Richard Chevircourt and Margery Phillips c. Robert Dow

The making of a marriage in the fifteenth-century diocese of London was a process rather a single event. One common path was the making of the contract of marriage, an unbreakable bond, in a domestic setting with a few close friends and relations as witnesses, followed by several weeks or longer of preparations before a church wedding or solemnization. Before a solemnization, the parish priest(s) of the prospective bride and groom was to read out banns of marriage – official announcements of an upcoming wedding – to the congregation on three successive Sundays or holy days. Anyone who knew that one of the parties had made a prior contract of marriage with a third party had the obligation to “cry out” against the banns, which would put a halt to the plans for solemnization of the marriage while the issue was investigated. In this 1490 case, Margery Phillips and Richard Chevircourt had asked the chaplain serving at the church of Basildon in the parish of Laindon, Essex, to call the banns between them. The chaplain suspected that Margery had previously contracted with another man, Robert Dow, but that Robert had been bribed to stay silent when the banns were called. The parish priest’s testimony suggests the informal ways those who had made marriage contracts might quietly agree afterwards to pretend it hadn’t happened and the priest’s own sense of responsibility for probing the situation.

LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065 76v-77r

Testimony of Sir Thomas Gilderson, 26 Oct. 1490

Faith term,[1] in the year [14]90

On behalf of Richard Chevircourt and Margery Phillips c. Robert Dow alias Daw

26 October, before the lord Official, in his house of residence, in my, Richard Spencer’s, presence

Sir Thomas Gilderson, chaplain of Basildon [Essex], parish of Laindon, [diocese of] London, where he has lived for half a year, of free condition, fifty-one years old as he says. He says that he has known Richard Chevircourt and Margery Philipps for half a year and more, and Robert Dow for three or four years. To the first article, he says that around the feast of the nativity of St. John the Baptist [24 June] last past, Richard and Margery admitted that they had contracted marriage together, with no other parties present, Henry Detyly and John Rawlyn witnessing this admission. And otherwise he has nothing to depose concerning its contents. To the second and third articles, he says that their contents are true. To the fourth article, he says that around the feast of St. John, this witness publicly in the church of Basildon issued banns between Richard and Margery. Robert Daw had previously, as he had heard, contracted with this woman; although he knew about the issuing of the banns, as this witness told him about it, he said nothing against the issuing of the banns. Afterwards, letters were presented to this witness to solemnize marriage between them [presumably Richard and Margery?]. Having heard that Robert had previously received a certain cow from Margery’s mother, he guessed that because of receiving this cow Robert was keeping quiet, and so this witness called the said Robert before him and examined him about whether he had contracted with the said Margery. He said yes, and that he would affirm it before a judge. Then this witness cited him by authority of the said letters to appear in the church of St. Paul[2] on the Friday following so that he might speak to his reclamation against the banns. And he says that because Robert asserted to him that he had contracted marriage with Margery, this witness refrained from and was absent from the solemnization of marriage between Margery and the said Richard. And otherwise he has nothing to depose about its contents. To the fifth article, he says that the things he has said above are true, and he has nothing to depose concerning the fame.

[1] The fall term of business at the ecclesiastical court, normally called Michaelmas term but here sometimes called Faith, began on the day following the feast of St. Faith, 7 Oct. Cheney, Handbook, 73.

[2] St. Paul’s cathedral, London, the usual location for the Consistory court.

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