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Hartsfield, Byron J.
Marriage, sin and the community in the Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17
h [electronic resource] /
Byron J. Hartsfield.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
b University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: Marriage is a subject of great interest to the social historian. However, the marriage of the average medieval English villager is very poorly documented, as it bears little obvious relationship to the great affairs of state. Searching for information on such difficult subjects, many social historians have recently turned to legal records, learning to sift them for the intimate details of daily life. The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 preserves a rich variety of cases presented to the church courts of early fifteenth-century Salisbury. The questmen, selected from the most respectable men of each village, presented to the court stubborn sinners who had proved incorrigible by the methods of discipline available at lower levels. Most of these cases involved sexual irregularity of some sort, and most of these concerned marriage. This essay is divided into three parts.^ ^The historiography examines the work of ecclesiastical, legal and social historians over the last century, especially where the three merge, as when scholars use the records of church courts to write social history. The next two chapters discuss adultery and fornication in Chandler's register. Because of the large number of these cases, it was impractical to address each of them in detail. Thus these chapters rely on statistical analysis and use specific cases as illustrations. The following three chapters address disputed marriages, abandonment and "self-divorce", and marital abuse. Each of these subjects requires a discussion of background and definition of terms, therefore these chapters have longer introductory sections. However, there are few enough examples of these in the register that each can be discussed individually.^ ^The Register of John Chandler shows the Church struggling to control the institution of marriage as well as the spiritual lives of the villagers of Salisbury. To the extent that it succeed, it did so because it provided necessary order to the people of Salisbury and because they received it willingly. The average person obeyed the Church and its laws, more or less, but the Church was often unable to enforce its will on the powerful or the stubborn.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Marriage, Sin and the Community in the Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 by Byron J. Hartsfield A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of History College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: David R. Carr, Ph.D. Gregory B. Milton, Ph.D. Giovanna Benadusi, Ph.D. Date of Approval: November 16, 2007 Keywords: medieval England, social history, church courts, disputed marriage, selfdivorce, domestic violence Copyright 2007, Byron J. Hartsfield
To Mom and Carine.
i Table of Contents List of Figures ii Abstract iii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two: Historiography 18 Legal Historians, Canon-Law C ourts, and Social Control 18 Social Historians and the History of the Medieval English Family 32 Chapter Three: Adultery 55 Compurgation 64 Sentences of Fustigation 72 Fines Paid in Lieu of Fustigation 79 Abjuration 85 Chapter Four: Fornication 91 Compurgation 95 Sentences of Fustigation 100 Fines Paid in Lieu of Fustigation 104 Abjuration 106 Chapter Five: Disputed Marriages 113 Chapter Six: Abandonment and Â“Self-DivorceÂ” 137 Chapter Seven: Marital Abuse 158 Chapter Eight: Conclusion 170 List of References 175 Appendices 179 Appendix A: Sins Reported in Dean ChandlerÂ’s Register 180 Appendix B: Adultery in D ean ChandlerÂ’s Register 182 Appendix C: Fornication in D ean ChandlerÂ’s Register 184
ii List of Figures Figure 1. Adultery and Compurgation in Dean ChandlerÂ’s Register 66 Figure 2. Fines Associated wi th Abjuration of Adultery 88 Figure 3. Fornication and Compurgati on in Dean ChandlerÂ’s Register 97 Figure 4. Penalties Associated wi th Abjuration of Fornication 109
iii Marriage, Sin and the Community in the Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 Byron J. Hartsfield ABSTRACT Marriage is a subject of gr eat interest to the social historian. However, the marriage of the average medieval English vill ager is very poorly documented, as it bears little obvious relationship to the great affairs of state. Searching for information on such difficult subjects, many social hi storians have recently turned to legal records, learning to sift them for the intimate details of daily life. The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 preserves a rich variety of cases presented to the church cour ts of early fifteenth-century Salisbury. The questmen, selected from the most respectable me n of each village, presented to the court stubborn sinners who had proved incorrigible by the methods of discipline available at lower levels. Most of these cases involved se xual irregularity of so me sort, and most of these concerned marriage. This essay is divided into three parts. The historiography examines the work of ecclesiastical, legal and social historians over the last century, especially where the three merge, as when scholars use the records of chur ch courts to write so cial history. The next two chapters discuss adultery and fornication in ChandlerÂ’s register. Because of the large number of these cases, it was impractical to address each of them in detail. Thus these chapters rely on statistical analysis and use specific cases as illustrations. The following
iv three chapters address disput ed marriages, abandonment and Â“self-divorce,Â” and marital abuse. Each of these subjects requires a discussion of background and definition of terms, therefore these chapters have longer in troductory sections. However, there are few enough examples of these in the register th at each can be discussed individually. The Register of John Chandler shows the Church struggling to control the institution of marriage as well as the spiritual lives of the villagers of Salisbury. To the extent that it succeed, it did so because it provided necessary orde r to the people of Salisbury and because they received it will ingly. The average person obeyed the Church and its laws, more or less, but the Church was often unable to enforce its will on the powerful or the stubborn.
1 Chapter One Introduction Every society attempts to regulate the beha vior of its members. Societies use a variety of means to do so. These may be lo cated on a continuum of formality, with the subtle pressure of public opinion on one end a nd the criminal trial on the other. The less formal methods are most likely come to bear first and are the leas t likely to leave any trace in the historical record. A scornful glance from a neighbor likely occurred far more often than a formal trial, but no scribe recorded it. Thus the record that we have is prejudiced towards the most extreme of cases. In these cases the more subtle forms of social pressure had often already failed. If, for instance, the court record show s a medieval English man punished for continuously quarreling with (or Â“scoldingÂ”) his neighbors, then most likely he has already passed through several less formal st ages of regulation, all of which failed to control his behavior. If s ubtle cues of body language, voi ce tone and facial expression did not adequately convey the de pth of his neighborsÂ’ repreh ension of his behavior, then someone probably spoke to him. Ideally, the spokesman would have ties of respect and affection which would lend him influence over the offender. A father or brother would likely have the greatest influence. If family members were unwilling or unable to correct the manÂ’s unruly behavior, then others might try Â– friends, neighbors, employers, guildmates. If none of these could persuade him, then the local priest might try. As a
2 representative of the Church, he wielded a type of influence which family, friends and neighbors did not. If even this failed to eff ect a permanent change in the manÂ’s behavior, the local elite, having heard of the problem, mi ght warn him that legal action was the next step. They might then, in their roles as juro rs of manorial or royal courts, or questmen of church courts, present him as an offender and summon him to answer formal charges. Their indictment, as preserved by a clerk, might give some hint of the circumstances of this particular case, or it might make a bare statement such as, Â“John Smith is a scold.Â” Of course all this is only surmise. It cannot be more, as no one recorded the dirty looks which JohnÂ’s neighbors gave him, or th e heart-to-heart chats wi th a senior member of his guild, or the stern admonitions of the vi car. Even granted that all these levels of intervention existed, they were likely not as well organized as the above might imply; no doubt they were often tried out of order, or so me of them were skipped. Still, it seems likely that these less formal types of in tervention not only ex isted, but were often effective. The average man, perceiving that, after a loud quarrel with one neighbor, all of them began to treat him coolly, probably took th e hint and tried to be more amiable in the future. If his brother advised him to cha nge his behavior, he pr obably took the advice seriously. If these factors failed to motivate him sufficiently, the threat of hell from the local priest likely did. Just as, in the workplace today, co-workers and managers often give an employee several warnings that hi s behavior is inappropriate before taking disciplinary action, the offender who went to court for bad be havior in the Middle Ages had often had several chances to correct his behavior. Of course this system had its flaws. It worked largely on the basis of reputation. Thus the discreet person, the person of high so cial status, and the charismatic person were
3 often protected, while unpopular people a nd those whose status was considered suspicious (e.g. migrants, women living alone) had a harder time. Furthermore, a single enemy could do tremendous damage by spreading rumors. Slander lawsuits were very common in late medieval England as peopl e whose reputations were injured by rumor fought back. Some people must have found th emselves reported as notorious based on a single incident which had become inflated by gossip, while others no doubt committed worse offenses but managed to keep them out of the communityÂ’s consciousness. Protesting that a particular offense had only happened once, moreover, would likely have been of little use. Althou gh jurors and questmen probably normally reported only repeat offenders, no formal rule existed to restrict them. Notoriety was the basis for indictment, and notoriety is always subjective. The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 preserves a rich variety of cases presented to the church courts of early fifteenth-cen tury Salisbury. This register contains the results of three diocesan visitations during the period and records a number of cases which came before the church courts during these vi sitations. The court did not have jurisdiction over all offenses. Most of the matters it addressed were ones which the modern person might think of as Â“s insÂ” rather than Â“crimes.Â” Thus assault, theft and the like appear only occasionally, when they were somehow related to the property or prerogatives of th e diocese; on the other hand, the register contains many cases involving fornication, adultery, and genera l failure to live peaceably with spouse or community. From the nature of these cases, it seems that the court had special concerns with regulating the sexual behavior of the vi llagers and the conduct of their marriages. The categories are, of course, not entirely di stinct, but the court seems to have shown the
4 greatest concern with preserving the instit ution of marriage. Not only do cases of adultery outnumber those of fornication, but many of the latter seem to have attracted attention because they impinged on issues re lated to marriage. Some were Â“disputed marriageÂ” cases in which one or both parties claimed to be married, but the claim was contested. Others seem to have involved long-term concubinage, which the Church frowned upon as an illegitimate rival to marriag e. In addition to these two categories, many cases which came before the court involved marriages in which the principals were not treating one another as hus band and wife were supposed to do. The court intervened to correct their behavior. The judge of the deanÂ’s court often acted, in the words of R. H. Helmholz, as Â“a rather heavy-handed marriage counsellor.Â”1 Based on the preponderance of the cases found in ChandlerÂ’s register, this may even have been its primary role. Visitations such as those pr eserved in ChandlerÂ’s regist er were a regular part of the administration of the Church in late medieval England. They emerged in the thirteenth century. The origin al intent of the visitors (u sually the bishops themselves) seems to have been to ensure that the churches in their dioceses were adequately equipped Â– that their buildings were in good repair and that they had the necessary materials (such as books) to conduct their bus iness. This purpose remained, and although I have not emphasized it in my study, the record of this sort of in spection takes up a good part of Dean ChandlerÂ’s regist er. However, over the course of the thirteenth century, the visitations acquired judicial func tions. By the end of that cen tury, it was standard for the 1 R. H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 101.
5 visitation court to absorb the f unctions of all other courts with the area for the duration of the visitation.2 Just as royal and manorial courts summoned jurors to report to them any relevant matters (such as unpunished crimes) in their community, the visitation courts summoned questmen from each community they visited. These questmen served as the ecclesiastical courtÂ’s equivalent of a grand jury. Like the grand jury under the common law, they indicted suspected offenders based on thei r personal and second-hand knowledge. The questmen were drawn from the most respecta ble members of the community. They had to be well-respected and relatively wealt hy Â– such persons were considered more trustworthy, in part because they were be tter able to resist bribes and threats.3 They were often the churchwardens of the parish and mi ght also be jurors at manorial courts. Although records exist of female churchward ens, none exist of questwomen. Although some names appear repeatedly, there was a great deal of turnover among questmen; in ChandlerÂ’s register, generally more than ha lf of the names at each visitation are new. During the visitation, the questmen met with the visitation court and were read the Visitation Articles, which specified the details they were expected to report. Although Dean ChandlerÂ’s Visitation Articles have been lost, it seems clear from the sort of thing the questmen reported that they were similar to those that have survived. The questmen reported on three matters: the physical condition of their church, its lands and equipment; any failings of their clergy, whether in educa tion, eligibility for their status, or their actions; and the behavior of their fellow citiz ens, including whether they attended church 2 T. C. B. Timmins, introduction to The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 (hereinafter Chandler Register ), Wiltshire Record Society vol. 39 (Devizes: Alan Sutton, 1984), xvi. 3 For an example of threats against ques tmen in Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, see Chandler Register no. 315 (pp. 112-3).
6 regularly and gave all that th ey owed to the church. This last group included any sins which had resisted the less formal levels of correction.4 In most dioceses, the bishop made the vi sitations; some scholars even refer to these rounds as Â“episcopal vis itations.Â” However, in Salisbury the dean was unusually powerful and independent. He, rather than th e bishop, held judicial authority over the prebendary courts of the Salisbury diocese. Because of this authority, he made the visitations rather then the bishop.5 In practice, however, not everything could be resolved at one hearing. Often cases ended months late r with hearings at cen tral locations, usually Salisbury cathedral. In these cases, the accused had to make the trip to the cathedral, for example to purge themselves or to pay thei r fines. However, these outcomes were recorded in Dean ChandlerÂ’s register next to the original proceeding. This makes it easy to learn the final outcome of a case, where it ha s been recorded at a ll, but it often creates the impression that matters were resolved al l at once The register may juxtapose two hearings concerning the same case which were separated by months of time and miles of distance. Master John Chandler became dean of Salisbury in 1404. At the time he had been both a canon and a confidant of the royal fam ily for over twenty years. He remained dean for thirteen years, then served anot her twelve years as bishop. He generally attended to his duties sedulously, but he was a politician as well as a cleric, and he took care not to offend powerful men (or women: he served as treasurer to Princess Blanche 4 Timmins, xvii; Helmholz, Â“Usury and the Medieval English Church Courts,Â” Speculum 61 (April 1986): 378; W. P. M. Kennedy, Â“Fines under the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity,Â” The English Historical Review 33 (October 1918): 519-20. 5 Timmins, xiii-xiv.
7 and Queen Joan).6 For most of ChandlerÂ’s term as dean, the bishop of Salisbury was Robert Hallum, whose register has also surv ived and contains some additional details about individuals and cases from ChandlerÂ’s. Hallum, a favo rite of Archbishop Arundel, became bishop of Salisbury in 1407 and remain ed in that position until his death ten years later, when Chandler succeeded him.7 Although Chandler made the visitations personally, his official, Master John Shirburne, usually sat as judge at the visitation courts. Thus the judgments handed down in the register were almost always made by Shirburne rather than Chandler. Of c ourse, Shirburne was acting under ChandlerÂ’s authority, and his judgments presumab ly reflected his superiorÂ’s policy.8 Where the record shows that powerful persons interv ened with the court to prevent certain prosecutions, Shirburne was proba bly obeying ChandlerÂ’s direc tives in allowing them to do so. Although the importance of Shirburne and Chandler in the deanÂ’s court is obvious, these officials did not launch investig ations. They made final judgments, but only on those cases which the questmen presente d to them. Furthermore, the manner in which the questmen presented their indictment s probably had a great deal of influence on their judgments. Yet historians have had li ttle to say about the questmen. Works which deal with the church courts a nd episcopal visitations such as R. H. HelmholzÂ’s excellent Marriage Litigation in Medieval England typically focus on canon law and the way that 6 Timmins, xiii-xiv. 7 Joyce M. Horn, introduction to The Register of Robert Hallum, Bishop of Salisbury 1407-17 (hereinafter Hallum Register ), Canterbury & York Society vol. 72 (Dev onshire: The Canterbury and York Society, 1982), ix-xi. 8 Timmins, xxvii.
8 judges interpreted it rather than on the role of the questmen.9 This is understandable, as the primary sources have far less detail about th ese individuals than th ey do about clerics. But Marjorie Keniston McIn tosh, in her ground-breaking Controlling Misbehavior in England, 1370-1600 has shown that jurors (who, agai n, were only supposed to report suspected crimes, not to judge guilt) took fa r more initiative in the courts than had previously been believed.10 The same is true for SalisburyÂ’s questmen. Although the courts made final judgments, the questmen largely controlled which cases they heard. Helmholz has argued elsewhere that, in the case of us ury, Â“[m]uch depended on local and private initiative, and to this extent the strict law of usury was subject to mitigation by the mechanism of failure to present anyone except the creditor who took immoderate usury.Â”11 If the questmen felt the same way about other offenses, they may well have acted in the same way. That is, if, as Ja mes A. Brundage argues, Â“[t]he popular belief that simple fornication between unmarried persons was neither a sin nor a crime persistedÂ” in spite of Church doctrine to the contrary, then th is attitude may have affected questmen.12 The questmen of the Salisbury dioces e certainly did prosecute fornicators; some 150 counts appear in ChandlerÂ’s regi ster. However, fewer fornicators were prosecuted than adulterers (184 cases of which appear in the register ). While adultery may have been more common or more easily de tected than fornication, neither of these seems likely; it seems more likely that the questmen took adultery more seriously. Of 9 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 10 Marjorie Keniston McIntosh, Controlling Misbehavior in England, 1370-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 11 Helmholz, Â“Usury and the Medieval English Church Courts,Â” 378. 12 James A. Brundage, Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 517.
9 course, the questmen did not always get thei r way; many times the court seems to have made no effort to prosecute an accused sinner, especially when the accused was a cleric. This difference, however, does show that th e questmen often had different ideas than Shirburne and Chandler about who should be punished. Status often provided protect ion to the sinners of medieval England. Not only were the courts reluctant to prosecute cleric s, they were also inclined to overlook the misdeeds of wealthy and powerful individuals Such individuals, if powerful enough, could even extend their protecti on to others. In the most ex treme examples, the register openly reports that a particular case was di smissed because of the intervention of a powerful individual such as the abbot of Sherborne.13 In other cases, clerics or questmen paid fines on behalf of the accused; this allowed them to escape not only a beating, but often even the necessity of confessing before the court. That high status helped people escape punishment may not seem surprising, but there is little evidence in the register that low status corre lated to harsher punishment. Accused sinners who were identifiably of low status (those who are called by only a personal name or who are spec ifically identified as servants) usually suffered conviction and punishment at much the same ra te as the population as a whole. Their fate at trial is, of course, a diffe rent issue from their likelihood of being accused. Some scholars have argued that young people during this time had a very high rate of mobility as they went through a stag e of apprenticeship or service in preparation 13 Chandler Register no. 225 (p. 85). For the cordiality of the relationship between dean and abbot, see no. 221 (pp. 84-5).
10 for settling down and raising a family.14 If so, then the rate at which servants were accused of crimes such as fornication and adultery (around 15%) may correspond more closely to the distribution of population within a villag e than would seem likely a priori Since no definitive statistics exist, I have b een unable to make a final statement on the issue. On the other hand, servants and others of low status who were accused of this sort of crime were overwhelmingly more likely to be female than male. Of the 51 servants accused of fornication or adultery, 48 we re female. Married men often committed adultery with servants, whether their own, a relativeÂ’s or a neighborÂ’s. Single men did the same, and some of them seem to have ke pt their female servants as concubines. Some of these men must have been using thei r superior positions to take advantage of women of low status. In othe r cases, poor or transient wo men may have been attempting to supplement their incomes with a bit of casual pr ostitution; however, the register makes only three specific references to prostitution, and all three of the women involved (two madams and one communis leno ) are given family names. Just as the visitation cour t took indictments based on reputation, it used a method at trial which relied more on reputation than upon circumstantial or eyewitness evidence. This was the method of compurgation. The accused swore to his innocence, risking the severe spiritual consequences of perjury if he lied. If he could produce an appropriate number of oath-helpers, he would be exonera ted. His oath-helpers swore that they believed his testimony. They were not requ ired to have personal knowledge of his 14 See, for example, Peter Laslett, The world we have lost (New York: Charles ScribnerÂ’s Sons, 1965); Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English Family, 1450-1700 (New York: Longman, Inc., 1984).
11 innocence Â– which can, after all, be very diffi cult to know. They were required only to swear to their trust in the accu sed. Even if he did turn out to be guilty, they would not have perjured themselves so long as they ha d believed his oath at the time he made it.15 The number of compurgators most often me ntioned in ChandlerÂ’s register was six Â– the accused and five oath-helpers. However, in the vast majority of cases, the register does not specify the number of compurgators de manded or involved in a particular trial. The register specifies the number so rarely that it is difficult to know whether the sixhanded oath is specified most often because it was used the most often or because it was the most common number used in unusual cas es. If, for instance, the court normally required four-handed purgation, but it dema nded six-handed purgation in especially difficult cases, then one might expect to se e six-handed purgation specifically mentioned most often, precisely because it was uncommon.16 Whatever the number demanded, the accused did not always need to supply this exact number. Especially respectable peopl e could count as more than one person for these purposes. Someone sufficiently impor tant might count as six compurgators himself, and thus be allowed to purge Â“ by his own hand,Â” or Â“single-handed.Â” In ChandlerÂ’s register, a lordÂ’s son was allowed to purge himself in this manner. However, many accused people in the register purged themselves Â“with the courtÂ’s indulgenceÂ” 15 Richard M. Wunderli, London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of the Reformation (Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of Am erica, 1981), 43-4; He lmholz, Â“Usury,Â” 378; Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 51-2, 331-4. 16 Timmins implies that six is a typical number of compurgators, but notes that the exact number depended on the judgeÂ’s discretion (xxx-xxxi). Martin Ingram writes that in the early seventeenth century (two centuries after ChandlerÂ’s time), W iltshire judges demanded compurgation with four or five hands in threequarters of cases, and with six or seven hands in one-fifth of cases. However, judges were frequently willing to accept compurgation with one oath-helper fe wer than they had originally required, and were sometimes even more genero us with the poor (Ingram, Church Courts 331-4).
12 ( purgavit gratiose ) Â– that is, they purged themselves with fewer than the usual number of oath-helpers, perhaps with none at all, as a special favor allowed by the court. Purgation by the courtÂ’s indulgence differs from the prev ious method in that it seems not to have been granted because of great wealth or social status. It may, on the contrary, have been granted as an act of charity to the poorest of the accused.17 To the modern sensibility this method seem s suspicious. The reader suspects, as one historian delicately put it, that Â“[e]ither most charge s were groundless and defendants innocent or there were many defendants who had little trepidation at committing perjury, for in overwhelming numbers and in all type s of cases defendants successfully purged themselves.Â”18 Nevertheless this sort of trial had a certain symmetry. The defendant appeared in court, after all, as the resu lt of his reputation. The questmen often had no firsthand knowledge of the sins they reported to the court; rather, they were repeating rumor and hearsay. A defendant believed guilty by some might well be believed innocent by others. Where no other evidence existed, this constituted what we today would call a Â“reasonable doubt.Â” If five other people had eno ugh confidence in the accused to swear oaths in his defense, then a priori it seemed that the community was divided on the question of his guilt. He might well be the victim of slander.19 But if a six-handed oath was a sufficien t reason to acquit, one might still wonder about compurgation with the courtÂ’s indulgenc e, which was quite common in ChandlerÂ’s register. Over forty percent of accused adul terers and fornicators who managed to purge themselves did so with the courtÂ’s indulgence. One might well feel, as did the translator 17 Wunderli, London Church Courts 43-4; Helmholz, Â“Usury,Â” 378; Ingram, Church Courts 331-4. 18 Wunderli, London Church Courts 43. 19 Ingram, Church Courts 331-4.
13 of the register, that this sort of lenien cy Â“almost certainly Â… perverted justice,Â”20 or, as another scholar put it, that the judge chose the number of compurgators he would accept Â“by an unknown method that in retrospect seems arbitrary.Â”21 No doubt Shirburne made many such decisions based on his intuition, and this does indeed seem arbitrary to us sometimes. The details on which he based his decisions are lost to time, but my analysis of the cases in which he granted the cour tÂ’s indulgence shows a pattern. Shirburne tended to grant the courtÂ’s indulgence to whol e towns rather than to individuals, and yet these villages tended not to ha ve greatly lower rates of puni shment that others. This suggests that Shirburne only granted the courtÂ’ s indulgence in places where, for whatever reason, it was especially diffi cult for the accused to purge. The accused who failed to purge, or who c onfessed their crimes, were generally sentenced to be fustigation, or beating. This was a public ceremony which drew its deterrent power at least as much from the humiliation of being paraded before oneÂ’s fellow villagers as a sinner as from the pain of the beating itself. However, more often than not, the guilty party paid a fine rather th an suffer the humiliation. This type of court was not allowed to levy fines di rectly, but in this way it c ould fine them indirectly by accepting a fine in lieu of fustigation. This ha ppened so frequently that it seems to have been common practice, and the court may well have formally assigned penitential beatings as a way of levying de facto fines. Sometimes a re spectable person who had some influence with the court would intervene and pay a fine on behalf of a guilty party. This was most often a cleric, but it could be a layman Â– sometimes even one of the very 20 Timmins, xxxi. 21 Wunderli, London Church Courts 43-4.
14 questmen who reported the sin to the court in the first place. One of the more intriguing questions arising in this study is why this happened so often. Did clerics and other respectable individuals interv ene out of pity for the accused, or were they acting on behalf of those who had an interest in pu tting a matter to rest quietly? The evidence seems to support the first idea in some cases the second in others, and often to be ambiguous. In some cases of adultery and fornica tion, probably those in which it feared a relapse or even long-term concubinage, the court demanded abjuration. It forced both parties to swear an oath not to commit the same sin again with the same partner. A penalty was specified at the time the oath wa s sworn. If the couple relapsed, each would pay the penalty. This was usually a fine, but sometimes it was a beating. The amount probably depended in part on the sinnerÂ’s abil ity to pay, but other factors seem to have been involved as well. In cases of fo rnication the abjuration might be sworn in forma commune or sub pena nuibiendi meaning that if the couple fornicated again, instead of paying a fine, they would instantly become legall y married. In theory, at least, this would put an end to a long-term premarital affair, either by deterring fornication or by marrying the couple willy-nilly. The state of marriage was a bit unclear in the fifteenth century, and canon law did not entirely jibe with common practice, with the result that sometimes there was real confusion about whether or not a couple wa s married. These cases might be brought directly before the court or they might arise during a case which the questmen had labeled fornication or even adultery. In these cases the court sometimes acted to reinforce the ChurchÂ’s power over the institu tion of marriage, but most of the time it
15 seems to have been acting as an honest arbi ter and conscientiously striving for the best solution for all parties. Similarly, the court sometimes faced cases in which a couple was clearly married, but husband and wife failed to do their duty to each other. This happened when one spouse abandoned the other and when a husband abus ed his wife. In the latter case, as in the former, the courtÂ’s primary concern seems to have been that each spouse fulfill his or her duty to the other. These duties included companionship, the care of children, and the Â“marital debtÂ” of sexual fulfillment which each spouse owed to the other. They also included the duty of the husband bot h to provide for his wife a nd to discipline her. Thus the court often showed more concern about husbands who denied their wives food or shelter than those who beat their wives. De spite this emphasis, so different from our own, the court showed a real concern about tr oubled marriages and made a strong effort to reconcile estranged spouses. Indeed, although the idea of legal sanctions for sins such as adultery might seem harsh today, the court is marked by mercy at least as much as by strictness, and by a concern for harmony within the villages as mu ch as by an intent to save souls or to expand the ChurchÂ’s power. Dean ChandlerÂ’s court appears to have been neither corrupt nor indifferent, but to be making a real effort to help the communities it served. It acted to strengthen marriage, to make husbands and wives do their duty to one another, and to provide clarity where genuine doubt existed as to the validi ty of a marriage. Some historians have claimed that the English people lost faith in the church courts during this period. Dean ChandlerÂ’s regist er suggests that the failures of the church courts did not
16 result from their indifference to the needs of the people but rather from their lack of sufficient power to enforce their judgments. The following essay is divided into three ma jor parts. The historiographical essay examines the work of ecclesiastical, legal and social historians over the last century. It examines trends in these fields, especially where the three merge, as when scholars use the records of church courts as a source for so cial history. It pays special attention to those works which provide vital information a nd tools to understand ChandlerÂ’s register. The next two chapters (three and four) disc uss cases of adultery and fornication in ChandlerÂ’s register. Because of the large number of these cases, it was impractical to address each of them in detail. Thus these chapters rely on statistical analysis and use specific cases as illustrations. The following three chapters (five through seven) address disputed marriages, abandonment and Â“self-divo rce,Â” and marital abuse. Each of these subjects requires a discussion of background and definition of terms, and so these chapters have longer introductory sections On the other hand, there are few enough examples of each of these in the register that each can be discussed individually. The appendices include the numerical data from wh ich my analysis, particularly in Chapters Three and Four, is drawn. A survey of this type is necessarily limited in its scope. A few caveats are in order. The published versions of the regist ers of Dean Chandler and Bishop Hallum have been translated into English. Any translat ion, no matter how skillful, is bound to obscure important details. The original Latin phrasi ng of the registers and any clues which might have been provided by the handwriting of th e clerks are unavailable to the scholar who cannot personally visit the arch ives. Furthermore, the regist ers themselves tell only part
17 of the story and likely distort what they do tell. When the questmen report a rumor of adultery, the register does not record who spread the rumor or what motives they might have had for doing so, much less the truth of the matter. The cases the questmen reported were those they thought important. This study generally assumes that these were cases in which a scandal in the community had become so serious that outside help was needed to resolve things. However, in some cases othe r motives may have applied. For instance, a questman Â– or someone who influenced hi m Â– may have had a financial stake in discrediting a rival. Sometimes a person w hose reputation was suffering may even have demanded that the rumors about him be brought to the court so that he could clear his name. Thus this study reveals the biases of the questmen, but also their standards about marriage. It provides a window into the ment ality of the villages of late medieval Salisbury Â– or at l east of their elite.
18 Chapter Two Historiography This study will address the inte raction of medieval church courts with the peasant family. Legal and ecclesiastical historians have long been intrigued by these courts and acknowledged their role in fam ily life. However, only in the past fifty years have many scholars focused on the family itself as a prim ary subject, and only in the last twenty years Â– beginning with the publication of Barbara HanawaltÂ’s The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England Â– has the use of legal records become a major method of researching it. Thus only recentl y have social historians begin to use archidiaconal court records as a major source in the study of the family itself as well as the Church. Before this time, the historiogr aphy of the medieval English Church and its courts was separate from the historio graphy of the medieval English family. Legal Historians, Canon-Law Courts, and Social Control In the early twentieth century and before, histories of the English medieval church were often marred by partisanship. Nerves se em to have remained a bit raw from the Reformation. This tendency, however, did eventu ally decline as histor ians strove to see the medieval Church as contemporaries had se en it rather than from a post-Reformation perspective. One of the earlier historians to attempt to do so was W. W. Capes, author of The English Church in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries the third volume of
19 Stephens and HuntÂ’s A History of the English Church. CapesÂ’ contemporaries praised his innovative use of Episcopal registers to unde rstand quotidian ecclesiastical and spiritual life of as well as his even-handedness towards the medieval Church.22 CapesÂ’ study concentrates on ecclesiastical and intellect ual history, but his final chapter, Â“The Influence of the Church on Social Life,Â” atte mpts to describe the interaction between the Church and the daily life of ordinary peopl e. Capes emphasizes the largely uncontested power which the Church held over peopleÂ’s mi nds. People for the most part accepted its doctrine without demur and ordere d their lives by its ceremoni es. In a highly stratified age, the Church was an egalitarian force, in whose buildings rich and poor could meet on a footing which, if not precisely equal, was at least common. Its holy days offered the serf a rare breath of freedom, rest, and even entertainment. Furthermore, the Church acted as a social conscience to the wealthy, enc ouraging them to acts of charity such as the establishment of hospitals, th e feeding of prisoners, and be quests for the poor in their wills.23 On the other hand, Capes is very critical of the ecclesiastical cour ts. He notes that their Â“matrimonial jurisdictionÂ” gave them authority in every household. However, he sees the way that they used this power as heavy-handed, intrusive, and unwelcome. Furthermore, he charges that corruption was ra mpant in the ecclesiastical courts, causing widespread mistrust and discontent. Whereas other sections of the work are detailed and sympathetic towards the medieval English Chur ch, this particular pa rt is not only harsh 22 Hastings Rashdall, Â“Review of The English Church in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries vol. 3 of A History of the English Church ,Â” The English Historical Review 16 (July 1901): 558-9; Francis A. Christie, Â“Review of A History of the English Church ,Â” The American Historical Review 7 (January 1902): 342-6. 23 W. W. Capes, The English Church in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries vol. 3 of A History of the English Church (1900; reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1967), 365-75.
