In early 1490, Margaret Samer of Buttsbury, Essex, allegedly said a number of scurrilous things about her neighbour Joan Ponder or more precisely about Joan’s mother: that Joan was not her father’s daughter but instead the product of her mother’s adulterous liaison with a friar; that Joan’s mother had been a “harlot.” As the witnesses indicated, Margaret continued to spread these rumours even after she had been punished once already at the local manor court, warned that if she continued such speech she would be subjected to the cucking stool (a shame punishment for women convicted as “scolds,” loose with their tongues). Such looseness of the tongue was punishable not just by those local secular courts but also in the ecclesiastical courts through defamation suits such as this one. In the church court the legal requirement was to show harm to the plaintiff through the speaking of the words: the witnesses thus had to argue that Joan Ponder (the plaintiff) had been harmed by Margaret’s allegations against Joan’s mother.
LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065, fols. 70r-71r
Testimony of John Stoner, 11 Mar. 1490
In the year etc. 89, almost finished
On behalf of Joan Ponder c. Margaret Samer
11 March, by Master Thomas Shenkwyn, in my, Richard Spencer’s, house and presence
John Stoner the elder of the parish of Buttsbury [Essex], London diocese, where and at Stock [Essex] he has lived for twenty-six years, illiterate, of free condition, fifty years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness, he says that he has known Joan Ponder for sixteen years, Margaret Samer for five or six years. To the first, second, and third articles, he says that their contents are true. To the fourth article of the said libel, he says that on the Sunday [31 Jan. 1490] nearest to and immediately before the last feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, this witness was present in the home of John Stoner the younger, situated within Buttsbury, that is, within and near the doorway of the house by the public street. There and then the said John Ponder declared to Margaret that she had said earlier that
his daughter Joan, whom John’s wife had borne while they had been married, was not John’s daughter, but that she was the daughter of a certain friar. Margaret answered him, “So it was told me.” And then John said to her, “Thou saiest so,” and she said again, “So it was told me.” This witness further said that it was commonly said. There were present there John Stoner the younger, Richard Twety, this witness, and the said parties. And he says that before the speaking of those words, this witness heard Margaret saying the aforesaid words or ones similar in effect, which this witness testifies from his own hearing and knowledge. To the fifth article, he says that because of the speaking of those words, a great rumour circulated against Joan, and many of his neighbours spoke about her because of it, and this witness trusts her less in his own conscience because of it. And otherwise he knows nothing to depose concerning the contents. To the sixth article, he says that it is true. To the seventh article, he says that what he said above is true, and that public voice and fame circulated and circulates concerning it in the said parishes and at Chelmsford [Essex].
Testimony of Richard Twety, 11 Mar. 1490
Richard Twety of Buttsbury, where he was born and for the greater part of his life has lived since his birth, illiterate, of free condition, twenty-six years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known Joan Ponder for sixteen years, and Margaret Samer for eight or nine years. To the first, second, and third articles, he agrees with John Stoner examined above, adding that the same John Ponder then and there declared to Margaret that she had earlier said that Joan, his wife, was a prostitute, that is “an harlot,” and Margaret said to him, “I do not deny that I said that, and so it was told me.” Moreover, this witness said that Margaret was previously presented for homage at Herford Stock before the secular judge as a common defamer and “le scold,” and that this witness, who was bailiff, had an order from the seneschal, John Lyng of Maldon [Essex], who warned her that if she did not henceforth abstain from such things she would be made to sit on the Cucking Stool and the pillory. When this witness, in John Ponder’s presence, announced this to Margaret, the said John Ponder declared the aforesaid words to Margaret, and she responded to him just as John Stoner testified above, with whom this witness agrees in this matter. And otherwise concerning the article’s contents he has nothing to depose. To the fifth article, he agrees with John Stoner examined above, except that he does not have less faith in Joan because of the speaking of those words, and this added, that he says that many serious people talked about the speaking of those words, and he believes in his conscience that the speaking of the said words impedes the contracting of marriage with the said Joan’s daughter, or at least that it will cause many men to turn their hearts from contracting with the girl. To the sixth article, he says that its contents are true. To the seventh article, he says that what he said above is true, and that public voice and fame circulated and circulates concerning it in the said parish and other neighbouring places.
Testimony of John Stoner Jr., 11 Mar. 1490
John Stoner the younger of Buttsbury, parish of Herford Stock, London diocese, where he has lived, two years excepted, for thirty years, and where he was born, illiterate, of free condition, thirty-four years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known Joan Ponder for seventeen years, and Margaret for twelve years or thereabouts. To the first, second, and third articles of the libel, he says that their contents are true. To the fourth article, he agrees with the first witness examined above, adding that Richard Twety, before the speaking of the words, told Margaret that she had been presented before the secular judge as a common scold and defamer of her neighbours, and that he agrees with Richard Twety regarding that. And excepting that he did not hear Margaret repeating those words before that time. To the fifth article, he says that he agrees with John Stoner the elder. To the sixth article, he says that its contents are true. To the seventh article, he says that the things he said above are true and that public voice and fame circulated and circulates concerning them in the parish of Herford Stock and other neighbouring places.
 speaking to this witness deleted
 That is, she was presented at a manor court, presumably the manor of Herford, Harvard, or Herward Stock (the spellings differ), also known as the manor of Ging Joyberd Laundry, at Stock, Essex.