On the 4th of August, 1434, Franciscus Botelhe, of Saint-Jurs, was declared guilty by the royal court of Moustiers for having set fire to a pinery (pineda) while herding oxen three days earlier, on Sunday, the 1st of August. Following his arrest on August 2, Franciscus had been brought to the royal prison of Moustiers along with his fellow herdsman, Petrus Leporis of Marcoux, who was charged with the same crime. The village of Saint-Jurs today is located in the French department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, a rural region where pasture once played and still plays an important role.
In this region, many conflicts that we find in legal records from the later Middle Ages concern homesteads and property boundaries, trespassing, and pasture regulation. The nearby town of Moustiers, known today as Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, was the capital of the little baillie, that is, an administrative territory created by the counts of Provence to optimize record-keeping and the practice of justice in their domains.
The charges against Botelhe are detailed in an extensive criminal inquest, 115 folios in length, that unfolded in Moustiers between the beginning of the month of August, 1434 and the month of November of the same year. Reading the case, we can't actually say that we hear the voice of the accused during the phases of interrogation before and after his imprisonment. As was typical of notarial practice in records from the period, the words of the accused were translated into Latin and presented in the third person. Botelhe himself was described as illiterate. What brings Botelhe to life is the inventory of his estate which occupies three folios of the inquest.
Lying at the heart of the trial was a delicate matter of jurisdiction, and in particular, the question of who had the authority to judge Franciscus Botelhe and Petrus Leporis. The matter is further complicated by the fact that right to judge the two prisoners was claimed by different authorities: the royal court of Moustiers; the ecclesiastical court of Puimoisson (the Hospital); and the lady Antoneta de Ponteves, condomina of Saint-Jurs, whose procurator, the relentless Petrus Ferreri, fiercely defended the rights of high and low justice detained by his lady over the territory of Saint-Jurs. Each of the claimants lodged protests in the royal court attempting to prove that they held the right to administer justice in the given territory. To bolster their claims, the authorities displayed charters and other legal documents and made claims to the effect that the prisoners should be released and judged by their respective courts.
Shortly after the imprisonment of Franciscus Botelhe, an inventory of his goods was compiled. The inventory was made in accordance with normal procedures, many witnesses being present and an act being established by the notary, Johannes Ferrerii. Throughout the trial, Franciscus Botelhe featured much more than his fellow prisoner, Petrus Leporis, as an object of discussion and attention. There was a logical reason for this focus on Franciscus: his pledge of homage to the seigneur of the Hospital of Saint-John of Jerusalem made in 1423, more than ten years before the date of the crime. This pledge was submitted by the advocate of the commander’s cause as proof that the Hospital should judge him. As an inhabitant of Saint-Jurs, Antoneta de Ponteves could also claim him as her prisoner. It is unclear why only Franciscus’s goods and not those of Petrus Leporis should be made the target of a confiscation inventory. Since this trial was preserved in the archives of the ecclesiastical court of Puimoisson, perhaps only what was of interest to the court of Puimoisson had been copied out. This would explain the omission of the inventory of the goods of Petrus Leporis. It is also possible that the estate of Petrus was too poor to merit the court’s attention. Finally, Petrus denied being involved in the act of arson, and it is possible that the court determined him to be innocent.
Responsibility for recording the inventory was assigned to the notary, Johannes Ferrerii. Accompanied by the treasurer, the judge, and many other reliable men, the notary traveled from Moustiers to Saint-Jurs and set about the task. Johannes began by sorting Franciscus’s goods into three broad categories: real estate (bona immobilia), movable goods (bona mobilia), and “goods that can move on their own'' (bona pro se moventia), a colorful way of gesturing to livestock. Franciscus Botelhe owned four different plots of land (terrae) spread out across the territory of Saint-Jurs, in locales whose names were given in Provençal. In addition, he owned a vineyard (vinea), a pasture (ferragina), a house or lodging (hospicium), and a barn (grangia).
The description of his properties offers us a glimpse into the people he lived among: family, relatives, and neighbors. This is because descriptions of real estate in Provence typically located the property in question spatially by listing the abutting properties and their owners. For example, we know that one of his plots of land abutted a field belonging to Hugues Botelhe, whose last name suggests he was a kinsman of Franciscus. Three of his properties abutted those owned by Antoneta de Ponteves, the very same lord who claimed him as her prisoner.
Other kin of Franciscus can be found elsewhere in the register. In his homage pledge dated from 1423, we learn that he was the son of the deceased Monnetus de Saint-Jurs. Furthermore, on the day of the fire, Petrus Leporis argued that he and Franciscus ate at the house of one Petrus Botelhe, though the fact was later denied by Petrus Botelhe and his wife Byatrix, both of whom were interrogated by the court of Moustiers. Petrus Leporis’s description of the scene offers interesting insights into the material and culinary culture of the region.
The description of the goods also tells us about everyday life and standards of living for a typical herdsman from upper Provence. After the description of Franciscus’s lands, we learn that he owned two oxen as well as five goats.
The description is enlivened by the fact that the colors of both oxen were provided: one had a red pelt (pili rubei) whereas the other was ash gray (pili bochardi). One gets the distinct impression that the notary Johannes and the little cloud of witnesses perambulated the estate, walking the fields and peering into the barn. Franciscus Botelhe also shared a sow (medietatem unius porci dicti trueya) with his father-in-law, Anthonius Armandi. From this, we can infer that he was or had been married.
Following the enumeration of the real estate and the animals, we enter the intimate sphere of Franciscus’s house and his movable goods. The simplicity of his material existence is striking, for the horizons of his activity barely extended beyond the simple necessities of life: storing food in barrels and casks, cooking with simple ceramic pots, in this case a pot known as an ola, and sleeping on rudimentary bedding.
Franciscus Botelhe was certainly not a rich man, even though the whole point of the act was to list assets that could be confiscated by the court to the benefit of the treasury. If we compare this inventory to others made at the same period in the region of Toulouse, edited by the historian Philippe Wolff (accessible on DALME), we can conclude that Franciscus Botelhe was of very modest means even by the standards of a herdsman. The tussle over the right to judge Franciscus Botelhe and confiscate his assets was not motivated primarily by the fiscal prospects but instead by the symbolism. The lords of the region did battle in court in order to cling onto their jurisdictional rights. But even if the estate was rudimentary, confiscating the entirety of it was nonetheless important for the procedure, thus explaining the presence of the carefully written inventory inside the trial. The temporary holder of the goods, Franciscus’s father-in-law, Anthonius Armandi, was scrupulously warned not to alienate the goods under pain of a fine of 100 pounds unless a license to do so was accorded by the royal court of Moustiers (non alienet sub pena librarum coronatorum centum sine licencia curie regie Mosteriarum).
At the end of the record, the authority to judge Franciscus Botelhe, that is to say to make good on the judgment that had already been reached, was awarded to the court of the Hospital on appeal. But we do not know what eventually became of Franciscus Botelhe or his goods…