Agnes Whitingdon c. John Ely

In January 1487, Agnes Whitingdon sued John Ely to enforce a marriage contract they allegedly made in September 1486. Ely claimed he had not contracted marriage with her, although they had had some discussions about it: he laid out a specific dowry he required as a minimum. Witnesses, on the other hand, testified that they witnessed on 29 September 1486 a present-consent contract between Ely and Whitingdon and that he treated her as his prospective wife, giving her gifts, buying her wedding clothes, and complaining to her master about her having to do the menial task of laundry.

LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065 10r-12r

Testimony of John Ely, Defendant, 1487-01-29

In Hillary term, A.D. 1486

Examinations in the London Consistory

Dominical letter G and the third year of the pontificate of Pope Innocent VIII, fifth indiction

Examination made on behalf of Agnes Whitingdon c. John Ely

Responses personally made by John Ely, 29 January

John Ely, sworn etc. concerning the positions etc. To the first article, he believes its contents to be true. To the second article of the libel [plaintiff’s statement of claim], he says that he does not believe its contents. He says that around the last feast of St. Michael the Archangel [29 Sept.], a certain Hawkyn, master of Agnes, urged him to have Agnes as his wife, and this deponent said that he did not want to contract with Agnes without first knowing how much her friends were willing to give as her marriage portion. Then, after it was arranged that a certain man named Robert would ride to Agnes’s parents to find out how much they would give for her marriage portion, Agnes said that her father would be coming to London around the next feast of All Hallows [1 Nov.]. So this deponent undertook to wait until that feast and to give Agnes an answer then, and until that time he would not speak to her about any contract of marriage. And he said that he would have her as his wife if he could have with her five marks [£3 6s 8d] by the upcoming feast of All Hallows. To the third article, he says that in relation to this conversation and after it, he lent to Agnes a set of coral rosary beads, and the other contents of the article he does not believe. To the fourth charge, he believes that the contents are true. To the fifth charge, he believes what is believed, does not believe what is not believed, and denies fame.


Testimony of John Robert, Witness for the Plaintiff, 1487-01-29

On behalf of Agnes Whitingdon c. John Ely

29 January, in the home of the lord Official, by him, in my, Spencer’s[1], presence

John Robert of the parish of St. Margaret Moses in Friday Street, London, where he has lived for four years, literate, of free condition, a cheesemonger, forty years old. Inducted as a witness etc., he says he has known Agnes Whitingdon for two years and John Ely for twenty years. To the first and second articles of the libel, he says that on a certain eve of a feast day around the last feast of St. Michael[2], which day he cannot otherwise specify, John came to this deponent’s house and sent Joan, this deponent’s servant, for Agnes at the house of her master, Hawkyn. Immediately after she came, John Ely, sitting in this deponent’s shop and communicating with Agnes in the presence of this deponent and his wife Joan, asked Agnes (among other things), “Agnes, how fare you?” She responded that she was saddened because she had heard that John had left her and that he intended, as it was said, to take a certain widow as his wife. Then John took Agnes by her right hand and said to her, “Agnes, by my faith and my troth, I forsake all women for you and take you to my wife.” Then, having unclasped their hands, Agnes took John by his right hand and said to him thus, “And by my faith and troth, I forsake all other men in the world and take you to my husband,” and they unclasped their hands, and they drank together. These words were spoken around nine o’clock of that day. The deponent also says that about a week or a fortnight after this, this deponent and Joan his wife were invited by John Ely to dine with him and Agnes Whitingdon in his home. After the meal on that same day, John led Agnes, the deponent, and Joan into his chambers and showed them his beds and bedding, and the gowns of his other wife (now dead) and her ornamented girdles[3], and indicated which girdle she would wear on the first day of the nuptials, and which girdle on the second day, and that on the same day she would wear a blue gown that had belonged to his first wife. He also showed her his bed, saying that he would never sleep in it until the marriage when she and he could sleep in it together. To the third article, he says that its contents are true as he has heard from Agnes and others. To the fourth article, he says that on a certain day after the contract as deposed above, John again sent for Agnes, who came to him at this deponent’s house, and after she came and after they had talked for a considerable while, Agnes’s master, Hawkyn, also came to the deponent’s home. Hawkyn asked John why he sent for his servant, saying that he wanted to know if he would have her as his wife or not, and John replied by his faith that he would take her as his wife and that he had contracted with her and had made her a promise that he never wished to break. He desired Hawkyn to make an order to Master Percyvale for a piece of cloth for a wedding gown for Agnes, and there Hawkyn at his request agreed to pay 6s 8d for a girdle for Agnes. This witness deposes these things from his own sight and hearing, as he says. Another time John, seeing Agnes carrying a bowk[4], [….] swore because she was carrying it, and said in the presence of John Cok that he did not want his wife carrying [such things]. To the fifth article, he says that the things said by him above are true, and that public voice and fame circulated and circulate concerning them in the parish of St. Margaret, as he says.

