Marginalia -- The Journal of the Medieval Reading Group at Cambridge


Personal Memory, Collective Testimony and Masculinity in the Late Medieval Church Court of York

For churchmen and the Christian laity alike, time pertained not merely to daily life but provided the framework within which events transpired in concurrence with God’s will.1 The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 increased the importance of introspection in the lives of many medieval parishioners for whom internal contemplation did not cease once confession had been made.2 Individuals questioned in the Church court experienced a similar process of introspection when called to account on their memory of past events. However, spiritual concerns were often forgotten by witnesses, who in fact produced their testimony in accordance with a communal narrative.

Life-events remembered by witnesses, also known as deponents, who came before the Church court reveal much about their own individual thought patterns and perceptions as well as those of their communities. Personal recollections of emotive events such as births, deaths and marriages varied even among those witnesses present. Perceptions of collective memory as a uniform and constant entity have long been disproved, most notably by work on local custom.3 Memories that were put forward as commonly accorded accounts often obscure alternate, and perhaps, competing versions.4 Subaltern narratives and personal memory strategies were on occasion made to fit dominant narratives constructed by a party and their legal counsel.

To shed light upon these negotiations, I shall examine the relationship between witnesses’ memories that were ostensibly shared but were ultimately uniform components of a watertight court strategy, as well as personal memories that were unique to individual witnesses. A close reading of witness statements reveals tensions between collective and personal, or more precisely, communal and individual narratives. This study will seek to uncover the ways in which memory was inscribed within a constructed form of knowledge as shown by attempts to stabilize the fluidity of witnesses’ recollections and to impose an order of meaning on them. It will focus on a late fourteenth-century marriage dispute in which the male deponents remembered a communal event in order to present a cohesive and unified account. Their evidence attested to the social status of the male defendant and formed part of a wider court strategy. The testimony of a fraternal group however reveals the fissures produced in the communal meta-narrative by their evidence, and alludes to familial discord in the aftermath of their father’s death. Conflicts were not limited to those between individual and collective memory of previous events. Contestation also occurred between individuals who sought to construct and affirm their social and gender identities. The deposition of the prior of Monk Bretton, a Benedictine religious house in Yorkshire, shows a high-status man engaged in forging his own identity. His social self was constructed through his mnemonic strategy which differed subtly from the communal narrative given by other witnesses.

Jurisdictional responsibility for arbitration and judgement in cases of marital breakdown, defamation and breach of promise lay with the Church, as did judgements on matters pertaining to tithes and parochial rights.5 It is from these cases that a comparative analysis of both female and male witness statements should be drawn. The statements most useful to medievalists can be found within ‘instance litigation’, which consisted of cases brought before the court by private parties rather than by the Church itself. The response given by a witness was prompted by a set of questions or articles drawn up by the plaintiff’s legal counsel, the focus of which depended upon the slant of their account. Depositions were thus to a great extent shaped by the form of the articles. Examined on their reasons for remembering events, the witness replied, fashioning experience and prior knowledge into a remembering strategy. Deposition evidence is invaluable when considering the ways in which collective memory was constructed. When reading witness statements it must be borne in mind that we are not reading accounts which faithfully reflect events, but versions of them as they were constructed through individual memory. Personal memory strategies were often utilized to verify accounts of events submitted by witnesses; past events were arranged so that the version under contestation would be legitimized. Nor were witnesses’ memories immutable, being subject to the vicissitudes of time, the unfolding of subsequent events, and the impact of contradictory versions of truth. Once produced by the witness, accounts were narrated to the clerical scribe – a process which saw the vernacular first-person narrative converted into a Latinate third-person account. The personal testimony of the witness was thus inscribed within the clerical and legal discourse of the Church court.6

The principal case which this paper draws on in order to address themes of memory reveals much, not only about collective testimony, but also about individual thought patterns. In 1390, one Joan Fossard brought suit against William Calthorne, and his de facto wife, Katherine, daughter of Roger de Wele, in the ecclesiastical court of York, in the hope that their alleged marriage contract would be enforced.7 The depositions do not survive for Joan’s witnesses, but those surviving for William, alongside Joan’s extant articles, allow certain aspects of his defence to be established. While the female narratives cannot be recovered, this shortcoming will be remedied by comparison with disputes that were similar in nature and generated female communal testimony. The evidence proffered by the almost exclusively male deponents appearing for William demonstrates the dialectical relationship between personal testimony and communal memory in the medieval Church court. When considering their evidence, it should be borne in mind that the community that shaped their memories for the purposes of presenting an authoritative testimony to the Church court consisted predominantly of men.

