William Halley c. Agnes Wellis

In this case, we see Agnes Wellis, a young woman living with her widowed mother and her new husband, courted by William Halley, a young man with a “pretty livelihood.” At the request of Agnes Wellis’s mother, a neighbour, Henry Brond, took on the paternal role of asking the two whether their visits together were leading anywhere. According to Brond himself, he led them to exchange formal vows of future marriage. Agnes Wellis herself admitted a somewhat vaguer but still meaningful exchange of promises, though when examined in court she said that she had not intended her words to mean that she would marry him. Brond’s testimony was detailed, but the other depositions were curiously lacking in any substance, offering only some vague hearsay about rumours of an impending marriage. Nonetheless there is interesting evidence here about how others prodded a courting couple to formalize their relationships and the kind of neighbourhood talk surrounding the making of a marriage.

LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065B, fols. 3v-4r, 5v-6v

Testimony of Agnes Wellis, Defendant, 24 Jan. 1488

Responses personally made by Agnes Wellis, sworn etc. on the positions etc. 24 January in his/her house,[1] in Spencer’s presence

Agnes Wellis sworn etc. on the positions etc. To the first position, she admits its contents. To the second position, says that around a year ago, which day she cannot otherwise specify, a certain Henry Brond came to this witness and William Halley, sitting at that time in the parlour of this witness’s mother’s house in Friday Street, and there he [Henry] asked William why he so frequently came to this place, and William responded and said to him that he had no bad intention in coming to the house, but to have Agnes. Then he asked William, “Will [ye] have this woman?” and he said, “Yea.” And then Henry said to this witness, “Will ye have this man,” and she said, “Yea, forsooth.” Asked by the judge what she meant when she answered that last question, she said that she never intended to have him as her husband. And she does not believe its other contents. To the third position, she says as she said above in the second position, and she does not believe its other contents. To the fourth position, she does not believe its contents except that they often kissed one another. To the fifth position, she does not believe its contents. To the sixth position, she does not believe its contents nor that its contents are true. To the seventh position, she does not believe it. To the eight position, she believes what is believed and not what is not believed.

Deposition of Henry Brond, 22 Feb. 1488

Etc. [14]87[2]

22 February by the lord Official in his house, in my, Spencer’s, presence

On behalf of Halley c. Wellis

Henry Brond of the parish of All Hallows Bread Street, London, where he has lived for half a year and more, and before that time in the parish of St. Margaret Moses for three years, literate, of free condition, fifty-two years old or thereabouts, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known William Halley for two years and more, and Agnes Wellis for ten years. To the first and second articles, he says that after the death of the father of Agnes Wellis, who died two years ago and more, the aforesaid William Halley had often spoken with Agnes and had frequent recourse to the home of Agnes’s mother. And afterwards, that is on a certain day between the feasts of Easter and the nativity of St. John the Baptist [24 June] last past, which day he cannot specify further, the mother of Agnes told this witness that William frequented Margery’s home and she said, “I understand he hath a pretty livelihood and me think it should be a meetly marriage between my daughter and him. I pray you wit whether there be any contract between them or none or else make one, for it is told me he is sent for by a letter to Coventry to have another marriage.” And then this witness came to the house of Margery, the mother of Agnes, living at that time in Friday Street, and there in a certain parlour of the house he found William and Agnes talking together. And he asked William, saying, “God speed you, ye be always together, show me your mind, in what intent you came hither. It is noised ye shall have this damsel.” And William responded, “by my troth, I come hither in no other intent and that knoweth God and she knoweth my mind as well as any man.” And then this witness said to William thus, “Will ye have this damsel Agnes to your wife, for to forsake all earthly women and only to take her to your wife, by the faith of your body?” And he answered, “Yea, by the faith of my body.” And likewise he asked Agnes, saying, “Agnes, will ye have William to your husband and forsake all other?” And she answered, “Yea, by my faith, and that I will, or else I will never have none.” And at the instruction of this witness, Halley immediately took Agnes by her right hand and kissed her. This witness deposes these things from his own sight and hearing, as he says. To the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth articles, he says as he said above. And he says that Agnes, in the presence of this witness and Robert Botler now dead, admitted that she had contracted marriage with William, and that there the parties had mutually given faith, although the exact words that they said this witness cannot now recall, as he says. To the seventh article, he says that fame circulated in the parish of St. Margaret Moses in Friday Street that William and Agnes had contracted marriage together. To the eighth article, he says that the things he said above are true and that public voice and fame circulated and circulate about them in the parish, as he says.

Deposition of Richard Everard, 22 Feb. 1488

Richard Everard, grocer of the parish of St. Olave in Old Jewry, where he has lived for fifteen years, literate, of free condition, thirty years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known William Halley for ten years, and Agnes Wellis for a year or thereabouts. This witness, questioned further about and on the contents of the libel, each and every article successively, by the fame and truth of the articles, he says that he knows only that he had heard someone named Butler, recently the husband of Agnes’s mother, saying that the aforesaid William would marry Agnes and that he would have with her twenty pounds of English money. And otherwise he knows nothing concerning the contents in this libel as he says in virtue of his oath.

Deposition of John Spannysby, 22 Feb. 1488

John Spannysby of the parish of St. Bride in Fleet Street, cutler, illiterate, of free condition, forty-two years old as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he first knew William Halley about the feast of St. John the Baptist [24 June], and Agnes Wellis he does not know. This witness, questioned further about and on each article of the libel, says that he knows only that since the feast of St. John the Baptist last past, this witness heard someone named Butler who had married Agnes’s mother saying many times that William would marry his wife’s daughter. And similarly he heard Agnes’s mother naming William Halley as her son, saying to him, “Son, come to dinner.” Concerning the fame and the other things brought up in the libel, he knows nothing, as he says.

[1] MS: in domo sua; could be – as in previous depositions in Skern c. Curtes which were taken at witness Beatrice Stoughton’s house – that the deposition was taken in Agnes Wellis’s house; could be in Richard Spencer’s house (although he usually, but not always, refers to himself in the first person); or in the house of the Official taking the deposition, as was most usual.

[2] Until 1752 in the English calendar the new year began on 25 March rather than 1 January; in our reckoning, therefore, this is 22 Feb. 1488.

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