An apprentice goldsmith named John Kendall sued Isabel (sometimes called Elizabeth) Willy to enforce a contract of marriage he claimed that he had made with her. Kendall’s witnesses presented only circumstantial evidence – that Willy had acknowledged multiple times that she had previously made a contract of marriage with Kendall and that she had received multiple marriage gifts – but none claimed to have witnessed the actual exchange of binding words. Willy herself wholly denied it when she was examined. Both Willy’s examination and the witnesses’ statements include interesting details: her rather convoluted denials that the various items and coins she had exchanged with Kendall were anything but “tokens,” gifts signifying marriage; Kendall’s apprentice-master intervening to stop his servant from neglecting his work to spend time with this young woman; a widower who had become a chaplain in the cathedral church of St. Paul and yet remained integrated into the household of his goldsmith son.
LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065, fols. 108v-109r, 110r, 113r-114r
Testimony of Richard Braunthwayte, 28 Mar. 1492
On behalf of John Kendall c. Elizabeth Willy.
Richard Braunthwayte of the parish of St. Nicholas in Lombard Street, London, where he has lived for a year and more, literate, of free condition, thirty years old and more, as he says. Inducted as a witness, etc., he says that he has known John Kendall and Elizabeth Willy for a year. Questioned further concerning the contents of the libel, he says that he knows only that on a certain day about three quarters of a year ago, in this witness’s dwelling house and in his presence and the presence of others whom he does not now recall, Elizabeth admitted and recognized to this witness, after he questioned her, that she had contracted marriage with John Kendall and that she would never renounce that contract, as she asserted. And in a similar way this witness heard Elizabeth many other times [say this] both before and after that time, and both before and after that time this witness heard John affirming it. And he says that since the feast of St Michael and before last Christmas John gave this witness a certain galleyman’s brooch to be conveyed by this witness to Elizabeth, and when this witness presented Elizabeth with the brooch on John’s behalf, Elizabeth kissed the brooch and received it thankfully, and put it into her purse, saying, “I know it well, I know I gave it him before for a token.” And he says that what he testified above is true, and public voice and fame circulated and circulate in the said parish and in the parish of St. Edmund and other neighbouring places that John and Elizabeth contracted marriage together. To the first interrogatory, he says as he said above. To the second, third, and fourth interrogatories, he says as he said above. And otherwise he has nothing to testify about its contents. To the fifth interrogatory, he says that he does not care which party has victory as long as justice is done, and to its other contents he responds negatively. To the sixth interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents as far as it regards himself. To the seventh interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents.
Response of Isabel Willy, 17 Apr. 1492
Responses made personally by Isabel Willy, 17 April, A.D. 92, in the house of Master Richard Spencer before Master Richard Blodewell etc. in my, Richard Wood’s, presence.
Isabel Willy sworn and diligently examined on the positions etc. To the first position, she answers negatively to all its contents. To the second position, she says that many times John Kendall made advances to this witness to have her as his wife, and she always answered him negatively, saying to him that she would rather die than have him as her husband. To the third position, she responds negatively to all its contents. To the fourth position, she says that this witness gave John Kendall no gifts nor did she receive any gifts from John Kendall. But she says that on a certain day around the last feast of Pentecost John came to this witness and borrowed from her 4 d., with the intention that she would have them back with at least another 4 d. for them. And that on a certain day immediately before the last feast of Pentecost, John Kendall gave this witness a set of beads, asking this witness to give the beads back to a certain painter, that is in English a stainer, living next to the Tower of London, which stainer at that time frequently went to his sister’s house next to this witness’s parents’ house. Further she said that she lent John Kendall two kerchiefs, in English breast kerchiefs, because John’s shirt was very dirty and stained, and although this witness has asked and appealed to John many times to return the kerchiefs, he put it off and still puts it off. And to its other contents she responds negatively. To the fifth, she says that what she said above as the truth is true. To the sixth, she denies the fame.
Testimony of Sir Martin Jelyf, [?]1 July 1492
On behalf of Kendall c. [Willy]
Sir Martin Jelyf, chaplain of the cathedral church of St. Paul, London, where he has lived for thirteen years and more, seventy-three years old as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known John Kendall for a year and more, and Elizabeth Willy for half a year. To the first and second articles, he says that has nothing to testify regarding their contents. To the second article, he says that on a certain day, after noon, between the feasts of Christmas and the Purification, which day he cannot further specify, this witness was present in the hall of Richard Jelyf’s dwelling house in the parish of St. Bartholomew the Less in Bread Street ward of the City of London, together with other of Richard’s servants, first one and then another at different times. There and then this witness, in John Kendall’s presence, examined Elizabeth about whether she had ever contracted with John Kendall. She answered yes, saying in English, “I have made a contract with him and he is my husband before God,” John himself then saying these words in English, “And she is my wife before God.” To the fourth article, he says that he has nothing to testify regarding its contents. To the fifth article, he says that he has nothing to testify regarding its contents other than what he testified above. To the sixth, he says that what he said above is true, and he has nothing to testify regarding the fame. To the first, second, and third interrogatories, he says that he happened to be present there because he is of the table and in the commons of Richard Jelyf, his son, and otherwise he has nothing to testify other than what he testified above. To the fourth interrogatory, he says that Elizabeth when she spoke the words as aforesaid was sitting next to this witness and ate bread and afterwards drank ale, and John stood before this witness similarly eating bread and drinking ale, and otherwise he has nothing to testify regarding its contents. To the fifth, he says that he does not love John more than Elizabeth, nor does he care about the victory as long as justice is done. To its other contents he responds negatively. To the sixth interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents. To the seventh, he responds negatively to all its contents.
