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General Eyre (Crime, Criminals & Courts)

Nature of Source

Records from travelling courts of criminal law that heard common law cases. They assembled every few years and dispensed criminal justice outside of London where criminal law was centralised. In the provinces the only courts operating were manorial courts which dispensed justice in petty cases. Most surviving records include the accounts and plea rolls with the plea rolls offering the better source of genealogical information.

The records were written in Latin and are very difficult (almost impossible) to use. Fines or "amercements" could be levied on individuals as well as boroughs and hundreds. Also note that many surnames especially among the poor were not hereditary until the 14th century so identifying an ancestor could be difficult. Courts of Assize gradually replaced the General Eyre in the 14th century.

Also see
Assize Records
Calendars of Prisoners
Criminal Petitions
Criminal Registers
License Registers/'tickets of leave'
Petty Sessions
Quarter Session Records
Registers of Habitual Criminals
Transported Convicts

Where Found

The National Archives (KB 26, surviving eyre rolls for the reign of Richard I and a few of those for the reign of John; JUST 1, Justices in Eyre, of Assize, of Oyer and Terminer, and of the Peace, etc: Rolls and Files, 1198-1528)
Selden Society (Published volumes)
Pipe Roll Society (Published volumes)

Period Covered

1194 - 1348

Genealogical Value

Name, address and occupation of defendant and plaintiff. Family relationships may be cited.

Further References

Bard, Robert. Tyburn: The Story of London's Gallows: Amberley Publishing, 2012

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Bard, Robert. Death in London: Places of Execution, Then and Now: Historical Publications, 2007 Buy Now on Amazon

Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006

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Brandon, David & Brooke. Alan. London West End 1800-1850 Murders And Misdemeanours: Amberley Publishing, 2009

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Brandon, David & Brooke. Alan. Olde London Punishments: The History Press (30 April 2010 Buy Now on Amazon

Cale, Michelle. Law and Society : an introduction to sources for criminal and legal history from 1800: PRO Publications, 1996

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Campbell, Charles. The Intolerable Hulks: British Shipboard Confinement 1776-1857 Fenestra Books, 2001

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Crook, David. Records of the General Eyre: Public Record Office, 1982

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Decharne, Max. Capital Crimes : Seven Centuries of London Life and Murder: Arrow Books, 2013

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Emsley, Clive. Crime and Society in England: 1750-1900: Routledge, 2010 Buy Now on Amazon
Emsley, Clive. Crime and Society in Twentieth Century England: Routledge, 2011 Buy Now on Amazon

Gilfillan, Ross. Crime and Punishment in Victorian London: A Street-Level View of the City's Underworld: Pen & Sword Books, 2014

Gray, Adrian. Crime and Criminals of Victorian England: The History Press, 2011

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Hall, Malcolm. Gloucestershire Murders and Misdemeanours 1820-1829: Amberley Publishing, 2008

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Hawkings, David. Criminal Ancestors: A Guide to Historical Criminal Records in England & Wales: The History Press, 2009

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Hawkings, David. Bound for Australia: A Guide to the Records of Transported Convicts and Early Settlers: The History Press, 2012

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Herber, Mark. Criminal London: A Pictorial History from Medieval Times to 1939: Phillimore & Co, 2002

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Higgs, Michelle. Prison Life in Victorian England: The History Press, 2007

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Hitchcock, Tim & Shoemaker, Bob. Tales from the Hanging Court: Hodder Arnold, 2006

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Howse, Geoffrey. A History of London's Prisons: Wharncliffe True Crime, 2012

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Jack, Elizabeth. A Victorian Prisoners of Gloucester Gaol: A Rogues' Gallery: The History Press, 2009

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Jeaffreson, John Cordy (ed). Middlesex County Records. 4 Vols: Greater London Council, 1972 (1886) (Volumes available to download and view at the Internet Archive or at British History Online)

 

Knapp, Andrew & Baldwin, William. The Newgate Calendar: London, 1828 (Available from: Google Books)

 

Marson, Edward. Prison: Five Hundred Years of Life Behind Bars: The National Archives, 2009  Buy Now on Amazon

May, Trevor. Victorian and Edwardian Prisons: Shire, 2008

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Oates, Dr Jonathan. Tracing Villains and Their Victims: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2017
Paley, Ruth & Fowler, Simon. Family Skeletons: Exploring The Lives of our Disreputable Ancestors: The National Archives, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Reake, Janet. How to Trace Your Convict Ancestors: Their Lives, Times and Records: Hale & Iremonger, 1999 Buy Now on Amazon

Stevens, Mark. Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum: Pen and Sword Books, 2013

Storey, Neil. The Victorian Criminal: Shire Publications, 2011

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Wade, Stephen. Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2009

Wade, Stephen. Tyranny and the Lash : Prisoners & Punishment in British History: Robert Hale Publishers, 2011

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Watson, Katherine. Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and their Victims: Hambledon Continuum, 2006

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Woolf, Alex. Past In Pictures : A Photographic View of Crime and Punishment: Wayland Publishers, 2013

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TNA Research Guide: General eyres 1194-1348

Websites

www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/crime-and-punishment.htm (TNA Guide: Looking for records of crime and punishment)
www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Linked-records.jsp (Guide and links relating to records for criminal cases)
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/family-history/Pages/Sources-for-tracing-London-criminals.aspx (Guildhall Library: Sources for Tracing London Criminals including Old Bailey Sessions Papers, Accounts of the Ordinary of Newgate, the British Trials microfiche and the Criminal Register Indexes)
www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/victorians/crime/crimepunishment.html (British Library Learning, Victorians: Crime including Victorian Prisons and Executions and Transportations)
www.cyndislist.com/prisons.htm (Links to relevant sources and resources)
www.hrionline.ac.uk/normans/sources.shtml (Lands of the Normans in England, 1204-1244: The historical sources. Guide to sources in The National Archives including Charter Rolls (C 53), Patent Rolls (C 66), Close Rolls (C 54), Fine rolls (C 60), Pipe rolls (E 372), Duplicate Chancellor's rolls (E 352), records of the General Eyre and commissions of assize and gaol delivery (JUST 1), Final concords or Feet of Fines (CP 21/1)

Online Databases

British History Online (The site consists of a digital library of British historical sources developed by Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust. The site is free to use with a search facility linking users to full transcripts of various sources. The contents of British History Online can also be searched at Connected Histories together with a number of other databases)
http://aalt.law.uh.edu (Digital images of documents from Medieval and Early Modern England from The National Archives, 1200 to 1650. Series covered include CP 40 (Court of common pleas plea rolls), KB 27 (Court of king's bench plea rolls), E 159 and E 368 (Memoranda rolls), E 13 (Exchequer plea rolls), C 33 (Chancery orders and decrees), JUST 1, (Records of the General Eyre and commissions of assize), CP 25 (Feet of Fines)

Transcriptions and indexes may be found at a local level.