I was browsing through the Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-1327 the other day, and read several entries I found really interesting. In an era half a millennium before the invention of birth certificates, and two hundred years before baptisms began to be recorded in parish registers, how did people know their correct date of birth? Here are three proofs of age taken in 1315 which demonstrate how...
1) The proof of age of Sir Thomas de Lovayne, son and heir of Sir Matthew de Lovayne, taken in Suffolk on 10 March 1315. (Matthew died shortly before 24 May 1302 when Thomas was twelve, leaving a widow, Maud: C. Moor, Knights of Edward I, vol. 3, p. 65.)
"Thomas de Kokefeld, 50 and more, says that the said Thomas de Lovayne was 23 on 11 July 8 Edw. II [i.e. the eighth year of Edward II's reign, 1314], for he was born at Blidiston [Bildeston] on that day 19 Edw. I  and baptised the same day in the church of Chelisworth [Chelsworth]. Thomas de Blakenham his uncle and Thomas le Bret were his godfathers, and one Maud atte Lane his godmother; and this he [Thomas de Kokefeld] knows well because at that time he was (stetit?) with the said Thomas de Blakenham, and came with him to the church.
Giles de Wathisham, 40 and more, says the like and knows it because his mother was in the church and he with her.
Osbert de Aldham, 50 and more, agrees, and knows it because John his son and heir was born in the same year, and was 24 on the feast of the Purification [2 February] last.
Walter de Bokeland, 40 and more, agrees, and knows it because at that time he was kept at home by sickness and one Christiana le Browystere [i.e. Brewster], who was with the said Thomas [de Lovayne]'s mother when he was born, told him of it the next day at his house in Thurlaston.
William de Denardiston, 60 and more, agrees, and knows it because Christiana de la Dale, who was with the said Thomas's mother when he was born, told him of it the next day at Thurlaston.
John le Waleys, 40 and more, agrees, and knows it because his father died in the same year and he received his land.
William de Whatefeld, 40 and more, agrees, and knows it because Robert le Virly of Bildeston purchased a tenement in Elmesete [Elmsett] the same year and time, and told him of the birth.
Walter de Naulton, 50 and more, agrees, and knows it because he came to speak with one of the godparents of the said Thomas and saw him baptised.
Geoffrey le Clerk of Buchenham, 45 and more, agrees, and says that Geoffrey his father was servant of Matthew de Lovayne at Bildiston, when the said Thomas was born, whose mother died immediately after his birth, and the said Geoffrey the father caused her death to be written, and commanded him to keep it.
John Nakeman, 60 and more, agrees, and knows it because the same day and year he came to the manor of Bildiston to speak with the steward, and he followed to Chelisworth and saw the said Thomas baptised."
Sir Thomas de Lovayne was granted his lands on 28 April 1315 (Cal. Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 172).
2) The proof of age of Robert son and heir of Robert de Hugham, taken in Kent on 'Thursday the morrow of St Barnabas, 8 Edw. II' (12 June 1315). Robert senior was born in c. 1250 and died on or shortly before 18 April 1301, leaving his widow Alice and his son Robert, then said to be aged either nine or ten: Cal. Inq. Post Mortem 1300-1307, pp. 16-17.
"Roger Hadde, aged 40, says that the said Robert was 22 on the day of St Martin [11 November] last, and was born at Hugham on Monday before that feast, 21 Edw. I , and on the Tuesday following was baptised in the church of St Lawrence there; and this he knows because one John de Bressinge, esquire of the said Robert's father, married Sarra the said Roger's sister, who bore a son Richard in the same year, who is now 22 and more; and he also saw the same Robert baptised by one Simon, vicar of Hugham, and Robert de Baldewyne and Gerard de Herst were his godfathers.
Adam de Mardenne, aged 40, says the same, and knows it because he saw the same Robert at Hugham lying in his cradle; and in the same year he journeyed to St Edmunds [words missing] there for half a year, and at that time Joan his wife died.
