When Ann, the widow of tallowchandler Richard Alpe and mother of four underage children, married another tallowchandler, Richard Styward, in early 1488, something resembling a nightmare resulted. By Styward’s own admission, after their marriage was solemnized, he “violently and seriously beat” her and spent much of Richard Alpe’s (considerable) estate. As he noted, his assumption of Richard Alpe’s property was his legal right as her husband: when a woman married, all her property with the exception of her personal items such as clothes became her husband’s.
Around November 1488 Ann Styward thus sued him for a judicial separation on the grounds of cruelty; this was known technically as a divorce a mensa et thoro, from table and bed, meaning that they were no longer obliged to live together. Neither, however, could remarry as they were still legally husband and wife. Such suits were not common and the bar was high for the level of violence a separation for cruelty required. Richard Styward, however, made Ann’s case easy by admitting in court that if they ever lived together again he intended to harm her even more terribly than he had already. Unsurprisingly, Richard remained unreasonable; as the case was ongoing he was ordered to pay her alimony, but admitted that he had stopped after a while, leaving her and her children little to live on, as he had custody of the property from her previous marriage except for her clothes. He moreover continued to beat her, admitting that he had whipped her with a hazel stick only two weeks before his last appearance in court.
More complicatedly, according to Styward’s second set of examinations, between May and November 1489 Ann Styward dropped her suit of separation and instead sought restoration of their marriage. When he came before the court in November 1489 Styward stated that when they met they quarrelled terribly; he also said that Ann and her sons by Richard Alpe were spreading rumours that he had committed adultery with a woman named Joan Turnour, which he denied. Why Ann Styward would want to live with such a violent man is anyone’s guess – but certainly part of her calculus may have been the very considerable financial penalty her flight from the marriage had cost her.
The rumours about Joan Turnour was likely not the first accusation of adultery: about six months before Styward himself first appeared before the Consistory court to answer to the allegations of cruelty, an apparently related appearance by Cecily Knyston (dated around the time that Richard Styward indicates Ann Styward launched her suit) suggests that there Ann Styward had alleged adultery between her and Richard Styward. Knyston said she had lived in Styward’s household, presumably as a servant, for six years before he married Ann Alp, but that after the marriage she had moved into a different household. She denies that she had ever had sex with Styward.
The 1487 will of Richard Alpe, tallowchandler, names the four children, and Styward’s pledge to safeguard the inheritance of Alpe’s two sons while they remained underage is in the City’s Letter Book, dated 16 Jul. 1489. Richard Styward was also mentioned in another Consistory court case, Joan Cardif c. John Brocher, which indicates he lived just outside Bishopsgate.
LMA, DL/C/A/001/MS09065B, fol. 16v; DL/C/A/001/MS09065, 57rv, 61v-62r.
Testimony of Cecily Knyston, Third party, 19 Nov. 1488
Responses personally made by Cecily Knyston, 19 November
Cecily Knyston sworn etc. to respond faithfully to certain articles concerning the salvation of her soul, and questioned and examined, she says that she lived with Richard Styward for six years before the marriage solemnized between him and Agnes* Alpe, and she lived with Richard and Elizabeth Jan for three quarters of a year after marriage was solemnized between them. Asked whether Richard carnally knew her, she says no, nor did she ever want him to solicit her for committing fornication or adultery between them, as she says by virtue of her oath.
*Agnes and Ann were interchangeable names in the Consistory records.
Testimony of Richard Styward, Defendant, 22 May 1489
The term of Easter, in the year etc. 89, seventh indiction, fifth year of the pontificate of the most holy father in Christ and our lord Innocent VIII by divine [grace], by Shenkwyn, commissary of Ian, the official, the [bishop’s] seat being vacant through the death of Bishop Thomas Kemp, of reverend memory, bishop of London [d. 28 Mar. 1489].
