Consistory Court Cases

Thomas Lak c. Ann Munden

This case has a dramatic allegation. It starts with an ordinary path to marriage: Ann Munden made a contract of marriage with Thomas Lak in early January 1482 and then banns were read in church on three successive Sundays prior to the planned solemnization of the marriage. But then a man named Richard Bulle came…

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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…

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Agnes Waltham c. Richard Heth

Agnes Waltham sued Richard Heth in 1487 to enforce a marriage contract she said they had made. Testimony reveals some interesting evidence about neighbourhood surveillance of relationships: one of the witnesses, John Gosnell, said that he had confronted Heth about his improper visits to Waltham’s house and pressured him into contracting marriage with her in…

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John Croke c. Agnes Hill

The surviving testimony for this suit is incomplete, but reveals some interesting things about a marriage between two offspring of London’s civic elite. In February 1487, John Croke sued Agnes Hill to enforce a marriage contract. The only complete testimony is from John Dawes, likely Agnes Hill’s cousin, and concerns a skuffle that took place…

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John Halyday c Margaret Partrich

In 1487, John Halyday sued Margaret Partrich to enforce a marriage contract they allegedly made in June 1486; all that survives is the defendant’s examination. Partrich acknowledged in her testimony that Halyday approached her with the intention of contracting marriage, but she says she declined his proposal. 1487-02-07, LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065, fol. 13v Testimony of…

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John Palmer c. Christopher Manser

In February 1487, John Palmer sued Christopher Manser over unpaid debts. The witnesses both testify that sometime during the first three weeks of Lent (February or early March) 1486 they heard Manser acknowledging that he owed money to Palmer and swearing an oath to repay a specific amount in the next two weeks. He presumably…

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Joan Austy c. William Codding

This case involves a complicated love quadrangle and allegations of poisoning in Whitechapel on the east end of London. We have in the Consistory records only the February 1487 examination of the defendant, William Codding, perhaps some months into the case (other records do not survive). Joan Austy had sued him, alleging that they had…

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Richard Tymond c. Margery Sheppard

Around mid-year in 1487, Richard Tymond sued Margery Sheppard to enforce a marriage contract they allegedly made in May 1486. When examined, Sheppard said that Tymond had urged her to marry him in late March and again in late June 1486, but she had told him on both occasions that she would not marry without…

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Alice Norman c. William Clerk

This is a case about the last will and testament of a woman, Maude Mig, who died of leprosy around 1487. She and her husband had been judicially separated at the time of her death. The grant of separation, which allowed them to live apart though they were still legally married, may have been due…

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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…

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John Brocher c. Joan Cardif alias Peryn

In July 1487, John Brocher sued a young Essex widow, Joan Cardif alias Peryn, to enforce a marriage contract he claimed they had made the previous April. The witnesses – who included Cardif’s own mother and stepfather, both of whom testified against her – said that they had heard the couple exchange vows of marriage.…

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John Pollyn and William Thaccher c Agnes Parker

This is a three-cornered suit: two men, John Pollyn and William Thaccher, sued Agnes Parker 1487, each claiming they had made a contract of marriage with her. Earlier testimony in the case outlining Pollyn’s case has evidently been lost; what we have here are Agnes Parker’s denials of marriage with Pollyn (she said that she…

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Richard Crocheman c. William Baldewyn

In July 1487, Richard Crocheman sued William Baldewyn for defamation: Baldewyn had repeatedly over the last six weeks called Crocheman a sheep thief. The witnesses, all from Barking in Essex (as presumably were also Crocheman and Baldewyn), paid close attention to the legal requirements for defamation: the plaintiff had to have suffered a loss of…

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Office c. Sir Richard Wodehous and Agnes Wilson [?]

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…

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Beatrice Smyth c John Crote

In July 1487, Beatrice Smyth sued John Crote to enforce a marriage contract she claimed they had made around 1482 while Crote lay ill in a chamber in the tower of the parish church of St Michael Queenhithe, where he worked. Witnesses testified that after this bedside exchange of consent, however, the couple could not…

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Alice Rokewode c Peter Hanham

This case offers a rare instance of a man claiming he could only marry with his family’s consent. In November 1487, Alice Rokewood sued Peter Hanham to enforce a marriage contract she claimed they had made in 1485. Rokewode had two witnesses who testified they had witnessed an exchange of present consent. Her father, Robert…

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Thomas Byrch c. Elizabeth Barker

