About the Consistory

How to cite: Shannon McSheffrey, “About the Consistory,” Consistory: Testimony in a Late Medieval London Church Court, 2022, http://consistory.ca/the-consistory/.

Medieval Canon Law and Consistory Court Litigation

The legal regime governing the bishop’s Consistory court was the system of church or canon law that had developed in Catholic Europe over the preceding centuries. By the fifteenth century the body of canon law was complex and far-reaching, governing many aspects of late medieval life. Although in theory the canon law applied in the same way throughout the medieval Catholic world, in practice medieval church courts often developed local interpretations and practices. In order to understand the testimony offered in the London Consistory, how the canon law defined marriage and divorce, defamation, and other issues needs to be explained.

Marriage and Divorce

In the course of the Middle Ages, marriage came to be accepted as one of the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church.1 As such, disputes about it came under the jurisdiction of canon law as administered through the church courts. But the Church’s authority over marriage was not straight-forward, because although marriage was a sacrament, it was not performed by a priest but rather by the individuals who were marrying. The theology of marriage had developed in such a way that it was the exchange of consent of the two individuals that made the marriage bond, whatever parents, lords, or even priests might say about it. This exchange of consent was called a contract.

In the late Middle Ages, a canonically valid marriage contract was created by the exchange of present consent (that is, in verbs of the present tense) by the two principals: “I take you X to be my wedded wife”; “I take you Y to be my wedded husband.” A valid marriage could also be made by future consent, the exchange of consent in the future tense -“I will take you” -followed by consummation (i.e. sexual intercourse). An unconsummated marriage contract made by future consent (what we might call a betrothal or engagement) could be broken up by mutual consent or if one partner made a present-tense contract with someone else.

These words could be spoken anywhere, and as long as there were two adult witnesses, the contract was binding; if the exchange took place in the present tense it could not be dissolved even by mutual consent. Although through much of medieval Europe, the process of marriage saw a couple making a future promise of marriage (a betrothal) in a domestic setting before family and friends, and then later a present exchange of consent in a church, officiated by a priest, the practice in late medieval England was slightly different. As the depositions in the fifteenth-century London Consistory show, many, and arguably most, exchanges of vows to marry in the London area were made outside of churches, often in people’s homes, or sometimes in taverns or fields, and these exchanges were often made in the present tense. In other words, these exchanges were not betrothals (which could be broken, albeit not easily), but the act of marriage itself. The testimony also shows that the couple often went on, despite the legally binding quality of that initial contract, to undertake a number of other steps in the marriage process before they actually began to live as husband and wife. Banns (announcements of impending marriage) were made in the parish churches of both bride and groom, on three successive Sundays or holy days. A solemnization of the marriage, or church wedding, followed. Much of the marriage litigation in the Consistory derived from one of the partners refusing to go through with the rest of the process after having (allegedly) made one of those binding promises of marriage in a domestic setting.2

An irony of the medieval church law of marriage was that the exchange of consent, whether in the future or the present tense, did not require a priest’s attendance, although the Church, of course, thought it desirable. In practice, many couples in the diocese of London made the binding promises in the present tense outside church and without a priest’s presence. Although in some medieval dioceses, making a present-tense contract outside of a church could lead to excommunication,3 there is little sign of ecclesiastical concern about this in fifteenth-century England, as long as the couple went on to ratify their contract in a church solemnization, officiated by a priest.4 A couple who failed to take this final step of solemnization before a priest committed a sin, but — crucially — they were still married. Witnesses were also not sacramentally necessary to create the marriage bond, but the exchange of consent could not be legally proven without them. And no marriage could be made without the consent of both principals: theoretically no-one could be forced into a marriage that he or she did not want.

