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Oxford vs. Richard Payne, John Lennard, Edward Barthdell, Anthonye Barthdell, et al. (1587)

NB: This case concerns a property called Alvethly (modern Aveley), in Essex, which passed through many hands until it came into Oxford's in 1580. When a new lease was triggered on 29 October (Michaelmas) 1585, Oxford took personal possession of the property. Shortly thereafter, however, an old claim of ownership was pressed, threatening Oxford's ownership.

One in the line of former owners, Ralph Baldwin, had secured the property in 1567 not by outright purchase, but by having the current owner who was in his debt, one John Eliott, declared an outlaw. Apparently such a declaration of outlawry had to be made five times in the same county (here, Middlesex) at 30-day intervals. Now stepped forward one Richard Payne, claiming that the last declaration of outlawry had been made after the passage of only 29 days. Payne claimed that since John Eliott (and his heirs) had never forfeited ownership, he himself (i.e., Payne) was now the true owner.

At issue is whether a court held at New Brainford (Brentford) which pronounced the outlawry of John Eliott was held on 20 or 21 November 1567. Oxford claims that the original date of 21 November (making 30 days) had been changed to 20 November (making only 29 days) by paring away the "j" on the Roman numeral "xxj" on a date written near the edge of the parchment as an endorsement. Oxford claims that he is the victim of a conspiracy among members of the London legal establishment who not only altered the old document but made fraudulent modern copies. (The defendants claim, among other things, that the date was written out in words as well as in numbers in the body of the document, and could therefore not have been altered by them or anyone else.

The case gives a fascinating insight into how legal documents were stored and transferred from one holding institution to another.