20 but quite short Â– less than one page is devoted to these courts, even though he describes their influence as Â“widespread and strong.Â”24 CapesÂ’ thirteenth chapter, on Â“The Clergy and Parish Life,Â” by contrast, gives a realistic and sympathetic view of the role of local priests in daily life. Here Capes delves into Episcopal visitation records to provide a picture of how people fe lt about their parish priest. He finds that, while a certain amount of discontent can be found, people were by and large pleased with their prie sts Â– or at least felt no need to complain of them to the bishop. Capes finds that the level of educati on of the parish priest was often quite low, and that he often had a concubi ne or Â– when the authorities cracked down on that practice Â– made Â“temporary connectionsÂ” instead. Ho wever, his tone (unlike that of many previous works, and some later ones) is de scriptive, perhaps ev en understanding, rather than censorious.25 R. H. HelmholzÂ’s 1974 Marriage Litigation in Medieval England was a seminal work in the study of Church courts and me dieval marriage. In particular, this book remains a touchstone for students of medi eval divorce. Helmholz begins by quoting earlier scholars to the effect that it is impossible to know to what extent the courts followed the injunctions of Co mmon Law, then announces that it is in fact possible and that he intends to do so. Helmholz disti nguishes between the canonists, the judges and the common people. The three groups each had different attitudes towards marriage, although there were of course variations within each as well. Judges found themselves in the middle, trying to apply the tools of co mmon law to messy, real-world marriages. 24 Ibid., 371. 25 Ibid., 254-78.
21 However, Helmholz defends the canonists agains t the charge that they were impractical ivory-tower theorists, and he defends the c hurch courts against charges of slowness, inefficiency, rigidity, and corruption.26 Helmholz notes that in the classical period marriage was a private or family affair and finds that, in the late Middle Ages, the es sence of marriage was still that of a private contract. However, the Church was asserting itself more and more in this area, and the resulting conflicts were up to the courts to resolve. Helmholz claims that by far the largest number of marital suits in the church courts of late medieval England concerned efforts to enforce alleged marriage contract s. Clandestine marriages, though frowned upon and even punished, were considered perfectly valid under canon law. However, there was a great deal of confusion as to what constituted a valid (and therefore indissoluble) marriage as opposed to a mere betrothal, which could be broken. Helmholz argues that the wrangling of canon lawyers over such seeming trivia as the exact wording of marriage vows (the choice of verb, and th e tense in which it was conjugated, could make all the difference in whether a vow was bi nding) were not sterile, purely intellectual exercises, but rather were attempts to solve real problems and help the judges who had to deal with them. Furthermore, he argues that th eir results were useful to the courts as they struggled with thorny and cont entious cases. Since most ma rriage cases in the church courts involved contested cont racts, it was vitally important that the courts have a practical standard for determining whether a couple was married. It was quite important, 26 R. H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation
22 then, to explain that a contract made in the present tense was forever binding, while one made in the future tense was only binding when consummated.27 Helmholz vigorously disputes the claims of earlier legal historians that divorce was readily obtained in late medieval Engla nd, emphatically stating that Â“Church courts were not divorce mills.Â”28 Maitland, for example, had claimed that couples after an argument were prone to st art researching their fam ily genealogy, looking for consanguinity which could be grounds for an annulment. Helmholz finds this too cynical for the average person, whom he believes took the consanguinity laws very seriously and did his honest best to obey them. He also finds that a consanguinity claim was very difficult to prove (the nobility may have b een more cynical and had the resources to research their ancestors, but th is was not so for the averag e person). Helmholz points to the relatively small number of suits for divorce presented to the courts (although he admits that some of the cases which he classifies as attempts to enforce marriage contracts could well be attempts to get out of uncongenial marriages by alleging prior contracts). However, he finds that many people did not bother to go to the courts at all, but simply Â“self-divorcedÂ” Â– they moved out and went on with their lives without benefit of the courts.29 This point has been considerably expanded on recently by the work of historians such as Andrew Finch and Sara Butler. Helmholz praises the medieval church cour ts for their efficiency and practicality, stressing their flexibility and informalit y. Despite his defense of canon lawyers, Helmholz admits that the courts sometimes found their guidelines too rigid and ignored 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid., 111. 29 Ibid., 59-66.
23 or modified them. In troubled marriages, th e courts allowed legal separations ( called divorce a mensa et thoro ) for some causes, including cruelty ( saevitia ). In these cases, Helmholz finds that judges acted as arbitrator s, attempting to persuade the couple to find a way to live together peaceably and helping with informal alimony settlements if this failed. In a few situations, such as th e canonical law against a widower marrying a woman with whom he had committed adultery, th e courts seem often to have ignored the canonists altogether. In other cases, such as divorce on th e grounds of Â“force and fear,Â” the courts also showed more flexibility than canon law allowed. 30 Although London is unique among the urban areas of England, Richard M. WunderliÂ’s monograph on London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of the Reformation has become deservedly influential as a study of the changes in the relationship between people a nd the Church courts in late medieval England. Wunderli argues that, in London at least, people were rapidly losing faith in the church courts by the 1490s. Thus from the 1490s on Londoners, affected by the anxieties of the day, began to demand harsher punishments for debtors and moral offenders. The Church courts were unable or unwilling to meet the de mand. In part this was because the system of compurgation, well suited to small rural communities where everyone knew everyone, was ineffective in the city, where people be longed to multiple communities. Similarly, excommunication, the ChurchÂ’s ultimate w eapon, mattered less in London, where not everyone knew or cared about a personÂ’s comm unicant status. The worst offenders, such as pimps, prostitutes, and professional thieve s, lived in an underworld where they were 30 Â“Force and fearÂ” refers to coercion used to force an unwilling person to speak the words of a marriage contract, and was regarded as valid grounds for divorce only if the intimidation was sufficient to move a Â“constant manÂ” or woman. Thus it differs from claims of saevitia which can be brought for cruelty committed within a marriage freely entered. Ibid., 90-4.
24 already able to function as outcasts. Theref ore excommunication failed to frighten those whom Londoners most wanted to discipline. Besides lacking the tools to provide the harsh enforcement people demanded, the Chur chÂ’s judges were trained in a Christian tradition which tended to mercy towards th e repentant sinner Â– pr ecisely what people resented. Thus Londoners turned more and more to the mayorÂ’s court, particularly in cases where they had a strong interest in a c onviction, as with the prosecution of debtors and prostitutes. By the time of the Re formation, the Church courts of London had already lost much of their influence a nd prestige. Thus, in London at least, the Reformation was more effect than cause of the decline of the church courts in the sixteenth century.31 John BossyÂ’s Christianity in the West, 1400-1700 is a broad look at peopleÂ’s attitudes and the ChurchÂ’s attempts to influe nce them during this time. Bossy emphasizes the ChurchÂ’s theory of incest, which was de fined by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. While this councilÂ’s definition was not entirely new, and in fact narrowed the degree of unacceptable consanguinity from seven to four its formulation was the definitive one for the late Middle Ages. Bossy agrees with Helmholz that the prohibition was generally taken seriously and that the average person made every attempt to obey even though it conflicted with traditional practice in ma ny areas. Bossy argues that the people understood that in enforcing exogamy, the Church intended to widen the bonds of affection within the Christian community, and that they agreed with this goal.32 31 Wunderli, London Church Courts 1-62, 81-102, 133-9. 32 John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 18-20.
25 Bossy points out that the role of th e priest in the wedding ceremony, while important, was not vital; nevert heless, this role grew stead ily. He proposes two reasons for this. The first was Â“an increasing fear of diabolic intervention,Â” es pecially in northern Europe. Since sexual intercourse was an e ndeavor particularly vulnerable to demonic influence, marriage was a risky proposition. Th e best defense was to have a priest bless everything in sight, particularly the ring (sym bolically so important) and the bed (both symbolically and practically important). The second reason had to do with conflict between the Church and families. Whereas tw o people had always been able to marry by the exchange of vows before witnesses fo llowed by sexual intercourse, in the twelfth century canon lawyers decided that the mere exchange of vows was sufficient to form a binding marriage without either witnesses or consummation. While one might expect this to lessen the ChurchÂ’s role in marriag es, the most important effect it had was to weaken the familyÂ’s role. Couples wishing to be married against th eir familiesÂ’ wishes could do so with but a word, and the Church would support them against their families. Being used in this way, as leverage against re luctant relatives, strengthened the ChurchÂ’s role in marriage overall.33 Bossy also delivers an interesting discu ssion of sin and how it was conceived and explained by the Church. He explains th at the primary tool for thinking about the Western moral system in this period was th e Seven Deadly Sins. Ethicists generally divided these into two categor ies: the sins of aversion, in cluding pride, envy and wrath, and the sins of concupiscence, including glutt ony, lust and sloth (the place of avarice in this system was ambiguous). The sins of c oncupiscence were merely excesses of desires 33 Ibid., 19-26.
26 which in themselves were necessary for the survival of the community. The natural desires for food, rest and sexual intercour se were only evil when they became exaggerated beyond need. The sins of aversi on, on the other hand, turned one individual against another. These were regarded as the more seri ous because they were more destructive of the communit y. They were, furthermore, more ethically dangerous because the ChurchÂ’s system had a rival Â– th e code of honor, with its requirements of vengeance Â– in which these sins Â“were actually regarded as virtuous or obligatory.Â” The code of honor demanded pride in oneÂ’s group (family, clan, vill age, or any other group to which one belonged), envy of other groups, a nd wrath against those who insulted the group. Thus the church emphasized charity in its efforts to overcome the powerful spirit of partisanship and vengeance and the zero-sum Â“doctrine of the limited good.Â”34 James A. BrundageÂ’s Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe is, like BossyÂ’s work, a great deal broader in scope both in time and in place than my study, but it too offers some pertinent insights. Brundage finds that Europe in the later Middle Ages showed an increasing tendency to regulate se xual behavior. Both the Church and local governments enacted harsh policies. Brunda ge notes the unusual marriage patterns prevailing at this time Â– people married in their mid-twenties, and many never married at all.35 He suggests that since so many people were denied licit sex lives, the Â“sour grapesÂ” effect may explain the harshness of morals laws and the misogyny f ound in the literature of these times. However, the courts in practice greatly mitigated the harshness of these laws. While adultery was theoretically a he inous crime, in practice the courts often 34 Ibid., 35-9. 35 This insight was not original to Brundage, and it has been used by a number of social historians to draw very different conclusions; see the section on the social history of the family, pp. 33-5, 41-3, 47-8.
27 treated it the same as fornication. In the case of homosexual activity, the courts were again often more lenient than the law suggested, but here the leniency is a matter of having an offender whipped, fined and exiled ra ther than burnt to death. Brundage finds that the courts preferred to ignore masturbati on altogether. Attempts to force priests to abide by the rules of celibacy were never completely effective, and the Church in this period was rarely inclined to press the issue.36 Brundage suggests that a vari ety of attitudes existed Â– fo r instance, he argues that the great majority of canonists felt that sex wa s sinful even within marriage, and that at least some secular people agreed (he uses Ma rgery Kempe as his example of the latter, although he admits she was hardly the typica l medieval Englishwoman). At the same time, canon law generally regarded sexual rela tions as a vital part of marriage. And although the view was declared heretical in 1287, many people believed that fornication between two unmarried people was neither a crime nor a sin. This collection of contradictory attitudes is intr iguing; one gets the impressi on that very harsh and very lenient attitudes existed simultaneously. However, Br undage fails to clearly identify who held which beliefs; he does not attempt to esta blish what sort of person held each type, or in what areas particular attitudes were dominant.37 Eamon DuffyÂ’s The stripping of the altars: tr aditional religion in England, c.1400-c.1580 explores what Duffy calls Â“traditi onal religionÂ” Â– the religion of the average late-medieval Englishman. Duffy object s to the tack taken by earlier works such as A. G. DickensÂ’ classic The English Reformation He argues that Dickens made a harsh 36 Brundage, Law, Sex and Christian Society, 494-539. 37 Ibid.
28 (and unhistorical) distinction between medieval and humani st thinking. Dickens also argued that medieval Christ ianity had a Â“rather tenuousÂ” connection to Jesus and the Gospels and that it had alienated the laity, especially with traumatic descriptions of the horrors of purgatory. Duffy emphasizes that late medieval English Catholicism was a system that worked and in which people were invested, whereas Lollar ds and Wycliffites, while they occasionally struck a chord, were essentially negative and could not offer a viable alternative. Duffy also stresses the connection between elite or clerical culture and the religion of the majority. He argues that Â“traditiona l religionÂ” contained a common reservoir of ideas, symbols and speeches on which everyone drew.38 R. N. Swanson, in his Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215-c.1515 agrees with Duffy that no clear distinction can be made between Â“highÂ” educated religion and Â“lowÂ” popular religion. He st resses the interaction betw een the clergy and the people who assimilated their teachi ngs. However, unlike Duffy, Swanson finds that by the sixteenth century the Church was suffe ring from problems of complacency and institutional rigidity. Furthermore, wher eas Duffy goes so far as to use the word Â“homogeneityÂ” to describe the medieval C hurch, Swanson emphasizes its diversity. Swanson argues that medieval people were comp lex; they incorporated religion into their lives with a range of attitudes from deep pi ety to cheerful irreverence. He discusses variety within Church tradition, such as local variation in re ligious practices. Swanson creates an almost economic model of spiritual ity: people had spiritual needs which they 38 Eamon Duffy, The stripping of the altars : traditional religion in England, c.1400-c.1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 1-77.
29 expected the Church to meet, and the growi ng diversity of available religious elements meant that people could have a greater variety of needs met.39 In 1993, Andrew Finch pub lished an article in Continuity and Change following up on HelmholzÂ’s groundbreaking work on medieval marriage and divorce. Â“ Repulsa uxore sua : marital difficulties and separation in th e later middle agesÂ” aims to update and clarify HelmholzÂ’s findings. Finch concludes that the Â“sel f-divorceÂ” Helmholz describes was not uncommon, and was considered prope r by a number of people who felt that marriage and divorce were private matters. A dultery and disputed marriages are also quite visible in the records. However, all thes e cases were relatively rare compared to the great majority of people who regarded th eir marriage vows as permanently binding. Finch finds that the Church courts took a ve ry active role in attempting to reconcile dissatisfied couples Â– ordering couples to trea t each other well, to refrain from abusing one another, and insisting that they Â“pay the marital debtÂ” of sexual intercourse. He also points out the frequency with wh ich courts ordered unmarried couples to abjure from one another sub pena nubiendi If the couple engaged in sexua l intercourse after their oath, they would be legally considered to have entered a binding marriage.40 One of the most groundbreaking recent works on the history of social control in medieval England is Marjorie Keniston McIntoshÂ’s Controlling Misbehavior in England, 1370-1600 While it addresses many of the same issues as the above works, Controlling Misbehavior is quite different from them in style and focus Â– crammed with charts and graphs and focusing on the local jurors rather than on the judges. McIntosh mainly uses 39 R. N. Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215-c.1515 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 1-41, 235-56. 40 Andrew Finch, Â“ Repulsa uxore sua : marital difficulties and separation in the later middle ages,Â” Continuity and Change 8 (1993): 11-38.
30 civil court records, so a study which focuse s on the ecclesiastical courts must use her findings with caution. However, her work was so revolutionary, and has become so influential, that any study of this type must wrestle with it.41 McIntosh looks at judicial records from the leet courts of 255 commun ities of fewer than 3,000 inhabitants. She stresses the agency of local jurors, arguing that they actively assume d responsibility for matters which they had never been specifically authorized to deal with and carefully worded indictments to justify doing so. She finds that jurorsÂ’ concern with the eleven types of misconduct she studies rises over the period, but not steadily or evenly; she sees a great deal both of local vari ation and of peaks and valleys over time. Villages which experienced economic problems and had a high le vel of immigration we re inclined to be more concerned than more stable villag es; harsh crackdowns on misconduct eventually proved more trouble than they were worth and were relaxed.42 McIntosh studies eleven Â“crimesÂ” reporte d by her rural judges, which she groups into three categories based on the major co ncern they exemplified. The Â“Disharmony clusterÂ” concerns actions which were considered disruptive to the peace and cooperativeness of the village; this cluster comprises scolding (which included both using abusive language towards others and the spre ading of malicious ru mors), eavesdropping (usually accomplished by standing next to or lying under other peopleÂ’s windows, especially at night), and ni ghtwalking (being out at night with no good reason Â– often in order to accomplish eavesdropping or theft). This sort of behavior caused arguments and hard feelings. The Â“Disorder clusterÂ” con cerns offenses which showed a breakdown in 41 Although McIntoshÂ’s findings have achieved wide acceptance, they were controversial when Controlling Misbehavior was first published. For an example of a scholar very critical of McIntoshÂ’s methods and claims, see Sherri OlsonÂ’s review in Speculum 75 (January 2000): 216-219. 42 McIntosh, Controlling Misbehavior 1-19, 46-53, 206-13.
31 discipline; it includes sexual misconduct, diso rder in alehouses and inns, and vague charges of being Â“badly governed,Â” Â“of susp icious life,Â” or Â“of evil repute.Â” The Â“Poverty clusterÂ” shows villages struggling with issues concerning poverty, including vagabondage or living idly, receiving subtenan ts (renting space to a person who had no fixed abode and was therefore automatically suspicious), and hedgebreaking (taking wood out of the hedge, which was public prope rty). By comparing the rise and fall of indictments on these charges in communities, McIntosh demonstrates the shape of public anxiety in the late mediev al and early Tudor periods.43 Sandy BardsleyÂ’s Venomous Tongues: Speech and Gender in Late Medieval England takes one of McIntoshÂ’s eleven offenses Â– scolding Â– and addresses it at greater length. BardsleyÂ’s work is not without its flaws Â– she makes a few too many assumptions about gender, occasionally generalizes from slender evidence, and sometimes forces a specific reading onto an ambi guous passage. However, this work does make a valuable contribution to our understanding of courts and scolding in the later Middle Ages. Bardsley finds that scolding as a crime did not exist in the early fourteenth century, but that by the early fifteenth century it had beco me a very common charge in some areas Â– although the extent to which the charge was brought varied very much from community to community. Bardsley argues that Â“men fought with their fists while women fought with their voicesÂ” Â– women participated in conflicts by using abusive language against other women or by raising the hue and cry on be half of their men. She finds that women raised the hue as often as me n in the fourteenth century, but that by the end of that century it was becoming increasingly frequent for women to be charged with false hue43 Ibid., 1-19, 54-107.
32 raising. This was because of an increasi ng concern with womenÂ’s voices which in many cases eventually took the form of concern w ith the new crime of scolding. Bardsley thinks that the category of Â“scoldÂ” was some times used to feminize men who talked too much or too disruptively, but that men char ged with some types of disruptive speech Â– such as cursing or blasphemy Â– were not femi nized. She also notes that men were often brought to court for disruptive speech Â– but argu es that this speech was considered to be action rather than words by the courts. Me n who used abusive speech were prosecuted for such crimes as assault, disturbance of the peace, rebelliousness, and muttering in court. A woman would have been charged w ith scolding for the same offense. This does, however, seem to weaken BardsleyÂ’s main point Â– if the effort to silence scolds in the fifteenth century was gendered and aimed primarily at women, how to explain that men were also frequently taken to c ourt for the way they used their voices?44 Social Historians and the History of the Medieval English Family Whereas ecclesiastical and legal history have always been of interest to medieval historians, social history is a relative newcomer Only in the past fifty years have books devoted to the medieval family emerged in a ny number. Even then, the earlier works to emerge tended to emphasize Tudor England ove r the late Middle Ages. Although each major new work of course offered new insi ghts and took a unique view, the discussion has been dominated by comparison to our own age. Almost every work on the subject 44 Sandy Bardsley, Venomous Tongues: Speech and Gender in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 1-25, 69-105, 141-151.
33 can be classified according to the question of whether its author concludes that the medieval peasant family was similar to our own families or something radically different. Perhaps the first such history of note was Philippe ArisÂ’ Centuries of childhood: a social history of family life originally published in 1960 as L'enfant et la vie familiale sous l'Ancien Rgime. At the time, Aris was not a prof essional, but a self-described Â“Sunday historian.Â” Inspired by the work of the Annales school, he developed an interest in the way that the modern family had developed from what he thought had been something very different. Aris argues th at the family as we know it is a recent invention. People in the Middle Ages and before obviously had marriage and children, but they did not have the same ideas about them; in fact, they had no real concept of childhood at all. Once people could walk and talk and survive inde pendently of their mothers Â– that is, at around age seven Â– they were considered a part of adult society. They were treated simply as small people, al beit still developing. Ev en the family as we know it did not exist. There was no concept of privacy; people lived in very intimate settings and their homes were open to the community. Marriage was secular and very much public, even on the wedding night. Th e emotional connection between family members was not as close as it is for us. L ove, as we see in the Â“courtly loveÂ” tradition, existed but had no necessary relation to marriage. The young who had not yet entered society were not considered real persons and adults felt that it was not wise to become too attached to them, on account of their very hi gh rate of mortality. Once they did enter adult society they were soon sent off to a pprenticeships or to sc hool. Beginning in the fifteenth century and culminating in the ei ghteenth, people started to see children as different and precious and the family as sma ll and private; this started in the middle
34 classes and eventually took over society as a whole. As people became more individualistic, this smaller, more priv ate unit replaced the la rger, more public life.45 ArisÂ’ work was groundbreaking, one of the very first attempts to divine the nature of the everyday life of the ordinary people of the Middle Ages. It diverted attention from the literate elites and forced people to consider that many of the social institutions we take for gran ted may not always have existed, or may have been very different at one time. Nevert heless, today it seems a fatally flawed study. Aris uses a great deal of literary and artist ic material, but very little of the other materials available, such as the court records used extensively by legal historians What sources he does use he tends to take at face value. For instance, one of his main arguments for his contention that medieval people thought of children as lit tle adults is the way th at they are pictured in portraits, but this relies on the assumption that portraits are an accurate depiction of quotidian life and attitudes. Later historians have questioned this, but a number have, like him, assumed that books of moral instru ction reveal the universal attitude of the community. Aris also draws few geographi c distinctions, seeming to assume that western Europe was a single coherent unit.46 A few years later, in 196 5, Peter Laslett published The world we have lost Laslett was a well-known intellectual historian who developed an interest in the new and growing field of social history.47 Despite its title, The world we have lost is not so much a nostalgic look backwards as a hard-headed attempt to debunk popular myths about family life in late medieval and early mode rn England. Laslett argues that, despite the 45 Philippe Aris, Centuries of childhood: a social history of family life trans. Robert Baldick (New York: Vintage Books, 1962). 46 Ibid. 47 Obituary of Peter Laslett, in The Guardian 17 November 2001.
35 testimony of Shakespeare, people did not marry in their early teens, but rather waited until their mid-twenties (he estimates an aver age age of 24 for women and nearly 28 for men). Rather than living in large, multi-generational households, pre-industrial English people already lived in small nuclear familie s (except for families with servants, who were considered part of the household). Th ese two circumstances were linked; people did not marry until they could afford to m ove out and start a new household, which helps to explain the very high age of initial marri age. This system was only possible at all because housing was cheap and easy to build a nd because the short lifespans of the time meant that new opportunities opened up freque ntly. Laslett also tackles what he considers a widespread view that peasants were promiscuous and sexually irresponsible. He argues that while there were hypocris y, indifference to religious sanctions, fornication, adultery and prostitution, the aver age villager obeyed the rules of his society and lived a Â“respectableÂ” life. His main support for this argument is the rate of recorded bastardy, which he estimates at 3 to 4 percent.48 Laslett emphasizes the personal scale of life in seventeenth-century England and the importance of the family, which was the basic economic and political unit (whereas the individual is the basic unit today). Busi ness relations were personal. Since servants and journeymen were part of the household, their work lives were familial, personal, full of love and hate and emotions too powerful to express, in a way that our relationships with our bosses are not. Because the fam ily was the basic unit of society, marriage represented entry as a full member in societ y Â– at least for the new head of household, who would Â“subsumeÂ” its other members into his own public personality. Laslett makes 48 Laslett, The world we have lost
36 much of the low average lifespan, hypothe sizing that the remarriages and widowhoods which resulted explain the wicked stepmothers and old witches of fairy tales. His work touches that of Aris on relati vely few points Â– Laslett thinks that we do not have enough information to speak intelligently about how ch ildren were raised. Yet he agrees with Aris that one of the defining traits of pre-industrial society was its physical youth. Laslett estimates that nearly half of the people in societ y were under twenty, and this must have had its effect Â– pe rhaps explaining in part its authoritarian nature. While Laslett is mainly concerned with the early modern period, he remains influential on medieval social historians, particularly in his finding that late marriage and the nuclear family household existed well before the industrial age in England.49 Ten years later, Edward ShorterÂ’s The Making of the Modern Family offered perhaps the grimmest picture to date of the late medieval peasant household. Shorter calls the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Â“the Bad Old Days.Â” He compares Â“the family in traditional societyÂ” to a ship which is unable to go anywhere because it is tied down, and which furthermore has holes in the sides so that people can walk in and out. Such a ship is, of course, not a ship at all, but this is ShorterÂ’s point; only after people discovered sentimental familial attachment could they sever the ropes, patch up the ship and sail away in what only then became what we would call a family. This is as clumsy and tendentious a metaphor as it sounds, but S horter uses it to emphasize the extent, hard to imagine to day, to which relatives and the community bound the family and a person could have very little privacy from them. Shorter argues, much like Aris, that this changed in the early modern period, as emoti on increased in three formerly Â“coolÂ” areas: 49 Laslett, The world we have lost
37 romantic love, the mother-child relations hip, and the boundary between the family and the community. Before this time, he claims, peasant marriage was about lineage and property, with little affec tion between parent s and children and none between husband and wife. People of the time lacked empat hy and could not imagine what one another were feeling. The loss of a spouse was an in convenience but also an opportunity to gain more property by remarrying; it occasioned lit tle genuine grief. Like Laslett, Shorter notes the high average age at marriage but argues th at little fornication went on. He even goes so far to claim that little masturbation went on, arguing that the intensity of sexual feelings is largely a product of a societyÂ’s expectations. In a di fferent society, people rarely experienced uncontrol lable sexual urges. Furthermore, the same grim and exhausting life that le ft people so little energy for any em otions also sapped their sexual drives.50 ShorterÂ’s view is extreme, and few toda y are willing adopt it unmodified. One reason for this may be the nature of his s ources. He largely relied on the accounts of literate people writing about illiterate p easants. These were most often doctors, bureaucrats and Â“that variety of antiquarian sc holar whom the French charmingly call Â‘les rudits locaux.Â’Â”51 The records he uses are mostly from late eighteenth-century France. Shorter is aware of the class bi as of these authors, but he still considers them the best possible source, as the only intimate literate vi ew of the late-medieval peasant. It seems likely that their prejudices colored his story despite his best effort s. French prejudice 50 Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (New York: Basic Books, 1975). 51 Ibid., 11.
38 today still considers the farmer a bit loutish or rustre ; how much more so did they in that period when the upper classes often held the poor in open contempt? Lawrence StoneÂ’s The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 of a couple of years later, expresse s a more nuanced and more wi dely researched version of this opinion. StoneÂ’s unsentimental account pr esents late medieval peasants as rather alien to us, if not quite the unfeeling clods of ShorterÂ’s version. St oneÂ’s version of the tied-down, hull-less ship is the Â“Open Lin eage Family,Â” which he claims was the dominant model for the whole Middle Ages unt il the enormous changes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Open Lineage Family was Â“openÂ” to influence from kin, friends, neighbors and the community as a whole; its raison dÂ’tre was lineage, loyalty to ancestors and kin. Thus Â“neither individua l autonomy nor privacy were respected as desirable ideals.Â” The group was always mo re important than the individual. No happiness was expected in this world, only in the next; sex was not a pleasure but a Â“sinful necessity.Â” Life was cheap, so it wa s best not to get too attached to specific people. Romantic love was not unknown, but was regarded as a mental illness.52 Overall, Stone finds, Â“affective relations seem generally to have been cool,Â” so that no love or hatred was very strong by our standards. Furthermore, affection was more evenly dispersed, so that people did not feel much more emotional closeness with their immediate family than with friends, neighbors, and more distant relatives. Love was not the basis of marriage, nor did spouses c hoose each other; rather, marriage was an economic relationship arranged by families. It was assumed that Â“any reasonably presentable member of the other sexÂ” would do as an outlet for the sexual urges which 52 Lawrence Stone, Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).
39 marriage channeled in construc tive directions. Young people did not resent having older relatives choose their spouses because deferen ce to their authority wa s ingrained in them. The household did not have well-defined boundaries; the community helped to raise children and resolve martial disputes. Â“The gigantic flood of denunc iations of domestic moral transgressions that poured annually into the archde aconsÂ’ courts between about 1475 (when good record-keeping began) and 1640 s hows that little went on in the home that was not noticed and reported by the nei ghbours.Â” Where divorce is concerned, Stone echoes Helmholz, whose work was new at the ti me, in his claim that the average peasant Â“divorced himselfÂ” or ran off rath er than seeking a legal annulment.53 StoneÂ’s later Road to Divorce: 1530-1987 elaborates on the topic, identifying Â“five distinct ways in which the break-up of a marriage could be achieved in England in the early modern period, only two of which i nvolved litigation.Â” However, this work ignores the Middle Ages and begins in the mid-sixteenth century. Of StoneÂ’s five methods, three (divorce by act of Parliament, th e Â“private separationÂ” by contract, and the wife-sale) were not available in medieval England. As for the two which were (divorce a mensa et thoro and Â“self-divorceÂ”), Stone adds little to HelmholzÂ’s coverage.54 This sort of family was not emotionally demanding, and most children left home between ages seven and fourteen to work. This system was repla ced starting about 1530 by the Â“Restricted Patriarchal Nuclear Fam ily,Â” in which the household became more closed off from the community and transfe rred its loyalty from its lineage to more Â“universalisticÂ” entities such as Church and st ate. This system was itself replaced after 53 Ibid. 54 Lawrence Stone, Road to Divorce: 1530-1987 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 1-27, 141-8.
40 1640 by the Â“Closed Domesticated Nuclear Famil y.Â” This era at last saw the rise of Â“Affective Individualism,Â” with family members autonomous and bound by ties of affection, valuing each other as individuals. Stone expres ses a strong conviction that societies have changed more than they have remained the same, and he criticizes those who believe that the sex drive and the driv es to nurture children are biologically determined constants. Like Shorter, Stone recognizes the perils of relying on documents written by the elite to describe ordinary life, yet falls prey to them anyway. For instance, he concludes, on the strength of the advice of a couple of guide s of moral instruction, that all late-medieval parents endeavored to Â“cr ush the willsÂ” of their children by physical brutality.55 By contrast, Ral ph A. HoulbrookeÂ’s The English Family, 1450-1700 stresses continuity over change. Houl brooke criticizes Aris and St one for using evidence out of context and ignoring what did not fit their models. He argues that StoneÂ’s schematic approach, with its stages of development, makes changes in the family seem quicker, more uniform and more complete than they were. Houlbrooke claims that in 1450 (and for some time earlier) the nuclear family not only existed but was already central to emotional life. Larger family groups were nebulously defined and had less influence than Stone had claimed. While servants were a pa rt of the household, children had a special status and role which servants did not. Husband and wife had a special closeness. Houlbrooke agrees with Laslett that people marri ed at a late age because they first needed to build up the money to set up a separate household; marriage thus usually followed a period of apprenticeship or service, and pe rhaps an inheritance. Marriage was a 55 Stone, Family, Sex, and Marriage.
41 partnership to which both spouses brought reso urces and skills. Within the marriage, tasks were divided along traditional sex roles, but there was significant overlap. The family was held together by ties of affecti on as well as obedience. Church teaching aimed to enhance the strength of the family but also to temper the emotions that arose in it and urged people to love God more than their family. However, this effort was not completely successful. Here, Houlbrooke fi nds a plausible way to harmonize the very different views of medieval emotional life pr esented by Stone and Laslett. The emotional coolness which Stone noticed in manuals of moral instruction was an effort by the Church to moderate the cabin-feve r passions which Laslett hypothesizes.56 Church courts, Houlbrooke finds, filled a necessary role: they granted separations, ordered conjugal rights restored, punished in fanticide, and provided for the needs of abandoned bastards. A concept of privacy cer tainly did exist, but it was significantly weaker than it is today. While Houlbrooke acknowledges the enormous changes taking place in England in this period, such as de mographic and economic expansion, he finds that the family changed slowly. There wa s a slow shift towards an improvement in manners, causing wives to scold their husbands less and men to beat their wives less. While obedience and affection both still held families together, the emphasis was shifting from the former to the latter. However, th ese changes were slower and slighter than Stone had imagined. They were also very little affected by the Reformation or by humanist thought.57 56 Houlbrooke, The English Family. 57 Ibid.
