The town of Stanford Rivers, Essex, saw a drama of thwarted love and premarital pregnancy in 1489 and 1490. Christian Hilles and Robert Padley, two servants who worked for the same employer, courted seriously with one another between March and October 1489, exchanging gifts and talk of marriage. According to local rumour, they had a literal tumble in the hay in the summer of 1489 and she became pregnant. As Padley himself and several of the witnesses indicated, their (unnamed) employer was displeased with this situation. Around early November, either the employer or Padley himself arranged for the pregnant Christian to be removed to London (an action described as an abduction by one witness). Padley himself denied that the baby was his and claimed that any promise of marriage he made had been conditional on her chaste behaviour. Christian’s witnesses, however, not only reported rumours they had slept together but his own declaration that the child “is no man’s but mine.” By May 1490 when Christian Hilles sued Robert Padley in the Consistory, she must have delivered the baby.
LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065, fols. 72v-74r
Response of Robert Padley, 24 May 1490
Responses made personally by Robert Padley, 24 May of the year etc. 90
Robert Padley, sworn etc. on the positions etc. To the first and second positions, he says that on a certain day last Lent a year ago [March-April 1489], which day he cannot otherwise specify, this witness asked the said Christian, sitting by the fire in Richard Lister’s house in Stanford Rivers [Essex], whether she could find it in her heart to love this witness and have him for her husband. She immediately asked this witness when the nuptials would be celebrated between them, and this witness said around the following feast of St. Michael [29 September]. And Christian responded in return that she believed that this witness’s master would not permit them to wed while this witness still had to complete the terms of his service. And he did not have further communication with her for the whole time that he was in service in the said house nor after, up until the last feast of St. Michael, because around that feast this witness heard that Christian […]. This witness went to the same house of John Poynam of the aforesaid parish and there, in the presence of a certain man named Gip and the said Poynam’s wife, he said to Christian that he had heard that she was pregnant. She denied it, and said thus, “I deserved never for child with you, nor with none other man.” And then this witness said to her, “If ye be a good woman and will keep you a good woman, by my faith I will have you to my wife.” And she answered, “By my faith, I am a good woman.” And he does not believe the position’s other contents. To the third position, he does not believe it. To the fourth position, he says that this witness on many occasions gave Christian money for the sake of the marriage between them, because he believed her to be a good woman and chaste. And among other things he gave her a pair of shoes and a pair of gloves. Christian gave to this witness a silk lace, a trefoil, and a lamb of God [agnus dei] made of silk, and he received these gifts for the sake of the marriage that was to be had between them. To the fifth position, he answers as he answered above. And he does not believe the other contents of the position. To the sixth and seventh positions, he says that fame circulated and circulates concerning it in the parish of Stanford that this witness would take Christian as his wife. And this witness would have done that, as he says, if Christian had guarded her chastity. But because she is now pregnant and not by this witness as he says, he does not wish to have her as his wife.
Testimony of John Gip, 9 Jun. 1490
9 June in the church of St. Paul, London, by the lord official in my, Richard Spencer’s, presence
John Gip of Stanford Rivers, London diocese, where he has lived for thirty years, illiterate, of free condition, fifty-eight years old or thereabouts, as he says. Inducted as a witness, etc., he says that he has known Christian Hilles for three years, and Robert Padley for twelve years. To the first and second articles, he says that on a certain day falling between the feasts of St. Michael [29 Sept.] and All Hallows [1 Nov.] last past, which day he cannot further specify, Alice Poynam, Christian’s sister, on behalf (as she said) of the said Robert, sent for this witness to come to Alice’s house, situated in Stanford. When he came there he found Christian, and within a short time Robert arrived. After he came, Robert said that he had sent for this witness to bear witness to the things that would be said there, and then he said, “I have made a contract with Christian Hilles, she is my wife and I am her husband, none of us may forsake the other before God.” And Christian affirmed the same thing, that is, that he was her husband and that she neither could nor would give him up, and otherwise he knows nothing to depose concerning its contents. To the third article, he says that he believes that its contents are true, and because they were servants in one and the same house, and were greatly in one another’s company, and in the summer this witness saw them alone together in the meadow turning the hay, fame circulated that he had impregnated her. To the fourth article, he says that its contents are true as far as he learned from Christian. To the fifth article, he says as he said above. To the sixth article, he says that its contents are true as far as he knows, and concerning it and the other aforementioned things public voice and fame for a long time circulated and circulate in Stanford and other neighbouring places. To the first interrogatory, he says as he said above. To the second, third, and fourth interrogatories, he says as he said above. And he says that at the time of the saying of those words, there was no condition added, but rather the words were spoken simply, at least in the form about which he testified above. And otherwise he has nothing to depose concerning its contents. To the fifth interrogatory, he says as he said above. And otherwise he knows nothing to depose concerning its contents.
Testimony of John Merden, 9 Jun. 1490
John Merden of Tarley, where he has lived for half a year, and before that time at the aforesaid Stanford for five years, illiterate, of free condition, twenty years of age. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known Christian Hilles for almost two years, Robert Padley for a year and more. To the first and second articles of the said libel, he says that on a certain Sunday falling around the last feast of St. Michael the Archangel [29 Sept.], this witness, asked by Robert, came with him to the house of a certain man named Poynam, and there they found her and the wife of the said Poynam, Christian’s sister, sitting by the fire. Robert spoke to her in the following way, that is, “Christian, ye shall to London. It is not his will I should have you. I have brought here Merden to be record how it standeth between you and me. How say ye, will ye keep the covenants ye have made with me?” And she answered yes. Robert said, “If ye will keep you a good woman to me as ye have done hitherto as far as I know, here I take you to my wife,” taking her by the hand, “and thereto I plight you my troth.” She responded to him, saying, “In faith, so I will and so I am. And say likewise, I take you to my husband and thereto I plight you my troth.” This witness testifies to these things from his own hearing and knowledge. To the third and fourth articles, he knows nothing to depose concerning their contents. To the fifth article, he says that he heard Robert often saying that he had never loved a woman better than her. And otherwise he knows nothing to depose concerning its contents. To the sixth and seventh articles, he says that the things he said above are true and that public voice and fame circulated in the town of Stanford amongst the greater part of the parishioners that Robert would take Christian as his wife. To the first, second, and third interrogatories, he says as he said above. And otherwise he knows nothing to depose concerning their contents. To the fourth and fifth, he says as he said above. And otherwise he knows nothing to depose concerning their contents.
Testimony of William Fox, 9 Jun. 1490
William Fox of Greenstead [Essex], where he has lived for twelve years, illiterate, of free condition, thirty-four years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known the parties for two years. To the first and second articles, he says that around the last feast of All Hallows [1 Nov.], because Christian was by order of the said Robert removed from the town of Stanford, certain neighbours suspected that she had been impregnated by him. And on the feast of All Hallows last past, in the parish church of Stanford, this witness said to Robert that Christian’s brothers were ill pleased with him because he had had her abducted from the parish and because it was said that she was pregnant, and Robert replied to him, “I know she be not with child, if she be, in faith it is no man’s but mine.” And otherwise concerning the other articles he knows nothing to depose except from what he has heard from others. To the interrogatories, he agrees with the previous witness.
 The remainder of this sentence is apparently missing, although there’s no gap in the text.
 A trifoliate leaf; or an ornamental figure representing or resembling a trifoliate leaf (OED s.v. trefoil).
 Possibly Thorley, Hertfordshire, or Tawney (Stapleford Tawney), Essex.