Dr Monk looks at the context behind women's names in the thirteenth-century Rochester Custumal.
Enlarged and highlighted sections show the names of two women, Asceline (left) and Mabel of Lynsted (right), both of whom are listed as peasant landholders in Wouldham, Kent. From Custumale Roffensis (Rochester, 13th century), folios 13v-14r. Images by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral.
As I mentioned at the end of part 1 of this 'research snippet', I've had my curiosity piqued whenever women's names appear in Custumale Roffense – the custumal, or survey, of tenants' agricultural services, rents and other obligations rendered to their manorial lord, i.e. the priory of St Andrew at Rochester.
In the image above you can see two names of women from the monks' manor at Wouldham, which today is about a 10 minute drive from the cathedral and castle in Rochester, but more like an hour and 20 minutes in medieval footsteps.
On the left, Aceline (asceline in the manuscript) is named along with two others, William and Edmund. The heirs (heredes in the manuscript) of these three hold a small one acre plot of land, for which they pay an annual rent of seven and a half pennies.
The fact that 'heirs' are mentioned probably doesn't indicate that the three named individuals were necessarily deceased at the time when the survey was first carried out. Rather, we should understand that these three legally, and jointly, held the tenancy for this acre plot, and whoever inherited the tenancy on the demise of them all would continue to pay the fixed sum.
On the right, Amabel (the shortened form Mabel is used in the manuscript) is listed, by herself. She has a geographical byname (surname), 'of Lynsted' (de lindestede in the manuscript). This village is more than twenty miles away from Wouldham, so in medieval terms, she was not originally a local woman. She held a much more substantial piece of land, of 20 acres in fact, for which she and her heirs owed the correspondingly larger amount of 5 shillings.
In the Rochester custumal there is a significant number of women who are listed as land-holders, but by far the majority of tenants named are men. So then, in an age where women were 'married off' by their fathers, and in the context of peasant life, we might ask why it was that some women did in fact hold land.
The custumal provides us with one answer. In its section concerning the customs for Haddenham, a large manor in Buckinghamshire, which was settled on the priory in the eleventh century by Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury (r. 1070-1089), and confirmed by King William II ('Rufus') (r. 1087-1100), a stipulation concerning widows is given:
Also, if anyone should die, the lord will have the best beast that he (the deceased) had. And if he had but one horse, the horse must be sold and the lord must have 30 pennies for heriot (death duty) and the widow the rest of the money. And the widow must hold that land, in which she is re-pledging, as long as she is able to defend it, and as long as she remains as a chaste widow.
As we can see from my translation, a widow of Haddenham had a right, once the death duty was paid to the lord (the monks of St Andrew's, in this case), to inherit her deceased husband's tenured land. To obtain it she would have to follow the customary practice of pledging faith to the lord and would have to 'defend' the tenancy. This meant she would have to pay a 'relief' payment to the lord, allowing her officially to enter onto the land; and also a written record would be made of the transfer of tenancy.*
Also implied by the term 'defend' (Latin defendere) is the widow's ability to maintain the rent and services to the lord of the manor. Fail in that regard, a very real possibility in view of her diminished state as a widow, and she could lose the tenancy.
The stipulation that she remain a 'chaste widow' is not so much a moral requirement but a recognition that should she in the future re-marry she would have to give up the tenancy. Someone else, her heir or heirs, would have the opportunity to purchase the tenure agreement, rather than it being taken over by her new husband.
We see, then, that one reason peasant women held land in the thirteenth-century is because they inherited the tenancy from their husbands. In fact, this seems to be the case with Aceline, mentioned above, for her name appears again in a list of those tenants in Wouldham whose customs did not include agricultural services to the lord, but only a monetary rent.
Her entry reads (below): 'The widow Aceline's land of 4 acres'. So it seems that this woman not only held a shared tenure for the aforementioned one acre plot, but a larger area in her own right. Who the two men mentioned in the first of those holdings were, I cannot say, though they were likely related to her.
My research may well turn up other circumstances in which women held land. It is known, for example, that it became increasingly common throughout late medieval England for land to be held jointly by husband and wife.* And I was particularly intrigued the other day to come across the names of two women who together held land in Wouldham. But I will have to leave Aldith and Goda for another day.