The defence presented by William Calthorne’s witnesses made use of a communal narrative that was apparently straightforward. The first claim made by several of his witnesses was directed squarely at the clerical audience being addressed. William was a proctor-general at the Church court of York, as one of his brothers argued, a position which designated him as one of the court’s own and a cornerstone of the community. His witnesses further deposed upon his wealth which was demonstrated by landholdings and goods, and his position as landlord. The third article presented against Joan and her deponents alleged that William was much greater in substance than her. Her witnesses were said to be corrupt for testifying to the contract so that Joan could benefit from his wealth. Thomas Calthorne, another of William’s brothers, deposed that Joan was worth five marks whilst William was worth twenty. As part of their argument, William’s counsel sought to convince the Official that economic gain had occasioned Joan Fossard’s claims of marriage. The deposition evidence suggests that William and his legal counsel intended to portray him as a pivotal member in the community of Cawthorne.

Another story emerges, however, from the surviving articles that shed light on Joan Fossard’s case. Her counsel argued that three of William’s witnesses were his brothers, with the implication that their testimony should be discounted. Not only were they family, it was stated, but they were all servants, with little or nothing in goods. While the Register of the Freemen of the City of York lists Thomas Calthorne admittance to franchise as a draper, in 1392 or 1393, in 1390 he may have still been a servant or apprentice.8

Returning to William’s case, fourteen male witnesses (including his brothers) deposed that, four years previously, at the time of the alleged contract, William had been resident in Cawthorne for sixteen days between the feasts of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Michaelmas, a claim that was intended to preclude his involvement in any marriage contract. Margaret Wyrslay, the only female deponent to testify on behalf of William Calthorne, gave evidence that extended only to her knowledge of the three opposing female witnesses. Each of William’s male deponents attested to varying forms of contact with him in the village of Cawthorne during his absence from York. They deposed that Cawthorne lay some twenty-eight miles outside the city of York, thus distancing William spatially both from the city and from the marriage contract itself.

As evidence of his stay in Cawthorne, William’s deponents argued that during that period he had been occupied with the task of building his home there. His male witnesses used both collective and individual mnemonic strategies to verify their evidence. Several of them corroborate their evidence not only with memories of the building’s construction but also their provision of materials. One witness, William, son of William Adamson articulated his method of recalling the alleged events. He remembered William Calthorne’s stay at his home even after four years had passed: ‘dicit pro eo quod vendidit sibi maeremium videlicet primum quod habuit ad edificium suum in villa predicta’.9 William de Ardyslay, prior of Monk Bretton, a Benedictine house in the West Riding of Yorkshire, deposed that William Calthorne had stayed at the priory for several days during his absence from York. When asked how he recalled that period, de Ardyslay stated that he remembered ‘pro eo que dedit maeremium prefato magistro Willelmo’.10

Remembered by several witnesses, the provision of materials for building could be viewed as evocative of the deponents’ place in the community of Cawthorne. Those who provided materials to construct William Calthorne’s home could recall their own contribution to the project through the house itself, which provided a constant and fixed memory peg for their recollections. Their cohesive mnemonic strategy constructed William’s home as a site of memory which served as a physical and symbolic location that was recalled as proof of their testimony.11 Not only could each deponent recall their involvement, but it was inscribed upon the building itself. Memories of the house being built were recalled by witnesses whose actions had shaped its construction. If their memories are considered in terms of Bourdieu’s theory of habitus, then the spatial movement of these deponents can be seen to be producing the mnemonic to which they later testified. This contributed to the creation of a recursive relationship that organized the schematic arrangements of the space within which they acted.12

Further evidence of William’s landholdings and status as an important community figure emerges from the other depositions. William owned lands and tenements in the neighbouring areas for which rents were owed; in fact, his brother Thomas paid five marks annually to him for lands which he held. Roger de Pekton, a brother of Monk Bretton priory recalled William’s residency in Cawthorne at that time because ‘illo anno promisit eidem magistro Willelmo unum [illegible] buk aut dama nomine feodi sui in signum retente sue’.13 Not only did this mnemonic strategy remind the court that William was an important figure in Cawthorne, of good standing and material wealth, but it established a hierarchy between William and Roger de Pekton in which the latter was the subordinate. William was thus cast as a man with power over other men who rendered payments to him for the use of his lands.

John Gefray, chaplain of the parish church of Cawthorne, remembered that William had indeed been present in the village, by reference to his own spiritual role in the community. When questioned, John deposed that he remembered after so much time because ‘venit ad deserviendum capelle de Calthorn in festo sancti martini in hieme proxima dicta dies mercurie et jovis precendenti et nuncquam prefatum magistrum Willelmum viderat ante tempus [illegible] novit dictum magistrum Willelmum a festo nativitatis beate marie supradicto’.14 John Gefray’s testimony derived religious and moral authority from his position. Two other of William’s deponents were drawn from monastic orders and the prior of Monk Bretton, and Roger de Pekton, one of the house’s brethren, testified that he spent several days in their company at the priory. In the testimony of the local priest, and these members of a local religious community, William benefited from spiritual and moral support in the form of influential and respected figures.

