a ………… nefs…… la dite havene et

(18) …….. les ……. d……………. sovenere — de novel leiment(?) de

(19) — .i. et nefs …….ux aus…………….f…………… custumeres, les avantdiz  firpenyse ce

(20) …. fu…….e d……………..nt …..  par ………..[ne]f……… retrehunt devenir a la dite havene de qu….

(21) la feyre ………in….t …………. les dites genz de grant Jernemuth prunt(?) — qil pleyse a nostre seignur

(22) le Roy [et] a son conseil les………… us apres ordener remedie eyantz regard a ceo qe eux lur ancestres

(23) et lur predecessours ausiben en temps … pere come en son temps unt eyde et servi de lur franchise

(24) volentz de lur ……..s et de lur……….. a lur grantez custages en tuz les lus et a totes les feil les qe eux

(25) une este a ces……….. ausi penalement come si eux ussunt este tenuz a ces fere pur service tut

(26) tegnyvent(?) il la…………. de les q………. lv. livres par an pur tuz services.