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The Green Bag

Associations with Stuart tyranny have so indelibly stained the Star Chamber's name that it is easy to forget its services in earlier days. A strong arm was needed to restore civil order after the Wars of the Roses, and for many years the Star Chamber did excellent work in curbing the turbulent nobles who were too power ful for the ordinary courts — the Capulets and Montagues of the day, against whose retainers were aimed the stringent laws against the wearing of liveries. The reality of the evil which brought about these laws is often to be seen in the Star Chamber records; and the danger was not from secular offenders only. In Bath, for example, the scene of a fierce contest between the Prior and a local magnate, we are told that "the seid priour commonly rideth with xviii horses or thereaboute and his servauntes all in one lyverey or clothyng." The attempt to serve on this dignitary a sub poena from the Star Chamber was met by the threat from two of his retainers that if the messenger "wolde serve eny wrytt upon the sayd Pryor, ther master, they wolde cutt off bothe his eyres." And a century-old dispute between the Dean of Wells and the Abbot of Glas tonbury brings out the retainers of each in war-like fashion, the Abbot's men "araied in maner of warre, that is to say, with bowes billes and other wepyns . . . abidyng at the seid walle with their bowes bent & arowes in them redy to haue shot at the tenauntes" of the Dean, and the Dean's followers "openly proclayming in the paroche churche of Wedmore aforesaid that if the tenauntes of the said abbot, callyng them chorles, breke downe the bank or stakes cny more they sholde be betyn & slayne and fryed in their own grese." over such cases, for the miscarriage might well be due to corruption or intimidation by some great man.

To this high court the jury which acquitted Wynscott was reported for discipline. The jurymen made a stout and shrewd defense. They knew Wyn scott as one "accustomyd to be dronke and yet contynually taken for a true man," and to them Boldy's story "was but a feyned tale" contrived bewteen him and Frenche "to trowble the seid Wynscote for dyspleasure." The Crown's whole case depended on Boldy and Frenche; and the jury knew that the very house with which Wynscott had just made so free had once been his own, and that ever since Boldy had "goten the seid house of his handes" there had been "variance" between them. This led them to discredit Boldy's testimony. French's credibility was impaired by his tale of helping Wynscott at the first and concealing from the authorities the dam aging facts which he later asserted, and by the contrast with his subsequent zeal for the prosecution. The jury thought that "yf the seyd Wynscott had desyred Frenche to convey the money from hym, Frenche wolde have made the seyd tythingmen and the resydue pryvey to yt immedyatly, so that the money myght have been found apon the seyd Wynscote." The evidence of Bowe and Leve impressed them not at all, because "they could not by any reason haue knowledge of the same mattir onles they had byn present." These two wit nesses "gave evydence precysely as of ther owne knowledge" to Wynscott's opening the door with a counterfeit key, breaking open the chest, and abstract ing the purse, and to Boldy's return and discovery of the sleeping intruder, and how "abasshed" he was thereat. This much offended the jury, not only be cause "yt aperyd by theyr owne evy dence that nyether of them knew eny thyng in the seid matter untyll they were callyd by the seyd tythyngman,"