In order to appreciate the extent to which past experiences shaped memories used for subsequent purposes, it is essential to consider the manner in which individuals formulated their own personal recollections.15 Firstly, the fact that the evidence given by witnesses did not pass unmediated into its final form should be borne in mind. The actual words of the deponent were channelled by the context and personnel of the Church court, clerical in nature, and aware of canon law. The means by which an argument was conceded or accepted within this discourse rendered the witness’s personal memory mutable; their subjective identity was inevitably altered by this process.

Memories generated by the process of examining witnesses in the Church court of York, and in other courts and jurisdictions, necessarily relied upon conceptions of the self. The deponents utilized their personal memories, shaped by their own perception of their selfhood, to bridge the distance between the individual and the wider community. Witnesses were not mindless creatures shaped by their social environment; deponents recalled and located events individually, placing themselves and their own subjective experience at the centre of their memory, and formulating their mnemonic strategies through a personal cognitive process. While memories, like those of William Calthorne’s supporting witnesses, were often embedded in a wider social group, recollections were also necessarily embodied within the ‘person actively engaged in forging selfhood’.16 Witnesses in many other disputes use personal events as yard-sticks to locate other events, and autobiographical details often played a part in constructing their memories.17 However, and almost without exception, the deponents supporting William Calthorne reference his building project and their own involvement. Those memories articulated by William’s witnesses were not entirely culturally constructed; the point is not that these memories could exist beyond a delineated group, but that a group and its identity could be constituted by communal memory and collective testimony.18

We can shed further light upon these different modes of remembering if we consider these methods within a wider framework of function and community. That the testimony of each deponent interlinks with that of the others provides an important connection between the collective and individual. Without the community there would not be a buyer or a vendor of building materials, nor would there exist community members to facilitate the construction of the building. Each deponent’s individual participation was necessarily embedded within the community itself. In line with Maurice Halbwachs’s theory of social memory, then, all recollections are located firmly within the community.19 Their account did not however construct a shared past (as demonstrated in instances of communities seeking recognition of parochial bounds or customary rights). The social hierarchy within Cawthorne seems to be itself constituted by the memories of these male deponents, which they presented as part of their community’s memory. That these depositions prioritized memories of certain types of activities may seem unusual but the collective aspect of their testimony appears further contrived if we can cast a more critical eye over their evidence and consider that little information was included in the depositions without a specific purpose. The embeddedness and interplay of these recollections with their imagined community and its social hierarchy implies something of the witnesses’ motivations.20

Their recollections have William Calthorne, rather than any personal events, as the focal point. Should their evidence be viewed as a component of a wider court strategy, formulated to support their presentation of William as a powerful community member, then their recollections take on a new significance. Indeed, memory could contribute not only to the formation of communal but also individual identity.

Several witnesses deposed upon William’s affluence, and it is no coincidence that several statements describe William purchasing goods and collecting dues. After all, his deponents sought to convince the court that Joan had preyed upon him, alleging a marriage contract so that she might secure for herself a wealthy spouse. Possessing the integral masculine values of public life (trustworthiness, material means and honour), William’s social self was developed and reinforced along very definite lines.21 The deponents’ evidence created a specific persona for him, as a man of substantial material wealth and social standing within Cawthorne.

If the narrative aspects of the deposition evidence are interrogated then the representation of William Calthorne emerges as manufactured. His witnesses’ testimonies reveal their agency in constructing not only his home, but also his social identity and persona as a householder and homebuilder. The deposition evidence presents William to the Church court as a man rooted in Cawthorne: his house was built there, and he was an important figure in the lives of its inhabitants. Their memories were intended to convince the court that William was not the sort of man who would travel as far afield as York to find a spouse. The testimony of these witnesses thus served not only to portray William as a principal figure in the village of Cawthorne, but also formed a meta-narrative fashioned to encourage within the clerical audience a subconscious belief in his rootedness in Cawthorne. It is possible that the argument put forward by William’s defence may have subtly implied that since he was establishing himself as a householder in Cawthorne, he would marry there if at all.

In a marriage case dated 1418 another male defendant, John Kydde, sought to extricate himself from an alleged contract with Alice Walkar by claiming that he and his male friends had been absent on a fishing and drinking trip.22 The men in this case also relied upon a communal memory strategy; their nostalgic recollections not only established John Kydde’s absence from the alleged contract but also constructed for him a male gender identity that was resistant to marriage. The communal memory of homosocial recreation and drinking which they evoked resonates with the male youth sub-culture evident in a number of late medieval marriage disputes.23 When John Kydde’s witnesses drank at his father’s house, they portrayed themselves as subject to his governance and reprimands. There are striking similarities in their testimony suggestive of prearranged connivance. His witnesses hoped to convince the court that if John could not establish an independent household then his circumstances proscribed marriage.24

The case presented in a party’s deposition evidence and the accompanying apparatus was usually influenced by the canon legal knowledge of a proctor and an advocate.25 The advocate often advised the accompanying proctor on the formulation of the plaintiff’s legal argument which meant that arguments could be formulated in ways which played upon, and made use of, canon legal considerations.26 When we speak of his legal strategy, we should include William Calthorne himself as an influencing factor, as he was himself a proctor-general in the Church court. He might have engaged in the provision of notarial services outside of court sessions, but the majority of his employment was carried out at the court itself.27 In fact, a very pertinent charge was levied against William and his witnesses when Joan’s articles accused him of instructing them on their testimony, and a situation in which his canon legal experience might have influenced his argument was not only plausible but likely.

