This is a fascinating case: witnesses give detailed stories about a local official, with a posse of neighbourhood elders, who burst in on a man and woman, Thomas Wulley and Margaret Isot, engaging in sex. When questioned, the man claimed that the two were, in fact, husband and wife. Calling their bluff, the official asked the two to say the words of marriage once again in front of the assembled company: if they hadn’t been married before that, they certainly were then. This was not the end of the story, though: this had all taken place seventeen or eighteen years before this 1488-89 litigation, when Wulley sued Isot to enforce that 1471 contract. We know little about what took place in between: there is one other record associated with the case, an entry in February 1472 in the lower-level Commissary court, in which Thomas Wulley’s parents were summoned before the commissary court to answer to a charge of impeding solemnization of marriage between Margaret and Thomas (LMA, DL/C/B/043/MS09064/001, fol. 134r). As below, Thomas’s parents were not pleased about his relationship with Margaret, so this makes some sense. Evidently, whatever happened in 1472 and later, they did not solemnize the marriage. Around 1474, Margaret says, she married a man named John Heth, lived with him for at least three years and had a child; she does not indicate what happened to that marriage, but Heth appears to be alive still in 1488 as Isot indicates that he was implicated in this case. So why did Wulley bring this suit seventeen years later? One possibility is that Heth was looking for an annulment of his marriage to Isot, on the basis that she was already married to Wulley when she contracted with Heth; the union between Isot and Heth seems long since to have broken down, but perhaps Heth wanted an official declaration so that he could marry someone else. Isot, however, was not evidently keen on going back to Wulley after all this time (and one wonders what Wulley’s motivation might have been – maybe as straightforward as a money payment).
There are a few other curiosities in this case. The events of that November 1471 seizure of the fornicating couple took place in “St. John’s Street,” the street leading south from the religious house of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in Clerkenwell, the headquarters of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England. The properties there – a short street of houses and shops – belonged to the Hospital; like many other religious houses in late medieval England, the Hospital had a liberty or peculiar jurisdiction there. Such liberties, self-governing and exempt from both episcopal and royal jurisdictions, usually had a layman who acted as constable, as John Calton does in this case, and local councillors called “headboroughs.” See VCH Middlesex, 1:193-204, online: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22121. Another interesting issue is that two of the witnesses date the apprehension of the fornicating couple to the year in which the battle of Tewkesbury took place, a fairly rare reference in these testimonies to the major political events of the fifteenth-century civil wars (Tewkesbury was fought on 4 May 1471).
LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065 48v-49v; 53v-55r.
Response of Margaret Isot, 18 Dec. 1488
Responses personally made by Margaret Isot, 18 December, in the house of the lord Official
Margaret Isot, sworn etc. on the positions etc. To the first, second, third, and fourth positions, she does not believe them nor that their contents are true. To the fifth position, she says that around the feast of St. Peter in Chains [1 Aug.] fourteen years ago, this witness and John Heth contracted marriage together and procured its solemnization in the parish church of St. Margaret in the town of Westminster. And afterwards they lived together as man and wife for three years and more, and John had by her a male child. And she never contracted marriage with Thomas Wolley as she says by virtue of her oath and she does not believe the other contents of the position. To the sixth position, she believes what is believed and does not believe what is not believed. And she says that it was through Thomas Wulley and John Heth that it was said and spread around in many parts of the city of London that this witness had contracted marriage with Thomas Wulley, which this witness expressly denies.