[1] The Consistory Court’s registrar, Richard Spencer.

[2] 29 Sept.

[3] belts

[4] a pail or bucket (see OED, s.v. bowk).


Testimony of Joan Robert, Witness for the Plaintiff, 1487-01-29

Summary: Agrees with previous witness, her husband John Robert.

Joan Robert, wife of John Robert, of the parish of St. Margaret Moses of the City of London, of free condition, age forty-eight. Inducted as a witness etc., she says she has known Agnes Whitingdon for two years, and John Ely for the same time. Questioned further concerning the first and second articles of the libel, she agrees with John Robert her husband, examined above, adding that at the time of the showing of his chambers and his goods to Agnes, John, in the presence of this witness and her husband, said to Agnes, taking her by the hand, “Agnes, by the faith of my body, there shall none body lie in this bed till you and I lie in it together.” To the third article, she says that John gave Agnes a silver gilt ring, as she heard from Agnes and John, and he gave her cloth for lining her gown, in the sight of this witness. And otherwise she knows nothing from her own knowledge, as she says. To the fourth article, she agrees with John her husband examined above. And she says that a little before the last feast of All Hallows[1], John, sitting in this witness’s dwelling-house, saw Agnes with bare legs carrying clothes to wash in the Thames, that is a bowk[2], and as if troubled by this said that Agnes’s master should get himself another servant to do this business because she was his wife and he did not want her through these labours to debilitate herself or fall ill and so on. To the fifth article, she says that what she has deposed above is true and that public voice and fame had long circulated and circulates concerning them in the parish of St. Margaret, as she says.

[1] 1 Nov.

[2] A pail or bucket (OED, s.v. bowk).


Testimony of John Cok, Witness for Plaintiff, 1487-01-29

Summary: Testifies that he heard John Ely on two occasions around September 29, 1486 claim that he intended to marry Agnes Whitingdon. Also, testifies to hearing John say that he did not want Whitingdon to continue carrying laundry to the Thames, stating that if Hawkyn, Whitingdon’s master, dismissed her from his service because she would not do this, he would take her in and pay for her meals until they married.

John Cok of the parish of St. Margaret Moses, where he has lived from a year before the last feast of St. Michael[1], linen draper, literate, of free condition, fifty-eight years old. Inducted as a witness etc., he says he has known Agnes Whitingdon for three years, John Ely for half a year and more. Questioned further about the contents of the libel, he says that he knows only that on many days around the last feast of St. Michael, which day or days he cannot specify, this deponent heard John Ely, both in the dwelling-house of John Robert and his wife and in their presences, and also in the dwelling-houses of this deponent and John Ely himself, saying that he would have Agnes as his wife and that he wished John Robert to inquire about a wedding gown of violet for Agnes and he, John, would have a fur-trimmed gown for himself. He also heard John saying that he did not wish Agnes to carry the bowks[2] to the Thames and he would rather pay someone else to do the carrying than have her do it. And if Agnes’s master dismissed her from his service because she would not carry clothes to the Thames for washing, John would take her in and pay for her meals until the time that the marriage was celebrated between them. He says moreover that on a certain day after that feast and around the last feast of All Hallows[3], the aforesaid John, in John Robert’s dwelling-house and in John Robert’s and this witness’s presence, said to Agnes thus: “Agnes, what cheer[4] is with you, why be ye so sad?” And she answered that she had much to be sad about because it had been told to her that he intended to have a certain other woman as his wife. He responded to her, “Agnes, take no thought therefor, for by the faith of my body I spoke never to her of that matter, and that promise I have made with you, I will keep it.” This witness deposes these things from his own sight and hearing, as he says. And otherwise concerning the contents of the libel he knows nothing from his own knowledge. But he says that what he has deposed above is true, and that public voice and fame circulated and circulate concerning those things, and that John and Agnes contracted marriage together.

[1] 29 Sept.

[2] A pail or bucket (OED, s.v. bowk).

[3] 1 Nov.

[4] “Cheer” here does not necessarily connote gladness: in the fifteenth century it meant frame of mind as shown by external demeanour, whether happy or sorrowful (OED, s.v. cheer, 3.a.).


Testimony of Robert Harries, Witness for Plaintiff, 1487-01-29

Summary: Agrees with previous witness, John Cok, and testifies that he has heard many people, especially John Robert and his wife Joan Robert, in the parish of St. Margaret say that Ely and Whitingdon contracted marriage together.

Robert Harries of the parish of St. Margaret aforesaid, where he has lived for twenty years, illiterate, of free condition, sixty years old as he says. Inducted as a witness etc., he says he has known Agnes Whitingdon for a year and more, John Ely for half a year. Questioned further regarding the contents of the libel, he agrees with the second [witness], that is that from the last feast of St. Michael the Archangel [1] this witness heard it said by many people, especially John Robert and his wife, that John and Agnes had contracted marriage together, and public voice and fame circulated and circulate in the parish of St. Margaret about the contract for the period written above, as he says.

[1] 29 Sept.

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