Aside from the articles drawn up by Joan Fossard’s counsel, a textual silence descends upon the female perspective in this case. While we cannot retrieve the depositions of Joan’s witnesses, the articles for William Calthorne show that three women testified on her behalf. Their statements cannot be reconstructed nor their arguments recovered but male perceptions of female communal testimony can be garnered from both parties’ articles and from William’s witness statements. Patrick de Newham deposed that the women had gathered in the home of Richard Cosyn and concocted the story that later constituted their testimony. Joan and her female witnesses were presented as inventors of her claims of marriage. Both Patrick and Margaret Wyrslay alleged that the women were William’s enemies because he had spurned Joan and wed another. Female witnesses could be presented as malevolent creators of false memories precisely because of the dialectical relationship between gender, conversation and memory.28 Groups of women talking together outside of male control and without their husband’s supervision were often represented as gossips.29 Rather than solidifying their consensual account through conversation, a process which is rarely marked in male depositions, Joan and her female witnesses are presented as having inverted the norms of remembering and narration in the courts by constructing an invented account through private conversation in the domestic sphere. The memories articulated by deponents were undoubtedly reconstructed and fashioned by conversation before being recorded in transcript form. However, the construction of William’s home, a remembered event which was shared and approved communally by an entirely male group, was presented as the only legitimate memory. Recalled by several men and curiously similar in content, the memories of the witnesses for John Kydde, and perhaps those who testified for William Calthorne, were reconstructed and shaped by conversations and discussions. While female speech was often represented in a negative light, a gender difference operated in the Walkar c. Kydde case as male conversation was depicted as reinforcing rather than undermining recollection.30

In a fifteenth-century ecclesiastical liberties dispute occasioned by the abduction of Katherine Northfolk, a young heiress and nun from the house of Wallingwells, a large number of female witnesses testified on whether she was eleven or twelve upon entry to the nunnery.31 Female memory was again fashioned through conversation when Agnes, wife of John Ingram, recalled a discussion many years after Katherine’s birth with Agnes Northfolk, Katherine’s mother, during the course of which they discussed the ages of the latter’s children.32 Many of the women remembered Katherine’s age from her birth and located it with reference to the births and deaths of their own children. From the evidence of a late fourteenth-century marriage dispute in which another group of women testified to the age of a young heiress, Jeremy Goldberg has argued that women who were mothers were ‘expert witnesses’ when they testified on the birth of children.33 Childbirth and the social and religious rites associated with it functioned as both individual and communal mnemonic strategies.

Male memory strategies were occasionally constructed to counter female memory techniques that operated in the opposing party’s depositions. Two women gave evidence for Alice Walker in her dispute with John Kydde and provided knowledge not only of the marriage contract but also of the birth of the couple’s daughter. Joan, wife of William Taylour, deposed that John Kydde had asked her to be god-mother after the infant’s birth; she had raised the child from the font accompanied by her fellow god-parents. Aside from witnessing the birth, both Alice Remyngton and Joan testified that John’s parents continued to help support and nourish the infant. These women corroborated their accounts using typically female strategies related to birth and baptism.34 Like the female witnesses, the men who testified for John Kydde couched their method of recollection within a collective framework and with reference to an event which they claimed was particularly evocative.

Collective memory strategies were not the only means by which witnesses, in particular the male deponents in Fossard c. Calthorne, could imbue their statements with authority. What witnesses remember, and the differences between the types of memories employed, reveals much about what they considered to be important. Several of William Calthorne’s brothers testified on his behalf, and their evidence sheds light not only upon the function of fraternal mnemonic strategies but also upon the dialogue between community memory and smaller group memory. A dialectical relationship can be detected between the recollections of the group consisting primarily of the men of Cawthorne and that of this family grouping, different in nature and with arguably a greater level of emotional investment in remembered family events.

Even within the fraternal group itself, variations occur in the testimony. While memories could fluctuate among witnesses, these brothers all had one shared event by which they could reference William’s stay in Cawthorne. Curiously, only two of William Calthorne’s brothers specifically locate the weekend of the disputed marriage contract with reference to their own father’s death and for the purpose of dividing his goods amongst them. The efforts of the legal counsel to stabilize the fluidity of the brothers' memories, as they differed from the approved narrative, produced a conflict between collective and personal mnemonic strategies.

