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University of Cambridge


Nearly 270 files and rolls of the Assises of Ely Island were revealed

Archivists have compiled a "rogue gallery" based on two hundred years of records, including offenses such as witchcraft and theft on a highway.

Cambridge archivists have screened over 270 manuscript manuscripts from the Assises of Ely Island.

The archives, dating from 1557 to 1775, contain crimes ranging from murder to theft of sheets worth 20 shillings.

The Assize Courts – commonly known as sitting – were replaced by the modern court system in 1972.

were courts held in the main towns of the county and presided over by invited judges of the London-based superior courts.

The Assizes of Ely Island would have judged the most serious criminal cases of the region at that time, including rape, counterfeiting and "vagrancy".

The documents, mainly in Latin, include procedures and acts of justice, depositions, jury lists, investigations and examinations.

Among them was the case of Margaret Cotte, of Haddenham, accused in 1577 of causing the death of a blacksmith girl "by sorcery".

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University of Cambridge


Details of the case of Margaret Cotte, accused of causing the death of a child through witchcraft

Another woman, the girl Cecilia Samuel, was hanged the same year for drowning her baby in a ditch in Wisbech.

In one case, records reveal how Richard Beckett, a laborer, so violently assaulted a man named Robert Coward that Robert's life was "desperate".

Sian Collins, an archivist at the University Library, said the records presented a "cornucopia of information about daily life and communities".

"This allows us to hear the voices of people from all walks of life whose names are coming out of the records," she said.

"Many of these people, long passed away and forgotten, will now be told a small part of their story."


Manuscripts and files will be cataloged by archivists from the University of Cambridge Library.

The court records are also important because they show how judicial privileges were granted to the bishops of Ely until 1836 – the only diocese in England and Wales to hold control.

Professor Paul Cavill, a lecturer in British history from the beginnings of modern history at the Cambridge School of History, said: "The archives of the island's foundations" Ely are a major untapped resource for the life and death of ordinary people over the centuries. "

The full catalog will be available online from September 2020.