This is not my title, but the title given by Daniel Parker Coke to one of the cases he provided legal advice for over 200 years ago. Of the 40 or so cases he records in this particular notebook (one of five in our collection), there are several being similar to each other (for example, several relating to the settlement of a pauper and the right to an apprentice). There are also several that give us an insight into the position of women and the way they are viewed by the men in and out of their lives. This is one such case in which the former lover (Richard) of a young woman (Hannah) who has apparently had children by at least one other man. The parish and Quarter Sessions feature a number of cases of child maintenance and bastardy, this one however, is from a slightly different angle, with the father of Hannah claiming damages against Richard as his daughter has been unable to fulfill all her servants duties.
Here is the transcript from his notebook, which begins with the letter he received (abbreviations expanded):
Please to answer this Law Question. I was at Lenton wake this week at a friends of mine Mr John Hopkin a reputable farmer. He has a nephew Richard Potter a Farmer that I know & lives at Trowell in the County of Nottingham & he being a young man made love to a young woman of the same village Hannah Hewitt a Farmer’s Daughter & after some time they differed & parted & after she had a child by one Robert Whitehead a blacksmith of the same village of Trowell & since then Richard Potter has had connections with her but he solemnly says not of above a year past & now she brought to bed of another child & her father Hewitt has employed Mr Bolton the Attorney to bring an Action against Richard Potter for Trespass & the loss of his Daughter’s service who acted in the capacity of Servant & has served Potter with a Declaration he has employed Mr Evans and Middlemen & expects a Trial at the next Assize for the County of Nottingham. Now Honoured Sir I should be glad to have your private opinion on the Case. Mr Hopkin is a freeholder of Nottingham & strongly attached to your Interest & Richard Potter & his two Brothers are in the Derby Yeomanry & has been exercising this morning Thursday on Breadsall Moor or Common. Note Richard Potter is married about a Month past. Note Hannah Hewitt has not sworn the Child if she does & swears it to Potter he knows he must maintain the Child though he says it’s none of his. Your most Humble and Obedient Servant, Wright Hawley
Parker Coke’s reply dated the following day reads:
This is an unpleasant business to Mr Potter as he admits he has had a connection with Hannah Hewitt which will undoubtedly be proved by her as she may be a witness in the Action which is brought by her father. The Action is brought for Seduction & if is founded upon the loss of service. And if it should turn out to be a strong Case the Damage may be considerable. At all events the Verdict must necessarily be against Potter with some Damages which will be followed by the Costs of the Cause so that upon the whole the Expence to Mr Potter must be considerable. What I would recommend to him is to compromise the matter by offering a sum of money – if the Cause should come into Court it will probably be referred by the Judge as these Causes are seldom tried I would therefore advise Mr Potter if they cannot agree upon the sum of money to be given to offer to leave it to one two or three friends as Arbitrators & if Hannah Hewitt’s character should be proved to be (as it is here stated) that of a common woman the Damages will probably be small
Too often I think we think of such complicated relationships as being a modern occurrence, but this account shows this is not the case.