Middle English Word of the Moment

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #7: Margery to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Translation of a petition from a London woman called Margery to the Archbishop of Canterbury, possibly Arundel. She says that her husband believes, or feigns to believe, that she was pre-contracted to another man before marrying him, and is attempting to annul their marriage.

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 XL, p 40: Margery to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

To the most reverend father in God and her most gracious lord, Margery, wife of W.G. of London, humbly supplicates that, having wedded the said W. and lived with him in legal matrimony for four years, and not having been contracted to any other man before the nuptials were solemnised between them, the said W., thinking[1] falsely to be separated from the said supplicant by means of a false conspiracy between him and[2] one Robert C., clerk, has feigned a false[3] charge in the court of the most reverend father in God the Bishop of London, and there has pronounced to the said supplicant that she must have made a precontract with another man, when the said supplicant has no knowledge of any such man on this earth, and by means of this charge the said W. has pressed an annulment[4] between himself and the said supplicant, which annulment, through the false supposings[5] of the said Robert, will be carried out, if no solution may be found by your lordship, and so[6] may it please your most noble paternity, for the salvation of W.'s soul, to ordain remedy in this case. For God and in the name of 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). 40.

Firstly: please father, save my marriage, for the sake of my bastard of a husband's soul? This lass needs to go have a serious chat with Maude about taking charge of her own life.

Secondly: ymagenant, ymaginacions. This word appears twice, and makes the task of determining just what her husband is about rather a slippery one. The first occurrence is when we are told that W. is ymagenant fauxment d'estre departi de [Margery]... par faulx conspiracie par entre luy et un Robert C. I have translated ymagenant here as thinking, both because it lets me preserve the syntax of the original and because it's a rather neutral word and I wanted to keep discussion of implications out of the text itself. And here she uses it rather neutrally - the moral weight of that phrase is, or seems to be, on fauxment. She could have written creyent for ymagenant, without altering the sense of the phrase - in fact, I'll go out on a limb a little and say that this part reads as if she is trying to excuse her husband and lay the blame on Robert. It's perfectly possible to read ymagenant here as a blameless creyent and faulx in its sense of mistaken, incorrect, erring.

But then we come to the second use of the same word: le quel devors par faulx ymaginacions de dit Robert serra parforny s'il ne soit remedie. The two words again, faulx and ymaginacions, but here the context changes their reception. My first thought here was imaginations, fantasies, the lies Robert comes up with about her life, but the second, hard on its heels, was machinations. And indeed, on consulting the Anglo-Norman dictionary, I found it notes that "there is semantic and formal overlap and/or confusion between imaginer and machiner", defining imaginer as
v. a. 1. to imagine, envisage, create a mental image of; to imagine, conceive, think up 2. to invent, make up; to devise, contrive 3. to plot, scheme (cf. machiner);
v.n. 1. to imagine, envisage, create a mental image 2. to assume, think 3. to make plans;
So, if Margery is (consciously or otherwise) exploiting the ambiguity inherent in this word, this darkens her fau[l]xs to their more negative moral interpretations: wicked or sinful, rather than mistaken. This casts a different light back on what she was thinking when she wrote that first ymagenant, even if she meant to avoid laying the blame on her husband: paranoia, anger that she can't allow herself to feel properly, vulnerability, witnessing a conspiracy that she can neither expose nor withstand? She is concerned to keep her husband from falling into mortal sin, begging the Archbishop to save his soul, but even if she seems to try to keep most of her fau[l]xs from pointing directly at her husband, I think in her eyes his moral state is already fairly questionable. Or perhaps she wavers between seeing him as victim and agent.

This man does not make a good head, Margery. Use your own.



[1] 'Ymagenant' - but see note above.

[2] 'E[s]t' - I'm not sure why the editor has added that 's', as in context it can't be a verb, and while 'et' (in the sense of 'and') is sometimes spelt with an 's', 'et' is more common.

