London history over 2000 years

London history over 2000 years

Chapter 21. Fleet Prison Warden. - John Ashton 1888

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The second count brought against him by his mutinous prisoners was "Remouing a prisoner out of his chamber, hauing 51 lib. 1 s. hid vnder his bed, which the prisoner required he might go to his chamber to dispose of, which was denied, and he thrust vp in another roome close prisoner, vntill the Warden and some of his seruants rifled his bed of that mony."

Hear the Warden's defence:--"By this is pretended that one Coppin (who euer did beare the name of a poore fellowe) lost 51 li., with takeing whereof, if he dare charge any person or persons the Lawe is and hath beene open for him theis two yeares past. But his abettors haue putt it here rather to infame, then that they can think it true, as by the ensueing answeare appeares.

"For Edward Coppin, liued as a poore prisoner in the Fleete for breach of a decree, and continueing above six yeares, would never be drawen to pay the Warden one penny for meate, drinke, lodging, or attendance; but at last he ran away, and was upon the Warden's pursuite taken againe, but before he ran away, he was sometymes restrayned of the libertye of the Fleete yards and walks (as is the custome of all prisons in England); and he lodging in the three Tower Chambers with sixteene persons, they often thretned their keeper to stabb him, to take away the keyes of the prison, to bind him, to hang him; lastly they fortefied that prison, soe that the Warden could not dispose or order them. And with two malletts and steele chissells they had cutt the stone workes of the dore, soe as noe locks or bolts could shutt them; and while they were thus doeinge Coppin came downe to fetch a mallett, wherewith he was taken beneath, and presentlie put into another warde aparte from his fellowes, about three a clock in the afternoone 15 July 1619, not speakeing of any money."

Master Coppin was one of Boughton's gang, but even that _malfaiseur_ could not back up his claim, for "A rumour was spredd in the Fleete that Coppin had lost 50 li. The Warden heareing thereof, sent for Coppin, and asked him: he said he would say nothing except Sir Francis Inglefield were present. Then the Warden said, Nay, Coppin, if you have nothing to say to me, you may depart againe.

"Then the Warden was informed by Mr. Boughton and Wall, that the day before it happened that Coppin was removed, they had made meanes to borrowe some money upon a pawne, and Coppin professed and swore he had not so much (being fower (4) pounds) as they demanded. Then the Warden caused Coppin's trunck (being new and well locked) to be opened in Coppin's presence, and delivered it to him, in which Trunck within a Bagg put in a Box (as they said) there was about xxix^s; and then was sett on foote this rumour when Coppin had advised with Mr. Rookwood to doe it.

"About January 1620, Edward Coppin confessed that he never receaved any money since he came to Prison.

"Mr. Williams saith that he hath heard that Coppin hath confessed that he lost noe money."

So we may acquit the Warden on this count. Poor Man! he had a rough lot to deal with, but it is to our advantage that it was so, for his refutation of the charges brought against him throws a flood of light on the domestic manners of the time, and of the Fleet prison in particular.

The third count against the Warden was one of robbery, "11 lib. 6 s. taken out of the Trunk, and by violence, from the person of a close prisoner sicke in his bed, by the Warden and his seruants." And Harris meets this, as all others, fairly and straightforwardly. Says he:--"This toucheth money taken from one Thraske, then a Jewdaiser, or halfe Jewe, committed close prisoner by the Lords of the Councell, from whom, and such like, though in the Gatehouse, King's Bench, Fleete, &c., it hath beene used to take away and keepe their money, yet the Warden tooke not his until he abused it very dangerouslie, and whether this takeing away may be said Robbery, let the answeare followeing decide.

"And although the complainte be used with a Circumstance, as if the Prisoner were sick, thereby to make a shewe as if the Warden gaped at his death and money; that was most untrue for Thraske was in perfect health."

