‘Among other, I, that am falle in age’: Lydgate, Plural Singularity and Fifteenth-Century Testaments
Marginalia, Vol. 10 Cambridge Yearbook (2008-2009)
In 1447, William Stevenes of Somerset wrote a will making ten bequests to ‘the fabric’ of religious buildings, and sixteen to clergy. Such bequests are common in fifteenth-century wills. Eber Carle Perrow suggests this is because ‘A dying man is less careful about the disposal of his goods than is one who has a lease on life’, and the clergy attending dying men took this opportunity to seek donations. With six of Stevenes’ bequests carrying requests to ‘pray for my soul’, I suggest his propensity to donate could represent not carelessness, but a shift in what he cares about. For the dying man, with divine judgment impending, money is suddenly best used saving one’s soul, not purchasing goods. Death will bring, or realise, a transition from an earthly scheme of value to a heavenly one. The wealth, status and particular objects money bought become irrelevant, replaced by God’s judgement by universal, eternal laws. This essay explores the possibility of this transition in the context of the testator, supposedly writing just before death.