Early Modern Documents: Indemnity for Horses

[posted by Gavin Robinson, 8:06 am, 14 May 2013]

This month we have another indemnity case. The last one was about sequestration, which seems to be the most common type of case. Another very common complaint is that the petitioner is being sued for a horse, which occurs in about 10% of the surviving cases. This is not because there was a shortage of horses in England during the civil wars (Ian Gentles and John Shedd suggested that it was, but Peter Edwards has disproved it: see Gentles, New Model Army, p. 130; Shedd, ‘Legalism‘, p. 1096; Edwards, ‘Supply of Horses‘, pp. 55, 57). Although there were theoretically enough horses in England, soldiers often took them by force, sometimes because Parliament couldn’t provide them any other way, sometimes just because it was more convenient. Horses were valuable, and stealing them was usually taken very seriously. Despite this, the absolute number of horses involved in indemnity cases was quite small. Most horse seizure didn’t result in a court case. When it did, the soldiers who originally took the horses weren’t always directly involved. Horses could change hands many times, and under the Common Law, anyone in possession of a horse that was alleged to be stolen could be sued, even if they were not guilty of stealing it in the first place. This made horse cases very different from sequestration cases. Sequestration was very closely linked to allegiance: petitioners were under pressure to show that they had been loyal to Parliament and that the sequestered defendant hadn’t. Anne Hughes identified this as a general trend in indemnity cases, but horse cases are a significant exception (Hughes, ‘Parliamentary Tyranny‘, pp. 67–9; see my book, pp. 140–45, for a more detailed argument than I’ve given here). The horse might have passed through so many owners that it was a long way removed from the issues that the King and Parliament were fighting over. The crucial point for the Indemnity Committee to consider was whether the horse had been in the service of Parliament, not whether the petitioner had. This month’s petition is an example of this kind of case, where a long chain of ownership led to complicated court actions and then an appeal for indemnity.

As usual, the quoted text is all in Crown Copyright and released under Open Government Licence. Click the thumbnail to see page image on Flickr (non-commercial use only).

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TNA: PRO, SP 24/75, part 3, Symonds vs Arram

To the right hon[ora]ble the Com[mit]tee for Indempnity

The humble petic[i]on of George Symonds gent Tho[mas] Baugh gent & John Roberts yeoman

Sheweth

That yo[u]r Pet[itione]r Symonds by way of Exchange bought a Dunne Nagg about June 1647 of one Capt[ain] Bartholomew Helby w[hi]ch was taken from the Enemy & ridden two yeares in the States Service w[hi]ch Nagg yo[u]r said Pet[itione]r in like manner sould to yo[u]r Pet[itione]r Baugh who sould the same to yo[u]r Pet[itione]r Roberts.

But now soe it is may it please yo[u]r honors the said Nagg being in the possession of the said Roberts was lately challenged by one John Arram of Little Deane in the County of Glouc[ester] Tanner who by reason the property of the said Nagg was never altered according to the strict rules of the Law did not only p[ro]secute yo[u]r said Pet[itione]r Rob[er]ts at Law & recover the said Nagg ag[ains]t him but hath alsoe brought Acc[i]ons of Trespasse ag[ains]t him & yo[u]r other Pet[itione]rs & hath caused yo[u]r Pet[itione]rs to sue one another to their great losse & vexac[i]on and giveth out that the said Nagg was stollen from him the said Arram to the great p[re]judice of yo[u]r said Pet[itione]rs reputac[i]on,

yo[u]r Pet[itione]rs therefore humbly pray that the said John Arram may bee summoned to appeare before yo[u]r honors to answere the p[re]misses and that they may bee Imdempnified ag[ains]t the said suits & have such releife & satisfacc[i]on for their unjust molestac[i]on as to yo[u]r honors shall seeme meet

And yo[u]r Pet[itione]rs shall ever pray &c

Geo[rge] Symonds Tho[mas] Baugh John Roberts

30 May 1651

Yes, the petition was submitted 6 years after the horse entered Parliament’s service. It’s not even stated when it was taken from the original owner, but this wasn’t relevant because it had apparently been done by the King’s forces. Once parliamentary soldiers captured it from them, it became prize goods according to the laws of war. In this case, it was used as a remount, and the soldier(s) who took it may have been paid by the state. The ‘strict rules of the Law’ said that horses had to be bought and sold in the open at markets and fairs, and that details of the horse and the transaction had to be recorded in a toll book, although this was increasingly ignored during the civil wars even when the sale was voluntary (Edwards, ‘Supply of Horses’, pp. 61-3). And in practice, civilian courts often didn’t recognise military laws or ordinances of Parliament. This case is mainly a conflict over property and between different types of law but it still indirectly involves allegiance, because the parties had to take a position over which rules had more force.

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