[3] Yes, she really does use 'fau[l]x' three times in a row. And while the double negative of ad feyné une faulx cause sounds clumsy in English, I'm leaving it in there to preserve the sense of vehemence or desperation that comes with the lady protesting too much.

[4] 'Devors', but he seems to be seeking to declare the marriage invalid altogether on the grounds of an earlier contract, not to be granted what we would call a divorce.

[5] 'Ymaginacions' - again, see note above.

[6] While 'and so' is necessary to make the grammar scan in English, it doesn't appear in the French. Her plese a vostre tresnoble paternitee... ordeigner remedie should, according to the usual form of these petitions, refer back to her opening que come ele ad esté espousé; but that has already been closed long ago, with ore le dit W... ad feyné. Technically, I think this is a grammatical flaw (unless I'm missing something); but to me, looking back at the other petitions, it seems more that the patterns within this form are becoming figures of their own. You open with supplie que, come... and close with plese a vous, and in the middle you tell a dramatic and poignant story in one long, involved sentence, but by the time you reach plese a vous you've forgotten what you're referring back to, and the form stands on its own.

6 comments:

tenthmedieval said...

With reference to that (6), I don't know these records at all, but it's certainly the case with a lot of my Catalan land charters (let me be clear &ndash these are Latin land charters from what is now Catalonia) that when the description of the goods transferred, which usually follows the first half of a verbal clause disposing of them, the second half never arrives because the scribe has apparently forgotten he's not just writing a list. This happens so much as almost to be diplomatically regular, and it seems to me just the same sort of contents-taking-over-form you have here.

Ceirseach said...

I think that's probably the case. So far as I can generalise (on the basis of enormous sample group of nine that I've translated so far!) the ones most likely to lose their grammatical consistency are the ones that are most emotionally fraught, and/or probably written by the petitioner him/herself, rather than a clerk. The ones that I think are most likely to be written by a clerk (which is most of them) tend to be more precise. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that I'm making judgements about the writer based on grammatical consistency anyway, so.

tenthmedieval said...

Hmm. That would be really interesting if you can unbend it enough to stop it being circular, and would be a very welcome tie-in with something that's going in an essay collection I'm currently trying to assemble. By what criteria other than emotional quality are you reckoning scribal attribution? Also, are we talking actual writing, or the setting of the text?

Also, isn't it ironic that in describing my scribes getting lost in subclauses, I see now that I managed to miss out my own main verb. Should be "... disposing of them, is finally completed, the second half... ". Also, I botched the n-dash. No-one employ me as a scribe, okay?

Ceirseach said...

Largely a sense of emotional immediacy and skill with handling the formal shape of the letter, so it's fairly subjective. I haven't sat down and made a careful examination with that in mind, though, so a closer look might be more informative. It's complicated, of course, by the fact that we're at another remove from these petitioners than might be obvious: the petitions are all in one manuscript, collected and written out by one man, apparently as some kind of Anglo-Norman reader or similar, and I don't believe any of them have survived (or been found to have survived) otherwise. So we don't know how close the text we have is to what the petitioners wrote, and how far he may have chosen to amend them silently to his purpose.

tenthmedieval said...

Yup, the great cartulary problem: what is this collection actually for? Any ideas on that score?

Sorry, I realise you must have other things to think about but this is all really interesting to me...

Ceirseach said...

According to the editor's introduction, "The miscellaneous character of the contents of the MS... may at first sight appear puzzling. The MS is, however, typical of one class of letter-book... [combining the characteristics of two other classes, those intended for teaching purposes or reference, and those drawn up by officials for their own private use.] These are MSS begun by clerks as note-books at grammar-school or University, and continued as common-place books by the addition of material useful to them in their subsequent career, to which they had access in the course of their duties. The All Souls MS. belongs to this class. Hence the interspersing of the letters with treatises on French language and spelling."

Which doesn't entirely answer your question as to purpose, of course. Collected by one man (mostly) on the basis of what looked interesting or what might be useful to him, but of course we dont' know what he may have considered useful, or to what ends.