Flower of the Month: Baiting Bears – and Provocative Spectators

This record of a local court case of 1522 from the Beverley Great Guild Book (East Riding Archives BC/II/3, f. 27) illuminates not only the contemporary spectator sport of bear-baiting but the political tensions (and often open war) between English and Scots at that period. It shows us that John of Grene, the Earl of Northumberland’s bearward (no stranger to Beverley, who was paid by the town Governors in at least one previous year for bear-baiting, and who was evidently already on bad terms with Thomas Robson), baited more than one bear, and presumably had to control several dogs as well as the bears. Thomas Robson’s setting on of his own ‘band dog’ (the kind of big, fierce, aggressive dog such as a mastiff that was kept for guard-duty – and for bull- and bear-baiting) must have been a dangerous interference – hence, as Grene pleaded, his angry accusation in the heat of the moment.

Equally interesting is the reaction of Robson père: ignoring his son’s aggressive action, his one (furiously defensive?) concern was that Grene had called Thomas a Scot, whereas – as he insistently pointed out in court – his family came from Haltwhistle and were ‘trewe Englishmen borne’. (Haltwhistle is in Northumberland, very close to the Scottish border.) In documentary terms, though, we have the angry Percevall Robson to thank for our knowledge of the affair: he agreed reluctantly to forgive Grene, on condition that a full account of it be entered in ‘the lygger’ – the contemporary name of the Great Guild Book – where it still is, as clearly legible as when it was first entered.*

Here is a full transcript:

Memorandum that vppon Tewsday the xjth day of marche in the xiijth yere of the reigne of our souereigne Lord kyng henry the viijth Percevall Robson draper beyng one of the Nomber of xxxvj of the counsall of thys town vppon a wrongfull sklaunder made vppon hym by Iohn of grene Barward to the right Noble Lord henry Percy Erle of Northumberland whiche barward

Two dogs baiting a bear: a misericord in St Mary’s church, Beverley

Two dogs baiting a bear: a misericord in St Mary’s church, Beverley

by cause that Thomas Robson son to the sayde percevall Lett hys band doge to one of hys Beyres when he was batyng and for other growges that was bytwixt theym before spake vnto the sayde Thomas suche wordys ‘Take awey thy doge thow scottis byrde’

Wherevpon the said percevall hys fader incontynent after he knewe that he had callyd hys son scott compleanyd vnto the xij Gouernors then beyng That ys to wete Robert Whyte Robert Burton Richard Pattoner William Estaby Iohn Brown christofer hudson Peter Crawe John Wylkynson draper christofer sanderson & Iohn Raffulles henry stevynson1. Who gaff the said percevall counsall to caus hym to to be arrestyd and take the Lawe vppon hym to the vtteraunc And so the said percevall causyd to be arrestyd and intendyt to haue sewyd hym for hys wrongfull sklander And for advoydyng of suche sewte And trowble as the said percevall intendyt to make And do vnto hym the said iohn of grene remembryng how that he had falsly sklaunderd hym and couth make no deue proffe of hys vntrewe saynges And seynge that was none other remedy Bot rode vnto my lorde Percy to wresill2 And shewid hym how he had spokyn suche vn thryfty and fals wordys vppon hym in wrathe as to call hym scottes byrde to hys rebuke and sklaunder And besought my Lord Percy to be so gode Lorde vnyo hym as to wryte a Letter for hym to Master Robert Creyke Receyuore or to my Lord cardynalles grace3 And to the xij Gouernours afforesaid to be gode Masters vnto hym consernyng hys vnthryfty demeanoure. Insomytche as he spake yt bot in wrathe And at the batyng of hys beyres

And so my Lord percy wrote a Letter for hym whiche Letter was delyuert to Master Receyuore and the xij gouernors vppon Monday the xth day of marche And Master Receyuore rede and declaryd the sayd Letter opynly in my Lord Cardynalles Courte the xij gouernors with many mo aswell of the towne as of the contre heryng yt And the sayd Iohn of grene beyng present And therefore he was sore rebokyd aswell of Master Receyuore the xij gouernors as of all other for hys wronfull sklaunder and ther opynly denyed hys wordes And askyd hym for forgyffnes whiche the said percevall was right loth to do bot onely at the speciall instanc and desyr of Master Receyuore the xij gouernors and other that prayd hym to Leyff hys sevte aganst hym forsomytche as yt was spokyn bot in wrathe And that he had opynly denyed hys sayinges And also for somytche as yt was well known of dyuers in thys town that he was bourne in hawtwisell in Northumberland and hys fader callyd Roland Robson of Coyngwode4 & born in hawtwysill afforesaid and that they and all ther kyn were trewe Ynglishemen bourne

And so at ther instans and desyres the sayd percevall was content to remyt the Matter vppon suche condiciin that the Matter might be recordyt and regesterd in thys boke callid the lygger in the comon hall5 for hys sevrtie and declaracion As In adventur yf any suche malicious personshuld ley it to hys charg at Any tyme herafter Whiche hys peticion and resonable desyre was graunted hym and for that intent yt ys thus regesterd & writtyn in thys boke as affore ys reherssid

St. Mary's Church, Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, England.

St. Mary’s Church, Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, England.


  1. The twelve Governors or Keepers, elected annually, were the Beverley equivalent of a town council. Percevall Robson had been one of them in a previous year. (Only eleven are named here – probably a scribal oversight.)
  2. Wressle Castle, now ruinous, was a Percy property some miles from Beverley.
  3. The Cardinal was Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York at the time (from 1514 till his death in 1530).
  4. Coanwood, a village near Haltwhistle.
  5. The Guildhall in Beverley, bought by the then Governors in 1500. Much rebuilt over the years, it still stands on the same site.


*This month’s Flower is provided by Dr Diana Wyatt, editor of the East Riding volume.

Beverley, East Riding Town or village 53.843843, -0.435398
Haltwhistle, Northumberland Town or village 54.972786, -2.460866

One thought on “Flower of the Month: Baiting Bears – and Provocative Spectators

  1. To readers: in your research, if you find any reference to the Percys, please let me know by post to this site. For REED-NE, I’m editing pre-1642 dramatic records in the Percy documents, which can be anywhere. Thanks, in advance, for your help.

    Bob Alexander

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.