There were technicalities, or impediments as the Church called them, which could prevent a couple from being able to marry and which automatically rendered an exchange of consent invalid. These included the impediments of consanguinity and affinity, or relationship by blood and by marriage respectively. Other impediments included impotence (usually defined as the man’ s inability to have sexual relations) and coercion (consent not freely given because of fear). But dissolutions of marriage came up relatively rarely in suits brought before fifteenth-century English ecclesiastical courts. Unlike modern marital litigation, the great majority of medieval English cases brought to court concerned enforcement rather than dissolution of marriage contracts. The issue at stake was almost always whether or not consent had been properly exchanged and a contract made. In other words, the party bringing the suit usually wanted the court to validate the marriage, not to dissolve it. Although this litigation pattern is similar to that found in other English ecclesiastical courts, as Charles Donahue has recently shown courts in other northern European dioceses in France and the Low Countries saw some strikingly different patterns. For instance, the courts of Paris and the diocese of Cambrai saw many separation cases, which were much less common in England.5 Although all medieval ecclesiastical courts were subject to the same principles of canon law, different regions developed distinct practices in the kinds of litigation that the courts heard.

Nonetheless, marriages did not last forever and in some cases the courts could help bring about their demise. A marriage could end in three legally recognized ways. The first and most common was the death of one of the spouses; the surviving widow or widower could and often did marry again. Two other sorts of marriage dissolution were also available in the Middle Ages, both called divorce. We should not, however, confuse medieval divorce with the modern use of the term, as it did not refer to dissolution of a valid marriage leaving both spouses free to remarry, as it does today. Divorce in the modern sense — breaking of a valid contract of marriage so that both parties may marry again — did not exist in late medieval Europe.

Divorce a mensa et thoro (literally “from table and bed”) resulted in what we would call a separation. The marriage still existed, and thus neither party could remarry, but the spouses were no longer required to live or sleep together. By medieval canon law and theology, married people owed the “conjugal debt” or “marital debt” to one another: that is, wives or husbands could not refuse to have sexual intercourse with their spouses when asked. A divorce a mensa et thoro ended this obligation and the obligation to live together. This sort of suit was fairly rare; several were brought to the London Consistory on the grounds of cruelty (see, for instance, Ann Styward c. Richard Styward; or William Newport c. Isabel Newport). Similarly, although rare, divorce a mensa et thoro suits were sometimes sought on the grounds of adultery.6

Divorce a vinculo (“from the bond”) corresponds to what we would now call an annulment: this was granted in cases where the marital contract was invalid from the beginning and thus never really existed. The most common basis for a divorce a vinculo was prior contract: X was already married to Y when he made a contract with Z, and thus X’s marriage to Z never existed, as X could not be married to two people at once. Even so, most suits alleging bigamy were pursued by the original spouse trying to restore the first marriage contract rather than by the second spouse attempting to dissolve the subsequent union (see, for instance, Robert Warde c. Joan Qualley or Whalley; in some of these cases, however, it is possible that the first marriage was invented as a pretext to dissolve the unwanted “second” marriage.7 The impediment of coercion was sometimes cited, as in Thomas Lak c. Ann Munden, where a woman claimed she had been kidnapped and forced to marry.

Other impediments that were raised in other ecclesiastical courts rarely or never came to the attention of the London Consistory court according to surviving records. For instance, the court at York dealt fairly frequently with the impediment of nonage, or marriage below the age of consent (usually twelve for girls, fourteen for boys).8 In London, by contrast, this impediment was never raised, and other evidence indicates that in general the age of first marriage was rather higher (between about twenty-two and twenty-eight for both men and women) than in northern England, making nonage much less relevant. Marriages could also be impeded by consanguinity or affinity, or relationships by blood or marriage that were deemed too close. In the late Middle Ages, blood relationships were considered too close if they were within the fourth degree, that is third cousin and closer; relatives by marriage were also deemed too close within the fourth degree, so that the spouses of third cousins were also forbidden. Although some scholars have viewed the impediments of consanguinity or affinity as a common and easy escape for those who wanted to rid themselves of a wife or husband (oops, I just remembered she’s my third cousin), few cases were brought on these grounds in the late medieval English church courts. There are none at all among the hundreds of cases recorded in the fifteenth-century London Consistory deposition books.9

