In July 1487 a widow, Agnes Wilson, of Staines, Middlesex, or somewhere nearby, was examined regarding allegations that she and the local vicar, Sir Richard Wodehous, were engaging in a sexual relationship. [Note that “Sir” was the honorific title used for priests as well as for knights, similar to “Father” or “Reverend” today.] This is an “office” case rather than an “instance” case, as most others were: the court (the “office”) took upon itself to summon Wilson, rather than that some other party sued her (an “instance” case, or litigation). Wilson had ingenious explanations for why the vicar had come to her house at 2 in the morning and had been in her bedchamber for part of that time: it was all completely innocent. And perhaps it was. But the neighbourhood men were not convinced and seized him to take him to the a local official — and reported her and presumably Wodehous to the Consistory court. She was given the opportunity to find seven “honest women neighbours” to vouch for her unblemished reputation: this process, known as compurgation, was one way for the court to dismiss an allegation, providing that the person accused could find enough people to stand up for her. It would be interesting to know what happened to her and to Wodehouse – but unfortunately that’s not in these records.
LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065, fol. 37r
Testimony of Agnes Wilson, Defendant, 30 Jul. 1487
Agnes Wilson sworn etc. To the first and second articles, she admits their contents. To the third and fourth articles, she admits their contents. To the fifth and sixth articles, she says that on the feast of St. Margaret [20 July], between the hours of two and three after the middle of the night, Sir Richard Wodehous came to her house and they gossiped together in her kitchen in the presence of two of her children, of whom one was sixteen and the other thirteen, and then Sir Richard went up to a certain upper chamber to look inside a chest in which, as this witness had told him, was a charter of the free gift of all the goods of her husband. In neither this chamber nor in any other was this witness alone with him, but Richard her son of thirteen years was with the vicar in the chamber. And afterwards after he looked at it for a good while, this witness at the door of the chamber asked him whether [….] and he answered no. And to all the other contents in them she responds negatively. To the seventh article, she says that she heard that certain people, that is Peter Olyver […], Roger Nott, William Ruttour draper, seized this vicar leaving the house of this witness about four o’clock, and led him to John Clerk. And to the rest she responds negatively. To the eighth article, she responds negatively to all its contents. To the ninth article, she responds negatively to all its contents. To the tenth article, she admits its contents. And that from what Peter Olyver and the others said, on the same day the lord assigned to the woman to purge herself on the vigil of the exaltation of the Holy Cross [13 Sept.] before him or his commissary in the church of Staines [Middlesex] with the hands of seven of her honest women neighbours.