This case involves ambiguous promises and different interpretations of the meaning of sex. Alice Parker probably lived in the parish of St Nicholas Shambles by the butchers’ stalls towards the western edge of city of London. She received a visit in December 1487 from Richard Tenwinter and his friend, Robert Adcok. Tenwinter and Parker went up to Parker’s bedchamber, leaving third-wheel Adcok waiting awkwardly in the hall, able to hear their conversation. Tenwinter himself admitted in court when examined that he gave a equivocal promise to Parker that if she would let him sleep with her he would marry her “as well as he could.” From his perspective, he implied in his examination, this did not mean anything more than that he would have sex with her, though obviously Parker took them more seriously, as six weeks later she had sued him in the Consistory to enforce the vows of marriage she understood they had made. It is hard to know how the court would have interpreted this case: perhaps the words he admitted to speaking would have been taken as a future contract of marriage (“I will wed you”), which when followed by consummation became a fully binding present contract. So possibly Parker won her case based on Tenwinter’s own examination.
LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065B, fol. 2rv
Testimony of Richard Tenwinter, Defendant, 22 Jan. 1488
Responses personally made by Richard Tenwinter 22 January, in the church of St. Paul, London, before the lord Official in my, Spencer’s, presence
Richard Tenwinter sworn etc. on the positions etc. To the first, second, and third positions, he says that Alice Parker repeatedly urged this witness that he should come to her house and at last, that is on Sunday after the feast of the conception of the blessed Mary [i.e. 9 Dec. 1487] in the evening, he went to Alice’s house together with Robert Adcok. After they came, Alice led this witness to her room, leaving Robert in the hall, and then this witness said to her thus, “I pray, let me lodge here all night.” She responded that she did not dare do this because of fear of the butcher who was accustomed to rise early in the morning, as she asserted. And then this witness said that the butchers would not see him. And she said, “Will ye wed me?” And then this witness said “I will wed you as well as I can,” meaning that he would have sex with her, and thus this witness slept that night with her in the chamber and since then and he frequently had sex with her. And otherwise he does not believe the contents of the positions. To the fourth position, he does not believe it. To the fifth position, he believes what is believed and does not believe what is not believed, and he does not believe the fame.
Testimony of Robert Adcok, Witness for the Plaintiff, 22 Jan. 1488
On behalf of Parker c. Tenwinter
22 January in the church of St. Paul
Robert Adcok of the parish of St. Nicholas Shambles in London, where he has lived from the last feast of St. Ursula [21 Oct.], and before that in the parish of St. Sepulchre for five years, illiterate, of free condition, twenty-three years old, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he first saw and knew Alice Parker on the day about which he will depose below, and he has known Richard Tenwinter for half a year or thereabouts. To the first and second articles, he says that on a day before the feast of Christmas last past, which day he cannot otherwise specify, he followed Richard Tenwinter to the house of Alice in the aforesaid parish. After they came there Richard entered into Alice’s chamber, this witness standing in the hall of the house. In that chamber, after Richard and Alice had talked together for some time, at last this witness heard Richard asking her if he could stay there all night with her and at first she said no and said that she did not dare because of the butchers who were nearby but immediately afterwards she said, “If ye will make me as good a woman as ye be [a] man, ye shall lie with me.” And he responded, “I will.” And then this witness hearing this said to Richard that he would [not] stay there any longer, and he left, leaving them together in the chamber. This witness deposes these things from his own sight and hearing. And otherwise he knows nothing concerning their contents. To the fourth article, he says that he knows nothing concerning its contents. To the fifth article, he says that the things he deposed above are true, and concerning the fame he knows nothing, as he says.