Testimony of Richard Jelyf, [?]1 July 1492
Richard Jelyf, goldsmith of the parish of St. Bartholomew the Less in Breadstreet ward of the city of London, where he has lived for twelve years and more, literate, of free condition, thirty-five years old or thereabouts as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known John Kendall for a year and more, and that he first saw Elizabeth Willy on the day about which he will testify below. To the first and second articles, he says that he has nothing to testify about their contents. To the third article, he says that on a certain day before noon and between the hours of eight and ten, on a day before or after Christmas but which he cannot otherwise specify, this witness went to [Whaplode’s dwelling house in the aforesaid parish] and there he found Elizabeth. When she saw him, she became somewhat embarrassed as it appeared to this witness, and kneeling before him she gave him worship. He questioned her then about where she lived, and she answered that she lived with a certain Alyn, goldsmith, living in Lombard street. This witness said to her, “Mistress, well met, you be she that letteth my servant from my service and occupation by your divers drawing him and sending for him.” And immediately he said to the wife of William Whaplode, “Sister, because you unknowing to me suffer my servant and this damsel to draw to your house, through which my service is hindered, I warn you out of my house but if ye amend it.” And William Whaplode’s wife responded and said, “Sir, I pray you take no displeasure for this, for there is another matter than ye be aware of.” And this said to Elizabeth, “Fair mistress, what matter is between my servant and you that you resort hither as ye do?” And she said, “Sir, I pray you take no displeasure with him, for he is my husband before God,” there being present and hearing this the wife of William Whaplode and no others. And otherwise he has nothing to testify regarding its contents. To the fourth and fifth articles, he says that he has nothing to testify regarding its contents. To the sixth article, he says that what he said above is true, and that concerning fame he has nothing to testify regarding its contents. To the first, second, and third interrogatories, he says as he said above, and otherwise he has nothing to testify regarding its contents. To the fourth interrogatory, he says as he said above. And he says that Elizabeth at that time was standing speaking with this witness and that they neither drank nor ate during the time that this witness was present. To the fifth interrogatory, he says that this witness is John Kendall’s master and that John is this witness’s employee. And he says that he does not favour one party more than the other, nor does he care who has victory as long as justice is done. To its other contents he responds negatively. To the sixth and seventh interrogatories, he responds negatively to all their contents as far as his knowledge goes.
 Somewhat confusingly for us, Isabel and Elizabeth were used interchangeably in English documents in this period, treated as different forms of the same name (and indeed they both derived from the biblical name Elisheva).
 St. Nicholas Acon.
 29 Sept.
 A “galleyman” was a merchant from Genoa; this presumably refers to a brooch imported from Italy.
 St. Edmund King and Martyr, on Lombard Street.
 The feast of Pentecost (the seventh Sunday following Easter) was on 22 May in 1491.
 MS: Jelyf; it is assumed this is an error for Willy.
 Sic, an error in the numbering of the articles.
 2 Feb.
 To be married “before God” signified that the two had made vows of marriage without witnesses, so that God knew they had made a sacramental bond, but they were not married “before man” until they had repeated those vows in front of earthly witnesses who could testify in court.
 To be in commons: to eat at a common table (OED, s.v. commons, II.3.c).
 Although it seems odd to modern readers that a late medieval Catholic priest would have a son, it was by no means unknown for widowers to enter the priesthood in late adulthood in later medieval England. R. N. Swanson notes that monitions directed at ordinands warned that men who had married twice or had married a widow could not be ordained, but a once-married widower could become a priest (Church and Society in Late Medieval England [Oxford: Blackwell, 1989], 42-43, 58). It is also possible, of course, that Richard Jelyf was an illegitimate son, but if so Sir Martin was remarkably open about it (in addition to indicating Richard was his son, he notes that he customarily ate at Richard’s house). Although the Latin refers to Richard as Martin’s “filium naturalem,” in fifteenth-century English usage this did not connote illegitimacy; it simply means that he is Martin’s biological, rather than adopted son or step-son.
Unfortunately, the ordination lists for the diocese of London for most of the second half of the fifteenth century are missing, so we do not know when Martin Jelyf became a priest. A Martin Jolyf of Westminster, a layman, is mentioned in an entry in the Close Rolls in 1473. Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward IV: volume 2: 1468-1476 (1953), no. 1202. As Martin was not then a common English name, it is likely this is the same man.
 This phrase was deleted, presumably mistakenly as it is necessary to the narrative that follows.