Consistory: Testimony in the Late Medieval London Consistory Court is directed by Dr. Shannon McSheffrey of the Department of History, Concordia University, Montreal. Dr. McSheffrey is also responsible for both the document transcriptions and translations as well as this introductory sections. This project was first developed in 2008 and many research assistants have worked on it over the years. Many thanks to Michael Hargadon, Joyce Pillarella, Evan May, Ceri Allen, Emilie Roberts, Ryan Madden, Chris Perrin, Eva Kratochvil, Simon Beaulieu, James Leduc, Julian Sénéchal, and Sam Brouillette.
Material from London Guildhall Library Manuscripts 09065 and 09065B is used with the kind permission of the Guildhall Library, City of London Corporation.
This project has been generously supported with funds from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Ames Foundation of Harvard Law School, and the Office of the Vice-President for Research Graduate Studies and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Science at Concordia.
Editorial and Translation Conventions
The material is presented below in date order: in their current form, the Guildhall Library manuscripts 9065 and 9065B (the latter of which is a fragment that fits between folios 42 and 43 of MS 9065) consist of parts that were subsequently bound out of date order. On occasion, material is undated, and in those cases the material is inserted at what seems its most likely spot and assigned a tentative or approximate date. In some other cases, the exact dates are obscured by damage to the manuscripts, and again the material is inserted where it seems most likely to fit. Dates in the database follow the modern convention that the year begins 1 January; in some cases this means that the year stated in the entry is different from that in the heading, as until 1752, the new year in England began on 25 March, the feast of the Annunciation.
MS 9065 also includes earlier fragments, some of which probably were not Consistory court records at all. Some of this material has not been translated here, as it consists of technical legal procedures that are not easily rendered into English; anyone interested in them may consult the Latin edition of MSS 9065 and 9065B, available in draft here as a pdf.
Although most of the testimony was recorded in Latin, the scribes in the Consistory court sometimes used English for quotations and as glosses of words that were difficult to render into Latin. In the translations, the spelling of the English is modernized, but (as far as possible) the original wording is maintained.
I have not translated word for word, hoping to render the originals into something readable. In some cases I have omitted redundant words, for instance only rarely including the ubiquitous dictus/dicta of the documents (“the said John told the said Alice that…” becomes “John told Alice that…”). I have, however, chosen to retain in other cases legalistic phrasing and terminology, as the testimony below was written down as part of the legal record of case and it is important to retain its legal context.
In the original manuscript, forenames are given in Latin and the surnames in English, often spelled two or more different ways; English versions of the forename are sometimes used in the English quotations. In the translation here forenames are rendered using an English equivalent of the forename, sometimes aided by the English quotations (so that in one case a Petrus becomes Piers, as he is so called in an English quotation, and in another case a Petrus become Peter, similarly because an English quotation indicates that was his name). In cases where the surnames are variously spelled, I have chosen the most common spelling of the surname.
Place names are also translated into their modern form, and the county ( using the medieval rather than the post-1974 divisions) identified in notes. As “London” is now much larger than it was in the late fifteenth century, this places former villages and towns that are now firmly within Greater London, indeed sometimes within central London (such as Islington or Knightsbridge), in Middlesex or Essex.
Any exercise in translation involves interpretation and choosing of one path over another, sometimes arbitrarily. In some cases, more than one modern word fit: for instance, Middle English “trouth” became, in modern English, both ” truth” and “troth.” As the latter spelling and pronunciation have been retained precisely in the phrase in which it is most frequently used below — plighting one’s troth — I have used the latter form. On a number of occasions below, pronouns are ambiguous (the “he” could refer to John or to Thomas, for instance) ; this reflects the ambiguity of the original source.
In both the translations and the Latin transcriptions, the material in square brackets is supplied; supplied words are in some cases educated guesses regarding wording obscured by damage to the manuscript, and in some cases words missing from the manuscript by scribal error. In some places, the records are quite rough, with many deletions and insertions. Textual notes include only those deletions of significance; deletions of obvious scribal errors are not here noted. Similarly, only in cases where an insertion appears to be significant (an apparently later addition, for instance) is the insertion noted.
In medieval English ecclesiastical courts, litigation between parties was recorded using the preposition contra (Johannes Smyth contra Johannam Taylor), “against,” rather than using another more familiar Latin preposition meaning the same thing, versus, used in the common law courts. Modern scholarship abbreviates contra as “c.” and thus below, in the headings and the text, cases will be rendered as John Smyth c. Joan Taylor.