Why were so many people anxious to maintain contracts of marriage rather than break them up? This question occurs naturally to us because in the modern day, matrimonial litigation overwhelmingly concerns divorce, and so we find it odd that medieval English people used the church courts differently. Those different patterns of litigation may trace their origins ultimately to attitudes towards marriage, but a more direct reason for the divergence in the types of suits seen in modern and medieval courts is the contrast in medieval and modern courts’ jurisdictions and their governing legal frameworks. In other words, courts provide remedies for some kinds of problems, but not for all, and one can only use litigation for problems that a particular court can resolve. The modern legal system in England, for instance, does not entertain suits related to broken engagements, for instance, except in relation to property issues that arise from the break-up (for instance, the return of an engagement ring).10 Even if a woman seriously wrongs a man by promising to marry him and then abandoning him in a highly embarrassing manner on the very day of the wedding, he cannot sue her to force her to observe her promise to marry him. Were that remedy available, no doubt many jilted brides or grooms would sue, but in modern England no one has a legal obligation to keep a promise to marry.

In late medieval England, however, a contract to marry, if made using binding words, was unbreakable and indissoluble. As the records of the London Consistory show, many people in the late medieval diocese of London made binding contracts of marriage even before the church wedding, at the point in many other medieval cultures where betrothals (somewhat less binding promises) were made. Breaking such a contract, refusing to go ahead with the marriage, was contrary to the law — and thus a jilted partner could sue, and if the evidence was clear enough, could use the court to force the recalcitrant spouse to recognize the marriage. The injured party would not necessarily have sued simply out of revenge, pique, or obsessive love for the jilter; the rejected spouse could not legally, or morally, enter into another marriage contract if there was some lack of clarity about whether or not that other marriage had occurred.

Modern divorce laws in England and other Western countries do allow legally contracted marriages to be dissolved, and so a modern English person can sue to end a marriage. This possibility was not, however, available to a medieval English person, since by medieval law marriages, properly made, were indissoluble. One simply could not bring a suit to a church court in order to end a marriage, unless there was something fundamentally improper about the making of the marriage in the first place (as in the impediments discussed above). Some medieval church courts, such as in the Franco-Belgian region, saw a good deal of litigation for separation (which would not actually end the marriage, but would permit the partners to live apart),11 but even that was fairly rare in the diocese of London. Although medieval and modern people used and use the courts to their individual advantage, their use of the courts was and is limited by those courts’ powers and jurisdiction.

Factors external to the court system were also important. First, due to high mortality rates, most medieval marriages had a relatively short span — the average fifteenth-century marriage might have lasted only fifteen to twenty years before death parted one spouse from the other. Some marriages did, of course, last forty years and even more, but disease, childbirth, and violence claimed many medieval people while they were still relatively young. Second, medieval people probably often practiced self-divorce: unworkable marriages could be dissolved fairly easily, albeit illegally, by simple desertion.12 Unhappy husbands and wives could move to another part of the country where they and their marital history were unknown and they could marry again in their new place of residence. The records of the ecclesiastical courts show this happened with some frequency, although not always with success, as the London Commissary court (a lower-level ecclesiastical court) prosecuted a number of such cases.13 But many undoubtedly succeeded and were never detected.


Although ecclesiastical courts all over medieval Europe heard marriage cases, the English ecclesiastical courts’ jurisdiction over defamation was unusual in the medieval European context.14 By the fifteenth century, however, defamation made up a considerable portion of the business in English ecclesiastical courts, including litigation in the London Consistory, and the proportion made up by defamation cases would continue to grow in the sixteenth century, eventually eclipsing matrimonial litigation.15

Defamation, as the word suggests, was the loss of reputation or fame due to an allegation of wrongdoing.16 A defamation was not simply an insult; it had to involve the commission of a wrong. The wrong could be a sin (for instance, adultery), or a secular crime (for instance, theft). By the fifteenth century, English ecclesiastical courts accepted quite general imputations of wrongdoing. In order for an insult to be considered defamatory it was not necessary to refer to a specific instance of wrongdoing ( you fornicated with so-and-so; you stole my sheep last Friday); generally calling someone a whore or a thief would do. To prove defamation in a suit, a plaintiff had to show that the defendant had spoken maliciously, although for the most part this was seen to be self- evident from the nature of the words themselves (the assumption was that one would not lightly or unintentionally use these words).

