The Medieval Foundations of the Court of Orphans: London and Wardship, c.1250–c.1550

Adele Sykes

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis presents a study of urban wardship in the later medieval period. Within that, it
aims to establish why London had a court of orphans, to understand where the institution originated from, and how it evolved into the early modern institution of that name.
London’s medieval Letter Books provide rich detail of orphan matters and these have been
previously mined by historians to produce numerous studies in relation to other themes.
However, the material has never been studied systematically or chronologically, nor placed
in the wider context of later medieval wardship. Understanding the origins of London’s orphanage requires the addition of the wills of the city’s husting court to the source material found in the Letter Books and the understanding that one cannot be studied without the
other. Using these sources, the thesis challenges previous assumptions that there was an
actual court of orphans in the later medieval period and demonstrates that, rather, Londoners took several centuries to evolve customs and ancient rights into the institution
that was not even referred to by this name, in contemporary records, until 1529 and cannot
be said to have come into existence, in its well-documented early modern form, before 1536.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Burgess, Clive, Supervisor
  • Harris, Jonathan, Advisor
Award date1 Oct 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 9 Sept 2021


  • Urban History
  • Medieval London
  • wardship
  • orphans
  • Black Death
  • medieval common law
  • medieval women
  • mercers
  • skinners
  • fishmongers
  • drapers
  • medieval neighbourhood
  • London parishes
  • medieval wills
  • London husting court
  • London Letter Books
  • medieval family
  • Medieval History
  • Husting wills
  • Court of Orphans
  • Charles Carlton
  • London Aldermen
  • Court of Aldermen
  • Parish of St Christopher, London

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