By Byron J. Hartsfield
Master’s Thesis, University of South Florida, 2007
Abstract: Marriage is a subject of great interest to the social historian. However, the marriage of the average medieval English villager is very poorly documented, as it bears little obvious relationship to the great affairs of state. Searching for information on such difficult subjects, many social historians have recently turned to legal records, learning to sift them for the intimate details of daily life. The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-17 preserves a rich variety of cases presented to the church courts of early fifteenth-century Salisbury. The questmen, selected from the most respectable men of each village, presented to the court stubborn sinners who had proved incorrigible by the methods of discipline available at lower levels. Most of these cases involved sexual irregularity of some sort, and most of these concerned marriage. This essay is divided into three parts.
The historiography examines the work of ecclesiastical, legal and social historians over the last century, especially where the three merge, as when scholars use the records of church courts to write social history. The next two chapters discuss adultery and fornication in Chandler’s register. Because of the large number of these cases, it was impractical to address each of them in detail. Thus these chapters rely on statistical analysis and use specific cases as illustrations. The following three chapters address disputed marriages, abandonment and “self-divorce”, and marital abuse. Each of these subjects requires a discussion of background and definition of terms, therefore these chapters have longer introductory sections. However, there are few enough examples of these in the register that each can be discussed individually.
The Register of John Chandler shows the Church struggling to control the institution of marriage as well as the spiritual lives of the villagers of Salisbury. To the extent that it succeed, it did so because it provided necessary order to the people of Salisbury and because they received it willingly. The average person obeyed the Church and its laws, more or less, but the Church was often unable to enforce its will on the powerful or the stubborn.