In part three of this research snippet, What's in a name?, I will be taking a closer look at the meaning of surnames. So we'll catch up then. But, in the meantime, if you want to ask something about my research or leave a comment, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
* On inheritance, see Mark Bailey, The English Manor: c.1200-c.1500 (Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 27-29. In fact, Bailey's book is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the manorial system in medieval England.
The second in Dr Monk's series 'Reseach Snippets'. Here, in part 1, he takes a look at the problem of translating medieval Latinised names into modern English. In part 2, he will be exploring women's names and the meanings behind surnames.
Translating a thirteenth-century custumal, you come across an awful lot of names: names of people who owe services, money or food rents to the manorial lord. In this case, the lord is a collective one, being the Bendedictine brothers of the cathedral priory of St Andrew, in Rochester.
There are plenty of well-known given names (i.e. fore or first names) that appear frequently: John, Robert, William being three of the most common. But there are more unusual ones, too, such as Edwy and Salvi.
As the manuscript I'm translating, Custumale Roffense, is written in Latin, the names are usually Latinised. So John is Johannes; Robert, Robertus; and William, Willelmus. For the purpose of writing for a general audience (I'm writing a book about everyday life in the monastic world of thirteenth-century Rochester), I have to make a decision about how to translate Latinised names.
Most of the folk mentioned in the custumal are ordinary people working the land, and it's extremely unlikely they would have gone around using the Latinised forms of their names! My usual response as translator is to choose what is called the canonical name form, a standardised form that doesn't necessarily represent how a person would have written their name, were they able to do so, in the vernacular at the time, or indeed give us much of an indication of how exactly they would have pronounced their name.
As I often say to myself, translation is always a compromise. But whereas choosing John, Robert and William seems pretty straight forward, and not too controversial, sometimes the decision making process is more difficult for rarer names. Let me take the two examples above of Edwy and Salvi to illustrate what I mean.
As a scholar who's spent a lot of time looking at the Anglo-Saxons (pre-1066), using the standardised name form of Edwy grates on me, to use a piece of idiom from my childhood. This is because I know it derives from Old English Eadwig (the 'g' here is soft, by the way, and sounds similar to the ending on the modern name Eddie), and in fact appears in our 13th-century manuscript as eadwi, as you can see in the image above; and so it preserves the Old English ea vowel combination (known as a diphthong).*
*Technically, eadwi is in the genitive, or possessive, form, as it is part of the phrase Heredes eadwi, 'the heirs of Edwy', and so grammar dictates it must end with i.
So part of me wanted to keep the ea in my translation, because I liked the idea that this person had an English, rather than a Norman-French, name, and maybe he still said his name the way the Anglo-Saxons probably said it, which is more like Adwy than Edwy.
But then I reminded myself that I wouldn't do that with other Anglo-Saxon names like Eadweard, which I would readily update to Edward, and so I have ended up conforming to the canonical form of the name. Alas!
My choice of the name Salvi is problematic for a different reason, namely, I din't have much to work with! In the manuscript, as you see above, the name is written Salewi.**
**Technically, the i ending here indicates it's in the genitive, or possessive form, because it's part of the phrase Herede[s] Salewi, 'the heirs of Salvi'.
My hunch was that the name was a form of the Latin salvus (meaning 'safe, saved'). When translating medieval Latin, there is sometimes a correspondence between the letters w and v (for example the name Alvice has the Latin form Alwidis). This led me to check for possible names that derive from salvus, and so I arrived at Salvo.
However, Salvo has an Italian origin, and that didn't seem to fit comfortably with 13th-century England. I had wondered if it might be a name with a Nordic origin, and so my search then led me to the Old Norse name Salvi. I didn't exactly shout ta-dah! or Hallelujah! but this Nordic name seemed a more appropriate rendering. Ah, translating medieval languages is not always an exact science!
One of the things that I've found very interesting when translating this custumal is that not all the tenants' names are masculine, confirming the fact that women did hold land in later medieval England.
A number of widows are named outright as landholders owing services or rents to the monks, but I was a bit surprised to discover that the names that appear in the commonly occuring phrases 'the heirs of so-and-do' and 'son of so-and-so', were not always men's names. For some reason, I had assumed they would be.
I will be discussing this in more detail in part 2 of this research snippet, and I'll also be taking a look at surnames, wich are often referred to as bynames. See you there!