The examinations in this case do not much concern the marriage case in question, in which (we can infer) Thomas Byrch claimed that he had made a contract of marriage with Elizabeth Barker three years before, which she denied; Christopher Rotherey, the first person examined, appears to have been organizing a solemnization of marriage with…

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Sir John Hode c. Master John Row

Here we see an altercation between priests over a breviary, a book containing the “divine office” for each day, which priests used to conduct church services. The Consistory paid special attention to allegations of violence against priests – even in a case such as this one where the accused assailant was a priest, too. The…

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John Call c. Elizabeth Hertford

In this defamation case, Elizabeth Hertford of Islington was accused of grievously insulting her neighbour John Call, calling him a thief, a cuckold, and various other names (accusations that tell us some interesting things about the construction of masculine gender identity). The legal basis of a defamation claim required that the witnesses testify to how…

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Margaret Niter and Agnes Skern c. Piers Curtes

This is a juicy case that brought in some of the highest in the land to pressure a reluctant man to go through with a marriage. In January 1488, widows Agnes Skern and Margaret Niter both sued Piers Curtes, each claiming that he had made a contract of marriage with them. Curtes was an important…

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Alice Parker c. Richard Tenwinter

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…

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William Halley c. Agnes Wellis

In this case, we see Agnes Wellis, a young woman living with her widowed mother and her new husband, courted by William Halley, a young man with a “pretty livelihood.” At the request of Agnes Wellis’s mother, a neighbour, Henry Brond, took on the paternal role of asking the two whether their visits together were…

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Alice Billingham c John (or Thomas) Wellis

In 1488, Alice Billingam sued John Wellis, claiming that they had contracted marriage on Valentine’s Day 1486. The witnesses for the case had interesting things to say about how an employer might try to find a husband or wife for a servant; what a young man or woman on the market for a spouse would…

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William Hawkyns c. Margaret Heed

In 1488, Margaret Heed, daughter of a wealthy London merchant, agreed to marry William Hawkyns, another merchant and clearly her father’s choice. As the witnesses testify, Margaret Heed said the binding words of a marriage contract several times in front of a number of prominent people, but she vacillated, promising to marry Hawkyns at one…

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John Hill and Emma Wright c. Elizabeth Leg alias Hill 

Despite the rigid once-you’re-married-it’s-for-life nature of medieval Catholic marriage, in practice people practised some DIY when it came to marriage dissolution. The case had two alleged self-divorces. It is a bit complicated, but here’s a guess at the back-story. Around 1469 or 1470, John Hill of Hadley, Middlesex, married a woman named Elizabeth Leg. They…

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Ann Styward c. Richard Styward

When Ann, the widow of tallowchandler Richard Alpe and mother of four underage children, married another tallowchandler, Richard Styward, in early 1488, something resembling a nightmare resulted. By Styward’s own admission, after their marriage was solemnized, he “violently and seriously beat” her and spent much of Richard Alpe’s (considerable) estate. As he noted, his assumption…

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Sir John Bolsar c. Thomas Pumpe

There’s some interesting evidence about local conflict-resolution through arbitration in this case. It involves a quarrel between a vicar and a layman about rent on a piece of land; there is also something obscure about the defendant having to perform penance, which may simply relate to an earlier stage of this same case or hint…

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Joan Essex c. Agnes Badcock

In late September 1488, Agnes Badcock allegedly accused a neighbour, Joan Essex, of committing adultery with Agnes’s husband John. The testimony offered by four men who lived nearby is fascinating and appalling in various ways: Agnes Badcock’s accusation against Joan Essex was delivered in dramatic fashion, screamed on the street after Agnes had fled a…

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John Mendis c. John Adam

In April 1488, several Middlesex men were talking together in the yard of a manor house following a wedding feast when one accused another of being a thief and threatened to drive him from their town of Edgware. The witnesses’ testimony tells us not only about the circumstances of this defamatory insult but capture brief…

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Thomas Wulley c. Margaret Isot and John Heth

This is a fascinating case: witnesses give detailed stories about a local official, with a posse of neighbourhood elders, who burst in on a man and woman, Thomas Wulley and Margaret Isot, engaging in sex.  When questioned, the man claimed that the two were, in fact, husband and wife. Calling their bluff, the official asked…

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Prior and Convent of Blackmore c. Edward Clovell

This is a tithe dispute: Edward Clovell – evidently a prosperous farmer with several servants working for him – allegedly refused to render the tithe he owed from his harvest on one of his fields when the collectors came for it. Tithes were to be one-tenth of one’s produce or income, given to the church:…

