John Tailour c. Agnes Fry

In late June 1487, John Tailour sued the widow Agnes Fry to enforce a marriage contract he alleged they had made the previous April. Fry herself testified that when Tailour had first asked her to marry him, she had told him he would have to wait until her husband had been dead a year before she would respond – and that when the anniversary of her husband’s death came around, she politely told him no. The witnesses testified that Fry had indicated that she would marry Tailour if she married anyone, but none had actually seen her contract marriage with him. Though the record indicates that they appeared on Tailour’s behalf, in fact their testimony helped Fry rather than him.

As other evidence indicates, Agnes Fry won her case and she remained unmarried until her death in 1501 or 1502. Her will suggests she was a woman of some property, and she may have preferred to remain under her own governance rather than submitting to the rule of a new husband.

LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065 20r-21v.

Testimony of Agnes Fry, Defendant, 1487-06-27

Summary: Responds that after having taken a day to consider John Tailour’s marriage proposal, she declined his offer in the presence of Robert Swete, Ralph Rolf, Henry Baker, John Botell, and others. Testifies that Swete later approached her on Tailour’s behalf with a ring, warning her (apparently) that she would lose all her possessions if she took the ring but did not marry John. She says that in any case that she refused accept Tailour’s gifts, but that he nevertheless against her will took her silver rings from her purse.

Responses personally made by Agnes Fry, 27 June in the home of the lord Official, before him

Agnes Fry sworn etc. on the positions etc. To the first position, she believes it. To the second position, [she says] that on a number of occasions since the death of John Fry of Prittlewell, the aforesaid John spoke to this witness about contracting marriage between them, and for this he solicited this witness both himself and through Robert Swete and Richard Maket. She says that around the middle of last Lent, this witness before Robert Swete and in [his (1)] house, at the time of John’s solicitations and urgings, responded to him that she did not intend to have him as her husband nor any other, but that this witness wanted to consider it, and if her heart turned towards him to have him as her husband between this day and the day of the anniversary of the death of her husband, she would then would give him her response. When that day came, this witness, in her own dwelling-house, in the presence of John Tailour, Robert Swete, Ralph Rolf, Henry Baker, John Botell, and others, responded to John Tailour that, having fully deliberated, she did not want to have him as her husband, and these were the words she gave him for an answer. And to the other contents in the position, she does not believe them. To the third position, she does not believe its contents. But she says that Robert Swete about last Lent wanted to give to this witness a certain ring on John’s behalf, and he said that she would lose all her goods if John did not receive the ring back if she did not contract marriage with him [2], but in any case she expressly refused to take the ring. And she says that John took the silver rings from this witness’s purse against this witness’s will. And she does not believe the other contents of this position. To the fourth position, she does not believe it or its contents to be true. To the fifth position, she believes what is believed and does not believe what is not believed and denies fame.

[1] His: pronoun unclear in Latin, could be “her house.”

[2] The subject of the verb “would lose” is unclear; it could be that Robert Swete would lose all his goods if she kept the ring but did not contract with John.


Testimony of Robert Swete, Witness for the Plaintiff, 1487-06-27

Summary: Testifies that after frequently having urged Agnes Fry to marry John Tailour, Fry responded on 1 April 1487 in his house and in his and Joan Hache’s presence that she would have Tailour or no one as her husband. Testifies that after he and Hache asked Fry if she wanted her statement to be kept secret or made public, the latter wished for it to made public, after which John Tailour and others entered the room. Swete says that Tailour thanked and kissed Fry, but that no more words regarding marriage were heard from them.

On behalf of John Tailour c. Agnes Frye

27 June in the home of the lord Official, in my, Spencer’s, presence

Robert Swete of the parish of Prittlewell, where he has lived for thirty years, illiterate, of free condition, forty years old or thereabouts, as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known John Tailour for two years, and Agnes Fry for thirty years. To the first and second articles of this libel, [he says] that on diverse occasions since the death of John Fry this witness urged Agnes Fry at the request of John Tailour to have John as her husband, and she always responded to this witness that she would never have him nor any other man up until the day of the anniversary [of the death] of John was completed. At length Agnes, convinced by the urging of this witness, on Tuesday either before or after Passion Sunday[1], which Tuesday he cannot certainly say, [was] in this witness’s dwelling-house, in the presence of this witness, Joan Hache, and Agnes, in the parlour of the house with John, and then this witness wished to have a response without further delay as to whether she would have John Tailour as her husband. She then answered to him thus, “I will have him or I will never have none.” And this witness immediately then asked Agnes whether she wished that this witness and Joan Hache keep secret what her will was in this matter or whether this could be openly declared, and she responded that she wished her will and her words to be publicly declared. And then Joan Hacche called into the parlour John Tailour, her father, and a man named Hunt, who was at that time in the hall of the house. And then this witness at that time in the parlour declared the aforesaid words and will stated by Agnes previously and John thanked Agnes and kissed her. This witness did not hear other words sounding of marriage between them. To the third and fourth articles, he knows nothing concerning their contents. To the fifth article, he says that the things said by him above are true and public voice and fame circulated and circulate in the parish concerning the speaking of these words, as he says.

