Middle English Word of the Moment

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #4: J. G. to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Translation of a petition to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury (1397, 1399-1414): J. G. complains that a woman promised in marriage to him is avoiding solemnising the contract, avoiding a court summons by moving back and forth between two dioceses.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XXXIX, p 40: J. G. to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury.

To the most holy father in God and my most gracious lord, the Archbishop of Canterbury, J. S. of K, a poor man, humbly entreats that, being contracted to one Maude T. living in Royston to be taken as her husband, and as, with the protection of the prior of R. and other persons acquainted with the said Maude, she has retreated and wishes never to complete the said contract as required by the law of the holy church and good conscience; and as part of the said town of Royston is in the diocese of London and part is in the diocese of Ely, so that when the said Maute is summoned to appear before the law in one diocese she flees into the other diocese, so it appears she will not ever appear before the law in any manner because of the protection aforementioned; out of this, may it please your most holy paternity and gracious lordship to grant the said supplicant a summons to make the said Maude appear before your very person, in order that you may heard openly the said contract and ordain of it due remedy, as the law and good conscience demand. In the name of God and charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 29-30.

... Well, good on you, Maude. He sounds like an obnoxious drag. And isn't it odd to think of a time when people moved around so little that the courts didn't have any standard procedure to deal with this sort of situation, and it was left to the plaintiff to go over their heads?


Anonymous said...

I think I like this one best because of the image it paints of Maude. Where was she staying, I wonder? Did she have family who were prepared to entertain this breach of a contract that her family were presumably involved in agreeing? Did her husband do something unmentionable that he hasn't, well, mentioned, so that they felt it best for her to escape? So much backstory we can't see... (Also, as a dweller nearby, quite fun to see somewhere as parochial as Royston described as a city. What's the French here?)

Ceirseach said...

He uses the word "ville", which the Anglo-Norman Online Dictionary defines as "s. manorial estate, farmstead; town; township, officials of a town; townspeople; city". So perhaps town would be more accurate, or even parish. Some local geographical designation that seems to function as a distinct community, anyway!

Sounds like Maude was one of the lucky ones, doesn't it? She seems to have had a fairly substantial support network, and that it included "le priour de Royston" might suggest that,yes, J. G. wasn't a particularly pleasant character and that quite a few people felt she was justified in avoiding him.

The fascinating thing about this sort of document, I think, is that it in itself is only a reaction to events, so it tantalises us with the possibility of knowing how fairly ordinary people of the period might have felt and thought about a certain situation - but being only a reaction, we can't know what the events actually are, we can only guess - from the reaction.

Anonymous said...

I think for Royston `town' might well be better, but it's only a niggle. And I quite agree about the tantalising nature of the material, but I don't think it's that it's a reaction that makes these distinct, because after all, all our sources are a reaction to events. What makes these distinct is that the audience they envisaged was already largely informed, or indeed, would be best kept under-informed. Telling whether information isn't there because it was redundant or because it was unhelpful, however, well, there's the rub...

Ceirseach said...

Royston is only a name to me, so I'll take your word on that! Fixed.

And, quite true, they're not unique in that respect, but most of the other documents / texts I'm used to working with have at least some corroborative information in other sources to provide different perspectives.