The tragic sight of the beached whales at Skegness reminds me that there are records of similar events in the 14th century, which came to light when I was researching the medieval history of the Wainfleet area.
Because a whale was regarded as a royal fish, there might be controversy over the fate of the carcass.
In 1340, the Countess of Lincoln claimed ‘wreck of sea’ over strandings in Friskney, but got into a battle with various men who not only assaulted her servants but carried away two fish called ‘baleyn’ worth £200. You do wonder if they might have been seals, which came into the same legal category.
In the previous year, a stranding at Wrangle and another at Leake attracted many men from Benington and Leverton who carried away the animal contrary to the rights of the aristocrats.
The Wrangle document names about 50 men, and two women, who were to be arraigned by the earl of Lancaster, who was overlord of the Soke of Bolingbroke.
In 1317, a small whale was beached at Croft and was carried away by certain sailors from Norfolk, but the Friskney whale went to men from as far afield as Boston and Wainfleet, to the detriment of the lords of the port of Wainfleet, one Ebulo Lestrange and his wife Alice.
There’s an amusing sidelight from the 19th century when a local antiquarian misinterpreted the Latin ‘balnei’ for ‘bathing’ and suggested that Ebulo and his wife had bathing rights at Friskney. Not quite the same.