Defamatory words also had to harm the reputation of the plaintiff. Somewhat curiously, whether or not the allegation at issue in the defamation was true was only somewhat relevant; in the cases in the London Consistory, the usual focus was not objectively on whether (for instance) a woman actually had, or had not, committed adultery, but rather on whether the words spoken harmed her reputation. The truth of the allegation was not unrelated; there was an assumption that if a woman had indeed committed adultery, or if a man was in fact a notorious thief, their reputations would not suffer from talk about their whoredom or thievery; they did not have good fame that the talk would harm. The testimony in defamation cases in the London Consistory tended to focus first on the uttering of the defamatory words, and then on the harm the words had done to a person who had hitherto been of good fame (see, for instance, John Mendis c. John Adam, or Joan Ponder c. Margaret Samer. Many scholars have fruitfully used defamation litigation to explore gender and social relations in England during the late medieval and early modern periods.17

Other Consistory Business: Clerical Discipline, Tithes, Testaments, Breaches of Faith (Debt and Perjury)

The Consistory also occasionally dealt with litigation and prosecutions related to other matters that came under ecclesiastical jurisdiction in England. Some of the disputes involved issues associated either with church administration or the clergy. Disputes regarding the collection of tithes (the customary dues laypeople owed to the church), for instance, came occasionally to the Consistory court, usually as an office case (that is, a prosecution by the court) rather than as a lawsuit, as in office prosecution of John Eggot, John Wyndell, Thomas Auger, John Umfrey, and William Herd. Cases involving the disciplining of the clergy — because of their sexual transgressions or violence, for instance — could also sometimes be heard in the Consistory court, again usually as office cases but sometimes as litigation (see, for instance, Sir John Hode c. Master John Row. Occasional other matters that are less easily classifiable, but which involved an aspect of church administration, came before the London Consistory, as in the case of an accidental death during the construction of an anchorhold (an enclosure to house an anchorite or hermit).

Other matters that came before the English ecclesiastical courts were less obviously related to sacraments or ecclesiastical matters, but through long- standing custom had come to a regular part of the church courts’ business. Among the most important prerogatives of the English ecclesiastical courts in the Middle Ages (and indeed well beyond), for instance, was probate, the administration of testaments.18 Wills were proved in various kinds of ecclesiastical courts in England (including the London Consistory, in a different set of records than the ones considered here).19 Sometimes disputes over testamentary provisions made their way into Consistory court litigation, as in Alice Norman c. William Clerk. The ecclesiastical courts, including the Consistory, also entertained suits related to breaches of faith (or breaking of oaths), a broad category as many transactions in late medieval England were accompanied by the swearing of oaths. Although many late medieval ecclesiastical courts heard a good deal of business related to breaches of faith,20 there were relatively fewer cases in the London Consistory. Debt disputes in late medieval London were normally handled in a secular court, but they could be sued in the Consistory as a breach of faith because business transactions (loans, purchase agreements, etc.) were normally sealed with oaths;21 see, for instance, John Palmer c. Christopher Manser.