Thomas Calthorne, a draper, deposed that their elder brother John shared a bed with William, but failed to reference their father’s death or the division of his goods as a mnemonic strategy. Two of William’s brothers deposed not only upon his stay in Cawthorne but also on an illness he had suffered at that time. The testimony of Robert Calthorne, another brother, offers further insights into the functioning of varying types of memory communities in this case. Robert’s recollections reveal that the brothers were gathered in Cawthorne not only to participate in William’s building project but also to divide among themselves the goods of their recently deceased father. This event provided the first of two memory strategies as Robert deposed further that he remembered ‘propter divisionem bonorum patris tunc temporis factam et constructionem dicte placee’.35 The construction of William’s house acted as a mnemonic reference point for John Calthorne, another of his brothers who, preferring to reference a communal event rather than a familial and individual experience, remembered the events in relation to William’s home being constructed and the timber that had been purchased.

Another of William’s brothers located these events with reference to the building’s construction. While he elsewhere deposed that his brothers were present in order to divide their father’s goods among themselves, he did not actually use this more personal strategy to mark the time of William’s presence. In this respect, collective memories of the building of William’s home seem to have functioned as a more persuasive mnemonic technique than that of family memory. Presumably, in a court context, non-family members served as more convincing deponents than close kin. Indeed Joan Fossard’s legal counsel had sought to exclude the brothers’ testimony upon the basis of their fraternal bond.

When the Calthorne brothers were utilized as deponents, they were evidently required to frame their memories within the narrative constructed by the wider local community. Elision or partial suppression of the fact that their visit was needed in order to divide their father’s goods was necessary for several reasons. The dictates of presenting cohesive communal memories that confirmed William’s residency in Cawthorne and his absence from York meant that, for the sake of his legal defence, the account of the construction of his home had to take precedence in the witness statements. Only certain events were intended for inscription in a meta-narrative that could convince the court that William had not contracted marriage with Joan Fossard. That William’s brothers consigned their memory of the division of their father’s goods to an inferior position, giving priority instead to the construction of William’s home, demonstrates the weight of collective communal remembering in a court context. But memories of the distribution of their father’s goods resurfaced amongst the Calthorne brothers, and their persistence in the testimony suggests that fissures had opened up between personal and communal remembering processes. These fractures may well be indicative of intra-familial tensions between William and his brothers concerning a dispute over the distribution of their father’s goods and the treatment of his memory after his death. William’s house-building may have been a consequence of their father’s death and his subsequent inheritance: he may have been asserting a hereditary status that was itself resented. Resentment may have arisen too in reaction to the request for uniformity in mnemonic techniques and effacement of the reason for their visit.

The imposition of narrative and memory strategies as a means of developing a party’s argument served not only to rupture existing mnemonic techniques but also to create tensions amongst those wishing to engage in self-representation in their deposition evidence. As a witness testifying to William Calthorne’s inability to contract marriage with Joan Fossard, William de Ardyslay, the prior of Monk Bretton, remembered providing William Calthorne with timber, a deed which allowed him to establish himself as an active agent in the construction of William Calthorne’s identity. But if we read the prior’s deposition with a more critical eye, a high-profile witness comes into view who refused to sacrifice his own social self for the construction of William’s persona. De Ardyslay stated that he remembered ‘pro eo que dedit maeremium prefato magistro Willelmo’.36 By reading closely the nuances in the mnemonic technique of this third person narrative, we draw nearer to the subjective position of the prior himself.37 De Ardyslay phrased his interaction with William Calthorne and his home-building project in strikingly different terms from those of other deponents. He did not sell timber to William but ‘gave’ it to him.38 Aside from this, William stayed at de Ardyslay’s priory of Monk Bretton and enjoyed his hospitality. The voice that emerges, whether it is that of the prior, the scribe recording it or even a combination of both with the counsel of the advocate or proctor, proclaims de Ardyslay’s social position as prior, landholder and as an important member of the community in his own right. Placing William Calthorne in a subordinate role as recipient of his gift, de Ardyslay’s evidence could suggest anxiety borne out of competition with another high-status male for the most dominant role.39

De Ardyslay was appointed prior of Monk Bretton in 1387. From the extant remains of the priory itself, it can be established that the prior’s lodgings included a heated hall in which important guests were received, a good indicator of both his status as superior of the house and as feudal landholder.40 One of the fifteenth-century successors to the office of prior of Monk Bretton augmented his lodgings, and probably his social standing, with the addition of a further heated room over his chamber.41 De Ardyslay, according to his own testimony and the nature of his office, was a man who was superior of his own priory and entertained influential individuals (including staff from the Church court) in lodgings of which any knight would have been proud.42 Depicted as a generous benefactor, he also bestowed gifts of timber upon William Calthorne, who was an important member of the local community.