42 David HerlihyÂ’s Medieval Households was one of the first major works to tackle the issue purely from the pers pective of a medievalist. While earlier authors had done valuable work in studying the late medieval fa mily, most of them were more interested in the Reformation and the early modern period. He rlihyÂ’s work begins in late antiquity and ends before the Reformation. Rather than comparing medieval families to industrial-age ones, he mostly compares them to classical families. At the time of HerlihyÂ’s writing, a consensus seemed to be emerging that the nu clear family had already been dominant in the late Middle Ages, but historians did not know how long it had been so. Herlihy traces its rise to the eleventh century, a period of intense change in Europe. From that time on, he argues, Europeans lived in what we w ould recognize as families Â– nuclear families bound together by ties of affection. The ideal of partnership or helpmeet marriage, with marriage late for both sexes, was dominant in the High Middle Ages. Herlihy argues that this ideal was later weaken ed by classical influences, which reintroduced Greek and Roman misogyny and tended to widen the age gap in marriages. However, the partnership marriage continued and was streng thened again by the population losses of the fourteenth century. Alt hough sources for the emotional li ves of peasants are poor, Herlihy finds that parents have always l oved and valued their children. Noting, like previous historians from Ari s on, that children often left the home at a young age to work as servants, he argues that this was medieval societyÂ’ s way of preserving connections between the upper and lower classes after the demise of slavery.58 Alan MacFarlane, in Marriage and Love in England, 1300-1840, was another scholar to stress the similarity of medieval marriages to modern ones rather than the 58 David Herlihy, Medieval Households (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985).
43 differences. MacFarlane argues that the in dividualistic Â“Malthusian marriage system,Â” which fits so well with capitalism, had its root s are in the Middle Ages in England. This system featured a late age at marriage; the im portance of the consent of the parties to be married; monogamy; divorce (which, as Helmholz shows, happened both formally and informally despite the doctrine of the indivi sibility of marriage); and a Â“balancedÂ” system of marriage payments rather than a high brid e-price or dowry. English marriage from the Middle Ages on had four distinctive charac teristics, which MacFarlane sees as a combination of Christian and Â“TeutonicÂ” Anglo-Saxon customs. First, marriage primarily concerned the couple themselves rather than the whole family. MacFarlane identifies this as an early blend of Teut onic and Christian customs. Second, following Paul and Augustine, the Church considered marriage Â“second-bestÂ” to celibacy, thus optional rather than obligat ory. Third, marriage provided partnership, companionship, and the strongest of all relationships; M acFarlane credits Teutonic Â“uxoriousnessÂ” supplemented by the Christian emphasis on marriage. Finally, romantic love was the basis of marriage. Many historians, following Ar is, attribute the rise of romantic love to the ideal of Â“courtly love,Â” and thus to the Troubadours, or at leas t to eleventh-century Languedoc. However, MacFarlane claims that its appearance was not as sudden as that; these sentiments appear earlier, but are still not universal long afterwards. Perhaps, he suggests, love marriage was always fairly common for the poor, and it was only the rich for whom this was a drastic change.59 MacFarlane posits that the families of medieval Europe considered children optional, in large part becau se they were a mixed blessing; children had their own 59 Alan MacFarlane, Love and Marriage in England, 1300-1840 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1986).
44 economic rights (based in Anglo-Saxon law), so that parents were obliged to care for their children, but adult children had few oblig ations towards their elderly parents. The nuclear family was also old in England. In part as a result of th is marriage system, the transition to capitalism in England was mu ch more gradual than Marx had believed, taking place over centuries and beginning in Middle Ages. All Western Europe shared these characteristics in the early Middle Ages, but the reintroduction of Roman law changed most countries. Thus by the sixt eenth century, England was an island of Germanic law off a continent of Roman law. This could perhaps explain why the trend Herlihy had seen Â– the age gap in marriage in creasing in the late Middle Ages Â– is not visible in England.60 Barbara A. HanwaltÂ’s The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England provided an exciting new look at th e English medieval peasant family. Hanawalt deals with many of the same material s as her predecessors, but also makes new use of coronersÂ’ reports. Th ese reports were made by royal officers who were appointed to investigate sudden deaths and thus ar e primarily accident or homicide reports. However, Hanawalt noticed that these reports we re also rich in detail about the activities that people were involved in just before th e deaths occurred. Thus she finds in these reports a source of rich detail on how people lived their everyday lives. The publication of this work in 1986 began a trend of social historians turning to legal documents for sources of information on the medieval family.61 60 Ibid. 61 Barbara A. Hanawalt, The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
45 Hanawalt argues that most historians have overemphasized the differences between medieval and modern families, making the peasant seem far more alien than he really was. She names Philippe Aris, Edward Shorter, and Lawrence Stone as examples. She argues that medieval peasant families were indeed bound by affective relationships: Â“Babies were fussed over a nd bounced on the knees of proud parents. Youths flirted and married couples loved as well as argued.Â” She claims that Stone and Shorter have overstated the Â“porosityÂ” of the family, and that the community spying which Stone finds in the beginning of the earl y modern period was rare in the Middle Ages. She does agree with Stone that the me dieval family was different from our own, that family was not as sentimentalized for them as it is for us, and that the paterfamilias did not have the power he would wield in th e nineteenth century; however, she finds that their families were ones that we would recogn ize as families in our own terms. Other historians, such as Alan MacF arlane, she believes to have understated these differences, and she stresses that the basic unit of society was the family rather than the individual. She calls the models constructed by all of these historians Â“straw families,Â” constructed in the dubious light of nostalgia or Â“antinostalgia .Â” She presents Stone and MacFarlane as two poles to navigate between Â– the one re presenting a view of the medieval peasant family as too alien and unsympathetic, the othe r presenting it as too modern and familiar. Although she does not mention his work, she seems to share HoulbrookeÂ’s opinion that the family changed less than its circumstances did.62 Hanawalt claims that the medieval Englis h peasant family was a nuclear family, held together by emotional as well as econom ic bonds, which is recognizable as a family 62 Ibid. Quote is from p. 8.
46 under our own definition even though it was different from modern families. Families change slowly, and many factors are consta nt because many human needs are constant; Â“the very biological necessities of perpetua ting our species ensures that many aspects of medieval life must be similar to our own.Â” Biology, however, does not determine everything; Â“While suckling a baby is biological, other aspect s of family life, such as treatment of the aged, is [ sic ] cultural.Â” Peasant families used Â“a variety of economic strategiesÂ” to solve the problems confron ting them. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were traumatic for peasants. P easant society changed a great deal but the peasant family did not. This was because peasant families were flexible and adaptable units. When members died, people remarried or brought in more distant relatives. Stereotyped Â“traditional role structuresÂ” en sured that people knew their place in the world, and this made people to some degree interchangeable. Cultural roles followed up on and reinforced the biological: Â“Children must be nurtured, the sexual drives are strongest in youth, and the need for food and shelter forces mature men and women into economic activities to provide for themselves and their offspring.Â” Thus young people took part in Â“village fertility festivalsÂ” wh ile married men held office and married women Â“officiated at births.Â” Peasant community we re close-knit in the f ourteenth century and unraveled to some degree in the fifteenth, but families stayed strong. Peasants showed a strong preference for the nuclear family househ old; this was possible because wattle-anddaub housing was so cheap. The peasantry wa s divided into upper, middle, and lower classes: the village oligarch s, who had the most land and dominated village offices; the secondary villagers, who had enough land to make it usually but relied on village
47 networks for support in hard times; and the co ttars, who had little land and had to rely on wage labor or semi-skilled tr ade like thatching to survive.63 The average couple, as described by Ha nawalt, was busy working and did not reflect a great deal on their marriage. Mari tal disputes did happen, but serious disputes were not common and were actively discourag ed by the community. Some instructional guides did instruct men to b eat their wives, but others, such as Â“How the Wise Man Taught his Son,Â” emphasized getting along w ith oneÂ’s wife peacefully. Hanawalt condemns such works as Before the Bawdy Court and Wanton Wives and Wayward Women as Â“salacious;Â” she cautions the historia n in studying court r ecords that Â“[t]he cases that tend to stand out after a casual r eading are those of brutality and adultery.Â” The vast majority of cases, however, show cooperation between spous es. There were, of course, incompatible couples a nd those that lived apart. On divorce, Hanawalt, like most scholars since 1974, follows Helmholz Â– most grounds for divorce were rarely used, except for precontract. It was the wifeÂ’s dut y to obey and the husbandÂ’s duty to ensure that she did; it was acceptable for him to use force to this end. There was, of course, marital discord. We cannot know how much, but since one could expect a marriage to last twenty-five years or so, it was best to get along. Childbirth was dangerous, but most women survived and outlived their men; wome n were not constantly pregnant. Court cases overall show that many husbands showed solicitude to their wives; there are many examples of trust and some of affection. Overall, Â“The patriarchal model of marital 63 Ibid., 3-11, 120-3, 265-8.
48 relationship is also no t entirely applicable Â… Partnership is the most appropriate term to describe marriage in medieval English peasant society.Â”64 While HanawaltÂ’s work has been tremendous ly influential, no historian ever really gets the final word. Recent works have attempted to expand our knowledge of more specific subjects or to apply our unders tanding to new areas. An example of the latter is Mary S. HartmanÂ’s The household and the making of hi story : a subversive view of the Western past Hartman, seeing that scholars ar e more or less agreed about the distinctive nature of marriage at least in north western Europe, attempts to use this insight to explain how Europe came to dominate the wo rld in the colonial er a. Peter Laslett had made this observation, and he had been followed by Houlbrooke and MacFarlane, but Hartman was the first to write an entire book on the subject. She attempts to use this distinctive feature to explain many other unusual features of the cultures of northwestern Europe.65 Hartman stresses the uniqueness of the late age of marriage for women in northwestern Europe. This system, she argues, blurred the traditional sharp distinction between the sexes. This Â“not only require d women and men alike to be more actively engaged as partners in creating and maintain ing their households, but regularly prompted women to resist menÂ’s control.Â” It also diminished the role of biological sex as a marker of identity. Hartman argues that the typical marriage in agricultural societies in most times and places is quite unlike the northwes tern European pattern : it feature young age at marriage, with brides seven to ten year s younger than grooms; the families arrange the 64 Ibid., 207, 219. 65 Mary S. Hartman, The household and the making of history: a subversive view of the Western past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
49 marriage; almost everyone gets married; and the newlyweds move in with groomÂ’s parents in a multi-generational, patriarcha l household. Although northwestern Europe may have followed this pattern at one time, from the medieval era on it followed a very different one: people married late, with the bride and groom of similar ages; many people (she estimates 10-20%) never married; young pe ople played the major role in picking spouse; the married couple moved out and created a new nuclear household. Hartman credits Laslett with discovering this, or at l east with noticing that the pattern applied to the Middle Ages; before, histor ians had known of this change from a typical to a unique pattern but thought it the result of industrialization. She me ntions that MacFarlane had tried to do what she is attempting Â– to link the unique European family structure to the rise of capitalism Â– but finds that he ultimat ely failed. Hartman claims that people still fail to realize how odd and impr actical this system was. Even odder, the poor were the trendsetters Â– the rich clung to the typical pattern longer (Ari s had seen the big changes in the family spreading from the middle cla ss to the upper classes a nd then the lower). This system made women more assertive a nd independent Â– in a two-person household, it matters less who is in charge than in a la rge one. Men and women had fewer differences; they did not, as in the more usual pattern, li ve in two separate worl ds. Hartman explains the misogyny of 1500-1750 not by a resurgence in Roman traditions, as Herlihy had claimed, but by a widespread perception th at women were getting the upper hand in marriage.66 Stephanie CoontzÂ’s Marriage, a history: from obed ience to intimacy or how love conquered marriage is written from the perspective of a modern American historian. 66 Ibid; quote is from p. 4.
50 Coontz seeks to understand what marriage is li ke in the United States today by comparing modern marriages to medieval ones. Her portr ait of medieval marriag e is a synthesis of study to date. Coontz places the beginning of the Â“love marriageÂ” in the seventeenth century, but she does consider medieval marriag es to have been partnerships. Rather than two-career marriages or the man maki ng money while woman raises the children (the latter situation she views as extrem ely unusual), "[m]ost people had a two-person, married-couple career that ne ither could conduct alone." Although this would seem to put her more in agreement with Hanawalt and Houlbrooke, she also claims that marriage was negotiated by and for the larger family unit, agreeing with Stone.67 Shannon McSheffreyÂ’s Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture in Late Medieval London attempts to find new insights into the subject by narrowing the focus Â– instead of all England, she looks specifi cally at London. She finds th at while marriage usually happened late in life, in oneÂ’s mid-twenties, and the spouses made their own decisions to some extent, in the late fifteenth centu ry there was a movement towards greater supervision. As society became more stra tified, its elites got mo re settled and less permeable, and expressed a greater concern a bout disorder and misb ehavior. The result was a movement towards more social contro l in general and great er patriarchy within marriage. Parents once again took a greater role in arranging marriage. McSheffrey argues that although by Church law a binding an d irrevocable marriage could be made by the couple themselves, in pr actice the whole community wa s involved, authority figures had their say, and the canon law was sometimes be nt in light of Â“socia l necessities.Â” Men 67 Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a history: from obedience to intimacy or how love conquered marriage (New York: Viking, 2005).
51 were supposed to rule their households, but they were expected to do so justly. Marriage was Â“intimateÂ” but not Â“privateÂ” Â– people di d not want their neighbors spying on them, true, but they had no expectation of privacy in their sex lives or intellectual lives (for instance, in regard to heresy). The marri age process was public and transparent; all sexual relations outside marriage were criminal and therefore very much the business of the community.68 Sara Butler of Loyola Univer sity is a rising star in the history of medieval marriage and its vicissitudes. Butler has written several artic les and a book about troubled marriages and the courts. Her 2004 ar ticle Â“The Law as a Weapon in Marital Disputes: Evidence from the Late Medieval Courts of Chancery, 1424-1529Â” digs into the Chancery Court records to see what can be learned from them about marriages gone bad. Butler concludes that, while a man had th e right to use force to discipline his wife, the community recognized limits to the force he could use and those limits stopped well short of murder. If a man was felt to be abus ing his wife, then it was the duty of her male relatives (as it had been under Roman law) to re monstrate with him. If they failed then the whole community might become involved. On ly after this too failed would the courts be likely to get involved. She also concl udes that many cases of Â“ravishmentÂ” which came to the courts were really attempts by abandoned husbands to reclaim goods that their wives had taken with them when they le ft. Under the rule of coverture, man and wife were considered a single entity which c ould not sue itself. Therefore the man whose wife had left him had to sue her accomplices for Â“abductingÂ” her. In many cases this 68 Shannon McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture in Late Medieval London (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).
52 accomplice was a lover, but often it was a male relative Â– a father, brother, or son. A woman who had no close male relatives nor love rs might convince a sympathetic priest to help her, in which case even a genuinely ce libate cleric might be sued for abduction. Further complicating matters, the same word Â– raptus Â– was used for rape as for abduction, making it very difficult at times to divine what was really going on.69 ButlerÂ’s subsequent articles have used so me of the same ideas as they look at other martial problems in late medieval Engl and. In Â“Â‘I will never consent to be wedded with you!Â’: Coerced Marriage in the Courts of Medieval England,Â” she addresses the issue of attempts to coerce marriage. She fi nds that some ruthless men attempted to force women to marry themÂ– usually women who had substantial property, such as rich widows. In addition to soci al and economic pressure, some men resorted to kidnapping, rape, and the use of force and threats to ma ke a woman recite the words of a marriage oath. Under the canon law actions made under strong duress did not create a binding marriage, but they could be the beginning of one if the victim stopped resisting. Butler finds that some women did re sist determinedly and successfully, using the law sometimes quite cleverly.70 In Â“Runaway Wives: Husband Dese rtion in Medieval England,Â” Butler finds that juries were aware of the confusion surrounding the word raptus and sometimes did their best to amplify and explain that they were, for in stance, talking about abduction rather than rape. This article amplifies HelmholzÂ’s theory of Â“s elf-divorceÂ” by arguing that not only did some men desert their wi ves, some women deserted their husbands. 69 Sara Butler, Â“The Law as a Wea pon in Marital Disputes: Evidence fr om the Late Medieval Courts of Chancery, 1424-1529,Â” Journal of British Studies 43 (July 2004): 291-316. 70 Butler, Â“Â‘I will never consent to be wedded with you!Â’: Coerced Marriage in the Courts of Medieval England,Â” Canadian Journal of History 39 (August 2004): 247-70.
53 They did so despite the risks and disadvantages They left for a variety of reasons and were often quite resourceful in how they went about it.71 Scholarship in these areas continues to grow more sophisticated. Historians constantly question the assumptions that thei r predecessors made. Broad generalizations about what Â“the medieval familyÂ” was like are becoming increasingly suspect. This study, focusing as it does on a narrow slice of time and space, demonstrates that villages within a dayÂ’s walk of each other in the same diocese differed significantly in their attitudes towards sex, marriage, and the ChurchÂ’s role. Furthermore, two marriages within the same village could be very different. Some of the marriages mentioned in the register seem to have resembled ShorterÂ’s Â“B ad Old Days;Â” others (perhaps the majority) were reasonably affectionate working partne rships like those Hanawa lt describes; others featured strong-willed individua ls seeking to maximize their personal freedom, as seen in the works of Helmholz and Butler. This is no t to say that everyone is right, but rather that everyone has underestimated the amount of individual vari ation that existed within the medieval community and the medieval family. Although debate is still lively in the scholarly communit y, it is possible to discern a pattern in scholarly views of church courts and the medieval family. It seems very probable that the average late medieval Engl ish villager got married in his mid-twenties and formed a new nuclear household. His marriage was an economic partnership in which he shared duties and re sponsibility with his wife. His bond with her and with his children was composed of some combination of economic necessity, duty and affection. 71 Butler, Â“Runaway Wives: Husband Desertion in Medieval England,Â” Journal of Social History 40 (December 2006): 337-59.
54 Although some historians have argued for so me precise formula for the balance of the three, the exact composition must have varied greatly by household. It was not infrequent for two people to disagree about wh ether they were married or not and to take their disagreement to court. There were many of these cases and they probably resulted from a variety of circumstances Â– the false promises of a seducer the arguments of a dissatisfied spouse, or honest disagreem ent in an era where the boundary between betrothal and binding marriage was confused. On the other hand, de facto divorces, informal and extralegal, probably greatly outnumbered legal ones. Although people probably did want privacy, they had relatively little by our standards. While many marital problems were probably dealt w ith by community intervention which never entered anyoneÂ’s records, some cases were al ways taken to court. This could be any court, but for villagers it was very often the episcopal or archidiaconal one. At the end of the Middle Ages, people showed a great deal of anxiety about disorder and misbehavior. They demanded that the courts act on these worries. The church courts attempted to address them. They may ultimately have fa iled to do so effectively, leading to their eventual decline. However, the evidence of Dean ChandlerÂ’s regist er is that in early fifteenth-century Salisbury, the deanÂ’s cour t was fulfilling its f unction reasonably well.
55 Chapter Three Adultery On 18 October 1408, Dean Chandler visite d Sherborne [Shirbourne], a village rich in ecclesiastics but als o, apparently, in sinners. Th e abbot of the local monastery, Robert Browning [Brounyng] received him with such courtesy and fed him such an excellent meal that the dean forgave hi m the usual procuration fee. Vicar John Campedon, five chaplains and two clerks all paid their respects. Then the villageÂ’s eight questmen appeared to inform the dean about the state of Church property in Sherborne, legal matters concerning the Church, the perfor mance of the villageÂ’s priests, and the sins of the community.72 They were probably heard not by the dean himself, but by his servant, Master John Shirburne [Shirburn].73 From the evidence of his name, Sherborne may have been a Â“local boy made good,Â” but in any case he was a careful judge and his actions in the village of Sherborne were very much typical. The questmen of Sherborne were highly conc erned about adultery in their village. Sins of adultery were the first matter they me ntioned to the judge. It was also the matter they mentioned the most: they listed eight ca ses of adultery, as opposed to two cases of fornication, one of overlaying,74 and one will proved. The questmen of the Salisbury 72 Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5). 73 Timmins xxvii. 74 Overlaying involved the death of an infant in his parentÂ’s bed during the night. People believed that a careless mother could easily suffocate he r child if it spent the night in the bed with her rather than in a crib. Mothers accused of overlaying usually did penance, but it did sometimes appear as a crime in civil court. Ibota HorneÂ’s is the only no. of overlaying to appear in the register. The questmen seem to have regarded it
56 diocese reported a variety of sins, such as failure to atte nd church and infringing on the churchÂ’s property, but by far the most co mmon type of sin they reported was sexual immorality Â– adultery and fornication. Dean ChandlerÂ’s register records 184 reports of adultery, making this the most commonly repor ted sin. Fornication was the second most common sin, with 150 reports, but no other si n came close in frequency of reporting. When a case of adultery came before the deanÂ’s court, one of several outcomes ensued. One or both of the accused might successfully purge and be exonerated. Accused adulterers commonly cleared themselves by compurgation; defendants were able to do so in 87 of the 184 cases in ChandlerÂ’s register. In Sherborne in 1408, Thomas Benet was accused of adultery with Agnes, the wife of John Rayman. Thomas and Alice both appeared before the court and denied the charges. Both of them must have been able to find enough oath-helpers, because the register notes that both of them purged successfully.75 Sometimes accused parties were able to pur ge themselves even if they had trouble finding enough oath-helpers. Thirty-four of the 87 accused adulterers who purged themselves did so Â“with the courtÂ’s indulge nce,Â” meaning that th e court accepted their oaths of innocence although they were unable to produce the number of oath-helpers it had demanded, or even none at all.76 Roger Brasyere, accused of committing adultery with Alice Balbecayres, denied the charge and was allowed to purge with the courtÂ’s indulgence. So was John Lay, a married man who seems to have been notorious in the village as a Â“habitual lecher.Â” Sometimes the court even granted its indulgence to one as their duty to report Ibota, who had refused to do penance, but they also intervened to prevent her from being beaten. Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5). 75 Ibid 76 Timmins xxx-xxxi.
57 party but not the other. When John Taverner [Tavernere] was accused of adultery with Juliana Kimbester [Kembestere], the court de manded that he purge himself six-handed, but allowed her to purge with a lesser number The register never states why the court made it easier for some people to purge. It may have given the bene fit of the doubt to the wealthier and more respectable people, but these were prec isely those who would have had the easiest time finding compurgators. On the other hand, it may have given the benefit to the poor who seemed honest and in need of help. The register reveals little about wealth and status, and what it does say often seems to contradict both hypotheses. John Lay, for example, was described as a tailor, which should have made him neither rich nor poor by village standards. Furthermor e, he seems to have had a bad reputation in town, which should not have insp ired confidence in the judge.77 In a handful of cases the record specifies that the court accepted a simple denial or allowed an individual to purge himself single-handed. In th e rare case where the court records that an individual purged single-handed, as opposed to Â“with the courtÂ’s indulgence,Â” this seems to have occurred because the accused had a particularly high status. But in other cases where a bare denial was accepted the court seems to have had different reasons. In Sherborne, Stephen Sc rivener [Scryvenere] was accused of adultery with two women Â– Joan Isen [Ysyn], the wi fe of John Isen, and Alice Kembester. Stephen denied adultery with Joan Â“since last correction,Â” meaning that he admitted to adultery with her, but that he had alr eady confessed and been punished, and had not returned to her since. He th en confessed to adultery with Alice. This may have created an impression of honesty which led the court to accept his claim of limited innocence, or 77 Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5).
58 the court may simply have lost interest in a dubious prosecution for one sin when he so readily admitted to another. In any case, the entry notes his punishment for adultery with Alice, but contains no further refe rence to his affair with Joan.78 Those who could not purge themselves, wh ether because they lacked friends or because their friends believed them guilty, were usually sentenced to beatings. These beatings were performed publicly, since their effectiveness depended as much on humiliation as on pain. The usual practice was three beatings through the local church or through the market and the church. As im plied by the word Â“through,Â” these would be processions in which the guilty party was pa raded or chased around rather than simply being beaten in place.79 In exceptional cases the co urt might double the number of beatings to six or reduce it to one or two. The case of John Hold, accused of adultery with Â“Isabel, a married woman,Â” was typi cal. Whether because he had no hope of obtaining oath-helpers or out of genuine remo rse, John confessed. He was sentenced to be beaten three times through the chapel. The register records nothing further in his case; presumably Master Shirburne trusted the cler gy and people of Sherborne to carry out his sentence, and John Hold made no further effort to evade it.80 Although a verdict of three beatings through the chapel was common, in practice few people were actually beaten; most paid a fine instead. In Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, 36 cases of adultery resulted in fines, wher eas no more than twelve ended in actual beatings. The register rarely mentions the exact amount of the fine paid, but where it does, it gives a figure per couple of either sixpence or twelve pence. 78 Ibid. 79 Timmins, xxix. See also McIntosh, Controlling Misbehavior 113-16. 80 Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5).
59 Of course not everyone was able to pay th e fine. Of the twelve cases in which nothing beyond the sentence is recorded, so me or all of them no doubt endured the prescribed beatings. However, not uncomm only a respectable member of society would pay a fine on the behalf of an accused person. This happened in thirteen cases in Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, making it approximatel y as common as an actual beating. Those who paid othersÂ’ fines were usually questmen or clerics, and they may well have been in some way patrons of those whose fines they paid. In other cases, particularly those involving an influential man w ho was able to stay out of court and a poor woman who was not, the party who paid the fine may have been acting as an agent. A wealthy man who had been carrying on an affair with an immigrant or servant (this was especially common in cases of fornication)81 might well have persuaded a cleric or questman to quietly pay a fine for his part ner to minimize the scandal. ChandlerÂ’s visitation to Sherborne on 18 Oct 1408 did not produce any cases of third-party fine-paying, but it had happened several times in the two previous days. On Netherbury on 16 October 1405, the questmen reporte d several cases of adultery but then paid the fines of some of those they had accused. This might seem counterproductive Â– the two actions cancelling each ot her out Â– but it probably de monstrated to the sinners that they were under the watchf ul eyes of the town and the authority of the questmen. The questmen were, after all, selected from th e elite of the town. Questman John Jordan paid the fine for accused adulterers Jo hn Brough and Agnes Ganelere. Questman Nicholas Gele paid the fine for accused a dulteress Maud Bikebury [Bykebyry], but left her paramour, John Goswell [Goswyll], to pay his own. John Goswell was forced to 81 See the next chapter, particularly pp. 103-5.
60 abjure not only from adultery with Maud but also from attacking the vicar or other clergymen; his violent reputation may have been the reason that Nicholas was not inclined to help him. Perhaps it was susp ected in town that he had abused Maud as well.82 John Stamp was not a questman, but he mu st have been relatively wealthy and respected in Netherbury. He pa id the fine for adultery on be half of Joan Stork [Storke] and the fine for contumacy on the part of John Walsh [Walyssh] junior, who failed to appear before the court. Neither John Wals hÂ’s partner, Joan Caesar [Cayser], nor Joan WalshÂ’s, Robert Bishin [Bysshyn] was cited. Th e register explains th at Joan Caesar lived outside the jurisdiction, but doe s not indicate why Robert was not summoned. In the examples where questmen paid the fines, it seems likely that they were attempting to do their duty of correcting thei r neighbors without subjecting them to beatings, while simultaneously asserting their authority. If th ey had not wanted the cases to appear in court at all, they could probably have suppr essed them. John Stamp lacked this power, and at least one of his clients seems to have had enough influence to avoid being summoned to court. Thus John StampÂ’s interv entions may have been of the second sort; he may have been acting as an agent of other interested par ties, such as Robert Bishin, when he paid the fines of Joan Stork and John Walsh.83 In some cases, probably those in which a relapse seemed especially likely, the court ordered adulterers to abjure from thei r partners in sin. Abjuration was the swearing of a formal oath not to commit the same sin with the same person again. Anyone who 82 Chandler Register no. 207 (pp. 80-1). 83 Ibid.
61 broke such an oath would be subject to a pe nalty specified at the time of swearing. Even those who had successfully purged themselves c ould be ordered to abjure; this may have indicated that, legality aside, the deanÂ’s official believed them guilty, or at least suspected their character. In Sherborne on 18 Octobe r 1408, both couples who were ordered to abjure had successfully purged. Roger Braz ier and Alice Balbecayres were ordered to abjure on pain of a twenty-shilling fine; T homas Benet and Agnes Rayman were ordered to abjure on pain of forty shillings.84 Usually both of the guilty party were ordered to abjure on pain of the same fine, but not always. In Netherbury on 16 October 1405, Maud Bikebury, who may have been under th e protection of questman Nicholas Gele, was not ordered to abjure, but John Goswell, with no such protection and with a bad reputation to boot, abjure d on pain of forty shillings. Nicholas and the court may have blamed John for the affair rather than Maud.85 In several other cases, such as that of Stephen Scrivener in Sherborne, people accused of adultery denied it Â“since last correction.Â”86 These people may have already abjured. They did not claim to be entirely innocent, only to have obeyed their oaths of abjuration. In general Master Shirburne seems to have accepted such claims. The questmen generally only reported to th e deanÂ’s court those cases which had become infamous in the community or in which normal ecclesiastical discipline had failed. These were the most difficult of cas es, and the court was not always able to resolve them. In 34 cases, the register reco rds no action taken in a reported case of adultery. These are often cas es involving men of high stat us or clergymen. In these 84 Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5). 85 Chandler Register no. 207 (pp. 80-1). 86 Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5).
62 cases, the deanÂ’s servant may have wished to avoid offending the powerful or persecuting his fellow clergymen. Sir William Golding [Goldyng, Coleyng], chaplain of Hungerford, provides an excellent example. Golding was accused of adultery several times over the years. On 22 September 1405, the questmen accused him of adultery with both Joan Simms [Symmes] and Margaret Domiton. Both women were summoned to appear before the court. Margaret purged herself w ith the courtÂ’s indulgence, and Chaplain John Boteler paid a fine for Joan, perhaps acting as WilliamÂ’s agent. William himself does not seem to have appeared before the court at all for these offenses.87 On 20 July 1412, the questmen accused Sir William of adultery w ith Agnes Butkin [Buttekyn], but it seems that neither of them was summoned for this offense.88 In some cases, such as that of Joan Caesar during the Neth erbury visitation, the register records that the court did nothing becau se an offender had left the village, lived in an area outside of the deanÂ’s control, or was summoned and failed to appear.89 Failure to appear could carry a penalty for those without the protection of status or of a patron with status, such as John Wa lsh Junior of Netherbury had.90 Eleven accused adulterers were suspended (a form of minor excommuni cation) for failure to appear before the court. John Walsh Junior of Netherbury was one of them. However, unlike most of the others, he had a patron, John Stamp, who was w illing to pay his fine. If Stamp expected 87 Chandler Register no. 88 (pp. 43-4). 88 Chandler Register no. 377 (pp. 127-8). Sir William was also accused in 1405 of fornication with Joan Tripps [Tryppes], resulting in the birth of a bastard. Again, it seems that Joan was called before the court (she purged with the courtÂ’s indulgence) and Sir W illiam was not. Sir William was accused of adultery with Alice Saucer in 1412; this time he actually app eared, but simply purged with the courtÂ’s indulgence. In 1409 Sir William was accused of nothing wo rse than improperly retaining a missal; Chandler Register no. 247 (pp. 90-1). 89 Chandler Register no. 207 (pp. 43-4). 90 Ibid.
63 Walsh to return and face the charges, howev er, he was disappointed. Walsh left town, and the case was dismissed because it became impossible to summon him.91 Generally the register records only the na mes of the accused parties, with no other details. However, there are three situations in which an unusual social status was often recorded. Clerics were usually identified by tit le as vicar, rector, clerk, abbot, or monk. Even when they were not, the visitation reco rd almost always begins with the names and titles of all the clergy of a village. Several me n are given the title Â“Sir Â” in the register. In a few cases the register specifies that the indi vidual referred to was a knight. Far more often, however, careful reading reveals that the man called Â“SirÂ” was instead a cleric. Â“SirÂ” in these cases was a title of courtesy for priests who had not achieved a bachelorÂ’s degree. Since the same title was ofte n used for knights, confusion can occur.92 In some cases, the register refers to a man as Â“SirÂ” and no further information is available. Because men bearing this title in the register are more likely to be clerics than knights, and because the register takes ca re to explicitly identify indi viduals as knights in so many cases, while clerics are only id entified as such where their ac tual function in relevant, I have assumed in ambiguous cases that Â“SirÂ” indicates a priest. In other cases, the register designates a pe rson a servant. In almost all of these cases, it records the servant by first name onl y, followed by the full name of her employer (the great majority of servants mentioned in the register are female, especially where adultery is concerned.) On ly a few non-servants are mentioned by first name only. The lack of identifying information implies that these people had no roots in the village. 91 Ibid. 92 Edward J. G. Forse, Â“P riest's Title of 'Sir',Â” Notes and queries 168 (February 1935): 103-104. Some scholars have argued that Â“SirÂ” was a translation of the Latin title dominus but Forse points out that dominus was the title of a bachelor of arts rather than that of a non-graduate priest.
