The Court of Chivalry 1634-40: Richard Cust Introduces a New Website with Details of a Wide-Ranging Court of Charles I's Reign

By Cust, Richard | History Today, January 2007 | Go to article overview

The Court of Chivalry 1634-40: Richard Cust Introduces a New Website with Details of a Wide-Ranging Court of Charles I's Reign


Cust, Richard, History Today


CHEATING AT CARDS IS NOTHING NEW. On February 9th, 1640, William Viscount Monson caught Robert Welch esquire trying to shortchange him during a game of piquet at Welch's house in St Martin's Lane, London. According to later depositions, Welch had palmed two cards and tried to discard them when Monson was not looking. When Monson challenged him, Welch lost his temper saying, 'I will baffle you, just as you have been baffled by every boy in the town.' He was using the term in both of its current meanings--to publicly disgrace a nobleman who had been dishonoured, and to trick, or cheat, or confound someone; he was clearly attempting to humiliate Monson by implying that he was a simpleton, with too little wit to recognize the tricks played on him ever since he had come up to London.

Monson, unarmed, decided to beat a hasty retreat, but the furious Welch followed him into the street challenging him to a duel and offering to lend him his sword if he would only fight. Monson, on his own account, remained a model of coolness, declaring 'I beseech you Mr Welch, let me alone until tomorrow ... I will talk with you tomorrow.' However, the next day he went straight to the Court of Chivalry around the corner in Whitehall, and secured the right to bring a prosecution against Welch. Unfortunately we do not know the outcome of this case--and indeed it is probable that it never reached a verdict because the court's proceedings were suspended by the Long Parliament in December 1640; however, it is typical of the cluster of cases about duelling from the period of the court's greatest activity, 1634-40.

Over the past three years Dr Richard Cust and Dr Andrew Hopper of Birmingham University have been working on a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to make available on a website the proceedings of the Court of Chivalry during its heyday.

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