Robert Hadde, aged 50, says the same, and knows it because he married Alice his wife in the same year, and had a son born two years after who is 20.
Philip de Boycote, aged 46, agrees, adding that he had a daughter Emma with Sarra his wife, who is now 22 and more, and thus he knows of the age of the said Robert.
Walter ate Welle, aged 42, says as above, and knows it because he was esquire to the said Robert's father at the time of his birth, and Robert Baldewyne and Gerard de Herst were godfathers, and Sir Simon, vicar of Hugham, baptised him.
Adam de H, aged 44, says that the said Robert is 22, and he knows it because in the year of the said Robert's birth, he journeyed to Santiago, and that is twenty-two years ago.
William de Clopham, aged 45, says the same, and knows it because he was in the same year with Lady Lora de Otteham, who was at the assembly which Sir Robert father of the said Robert made, when Lady Alice the mother of him was purified, and he then saw the said Robert.
Walter ate Halle, aged 48, says the same, and had knowledge of it because Joan his wife was in the service of Dulcia, aunt of the mother of the said Robert when news came of his birth; and because in the same year he was imprisoned in the castle of Dover by Sir Stephen de Penecestre the keeper.
Peter Taylour, aged 51, says the said Robert is 22, and he knows it because he saw Sir Robert the father [words missing] John de Borewike by writ of novel disseisin, and was one of twelve jurors of the said assize at Maydestan [Maidstone], in which time the same Robert was born.
Hamo Gold, aged 40, says the said Robert is 12 [sic], as above, and knows it because his houses were burned in Maydestan in that year, and he bought timber of Sir Robert the father, and so he well recollects.
John Gilbert, aged 56, says the said Robert is 22 and more, as above, and knows it because Henry his father died in the same year, and he has had his inheritance twenty-two years and more.
Robert de Hethurst, aged 57, says the said Robert is 22, and this he knows because he saw him lying in his cradle, and in the same year [Hethurst] was imprisoned in the castle of Canterbury."
Robert de Hugham died shortly before 6 June 1317, still only twenty-four, and childless: Cal. Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 330.
3) The proof of age of John son and heir of John de Albiniaco (Albini, d'Aubigny, Daubeny), taken in Kent on 13 February 1315.
"Alexander Badecok, aged 50, says that the said John was 22 at the feast of St Peter ad Vincula [1 August] last, for he was born at Hockingdene [Hockenden] on that day 22 Edw. I , and baptised on the morrow in the church of St Mary, Creye [Cray], and this he recollects because his sister Alice was nurse of the said John, and he often saw him lying in his cradle.
Thomas atte Spyche, aged 40, says the same, and recollects it because he was at the purification of Isabel the said John's mother.
Richerus de Marisco, aged 40, agrees, and knows it because he saw the said John borne into the church to be baptised.
John le Welsh, aged 40, agrees, and knows it because he was servant of John the father, when the said John [the son] was born.
Simon atte Purye, aged 50, agrees, and knows it because his [John de Albiniaco the younger's] father told him on the day the said John was born, that he had a son of which he greatly rejoiced.
Richard Walter, aged 40, agrees, and knows it because he was a thresher at Hockingdenne at the time the said John was born.
Simon Coleman, aged 50, agrees, and knows it because he is and was at that time a near neighbour at Hockingdenne.
Gilbert Gerold, aged 40, agrees, and knows it because he often saw the said John lying in his cradle.
Nicholas de Hockingdenne, aged 50, agrees, and knows it because he was in the service of John de Albyniaco the father when the said John was born.
Ralph Vyel, aged 50, agrees, and knows it because he was servant at Hockingdenne when the said John was born.
Simon Laston, aged 40, agrees, and knows it because he saw the same John on the day he was baptised.
Robert Pertrich, aged 50, agrees, and knows it because he is a near neighbour at Hockingdenne and was at the purification of the same John's mother."
I cannot adequately express how much I love these entries for the insight they give into life in the early fourteenth century...