64 These were likely recent immigrants, perhaps looking for work as servants. There were probably many such migrants of both sexes, in the country as well as the city, during this period, trying to earn enough money through employment to get married and raise a family.93 Compurgation In Sherborne in 1408, eight cases of adultery were presented to the court. Half of those were purged successfully, half with the courtÂ’s indulgence. Ho wever, this pleasant symmetry did not prevail in 1405 or 1412. In neither of those years did anyone receive the courtÂ’s indulgence, yet in both of them a greater percentage of accused adulterers managed to purge themselves than in 1408. In 1405, nine of twelve accused purged themselves normally. In 1412, three out of three did; not only did this year see far fewer people accused, but this was the only visitati on of the three in which no one accused of adultery was punished. Sherborne was more or less typical of the pa ttern of the register as a whole. Of the184 cases of adultery in ChandlerÂ’s regi ster, in 86 the accused were able to purge themselves.94 In 1405, the court was presented with 72 cases of adultery; 32 of the 93 See, for example, Laslett, The world we have lost Houlbrooke, The English Family and Herlihy, Medieval Households 94 Here and in other places where I compile statistics, I compare cases rather than individuals. Each of these 184 cases of adultery included two accused persons, a man and a woman, one or both of whom were married. However, the total number of accused adultere rs is something less than 368, because some people were accused of adultery with multiple partners. Simi larly, the 86 cases include more than 86 people who purged of adultery, but the number of individuals is less than 172 because of the multiple offenders and because in a few cases only one of the accused manage d to purge. I have followed the same procedure in the chapter on fornication and in other places where I have employed statistical analysis.
65 accused purged themselves, 15 with the courtsÂ’ indulgence.95 The 1408-9 visitation shows similar numbers. Another 71 cases of adultery were presented, and 31 of the accused purged themselves. However, this time only 8 of those who purged themselves did so with the courtÂ’s indulgence.96 In 1412, fewer cases of adultery were reported only 42. Twenty-three of those accused purged themselves, 11 with the courtsÂ’ indulgence.97 Thus the number of those accused who were able to purge themselves was always close to half the total. In 1405, 45% of those accused purged themselves, and the figures for 1408-9 are quite similar Â– approxi mately 43.7%. In 1412, the number of those who purged themselves is slightly over one-h alf rather than sli ghtly under Â– 54.8% as opposed to 44-45%. In 1405, 46.9% of thos e who purged did so with the courtsÂ’ indulgence. 1408-9 saw a dram atic drop in this figure Â– during that visitation, only 25.8% of those who purged themselves did so with the courtsÂ’ indulgence. 1412, however, showed a return to the earlier pa ttern, with approximately 47.8% of those who purged receiving the courtÂ’s indulgence. 95 Chandler Register For accused adulterers who purged themselves normally in 1405, see nos. 3, 13, 37, 81, and 115. For those who purged themselves with the courtÂ’s indulgence, see nos. 5, 25, 71, 88, and 90. 96 Chandler Register For accused adulterers who purged themselves normally in 1408, see nos. 191, 201, 213, 221, 226, 236, 237, 247, 249, 255, 271, 277, and 286. For those who purged themselves with the courtÂ’s indulgence, see nos. 204, 207, 213, 221, 261, 262, and 297. 97 Chandler Register For accused adulterers who purged themselves normally in 1412, see nos. 306, 308, 310, 324, 331, 346, and 374. For those who purged themselves with the courtÂ’s indulgence, see nos. 297, 315, and 322.
66 Figure 1: Adultery and Compurgation in Dean Chandler's Register0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 14051408-91412 Purged Purged with Court's Indulgence Usually, then, approximately half of those accused purged themselves, and approximately half of those received the cour tsÂ’ indulgence. The dip in the grant of the courtÂ’s indulgence might be taken to hint at an increase in se verity on the courtÂ’s part, but the minimal decrease in the number of peopl e who were able to purge mitigates this perception. In this case, th e increase in the number of pe ople who were able to purge themselves without the courtÂ’ s indulgence corresponds almost exactly to the decrease in the number of those who were granted it, sugg esting that grants of the courtÂ’s indulgence were either poorly recorded that year or were less needed for some reason. The 1412 visitation stands out for two reasons: the much lower number of tota l cases of adultery reported and the significantly larger percen tage of people who were able to purge themselves. Taken together, the two give an impression of laxness, as though adultery was pursued less vigorously in 1412 than in the earlier two visitations. However, the
67 reason might be better describe d as resignation than as laxne ss; it may be that the most recalcitrant of cases had alrea dy been reported in the two earl ier visitations, and that the questmen in 1412 were generally reporting on ly new cases, in which the perpetrators tended to be less incorrigible than those in cases which had been going on for many years. The court seems to have granted its i ndulgence more freely in some times and places than others. In the 1405 visitation the pattern is quite striking: in each village where accusations of adultery were made in 1405, either everyone in the village who purged did so with the courtÂ’s indulgence or everyone who purged did so with a full complement of oath-helpers. In Harnham, Fordington, Sherborne, Faringdon, and Hurst, no one was granted the courtÂ’s indulgence. Se venteen accusations of adultery out of 26 were purged. In Kingston, Beaminster, Ramsbury, Hungerford, and Beydon, fifteen of 25 accusations of adultery were purged Â– all with the courtÂ’s indulgence. The most dramatic example is that of Hungerford, in which eleven couples were accused of adultery. Ten managed to purge themselves with the courtÂ’s indulgence. Overall the apparent generosity of the c ourt in allowing the accused to pu rge themselves resulted in conviction rates remarkably similar to thos e in which no indulgence was granted. In villages where the accused were able to purge themselves without the courtÂ’s indulgence, 65.4% of those accused purged themselves; in villages where the courtÂ’s indulgence was granted, 60% of those accused did so. In th e remaining sixteen villages, 22 couples stood accused of adultery, and none of th em managed to purge themselves. In 1408, the courtÂ’s indulgence was granted piecemeal and more rarely. In Lyme, Netherbury, Faringdon and Highwor th, only one accusation of several was purged in each
68 village, and then only with the courtÂ’s i ndulgence. In Yetminster [Yatmynstre, Yatminstre] and Sherborne, with eight accusations each, roughly half of the accusations were purged, and roughly half of those with the courtÂ’s indulgen ce. Seventeen other villages laid a total of 32 accusations of adultery. Eight een of these accused couples purged themselves, but all of them apparent ly managed to produce the requested number of oath-helpers. Thus in villages where people purged themselves without the courtÂ’s indulgence, 53.1% of couples we re able to purge, while in those in which the courtÂ’s indulgence was granted to a few, 41.9% could do so. The gap is wider than in 1405, but still not vast. Furthermore, as in 1405, v illages where the court granted its indulgence still had a lower rate of succe ssful purgation than those in which people purged without it. The 1412 visitation saw a return to the pattern of 1405 in that the courtÂ’s indulgence was granted to ever yone purging in a village or to no one at all. The court granted its indulgence to all those who succeeded in purging themselves in Bere Regis, Chardstock [Cherdestoke], and Beaminster Â– eleven out of thirteen accused. In Charminster, Stratton, Fordington, Yetminst er, Sherborne, Mere and Faringdon, everyone who purged seems to have done so normally Â– twelve out of sixteen accused. In the remaining seven villages, none of the thir teen of those accused purged. Where the courtÂ’s indulgence was granted, 84.6% of the accused purged; where it was not, 75% did so. Not only is this a dramatic increase in the proportion of accused adulterers who managed to purge themselves, but the trend of previous years is reversed: for the first time, villages where the courtÂ’s indulgence wa s granted had a greater purgation rate than
69 those in which it was not. This might be an indication that the courtÂ’s indulgence, given sparingly in earlier years, was granted more liberally in 1412. One might assume that grants of the c ourtÂ’s indulgence represented laxity, that these were cases in which the court lacked th e will to enforce the law strictly. Timmins, the editor and translator of the register, argues that Â“almost certainly it [compurgation with the courtÂ’s indulgen ce] perverted justice.Â”98 To the modern mind, compurgation is already suspect, and relaxing its standards might seem equi valent to giving up on the effort to enforce the law at all. Yet in the register it seems that villages in which the court granted its indulgence did not see a great increase in the number of people who purged. This suggests that the power to relax the courtÂ’s compur gation requirements was used with discretion. The important difference wa s not between villages in which purgation was made with and without the courtÂ’s i ndulgence, but between villages in which purgation was made and those in which it was not. In villages in which purgation took place, a villager accused of adultery stood a good chance of purging himself Â– approximately 75% in 1405 and 1412, approximately 45% in 1408-9. Yet in many villages each time, no one successf ully purged himself of adultery. In the visitation of 1405, compurgation fo r adultery was made in Harnham, Kingston, Fordington, Beaminster, Sh erborne, Ramsbury, Faringdon, Hungerford, Beydon, and Hurst. Of a total of fifty char ges in these ten villages, compurgation was made in 33, that is to say in 64.7% of cases But the number of cases actually punished was only eleven (eight fines, three beatings); in six cases the court seems to have taken no action. Thus only 23.1% of accusations of adultery in purgation villages were 98 Timmins xxxi.
70 punished. In the non-purgation villages of Combe, Byre, Tonerspuddle, Preston, Netherbury, Beaminster Secunda, Yetmin ster, Winterburn Dauntseye, Durnford, Chasingbury, Crofton, Highworth, Brewick, Sonni ng, and Alfeldcross, a total of twentyone accusations of adultery were made. Howeve r, these accusations resulted in only five finings and a single beating. Even though no compurgation was made in any of these cases, only 28.6% of those accused were punished for adultery. Most of the rest either failed to appear before the court or were able to use their influence to avoid being formally summoned. Two of those in the former group were suspended for contumacy, but in nearly two-thirds of the cases Â– thirt een out of twenty-one Â– the register shows no action taken by the court. Th e lack of compurgation in these villages, then, made punishment of the accused somewhat more likely, but the difference is not what a reader skeptical of the institution of compurgation might expect. In the visitation of 1408-9, purgation occurr ed in more villages, even though it was not more frequent overall. There were 63 accusations of adulte ry in the seventeen villages where purgation was made that year Thirty-one accusations were successfully purged, or approximately 49.1%. There were fourteen finings and three beatings, for a punishment rate of approximately 27% Â– si milar to the figures for 1405. Another six adulterers who failed to show for their hearings were suspended, but this was a punishment for contumacy rather than for adultery per se There were only six villages in which no purgation was successfully made in response to accusations of adultery. Although these villages were few and represen ted only eight total accusations, in 1408-9 they were unusually effective at punishing their wayward citi zens. Of eight accusations, five resulted in fines and one in a beating, fo r a punishment rate of 75%. In the other two
71 cases, the accused failed to appear and was suspended for contumacy. This handful of villages seem to have been unusually strict in 1408-9. Their remarkably high punishment rate (which would equal 100% if suspen sions for contumacy were counted as punishments) gives this visita tion the appearance of being the hardest of the three on adulterers. In 1412, purgation again occurred in most villages in which accusations of adultery were made, and again the minority of villages in which no purgation was made had much higher punishment rates, although the difference was not as dramatic as in the previous visitation. The ten purgation villages reported 29 cas es of adultery, of which 23 were purged. There were four finings and a beating in these villages, for a very low punishment rate of 17.2%. In the seven vi llages in which no purgation was made, the questmen made thirteen accusations of adulter y. The results were remarkable Â– no fines at all, but four beatings. This unusual f eature aside, the overa ll punishment rate was relatively high at 30.8%. As in the visi tation of 1408-9, but unlike that of 1405, the villages in which no purgation was made proved mu ch stricter than thos e in which it was. The unusual 100% rate of beatings of those puni shed in the non-purgation villages also adds to the appearance of harshness there in 1412. Overall, then, it seems that, despite the results of 1405, villages in which compurgation was made were less likely to pun ish offenders than those in which it was not. This may have been because the quest men of those villages were more concerned about sin and more determined to punish sinne rs. This possibility seems less attractive, however, when one notes that only one vill age (Bishopston) was a non-purgation village in both the 1408-9 and the 1412 vi sitations. On the other ha nd, mere coincidence also
72 seems an inadequate explanation, given th e large numbers of the accused who purged themselves in most villages and the someti mes large numbers of those who failed to in the exceptions. In Combe, for instance, none of the three cases of adultery resulted in purgation in 1405; nor did either of the tw o in 1412. Yet in 1408, both accusations resulted in successful purgation. And this so rt of all-or-nothing pattern can be seen in many other villages. A cynic might argue th at Shirburne simply felt more merciful on some days than others, but this would be missing the vital point that compurgation did not normally happen at once. The accused us ually had a few weeks or even months to collect his oath-helpers. Thus any lack of mercy would have to be attributed to the whole village rather than to Shirburne. This, in the end, seems the best answer possible given the data in ChandlerÂ’s register. Certain villages in certain year s (influenced by their questmen, no doubt, but also by ot her factors) were less in clined to help accused adulterers to purge. Sentences of Fustigation Of course, not everyone was able to pur ge. The court usually sentenced those who failed to clear themselves to a number of beatings. Often, confronted with the public knowledge of their sins, the accused confessed. In Sherborne in 1408, Master Shirburne sentenced two accused adulterers Â“to be beaten thrice through [the chapel].Â” These were Stephen Scrivener, who confessed to adultery with Alice Kembester, and John Hold, who confessed to adultery with Â“Isabel, a married woman.Â”99 However, most of the time the guilty party paid a fine in lieu of suffering a beating. Things so often happened in this 99 Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5).
73 roundabout way because the court was not allo wed to fine sinners directly Â– perhaps because this would have seemed too much like selling licenses to sin. The court could, however, impose penances and then accept fines in lieu of carrying them out.100 Thirtyseven fines for adultery were pa id in ChandlerÂ’s register, whil e at most twelve cases were actually punished with beatings. In the cas e of Sherborne in 1408, Stephen paid a fine, but John did not and was probably beaten.101 The process of fustigation which the cour t ordered was usually described in the register as Â“three beatings through the churc h.Â” In one case, that of Agnes Knoll of Fordington, the register goes into slightly more detail. It orders her Â“to be beaten thrice in front of [the] procession through [the church].Â”102 This was probably the standard procedure. Most likely the guilty party walked in front of the procession which was a regular part of church services being beaten with a rod in front of the whole community. The blows of the rod were not intended to cau se injury and humiliation, rather than pain, was the principal deterrent. While three was the standard number of beatings, the court occasionally ordered only one or two and sometimes ordered six. It might also order that beatings proceed through the marketplace as well as the church. In these cases a cleric probably beat the guilty party through the market on market day for maximum exposure.103 The deanÂ’s visitation to Byre on 9 Oct ober 1408, shows the variety of possible outcomes when beatings were ordered. This visitation featured seventeen cases of 100 Timmins, xxx. 101 Chandler Register no. 221 (pp. 84-5). 102 Chandler Register no. 13 (pp. 8-9). Although this case involved adultery, Agnes was not herself an accused adulteress. Rather, she was punished for spread ing rumors that another woman, Denise Stury, had committed adultery. 103 Timmins xxix.
74 adultery or fornication, result ing in a total of fifteen sentences of fustigation. Ultimately, however, most of the offenders paid fines, and none of the sentences was actually carried out. The standard sentence of three beatings through th e church was handed down in twelve cases, all of fornication. However, three people faced beatings on two counts of fornication each which is to say that they had multiple partners: Edith Walters [Walderes], John Shine [Shyne], and Roger Bachel or [Bachelere]. In these cases it is not always clear whether the multiple offender faced three beatings or six. Edith confronted two sentences of three beatings each. Both of the men paid up, and so she escaped both beatings. John, on the other hand, had both his lovers mentioned toge ther, apparently in the same indictment. He had to pay a fine fo r all three of them to escape his beatings. However, the total number of beatings mentioned is three, suggesting that, had he not paid, all three of them would have been beaten together for a total of three times each.104 RogerÂ’s sins were also lump ed together into a single case in the register. Like John, he paid a fine for all three parties. Ho wever, the register suggests that had he not paid, the outcome would have been very diffe rent: he would have been beaten six times, and his lovers might not have been beaten at all. This may indicate that the court blamed Roger for the two affairs more than it did the two women. Perhaps the details of the case made them feel that RogerÂ’s behavior was more exploitive than J ohnÂ’s. Yet it was John, not Roger, who seduced a servan t. RogerÂ’s case stands alone as the only case from this visitation in which fornicator received a sent ence harsher than the usual three beatings.105 104 Chandler Register no. 190 (pp. 72-4). 105 Ibid.
75 The two adultery cases on this visita tion, however, both featured threats of harsher beatings. Joan Bryce and John Cerles were sentenced to be beaten thrice through market as well as church. One of them paid a fine for them both to escape this sentence; by the grammar of the words in the register, it was Joan who paid, although this would have been so unusual that it seems just as likely that the clerk was imprecise in his wording. Richard Healy [Helye ] was sentenced to six beati ngs for adultery with Â“one Isabel.Â” IsabelÂ’s lack of a last name may i ndicate that she lacked r oots in the community. She may have been a recent immigrant, or even a migrant who had already passed through town (in which case she would have be en unable to answer the summons.) In any case, she did not come before the cour t and was suspended. The court may have sentenced Richard to a double sentence in her stead, but it may also have increased his punishment to register disappr oval at a citizenÂ’s adulterous involvement with a rootless wanderer.106 As the example of Byre in 1408 shows, se ntences of beating were rarely carried out. In Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, 36 cases of adultery resulted in fines, whereas no more than 12 ended in actual beatings. Thus thre atened beatings were averted by the payment of fines at least 75% of the time. The num ber of actual beatings may be even lower, because most of the cases I have counted as beatings list nothing further after the sentence of fustigation. I have assumed this to mean that the sentence was carried out, but some of these may simply have been cases of sloppy bookkeeping. In 1405, seventy-one accusations of adultery resulted in thirteen fines (18.3% of accusations) and four beatings (5.6%). In 1408-9, seventy-one accusations resulted in 106 Ibid.
76 nineteen fines (26.8%) and three beatings (4.2%). In 1412, only forty-two accusations were made, and fines were paid in only four cases (9.5%), but it seem s that five beatings were actually carried out (11.9%). In most ways these results match previous findings. The visitation of 1408-9 produced similar re sults to that of 1405, but was significantly stricter in terms of fines levied. Although 14089 appears less strict than 1405 in terms of beatings administered, the difference is onl y one beating. The visitation of 1412, which seems in many ways laxer than the previ ous two, not only produced fewer accusations overall, but a smaller percentage of those w ho were accused were fined. However, in apparent contradiction to th e picture of relaxed discipline otherwise presented by the 1412 visitation, this year produced the greatest nu mber of beatings. Since this year also featured the smallest number of accusations, the percentage of accuse d adulterers actually beaten is much greater than in previous years Â– over twice the frequency of 1405 and over three times the frequency of 1408-9. There are several possible explanations for this. Some of them preserve the idea that the 1412 visitation was a relatively easy-going one. The result may have been a mere statistical fluke Â– after all, the total numbe r of beatings concerned is very small. Or the laxity of the 1412 vi sitation may have extended to th e clerks, who simply failed to record the final resolution of several cases Where a beating was assigned and no further note made, it may have been because of cleri cal laziness rather than because the beating was actually carried out. Other possible interpretations discard or modify the no tion that the court was less harsh in 1412. The first two visitations may ha ve been so successful at eliminating the hardened sinners that those accused in 1412 were more likely to confess. However, in
77 1412, 21.4% of accused adulterers failed to appe ar in court, as compared to 29.2% in 1405 and 22.5% in 1408-9; while the decrease continued, it was much more pronounced between 1405 and 1408-9 than between 1408-9 and 1412. On the other hand, the first two visitations might have demonstrated to the questmen the futility of accusing clerics, and they may have chosen in 1412 to accuse more persons of lower status who could neither purge nor pay fines. In 1405, the questmen indicted twenty-five clerics (34.7%) and fourteen female servants (19.4%). In 1408-9, the quest men indicted sixteen clerics (22.6%) and eight female servants (11.3%). In 1412, they accused el even clerics (26.2%) and three female servants (7.1%). The rather consistent drop in both categories, both cleric and servant, lends ambiguous support to this idea. If anything, it would seem to support the previous hypothesis that the deanÂ’s clerks were simply less careful in 1412, and thus the status of the accused was recorded less often. This is not to say that an individualÂ’s st atus had no relation to his chance of being punished. On the contrary, those of notably high status were almo st certain to escape punishment. Of the 52 accusations of adu ltery involving clerics, none resulted in beatings. Only three resulted in fines, and th ese seem to be the exceptions that prove the rule. The vicar of Netherbury, Thomas Hard ington [Hardyngton] paid a fine on behalf of Sir John Prankardehole and his paramour Alice Willhouse [Wyl house]. Most likely the fine was more necessary fo r Alice than it was for John.107 Robert, the clerk of Preston, paid a fine for himself and Margery Mitchell [Michell], but then he was a mere village clerk, a very low-ranking clergyman.108 The case of Richard Richville [Richevyle], 107 Chandler Register no. 25 (pp. 15-16). 108 Chandler Register no. 203 (pp. 78-9).
78 chaplain of Faringdon, is more puzzling. The register records that Richard was accused of adultery with Agnes Phelps [Phelpes]. He denied it, was purged with the courtÂ’s indulgence, abjured on pain of 100s., then pa id a fine for both of them before being dismissed. If he successfully purged himself, why did he pay a fine? Again, it may have been solely for AgnesÂ’ sake that he paid, but the court then forced him to pay two fines anyway.109 It seems intuitively likely that low status corresponded with a greater likelihood of being beaten. Anyone who had money was lik ely to pay it to avoid the pain and humiliation of a public beating. Those who had little money but who had earned some goodwill might be able to persuade a wealthy pa tron to pay their fines. Thus, in theory, only those poor both in purse and in friends should be beaten. However, the small amount of information available from the register does little to confirm this idea. Of the 184 accused adulterers in the register, only tw enty-six are easily identified as of low status Â– 25 female servants (or women iden tified only by a personal name) and one male servant. Of these, only one, a Lucy living in Faringdon, was beaten. This gives lesser individuals a beating rate of 4%, compared to the overall bea ting rate of 6.5%. Servants, and women referred to in the same manner as servants, were actually less likely to be beaten for adultery than the average. This may have been because the co urt considered them less responsible for their acts than non-se rvants. However, it may also have been because the men who committed ad ultery with female servants tended to be wealthier Â– these were the men who could afford servants or had friends who could. Such men were 109 Chandler Register no. 261 (pp. 95-6).
79 able to pay their fines, but if they did so, they were apparently expected to pay the fines of their partners in sin as well. Fines Paid in Lieu of Fustigation The amounts of the fines which guilty indivi duals paid in lieu of fustigation are rarely mentioned, but where they are, the fi ne for an adulterous couple seems to have been either sixpence or twelve pence. In Chisenbury [Chesyngbury] on 12 September 1405, John Giles was accused of adultery with Alice, the servant of Thomas Giles. Perhaps John was carrying on an affair under the guise of visiting his father or brother, although in such a case Thomas should have been indicted as well. On 14 April 1406, in the cathedral at Salisbury, he paid a fine of sixpence for both of them, and the case was dismissed.110 In Faringdon on 19 September 1405, two a dulterous couples had their fines paid by prominent members of the community. Questman Henry Bailey [Bailly] paid a fine for John Curtis [Curtays] and Maud W illy. Chaplain William Bourton paid for William Spor and his servant Joan. In both cases the fine was twelve pence.111 In all three of these cases, the fine covered both sinners. Where fines were levied, this was usually the case, but not always. It seems that the normal procedure was for either the adulterous man or the generous member of the community to pa y a fine which covered both of the guilty parties. The register records this happening in half of the cases (18 adultery fines out of 36). It may well have also happened in anot her five cases in whic h the record does not 110 Chandler Register no. 59 (pp. 30-1). 111 Chandler Register no. 81 (pp. 39-41).
80 specify whether the fine a man paid was for the couple or for himself alone, but no fine for the woman is mentioned. However, in a ju st over a third of cases (13 out of 36), the register makes it clear that fines were paid by or on behalf of individuals rather than adulterous couples. Just under half of these cases (6 of 13) s eem to involve an unequal distribution of blame, in which one partner was fined but the other was not. These are distinct from the cases in which a man paid a fine for his partne r in sin as well as hims elf; in those cases, both parties appeared before the court, and both were considered sinful, but the man was the one with the money and so he was the one who paid the fine. In these cases, by contrast, one of the parties was held responsible and the other either did not appear before the court at all or was allowed to purge. In f our of these cases, the register specifies that the woman paid a fine or had it paid for her, but does not mention any appearance in court by, or penalty to, the man. Two of these men, John Lude of Tonerspuddle and Sir William Golding of Hungerford, were chaplains.112 Their clerical status may have protected them, as clerics were rarely punished on Dean ChandlerÂ’s visitations.113 The register provides less information about th e other two men, Richard Lucas of Byre and Robert Bishin [Bysshin] of Netherbury, but th ey may have been men of some wealth and secular status.114 Only one man suffered such an unequal fate Â– John Cokeswell, junior, of Chardstock [Cherdestoke]. That he was puni shed in two cases where his partner was not hints that his case was unusual, and indeed an unusual factor is evident. John was a 112 Chandler Register nos. 9 (p. 6) and 88 (pp. 43-4). 113 See pages 76-7 and 103 of this document for details on how rarely clerics were punished for alleged adultery or fornication. 114 Chandler Register nos. 4 (pp. 3-5) and 207 (pp. 80-1).
81 rough character who made threats against the clergy; he promised to cut off the tail of the horse of anyone who cited him for any of his sinful liaisons. This may explain why the court treated him more harshly than it did his partners. J ohn was cited for affairs with two married women. The first was Christine King [Kyng], who does not seem to have appeared before the court at all. The s econd was Katherine Atmill [atte Mulle], who was accused of abandoning her husband and being a common prostitute ( communis leno ). Katherine was allowed to purge with the cour tÂ’s indulgence on an astonishing six counts of adultery. She was allowed to purge hers elf of adultery with John even though John was found guilty and sentenced to be beaten fo r adultery with her. However, John may have reached some sort of settlement with the court in which he paid a single fine for Â“all charges against him.Â”115 In three cases, the register notes that one party was geographically outside the courtÂ’s jurisdiction. In Beaminster, Ali ce Hayside [Haysyde]Â’s lovers, John Bonwill [Bonwyll] and William Wilkins [Wylkyns], had already left town.116 In Netherbury, John Walsh [Walyssh]Â’s lover Joan Caesar [C ayser] lived Â“outside the jurisdiction.Â” Even though John Stamp (probably a respected villager) paid his fine for contumacy, he seems to have gone to join her rather than returning to Netherbury.117 In four cases, fines were paid for both sinners, but payment was made by different parties. In Netherbury, Questman Nicholas Gele paid a fine for Maud Bikebury, but left John Goswell to pay his own fine.118 Similarly, in Yetminster, Reeve John Merchant [Merchaunt] paid a fine for Alice Dorling [D ollyng], but left Alan Uphulle to pay his 115 Chandler Register no. 315 (pp. 112-3). 116 Chandler Register no. 25 (pp. 15-16). 117 Chandler Register no. 207 (pp. 80-1). 118 Ibid.
82 own.119 Two women paid their own fines but not those of the men with whom they had been linked: Maud Twily [Twyly] of Faringdon and Marion Poke [Powke] of Charminster. In MaudÂ’s case, it seems th at her paramour, John Curtis [Curteys] may have been reluctant to pay his fine. Maud a ppeared before the court first, confessed, and immediately paid her fine. The record omits mention of a sentence of fustigation, which technically the court would have had to impos e before she could pay a fine. John showed up later and seems to have paid more grudging ly. Maud may have been eager to avoid a beating and may not have trusted John to pa y her fine. In MarionÂ’s case, the register shows that she and Robert Button [Bouton] app eared together, confessed, were sentenced to six beatings, and Â“both paid a fineÂ” to have the case dismissed. In this case, much of the blame seems to have been placed on John Button [Bouton], perhaps RobertÂ’s father or brother. John confessed to inciting the couple to adultery; he was sentenced to three beatings. Marion and Robert were ordered to abjure on pain of 13s. 4d., and John was ordered to abjure from inciting them on pain of an even larger fine of 20s. Perhaps Robert was young and nave, and the court blam ed his lover and his father as much as him.120 Of the fines paid in the register, over one-t hird (13 out of 36) were paid not by the adulterous parties but by a third person. This person was usually either a clergyman or a questman. The visitation to Faringdon in 1405 is typical; a questman paid the fine for one couple while a clergyman paid the fine for another. Of the thirteen cases in which a third party paid the fine, clerics paid in eight cases. Named questmen paid in three cases. 119 Chandler Register no. 213 (pp. 81-2). 120 Chandler Register nos. 261 (pp. 95-6) and 306 (pp. 109-10).
83 In the other two cases the same individual, John Stamp of Netherbury, paid the fine. Although Stamp is never named as a clergyman or questman, it seems most likely that he was a respected layman similar to the questme n of his village and part of their social circle.121 While guessing the motivations of indivi duals based on the terse lines of the register is a tricky business, a couple of trends do seem cl ear. In some cases, those who paid the fines seem to have been motivated by pity or Christian charity. The very individuals who were responsib le for bringing the guilty to the ChurchÂ’s attention were shielding the guilty from the blow. Perhaps th ey felt they had a responsibility to report sin, but at the same time felt sympathy or co mpassion for some of those they accused. This seems particularly likely in a case like the visitation of Netherbury in 1408, in which influential secular individuals paid fines on behalf of five of the nine accused adulterers.122 Many of these cases involved inequality in fining. In only in a minority of these cases (five out of thirteen) was a fine paid for both parties. Four of thirteen cases involved clergy or high-status i ndividuals. In three of these cases the man was not fined and the woman was. In the fourth, a clergyman paid a fine on behalf of both parties, but the man was of high status and probably would not have been forced to pay in any case. In two more cases, a third party paid a fine for the woman but the man was not fined; in these cases the record does not show why the man was not fined. Richard Lucas of Byre seems to have been well-connected, since five years later he was the executor of the will 121 Chandler Register no. 207 (pp. 80-1). 122 Ibid.
84 of John Bell [Belle], the village vicar. His connection with ByreÂ’s vicar may explain why he was not held responsible for the affair, as Edith Taylor [Taylour] was. Furthermore, Richard seems to have been a man of some property. In 1410, his wife Katherine, perhaps forgiving his infidelity, left him Â“all her hereditary lands and tenements in city and county of York for ever.Â” Whether a squire of good family or a charming rogue who married above him, Richard was or became a man of property.123 The other unpunished man, Robert Bysshyn, is more mysterious. He could possibly have been Robert Busch [Busshe, Bussch, Buyssh], prior of Yatesbury, bu t there is little other than the similarity of names to support this.124 In one case, the man, John Walsh, junior, was fined, but the woman, Joan Caesar, was not; in this case, th e record states specifically that the woman lived outside the courtÂ’s jurisdiction.125 Where the man escaped being summoned to court but the woman did not, perhaps a questman or priest saw the injustice of this and acted to rectify it by paying her fine. However, it is also possible that the man who paid her fine was acting on behalf of the man w ho had committed adultery with her, who was seeking to minimize his embarrassment. Finally, in two cases the intervening party pa id the fine for a sinful woman but left the man to pay his own fine. This may have been because the man who paid blamed the man and wanted to cause difficulty for him. However, these two me n may have resisted the pressure of their society and declared th eir intention to pay onl y their own fines, not those of their partners in sin. In the case of John Goswell and Maud Bikebury, John 123 Chandler Register nos. 4 (pp. 3-5), 561 (p. 161) and 566-7 (p. 162). 124 Chandler Register no. 207 (pp. 80-1). Compare nos. 100 (p. 46), 272 (p. 99), 363 (p. 122), 389 (p. 133), and Hallum Register no. 649 (p. 80). Note, however, that the questmen of Yatesbury never complained of any sexual improprieties on BuschÂ’s part. 125 Chandler Register no. 207 (pp. 80-1).
