A Caernar­forn Quar­ter Ses­sions Record from 1566

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jon Bauck­ham

Quar­ter Ses­sions records, where they sur­vive, can be highly re­ward­ing doc­u­ments to ex­plore. As well as re­veal­ing our an­ces­tors’ mis­de­meanours, they can also tell us about the work­ings of the con­tem­po­rary le­gal sys­tem and the at­ti­tudes of so­ci­ety to­wards crime and pun­ish­ment.

The prac­tice of hold­ing Quar­ter Ses­sions lasted un­til the early 1970s, but there are records that sur­vive from as far back as the me­dieval pe­riod. For this month’s Gem from the Ar­chive, Lynn Crowther Fran­cis from Gwynedd Ar­chives Ser­vice pro­vides an ex­am­ple from the 16th cen­tury that re­veals how pi­rates op­er­ated off the coast of North Wales – long be­fore Black­beard and Anne Bonny were sail­ing the high seas.

Which doc­u­ment have you cho­sen?

I have cho­sen a doc­u­ment from the Quar­ter Ses­sions Col­lec­tion at Caernar­fon Record Of­fice. Dated 1566, it is an ar­ti­cle of en­quiry con­cern­ing the tak­ing by English pi­rates of a Dutch ship laden with sugar, goatskins and other wares on her voy­age from Bar­bary to An­twerp.

Jeven ap Mere­deth and Richard ap Mere­deth are ac­cused of re­ceiv­ing, aid­ing and as­sist­ing the pi­rates when they ar­rived at St Tud­wal’s, an is­land si­t­u­ated off the coast of the Llynˆ Penin­sula.

What does it re­veal about the lives of our an­ces­tors?

The doc­u­ment pro­vides an in­sight into what was go­ing on lo­cally and be­yond, as well as the part that our an­ces­tors played in th­ese events.

Writ­ten on four pages of parch­ment, the doc­u­ment firstly ac­cuses Jeven ap Mere­deth and Richard ap Mere­deth of help­ing the pi­rates, be­fore go­ing on to list a se­ries of ques­tions that the Jus­tices of the Peace for the County of Caernar­fon will put to the pair.

The first ques­tion asks what the pi­rates were called, and if they brought the ship to St Tud­wal’s. They also want to know if any of the pi­rates have left the ship, and if so, whether they re­main in the area – in­clud­ing a spe­cific man who was named Mor­gan.

Fol­low­ing this, it asks if any of the pi­rates were fa­mil­iar to Jeven, Richard, their fam­ily, ser­vants or any other in­hab­i­tants of St Tud­wal’s. The na­ture of the ques­tions seems to sug­gest that there were lo­cal links to the pi­rates, and that they didn’t ran­domly ar­rive there.

The doc­u­ment then ques­tions in de­tail the meet­ings both men had with the pi­rates. It asks if any of their neigh­bours re­quested their help or their boat to en­trap the pi­rates, and why they didn’t ap­pre­hend them. It asks if they have helped pi­rates in the past, what goods they re­ceived from them, where they dis­trib­uted the goods and to whom, and for what price.

There are no fur­ther doc­u­ments in the col­lec­tion that en­able us to fol­low the story but, nev­er­the­less, the record in­di­cates both the will­ing­ness of peo­ple to aid pi­rates and th hat th he au­thor­i­ties were wor­ried about the threat of for­eign in­va­sion. . Clea arly, any mis­de­meano ours along the coast wouldw raise ques­tions ab bout thet safety of the bor­ders.

Why did you u choose this doc­u­ment?

I chose this doc­u­ment to high­light the Quar­ter Ses­sions Col­lec­tion at Caernar­fon Record Of­fice, which I be­lieve is an un­der­used re­source.

Dat­ing from 1541 to the 1970s, it iss a mine of in­for­mat­tion about the his­tory of the county and gives an in­sight into the lives of in­di­vid­u­als and theirt com­mu­ni­ties across the cen­turies. This in­ncludes one fam­ily who were ac­cused of con­duct­ing a drama at their prop­erty duringur­ing the Com­mon­wealth pe­riod, the woman who was nailed by her ear and whipped for steal­ing a piece of cheese, plus count­less peo­ple who were bound over to keep the peace.

Prior to the for­ma­tion of

county coun­cils in 1889 the Quar­ter Ses­sions were re­spon­si­ble for ad­min­is­ter­ing the coun­ties, which made them re­spon­si­ble for all sorts of ac­tiv­i­ties. There­fore Quar­ter Ses­sions col­lec­tions not only in­cludeld doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to the pros­e­cu­tion of in­di­vid­u­als, but ad­min­is­tra­tive records that are name-rich and there­fore of value to the fam­ily his­to­rian.

Th­ese records can also pro­vide re­searchers with a more rounded view of their an­ces­tors and the com­mu­ni­ties theyy in­hab­ited while also en­abling them to view the ef­fect the wider world had on their fore­fa­thers.

I there­fore urge fam­ily his­to­ri­ans to delve into the Quar­ter Ses­sions hold­ings at their lo­cal record of­fice.

Tell us more about your col­lec­tions…

Gwynedd Ar­chives Ser­vice has two record of­fices, one in Caernar­fon and the other at Dol­gel­lau, both con­tain­ing a wealth of in­for­ma­tion. The col­lec­tions date back to the 12th cen­tury and in­clude the records of Gwynedd Coun­cil and its pre­de­ces­sor au­thor­i­ties, court and coroners’ records, parish reg­is­ters and also the col­lec­tions of in­di­vid­u­als.

Both record of­fices hold ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to the in­dus­try of the area, such as the records for all the ma­jor slate quar­ries, and a va­ri­ety of mar­itime records. All the col­lec­tions re­flect the rich his­tory of the com­mu­ni­ties of Gwynedd.


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