Middle English Word of the Moment

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #9: J. C. to William Milton, Archdeacon of Buckingham

Translation of a petition from one J. C. of Croydon to William Milton, asking for his help to redress and call a halt to a certain nasty habit belonging to the local bailiff representing the area's feudal lord, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is not the William Milton who was Archbishop of York during the latter part of Edward II's reign; this Milton was the Archdeacon of Buckingham from 1403 until his death in 1424[1]; the editor here just dates the petition "After 1406", without explanation. According to the editor's note, Milton was also registrar to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which explains why he is the recipient of the letter. Presumably J. C. can't write to the Archbishop directly because, if he were to do so, it would have to pass through the bailiff in question.

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 XXVI, p 27: J. C. to William Milton.
Or, How the Feudal System Will Fail You When You Need It.

To his most honourable, most wise and discreet[2] lord, Master William Milton, archdeacon of Buckingham, a poor[3] man, J. C. of Croydon, tenant to my most honourable lord the Archbishop of Canterbury, humbly entreats that, as in the month of August last gone, Margery, the wife of the said supplicant, was walking to oversee his[4] servants at work in the fields, there came J. Piers, the junior bailiff of my said lord in Canterbury, and by force and coercion there in the field he conquered the said Margery and shamefully overcame her and carnally defiled her contrary to her will, and many times afterwards the said J. has lain in ambush by diverse roads and paths to do carnal and shameful villainy to the said Margery. And also in the meantime when your said supplicant had gone out of town about his business, the same J., perceiving this, many times came and entered the house of the said supplicant and by force overcame and carnally defiled the said Margery, as can be well and truthfully proven against him by many worthy and discreet[5] people of Croydon, to the lasting detriment of the said supplicant and of his said wife, as well as other damage to their names and honour. For which reasons, may it please you that in your most wise counsel you make relation of this loathsome matter to my said most honourable lord and to lend your good help to such end that a due remedy may be ordained and made, as required by justice. 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). 27.

I thought I had rather a strong stomach, but working on this made for a very unpleasant afternoon's. At least she seems to have a relatively supportive husband. Though it hardly makes up for being assaulted all over the town and in her own house. I suppose if there are household servants there, they can't really stop him, because he is the Archbishop's bailiff. And they can't appeal directly to the Archbishop. Because he is the Archbishop's bailiff.


[1] According to the list of Buckingham's archdeacons held at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=32598.

[2] “discret”, which might, of course, mean simple “wise” or “discerning”. But it isn't a word I've encountered in these petitions before - “sage” is usual, and is the word I just translated as “wise” here, and, given the nature of the situation, I don't think it's going too far to suppose that J. C. would want discretion to be a quality Milton bears in mind when reading this.

[3] As elsewhere, 'poor' here clearly isn't literal - the man can speak and write French, or hire someone to do it for him, and has servants working in the fields. Calling oneself poor seems to be as much part of the form as opening with elaborate flattery of the recipient and referring to oneself in the third person, and I can think of several reasons for it off the top of my head: poverty as a spiritual attribute, extreme subjugation by comparison with the recipient, simple adherence to form, etc, any or all of which may be present in the pen of any one petitioner. In a case like this, it's tempting to imagine that he is also referring to his own emotional state, but that may be reaching a little too far beyond formal words.

[4] Or, possibly, her.

[5] In this case, “discretz” may simply mean “of good judgement”, with the word choice informed by his earlier use of “discret”.

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