That the spiritual and economic welfare and the careful running of the priory were not de Ardyslay’s chief concerns as prior is evident from a complaint made by the community itself several years later, on 19 April 1404.43 All was not well at Monk Bretton, and the grievances levied against de Ardyslay by the monks included the ongoing dilapidation and alienation of the priory’s goods.44 It is very likely that de Ardyslay’s gift of timber to William Calthorne for the construction of his home was drawn from the priory’s own stocks, and monasteries did source materials from their own lands, which often included forested areas and woods.45 It has been argued that novices were recruited from the estates of religious houses and the monks of Durham priory were drawn from a thirty to forty mile surrounding area.46 While the late Middle Ages saw an increased intake of novices from burgess stock the exact social origins of the late medieval monk remain somewhat obscure. Barrie Dobson has observed that they were ‘not people of great substance’ and thus monks, and consequently priors, may have more self-conscious about imitating aristocratic style.47 Indeed, the late Middle Ages saw a concerted attempt by heads of religious houses to augment their own social status and many adopted the manners and style of the aristocracy.48 But whereas an individual prior may have been able to forget his background and behave like an aristocrat, the monastic community would have had a profound sense of the priory as a perpetual institution whose possessions could not be arbitrarily alienated. Timber drawn from the house’s lands was intended for tasks undertaken by the monastic community such as building works, making repairs and fencing.49 Considering the substantiation of the complaints – and his ultimate dismissal in December 1404 in favour of one John de Crofton – alongside his bestowal of gifts and entertaining of guests, we can at least say that his social status as prior was undoubtedly a greater concern than the sound administration of the house itself.50 One interpretation is that augmentation of his social standing was another facet in his competition with male local landowners with whom he had contact. De Ardyslay had risen to the office of prior, an achievement undoubtedly envied by many, but as an adult male unable to prove his manliness and virility through sexual intercourse, his position was not without its anxieties.51

The strategy employed by William Calthorne’s legal counsel relied upon his persona as a wealthy and influential householder and homebuilder. His position as a dominant and powerful layman could not be questioned, partially because the ability to establish an independent household was an important signifier of male adulthood.52 That de Ardyslay stated that he remembered because he gave timber to William Calthorne, rather than speaking directly of the building of the latter’s home, could suggest tensions between two conflicting forms of masculinity. De Ardyslay’s testimony may thus have been tailored to reassert his manliness through his social status. Unable to demonstrate his masculinity through sexual activity or marriage, de Ardyslay was fortunate enough to be able to display his manliness through his position as prior, landholder and gift-giver.

If we consider the prior’s testimony as a form of life-writing then we draw nearer to the dialectical relationship between remembered personal narratives and memory, both individual and communal. De Ardyslay’s deposition suggests an individual who actively constituted his own identity and presented himself as the embodiment of high-status masculinity.53 While one witness, William, son of William Adamson, remembered selling timber to William Calthorne, the prior’s social status meant that he possessed the material wealth to make his timber a gift.54 De Ardyslay’s statement should not be read and interpreted as an unrealistic and idealized self-portrait, but rather as an indispensable aspect of his social self. That he wished to be perceived in this manner remains important because it was an integral component of his identity and therefore conveys his own understanding of himself.

This interpretation offers only one reading of the evidence and alternative appraisals remain necessary. Much of the evidence presented has been very suggestive rather than concrete in nature, however, several elements emerge to generate tangible conclusions. Both the communal and, to a lesser extent, the fraternal memory groups existing within the village of Cawthorne place William at their centre. The methods of recollection utilized by deponents in this case combined to provide the testimony of an exclusively male community which was closely bound together through spiritual, trade and kinship ties. The depositions generated by this dispute indicate that narratives could be displaced by memories emerging from the dialectic between communal and personal accounts of past events. Anxieties were not manifested solely in the recollections of witnesses; individuals could also struggle with the imposition of communal memory and narrative strategies upon their testimony. A witness might have preferred to seize the opportunity to engage in writing his or her own autobiography, particularly a high-status man with much at stake (including the stability of his gender identity).55 One caveat amongst many that have been added to readings of third-person narratives is that the absence of the narratorial subject can often be masked.56 It is in the ruptures between collective and personal testimony that we should search not only for the locus of de Ardyslay’s social self, but also for the self-identities of other deponents.

Rather than attempt to retrieve particular memories and ascribe them to their rightful owners, it is preferable to question in what contexts these memory strategies were used, and for what purposes.57 The judgement entered at the conclusion of this case does not survive and, as a result, it is impossible to determine the extent to which the collective testimony constructing William Calthorne’s identity, or de Ardyslay’s presentation of his own social self, affected the outcome of the dispute.58 Witnesses articulated their statements in a court context: how far did the expectations of their audience dictate what witnesses said, and why? Further, we may wish, so far as we can, to consider the reactions of the individuals behind the statement to consensual memory strategies used in the Church courts. The high-status male who could not permit influence and authority to be the preserve of another man could manifest his discomfort and anxiety through personal memory and narrative strategies that stripped much sought-after male hegemony from his competitor’s persona.59 For the witness whose account challenged consensual mnemonic strategies, their rebellious memories broke the erstwhile textual silence with a dissenting voice.

