Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions Recognisances
Recognisance’s make up more than 70% of all surviving Quarter Sessions Records. They are usually written in Latin and English, and are one of four general kinds:
to keep the peace: pace ferund
to be of good behaviour: de se bene gorend
to attend a court and give evidence
to attend a court and answer a charge.
The Latin part of the document describes how the recognisance was entered into, the English part the condition under which the recognisance was entered.
The procedure was as follows:
An individual was made to go before a magistrate, accused of not keeping the peace. The Magistrate would insist on a promise or the forfeit of a £20 fine (which was generally an impossible sum for anyone to meet) and that the person find two guarantors to enter the undertaking with him or her, who were bound for £10 each. The guarantors were usually well respected neighbours or clergy. The idea was that those bound with the offender would act as a restraining influence upon them. If a recognisance was broken and the offender could not pay they would go to jail
They would attend the Quarter Sessions once every year until tensions had cooled and would then be released from the recognisance. If a person was unable to find a guarantor they would be imprisoned. Often there would be a mutual binding over of peace between two parties. It was a system open to malicious abuse, neighbours often accusing each other, although the magistrate could use his discretion and refuse to arbitrate.
These records survive in great quantities because they had to be kept in case a fine was demanded and the magistrate would be accountable to the Treasury.
They can be used to assess how frequently they were cast of, and what kind of disputes there were in a community. However, they do not reveal the circumstances of an offence: For example the recognsance of Daniel Brittain states that he should answer the charges against him put by Elizabeth Collett, but does not give details:
Ref QSR 3  52:
The condition of this recognisance is such that if the above bounded Daniel Britain shall personally appear in Court at the next general Quarter Sessions of the Peace to be held for the County of Bedford to answer unto such matters as shall be then and there objected against him by Elizabeth the wife of John Collett of Stotfold aforesaid, labourer concerning an assault and battery lately made upon the said Elizabeth Collett by the above bounden Daniel Brittain and concerning some other misdemeanours tending to the breach of the peace and that if he do not depart without leave of the court then this recognisance to be void, otherwise to be and remain in force and virtue. [signed]Thomas Brown.