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Robert Philipson c Joan Corney

This is a rural Essex case of lovers pledging their love over a fruit tart eaten in a field – until a father’s hostility split them up. In 1489, Robert Philipson sued Joan Corney to enforce a marriage contract he claimed they had made. Corney, when examined, said that she had agreed to marry him…

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Richard Cressy c. Alice Scrace

Cressy c. Scrace is an example of an uncontested lawsuit, where the point was not for the plaintiff to confirm or annul a marriage with the defendant but rather for both parties to have the court declare the validity of their union in the face of family hostility. It was not Alice Scrace, but her…

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John Jenyn c Alice Seton and John Grose

In a complicated three-cornered case that ran over more than a year, two men, John Jenyn and John Grose, each claimed to be married to Alice Seton. Jenyn’s claim was that he and Seton had married in May 1489, exchanging consent in the George tavern on Fleet Street before a number of witnesses. Several who…

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Henry Kyrkeby c. Eleanor Roberts

Testimony in this case gives us fascinating insights into women’s employment conditions and the arrangement of marriage in rural Essex. Henry Kyrkeby’s witnesses claimed that Eleanor Roberts, a servant, agreed to marry him after meeting him once, exchanging binding vows of marriage with him at the four elms at the Hornchurch crossroads. Kyrkeby’s witnesses didn’t…

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Office c. Margaret Agmundesham

Margaret Agmundesham’s appearance before the Consistory Official may have been the result of an “office” case (where the court undertook an investigation into a matter under its purview), or it may have related to litigation, perhaps a suit brought by the Ann mentioned in the responses below. This was a testamentary matter: in some way…

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Joan Ponder c. Margaret Samer

In early 1490, Margaret Samer of Buttsbury, Essex, allegedly said a number of scurrilous things about her neighbour Joan Ponder or more precisely about Joan’s mother: that Joan was not her father’s daughter but instead the product of her mother’s adulterous liaison with a friar; that Joan’s mother had been a “harlot.” As the witnesses…

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Office c. John Eggot, John Wyndell, Thomas Auger, John Umfrey, and William Herd

In 1490, five men of the parish of Ramsden Crays in Essex were summoned to the Consistory to explain why they were refusing to pay tithes to their parish priest on their sheep. As this and other tithe cases before the Consistory make clear, local custom was important in determining what was subject to tithes…

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Christian Hilles c. Robert Padley

The town of Stanford Rivers, Essex, saw a drama of thwarted love and premarital pregnancy in 1489 and 1490. Christian Hilles and Robert Padley, two servants who worked for the same employer, courted seriously with one another between March and October 1489, exchanging gifts and talk of marriage. According to local rumour, they had a…

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William Calverley and William Case c. Joan Brown

The recently widowed Joan Brown lived in Stratford Langthorne, in a house large enough to have both a hall and a parlour. Widows with property were attractive marriage prospects, and in the summer of 1490 two men, William Calverley and William Case, sued her in the Consistory court, each presenting witnesses claiming to have been…

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Alice Barbour c. William Barbour

A mind-boggling aspect of late medieval church courts was the employment of “juries of matrons” in suits for divorce by reason of impotence: the court could order a group of women to investigate on its behalf whether a man was capable of “having carnal knowledge” of a woman. In other words, they performed a court-ordered…

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Richard Chevircourt and Margery Phillips c. Robert Dow

The making of a marriage in the fifteenth-century diocese of London was a process rather a single event. One common path was the making of the contract of marriage, an unbreakable bond, in a domestic setting with a few close friends and relations as witnesses, followed by several weeks or longer of preparations before a…

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Thomas Walker c. Katherine Williamson alias Walker

According to the witnesses in this case, Katherine Williamson married two men in quick succession in 1482 and early 1483. This case is likely a suit to annul the second marriage rather than to enforce it: the headings indicate that Thomas Walker was the plaintiff, but the first three witnesses, apparently called on his behalf,…

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William Newport c. Isabel Newport

According to the testimony in this case, Isabel Newport was about as bad a wife as it was possible to be in late fifteenth-century London: she was violent, disobedient, sexually promiscuous, and dishonest. The legal basis for the lawsuit, apparently a petition for a judicial separation brought by William Newport against Isabel Newton, is somewhat…

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Robert Walsh and Mark Patenson c. Margaret Flemmyng

Margaret Flemmyng was evidently something of a marital catch, with youth, a substantial marriage portion, and probably also personal charm. Her parents evidently had one idea for her marriage – Robert Walsh, whom they encouraged in his attentions to their daughter – and she another. Margaret Flemmyng herself had initially been inclined towards Walsh (as…

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Office c. Giles Eustas

Calculating where a person should pay tithes could be complicated: what happened, for instance, when the lands from which a person gained income straddled more than one parish? In this case, brewer Giles Eustas of Highgate was summoned to the Consistory, probably because the parish priest of Finchley parish, Master John Bell, disputed the proportion…

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Francis [Unknown] c. Elizabeth Clerk

This is a fragment: someone named Francis evidently sued Elizabeth Clerk, alleging that she had made a contract of marriage with him, and (as below) on examination, she denied his allegations, most of which were implied rather than explicit in her answers, unfortunately. We get a few interesting things, such as that Clerk admitted receiving…

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Robert Woode c. Joan Patryk

In 1491 Joan Patryk accused Robert Woode, a shearman, of having “cut her purse,” literally cutting the cord from which a woman’s pouch or purse hung from her girdle or belt. She alleged this had happened while they, their spouses, and several other people had been socializing and drinking in the house of Joan and…

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Elizabeth Brown and Marion Lauson  c. Laurence Gilis 

This is one of the more complicated and interesting cases at the late fifteenth-century London consistory court. The basic case is straightforward: two women, Elizabeth Brown and Marion Lauson, each claim that they contracted marriage with Laurence Gilis. In the end, Gilis and Lauson circumvented the lengthy court procedures and went ahead and married; though…

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Robert Warde c. Joan Qualley or Whalley

Within about five or six weeks of her husband William’s death in September 1491, London widow Joan Qualley or Whalley was receiving offers for her hand. She evidently considered Robert Warde, an ostler working for a local brewer, John Knap (likely the trade her late husband had also followed), but instead chose William Dichand. When…

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Laurence Wyberd and John Austen c. Maude Gyll

In late 1491, two men – Laurence Wyberd of Essex and John Austen of Shoreditch or London – each claimed that they had made a contract of marriage with Maude Gyll of London. Wyberd’s witnesses (who included his father and brother) gave detailed testimony not only about a contract of marriage just after Christmas 1490 but…

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John Bradfeld c. Joan John

Witnesses for this defamation case depict a vivid scene of Joan John and John Bradfeld arguing with one another by the Hythe[1], Colchester’s harbour some distance from the city itself. Joan accused John Bradfeld of being a “strong thief” and “a false extortioner.”  The witnesses called to support John Bradfeld’s defamation suit against Joan John…

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Office c. John Barle

Some amusingly passive-aggressive behaviour on the part of a parishioner in the payment of his tithes in an unspecified Essex parish. John Barle came before the Consistory likely after his parish vicar reported him for not paying his tithes as required. On examination, Barle claimed that he rendered his tithes as he was supposed to,…

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Marion Filders c. John Arnold

This may be an example of a stalled marriage process: according to the three witnesses, more than two years before, Marion Filders and John Arnold had contracted marriage in the house of John and Elizabeth Hayward in Stratford Langthorne, Essex. The only hint as to what had gone wrong afterwards is in the third witness’s…

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Maude Bywel c. Elisabeth or Isabel Jeld

A husband and wife from Edmonton, Middlesex, testified in 1494 about a quarrel amongst women on the street outside their house. A physical altercation was followed by insulting words, and it was the words and their effect that were at issue here (as assaults were not in the Consistory court’s jurisdiction). LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065, fols.…

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Agnes Eston c. John Crosby

In 1494, a young servant woman, Agnes Eston, sued John Crosby, a young man from London’s merchant elite. The two had been spending time alone in her chamber, with her employers encouraging the relationship and turning a blind eye to the impropriety. Eston alleged that the two had exchanged binding vows of marriage, but Crosby…

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Margaret Shewyn alias Howsyn c. Adam Bagby

This is a case of disputed inheritance and whether legacies made by oral bequest were to be honoured even when not specified in the testament. Margaret Shewyn’s witnesses testified that Elizabeth Smyth had several times orally bequeathed to her a bed, a blue gown, and a blue girdle or belt decorated with silver, but Elizabeth’s…

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Agnes Moyne and Margaret Broke c Christopher Kechyn

Christopher Kechyn, a carpenter of mature years, was busy in 1496, contracting marriage with at least three young women. This brought him in early 1497 before both the Consistory – where two of those women, Agnes Moyne and Margaret Broke, sued him to enforce the contracts they claim to have made with him – and…

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