Bronach Kane, U. of York



1. Hans-Werner Goetz, ‘The Concept of Time in the Historiography of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries’, in Medieval Concepts of the Past: Ritual, Memory, Historiography, ed. by Gerd Althoff, Johannes Fried and Patrick J. Geary, Publications of the German Historical Institute, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 139-65 (p.165).

2. Peter Biller, ‘Confession in the Middle Ages: Introduction’, in Handling Sin: Confession in the Middle Ages, ed. by Peter Biller and Alastair J. Minnis (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press, 1998), pp. 1-33.

3. Andy Wood, ‘Custom and the Social Organisation of Writing in Early Modern England’ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 9 (1999), 257-69 (pp. 260-62); James Fentress and Chris Wickham, Social Memory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).

4. Wood, ‘Custom and the Social Organisation of Writing’, p. 262.

5. See Richard H. Helmholz, The Oxford History of the Laws of England: vol. 1 The canon law and ecclesiastical jurisdiction from 597 to the 1640s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

6. John Arnold, Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), p. 11.

7. Borthwick Institute, Cause Paper E series (hereafter BI) CP. E. 175.

8. Register of the Freemen of the City of York: from the city records, 1272-1558, vol. 1 Surtees Society (Durham: Andrews & Co, 1897), p. 92.

9. BI, CP. E. 175. William remembered ‘because he sold timber to him, namely the best that he had, for his house in the aforesaid village’.

10. BI, CP. E. 175. De Ardyslay deposed that he recalled that time ‘because he gave timber to the aforesaid master William [Calthorne]’.

11. Pierre Nora, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’, Representations, 26 (1989), 7-25 (pp. 18-19).

12. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. by Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), pp. 80-81, 85-86.

13. BI, CP. E. 175. Roger remembered the events because ‘in that year he had rendered a [illegible] buck or a dam to him as a payment’.

14. BI, CP. E. 175. ‘He came to serve the chapel of Cawthorne at the feast of St Martin in winter nearest preceding the said Wednesday and Thursday, and he had never seen the aforesaid master William before that time…he knew the said master William from the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin’.

15. John Bedell, ‘Memory and Proof of Age in England 1272-1327’, Past and Present, 162 (1999), 3-27 (p. 4).

16. Jeffrey Prager, Presenting the Past: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Misremembering (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 81.

17. For a discussion of autobiographical memory, see William F. Brewer, ‘What is Autobiographical Memory?’, in Autobiographical Memory, ed. by David C. Rubin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 25-49 (pp. 33-35).

18. Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, ed. and trans. by Lewis Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 54.

19. Halbwachs, Collective Memory, pp. 167-73.

20. Prager, Presenting the Past, p. 83.

21. David Gary Shaw, Necessary Conjunctions: The Social Self in Medieval England (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), pp. 12-15.

22. BI, CP.F. 79.

23. For another case with similar narrative dimensions, see BI, CP.E.159. Selected depositions from this case are translated in Women in England, 1275-1525: Documentary Sources, trans. and ed. P.J.P Goldberg (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), pp. 103-109.

24. Jeremy Goldberg, ‘Masters and Men in Later Medieval England’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. by Dawn M. Hadley (New York: Longman, 1999), pp. 56-70, (p. 59).

25. Richard H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), pp. 147-50.

26. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation, p. 149.

27. K.F. Burns, The Administrative System of the Ecclesiastical Courts in the Diocese and Province of York, Part I: The Medieval Courts (York: 1962), p. 148.

28. Chris Wickham, ‘Gossip and Resistance Among the Medieval Peasantry’, Past and Present, 160 (1998), 15-16, (p. 15).

29. Sandy Bardsley, Venomous Tongues: Speech and Gender in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), p. 61.

30. Wickham, ‘Gossip and Resistance’, p. 16.

31. BI, CP.F. 89. See also Sharon Hubbs Wright, ‘Women in the Northern Courts: interpreting legal records of familial conflict in early fifteenth-century Yorkshire’, Florilegium, 19 (2002), 27-48.

32. See the deposition of Agnes, wife of John Ingram: ‘et tunc inter alia verba inter ipsas ibidem recitata de etate ipsius Katherine’.

33. Jeremy Goldberg, ‘Gender and Matrimonial Litigation in the Church Courts in the Later Middle Ages: The Evidence of the Court of York’, Gender and History, 19:1 (2007), 43-57, (pp. 49-50); see BI, CP.E. 89 which is partly translated in Women in England, ed. by Goldberg, pp. 58-80.