Deposition of John Calton, 4 Mar. 1489
On behalf of Wulley c. Isot and Heth
4 March, in the year etc. 88, by Ian in his residence, in my, Richard Spencer’s, presence
John Calton, tailor, of the parish of St. Sepulchre, London, where he has lived for thirty-six years, illiterate, of free condition, sixty-six years old and more, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc. on the libel etc., he says that he has known Thomas Wulley for seventeen and a half years and more, Margaret Isot for twenty-four years, and John Heth for twenty years. To the first and second articles, he says that on a certain day around the feast of St. Martin in the Winter [11 Nov.] seventeen years ago, and as he recalls between that feast and the feast of All Hallows [1 Nov.] immediately preceding, between seven and eight p.m., the father of Thomas Wulley came to this witness, at that time constable of the liberty of St. John in the street called St. John’s Street, and intimated to him that Thomas his son and Margaret adhered to one another very suspiciously – just as also, this witness says, for about a quarter of a year before this the neighbours and inhabitants of the street had reputed them to be suspect of fornication, because of the suspect and frequent access of Thomas to Margaret – and that on that night they would be lying together in the house of John Cracow, this witness’s neighbour. On that account he requested that this witness by virtue of his office go to this house and arrest them and take them to the Counter [sheriff’s] prison in London. And afterwards around ten o’clock immediately following, this witness, taking with him William Marshal, Thomas Burneham, headboroughs, Robert Marley, Walter Spicer, and others, went to the house of John Cracow and knocked on Cracow’s door. After an interval, because the door was open, he and the other men with him walked into the house to search for Thomas and Margaret. And in a certain basement cellar he found Thomas, at that time wearing his doublet, with his gown around his head and his hose and shoes under his arm, and Margaret was in the hall of the house untying and unlacing her clothes. This witness led them, thus arrested, to his own dwelling-house. And there he chastised John Cracow because he had protected them in his house and he replied, before those persons, and Margaret Baron alias Spicer, the wife of John, and a number of others, that Thomas and Margaret were man and wife and because of that he had felt more favourably towards them. And then this witness said that he wanted to understand more clearly whether to take them to prison, and immediately asked Thomas Wulley, “Why drawest thou suspiciously to this woman, it is not thy father’s will thou shouldst have her.” Thomas replied, “For one purpose, to wed her.” And then this witness asked Thomas in English, “Thomas, wilt thou have Margaret here present to thy wife?” and he answered, “Yea, by the faith of my body, I will never have other to my wife but her while she and I live.” And then this witness said to Margaret thus, “Margaret, will ye have Thomas here present to your husband?” She said, “Yea, by the faith of my body, I will never have other while he is alive.” And then this witness said to Thomas that he should take Margaret by the hand, and Thomas, holding her by the hand, said to Margaret, “So help me God and holy doom, I will have you to my wife and none other but you while my life lasteth.” And unclasping their hands and joining them again, Margaret in similar form said to Thomas, “So help me god and holy doom, I will have you to my husband and none other but you.”And they unclasped their hands and kissed one another. This witness deposes these things from his own sight and hearing, as he says. To the third and fourth articles, he says their contents are true, as public voice and fame circulated at that time in the parish. To the fifth article, he says that its contents are true as he has heard others say and from the public fame circulating about it. And otherwise he knows nothing concerning its contents. To the sixth article, he says that the things said by him above are true and that public voice and fame circulated about them in the parish at the time and long afterwards, as he says.
Deposition of Margaret Baron alias Harbard alias Spicer, 9 Mar. 1489
Further on behalf of Wulley c. Isot and Heth
9 March, by the lord Official in his dwelling-house, in my, Richard Spencer’s, presence
Margaret Baron alias Harbard alias Spicer of the parish of St. Sepulchre, where she has lived for twenty-eight years, of free condition, fifty years old, as she says. Inducted as a witness etc., she says that she has known Thomas Wulley from the feast of St. Bartholomew [24 Aug.] in the year in which the battle of Tewkesbury was fought , Margaret Isot for thirty years or thereabouts, and John Heth for twenty years and more. To the first and second articles of the libel, she says that on a day around the feast of All Hallows [1 Nov.] in the same year in which the battle of Tewkesbury was fought, which day or year this witness cannot say more certainly, this witness and Walter Spicer were dining with John Calton, at that time the constable of St. John’s Street. And around ten at night, after the meal, after a search, as she heard, of the home of John Cracow for Thomas Wulley and Margaret Isot, who, it was said, suspiciously associated together, John Calton returned to his house, bringing back with him Thomas Wulley, Margaret Isot, John Cracow, his wife, this witness’s husband, Thomas Burneham, and William Marshal, Robert Marley, and others. And there in that house, in the presence of the abovesaid persons, John Calton chided John Cracow for