Late Medieval London and its Hinterland

By the fifteenth century, London had long been by far the largest and most important city in England. In modern terms, however, its great size was only relative, and even in contemporary terms it could not rival Paris or the great Italian cities such as Florence or Milan. Surviving records do not allow us to state with precisions its fifteenth-century population; likely between 40,000 and 50,000 souls crowded into a space of slightly more than a square mile, while an additional population, relatively small as yet, spilled out into the suburbs outside the City boundaries and across the Thames in Southwark.22 Its sheer size as well as its location made London the economic center of the realm, playing a pivotal role in international trade and featuring the most diversified and specialized workforce. The population of London ranged from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest merchants and the mightiest aristocrats of the realm, the latter often keeping London houses (and very occasionally being invoked in the cases that came into the Consistory court, although not appearing as witnesses or litigants).

As in most other urban centers in this period, London’s population could not reproduce itself: the swift spread of disease in the close living conditions of the city meant that mortality rates outstripped fertility. It was through immigration that London kept its population roughly stable throughout the fifteenth century, and probably even increasing it somewhat in the decades around 1500. Many Londoners were newcomers who had their origins elsewhere in England: they frequently came to the city as adolescents to apprentice to a trade, enter into domestic service, or simply find wage labour of any kind. Others came from elsewhere in Europe: Flemings, Germans, Scots, Irish, Italians, Spaniards, French, and other “aliens” came to London, sometimes as international merchants, sometimes as manual labourers, beer brewers, or workers in other trades, sometimes falling into crime and prostitution.23

London itself was divided into different kinds of administrative units. Most relevantly for the Consistory court records, London had more than one hundred parishes, many of which extended over only a few streets, and on average each ministered to about three hundred people.24 The Consistory records give a good sense of parish and neighbourhood life (categories that were obviously overlapping), where social hierarchies, household structures, gender expectations, and patronage networks all intersected to constitute the complicated late medieval urban situation. The City of London itself — which included much, but not all, of the territory within the City walls and into the extramural suburbs — was divided into twenty-five wards. Each ward was represented in the City government by an alderman, who was invariably a wealthy and well-connected merchant; aldermen held their positions for life and were men of great importance in their neighbourhoods. Each year one of the aldermen would serve as mayor of London. As the testimony in the Consistory court frequently indicates, the ecclesiastical and civic hierarchies often worked hand in hand with one another, including in the regulation of marriage and sexuality.25

Beyond the city of London itself, the diocese of London extended to the counties of Essex, Middlesex, and parts of Hertfordshire. In relative terms, these areas of England were quite densely populated, with a prosperous agricultural economy. The areas around the city of London (which indeed have long since become part of Greater London) had close trading ties to the city. Not surprisingly, more litigants came from the areas closer to the city than from the furthest reaches of the diocese. The Consistory court records illuminate many aspects of rural life in this period — including household structures, domestic architecture, migration, labour, literacy, marriage, and devotional life — as L. R. Poos showed through his use of the London Consistory testimony in his important book on Essex in the late medieval period.26

Further Reading

NB: This bibliography and the notes below are in desperate need of updating! In progress

Bardsley, Sandy. Venomous Tongues: Speech and Gender in Late Medieval England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Barron, Caroline M. London in the Later Middle Ages: Government and People, 1200-1500. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Barron, Caroline M. “Lay Solidarities: The Wards of Medieval London.” In Law, Laity and Solidarities: Essays in Honour of Susan Reynolds, edited by Pauline Stafford, Janet L. Nelson, and Jane Martindale, 218-33. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001.

Barron, Caroline M. “London 1300-1540.” In Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 1, 600-1540, edited by David Palliser, 395-440. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Barron, Caroline M., and Anne F. Sutton, eds. Medieval London Widows, 1300-1500. London: Hambledon, 1994.

Brundage, James A. Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Burgess, Clive. “London Parishioners in Times of Change: St. Andrew Hubbard, Eastcheap, c. 1450-1570.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 53 (2002): 38-63.

Capp, Bernard. When Gossips Meet: Women, Family, and Neighbourhood in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Carlin, Martha. Medieval Southwark. London: Hambledon, 1996.

Carlson, Eric Josef. Marriage and the English Reformation. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.

Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Donahue Jr., Charles. Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages: Arguments about Marriage in Five Courts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Donahue Jr., Charles. The Records of the Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts. 2 vols. Berlin: Duncker and Humbolt, 1989, 1994.

Donahue Jr., Charles. “Female Plaintiffs in Marriage Cases in the Court of York in the Later Middle Ages: What Can We Learn from the Numbers?” In Wife and Widow in Medieval England, edited by Sue Sheridan Walker, 183-213. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Donahue Jr., Charles. “The Canon Law on the Formation of Marriage and Social Practice in the Later Middle Ages.” Journal of Family History 8 (1983): 144-58.

Fletcher, Anthony. Gender, Sex and Subordination in England, 1500-1800. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995.

French, Katherine L. The Good Women of the Parish: Gender and Religion After the Black Death. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

French, Katherine L. The People of the Parish: Community Life in a Late Medieval English Diocese. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Goldberg, P. J. P. Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire, c. 1300-1520. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

Gowing, Laura. “‘The Freedom of the Streets’: Women and Social Space, 1560-1640. ” In Londinopolis: Essays in the Cultural and Social History of Early Modern London, edited by Paul Griffiths and Mark S. R. Jenner, 130-51. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

Gowing, Laura. Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Hanawalt, Barbara. The Wealth of Wives: Women, Law, and Economy in Late Medieval London. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Hanawalt, Barbara. “Of Good and Ill repute”: Gender and Social Control in Medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Hanawalt, Barbara. Growing Up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Hanham, Alison. The Celys and Their World: An English Merchant Family of the Fifteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Helmholz, R. H. The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s. The Oxford History of the Laws of England, vol. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Helmholz, R. H. “Harboring Sexual Offenders: Ecclesiastical Courts and Controlling Misbehavior.” Journal of British Studies 37 (1998): 258-68.

Helmholz, R. H. Marriage Litigation in Medieval England. London: Cambridge University Press, 1974.

Houlbrooke, Ralph. Church Courts and the People during the English Reformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Ingram, Martin. Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Karras, Ruth Mazo. Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Lobel, Mary S. The City of London From Prehistoric Times to c. 1520. The British Atlas of Historic Towns, vol. 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

McIntosh, Marjorie Keniston. Controlling Misbehavior in England, 1370-1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

McSheffrey, Shannon. “Detective Fiction in the Archives: Court Records and the Uses of Law in Late Medieval England.” History Workshop Journal 65 (Spring 2008) : 65-78.

McSheffrey, Shannon. Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture in Late Medieval London. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

McSheffrey, Shannon, ed. Love and Marriage in Late Medieval London. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.

Morris, Colin. “A Consistory Court in the Middle Ages.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 14 (1963): 150-59.

Neal, Derek G. The Masculine Self in Late Medieval England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Nightingale, Pamela. A Medieval Mercantile Community: The Grocers’ Company and the Politics and Trade of London, 1000-1485. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995.

O’Hara, Diana. Courtship and Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

Outhwaite, R. B. Clandestine Marriage in England, 1500-1850. London: Hambledon Press, 1995.

Parker, Sandra Lee, and L. R. Poos. “A Consistory Court from the Diocese of Rochester, 1363-4.” English Historical Review 106 (1991): 652-65.

Pedersen, Frederik. Marriage Disputes in Medieval England. London: Hambledon, 2000.

Poos, L. R. A Rural Society after the Black Death: Essex, 1350-1525. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Poos, L. R. “The Heavy-Handed Marriage Counsellor: Regulating Marriage in Some Later-Medieval English Local Ecclesiastical-Court Jurisdictions.” American Journal of Legal History 39 (1995): 291-309.

Poos, L. R. “Sex, Lies, and the Church Courts of Pre-Reformation England.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 25 (1995): 585-607.

Rexroth, Frank. Deviance and Power in Late Medieval London. Trans. Pamela E. Selwyn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Rushton, Peter. “Property, Power and Family Networks: The Problem of Disputed Marriage in Early Modern England.” Journal of Family History 11 (1986): 205-19.