This prisoner was sent to the Fleet, to be put in the pillory, whipped and branded, and, besides, to suffer solitary confinement, but he found means to write letters to the King and the Lord Chancellor, and the Warden was much blamed for allowing him so to do. But poor Harris, who must have been plagued almost to death by his very recalcitrant charges, could not find out whence his prisoner procured his writing materials, and at last came to the correct conclusion that he was bribing the gaoler who waited upon him. So, with some servants, he personally searched Mr. Thraske's apartment and person, and found his pens, ink, and paper, and also L11 6s. in money, together with a bag and cord with which he used to receive supplies from outside, and by means of which he disseminated his pernicious literature. All of which the Warden very properly confiscated, but the money was kept, and used for the prisoner's benefit. "When Thraske had worne out his cloathes and desired other, the Lord Chauncellor bid the Warden buy for Thraske some cloathes, which was done accordingly, even soe much as Thraske desired; the Warden alsoe gave him money to buy wyne for his comforte at tymes." And, in the long run, the poor Warden declares that he was about L80 out of pocket by his prisoner.

The last charge we will investigate, is that of "Excessiue rates of Chambers." (No. 13 on the list of 19) "Whereby orders no man ought to pay for any Chamber, the Warden allowing bed and bedding, aboue 2s. 4d. a weeke, he exacteth 8s., 10s., 13s. 4d. and of some twentie shillings a weeke without bedding." The Warden replies to this that "the Orders of the Prison are, That noe Parlor Comoners and Hall Comoners must lye two in a Bedd like Prisoners, They of the Parlor at ijs. iiijd. the weeke. They of the Hall at xiiijd. If any such will lye in the Prison then there is noe question of their payment, nor any more required. But the missery is this that none there will pay at all, but stand upon it that they should pay nothing, which is contrary to right, to Custome, and to usage.... An^o 1597. The Prisoners then Articling against the Warden Sett forth that one Prisoner paid xxxs. others xxs., xvs., xiis., xs. a weeke for Chamber without Bedd. The Warden then made his Answeare to the Comittees that he took xs. a Chamber, and the rest was for more chambers than one, and in respect of Dyett, though they had none, but fetched it abroad.

"Soe if Prisoners will have more ease than ordinarie, and a Chamber or two for themselves and theirs in the Warden's howse, they are by the orders and Constitutions to Compound with the Warden for it, it being the Warden's freehould, and demyseable.... To such prisoners as lye two in a Bedd, the Warden is to find them Bedd, and for Bedd and Chamber they are to pay. Whether by Bedd is meant all furniture of Bedding, that is to be doubted, for it was never put in practise; but as for those which lye in the Warden's freehould by agreement he is not bound to find them Bedd or Bedding except it be so conditioned. And such will hardly vouchsafe to lye on the comon Bedding which passeth from Man to Man; And the Warden can as hardlie buy a new Bedd for every new prisoner which cometh, and therefore the lodgings of ease were provided for men of quality and not for the mean sorte of prisoners, as the accusation would seeme to inferre; And when Mr. Chamberlayne informed against the Warden touching Chambers, All the cheife gentlemen in the Fleete certified under their hands that they held their Chambers by agreement to have a Chamber alone to each, and were contented with the rates."

That the Wardenship of the Fleet was an onerous position, may be inferred from Harris's statement that "he hath had at one tyme the King's prisoners for two hundred thowsand[108] pounds debt, besides the affayres of State."

That the office of Warden of the Fleet was of very ancient origin we have seen in the case of Nathanael de Leveland, and he also proves that it was heritable, for he, and his family, had held it for 130 years, and more. And it had a far-reaching jurisdiction, for in the 3 Eliz.[109] we learn that "Upon an adjournment of the term to Hertford, several prisoners were committed to the Castle there. This Castle was part of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Queen had granted a patent to A. of the Custody of this Castle for his Life; resolved by the Judges that the Warden of the Fleet shall have the Custody _there_ of the Prisoners committed by the Chancery, Common Pleas and Exchequer: For he is the Officer of those Corts; and although the Patentee has the Custody of the Castle, and though it be the Prison of the County, yet his interest ought to give place to the public weal, and common justice."