85 seems to have been a violent man, as he was forced to abjure from harming the vicar or other servants of the church. This may have made Questman Nicholas Gele less eager to aid him. On the other hand, it may simply indi cate the sort of antisocial attitude which would cause him to refuse to pay MaudÂ’s fine From the high rate at which men found guilty of adultery paid the fines of their pa ramours, it seems likely that social pressure encouraged them to do so, but John Goswell might have been just the man to resist that pressure.126 Abjuration When the deanÂ’s court visited Byre on 15 July 1405, it hear d a large number of complaints. Several of these concerned Jo an Grokles, a woman of infamous reputation who seems to have exasperated ByreÂ’s quest men. Everyone is the community knew that Joan had committed adultery with John Lucas because she had publicly admitted it. However, the questmen believed that she ha d not limited her dall iances to John, and accused her of adultery with Â“strangersÂ” as we ll. Perhaps they believed that she was in the habit of making liaisons with travelers pa ssing through town, for fun or profit. They knew that she was in the habit of abandoni ng her husband for long periods. She often quarreled with her neighbors, prompting them to call her a scold as well. The court sentenced her to three beatings through the chap el. Given the lack of any record that she paid a fine instead, this sent ence was probably carried out. However, concerned that such a hardened sinner might too quickly forget the pain and humiliation of that public 126 Ibid.
86 beating, the court ordered her to abjure. Should she comm it adultery again, she would suffer another three beatings through the church.127 Given the number and nature of the comp laints against Joan Grokles, this must have seemed like a reasonable measure. Yet He nry Taylor [Taylour], accused of adultery in Sonning [Sunnynge] on 26 April 1409, seems to have been otherwise reputable. The register describes him as Â“John TaylourÂ’s son,Â” implying that his father may have been well-respected within the village. Henry is the only individual describe d in the register as purging himself Â“with his own hand.Â” This implies that he was not asked for compurgators, not by the courtÂ’s indulgence, but because his status was high enough that none were needed. Yet despite the high status which the register hint s at, the court still forced him to abjure from Felicity Smith [Smy th]. It would seem that Master Shirburne was worried that Henry would return to Felicity Â’s arms at some future date. Perhaps he did not wish to embarrass the influential John Taylor by demanding more oath-helpers than HenryÂ’s status demanded, but nevertheless felt a need to preserve HenryÂ’s soul as best he could. It may have been as a part of this compromise that he took the unusual step of making HenryÂ’s penalty lower than FelicityÂ’s; if the adulterous couple reunited, Henry would be fined 20s., but Felicity would be fined 100s.128 In cases of fornication or adultery where the court feared a relapse, or even longterm concubinage, it often ordered people to ab jure from one another. In theory those who successfully purged were exonerated. Howe ver, the court often issued orders to abjure to accused adulterers who successfully purged. Dean ChandlerÂ’s register records 127 Chandler Register no. 4 (pp. 3-5). 128 Chandler Register no. 249 (p. 92).
87 33 cases of adultery in which the court dema nded formal abjuration. Of these, 14 abjured successfully (42.4%), 13 paid fines or had so meone pay a fine for them (39.4%), and six were beaten (18.2%). This gives the impression that the court issued its orders to abjure with no regard for the other outcomes of the case. This would contradict the commonsense assumption that those who were punished (by fines or beatings) would be treated as less trustworthy than those who had estab lished their innocence (or at least their respectability) by purging. However, the impression given by thes e figures is somewhat misleading. Viewing them in a slightly wider context reaffirms the intuitiv e assumption. While a person who was ordered to abjure was slightly more likely to have purged than to have been fined, purgation as an outcome of a tria l was over twice as likely as fining, which in turn was three times as likely as fustigation. Thus the figures need to be considered with the likelihood of a particul ar outcome in mind. Accused adulterers who purged successfully were only 16.1% lik ely to be forced to abjure ; those who incurred fines had a 36.1% chance; those who were beaten had a 50% chance. Thus those who purged do seem to have been regarded with more tr ust than those who were fined, and those who were fined with more trust than those who were beaten. However, the tendency was not absolute. Dean Chandler and Master Shirburne seem to have had a realistic view of the purgation process in that they did not assume that a person who purged was automatically innocent. Even though they treated a person who purged as legally Â“not guilty,Â” they were aware that the process was imperfect a nd not infrequently chose to follow even a successful purgation with a warning and a threat.
88 A person who violated his oath of abjurati on would be subject to a penalty. These penalties were usually financial. They vari ed, but not infinitely. In Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, there are four comm on levels of penalty: 100 shillin gs, 40 shillings, 20 shillings, and six shillings eight pence. There are a fe w other penalties which are threatened only once each: 10 pounds,13s. 4d., six beatings th rough market and church, and three beatings through the church. The frequency of each penalty is shown on the chart below. The total number of fines adds up to 35 instea d of 33 because in two cases the two parties were given different penalties. 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 100s.40s.20s.6s. 8d.Other Figure 2: Fines Associated wi th Abjuration of Adultery Sinners The court may have assigned penalties based purely on the ability of the individual to pay, but its r easoning may have been more complicated. Clergymen who were forced to abjure were threatened with some of the highest penalties. Vicar John Wells [Wellys] of Fordington was distinguished in 1408 by the highest fine in the register
89 associated with an order to abjure from a dultery. His paramour, Denise Stury [Steury, Sturyes, Styry] was ordered to abjure on pain of 100s., already at the top of normal fees, but John was ordered to abjure not only from adultery but from Â“meet[ing] her in suspect places,Â” including his house, on pain of Â£10.129 The court may have been especially anxious to keep the vicar from involvement with Denise because the Sturys had proved quite litigious about th e matter in the past. In the 1405 visitation, rumors had circulated about DeniseÂ’s adulterous relationship with John Knoll. Denise had purged herself and abjured from John on pain of 20s., but the Stur ys had also launched a legal counterattack, accusing William Maskell of Â“making trouble be tween Henry Styry and Denise, his wifeÂ” (William purged himself) and John KnollÂ’s wi fe Agnes of defaming Denise (she was beaten.)130 Clearly this couple was trouble. Other clergy ordered to abjure from adu ltery include Robert, the clerk of Preston (40s.) and Richard Richville [Ryche vyle], chaplain of Faringdon (100s.).131 The status of secular men is more difficult to determine, but Henry Taylor of Sonning, who seems to have come from a prominent family, was ordered to abjure at a lower rate than his lover Felicity Smith (he abjured on pain of 20s., she on pain of 100s.) It seems in this case that his familyÂ’s (probable) wealth resulted in a lower fine as well as to purge singlehanded.132 If high status did not necessarily result in a high fine, neither apparently did low status automatically mean a low fine. Seve ral women who were apparently unable to pay their fines were ordered to abjure as well as being beaten. However, no pattern is 129 Chandler Register no. 201 (pp. 77-8). 130 Chandler Register no. 13 (pp. 8-9). 131 Chandler Register no. 203 (pp. 78-9); 261 (pp. 95-6). 132 Chandler Register no. 249 (p. 92).
90 apparent in the nature of the penalties associ ated with their abjura tion. Edith Taylor, who apparently could not pay a 6s. fine for adulte ry, was ordered to abjure from it on pain of 40s. On the other hand, Joan Grokles could not pay either, and she was ordered to abjure on pain of three more beatings.133 Alice Dorling, who could not pay, abjured on pain of 6s. 8d., the lowest of fines.134 Edith and Alice had sponsors to pay their fines for them, and Joan did not, which might account for the difference between the fine and the beating. But why the difference in amounts be tween Edith and Alice? It seems likely that factors other than the ability to pa y were important. These factors were not preserved in the register, but they probably had to do with how each woman presented herself and with the attitude which the quest men and local clergy displayed towards her. Such details could have greatly influenced Master Shirburne, but would not have been recorded. 133 Chandler Register no. 4 (pp. 3-5). 134 Chandler Register no. 213 (pp. 81-2).
91 Chapter Four Fornication Accusations of fornication were handle d in the same way as accusations of adultery and had the same possible results. An accused party coul d purge himself (or herself), with or without the courtÂ’s indulgence. He might be beaten but was more likely to pay a fine instead. An influential person mi ght pay a fine on behalf of the accused. If the accused failed to appear before the dean Â’s court he might be suspended, unless an influential patron paid a fine for his c ontumacy. On the other hand, nothing might happen at all, especially when the accuse d was himself influential. Regardless of whether purgation was made, the court might st ill demand that a fornicator abjure his partner, with a penalty to be imposed if he sinned again w ith the same person. Although the same elements were present in the prosecutio n of fornication as in that of adultery, the likelihood of a particular outcome differed. Most of the typical scenarios can be seen in the deanÂ’s visitation of Byre on 15 July 1405. Eight cases of fornication were reported to the court. Several of these featured multiple offenders. Alice, the servant of John Boner, was reported for fornication with deacon Robert Pychard. She was also reported for an affair with a married man, Richard Lucas, but no punishme nt is listed here; it seems she was only sentenced once. She was sentenced to be b eaten (the usual thr ee beatings through the church), but ultimately paid a fine instead. The record does not list any punishment for
92 the erring deacon. On the other hand, Robert Bachelor [Bacheler] was cited for two cases of fornication and had to answer for them bot h separately. He confessed to fornication with Katherine Bagges and paid a fine rather than be beaten. However, he denied fornicating with Alice Tilly [Tylye] and pur ged himself with the courtÂ’s indulgence. Neither woman appeared before the court, bu t Robert paid fines on behalf of both of them. AliceÂ’s fine was for contumacy rather th an fornication; the record leaves it unclear for which offense KatherineÂ’s fine was. This persuaded the court to allow the chaplain to absolve Katherine (whom it had already suspended) and to refrain from suspending Alice (whose case it dismissed).135 Alice Stokes was cited for fornicatio n with Â“John, middle son of Robert Turbulvyle, knight.Â” The court noted that she had left but did not suspend her for contumacy. As for John, no one seems to have expected him to appear before the court in the first place. Andrew Cerles [or Cerle] was not described as the relative of a knight, but he seems to have also been influential enough to avoid being summoned to court.136 As in CerlesÂ’ case, some of the citations for fornication involved what I have called Â“disputed marriages.Â” Joan Hynebest was cited for fornication with Andrew Cerles and William Skidmore [Skydomour], bu t the text specifies that she contracted marriage with both men and that both were still living. This sort of case raised questions of terminology. If the questmen took both marri ages seriously, they should have charged Joan with bigamy. If they took the firs t marriage seriously bu t not the second, they should have charged her with a dultery. She was charged with fornication, indicating that 135 Chandler Register no. 4 (pp. 3-5). 136 Ibid.
93 the questmen found neither marriage legitimate. The court seems to have acceded to this interpretation. Joan was ultimately fined and dismissed. William purged himself of fornication with the courtÂ’s indulgence and de nied the contract. Andrew was not called before the court at all. Thus the only result was JoanÂ’s fine. No one seems to have been eager to enforce either of the alleged marriage contracts.137 Thomas Bagge was accused of fornication with his servant Joan. He was sentenced to a beating, paid a fine, and was dismissed. This sort of case was fairly routine. Single men seem to have taken advantage of their female servants fairly commonly. As JoanÂ’s employer, Thomas c ould easily have brought economic pressures to bear, but the record gives few hints about the details of what may have been a complex relationship. Davy Perleisman was cited for fornication with Alice Benet, but it is not clear whether he appeared before the court. A lice failed to appear and was suspended for contumacy. Later she appeared and paid a fi ne for contumacy. She was then allowed to purge with the courtÂ’s indulge nce for the fornication itself.138 Many of the patterns visible he re are the same as for cita tions of fornication. Men seduce female servants, their own or other menÂ’s. Clergy and nobles are usually not punished. Other men may be allowed to purge, or they may be sentenced to beatings. If the latter, they usually pay fines instead of taking the beating. However, in two respects fornication is treated quite differently from a dultery. The first is th at the two fornicators are treated separately. While adulterous couples usually app eared together and received 137 Ibid. 138 Ibid.
94 the same sentence, in Byre in 1405 fornicat ors usually appeared separately and were handled as individuals ra ther than as couples. The second feature, which may explain the first, is that women accused of fornication resisted appearing in court. Of eight citations for a dultery, the woman failed to appear before the court, at least initially, in at least six. Three of these eventually came in and paid their fines. Three never did: tw o because their partner paid their fines, and the third because she had left town. The re maining two women were servants. Alice, John BonerÂ’s servant, confessed and paid a fi ne. Joan, Thomas BaggesÂ’ servant, seems not to have been called before the court at all, perhaps because Thomas was held solely responsible for the affair. At any rate, it seem s that single women were harder to control than married ones. The court had more diffi culty making them appear to answer charges than it did with their married sisters.139 A broader view reinforces this impression. Dean ChandlerÂ’s re gister contains 150 cases of fornication. Sometimes the record specifies exactly what both accused parties did and what penalty each suffered, but often it gives details only about one party and leaves the reader to guess a bout the other. Often register reports that the accused man appeared before the court, that confession was made and a senten ce delivered, and then that the accused man (or another man) paid a fi ne for both parties. This sort of entry obscures the presence and actions of the accu sed woman at court. A lazy scribe may have meant to indicate that both of the accu sed appeared, confessed, and were sentenced, but had not bothered to specif y. On the other hand, the woman may never have appeared, and the court, satisfied with receiving its fine, may have obscured this embarrassing 139 Ibid.
95 detail. Nearly half of the cases in the register Â– 71 out of 150 or 47.3% Â– are ambiguous about the womanÂ’s appearance. A substant ial number Â– 41 out of 150 or 27.3% Â– are instead ambiguous about the manÂ’s appearance. However, in some of these cases Â– such as those of seven clerics and two sons of knights Â– the male offender was probably spared a court appearance thanks to his status. If the record is more often ambiguous about women than about men, where it is specific it seems clear that women were less likely to appear before the court when summoned. Of accused men, in 89 cases (59.3%) the register states that they appeared for the scheduled hearing of their cases. On ly 42 cases (28%) expl icitly mention that the accused woman appeared on time. The register makes it clear that certain offenders never appeared; 28 of these were women (18.7%), and only 19 were men (12.7%). Another nine women (6%) failed to appear initially but eventually submitted to the courtÂ’s authority; only one man did likewise. Compurgation In Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, persons accu sed of fornication were much less likely to purge themselves successfully than those ac cused of adultery. Whereas nearly half of accused adulterers (47.3%) purged themselves, only about one in five (20.6%) of accused fornicators did so. Adulterers may have b een more successful at compurgation because married people tended to be of higher stat us than unmarried pe ople. Some social historians argue that, in cont rast to other groups, the uppe r classes Â– the nobility, the gentry, and the wealthy urban elites Â– tended to marry young. The less fortunate frequently spent their youths as servants or apprentices Â– often not in the village of their
96 birth Â– and did not marry until they had acqui red the financial resources to set up their own households. Thus single people who were accused of fornication were likely to be servants or apprentices, many of them with few roots in the commun ity. Naturally, this sort of person had little in the way of m oney, reputation, or social networks. Married persons had a greater chance of having thes e, which must have made it easier to find oath-helpers.140 Fornicators who did purge themselves were more likely than adulterers to use the courtÂ’s indulgence to do so (54.8% of fornicators who purged did so with the courtÂ’s indulgence, as opposed to 39.1% of adulterers), furthering the impression that fornicators had a great deal of difficulty finding oath-helpers. In 1405, the deanÂ’s court heard 35 accusati ons of adultery. Of those, only six (17.1%) purged themselves. Five of these six (83.3%) did so with the courtÂ’s indulgence. In 1408-9, nearly twice as many cases (69) we re reported to the court. Seventeen of them, or 24.6%, purged successfully. Of those, ten (58.8%) needed the courtÂ’s indulgence. In 1412, 46 cases of fornication were reported. Only eight of the accused purged (17.4%), but only two of those (25%) required the co urtÂ’s indulgence. Thus the pattern of prosecution for fornication is very different from that for adultery. In the adultery prosecutions, 1412 saw the lowest number of cases prosecuted and the highest percentage of compurgation, creating an im pression of laxness in that year. For fornication, the raw number of accusations is hi ghest in 1408-9 but is still higher in 1412 than it was in 1405. The visitation with the highest percentage of successful purgation is also the one with the highest number of accu sations. The most dramatic trend is the 140 For discussion of this period of service or apprenticeship for the young, see Hanawalt, The Ties That Bound ; Hartman, The Household ; McSheffrey Marriage, Sex and Civic Culture
97 decrease in the number of those purging with the courtÂ’s indulgence. Did the court crack down on fornication by making it more difficult to purge, or did single people get better at finding oath-helpers? The similar rate s of successful compurgation in 1405 and 1412 suggest the former. Fi g ure 3: Fornication and Compur g ation in Dean Chandler's Register0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 14051408-91412 Purged Purged with Court's Indulgence Another pattern, however, is similar to th at for adultery: th e courtÂ’s indulgence seems usually to have been granted (or withhe ld) by village rather than on a case-by-case basis. Of twenty-three village visitati ons in which people purged themselves of fornication, in eleven everyone who purged did so with the c ourtÂ’s indulgence. In ten, no one was granted it. Only in two visitati ons (Faringdon in 1409 and Hungerford in 1412) did some people purge with the courtÂ’s i ndulgence and others without. This trend
98 becomes less dramatic if one counts only the five villages in which multiple persons successfully purged themselves of adultery. Still, in two of those five cases (Byre in 1405 and Highworth in 1409) all three purgati ons in each village were made with the courtÂ’s indulgence, while in Calne in 1409 three purgations were made without it.141 As with adultery, the rate of grants of the courtÂ’s indulgence in a year shows surprisingly little relation to the likelihood of the accused overall to purge themselves. In 1405, the court granted its indulgence to 83.3% of those who purged, while in 1412 it granted it to only 25%, yet the rate of succe ssful compurgation for fornication was very similar in those two years (17.1% in 1405, 17.4% in 1412). The 1408-9 visitation had an intermediate rate of grants of the cour tÂ’s indulgence (58.8%) a nd a higher rate of successful purgation (24.6%) than either of its bookends. While the spike in 1408-9 is significant, it seems very small compared to the dramatic differences in grants of the courtÂ’s indulgence. The overall impression is that the court had an idea of how many accused fornicators should be able to purge (about one in five) and was more or less generous with its indulgence depending on how closely the reality matched this standard. As with adultery, some villages seem to have been better places to make purgation that others, but the difference was not as extreme for accused fornicators. Overall, in villages where any purgation at all was made, 31 out of 74 (41.9%) purged. In villages where compurgation was made for fornication in 1405, eleven accusations resulted in six purgations (54.5%), six fines, and no beatings. The overlap is due to two cases in Byre, those of Roger B achelor [Bacheler] with Alice Tilly [Tylye] and of Davy Perleisman with Alice Benet, in which the accused woman did not appear at 141 Chandler Register nos. 261 (pp. 95-6); 377 (pp. 127-8); 4 (pp. 3-5); 262 (pp. 96-7); 263 (pp. 97-8).
99 court and was fined for contumacy rather than fornication per se Roger purged with the courtÂ’s indulgence and paid a fine for Alice Tilly; Alice Benet eventually showed up and purged with the courtÂ’s indulgence bu t was fined for contumacy anyway.142 In villages where accused fornicators failed to purge in 1405, 24 accusations resulted in ten fines (41.7%) and three beatings (12.5%). Thus th e total rate at which accused fornicators were punished was very similar (54.5% comp ared to 56.2%) whether purgation was made in a village or not. In the compurgation villages in the 14089 visitation, 44 accusations resulted in 23 fines (52.3%) and three beatings (6.8 %). In the non-compurgation villages, 25 accusations resulted in 11 fines (44%) and 4 beatings (16%). As in 1405, the percentage punished was very similar whether or not purgation was made in a village (59.1% as opposed to 60%), although again the non-compur gation villages featured more beatings and fewer fines. In villages where compurgation was ma de in 1412, 19 accusations resulted in three fines (15.8%) and three beatings. In those where no compurgation was made, 27 accusations resulted in 12 fines (44.4%) and 7 beatings (25.9%). The overall punishment rate in 1412 was 54.3%, consistent with that for other years, but unlike in other years, the non-purgation villages appear laxer than t hose in which purgation was made. Thus a pattern emerges which is similar to that for adultery but which does not develop in quite the same way. In the adultery cases of 1405, the difference in punishment rates between compurgation and non-compurgation villages wa s small. However, in the later two visitations the gap was much larger. For cases of fornication, in the first two visitations 142 Chandler Register no. 4 (pp. 3-5).
100 the punishment rates are remarkably consistent but in 1412 the difference is great. The overall impression is that in 1405 compurgation did not warp the course of justice, but by 1412 it did. Of course, other explanations are possible. It may be, for instance, that villages were diverging in their attitudes towards sexual sins, some increasing their concern while others decreased, and that co mpurgation was one way in which the more liberal villages differed. Sentences of Fustigation Sentences of fustigation (beating) for forn ication were handled in the same way as those for adultery. If the accused confesse d, he was sentenced to a beating, typically three times through the church. He could a void this humiliating penance by paying a fine instead. Most people who could afford it s eem to have done so. The visitation to Wantyng on 18 July 1412 shows the variety of possible results. Nine accusations resulted in four sentences of fustigation, of which three seem to have been carried out.143 One case turned out to be a case of clandestine marriage rather than fornication per se William Bentley [Bentele] and Joan Howleys were presented for fornication. The couple appeared and confessed, but explained that they had contracted a clandestine marriage. Since both of them agreed that they had willingly spoken and consummated their vows, and there did not appear to be a ny impediment, the court contented itself with ordering them to solemnize the wedding. As long as they did so within the next six and a 143 Chandler Register no. 375 (pp. 125-6).
101 half months (by 2 February), they could avoi d punishment. Recognizi ng that this was not really a case of fornication, th e court did not order a beating.144 Another case seems to have involved men of influence. Roger Burymulle was cited for fornication with Maud Sippestere, but the record shows no hint that he appeared before the court, nor that he was punished fo r failure to do so. Since accused fornicators are so often suspended for contumacy, it seem s likely that Roger had enough influence to avoid being held to account. Maud did not ha ve such influence herself, but a chaplain named Henry paid a fine for her. If Roger really was a man of influence, he may have asked Henry to pay the fine as a favor. As usual when a clergyman paid the fine for the accused, no mention is made of a sentence of beating.145 The case of Margery Bemamen is similar but has some interesting differences. Roger Burymulle was cited for fornication, but the onus of the sin fell on Maud. MargeryÂ’s lover Edmund Bedeman, on the othe r hand, was never even cited. The same chaplain paid MargeryÂ’s fine as had paid MaudÂ’ s, but in this case he was too late to avoid a sentence of three beatings th rough the church to be recorde d. He was, however, in time to prevent it from being carried out.146 In contrast to William and Joan, whose only crime was excessive informality in their wedding arrangements, and Roger and Maud, who may have had friends in high places, Richard Merssh and Emma Brook [Broke ] come across as scofflaws. Neither appeared before the court when summoned. Emma seems never to have done so. Both were suspended. Richard eventually submitted. He was sentenced to be beaten. Since 144 Ibid. 145 Ibid. 146 Ibid.
102 no further mention is made of the matter, it seems that he had neither the money nor the influence to avoid fustigation.147 Christine Pyllys was cited for fornica tion with two men, John Renacles and Robert Shank. John, like Roger Burymulle and Edmund Bedeman, but unlike Richard Merssh, seems to have avoided appearing wi thout suffering any consequence. However, unlike Roger and Edmund, he was not chivalro us enough to have Henry the chaplain pay the fine for his paramour, and she was sentenced to three beatings th rough the church and the marketplace. Christine and Robert Sh ank attempted to purge themselves of fornication with each other. Shirburne gave them until after his dinner to collect four oath-helpers each. They must have failed to do so, because they did not appear before him after dinner. They were Â“both convicted .Â” The record does not say whether they were sentenced to be beaten or not. It seems likely, but Chri stine would have been beaten regardless.148 Another woman, known only as Gretekytte (probably Â“Great Kit,Â” perhaps a nickname for a large woman named Kate), like ly a transient or recent immigrant, was also cited for fornication with two men Â– John, the servant of John Sare, and John Bawler. All three were told to purge themse lves four-handed after dinner. Only John the servant did so. The other two did not appear John Bawler was convicted. Again, he may have been beaten, but the record does not mention a sentence. It is not clear whether Gretekytte was convicted along with him. She was suspended for contumacy, but later she appeared and purged herself of forni cation at least with John SareÂ’s servant.149 147 Ibid. 148 Ibid. 149 Ibid.
103 Finally, John Bottler [Boteler] was cited for fornication with Margaret Brown [Broune]. He appeared, confessed, and wa s sentenced to three beatings through the church. No one seems to have interceded for him, and he was probably beaten on schedule. Margaret, on the other hand, seem s to have skipped town and escaped the deanÂ’s jurisdiction.150 The visitation to Wantyng on 18 July 1412, then, records nine charges of fornication involving nine men and seven wome n. Three of the men did not appear and were not punished for it. Tw o men were sentenced to be be aten, and the sentences seem to have been carried out. Two more were convicted in absentia but the record does not mention their punishment. Only one purged hi mself. One couple appeared before the court, explained their circumstances, and were given the chance to make their marriage official. Two women had their fines paid by a chaplain. Two women never seem to have appeared before the court, although unlike men who did not appear, thei r failure to appear was noted disapprovingly, and one was susp ended. One woman purged herself (although she may have been convicted for fornicati on with a different ma n). One woman was beaten. As with adultery, more people paid fines (or had them paid for them) than were actually beaten. Sixty-five fines were paid but only twenty beatings administered, meaning that only 23.5% of those subject to beatings actually received them. These figures are consistent with those for adulter y, for which 25% of those subject to beating received them. In 1405, thirty-five accusations of fornication result ed in sixteen fines (45.7% of accusations) and three beatings ( 6.7%). In 1408-9, sixty-nine accusations 150 Ibid.
104 resulted in 34 fines (49.3%) and seven beatings (10.1%). In 1412, forty-six accusations were made, and fines were paid in 15 cases (32.6%), but it seems that ten beatings were actually carried out (21.7%). Th e total percentage of accuse d fornicators remains rather steady, with a mild spike in the middl e (52.4% in 1405, 59.4% in 1408-9, 54.3% in 1412). The relative numbers of fines and beat ings remains relatively steady between the first two visitations, but 1412 sees a shift from fines to beatings Â– the same pattern as for adultery. Whether clerical sloppiness or questmenÂ’s focus on new offenders, the same causes seem to have been working here. As in the case of adultery, status was an effective shield against beatings. None of the sixteen clerics and three lordsÂ’ sons ci ted for fornication was beaten. Those of low status were not protected, but ne ither were they more likely than the average to be beaten. Of the 23 servants cited for adultery, only thr ee seem to have been beaten. This gives a rate of 13%, remarkably consistent with the 13.3% for the po pulation at large. Fines Paid in Lieu of Fustigation As the 1412 visitation to Wantyng shows, it was not unknown for a personÂ’s fine for fornication to be paid by someone else. However, this was less common in cases of fornication than in cases of a dultery; ten out of 65 fines for fornication were paid by third parties, for a rate of 15.4%, as opposed to th irteen out of 36 for adultery (36.1%). As with the lower rate of com purgation and the higher rate of punishment, this may have been because of the lower social status of fo rnicators as compared to adulterers. This seems especially likely because in many cases where a fine was paid by a third party, it was paid only on behalf of the woman. Where a woman had her fine paid by a
105 clergyman or questman and the man was never summoned at all, it seems likely that the man possessed and used a moderate degree of influence. He was able to prevent the court from summoning him, but not from summoning his paramour. The most influential men, such as the questmen themselves, were either sexually continent or able to keep their affairs entirely out of the court. No jury of questmen in the register ever accuses one of its own member s. In other cases, where the accused man may have had substantial influence but was not a questman, the questmen report a sin but the record shows no action taken by the court. For instance, th e record of th e visitation of Stokely [Stokkely] on 7 May 1409 shows that Â“John Morris [Morys] fornicates with Ellen, Thomas MorrisÂ’ [MorisÂ’] servant.Â” The record stops there, without any indication that John and Ellen were called before the cour t or that the court t ook any other action. John was very likely related to Thomas Â– perh aps the son of a rich man, dallying with the hired help Â– and Thomas may have acted to protect him.151 Sometimes the register even records the courtÂ’s decision not to take action. In the visita tion to Bere Regis on 6 June 1412, the questmen reported Â“Richard, the lordÂ’s son, for fornication with Joan Hundes; neither cited.Â”152 Richard was so confident in his fatherÂ’s protection that he even appeared before the court to pay the fines (f or fornication) of William Loupe and Juliana atte Merssh.153 Below the men who were able to keep the en tire case out of co urt, but above those who actually had to appear to answer charge s against them, were the men who were able to stay out of court themselves but who were not able to extend this protection to their 151 Chandler Register no. 268 (p. 99). 152 Chandler Register no. 297 (pp. 107-8). 153 Chandler Register no. 301 (pp. 108-9).
106 partners. Such men often paid the fines of th eir partners. In other cases, clergymen paid the fines for women whose partners were not summoned before the court. They may have done so out of charity, but they may also have been acting as intermediaries for the men involved. The men may have paid (or ar ranged for the payment of) these fines out of a sense of obligation or to keep the matter as quiet as possible. This seems to have been more common for adultery than for fornic ation (again, this is in keeping with the idea that adulterers in general had a higher status than fornicators); the two cases listed in the Wantyng visitation of 1412 are the only tw o cases of fornication in which this happens, but it seems to have happened in at least four cases of adultery. Abjuration Like adulterers, fornicators were sometime s ordered to abjure. This action seems to have been ordered where th e court feared long-term concubinage. If a couple seemed likely to repeat their tryst w ithout getting married, abjuration and its associated penalties might give them reason to hesitate. The pro cess, including the word ing of the oath, was probably very similar to that for adulterers. In Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, abjuration was used more frequently in cases of adultery than in cases of fornication. Thirty-three adultery cases out of 184, or 17.9%, incurred ab juration; for cases of fornication the rate was twenty cases out of 150, or 13.3%. In cases of fornication, it was less co mmon for the court to impose abjuration on those who managed to purge themselves. This happened in only two cases, and both times for good reason. John Hay and Juliana Spinster [Spynnestere] of Bishopston [Bysshopeston] were accused on 15 July 1412 of fornication. Both of them denied it
107 Â“since their last correction,Â” purged a nd abjured Â“in common formÂ” (that is, sub pena nubiendi q.v.) The denial Â“since their last co rrectionÂ” indicates that the couple had already been in trouble for fo rnication. This must have ma de it seem more likely that they were guilty this time. If so, then th ey were carrying on an unsanctioned, permanent relationship. The likelihood of this must have made imposing abjuration seem reasonable even though in theory the couple had proved their innocence.154 The other individual ordered to abjure fr om fornication in spite of a successful purgation was Alice Saucer of Hungerfor d, on 20 July 1412. Alice was accused of fornication with Chaplain William Golding [Goldyng, Coleyng]. Despite the wording of the indictment, which says the two were Â“defamed,Â” the court treated the accusation seriously. Alice was ordered to abjure on pain of a very high penalty of 100s. William was not, but the court forced him to appear be fore the court and purge himself, a step it rarely took with clerics.155 The accusation may have seemed plausible because both Alice and William had been reported to the court before. On 22 September 1405, the questmen reported that Alice had been involve d in a public brawl w ith Juliana Farman, although they blamed Juliana. They reported William for three affairs, two with married women and one with had resulted in the birth of a bastard.156 On 28 May 1408, Alice appeared before Bishop HallumÂ’s court in Salis bury as part of a complicated case of disputed marriage (q.v.). During the course of this case she admitted that she had become pregnant out of wedlock. The court found against her even though her affair with William Roper was both prior to and contemporaneous with his marriage to another 154 Chandler Register no. 369 (p. 123). 155 Chandler Register no. 377 (pp. 127-8). 156 Chandler Register no. 88 (pp. 43-4).
108 women, making Alice ipso facto an adulteress. Ultimat ely, the bishop ordered her excommunicated for contumacy when she fa iled to appear at later court sessions.157 With all this history, little wonder that the cour t treated AliceÂ’s deni als skeptically, oathhelpers or no. Perhaps because of the lesser wealth of single people, the fines threatened in association with abjura tion of fornication were much lo wer than those associated with abjuration of adultery. The most common pe nalty associated with abjuration was 6s. 8d., which was the threatened fine in a quarter of the twenty cases. The 40d. fine was almost as common, occurring in a fifth of cases. In contrast to these rela tively modest fine, a fine of 100s.was threatened in three case s. Another three ca ses involved abjuration sub pena nubiendi (q.v.). Abjuration on pain of fustig ation was threatened on only one visitation, but in three cases, all involving th e same man but different women (the precise penalty was six beatings through the market and the chapel.) Appearing once only were the unique penalties of Â£10, 40s., 20s., and 8s. 157 Hallum Register no. 1128 (pp. 213-4).