Schofield, John. Medieval London Houses. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.

Sheehan, Michael M. Marriage, Family, and Law in Medieval Europe: Collected Studies. Edited by James K. Farge. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Smith, Richard M. “Marriage Processes in the English Past: Some Continuities.” In The World We Have Gained: Histories of Population and Social Structure, edited by Lloyd Bonfield, Richard M. Smith, and Keith Wrightson, 43-99. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.

Sutton, Anne F. The Mercery of London: Trade, Goods and People, 1130-1578. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005.

Thrupp, Sylvia L. The Merchant Class of Medieval London, 1300-1500. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962.

Williams, Gwyn. Medieval London: From Commune to Capital. London: Athlone Press, 1963.

Woodcock, Brian L. Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts of the Diocese of Canterbury. London: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Wunderli, Richard M. London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of the Reformation. Cambridge, Mass.: Medieval Academy of America, 1981.


1  Regarding the canon law of marriage and its administration in the ecclesiastical courts, the best starting points are R. H. Helmholz, The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) and Charles Donahue Jr., Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages: Arguments about Marriage in Five Courts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). The text in this section is adapted from Shannon McSheffrey, Love and Marriage in Late Medieval London (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995), 4-8.

2  For further discussion of this, see McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture, 17-47.

3  Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society, 362-63, 376, 431-32.

4  McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture, 27-32.

5  Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society, ch. 10.

6  McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture, 166-70.

7  See for the discussion of such a case, Shannon McSheffrey, “Detective Fiction in the Archives: Court Records and the Uses of Law in Late Medieval England,” History Workshop Journal 65 (Spring 2008), 65-78.

8  See Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society, 99-101

9  On consanguinity and affinity, see Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society, ch. 11.

10  Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 (c. 33), esp. section 1.1; http://www.opsi. gov.uk/RevisedStatutes/Acts/ukpga/1970/cukpga_19700033_en_1.

11  Donahue, Law, Marriage, and Society, 307-11, 521-61.

12  R. H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 100-101; James A. Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 453-54, 514.

13  McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture, 37-38.

14  On defamation, see Helmholz, R. H. The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s. The Oxford History of the Laws of England, vol. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, ch. 11.

15  For sixteenth-century litigation in the London Consistory, see Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). In the fifteenth century, a good many defamation cases were heard in the lower-level Commissary court as office cases: see Richard M. Wunderli, London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of the Reformation (Cambridge, Mass.: Medieval Academy of America, 1981), ch. 3.

16  R. H. Helmholz, The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 573.

17  E.g. L. R. Poos, “Sex, Lies, and the Church Courts of Pre-Reformation England,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 25 (1995): 585-607; Sandy Bardsley, Venomous Tongues: Speech and Gender in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); Gowing, Domestic Dangers.

18 R. H. Helmholz, The Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), ch. 7.

19  See Ida Darlington, London Consistory Court Wills, 1492-1547 (London: London Record Society, 1967), at British History Online.

20  Helmholz, Canon Law, 359-60.

21  See Helmholz, Canon Law, ch. 6

22  On the population of London, see Caroline M. Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages: Government and People, 1200-1500 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 237- 42. This book is the best guide to the city’s later medieval history. See also Barron’s useful essay “London 1300-1540,” in Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 1, ed. David Palliser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 395-440. Although in a few ways superseded by recent studies such as Barron’s, Sylvia L. Thrupp’s The Merchant Class of Medieval London, 1300-1500 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948; rept., Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962) remains indispensable.

23 [Ormrod etc. on aliens]

24  Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages, 4-5; Clive Burgess, “London Parishioners in Times of Change: St. Andrew Hubbard, Eastcheap, c. 1450-1570,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 53 (2002): 38.

25  See Shannon McSheffrey, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture in Late Medieval London (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

26  L. R. Poos, A Rural Society After the Black Death: Essex 1350-1525 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

%d bloggers like this: