Cressus stole the etrog, and other stories.
December 19, 2011 4:32 PM   Subscribe

The Fine Rolls of Henry III may not be the most reader–friendly historical record, but the Fine of the Month series provides accessible short essays on England during Henry's long reign. Most recently, the stealing of the "Apple of Eve" from the synagogue of Winchester, and the king makes a funny.

Henry has also been blogging his year.
posted by Jehan (12 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The suggestion that an etrog (citron) was the "Apple of Eve" is extremely plausible. I think the affair must have been a bit of communal squabbling: Cressus was to be fined for a trespass, not charged with theft, so he had either returned the "apple of Eve" or it was effectively worthless. So what was the "shame and opprobrium"? Surely the fact that the synagogue was without an etrog for one or more of the services.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:01 PM on December 19, 2011

I think "trespass" here is just to be regarded in the general sense justifying the fine, probably better understood as "transgression". A specific charge in law would be a matter for elsewhere. Also, I think the "shame and opprobrium" is the standing of the community itself before god and the king from having a thief among them. I could be wrong on that point, and certainly your idea is interesting considering the input the Jewish community had on bringing this matter forward.
posted by Jehan at 5:12 PM on December 19, 2011

It makes me happy that this exists. Thank you for posting it.
posted by immlass at 5:45 PM on December 19, 2011

What an interesting project. I have never heard of the Fine Rolls. Thanks for posting.
posted by unliteral at 5:46 PM on December 19, 2011

This is a fabulous post. Thank you. I have a lot of fun reading about these things in history which didn't really happen.

seriously though, it's awesome
posted by koeselitz at 6:44 PM on December 19, 2011

This is really neat, thanks!

Jehan: note that "trespass" in 1252 England has a very different meaning than "trespass" does now. My English Legal History is rusty, but at that point in history I believe that basically the king could say that any wrong having to do with non-physical actions was a "trespass on the case" and create a writ to address the wrong; no "trespass" in the modern sense (entering another's property) was necessary. Wikipedia has a not-great article here.
posted by louie at 7:08 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

PROF. JONES: This is not to say, of course, that the system was as sophisticated as it later came to be. I asked the Professor of Medieval studies at Cambridge why this was.

PROF. HEGERMAN: (stuttering) Well, i-it may not have been a - a statutory obligation, but, uh, I mean, uh, a guy who was a freeman whuh - was obliged in the medieval system to...

PROF. JONES: To do boonwork?

PROF. HEGERMANN: That's right. There's an example, ah, from the village rolls, ah, in 1313.

PROF. JONES: And I believe you're going to do it for us.

PROF. HEGERMAN: That's right, yeah...

Oh it's written in the village rolls
That if one plough-team wants an oxen
And that oxen is lent
Then the villeins and the ploughmen got to have the loooord's consent.
Yeah, yeah,
Then the villeins and the ploughmen got to have the lord's consent
Then the villeins and the ploughmen got to have the lord's consent
Then the villeins and the ploughmen got to have the lord's consent
Then the villeins and the ploughmen got to have the lord's consent
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:44 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

According to An Introduction to English Legal History (J Baker, 4th Ed., pp 59-61) trespass at that time was what we would call a suit for damages caused by a criminal act. In order for the appellant (what we would call a plaintiff) to use the royal courts he had to allege that the trespass took place "vi et armis", "with force and arms". So you have allegations that a carpenter destroyed timber with force and arms, or that a smith attacked a horse with force and arms. Each of these is probably a simple claim for damages on account of shoddy work. The appeal (the legal action) might include an allegation of felony, but this was dangerous to the appellant - the defendant might demand trial by combat. In any event, the defendant might be found liable for damages or for damages plus a fine.

Later on (in the mid-1300s) trespass came to include actions actions "on the case" (that is, allegedly unusual cases of trespass for which the old formulas were insufficient) so the appellant no longer needed to be able to claim that the trespass took place vi et armis, such as actions for damages caused by negligence. At this stage, though, vi et armis was a necessary part of the formula.

So apart from the fact that Cressus necessarily took the etrog (rather than possess it through some purely passive act like refusing to surrender a key) we really can't tell anything about it. It might have been a felony, but the appellant(s) didn't want to be liable in case he was found not guilty. Anyway, interesting case.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:08 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just came in here to say I love this.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 11:16 PM on December 19, 2011

This is fantastic, thanks so much for linking to it.

(Those of us who grew up with the version of the Lord's Prayer which includes "forgive us our trespasses" have no problem with this usage of the word!)
posted by Coobeastie at 7:03 AM on December 20, 2011

I particularly like the discovery that Henry III knew how to play an especially good practical joke.
posted by fearnothing at 10:48 AM on December 20, 2011

Joe: thanks for taking that off the shelf; I wrote my comment while on the train and therefore didn't have access to my copy.
posted by louie at 10:52 AM on December 21, 2011

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