109 0 1 2 3 4 5 100s.6s. 8d.40d.Fust.SPNOther Figure 4: Penalties Associated wi th Abjuration of Fornication Sinners In imposing abjuration on fornicators, th e court had another option which was not available in cases of adultery. Rather than threatening a fine or beating, the court might impose abjuration in a form which Helmholz calls Â“ sub pena nubiendi Â” (Â“on pain of marriageÂ”).158 This system, the origin of which remains obscure, was introduced into England in the thirteenth century by s ynodal statutes, includi ng one by the synod of Salisbury.159 In Dean ChandlerÂ’s register it is called abjuratio sub forma communi and is imposed three times, all of them during the 1412 visitation.160 This form required both partners to be present, for both of them had to swear for it to be valid. Each of them swore that should the couple ha ve sexual intercourse again, th at act would constitute the consummation of a binding and permanent marri age. Helmholz gives the following as a 158 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 172-81. 159 Ibid., 173. 160 Chandler Register nos. 301 (pp. 108-9), 369 (p. 123), and 370 (pp. 123-4). See also Timmins, xxixxxx. Fust.: Fustigation (Beating) SPN: Sub Pena Nubiendi (Marriage)
110 typical formula: Â“I here take you [name] as my legitimate wife if I know you carnally from this time forwardÂ” (Â“ Hic accipio te in uxorem me am si ex nunc cognoscam te carniliter .Â”) The womanÂ’s oath would use Â“similar words.Â”161 The first of these cases in Dean Cha ndlerÂ’s register, wh ich arose during the Blocksworth [Blokkesworth] visitation on 6 June 1412, gives the formula of the oath. Richard Stoke and Joan Rawlins [Raulyns] were accused of fornication. They eventually confessed and were forced to abjure. Richard swore: Â“If it should happen for me, Richard, to have sexual intercourse with you, Jo an, in future, I take you as my wife from now as from then and from then as from now.Â” JoanÂ’s oath was similar: Â“Â”If I, Joan, shall allow you, Richard, to ha ve sexual intercourse with me in future, I take you as my husband from now as from then and from then as from now.Â”162 This formulation is obviously similar to that which Helmholz gi ves, but it differs in two aspects. The first is the phrase Â“from now as from then and from then as from now.Â” Dean ChandlerÂ’s court may have been uneasy about the ability of a conditional oath to bind when the swearing of the oath and its application might be separated by a long stretch of time. This may have led the c ourt to create an oath which specifically addressed the issue by identif ying the two times. Helmhol z discusses the unease of church courts with these oaths. The use of marriage as a punishmen t fit poorly with the ChurchÂ’s view of matrimony as a divinely established instit ution. More importantly, the idea of forcing people to ma ke marriage vows contradicted a long-standing Christian tradition of regarding the free consent of bot h parties as absolutely necessary to the 161 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 172. 162 Chandler Register no. 301 (pp. 108-9).
111 validity of a marriage. Canon law allowed th at a marriage contract ed due to Â“force and fear,Â” if those elements were Â“sufficient to move a constant man,Â” was invalid, and the courts could hardly argue that the threat of excommunication Â– which implicitly lay behind the legal sanctions imposed by church courts Â– was not a serious one. For these reasons, Helmholz argues, abjuration sub pena nubiendi was already falling out of favor and was used Â“only fitfully Â” in the fifteenth century.163 Timmins notes that several cases in the 1408 visitation involve reci divist fornicators, both of wh om were present at court, which would have made these cases in theory ideal candidates for this type of abjuration. Nevertheless the court, which must have been aware of the procedure, did not use it until the 1412 visitation.164 When the court did impose it, it insisted on a formula which explicitly identified the time of swearing and the time of consummation. This formula seems a conscious attempt to bind the swearerÂ’s future self as well as his present self, and thereby to weaken possible objections. The second point of variation is the differe nce between RichardÂ’s oath and JoanÂ’s. The court could have imposed identical oaths on both of th em, with only the names (and the roles Â“wifeÂ” and Â“husbandÂ”) changed. Yet the court specified different wording for JoanÂ’s oath than for RichardÂ’s. RichardÂ’s oath does not mention volition at all Â– if intercourse Â“should happen,Â” he will be bound. JoanÂ’s oat h, on the other hand, is very specific about the role of the will Â– she w ill be bound if she allows Richard to have intercourse with her. This may have ha ppened simply due to prevailing ideas about sexuality Â– an assumption that the primary w ill to intercourse will be the manÂ’s and that 163 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 176-81. 164 Timmins, xxx.
112 the womanÂ’s role is as a sort of gatekeeper, ab le to say yes or no but not to initiate. The court may have changed the oaths because it viewed the womanÂ’s role in sexual intercourse as essentially passi ve. However, the court may have had other reasons than mere stereotypes. Helmholz mentions that some unwilling spouses claimed that they had been unable to consent to intercourse, due, fo r example, to drunkenness. The phrase Â“if it should happenÂ” seems designed to take such a possibility into account. Richard would be bound by intercourse no matter how it happened. Joan, however, would be bound only if she Â“allowedÂ” intercourse. The court seems to have assumed that intercourse wa s unlikely to take place without the manÂ’s consent, but to acknowledge th at it could take place without the womanÂ’s. The court may have used the phrasing it did in part to pr ovide legal protection ag ainst rape. Although rape is rarely mentioned in Dean ChandlerÂ’s register, it is present and clearly a concern. As Sara Butler has shown in her article Â“Â‘I will never consent to be wedded with you!Â’: Coerced Marriage in the Cour ts of Medieval England,Â” rape was sometimes even committed in an attempt to create a binding marriage.165 In these cases, intercourse did Â“happen,Â” but the woman did not Â“allowÂ” it. Thus a womanÂ’s oath of abjuration sub pena nubiendi could not be used by a ruthless man to force her unwilling into a marriage. Seduction by either party, however, could. Both Helmholz and Butler point out that voluntary sexual intercourse counted as consummation of a marriage under all circumstances, even where the initial contract was made by force and fear.166 165 Butler, Â“Coerced Marriage.Â” 166 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 179; Butler, Â“Coerced Marriage,Â” 251.
113 Chapter Five Disputed Marriages R. H. Helmholz, in his seminal study Marriage Litigation in Medieval England observed that what he called Â“suits to enforce marriage contractsÂ” were remarkably common in Church courts. These suits far ou tnumbered suits for divorce or annulment. Their frequency is probably related to the ca non-law definition of marriage. By canon law, a couple could create a binding and indisso luble marriage simply by verbal contract. The contract did not require the presence or pa rticipation of a priest. It did not need sexual intercourse to make it binding. It did no t require family consent. It did not even need to be witnessed. The result was that private and unverifiable acts could create a binding and indissoluble legal relationship. Naturally, certain difficulties resulted.167 An earlier view in the canon law, that of the school of Bologna and of Gratian, had held that a marriage was made by verbal contract, but did not become indissoluble until consummated. Subsequently, the view of Peter Lombard and the Parisian school replaced it. The Parisian system agreed with the Bolognese in regard to contracts made using verba de futuro ; both held that a marriage contra ct phrased in the future tense became indissoluble only once consummated. However, they differed with respect to contracts phrased with verba de presenti ; the Parisian school held that a present-tense contract was immediately binding and indisso luble. In the twelfth century, Pope 167 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 25-7.
114 Alexander III formally decided in favor of the Parisian system over the Bolognese. The difference was only academic when the coupl e followed the whole pr ocedure established by canon law Â– posting the banns, getting the permission of their families, having a public ceremony at which a priest preside d, and consummating the marriage immediately afterwards. But Helmholz fi nds that many marriages were made by verbal agreement in private homes, and quite a few were even made clandestinely.168 In practice, then, this system had several potential problems. It contradicted older ideas, both in canon law and in popular practi ce. It allowed young people to defy their elders and marry whomever they chose, opening the door to familial strife. It provided a golden opportunity for seducers, manipulators, and loophole-seekers. It made it possible for even honest people to be confused about whether they were really married. In the Middle Ages the ChurchÂ’s control of marriage was incomplete. Its courts held primary, if not exclusive, dominion over matrimonial cases, but not because marriage was an entirely religious affair. Ra ther, marriage was a contract, and the role of the Church courts was like that of secula r courts in judging a di spute over any other contract. This became less true over the course of the Middle Ages, as the Church asserted its control over marriage more tightl y, but still in the fifteenth century a great many people married themselves without en listing or even informing a priest. Furthermore, many people still followed local custom, which varied greatly, or GratianÂ’s system. Often a person who had made a contract using verba de presenti regarded himself or herself as only be trothed and free to break off th e engagement. If the other 168 Ibid., 26-31.
115 party followed Peter LombardÂ’s system or simp ly did not want to be abandoned, a suit to enforce the contract often followed.169 Another reason for clandestine marriage might be family disapproval. While scholars disagree about the extent to which me dieval marriages were arranged, it is clear that economic factors played an important ro le, and it seems likely th at in many cases the family had a great deal of influence. While the case of Romeo and Ju liet is fictional and no doubt more dramatic than most, it shows how clandestine marriages (with or without the aid of a sympathetic priest ) were sometimes made to thwart older relatives. It was probably fairly common in medieval Englis h villages for the daughter of a wealthy peasant to fall in love with a cottarÂ’s son Â– a nice enough boy, but he has no land. The posting of the banns and public ceremony pres cribed by canon law gave families plenty of opportunity to exert influence over their wayward youths, but the Church considered that a marriage made without any of these could still be valid, even though the couple sinned in omitting them.170 Moreover, the rigidity of the system pr ovided plenty of opportunity for cynical manipulation. A seducer might explain to an in nocent that their verbal contract, made in an isolated and private place, constituted a va lid marriage and that there was therefore no sin in consummating it. Then he might later deny or distort his words (or he might phrase his initial promise in a way that he thought w ould not be legally bindi ng). On the other hand, an abductor or rapist with an ultim ate end of marriage (perhaps for financial reasons) might force his victim to recite a marriage oath.171 Or a father might use death 169 Ibid., 25-32. 170 Ibid., 27. 171 See Butler, Â“Coerced Marriage.Â”
116 threats to force a man to marry his daughter.172 A man or woman who wanted a marriage which the other party did not might simply br ing a false suit to the Church courts Â– a strategy which could be especially effective if its user had power or a number of friends willing to support his or her claims. Conve rsely, a man or woman who had tired of a particular marriage might find it easy to di ssolve by suddenly recalli ng a prior contract made by verba de presenti ; again, this strategy was most effective when backed up by additional witnesses (especially the putative ea rlier spouse). It is difficult to know how often people used the Church courts so cyni cally, but even scholars who argue that the average peasant took the ChurchÂ’s laws ve ry seriously, such as Helmholz and Bossy, admit that it did happen.173 In a world where even those w ith no such intentions could be honestly confused about whether they were married, it could be quite effective. An intensive study of a particular place, then, should show a relatively large number of disputed marriages. These shoul d show a mixture of genuine confusion over the legal nature of marriage, flouting of fa mily wishes, and cynical manipulation of the law. If Marjorie Kensingt on McIntoshÂ’s findings hold true evidence should emerge that the questmen, like her jurors, t ook the initiative to frame offe nses which troubled them in ways that enabled the court to deal with them.174 The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 contains one of the most comple te sets of medieval Episcopal visitation records to have survived. Arc hdeacon ChandlerÂ’s register features some twenty-two disputed marriages. This study will look intens ively at each one. 172 See McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture 1-4. 173 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 111; Bossy, Christianity in the West 19-26. 174 See McIntosh, Controlling Misbehavior, 1-19.
117 On 15 July 1405 Dean Chandler visited the village of Byre [a lso spelled Beere, Biere, Bire, and Byeere]. Byre seems either to have been an unusually sinful village or to have had especially zealous questmen. In the DeanÂ’s first round of visitations, that of 1405, Byre reported eight cases of fornication, the most of any village on the circuit. In the second round, the visitations of 1408-9, Byre reported twel ve cases of fornication, again the largest number reported by any vi llage. However, on ChandlerÂ’s third visitation, that of 1412, the village made no pres entments and reported that all was well. While it is of course possible that there was an unusual amount of such activity going on in Byre, it should be noted that other zeal ously reporting villages, such as Sherborne [Shirbourne] and Hungerford, reported more cases of adultery and fewer cases of fornication. This causes one to wonder whet her the questmen of Byre before 1412 were inclined to label questionable matters as forn ication rather than by some other category. Closer investigation of the case of Joan Hyne best strengthens and refines this impression. The questmen presented Joan for fornication first with Andrew Cerles and then with William Skidmore [Skydomour]; they reporte d that she had contracted marriage with both men. William denied both the fornication and the contract. St rictly speaking, even if all the charges were true, Joan should not ha ve been regarded as ha ving fornicated with two men, but rather to have contracted a surre ptitious marriage with Andrew and then to have committed adultery with William. The manner in which the questmen presented the case makes it seem either that they regard ed neither marriage as valid (despite the presence both of vows and of consummation in each case) or that they defaulted to the use of the term Â“fornicationÂ” to describe what they regarded as illegitimate sexual intercourse. However, in the same visitati on both Joan Grokles and Richard Lucas were
118 accused of adultery. Furthermore, one of the women with whom Richard committed adultery (a servant named Alice) was later accused of fornication w ith the deacon Robert Pychard. The questmen do seem to have made the distinction betw een fornication and adultery, which makes it seem most likely that they did not regard either of JoanÂ’s marriages as valid even though both fulfilled the requirements (for validity if not for complete licitness) of canon law.175 The outcome of the case of Joan, Andrew and William is, as so often in these records, not entirely clear. The record s do not tell whether Andrew was called or appeared before the court at all. Joan was cited for her relations with Andrew. She did not answer her first summons and was judged contumacious, but the penalty was reserved. Eventually she did come before th e court, paid a fine, and was dismissed. The records do not show that she was cited in the second case, but William was. He denied both the fornication and the contract; he pur ged himself six-handed and was dismissed. There is no mention of the DeanÂ’s court cons idering either marriage binding, nor is there any record of an order to abjure.176 On 18 July 1405, Dean Chandler visited Pr eston. The questmen of Preston had a number of complaints about their vicar, rect or and parish clerk but presented only one villager for immoral behavior. They accused John Benvill and Joan Jaynes of adultery. John and Joan regarded themselves as marrie d, but apparently the questmen disagreed. It was common knowledge in the village that Jo an had been previously married to a Spaniard. Joan admitted it but explained that her Spanish husband had vanished 175 Chandler Register, no. 4 (pp. 3-5). 176 Ibid.
119 seventeen years ago, Â“without tr ace.Â” Apparently after su ch a long inte rval without hearing anything from her husband she had felt that she had the right to remarry, but the questmen disagreed. The court initially de manded a certificate of divorce, which Joan was unable to produce. Most likely she had not sought a legal soluti on to her problem at all. If she had, she might have been able to have her husband declared legally dead. Instead, she seems to have sought an extr a-legal solution Â– a long wait followed by a private remarriage. This sort of solution ma y have been followed often, but it seems that in JoanÂ’s case the community was unwilling to tolerate it. The deanÂ’s court, however, ultimately proved more willing to compromise. John asked the deanÂ’s office to write an official letter to Â“those part sÂ” (presumably the SpaniardÂ’s home town) inquiring whether anyone there wished to pose an impediment to the marriage. Although the register is not specific, it seems that this was done. Since th e phrasing of the letter required no response unless an impediment was registered, most lik ely Shirburne intended that they be allowed to continue their lives normally. As it happe ns, further complications arose, likely as a result of ShirburneÂ’s conscien tious insistence on attempting to contact the first husband, but this does not seem to have been his intent.177 Since JoanÂ’s first husband had been a fo reigner and had been gone so long, why did the questmen even care? The appearance of this case before the DeanÂ’s court implies that the community was unable to resolve the problem itself. Perhaps John or Joan or both already had a bad reputation for other reasons, which made the questmen unwilling to look the other way as they might have fo r more reputable people. Or perhaps they 177 Chandler Register no. 20 (pp. 11-12). For further discussion of this case, including later complications, see the chapter on abandonment and Â“selfdivorce,Â” pp. 142-6 of this document.
120 were troubled by the situati on and needed an official solution, one which involved official documents and churchmen ranking highe r than their own (in whom they seem to have placed little trust).178 Two days later another tricky marriage quest ion presented itself in the village of Lyme. Two women Â– Isabel Scotere and A gnes Crogge Â– claimed marriage to the same man Â– one Thomas Richman [Rycheman]. IsabelÂ’s claim seems to have been the earlier, but it was problematic. According to her te stimony, Thomas had sworn before witnesses, Â“If you are bought out of Ralph StykelaneÂ’s serv ice by your friends I wish to have you as my wife.Â” She had agreed, and sexual intercourse had followed. The vows which Agnes recounted were much more straightforward: Â“I take you as my hus band,Â” Â“I take you as my [wife],Â” again before w itnesses and followed by sexual intercourse. Agnes produced four witnesses; Isabel only had one in town but was eventually able to get depositions from two more. Thomas confirmed AgnesÂ’ st ory and denied IsabelÂ’s Unfortunately, the entry is unfinished and the fi nal outcome unknown. It is impossible even to say what the outcome should have been under canon law without more information than the register gives us about the sequence of events. I have assumed that IsabelÂ’s claim was the prior one and that she was eventually bought out of servitude, becaus e without these two factors her case would likely be too weak to co nsider. However, this still leaves critical gaps in the story. Did Thomas marry Agnes before or after Isabel left RalphÂ’s service? If after, did he have intercourse with Isabel af ter she left service? It seems that Thomas knew what he wanted Â– to be married to Agne s rather than Isabel. Did he change his mind at some point, or was he a seducer cynica lly manipulating the system to get what he 178 Ibid.
121 wanted from Isabel and then abandon her? While it is impossible to know for certain, the record seems to favor the latter interpreta tion. His conditional phras ing of his contract with her suggests that he was leaving himself an escape route; the unconditional phrasing of his contract with Agnes seems to indicate an effort to assert the va lidity of this promise over the earlier one. His denial of his cont ract with Isabel, despite her testimony and those of her witnesses, suggest s that he was willing to say whatever it took to get the result he wanted. Furthermore, IsabelÂ’s status as a servant left her vulnerable to precisely this sort of exploitation.179 In Beaminster [Bemynstre] Secunda on 22 July 1405, the DeanÂ’s court faced a similar but less complex problem. Nicholas Chyney and Joan Trylles were charged with fornication. Joan alleged that vows were exchanged before in tercourse Â– Â“I wish to have you as my wifeÂ” and Â“I wish to have you as my husband.Â” Nicholas admitted to fornication but denied that a ny vows were made. The register does not record the final outcome of the case. Neither party produced witnesses; the case seems to have come down to what he said versus what she said. If Nicholas was lying, he may have made false promises in order to seduce Joan; he may have intended to marry but changed his mind later; or he may have thought that th e vows Â“I wish to have youÂ” were only a betrothal rather than a marriage, but been uncertain that the court would see it his way.180 179 Chandler Register no. 21 (pp. 12-13). 180 Although the alleged vows were phrased in the pres ent tense, the word Â“wishÂ” (usually translated as volo ) was recognized as a tricky one by the canon lawy ers. There was disagreement even among the most learned as to whether a present-tense contract using volo was binding in the absence of sexual intercourse. The majority would have considered NicholasÂ’ vow Â“I wish to have youÂ” ( volo te habere ) as verba de presenti However, Nicholas confessed to sexual intercourse, and so by canon law would have been considered married whether his wish was treated as a pres ent or future expression. If he considered himself only betrothed, then, this opinion would have been based on local practice and without basis in canon law, hence the possibility that he might lie about the details in order to shore up his no.. Denying that any vow at all was made would have been his only way out. See Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 33-40.
122 On the other hand, it is also possible that Joan was lying, either to trap Nicholas into marriage or to preserve her own reputation in the face of a charge of fornication. The lack of witnesses makes this a strong po ssibility; if Joan had had any doubts about NicholasÂ’ seriousness, the logica l thing for her to do would ha ve been to obtain witnesses to their vows. Again, the term Â“fornicationÂ” is used, but it may have resulted from a lack of vocabulary; perhaps none of the questme n knew how to refer to a marriage which may or may not have been valid.181 Beaminster Prima, meanwhile, presents th e reader with two mysterious cases. Two couples were presented for fornication, but each couple shared a last name: William and Agnes Corben [Corbynne] and Sir John and Margaret Child [Chylde]. While it is possible for a couple to share the same last name without being re lated, this seems less likely in a medieval village, and to suppose th at it happened twice at the same time and place puts too much strain on the engine of coincidence. More likely the couples had married themselves some time ago. The questmen had doubts about the legitimacy of their marriages but were still in the hab it of calling the woman by her married name. None of the four showed up in court, perhap s because they were more afraid of having their marriages declared invalid than of th e penalty for contumacy. In both cases the vicar of Netherbury, John Jordan Â– apparent ly a man of deep sympathies and deep pockets Â– paid fines and had the case dismissed. In the case of William and Agnes, the register provides no further hint about the im pediment to their marriage. However, Sir John Child was very likely a cleric.182 This would explain both why the questmen did not 181 Chandler Register no. 26 (p. 16). 182 For reasons addressed in the discussion of the priestÂ’s title of Â“SirÂ” in the adultery chapter, q.v. (p. 62, fn 91).
123 consider his marriage valid and why the vicar of Netherbury paid Marg aretÂ’s fine but not his. As mentioned in the chapters on adu ltery and fornication (q.v.), priests were so rarely fined that it was fairly common for a benefactor to pay a fine only for the mistress of a priest.183 The confusion caused by this sort of clandestine vow may explain the courtÂ’s severity in a case at Yetminster [Yatmynstre] the next day. Robert Fowke and Elizabeth Taylor [Taylour] were brought before the court for marrying without posting the banns and without the vicarÂ’s consent. However, th eir marriage was not furtive Â– they seem to have had a public wedding, presided over by a chaplain (William Dook), but outside of the parish. Not only were Robe rt and Elizabeth sentenced to be beaten publicly, but so were three of their wedding guests Â– Rich ard Dedeman, Richard Smale, and Walter Bowere. All five, as was often the case paid fines rather than be beaten.184 This record hints at a significant division within the comm unity. Robert and Elizabeth were able to put on a wedding, presided over by a chaplain, a ttended by several guests. They and their guests could afford to pay fines, so they we re probably not among the poorest residents of the village. Yet they found it necessary to hold the ceremony outside the village, were unable to secure the permission of the vicar, and were indicted by the questmen. It seems that their wedding was supported by their frie nds but opposed by the village elite. The elite may have been united against a few troubl emakers, or a handful of influential people may have convinced the vicar and questmen to take this stance. Could this be a case in which a love marriage was opposed by the family of the wealthier spouse? Or is it 183 Chandler Register no. 25 (pp. 15-16). 184 Chandler Register no. 31 (pp. 18-19).
124 merely a case in which the village elite aided th e Church in its efforts to take control of the institution of marriage? The latter would seem more convincing if the deanÂ’s court had often harshly enforced the ChurchÂ’s cont rol of weddings, but this happens rarely in the register. A similar case, albeit less involved, was me ntioned in the visitation to Netheravon [Netheraven] on 12 September 1405. The chaplain married William Felawe to one Joan (possibly Joan Souter, whom the chaplain was accused of raping, but probably not) without the vicarÂ’s pe rmission. Here the class lines ar e easier to see, as Joan was described as the servant of one John Griffith. The town elit e seem not to have approved of the marriage, possibly because of John GriffithÂ’s influence. On the other hand, William and Joan are not accused of fornicatio n; the complaint is levied against the chaplain for performing the wedding, not at them for being married.185 While some questmen may have disapprove d of marriage between the classes, others found it preferable to concubinage. The visitation to Cr ofton of 16 September 1405 shows a case in which an unmarried couple had been ordered to abjure one another Â– Roger Shepherd [Shephurde] of Hungerford a nd Christine, described as the servant of Thomas Stoke of Bedewynde. The couple st ood accused of having fornicated again in violation of their oath. Chri stine, however, alleged that the couple had made a marriage contract. She specified the formula, which employed verba de presenti and took as explicit a form as could be asked: Â“I, Roger, take you, Christine, as my lawful wife,Â” and Â“I, Christine, take you, Roger, as my lawful husband.Â” This wording was perfectly suited under canon law to establish a binding marriage, especially followed by sexual 185 Chandler Register no. 58 (pp. 29-30).
125 intercourse. It seems quite likely that the c ouple made the words of th e vow as explicit as they could in order to avoid the punishment fo r breaking their oath of abjuration. If so, they may have spoken them as reported or Christine may have made them up for the courtÂ’s benefit, hoping that Roger would suppor t her story. In any case, they may have avoided punishment; the dean seems to have treated them as guilty of clandestine marriage rather than of violating their oat h, and merely ordered them Â“to have [the] marriage solemnized within a month on pa in of excom[munication] if no canonical impediment existed.Â”186 The visitation to Ramsbury on 17 September 1405 shows another clandestine marriage punished. Nicholas Thatcher [Thech er] was accused of fornication with Alice Piper [Pyper], and both were sentenced to be beaten publicly. The couple claimed to be married, paid a fine, and were dismissed. Sin ce people routinely paid fines rather than be beaten, it is difficult to know whether clai ming to be married would have improved the case of a pair of casual fornicators. Thus it is entirely possible that they were telling the truth, but that either their clandestine marri age had been a scandal to the community or the deanÂ’s court had specifically asked the questmen for any examples of dubious marriages. The situation might have been mu ch more complicated had not Benedicta de Shryvenham recently died, since Nicholas wa s charged with fornication with her as well.187 186 Chandler Register no. 64 (pp. 32-3). 187 Chandler Register no. 71 (pp. 35-6). Timmins (xxx) interprets this case as an unusual one in which an admitted contract was not enforced; my interpretation is that the court did regard Nicholas and Alice as married, but since they did not contest the marriage, it contented itself with accepting a fine to punish them for their clandestine marriage.
126 When the deanÂ’s court reached Fa ringdon [Farendon], on 19 September 1405, it found a large number of complaints waiting fo r it, including several disputed marriage cases. While some of the young men who denied having made marriage vows may have been honest, Andrew Fisher [Andrewe Fisshere] seems to have been a serial seducer. Andrew was presented for fornication with tw o women Â– Joan Algar and Alice Langele. Both Joan and Alice swore that Andrew ha d made vows of marriage with them. Joan specified that they had made vows before w itnesses in the present tense (Â“I take youÂ…Â”) followed by sexual intercourse. AliceÂ’s claim is not presented in detail, but she too claimed to have witnesses. Andrew was also presented for Â“adultery and contractÂ” with Joan Cotiller Â– presumably meaning that he had betrothed or wedde d her even though one of them was married. Normally, if a man wa s presented for fornication with two women and adultery with a third, the reader would assume that all parties involved were unmarried except the third woman. However, the record shows that Andrew made a contract with Joan Cotiller and that rumor had it that he had abandoned a wife back in Buckinghamshire. It seems unlikely that Joan would have arranged a marriage contract if her husband were in the vill age; its invalidity would ha ve been obvious, and being a bigamist was no better than being an adulte ress. It is possible that her husband had abandoned her. However, it seems more likely that the questmen, knowing of the rumors that Andrew was already married, were confused as to whether he should be charged as a fornicator or an adulterer. Deepening the mystery, AndrewÂ’s witne ss in the case of Joan Algar was one Philip Cotiler. Could he have been a relative or even the husband of Joan Cotiller? Andrew, more willing to do pena nce than to settle down, admitted to fornication in all three cases but denied the c ontract in Joan AlgarÂ’s case and probably in
127 the others as well. The cour t arranged for Joan Algar and A lice Langele to bring in their witnesses to the cathedral; perhaps in the in terest of efficiency, both women agreed to bring in their witnesses at the same time.188 The second disputed marriage involves th e nearby village of Highworth [Hyworth or Hyworthe] as much as Faringdon. Th e questmen of Highworth presented John Boucher and Agnes Bestenale for fornicati on (habitual, it is implied). They were sentenced to be beaten three times through th e chapel Â– a typical punishment, relying as much on public humiliation as on the pain of th e beating for its deterrent effect. No mention was made of a marriage contract.189 However, the ques tmen of Faringdon on the same day claimed that the vicar of Hi ghworth, Richard Havyngdon, was maliciously preventing the couple from solemnizing their ma rriage and that he had raped Agnes in his garden around Whitsunday of the previous year.190 It seems that the questmen of Highworth, who had few complaints about thei r vicar, disapproved of the couple, while those of Faringdon, who were quite critical of their own vicar as well as HighworthÂ’s, supported them. It is possible that a certain anti-clerical mood in Faringdon helped John and Agnes gain support there. However, mo st likely one of the pair had roots in Faringdon and a good reputation there, while the other was from Highworth and had a less admirable reputation. The historian must remember that people often manipulated or manufactured their stories for the courts and th at John and AgnesÂ’ tale might not be true. 188 Chandler Register no. 81 (pp. 39-41). The final outcome of this case is not recorded in Dean ChandlerÂ’s register. An entry in the deanÂ’s consistory records from six months later (no. 386, p. 131) hints that it was still going on. This case records a matrimonial action brought by Joan Algar against Andrew FÂ…. (Timmins believes this may be a different Joan Algar, but I disagree.) Unfortunately, this account too is inconclusive. Joan failed to appear and the hear ing was postponed, but neither she nor Andrew appears in the register again. 189 Chandler Register no. 79 (pp. 38-9). 190 Chandler Register no. 81 (pp. 39-41).
128 However, if it was a lie, it was intended to be credible. Church officials must have sometimes used the movement towards Church c ontrol of marriages to their own benefit. While the register does not reveal whether John and Agnes ever managed to be married, it implies that Richard Havyngdon was not harshl y punished; he retired five years later on a pension with praise from the dean.191 Hungerford [Hungerforde], which the d ean visited on 22 September 1405, seems to have been large and prosperous, a town ra ther than a village. This may explain the large number and complicated nature of the morals cases which its questmen reported to the deanÂ’s court. The vicar had been ordered to solemnize the marriage of William Roper [Ropere] and Alice Saucer. Such an order to solemnize usually meant that a clandestine marriage or a betrothal followed by intercours e had occurred. However, Juliana Farman had Â“snatchedÂ” the order and torn it up. Julia na seems to have objected very strongly to the marriage, as she was also presented for a ssaulting Alice. Juliana seems to have been one of the townÂ’s chief troublemakers; she wa s also cited for adultery with John Smyth, and William Ferrour smashed her pew, perhaps as the result of some grudge. Juliana may have been an aggressive woman who wanted William Roper for herself.192 If so, then both she and Alice were ultimately disappointed, as Bishop Robert HallumÂ’s register shows. By 28 May 1408, the situation had become even more complicated, and had resulted in Â“certain viol ent attacks and injuri es.Â” A woman calling herself Agnes Roper claimed that she was WilliamÂ’s wife. William admitted having married Agnes, but claimed that the marri age was invalid because of his previous 191 Chandler Register no. 563 (pp. 161-2). 192 Chandler Register no. 88 (pp. 43-4).
129 contract with Alice, and that for this reason he had obtai ned a divorce. However, two days later William claimed that he had never made a contract with Alice and that he had only gone through with the divorce because he had been threatened by Â“certain people.Â” Alice insisted that she and William had indeed made a contract in the present tense, with William saying Â“I William take you as my wife, on account of the scandal you have endured, being pregnant by me.Â” Alice, however, was unable to produce any firsthand witnesses and failed to attend later court sess ions. The court seems to then have sided with Agnes. The testimony given implie s that William likely (but not provably) exchanged vows with Alice, but (after Juli ana tore up the order) never solemnized them; later he exchanged vows with Agnes, and these he did solemnize; later still, he acquired a decree of divorce from Agnes and moved back in with Alice. Violence and threats were involved somewhere, perhaps as relatives of each woman attempted to put pressure on William. Alice lost in the end; she could produce no witnesses and failed to attend later sessions of the court (if force really was at play in this case she may even have been physically restrained from doing so). William does not seem to have known what he wanted. He changed his story and failed to produce the documents the court demanded, eventually so frustrating Bishop HallumÂ’s comm issary that the offici al ordered Â“that he should be punished according to the form of law.Â”193 Dean Chandler made his next visita tion in 1408. He began at Byre, which provided on 9 October the visitationÂ’s first examples of disputed marriages. The questmen cited Adam Stoke for fornication with Alice (no last name was given, but neither was she identified as a nyoneÂ’s servant). He claimed that they were married (a 193 Hallum Register no. 1128 (pp. 213-14).