[1] Passion Sunday was the 5th Sunday in Lent, in 1487 falling on 1 Apr.


Testimony of Richard Maket, Witness for Plaintiff, 1487-06-27

Summary: Testifies that he frequently heard Agnes Fry respond to John Tailour’s marriage proposals by stating that she would marry him if she could “convert herself to him.” Testifies that it was common knowledge in Prittlewell and other neighbouring places that Fry, in the presence of Robert Swete, had claimed she would marry Tailour if she married anyone.

Richard Maket, weaver of the aforesaid Prittlewell, where he was born, fifty years old, illiterate, of free condition. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known John Tailour for twelve years, Agnes Fry for thirty years. To the first and second articles of the libel, he says that on various occasions in the previous Lent, he was in Agnes’s house, situated in the parish of Prittlewell, when and where he heard John speaking to Agnes about contracting marriage between them, and always Agnes responded that if she could convert herself to him she would have him as her husband. And he knows nothing about other words sounding of marriage between them, nor any gifts or recognition of marriage, nor any other contents of the libel except from what he has heard from others, that is that he heard that the aforesaid Agnes in the presence[1] of Robert Swete on a certain occasion had said that she would have the aforesaid John as her husband and none other, and he says that concerning the speaking of these words fame circulated at Prittlewell and other neighbouring places.

[1] The manuscript reads “in persona Roberti Swete” (in the person of Robert Swete), probably a scribal error for “in presencia Roberti Swete” (in the presence of Robert Swete).


Testimony of Robert Brightmay, Witness for Plaintiff, 1487-06-27

Summary: Testifies that he was present in Robert Swete’s hall about 1 April 1487 when Agnes Fry said she would have John Tailour as her husband if she ever had anyone. Also, testifies that he heard nothing else between the two concerning marriage but that it is common knowledge in the parish of Prittlewell that Tailour would marry Fry.

Robert Brightmay, blacksmith of Prittlewell, illiterate, of free condition, twenty-eight years old or thereabouts. Inducted as a witness etc., he says that he has known John Tailour for four years and Agnes Fry for twelve years. To the first and second articles, [he says] that on the Tuesday about which Robert deposed above, this witness was present in Robert’s hall and heard when Agnes in the parlour there, in the presence of the abovesaid persons called there, said that she would have the aforesaid John as her husband if she ever had anyone, and this witness never heard other words sounding of marriage between them. To the third and fourth articles, he knows nothing. To the fifth article, he says that those things deposed by him above are true and that public voice and fame in the parish of Prittlewell circulated and circulates that John would take Agnes as his wife, as he says.


Testimony of Robert Swete, Witness for Plaintiff, 1487-06-27

Summary: Re-examined on the interrogatories (the defendant’s list of questions for the witnesses); no details recorded.

Robert Swete examined on the interrogatories. To the first interrogatory, he says as he said above. To the second interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents. To the third interrogatory, he admits its contents. To the fourth interrogatory, he admits its contents. To the fifth interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents.


Testimony of Richard Maket, Witness for Plaintiff, 1487-06-27

Summary: Re-examined on the interrogatories, saying that he urged Agnes Fry to marry John Tailour.

Richard Maket. To the first interrogatory, the danger of perjury shown to the witness, he says as he said above. To the second interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents. To the third interrogatory, he says that once he made advances to Agnes that she should have John as her husband and to its other contents he responds negatively. To the fourth, he admits its contents and that he would give her to John as his wife. To the fifth, he responds negatively to all its contents.


Testimony of Robert Brightmay, Witness for Plaintiff, 1487-06-27

Summary: Re-examined on the interrogatories; no details recorded.

Robert Brightmay. To the first interrogatory, the danger of perjury shown to the witness, he says as he said above. To the second interrogatory, he responds negatively to all its contents. To the third interrogatory, he admits its contents. To the fourth interrogatory, he admits its contents. To the fifth, he responds negatively to all its contents.

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