34. For an alternative perspective which uses male evidence from proof of age proceedings, see Becky R. Lee, ‘Men’s Recollections of a Women’s Rite: Medieval English Men’s Recollections Regarding the Rite of the Purification of Women after Childbirth’, Gender and History, 14 (2002), 224-41.

35. Robert deposed that he remembered ‘on account of the division made of their father’s goods and the construction of the said building’.

36. De Ardyslay testified that he recalled the events ‘because he gave timber to the aforesaid master William’.

37. Shaw, Necessary Conjunctions, p. 196.

38. The verb ‘dare’ can have other meanings aside from ‘to give’. The first three listed in the Dictionary of Medieval Latin are ‘to give, grant, bestow’, ‘to pay’ and ‘to give, bestow or confer’, R.E. Latham, Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, vol. 1, Fascicule I-V (A-L) (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 559. Under ‘dare’ however Latham does not include ‘to sell’ as a possible meaning which suggests that this interpretation would be obscure. The second meaning of ‘dare’ in the Dictionary of Medieval Latin is ‘to pay’ but this is in relation to agreements regarding tolls, fines, pledges and the rendering of accounts. Neither is selling as a potential meaning hinted at in R.E. Latham, Revised Medieval Latin Wordlist from British and Irish Sources (London: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 130-31. Aside from this, the verb ‘vendere’ is such a standard term for the sale of goods that the usage of ‘dare’ in this instance to mean ‘to sell’ would be unusual. Indeed ‘vendere’ is the verb used in the other descriptions of witnesses selling timber in this case. Other cause paper examples of selling employ ‘vendere’, see for example BI, CP.E.84 in which Alice Wright assisted William Rykall ‘in vendicione’ of grain as if he were her husband.

39. Natalie Zemon Davies, The Gift in Sixteenth-century France (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 70-71 (p. 72).

40. Glyn Coppack, English Heritage Book of Abbeys and Priories (London: B.T. Batsford English Heritage, 1990), p. 76.

41. Coppack, Abbeys and Priories, p. 76; Barrie Dobson, Durham Priory 1400-1450 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 101.

42. Janet Burton, Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain, 1000-1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1994; reprint 2002), p. 168.

43. Victoria County History, A History of the County of York, vol. 3, ed. by William Page (London: Archibald Constable, 1913), p. 94.

44. Calendar of entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, 1396-1404, vol. v, prepared by W.H. Bliss and J.A. Twemlow (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1904), p. 604.

45. Burton, Monastic and Religious Orders, p. 239.

46. Dobson, Durham Priory, p. 58; Barbara Harvey, Living and Dying in England, 1100-1540: the Monastic Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 76; E. H. Pearce, The Monks of Westminster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1916), p. 38; Jeremy Goldberg, Medieval England: A Social History, 1250-1550 (London: Hodder Arnold, 2004), p. 130.

47. Dobson, Durham Priory, pp. 58-9.

48. Goldberg, Medieval England, p. 130.

49. Burton, Monastic and Religious Orders, p. 239.

50. A Calendar of the Register of Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, 1398-1405, part 1, ed. by Robert N. Swanson, Borthwick Texts and Pamphlets (York: Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 1981), pp. 42-43. The calendar includes letters testimonial, and a mandate to the sub-prior and convent to obey John de Crofton in his appointment. VCH, A History of the County of York, ed. by Page, p. 94.

51. Janet L. Nelson, ‘Monks, Secular Men and Masculinity, c.900’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. by Hadley, pp. 121-42 (p. 129); Patricia H. Cullum, ‘Clergy, Masculinity and Transgression in Late Medieval England’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. by Hadley, pp. 178-96 (p. 179); see also John Arnold, ‘The Labour of Continence: Masculinity and Virginity in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries', in Medieval Virginities, ed. by Anke Bernau, Sarah Salih and Ruth Evans (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003), pp. 102-18.

52. See also Thomas Hornby c. Margery Spuret, BI, CP.E.159. Selected depositions from this case are translated in Women in England, 1275-1525 ed. by Goldberg, pp. 103-09.

53. See note 36 above.

54. Felicity Riddy, ‘Text and Self in The Book of Margery Kempe’, in Voices in Dialogue: Reading Women in the Middle Ages, ed. by Linda Olson, and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), pp. 435-53 (p. 445).

55. Riddy, ‘Text and Self’, pp. 442-43.

56. Riddy, ‘Text and Self’, p. 441.

57. Michel Foucault, ‘What is an Author?’, in The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought, ed. by Paul Rabinow, 2nd edn (New York: Pantheon, 1984; reprint, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), pp. 101-20 (p.120).

58. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation, pp. 13, 20-22.

59. Robert W. Connell, Masculinities (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), pp. 77-80.

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