130 claim about which the questmen apparently had their doubts) and was given three months to prove it. Again, the questmen may have presented the couple because they were concerned about their fellow villager marryi ng a migrant. On the same day, Stephen Dykere, Â“an apostate monk,Â” was cited for fo rnication with Emma (no last name or master). They claimed that they were marrie d. The questmen seem to have believed that Stephen was still bound by his vows despite ha ving informally left his monastery, and that therefore he could not be married. The court ordered the couple Â“to purge themselves of apostasy with 6 handsÂ” that same day. The register does not record whether they succeeded.194 The case presented in Charminster [also sp elled Chermynstre] two days later was more involved. Maud Cheseman, John G oodrich [Gouderich], and Thomas Roth [Wrothe] appeared before the court. Th ey do not seem to have been accused by the questmen, but to have appeared before the court in need of a definitive answer. Maud alleged that she had made a marriage contract with John, in the present tense, followed by sexual intercourse, but without wi tnesses; John affirmed this story. Thomas alleged that he had made a contract in the present tens e with Maud, followed by intercourse, and that he did have witnesses. Maud admitted it but claimed that she did not consent to intercourse with him and that it was forced on her. Precise dates are given for neither marriage, nor are any assertions about their or der recorded. The register notes that the case was continued on 27 November, when William and Alice Cheseman (presumably MaudÂ’s relatives) were admitted as witnesses. It states that no one objected to their 194 Chandler Register no. 190 (pp. 72-4).
131 testimony and that the case was Â“concluded wi th [the] consent of [all] partiesÂ” Â– yet neglects to provide any details either about the testimony or the conclusion.195 As Helmholz and others have noted, peopl e sometimes used the marriage laws to their advantage, and in this case all parties may have done so. MaudÂ’s story of being raped and married under duress is not unique. Men seeking a particularly desirable marriage Â– such as to a rich widow Â– were known to resort to such de spicable tactics. If the victim consented to intercourse, or even lived with the man for too long, the marriage would become legal even if it had originally been made unwillingly.196 Maud may have already privately married John before being assaulted by Thomas, but alternately she may have contracted marriage with John to streng then her case against Thomas. Since divorce was impossible or nearly so, people sometim es made up preexisting contracts to escape an unhappy or undesired marriage.197 Women in such straits often found a male protector to help them escape, and there were sometimes legal advantages in doing so.198 The deanÂ’s 1408 visitation to Yetminster did not turn up any couples accused of irregularity, but it did turn up an accomplice. John Martin of Lye was accused of forging bann certificates for couples who had not actua lly published their banns. With a forged certificate, a couple could marry despite a known impediment. Thus people who were related within the fourth degree, had close spiritual ties, or even who were already legally married to other people, could wed. They might ev en be able to find a priest to officiate. Relatives and neighbors who knew of an impediment, or who found the marriage undesirable for some other reason, would be denied their chance to object. A forged 195 Chandler Register no. 197 (pp. 75-6). 196 See Butler, Â“Coerced Marriage.Â” 197 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 57-66. 198 See Butler, Â“Runaway Wives.Â”
132 bann certificate put all the power in the hands of the couple and denied both community and church their chance to influence matters However, John Martin was not punished, but denied the charge and was purged.199 The visitation of 1408-9 was interrupte d by a six-month hiatus between 30 October 1408 and 23 April 1409, no doubt as the ro ads became impassible in winter. On 26 April 1409 the dean visited Earley [Erle gh or Erleigh] St. Ni cholas. Here John Boterstake and Edith, the daughter of J ohn Fryday, had married without posting the banns. Worse, they had fornicated within the chapel. It seems likely that the couple immediately consummated their marriage after they made thei r vows, but the chapel itself was not the normal place to do so. Indeed, it se ems that their act polluted the sanctity of the chapel, since the dean suspended services there. The questmen accused Thomas Merey, himself a questman at neighboring Earley [Erlegh] St. Bartholomew, of authorizing the marriage. He denied it and was allowed to purge six-handed. As in the case of John Boucher and Agnes Bestenale, it seems that the authorities of one town approved a union which those of another to wn opposed; as a questman of Erlegh St. Bartholemew, Thomas reported on that same day that all was well.200 That day saw two more disputed marriage cases, one from Wokingham [Wokyngham] and one from Hurst [Hurste]. The case at Wokingham involved Richard Beach [Beche] and Alice Barefoot [Barefot]. This couple seems to have defied the bishopÂ’s authority. At some time in 1408 th ey must have been summoned to appear before the bishop Â“for the co rrection of their souls.Â” On 20 January 1409 Bishop Hallum 199 Chandler Register no. 214 (p. 83). 200 Chandler Register nos. 251-2 (p. 93).
133 found them guilty of contumacy, as it had b een over forty days since they had been summoned. He excommunicated th em and ordered their arrest.201 Three months later, Dean Chandler made his visitation to W okingham, and the questmen there complained that the chaplain, Sir Stephen Cartwright [C artwryght], had, without posting of the banns, solemnized the marriage of the same Richar d and Alice. Again, the register provides little information about the se quence of events. Was this marriage without banns the reason that the couple had been called before the bishop in the first place, or did the chaplain marry a couple who were exco mmunicate and whom the bishop had ordered arrested? It may be impossibl e to say, but the first seems more likely. The chaplain does not seem to have been punished, as one might expect had he defied the bishop so openly as to marry a couple who were excommunicat e precisely because of their questionable relationship. Furthermore, no charges were brought against Richar d and Alice; it seems unlikely that they were living in open defian ce of the bishop and yet the questmen were willing to overlook it. This is, however, just possible; certainly the questmen seem to have held a grudge against Sir Stephen, whom th ey also accuse of negligence in saying Mass, misappropriating Church property, quarreling with parish ioners, revealing confessions, and having a Â“sus piciousÂ” interview in his room with the wife of a parishioner.202 In Hurst, the chaplain actually was punished for a similar offense. William, the chaplain, was presented for having married J ohn Solyhurst with the daughter of Wowome (no other name given). The marriage took pla ce without banns; furthe rmore, it took place 201 Hallum Register no. 1069 (p. 198). 202 Chandler Register no. 255 (pp. 93-4).
134 at night, reinforcing its clandestine nature. William confessed and was fined. As in Wokingham, the questmen presented the cl ergyman who performed the ceremony, but not the parties who were married. The So lyhursts may have fled their disapproving community. On the other hand, the community ma y have already dealt with the couple to its satisfaction but remained di sgruntled with their chaplain.203 In Blewbury [Blebury] on 29 April 1409, the questmen presented Andrew Baron for contracting marriage with Joan Tanner [Tannere] after having already married the widow Alice Pekyng. If he had done so, he must have known that the marriage had no legal standing, for both he and Joan denied it With both parties having officially denied it, this marriage posed no legal challenge to AndrewÂ’s marriage to A lice, and so the court dismissed the case.204 Dean Chandler made his third visitation in the summer of 1412. This time he was presented with significantly fewer cases, incl uding only three disputed marriages. The questmen of Charminster, on 7 June 1412, pr esented Richard Lombe and Edith Smythe for fornication. They explained that the ba nns had been posted, but the couple refused to marry. This may imply that the villagers, even the respectable questmen, found sexual intercourse after the banns were posted to be proper, or at least acceptable, so long as marriage followed soon afterward. If the coupl e failed to marry, however, what had been acceptable became fornication. Richard explained to the court that he was unable to marry Edith because to do so would violate the ChurchÂ’s incest rules. He had had sexual intercourse with EdithÂ’s moth er, which under the ChurchÂ’s ru le counted much the same 203 Chandler Register no. 257 (p. 94). 204 Chandler Register no. 260 (pp. 94-5).
135 as a direct blood relation. Wh ile it is entirely possible that Mrs. Smythe was a fifteenthcentury Â“Mrs. Robinson,Â” one must keep in mind that people were well aware of the loopholes in Church law. It is possible that EdithÂ’s mother was w illing to sacrifice her reputation to extricat e her daughter from a marriage that she and her fianc no longer desired.205 While questmen seem commonly to have reported questionable liaisons as fornication, those of Highworth on 16 July 1412 reported one as adultery. John Cole was cited for adultery with a woman known only as Â“one Magota.Â” His defense, however, was to claim that they had already solemnized their marriage. This implies that their relationship had at one point been an informal affair or a clandestine marriage, but that it had since been made official. No mention is made of a previous spouse for either partner, leaving it a bit mysterious why they were pres ented for adultery rather than fornication. The court gave them until 23 December to show a marriage certificate at the cathedral. Master Shirburne seems not to have taken th e charge of adultery too seriously and to have been willing to take a marriage certificate at face value.206 In Wantyng [Wantyngg] on 18 July, the que stmen presented a large number of offenses to the deanÂ’s court. Among the ei ght cases of fornicati on they presented was one in which the couple claimed to have ma rried: that of William Bentele and Joan Howleys. They were ordered to solemn ize their union by 2 February on pain of excommunication. Although they may still have been beaten twice through the chapel, 205 Chandler Register no. 306 (pp. 109-10). 206 Chandler Register no. 370 (pp. 123-4).
136 they had plenty of time to make their ma rriage official, which presumably would set matters right with the community and the Church.207 Despite a couple of cases in which th e court punished c ouples for marrying without posting the banns, the impression crea ted by the disputed marriages cases found in the register is not an oppre ssive one. Despite the conclu sion of some scholars that the church courts were in decline in this period208, the deanÂ’s court seems to have been wanted and needed by the villagers of early fifteenth-century Sa lisbury. The questmen seem to have conscientiously presented to the court the dubious marriages of their villages. The court seems to have taken the issues seriously and to have sought the best solution for all parties. It may have been too lenient for the questmen at times, but it was able to tackle and resolve some of the thorniest marital problems of the Salisbury dioceseÂ’s villages. 207 Chandler Register no. 375 (pp. 125-7). 208 See, for example, Wunderli, London Church Courts
137 Chapter Six Abandonment and Â“Self-DivorceÂ” Divorce as we know it today did not exis t in fifteenth-cent ury England. Canon law made it very clear that marriage was indi ssoluble. In this it had a solid biblical foundation. The Mosaic law provides for divor ce, allowing a man to send his wife away with a bill of divorce, and for both partners to remarry afterwards (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). However, the teachings of Jesus, as given in a sermon recorded in Mark and Matthew, explicitly overturned this law. Jesus taught that a married couple became Â“no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunderÂ” (Matthew 24: 6; Mark 10: 8-9). Since a marriage could not be legitimately dissolved, anyone who divorced and remarried became an adulterer (Matthew 19: 9; Mark 10: 1112). MatthewÂ’s text does include an excep tion which might have allowed a man to divorce an adulterous wife, but canon law did not embrace it.209 In theory, then, medieval marriages should have been completely indissoluble. In practice the law was not so absolute. Tw o forms of divorce were allowed under the canon law of this period: the annulment, or divorce ab initio and the legal separation, or divorce a mensa et thoro .210 209 In this the canon lawyers seem to have had a good sense of the text. New Testament scholars generally agree that MarkÂ’s text is the older and that the author of Matthew drew on it in composing his own gospel. See, for example, Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 85-6. 210 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 74-6.
138 The annulment completely dissolved the le gal existence of a marriage, wiping the slate clean. These could be granted for a number of reasons, but all of them were difficult to prove. If a prior valid marriage existed, then the later marriage could not be valid and would be annulled. If a marriage we re incestuous, it could also be annulled Â– and, given the complexity of the canon lawÂ’s definition of incest, it was entirely possible for a couple to live together for some time befo re discovering that they were in violation of it. If the marriage coul d not be consummated due to male impotence, it could be dissolved Â– although proving this poi nt could be especially tricky.211 A marriage contracted by Â“force and fearÂ” could be annulled if one party had been forced to utter the words of a marriage oath by threats sufficient to move a Â“constant manÂ” (or a Â“constant woman.Â”) A marriage arranged by parents between minors could be dissolved by the principals once they reached adulthood.212 In most of these cases, consensual sexual intercourse after the impediment was known ma de annulment impossible. For instance, a marriage initially contracted by Â“force and fearÂ” could become binding if a woman initially forced into a marriage later consented to intercourse.213 These categories are relatively narrow. Ho wever, the question arises of how often people used the law cynically to get a divorce from partners of whom they had simply tired. Maitland, for instance, thought th at Â“spouses who had quarreled began to investigate their pedigrees and were unlucky if they could discover no impedimentum 211 The church courts tended towards skepticism of claims of male impotence. Usually only the husband and wife could provide firsthand testimony on the matter, and they were precisely that people who had the greatest motivation to perjure themselves. So difficult did the medieval English courts find it to resolve these matters that they sometimes resorted to empiri cal testing. The court would deputize Â“honest womenÂ” to make their best effort to arouse the man; the women (and female witnesses) would then testify as to their success or failure. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 88-90. 212 Ibid., 74-100. 213 Butler, Â“Coerced Marriage,Â” 247-70.
139 dirimens .Â”214 Other historians have agreed, but Helmholz does not. He finds that suits for divorce were not especially common in Eng lish courts, nor were they always granted. Annulment on the grounds of consanguinity may have been used as a tool by the nobility, but their circumstances and attitudes were ve ry different from those of the majority. Helmholz argues that, as absurd as the Church Â’s consanguinity rules might seem to us, medieval people took them seriously and considered themselves morally bound by them. Thus most people conscienti ously investigated the possibility of incest before marrying.215 This is not to say that no one ever us ed the system cynically to divorce from a spouse of whom he (or she) was tired. He lmholz finds, however, that people who went looking for an excuse to be divorced were more likely to remember or invent a preexisting marriage contract. Since marriages were indissoluble, a binding contract made previously would render the current marriage invalid. Some people may have made such a precontract before getting married in order to have an escape route ready; some made arrangements with adulterous lovers to swear to a contract which had not actually existed; but most commonly, peopl e created stories about precontracts on the parts of their spouses. This method, while more difficult to arrange with witnesses, created a superior legal claim, since the plaintiff could claim that he had only just learned of this contract and had not engaged in in tercourse with his spous e since then. Some 214 F. W. Maitland and F. Pollock, History of English Law 2 vols. (1898; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 2: 393. 215 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 77-87.
140 people, then, attempted to manipulate the syst em to get annulments. However, Helmholz claims, informal Â“self-divorceÂ” was probably much more common.216 Divorce a mensa et thoro (Â“from table and bedÂ”) was fairly rare. It allowed the couple a legal separation, freeing them from th e obligation to live together and from their sexual obligations to each othe r. However, it did not dissolve the marriage bond and the individuals could not remarry. This type of divorce was allowed for behavior which could be considered intolerable, but whic h did not touch the validity of the marriage bond. These included heresy, adultery, and cruelty ( saevitia ). The third was the most commonly alleged, but the judge imposed a much higher standard of marital abuse217 than would a judge today. He generally atte mpted to persuade the couple to remain together and behave better towards one a nother, granting the di vorce only when the violence was severe and the parties irreconc ilable. Notice that abandonment itself was not sufficient cause for any sort of divorce. Even when it was combined with adultery, the church courts made every effort to re unite and reconcile the couple. The courts considered divorce a mensa et thoro a last resort, even t hough it did not dissolve the marital bond, and agreed to it only reluctantly.218 Although the average medieval Englishman seems to have had a great deal of respect for the Church and its law, neverthe less sometimes he asserted control of his marriage in an informal and extralegal ma nner which Helmholz terms Â“self-divorce.Â” Helmholz finds that it was rather common for people to leave their spouses and contract new marriages without the benefit of any cleric al or legal authority. They usually had or 216 Ibid., 74-87. 217 See the chapter on marital abuse, pp. 157-68 of this document. 218 Helmholz, Marriage Litigation 100-107.
141 could summon reasons which accorded vaguely with canon law, but these were often rationalizations for what the individual al ready wanted to do. These cases enter the historical record when the abandoned party ob jects and the one who left is forced to present his or her rationale for leaving in court.219 Social historians have found the concep t of Â“self-divorceÂ” useful, and it has become something of a sub-field of its own. In the next decade, historians added the complementary concept of Â“voluntary abduction. Â” Sue Sheridan Walker finds that some cases of Â“ravishmentÂ” (meaning abduction ra ther than sexual assault, although the distinction was not entirely cl ear in the law) happened by agreement between an unhappy woman and a male ally. A case prosecuted as ravishment might really be an elopement, with the womanÂ’s family prosecuting the man whom she had chosen against their wishes. In other cases, unhappy wives fled their husband s with the aid of lovers, relatives, or priests. Sometimes they left in order to make marriages they liked better; sometimes they seem to have been desperate to escape abusive husbands. Husbands might sue for return of the womanÂ’s dowry and any possessions she ha d with her when she fled, or they might sue in canon law court for the enforcement of the marriage contract.220 Sara Butler took up this phenomenon and e xpanded upon it in her recent article, Â“Runaway Wives.Â” Butler looks at manorial and common-law as well as ecclesiastical courts and comes up with 121 cases in which abandoned husbands sued to get their wives back. She reasons that the actual number of Â“runaway wivesÂ” must have been much higher, not only because her study is incomple te and many records have not survived, but 219 Ibid., 59-66. 220 Sue Sheridan Walker, Â“Punishing convicted ravish ers: statutory strictures and actual practice in thirteenth and fourteenth-century England,Â” Journal of Medieval History 13 (1987): 237-50.
142 because not all husbands sued. Some husbands may not have wanted their wives back very much, and others must have been ashame d to bring the matter to public attention. Nevertheless, wives had many reasons to stay even in deficient marriages Â– social, spiritual, legal, and economic Â– and those who left were exceptional. Butler emphasizes the risks taken by the abductor who, as a Â“rap ist,Â” was in theory eligible for capital punishment. However, juries, always reluct ant to enforce such harsh rules, rarely convicted the Â“rapistÂ” in what were obviously consensual si tuations. The criminal onus so often fell on the male accomplice rather than the wife who left, Butler explains, because under the law of Â“coverture,Â” man and wife were legally considered a single entity which could neither steal from nor sue itself. Butler posits that some of these Â“runaway wivesÂ” found themselves in desperate poverty, some rejoined their families, and others remarried.221 Some husbands let their wives, too, moving to a new town and starting over with a new wife. Lawrence Stone asserted that such bigamy was Â“both easy and commonÂ” in the Middle Ages222, but later historians such as Martin Ingram have pointed out how little evidence there is to support his claim.223 Andrew Finch, in his study of marital difficulties and separation in the later Middle Ages, found th at informally separated couples were very much in the minority, but that such separations were nevertheless a regular occurrence. Many Englishmen may have thought that a man had the right to repudiate his wife for adultery and to remarry thereafter (in the te xt from Matthew, at 221 Butler, Â“Runaway Wives.Â” 222 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage 40. 223 Ingram, 149.
143 least, they had some biblical foundation for this assumption.)224 The practice of Â“sellingÂ” a yoked wife in the public market, though fascin ating and controversial, cannot be traced to any period earlier than the sixteenth century.225 The register of John Chandler contains ten cases of spousal abandonment. This number is quite small compared even to the number of troubled marriages in the register, never mind the total number of ma rriages in the villages whic h Chandler visited. On the other hand, the number is large enough that th e cases do not seem to be a mere fluke. Considering that many cases may never have come to official attention, and that most of those that did were probably resolved at a lower level, it seems that self-divorce may have been well-known in fifteenth-century Sali sbury diocese, even if practiced only by a minority. During the 17 July 1405 visitation to Fordington [Fordyngton], the questmen reported that Â“Thomas Cornysch left his wife Edith.Â” Apparently Thomas did not simply leave, he actually skipped town ; the register reports that the court took no action Â“because he left.Â” Presumably his whereabouts were unknown Â– or if they were known, they laid outside of the courtÂ’s jurisdiction.226 The case the court faced in Preston the next day, however, was one in which it showed itself willing to take action. John Benv ill was presented for adultery with Joan Jaynes. His defense was that he had married Joan and so their intercourse was entirely proper. However, it was Â“commonly saidÂ” in Preston that Joan ha d married a Spaniard, which made her marriage to John invalid a nd her actions with him adulterous. John 224 Finch, 11-38. 225 Stone, Road to Divorce 143-8. 226 Chandler Register no. 13 (pp. 8-9).
144 apparently protested that Joan was no longer married to the Spaniard, prompting the court to demand to see the certificate of divorce. This could not be produ ced because there had been no formal divorce; the Spaniard (never named in ChandlerÂ’s register) had simply left town some seventeen years earlier, and Joan had not heard from him since. After a long absence, Joan had simply Â“self-divor cedÂ” and acted as though she were no longer married. Yet despite the plai n nature of the abandonment, the court could not simply ignore the previous marital bond Â– again, simp le abandonment was not grounds even for divorce a mensa et thoro which did not allow remarriage, much less for annulment.227 Master Shirburne, Dean ChandlerÂ’s judge, seems to have felt some sympathy for Joan, but he also had to make every effort to ensure that things were done properly. He arranged for the deanÂ’s office to send a letter to the home of JoanÂ’s first husband asking whether anyone there objected to her remarriag e. In essence, this would be Â“posting the bannsÂ” for the current marriage. The register does not record any or der for Joan and John to abstain from their married life together, giving the strong impression that unless an answer was received from the official lette r, the marriage would stand. Shirburne may have considered this the most merciful action to take, showin g respect for the sanctity of marriage by simultaneously attending to the ri ghts of the first hus band and refusing to dissolve the current marriage unless the need arose. Perhaps everyone was hoping that there would be no response and that things could quietly continue as they had been going.228 227 Chandler Register no. 20 (pp. 11-12). 228 Ibid.
145 However, a commission of 5 September 1410, preserved in the register of Robert Hallum, shows that the matter did not procee d so smoothly. In this document JoanÂ’s husband is named, and he is called not a Sp aniard but a Portuguese Â– one Alfonso of Lisbon. The commission explains that Joan Â“has now received information that her first husband may still be aliveÂ” and orders the offi cial of the archdeacon of Dorset and the rector of Broadway [Brodewey] to inves tigate the matter. Gi ven the findings of Helmholz and others on the use of precont racts by dissatisfied spouses and those of Butler that determined women sometimes di d find it possible to walk away from a marriage, the reader might suspect that Jo an was taking advantage of her previous marriage. Perhaps five years later she ha d tired of life with John and was using her previous marriage as grounds to escape. Ho wever, details provided in this document which were not recorded in ChandlerÂ’s regi ster hint that Joan was laying the groundwork for a case to have her marriage to Alfonso annulled. If so, then she may have been prompted by local authorities or even by her own conscience to assist in the investigation of her first husband even though she want ed to preserve her current marriage.229 The commission explains the same story that was preserved in the register, but it adds some new details. Joan was married to Alfonso Â“at a tender age.Â” This mention of JoanÂ’s age at the time of the first marriage probably comes from the version of the story which she provided to diocesan officials. Th is detail hints that Joan may have been forced into the marriage by her family without her full consent. She may even have been below the age of puberty, in which case th e marriage might not have been consummated before Alfonso left. These factors would have made an annulment possible if Alfonso 229 Hallum Register no. 857 (pp. 112-3).
146 had proved alive, on grounds that the marri age had been made by force and fear or infra annos nubiles If the marriage had never been consummated due to JoanÂ’s youth, her case would have been much stronger. Joan doe s not explicitly make any of these claims, but she seems to be making an effort to leave them ope n as possibilities.230 Alfonso left and, after he had been gone many years, Joan, Â“thinking him dead,Â” had married John Benvill [here Benevyle]. JoanÂ’s story in ChandlerÂ’s register might have been taken to imply that she had thought he r first husband dead, but this detail is not explicitly recorded there; here it is. Agai n, Joan managed her story much more carefully in 1410 than she had in 1405. She was not nece ssarily lying, but she seems to have made an effort to include as many favorable details as she could in the record. Finally, she adds the detail that she had Â“sons and da ughtersÂ” by John. If the court annulled her marriage to John, it would make these childre n bastards. In making this point, Joan implicitly asks the court to weigh the welfare of her children against an abstract point of law and the rights of a husband who had abandoned her long ago.231 This concatenation of details suggests that, while Joan may have wanted the matter of her previous husband resolved o fficially, she favored a certain outcome and shaded her story to make her marriage to J ohn appear valid and he r marriage to Alfonso invalid. She may have been simultaneously laying the groundwork for an annulment if the first decision were not made in her favor. Of course, there is no way to be sure that all these details came from Joan, nor that she ga ve them out as part of a plan, but such is the impression which the document creates. Jo an may have spent many lonely years after 230 Ibid. 231 Ibid.
147 her husband abandoned her. After she remarrie d, she may have lain low, hoping that the townsfolk would not report her. When that failed, she may have relied on ShirburneÂ’s kindness. But by 1410, she had children to protect and her mind was made up. By this time she seems to have learned something a bout canon law Â– enough to attempt to use the legal system to get the result she wanted. Like Bertrande de Rols, abandoned by Ma rtin Guerre for eight years or more, Joan Jaynes probably went thr ough a long period of waiting, her life and her status as a woman in a sort of limbo. Natalie Zemon Davis, in The Return of Martin Guerre shows how Bertrande maneuvered within the bounds of her society to maximize her freedom and satisfaction without sacrificing her re putation. She argues that Bertrande knew perfectly well that her return ed husband was an imposter, but she chose to remain in a marriage which may have been legally a hoax, but which was far more satisfying than her marriage to the real Martin Guerre. For Jo an, however, no husband returned, either real or false. She had to make the choice which Bertrande almost managed to avoid Â– between her reputation as a faithful wife and th e real substance of marriage. She chose to make a real marriage for herself in spite of th e rumors which marked her as an adulteress. Bertrande at last returned to the real Martin, but only when the imposterÂ’s case was clearly lost, and she had her excuses ready. Joan was under less pressure, and so she cleaved more tightly to the husband she wanted. Like Bertrande, she did not dare to defy the law when evidence surfaced that her prev ious husband was alive, but made a strong effort to control the story and justify herself. Unfortunately, neither ChandlerÂ’s register nor HallumÂ’s records the ultimate outcome of JoanÂ’s case. The outcome of the investigation ordered in HallumÂ’s register apparently was not r ecorded or did not survive.
148 Given the witness of JoanÂ’s determination by these two records, it seems likely that more legal actions would have resulted if the bis hop had ordered her to separate from John and declared her children bastards. Thus, on bala nce, it seems more likely than not that she ultimately got her way. However, this remains no more than a guess.232 JoanÂ’s case may have been one in wh ich Shirburne felt a conflict between duty and compassion. But other cases were more clear-cut. The questm en of Farendon on 19 September 1405 reported two wife-abandoners, both of whom seem to have been scoundrels. Andrew Fisher [Fisshere] wa s reported for seducing three women Â– Joan Algar, Joan Cotiller, and Alice Langele. In all three cases he seems to have done so by making insincere vows of marriag e. If this were not enough, the questmen reported that Â“[r]umor says that he left his wife in Buck inghamshire.Â” Andrew seems to have been not merely a dissatisfied husband but a cad who le ft his wife in order to chase women more freely. His case was a complex one of dis puted marriage (q.v.) which passed to the cathedral court.233 The questmen also reported William Spore [Spor] for Â“adultery and incest with his servant, Joan.Â… Same man left his wife.Â” Here the terseness of the record leaves the case unclear, but some guesses are possible. Sin ce Joan is recorded as his servant, not his wife or cousin, she was proba bly not a close relation. Sh e may have been a distant cousin; they may have been linked through bonds of affinity (if, for instance, William had also had intercourse with her si ster or even her cousin); or they might have been linked by spiritual ties (if, for instance, William was the godfather of one of her children). 232 See Natalie Zemon Davis The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983). 233 Chandler Register no. 81 (pp. 39-41). FisherÂ’s case is discussed more fully in the section on disputed marriages, on pp. 125-6 of this document.
149 William may have left a wife in another tow n, but, unlike in AndrewÂ’s case, the questmen do not specify the town, nor do they specify that their report is only Â“rumor.Â” Furthermore, William must have had roots in Farendon if he had property, servants, and enough ties to be open to a charge of incest. On the other ha nd, if the wife he abandoned was still in Farendon, why did the questmen not name her, and why did she not appear before the court? Perhaps she had died, or ha d left town to live with relatives; perhaps she did not particularly want William back. In any case, the court seems to have done nothing in this case.234 Four years later, William was cited again for adultery and paid a fine. His abandonment of his wife was not mentioned this time, leaving it unclear whether he retuned to her. If so, doing so had not improved him much as a husband. More likely he had not done so and was con tinuing to live with the partner he had chosen after Â“self-divorcing.Â”235 The 1408-9 visitation received only one co mplaint of abandonment, at Highworth on 2 May 1409. The questmen of Highworth report ed Isabel Gras of Lechelade Â“for not living with her husband.Â” Lechelade was a vill age only about five miles to the north, but it was located in the diocese of Gloucester, out of Dean ChandlerÂ’s jurisdiction, much less that of HighworthÂ’s questmen. If they reported Isabel to him, then, they must have had some reason to feel they had the authority to do so, and they probably felt that they could reasonably expect her appear before th e court. Most likely Isabel was living in Highworth after abandoning her husband back in Lechelade. This would also explain why the husband is never named and does not appear before the court himself; the 234 Chandler Register no. 81 (pp. 39-41). 235 Chandler Register no. 261 (pp. 95-6).
150 questmen of Highworth did not know him, and he lived in Lechelade. Isabel, living in Highworth, fell under their ju risdiction, and they reported her to the court, hoping perhaps that it could make her return to her husband and treat him as a wife should. Isabel, however, seems to have had other ideas She did not appear before the court and was suspended. Presumably she preferred this punishment (the usual result of contumacy for those who had no special connections) to ri sking being returned to her husband. If so, she likely had strong reasons to leave him, but ones that sh e felt would not hold up in court.236 The visitation of 1412, on the other ha nd, included five reports of marital abandonment, all of them occu rring in a period of just ove r a month. The report of the questmen of Fordington on 7 June 1412 contains an intriguing detail, yet the court does not seem to have treated it as seriously as one might expect. Amice Kete, the questmen reported, had left her husband and now opera ted a brothel. They supplied no further details. The reader can onl y wonder whether AmiceÂ’s habit of procuring created an intolerable marital friction or whether she ope ned the brothel to support herself after she left her husband. A court which concerned itse lf so much with forn ication and adultery might be expected to take an interest in th e operation of a brothel within its jurisdiction, but apparently it did not. This may indicate that her brothel was licensed and regulated, as were those in the city of Salisbury.237 Amice managed to purge herself (of both accusations) and that was apparently the end of the matter as far as deanÂ’s court was 236 Chandler Register no. 262 (pp. 96-7). 237 For examples of legal regulation of the brothels of Salisbury during this period, see David R. Carr, ed., The First General Entry Book of the City of Salisbury 1387-1452 Wiltshire Record Society vol. 54 (Salisbury: Wiltshire Record Society, 2001), nos. 291 (p. 143), 372 (pp. 192-3), 440 (pp. 231-2), and 451 (pp. 240-1).
151 concerned. The whole accusation could have been slander if, for instance, Amice was operating a tavern without her husband and so me people in town found this improper. On the other hand, Amice might have been ab le to muster the support of five of her regular customers even if she were guilty. If the court showed little interest in the brothel, the questmen were partly to blame. Although they cited other residents of the community for adultery and fornication, they never connected any of these cases to the brothel, leaving it strangely abstract in the record Â– a brothel with no prostitutes and no clients.238 Three days later, in Chardstock, the questmen reported Katherine Atmill for having Â“left her husband [John] and wasted hi s goods.Â” This example seems to match ButlerÂ’s Â“runaway wivesÂ” in that not onl y did Katherine run away, she took movable property with her. She may have felt that sh e had a right to the things she took (if they were, for instance, part of her dowry or the fruits of her labor), but if so her husband seems to have disagreed. Or she may have taken things to which she had no right in order to survive. In either case, Katherine likely Â“wastedÂ” the goods by selling them in order to survive. When they ran out, she ma y have turned to prostitution. The questmen cited her as a Â“common prostituteÂ” ( communis leno ).239 Unlike Amice, Katherine was also accused of specific acts which presumably occurred as part of her trade Â– namely, 238 Chandler Register no. 310 (pp. 110-11). 239 The word leno is an unusual one, which Timmins renders Â“pro stitute.Â” It is clearly related to more common words such as lenocinium and lenones which refer to pimps, and may even be a back-formation from these words. Ruth Mazo Karras, in her Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1 996), chooses to translate words such as meretrix as Â“whoreÂ” rather than Â“prostitute.Â” She argues that thes e words often referred to a fornicatrix or adulteress who was considered Â“indecentÂ” but did not necessarily sell her favors, or simply as a gendered insult which was not necessarily meant literally. In this no., cons idering KatherineÂ’s apparent financial difficulties and her large number of partners, I have assumed that she actually did prostitute herself, and am using the word Â“prostituteÂ” rather than KarrasÂ’s alte rnative, which can be distracting.
