Justice in the 16th Century

John Hunt araigned for 'living incontinently' with his servant Joan Willeys

In the 16th century criminal matters were dealt with at Quarter Sessions, and the more serious cases were passed on to the Assizes.  There were also Church Courts, dealing with ecclesiastical issues, and also events which were considered immoral, although not criminal.

One such hearing was held on 20th May 1530 when John Hunt of Harpenden was charged on two counts.  Firstly of “living incontinently with his servant Joan Willeys” and secondly “that you gave counsel to the said woman, and persuaded her to receive and drink certayne drinks to destroy the child she is with”.

The Lord Bishop charged him with having carnal knowledge of his servant.  John Hunt denied it.  His Lordship ordered him to appear next Wednesday with four “testifiers” (honest neighbours) to his innocence.  But before that the couple presented themselves at the Priory, and said that they had become betrothed.  John Hunt also admitted that he had known her carnally.

The Lord Bishop ordered that on a Sunday to be fixed, they should walk in public penance before the Processional Cross at Harpenden in a penitent manner, and that they should be married as soon as convenient; until which time, under pain of excommunication, they should not live incontinently.

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