In course of time, the Wardenship became a position which was openly sold; and our old friend Harris makes no secret of it. "They likewise alledge that I^o Elizabeth it was purchased by Tirrell at the rate of 160 li. per annum and that long after it was held at 100 li. per annum, and refused for 200 li. But now that (thorough extortion) there is made 4,000 li. per annum by the relation delivered to one Mr. Shotbolt.

"To which is answeared, that the purchase paid by Tirrell, (as appears by the deed inrolled) was 6,000 markes or 4,000 li. which, if it be devided at tenne or twelve yeares purchase, being more than an office of that nature was worth in those dayes (which is above three score yeares past) it will bring 400 li. tenne yeares purchase, and therefore here is _sutor ultra crepidam_, for 160 li. at that rate would yeild but 1,600 li. in money, and there was not then the fift part of the buildings and lodgings which now are.

"Mr. Anslowe (as is credibly informed) held it by fyne (and otherwise) at 600 li. per annum, and had but some part of the benefitts of the prison, nothing of the pallace at Westminster. And as for this Warden's valuation of it at 4000 li. per annum, it might be, supposeing that if the benefitts of the pallace were had &c. But what if the one with the other cost in expences 4,000 li. per annum, what will be then advanced?" &c.

This selling of the Office of Warden, led to a great squabble in the early days of Queen Anne's reign, and it seems to have arisen in this way. A Warden of the Fleet, named Ford, in the reign of William and Mary, was found guilty of suffering one Richard Spencer to escape, but was acquitted of some minor charges, and a certain Col. Baldwin Leighton obtained a grant of the Office on April 6, 1690. On June 25, 1691, this grant was quashed, and Leighton soon after died. A Mr. Tilley, in the fifth year of William and Mary purchased the Inheritance of the said Office, together with the Mansion and Gardens thereto appertaining, but on Dec. 23, 1704, judgment was given in the Queen's Bench that the Office be seized into her Majesty's hands, and this was affirmed in Parliament.

The discipline in the prison at this time seems to have been very bad, so much so that many witnesses who could have spoken of Tilley's misdeeds were hindered from giving evidence, some by being put into dungeons; others, by violence, bribes, or other artifices. Take a case in point, which happened about this time. The case of Robert Elliot and others. "One Francis Chartyres was Arrested at the several Suits of the said several Persons, about the 4th of May last, all their Debts amounting to 140 l. and upwards, which cost them 20 l. to effect: And the said Francis Chartyres being a stubborn and an obstinate Man, and dangerous to Arrest, he having killed several Persons upon the like attempt, and at this Arrest run the Bayliffs through. And after he was taken, he by _Habeas Corpus_ turned himself over to the said Fleet Prison. And Mr. Tilley, and the Turnkey, and one Whitwood, an Officer of the Fleet, were acquainted, by the persons above mentioned, what a dangerous Man he was, and what it cost them to take him; but they took no notice thereof, and declared they would let him out for all of them; and so they did, and the next Day the said Persons Arrested him again, and he went over to the Fleet a second time, and was immediately set at liberty; who coming to the Persons aforesaid, at whose Suit he was Arrested, bid them defiance; saying, _He was a Freeman, for that he had given 18 Guineas for it_, and they _should never have a farthing of their Debts_, which they now doubt of, the said Chartyres being gone for Scotland."

Hatton, in his "New View of London," 1708, gives, the boundary of the _Rules_, and also descants on the pleasantness of the Prison, as an abode. "Fleet Prison, situate on the East side of the Ditch, between Ludgate Hill and Fleet Lane, but the Rules extend Southward on the East side of Fleet Canal to Ludgate Hill, and thence Eastward to Cock Ally on the South side of Ludgate Hill, and to the Old Bayly on the North, and thence Northward in the Old Bayley both sides the Street, to Fleet Lane, and all that Lane, and from the West End, southward to the Prison again. It is a Prison for Debtors from any part of the Kingdom, for those that act or speak any thing in contempt of the Courts of Chancery and Common Pleas; and for the pleasantness of the Prison and Gardens, and the aforesaid large extent of its Rules, it is preferred before most other Prisons, many giving Money to turn themselves over to this from others."

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