152 adultery with William Pas, Richard Jambe, John Bere, William Paydy, Thomas Shawe, and John Cokeswell, junior. Th is list of partners is unus ually detailed, implying that KatherineÂ’s affairs were quite well known. However, this information does not seem to have come directly from Katherine, as sh e denied all charges Â– those of abandonment, prostitution, and adultery.240 Note that, while Katherine was accused of being a prostitute in general, the specific acts for which she was cited (other than the abandonment itself) were called adultery rather than prostitution. The que stmen generally chose the wording of their citations deliberately, and in this case they must have felt that the court had a clearer interest in, and jurisdiction over, adultery than prostitution. The court seems to have agreed; it took action on the accusations of ab andonment and adultery, but did nothing in response to the charge of being a communis leno If Master Shirburne did not feel that his authority extended to prostitution, this may also explain why he did nothing about AmiceÂ’s brothel.241 So Katherine denied all charges, and th e court did nothing about one of them. However, the court took decisive action in re gard to her abandonmen t of her husband. It ordered her to return to him; she was Â“sworn to stay and look after him on pain of 100s. and 6 beatings through market and ch[urch].Â” The phrase Â“look after him,Â” not found in similar cases in the register, may imply that John suffered from some physical infirmity which might have contributed to her leavi ng, but it may have simply been a way of instructing her to fulfill her uxorial duties. The fine of 100s. was probably intended as a 240 Chandler Register no. 315 (pp. 112-13). 241 Ibid.
153 mere threat, since the court could never levy such a fine on Katherine without punishing John too. The beatings, howev er, could easily be administ ered only to Katherine and were probably meant seriously. Six beatings through market as well as church added up to a substantially more severe beating than the court usually ordered (most common was a set of three beatings thr ough the church only). The c ourt probably stipulated an unusually harsh fustigation to empha size the seriousness of its intent.242 In contrast to this severity, however, th e court allowed Katherine to purge herself with the courtÂ’s indulgence on her citation for adultery with six different men. In this Master Shirburne showed his usual sensitivity. To find Katherine guilty would have further embarrassed her husband. To fine he r would probably mean fining him, since he was still responsible for her debts. To beat her would further shame him. Any of these actions would hurt John Atmill, w hom the court seems to have seen as the victim in this situation. They would also make the coupleÂ’ s reconciliation more difficult. It seems, then, that the court was willing to overlook Kath erineÂ’s sins as long as she retuned to her husband and Â“sinned no more.Â” The court may ha ve been lenient with the six men for the same reason. However, the questmen cited Katherine and only one of the men (John Cokeswell, whom they dislik ed for other reasons as well.243) It seems likely that the questmen Â– and perhaps the court as well Â– blam ed Katherine rather than her clients for these liaisons.244 In Sherborne on 14 June 1412, the court orde red another wife to return to her husband. Isabel Poterne was simply told to Â“r eturnÂ” to her husband, not given a specific 242 Ibid. 243 See the adultery chapter, pp. 79-80 of this document. 244 Chandler Register no. 315 (pp. 112-13).
154 order to Â“take care of him,Â” but she too was threatened with harsh punishment Â– in this case, excommunication Â– if she failed to retu rn. The court gave her three weeks to comply. The court may have intended to check on the situation three weeks later, although there is no indication in the record that it did. This case is unusual in that no citation by the questmen is recorded, only the co urtÂ’s action. This may be the result of simple laziness or ignorance on the part of the scribe. Still, it coul d possibly indicate that the court received its information on IsabelÂ’s situation from some less official source (Shirburne may well have been a native of Sh erborne), yet still felt moved to act due to its concern to preserve marriages.245 In Harnham, after dinner on 21 June 1412, th e questmen reported Margaret Berley for refusing to live with her husband. Although this time no adultery was mentioned, the court took action similar to that it had taken in Chardstock. It orde red Margaret to live with her husband on pain of 6 beatings th rough the market and church. This was precisely the same fustigation with which Ka therine Atmill had been threatened, although the fine of 100s. was not mentioned in this case Since this case l acked the elements of prostitution and adultery which had characterized KatherineÂ’s ca se, this order to return on pain of six beatings through market and church may have been some sort of standard in case of Â“runaway wives.Â” If so, then th e case of Isabel Poterne may have been exceptional in some way. Perhaps Shirburne doubted her willingness to reform or (if his information did indeed come from an unofficial source) doubted the communityÂ’s willingness to punish her.246 245 Chandler Register no. 331 (pp. 115-16). 246 Chandler Register no. 349 (p. 118).
155 The case of abandonment which confront ed the court in Ramsbury on 13 July 1412 involved a husband abandoning his wife. The questmen used descriptive language to emphasize the badness of the husbandÂ’s be havior. Not only did John Yatley leave his wife, he denied her the basics of life. Th e questmen even made certain that the court understood that he could have afforded to support her, denying him any excuse for his behavior: Â“John Yatley left his wife and deni es her food but sells his goods and spends the money elsewhere.Â” The questmenÂ’s outrage may have been the result of what they saw as marital abuse (q.v.)247 in the form of neglect. John denied the charges, but the court was not content. It ordered him to Â“treat his wife well on pain of 20s.Â”248 These ten cases include six abandoning wives and four husbands. Of these, three wives and one husband were ordered to perfor m marital duties on pain of a penalty. One man and one woman failed to appear. One man and one woman were not interfered with. One woman was treated sympathetically and on e man was dealt with as a different type of case rather than primarily as an abandoner. Thus, alt hough more wives were ordered to return to their husbands than husbands were to their wives, it is not clear whether this is significant. More telling is the diffe rence in what erring husbands and wives were ordered to do, what duties of theirs were emphasized. Comparing the order given to John Yatley to those given to Katherine Atmill, Margaret Berley and Isabel Poterne reveals some interesting differences which may have been related to the ideas whic h the court and the questmen held about the roles of wife and husband. Isabel and Margaret were orde red only to live with their husbands. 247 See the chapter of marital abuse, pp. 157-68 of this document. 248 Chandler Register no. 361 (pp. 120-1).
156 Katherine was ordered to live with her husband a nd take care of him. John was sworn to treat his wife well. This may sound similar to KatherineÂ’s injunction to take care of her husband, but the citation makes it clear that the questmen were concerned more with JohnÂ’s failure to feed his wife than with th e coupleÂ’s emotional relationship. KatherineÂ’s order, on the other hand, may have related to her husbandÂ’s infirmity but certainly related to her sexual behavior. Both women were ordered to live with their husbands, whereas John Yatley was not specifically ordered to do so It seems that the questmen in general were most concerned with making sure th at wives stayed home and that husbands supported them financially. The courts seem to have pursued these same goals as best it was able. Where the court was able, as in the four cases discussed above, it acted to force spouses to do their duty to one another. In the case of Joan Jayne s, it understood that the husband who fulfilled his duties was the real husband if not the legal one and attempted to reach a compromise which respected both the letter of the law and the unity of the family that actually existed (the problem which arose later, it seems to me, was one which Shirburne had hoped would not.) The actions which the court took in these five cases show its attitude towards marriage and its duties. They show the c ourtÂ’s conscientiousness in its duties and its concern with the welfare of marriages and families. However, in other cases the court was able to do little. Isabel Gras did not appear when cited; she was suspended for contumacy, but the record does not show that th is persuaded her to return to her husband. Thomas Cornish did not appear, but was not suspended because he had not been in the area and therefore could not have been c ited. Amice Kete, accused of abandoning her
157 husband to run a brothel, purged herself, and the court did nothing. William Spore was not even required to purge himself; the court seems to have done nothing at all. The case of Andrew Fisher was treated primarily as a disputed marriage, not as an abandonment. Thus the court was only able to take acti on in half the cases of abandonment it faced. In two cases the accused parties never showed. In another tw o the court seems to have lacked the will to take action. In the fifth, it was less interested in a rumored wife outside its borders than the two or three wives which the scoundrel had accumulated within them. A fifty percent rate does not seem impressive, but the reader must remember that the cases the court faced we re those which had already resisted local efforts at a lower level. In these cases, that means that relatives, neighbors, and the local clergy had already failed before the deanÂ’s co urt was informed. As the last resort of frustrated communities, the c ourt acquitted itself well.
158 Chapter Seven Marital Abuse The social historian has a responsibility to maintain a sense of perspective about the customs of times past. To judge people by a set of standards which did not even exist in their times is both unfair and fruitless. Yet it can be very difficult to put oneÂ’s feelings aside and understand customs which are consid ered repellent by the standards of oneÂ’s own society. The issue of marital abuse chal lenges the historian becau se it persists today, and we consider marital violence, with good r eason, one of the great ev ils of our society. How, then, do we approach a society in which husbands were expected to use force to correct their wives as a matter of course? Historians differ in their ideas about how frequently and how brutally medieval husbands beat their wives. Even the mo st optimistic, however, admit that some authorities encouraged husbands to discipline their wives with force. This much seems clear from sermons and moral teachings that ha ve survived. They also admit that certain husbands were brutal, even ma iming or killing their wives; court cases and coronersÂ’ reports attest to it. However, there remain s room for considerable disagreement as to how to interpret the evidence that exists. Th e task is further comp licated by the certainty that a great deal of individua l variation existed. Whether a historian depicts the typical medieval marriage as grim and brutal or as a more-or-less-equal partnership, he or she
159 has to acknowledge the existence of both extremes and the range of marriages in between. All available sources seem to agree that a husband had the right and duty to chastise his wife, but that this right had limits. Both canon law and books of moral instruction instruct husbands to discipline their wives. However, moral instruction usually emphasizes the desirability of kindne ss or at least harmony w ithin the marriage. Canon law placed limits on a husbandÂ’s discipli ne, but these limits were Â“complicated and contested.Â” Some sources concluded that a husband could keep his wife indoors and force her to fast, but not beat her; others had it that the only real limit on a husbandÂ’s power was that he must not kill his wi fe. Still, since canon law did allow divorce a mensa et thoro for cruelty, there clearly was in practice a limit short of murder.249 Lawrence Stone is distinguished by his uns entimental, even unsympathetic view of the peasant of late medieval and early modern times. In his The Family, Sex and Marriage In England 1500-1800 he posits a family short on affection and long on violence. Stone argues that Â“married life was brutal and often hostile, with little communication [and] much wife-beating.Â” The historiographer may place him on one extreme, but even Stone admitted that many ma rriages became affectionate over time, if still cool by twentieth-century standards. He did not think that every marriage was such a nightmare as his more summ ary descriptions indicate.250 Edward ShorterÂ’s view may be even more extreme. Shorter finds that in Â“t raditional societyÂ” marital affection, and even a basic level of empathy that modern people ta ke for granted, were qui te rare. Precisely 249 James A. Brundage, Â“Domestic Violence in Classical Canon Law,Â” in Violence in Medieval Society ed. Richard W. Kaueper (Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2000), 183-95; McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture 138-45. 250 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage pp. 102-5, 116-9.
160 because of this, the husband had no other way to make his wife perform her economically important roles than by force. Thus a certain amount of wife-beating was routine.251 Barbara Hanawalt took a more optimistic view in The Ties that Bound She described the medieval English marriage as a Â“partnership marriage.Â” She recognizes two strains of medieval thought on the subject. The firs t was the Â“war between the sexes,Â” as seen in ChaucerÂ’s Wife of Bath Â’s Prologue, carvings found on misericords, and NoahÂ’s Wife in guild-sponsored Flood plays. In this view, women manipulated men by emotional and sexual blackmail, pushing men to retaliate with violence. Often the women of these depictions were as guilty of beating their husbands as vice versa However, Hanawalt argues, this view is f ound primarily in comic art, indicating that domestic conflict, includi ng violence, was somewhat exceptional and regarded as undesirable. Like the absurd ly self-centered and clueless Homer Simpson today, Uxor Noe was not intended as an accurate depiction of the average spouse. On the other hand, Hanawalt points out a number of books of advice which counsel domestic harmony, such as MyrcÂ’s Instructions for a Parish Priest and Â“How the Wise Man Taught His Son.Â”252 Hanawalt makes a strong case that domes tic harmony was an ideal. Of course, that ideal differed from our own version, and of course it was not alwa ys achieved. Still, Hanawalt points out the very low rate at whic h cases of marital violence appear in court and coronersÂ’ records. She does not claim th at the actual rate was as low as this, but rather reasons that the family and commun ity were usually successful in regulating 251 Shorter, Making of the Modern Family 56-65. 252 Hanawalt, The Ties that Bound 205-7. Hanawalt uses MyrcÂ’s Instructions for a Parish Priest and Â“How the Wise Man Taught His Son.Â” as examples of th e sort of instructional literature that existed in the late Middle Ages. Both seem to originate in late medieval England, probably not long before ChandlerÂ’s time, although their exact dates of composition are not known.
161 violence within marriages. Of course, thes e were not perfect mechanisms, but Hanawalt downplays this: Â“It is entirely possible that a wife or husband took a hard knock from a spouse from time to time, and that the ne ighbors would not complain as long as the situation was not routine.Â” Thus marital viol ence did exist, but the regulatory efforts of family and community were largely effective.253 In a later work, Â“Violence in the Domestic Milieu of Late Medieval England,Â” Hanawalt makes a strong argument that such violence was relatively rare. She points out the very low rate at which cases of marital violence appear in court records. While she admits that many cases no doubt never came to c ourt, she takes issue with historians who classify all corporal punishment of wives as Â“violence.Â” Many pare nts today feel that they have not only the right but the duty to apply Â“physical correcti onÂ” to their children, so long as they avoid excess and cruelty; mediev al people had the same idea about wives. She argues that in the medieval Â“partnership marriage,Â” wives made a very large economic contribution to the household, which ma de them too valuable for the sensible husband to abuse. Drawing on the works of anthropologists such as David Levinson, she finds four factors in the peas ant village which mitigated martial violence: the people of the village lived close together; family me mbers had close affective ties; so did the women of the village; and the valu e system (as seen in preachersÂ’ exempla and other works of moral inst ruction) encouraged domestic harmony.254 Sara ButlerÂ’s recent work addresses the s ubject in greater depth. Butler draws on the work of social historians like Hanawalt and legal historians lik e Helmholz to create 253 Ibid., 207-14. 254 Hanawalt, Â“Violence in the Domestic Milieu of Late Medieval England,Â” in Violence in Medieval Society ed. Richard W. Kaueper (Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2000), 197-214.
162 the fullest treatment yet of the subject. Sh e emphasizes the cultural, social and legal frameworks that controlled violence with in marriage. Manly behavior included controlling oneÂ’s wife; undisciplined behavior on her part reflected badly on her husband. He was allowed to Â“chastiseÂ” her in order to accomplish this discipline. However, the people of medieval England regarded excessi ve or abusive chastisement as unmanly. Thus manly behavior as a husband require d striking a golden mean in which a man disciplined his wife without cr uelty. This was easier with some wives than others, and men accused of abuse often blamed it on the shrewishness of their wives. Of course, everyone had his or her own id ea of where the line lay be tween acceptable chastisement and brutality. However, the medieval idea of abuse included not only physical violence but Â“spiritual, economic, psychological, perh aps even verbalÂ” forms. Thus a harsh beating would be regarded as abuse, but so would economic deprivation or even emotional cruelty.255 Butler sees an established multi-level syst em in place in late medieval English society for dealing with marital violence. Family, friends and neighbors all shared responsibility for monitoring a coupleÂ’s life. If a husband had a heavy hand, they would use their influence to moderate his behavi or. In a world so connected, and where reputation was so important, this influence could be quite effective. Guilds and confraternities may have played a similar ro le. Furthermore, their plays demonstrated how men and women should and sh ould not act. Parish prie sts performed a similar role with their sermons, and also us ed their authority to intervene in troubled marriages. If a 255 Butler, The Language of Abuse: Martial Violence in Later Medieval England (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007).
163 marriage became intolerable, the community might turn a blind eye towards a selfdivorce or consensual abduction. In other cases, an abus ed wife might apply for a divorce a mensa et thoro on grounds of saevitia (cruelty). Butler finds that in general this system was effective. The genuinely abusive husband was exceptional.256 However, Butler also acknowle dges a great deal of divers ity of attitudes in late medieval England. Laymen differed from prie sts; the laity had a lo wer standard for the level of cruelty required to justify a divorce, but also acted to protect murderers from the fatal consequences of crimes of passion. Th e north of England differed from the south; the south manifested a greater tendency to use the secular courts to achieve the sort of social control shown in McIntoshÂ’s Controlling Misbehavior Men differed from women; women complaining of cruelty we re likely to stress physical abuse, but male jurors and judges showed more concern about economic and spiritual deprivation and about adultery.257 The register of John Chandler contains onl y four examples of marital abuse. As Hanawalt observed for secular courts, such cases are rare in the court records. Nevertheless these cases do show the court a nd the community struggl ing with issues of how much husbandly discipline was too much. On 17 July 1405, the questmen of Frome Whitfield [Frome W hytefeld] reported that Â“John Warham beat his wife [Joan] so th at she gave birth to a still-born child and died immediately after, intestate.Â” The menti on of the still-born child implies that those in the community who disapproved blamed John for both deaths. The last word of the 256 Ibid. 257 Ibid.
164 accusation is important because the questmen also presented John for conspiring with John Jordan, the parish chaplain, to forge a wi ll. Money was an issue, then, and perhaps some of the people who said these things about John had expected to be included in JoanÂ’s will. Alternately, they may have b een relatives hoping to reclaim JoanÂ’s dowry. Rarely did a married woman control enough property for her will to be an issue. If JoanÂ’s was, then she probably came from a wealthy family. Her family may have blamed John for her death shortly after childbirth and been suspicious of her will. If they were wealthy, they likely had the influence to make the questmen take their complaints seriously.258 Whether or not John caused his wifeÂ’s d eath, he must have shown no remorse in court. If Master Shirburne took the accusation seriously, he may have confronted John and tried to make him confess. If Joan di d have an influential family who blamed John, they may have done the same. All this is speculation, however, and for all the record shows there may have been no courtroom dram a at all. In any case, John denied all charges. He was given time to collect oath-h elpers and four months later he successfully purged. In the end, then, the court did nothi ng. There was little it could do against an accused who kept his head and produced oath-helpers. The combination of a cool head, high status, and plenty of friends may have al lowed John to get away with murder. On the other hand, the suspicions of the community would likely have been very difficult to prove. Death in childbed, while not as comm on as Stone and Shorte r would have it, was common enough, and who could prove that it was re lated to a particular beating? Only the coroner, and he was a royal not a Chur ch official. John might even have been 258 Chandler Register no. 16 (p. 10).
165 accused unjustly by a greedy family, or by a grieving family lashing out. The court seems to have made no effort to take act ion against JohnÂ’s alleged accomplice, John Jordan, the parish chaplain. This was t ypical; ChandlerÂ’s cour t rarely punished clergymen or even forced them to purge.259 The outcome of JohnÂ’s case tells us more about the system of purgation in general than about the courtÂ’s approach to cases of marital violence in particular. A case in Beaminster five days later demonstrates mo re about the courtÂ’s approach to cases of marital violence specifically. The questmen reported that Â“Robert Colyngdon ill-treats his wife, stripping and beating her with rods and binding her with ir on chains.Â” In John WarhamÂ’s case, the court was only told that he Â“beat his wifeÂ” and the fatal result. This citation, by contrast, is detailed enough to give us an idea of what sort of behavior was severe enough to qualify as abuse by the sta ndards of village questmen. Robert not only beat his wife, he beat her with rods. Pe rhaps the questmen would have overlooked the occasional blow delivered with the bare hand, but the use of a stick (on a regular basis, the text implies) was beyond the pale. Th e reference to Â“strippingÂ” her might mean simply that he stripped her before each b eating, emphasizing his cruelty. However, in light of ButlerÂ’s observation that men were more concerned with allegations of neglect than of abuse, it seems possible that this detail was included to emphasize the former. The image of Robert stripping his wife em phasizes his depriving her of the basic necessities of life, which may have been more important than the beating to the questmen and the court. Likewise, the allegation that he chained her up implies deprivation. The chaining was both cruel and humiliating, but thes e aspects may have mattered less to the 259 Ibid.
166 men of Beaminster than others Â– that it kept her isolated from family and Church, or that she may not have been able to ob tain food and shelter while chained.260 Like John, Robert denied the charges. Unlike John, however, he had a wife who was still alive to testif y. She affirmed all the charges. John did not purge himself. The court may have denied him the opportunity because of his wife Â– either because her testimony contradicted his, or out of concern for her well-being. But he may simply have been unable to obtain enough oath-helpers. If as Butler claims, a reputation as a wifebeater made one unmanly, this may have discou raged potential oath-helpers. In any case, the court treated Robert as guilty, but it was not interested in punish ing him or dissolving the marriage. Instead, the court forced him to swear Â– on the gospels Â– to treat her well. If he failed to do so, he would pay a penalty of 40 shillings Â– half to go to the dean and half to the upkeep of the chapel.261 Shirburne did not order that Robert be beat en. Perhaps he felt that such treatment would only increase RobertÂ’s hostility towa rds his wife. However, if Hanawalt and Butler are correct that the wife-abuser was a ra re individual, Shirburne may have felt that the average man of the community did not need a deterrent. If th e culture was already effective in preventing most marital violen ce, then it may have seemed obvious to the average husband that treating his wife cruelly was more trouble than it was worth, as it would cause him trouble both with her and with his neighbors. In any case, it seems that ShirburneÂ’s only concern was to prevent furthe r abuse by Robert and that he felt that a sacred oath backed by the threat of a cr ippling fine was the best way to do so.262 260 Chandler Register no. 25 (pp. 15-16). 261 Ibid. 262 Ibid.
167 The case of John Winter [Wynter], pres ented by the questmen of Harnham on 27 October 1408, reinforces ButlerÂ’s point that negl ect of a wife was of more interest to men or officials than beating. Th e indictment stated generically that John Â“ill-treats his wifeÂ”; the only detail given was that he Â“refuses her f ood.Â” Whatever else he did to her, starving his wife was the thing that st ood out as the most dramatic or the most important of his offenses. The questmen mentioned it either because it impressed them or because they expected it to impress the court. John, like the previous two, denied the charge. However, unlike in RobertÂ’s case, there is no record of his wi fe testifying. She may have refused to do so or been unavailable for some other reason (perhaps she was too weak from hunger). The lack of her testimony may be why John was given the chance to purge. The register, which usually does not mention the number of compurgators required, in this case specified that John must purge six-handed. This may have been the usual practice, so this detail may be unim portant, but it may have been included to remind the court, when he appeared to purge, that he was not to be granted the courtÂ’s indulgence. If so, this may be an indicat or that the court t ook these charges more seriously than most. It would make sense for the court to do so; the ve ry rarity of reports of marital violence in the register hints th at in the cases which do appear, the questmen were quite certain that the husbandÂ’s behavi or went well beyond the bounds of acceptable discipline. Unfortunately, the register does not record what came next, and so we do not know whether or not John Winter managed to purge.263 263 Chandler Register no. 237 (pp. 87-8).
168 The case of John Yatley, reported by the questmen of Ramsbury [Remmesbury] on 13 July 1412, involves abandonment a nd is discussed in that chapter.264 However, this case bears such similarities to other cases re ported as abuse that it seems appropriate to this chapter as well. The citation stated th at Â“John Yatley left hi s wife and denies her food but sells his goods and spends the money elsewhere.Â” Although the questmen mention the abandonment, they clearly put more emphasis on the denial of food. This is the detail that makes the case important. They even make it clear that John could have fed her if he had wished. When a poor coupl e separated, each of them might have trouble making ends meet without the benefits of a Â“partnership marriage.Â” But the citation explains that John is making money (perhaps as a merchant) but spending it on things other than food for his wife. This implies th at feeding his wife s hould be a manÂ’s first financial priority (again, this is in accord w ith ButlerÂ’s account of medieval English ideas of manliness). JohnÂ’s priorities are wrong. His abandonment, like John WinterÂ’s other offenses (whatever they were), and perhaps even like Robert ColyngdonÂ’s harsh beatings, was secondary. The graver sin was hi s failure to provide for his wife.265 Like the other three, John Yatley denied all the charges. But, as in Robert ColyngdonÂ’s case, his denial was not accepted. This time, however, there is no indication that his wife testified. Still, either he was unable to purge or the court did not allow him to. Like Robert, he had to sw ear to Â“treat his wife wellÂ” on penalty of a very large fine, in this case twenty shillings. Despite a lack of dramatic de tails such as rods and iron chains, then, John YatleyÂ’s case was treated almost exactly like Robert ColyngdonÂ’s. 264 See pp. 153-4 of this document. 265 Chandler Register no. 361 (pp. 120-1).
169 Yatley was not ordered to return to his wife, as wives who abandoned their husbands were, but to Â“treat his wife well.Â” While this may have been meant to include such details as payment of the marital debt, in the context of the accusation it reads primarily like an instruction to support her financially.266 Although four cases provide little enough to base an analysis on, a few patterns do seem clear. All four husbands denied the ch arges. If men regarded wife abuse as shameful and unmanly, this would be what we should expect. In two of the cases, compurgation was possible; in the other tw o, it seems not to have been. Where compurgation was not made, in both cases the court made the offender swear to treat his wife better on pain of a fine. The fine wa s twenty shillings in one case, and twenty shillings to each of two entit ies in the other, suggesting th at twenty shillings may have been the standard fine, doubled in an esp ecially egregious case. Indictments by the questmen tended to emphasize a husbandÂ’s failure to care for his wife properly over other factors, even physical violence. The court took allegations of abuse seriously and acted to correct abusers. The courtÂ’s actions in this area are consis tent with those in other areas such as adultery and abandonment: it took action where it could, and its motives were largely to strengthen marriage and to make husbands and wives perform their duties to one another. 266 Ibid.
170 Chapter Eight Conclusion Over the three visitations recorded in D ean ChandlerÂ’s register, the deanÂ’s court visited one hundred ten villages. In the fi fty-eight villages which had business for the court, it judged some three hundred fifty cases of adultery, fornication, disputed marriages, abandonment, and marital abuse. By the numbers alone, it seems clear that the court formed an important part of the v illagesÂ’ system of soci al control. Dean ChandlerÂ’s court was often the last step of a process of social control which probably began with subtle changes in the attitude s of fellow villagers and escalated through a series of interventions by relatives, friends, community leaders, and local clergy. If the community found itself unable to correct a sinne r by these means, it then turned to the deanÂ’s court, which had gr eater authority and power. The court had its limitations. Dean Cha ndler was an ambitious politician as well as a priest, and he had no inte rest in offending the powerful. The court seems to have made little effort to pursue indictments against the influential, the wealthy, or priests. It even dismissed some cases at the insistence of powerful individuals. The court used the system of compurgation, which depended on reputation rather than on circumstantial evidence or eyewitness testimony. Thus a guilty person might be exonerated on the strength of a few trusting friends, while t hose who had few friends or poor reputations were vulnerable to false charges. Furt hermore, the court faced limitations on its
171 jurisdiction and powers. It neve r covered all the villages of Salisbury diocese in the first place, as its authority was ba sed in the deanÂ’s control over the prebends, and it had no power outside of the diocese. Thus some cases were dismissed because the offender had left the village. The court could only hear certain types of cases Â– those relating to Church property, fulfillment of religious duties, sexual in continence and marriage. Its power to punish was limited to the imposition of penance or, in more extreme cases, suspension or excommunication. Master ShirburneÂ’s actions as judge of th e court show that where there was a will, there was often a way to circumvent these limitations. The court was ineffective at prosecuting influential individuals because Dean Chandler did not wish it to do so, and it seems to have refrained from attempting to ex ceed the borders of its jurisdiction. Still, it was often effective despite its limitations. Shirburne seems to have found ways to compensate for the faults of the compurgati on system and for the limited nature of the courtÂ’s powers. The system of abjuration offered Shirbur ne a way to admonish even sinners who managed to purge themselves. Over 40% of t hose whom the court forced to abjure from adultery had successfully purged themselves. Shirburne may have felt that, oath-helpers or no, these parties had most likely sinned a nd would likely continue to do so. Even though the nature of the form of trial which the court used prevented him from punishing their past sins, he could still act to prevent them from repea ting their sins in the future. How effective abjuration really was in pr actice is another matter, one which is unfortunately beyond the scope of this study. Th e significant point here is that Shirburne found a way past the limitations of the compurgation system.
172 If this method of trial co uld be too lenient towards those who had easy access to oath-helpers, it could be too harsh on the rootless, the friendless, and those whose reputations were alread y tarnished. Here Master Shirbur ne, who seems to have taken the ChurchÂ’s teachings on mercy seriously, was ev en more active in manipulating the system to achieve the results he wished. By gran ting the courtÂ’s indulgence, he could make it much easier for an individual to purge by accepting an oath backed by fewer compurgators than usual. He seems to have used this power liberally to achieve his idea of justice. However, the details on which he must have based his decision to grant the courtÂ’s indulgence rarely made it into the register. In the 1405 and 1412 visitations, he seems to have granted the courtÂ’s indulgence (or withheld it) by village rather than by individual, for reasons which remain obscure. Nevertheless, he does not seem to have used this power arbitrarily, but judiciously, bot h to achieve justice and to temper it with mercy. The courtÂ’s power of punishment was also limited. It could impose suspension, a minor form of excommunicati on, or it could impose penan ce. It used its power of suspension mostly on those who failed to appear before the court when summoned, denying the benefits of membership in the Christian community to those who failed to abide by their responsibi lities towards it. It imposed pe nance on those who confessed or who tried and failed to purge. The pena nce which Shirburne usually imposed was no mere matter of prayer and charity, but was a public shaming and beating. This probably did have a real power of deterrence. Howeve r, the court often accepted fines in lieu of fustigation. This allowed it to collect fines from those it convicted even though it had no power to levy fines directly.
173 Thus despite its limitations, Dean Cha ndlerÂ’s court often found an effective way to solve the problems which the village que stmen brought before it. Chandler and Shirburne allowed the court significant latitude to pursue its goals. These goals included the cure of souls, the admini stration of justice, and the a dvancement of the Church. Yet the goal which stands out most clearly from this study is the protection and nurturance of marriage. As judge, Shirburne acted consis tently to promote marital harmony and to cause husbands and wives to fulfill their duties to one another. Although the register is a darker glass w ith which to see them, other parties were also active in using the system, even manipula ting it, to achieve their goals. The village questmen acted to fulfill their duties to their villages and to the Church. Sometimes they had problems which they knew were the courtÂ’ s business, but they were unsure how to present them. In these cases they presented sinners for whatever charge seemed the most appropriate, provided relevant de tails, and let the courts sort it out. In some villages, questmen even paid the fines for the sinners whom they themselves had presented. In these cases, they may have been acting as patrons, or they may have been trying to resolve a conflict they felt between their du ty to report recalcitrant sinners and their sympathy for those they reported. However, questmen were not motivated by pure duty. No group of questmen ever reported one of its own, and it seems likely that their closest friends and family were afforded a certain degree of protection. Meanwhile, those who clashed with the questmen Â– whether thugs w ho threatened them or local clergymen who took too many liberties Â– often found themselv es reported for multiple offenses and had a difficult time obtai ning oath-helpers.
174 The accused were also interested parties, and they used a variety of strategies when presented to the deanÂ’s court. Some people Â– especially women accused of fornication Â– simply did not a ppear. Some of these left th e village permanently; others were eventually persuaded (or coerced) to appear; in some cases they may have remained in the village but managed to remain out of court permanently. Some of the accused appeared before the court and confessed im mediately, while others denied the charges and sought to purge themselves. Some of the latter may have pleaded their poor and friendless condition in an attemp t to obtain a grant of the courtÂ’s indulgence. Most of those who were convicted paid a fine rather than suffer a humiliati ng public beating. At every stage, those accused must have aimed their testimony to obtain the most favorable result. As other historians have shown, ordinary English peasants often showed a remarkable understanding of the law under these circumstances. The case of Joan Jaynes, abandoned wife with a disputed sec ond marriage, demonstrates how an ordinary villager could make resourceful legal arguments when pressed. In studying court documents, the historia n can see the interaction of several groups, all of them interacting while each s eeks its own ends. Although these documents often lack the details one might wish, the study of the wo rks of other historians often allows one to fill in the ga ps, albeit with speculation. Such a picture can only be tentative, but to a degree which scholars onl y recently thought impossible, the historian today can show how medieval villages, in conj unction with their ecclesiastical and legal authorities, acted to control the sexual behavior and regulate the marriages of their villagers. Individual villagers helped to re gulate each other while acting both without and within the system to ma ximize their own freedom.
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180 Sins Reported in Dean ChandlerÂ’s Register
182 Adultery in Dean ChandlerÂ’s Register
184 Fornication in Dean ChandlerÂ’s Register