the evil rule and suspicious access that Thomas and Margaret had in John Cracow’s house. John Cracow said that he knew them to be man and wife and as he asserted he felt very favourably towards them, for, as he there declared, they had previously contracted marriage before him and Robert Marley, and Robert Marley, also present, affirmed this. And then John Calton said that he wanted to know for sure that they were man and wife, or else he would take them to jail. And immediately he said to Thomas that it was not his parents’ will that he should have Margaret as his wife, and he [Thomas] responded that Margaret was his wife and that he did not want any other but her, Margaret expressly saying the same, that Thomas was her husband. And then, Thomas holding Margaret by her right hand, John Calton said to Thomas, “Thomas, wilt thou have this woman to thy wife?” Thomas responded, “Yea, so help me God and holy doom, I will have her to my wife and by the faith of my body I will never have other while she and I live.” And similarly he asked Margaret whether she would have Thomas as her husband, and she answered, “Yea, so help me God and holy doom, I will have him to my husband. He is my husband, I will never have other while he liveth.” These things said, they kissed one another and they sat there afterwards talking and drinking until the hour of eleven at night. This witness deposes these things from her own sight and hearing, as she says. To the third article, she says that soon after this and, as she recalls, the Sunday immediately following, Master Wellis, then the vicar of the church of St. Sepulchre, publicly issued banns between them, and on that Sunday and another Sunday or feast day there they were twice issued between them in the hearing and knowledge of this witness. To the fourth article, she says that in St. John’s Street it was commonly said and revealed among the neighbours that Thomas’s mother found Thomas and Margaret lying in a bed in Margaret’s house, both nude, and that the mother stole away Thomas’s shoes and made Thomas wear Margaret’s shoes. To the fifth article, she says that its contents are true. And she says that after the aforesaid, John Heth and Margaret lived together in the parish of St. Giles as husband and wife for a certain time, as this witness saw and knew. To the sixth article, she says that the things she said above are true, and that public voice and fame circulated in the street and in the parish of St. Sepulchre, after the time about which she deposed above and long afterwards, that Thomas and Margaret contracted marriage together, as she says.
Deposition of Joan Cracow, 9 Mar. 1489
Joan Cracow of the town of Westminster, where she has lived for seven years, and before that in the parish of St. Sepulchre for eleven years or thereabouts, of free condition, forty-seven years old and more, as she says. Inducted as a witness etc., she says that she has known Thomas Wulley for a fortnight or thereabouts before the day about which she is about to depose below, coming and going to and from the house of Margaret Isot, her neighbour at that time in St. John’s Street; Margaret Isot for a year before the time that the battle of Tewksbury was fought; and John Heth for twelve years or thereabouts. To the first and second articles of the libel, she says that on a certain day between the feasts of St. Martin in Winter [11 Nov.] and All Hallows [1 Nov.], in the year in which the battle of Tewkesbury was fought , which day or year she cannot otherwise specify, Margaret and Thomas came to her house in St. John’s Street, as they had many times before, for the sake of drinking. At length, this witness’s husband asked Thomas why he frequented the company of Margaret, and Thomas answered that he wanted to have her as his wife, and Margaret similarly said that she wanted to have Thomas as her husband. And then her husband sent for Robert Marley to bear witness to the contract to be had between them. After Robert came, John Cracow asked Thomas in the presence of Robert Marley, this witness, and others, whether he would have Margaret, and he said, “Yea.” And then immediately he said to Margaret, “I will have you to wife, and thereto I plight you my faith and troth,” and he put his hand on Margaret’s hand. And, unclasping their hands [and joining them together again], Margaret said to Thomas, “I will have you to wife, and thereto I plight you my faith and troth.” They unclasped their hands and kissed one another. And she says that on the night of that day, that is about ten o’clock, John Calton the constable and others came to this witness’s house and they took Thomas and Margaret out of that house and to John’s house, and this witness and her husband went along. And as far as the words concerning marriage spoken there between the parties, and the questions asked by John Calton and the other people present there, she agrees with Margaret Baron examined above, except that she does not recall that she heard John Calton say to Thomas that it was not his parents’ will that he should take Margaret as his wife. To the third article, she knows nothing concerning its contents except what she has heard from others. To the fourth article, she knows nothing concerning its contents. To the fifth article, she says that she heard John and others saying just recently that John had taken Margaret as his wife, and this witness believed that Margaret had been married to Thomas and that Thomas was dead. To the sixth article, she says that the things she said above are true and that public voice and fame circulated in the parish about them, as she says.
 MS: solvendo et dislaqueando; perhaps she needed to untie them before dressing again?