Brawling women in Skipton, 1671



skipton court rollsThe Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society is fortunate to have on deposit, courtesy of the owners of Skipton Castle, an impressive set of court rolls relating to the Skipton area dating back to the thirteenth century (DD121).


I was looking at some of the seventeenth century Skipton Burgess court rolls, which include many presentments for affray (fighting). Unfortunately, few details are given apart from the names of those involved and the dates when the incidents took place. However, I was very surprised and intrigued to come across a number of affrays involving women. Some concerned a man and a woman, but in 1671 there seems to have been an unusual outbreak of violence in Skipton among the women themselves.

During the late seventeenth century the court usually met in April / May and December. On 2 October 1671 it dealt with twelve cases of affray dating back to 12 May of which nearly half involved women against women.

4 July [Tuesday]: Affray made or suppossed to be made by Ann Russels upon Isabell Pickeringe vid. [widow]

4 July [Tuesday]: Affray made or suppossed to be made by Isabell Pickeringe upon Ann Russels

1 Aug 1671 [Tuesday]: Afray made or supposed to be made by Margaret wyef of Thomas Burnsay upon Margaret wyef of William Thornes

7 Aug 1671 [Monday]: Afray made or supposed to be made by Margaret Burnsay upon Margaret Thornes

6 Sept [Wednesday]: Afray made or suppossed to be made by Ann Bolland upon Sarah Bowesse widow

10 Sept [Sunday]: Afray made or suppossed to be made by Ann Longfellow upon Ann Jueson

All the incidents were witnessed and in the two August cases involving Margaret Burnsay and Margaret Thornes, the witnesses were themselves women. On 5 September Margaret Thornes’ husband, William, made ‘afray and blud’ upon Margaret Burnsall, his wife’s adversary, and Margaret Pearson. Evidently this particular feud, whatever it was, would not be settled easily.

Sadly we shall never know the full backgrounds behind these women’s violent behaviour, nor do we know where the fights took place, the extent of the injuries inflicted or if any weapons were used. Details of the verdicts and penalties imposed also appear to be lost. However the images of Ann Longfellow, Ann Jueson and the others savagely attacking and no doubt hurling abuse at each other in seventeenth century Craven dialect somewhere in Skipton should perhaps remind us that violent and anti social behaviour in our towns and cities is not a new phenomenon.

Ian McAlpine, volunteer