Responses personally made by Richard Styward, 22 May
Richard Styward, sworn etc on the contents of the interrogatories concerning etc. To the first interrogatory, he admits its contents. To the second interrogatory, he says that Richard Alpe left Ann certain goods, the value of which however he does not know, but he says that an inventory of the goods was made, which is now in the hands of the mayor of London, and he refers himself to that inventory. To the third interrogatory, he says that after the solemnization of the marriage, this witness violently and seriously beat her, but whether she could lift her arm to her head or not because of this beating he does not know. To the fourth and fifth interrogatories, he refers himself to the acts of the Court. To the sixth interrogatory, he admits that he administered the goods that were Richard Alpe’s and those that he had with Ann his wife, and not against Ann’s will. To the other contents he responds negatively. To the seventh interrogatory, he admits its contents. To the eighth and ninth interrogatories, he says that after he was warned, this witness gave Ann all her clothing except her best gown, and as to whether he paid the sums of money weekly he says that he was warned to pay her those sums of money each week while the case was pending undecided, and he did so for six or eight weeks, and because nothing was going on in the case since the feast of Christmas, and because the money was not sought from this witness, this witness since that time has not paid it. To the tenth interrogatory, he says that since the beginning of this suit, this witness said, “that day that I struck her I would [that I] had stricken the neck or the arms off her.” And he says that he often said that if Ann came back to his company he would beat her worse than he did the first time, because she would not change her manner.
Testimony of Richard Styward, Defendant, 18 Nov., 19 Nov., 27 Nov. 1489
Responses personally made by Richard Styward, 18 Nov. 1489
Richard Styward, sworn etc. on the interrogatories concerning the content etc. To the first interrogatory, he admits its contents, but he says that a year ago Ann prosecuted this witness in a cause of divorce, and since then she has pursued an action that she be restored to him. To the second interrogatory, he says that since the beginning of this cause of divorce, this witness was judicially warned by the Official of London to pay 14d. for the keeping of Ann each week during the case, but under what penalty he does not know, he refers to the records. And on 27 November he admits that he received and accepted the warning. To the third interrogatory, he says that after the warning was made to this witness, he paid, sometimes by the hand of Robert Ridon and sometimes by the hand of the scribe of the court and by others, the money for the keeping of Ann following the warning made to him, as long as Ann prosecuted the cause of divorce and after. And afterwards, Ann seeking restitution, this witness was advised not to pay the money any more, because he was not bound to pay it since Ann had ceased her prosecution of the cause of divorce. And at the beginning of Lent he stopped paying Ann following the advice given to this witness, except that Ann since that time received from Master Thomas Coke 26s. 8d. To the fourth interrogatory, he admits its contents. To the fifth interrogatory, he refers himself to that testament, which this witness had in his custody, but now he does not have it. To the sixth interrogatory, he says that certain goods, which had belonged to Alpe, now dead, together with Ann, whom afterwards this witness married, came to the hands of this witness on the occasion of the marriage between them, which this witness assigned partly as his own and he says that with the sons’ portion deducted and other goods spent on hospitality and household expenses and others consumed between them, this witness is thereby poorer in goods that he was before the solemnization of the marriage, by twenty pounds sterling. And as for the other contents he responds negatively. To the seventh and eighth interrogatories, he says that many times since the citation made to this witness and before, this witness both before the Official of London as before diverse other people and in many places [has said] that he would beat her, and thus he has often beat her and this because of her great tongue and he last beat her because she called him a thief and a knave [garconnem]. And he says that in the heat of anger […] day he often called her whore. To the ninth interrogatory, he says that there was a great rumour in the parish that this witness carnally knew Joan Turnour and that rumour had its origin from Ann’s words and those of her sons and not otherwise, as he believes. But he says that he never carnally knew Joan and concerning this he has thrice purged himself. To the tenth interrogatory, he says that during the case and as he believes on the Saturday a fortnight ago, this witness beat Ann with a hazel stick because she called him a thief and said to him many obprobrious and hateful words, but whether she was wounded or her skin blackened from this beating he does not know. When on 19 November the interrogatories and responses of Richard Styward were read publicly to him, Richard acknowedged the responses to be his and that they came from his conscience.