This medieval letter has been called “one of the most charming of all private letters of the time that have survived.”
It was written on June 1, 1476, by Thomas Betson to Katherine Riche. Thomas was in his mid-30s and worked as a wool merchant in Calais. Katherine was the 13 or 14 year old step-daughter of William Stonor, Thomas’ business partner. A couple of months earlier Thomas had written to William in which he indicates that he was planning to marry Katherine. Now, in this letter, we get a very personal correspondence, along with some pleading from Thomas that his fiancée needs to eat more meat:
Mine own heartily beloved Cousin Katherine, I recommend me unto you with all the inwardness of my heart. And now lately ye shall understand that I received a token from you, the which was and is to me right heartily welcome, and with glad will I receive it; and over that I had a letter from Holake, your gentle squire, by the which I understand right well that ye be in good health of body, and merry at heart.
And I pray God heartily in his pleasure to continue the same: for it is to me very great comfort that he so be, so help me Jesus. And if ye would be a good eater of your meat always, that ye might wax and grow fast to be a woman ye should make me the gladdest man of the world, by my troth; for when I remember your favour and your sad loving dealing to me towards me, forsooth you make me very glad and joyous in heart; and on the other side again, when I remember your youth, and see well that you are not eater of your meat, which would help you greatly to grow, forsooth then you make me very heavy again. And therefore I pray you, my own sweet cousin even as you love me, to be happy and to eat your meat like a woman. And if you do so for my love, look what you will desire of me, whatsoever it may be, and by my troth I promise you by the help of our Lord to perform it to my power.
I can say no more say now but, on my coming home I will tell you much between you and me and God before. And whereas ye, full womanly and like a lover, remember me with manifold recommendation in divers manners, remitting the same to my discretion to depart them there as I love best, forsooth, my own sweet cousin, you shall understand that with good heart and good will I receive and take to myself the one half of them and then will I keep by me; and the other half with heatedly love and favour I send it to you, my own sweet cousin, again, for to keep by you; and over that I send you the blessing of our Lady gave her dear son and ever well to fare.
I pray you greet me with well my horse and pray him to give you four of his years to help you withal; and I will at my coming home give him four of my years and four horse loaves till amends. Tell him that I prayed him so. And cousin Katherine, I thank you for him, and my wife shall thank you for him hereafter; for you do great cost upon him, as is told me.
My own sweet cousin, it was told me but lately that you were at Calais to seek me, but could not see me nor find me, forsooth you might have come to my counter, and there she you should both find me and see me, and not have faulted of me; but you sought me in the wrong Calais, and that you should well know if you were here and saw this Calais, and would God ye were at some of them with you that were with you at your gentle Calais. I pray you, gentle cousin, commend me to the clock, and pray him to amend his unthrifty matters; for he strikes even in undue time, and he will ever afore, and that is a shrewd condition. Tell him without he meant his condition that he will cause strangers to avoid and come no more there. I trust to you that he shall amend again against my coming, which shall be shortly, with all hands and all feet, with God’s grace.
My very faithful cousin, I trust to you that though I have not remembered my right worshipful mistress your mother previously in this letter, you will of your gentleness recommend me to her mistress-ship as many times as it shall please you; and you may say, if it please you that in next Whitsun week I intend to go to the mart. And I trust you will pray for me and, so be it, none so well, And Almighty Jesus make you a good woman, and send you many good years and long life and health and virtue to His pleasure.
Written at Calais on the side of the see, the first of June, when every man who was gone to his dinner, and the clock struck noon, and all our household cried after me and bade me come down: “Come down to dinner at once!”; and what answers I gave them you know it of old.
By your faithful cousin and lover Thomas Betson.
I send you this ring for a token.
May this letter be delivered in haste to my faithful and heartily beloved Cousin Katherine Ryche at Stonor.
Here is how the letter was written in Middle English:
My nowne hartely belovid Cossen Kateryn, I recomande me unto yow withe all the inwardnesse of myn hart. And now lately ye shall understond þat I resseyvid a token ffrom you, the which was and is to me right hartely welcom, and with glad will I resseyvid it; and over that I had a letter ffrom Holake, youre gentyll Sqwyer, by the which I understond right well þat ye be in good helth off body, and mery at hart.
And I pray God hartely to his plesour to contenew the same: ffor it is to me veray grete comfforth þat ye so be, so helpe me Jhesu. And yff ye wold be a good etter off your mete allwaye, that ye myght waxe and grow ffast to be a woman, ye shuld make me the gladdest man off the world, be my trouth: ffor whanne I remembre your ffavour and your sadde loffynge delynge to me wardes, ffor south ye make me evene veray glade and joyus in my hart: and on the toþersyde agayn whanne I remembre your yonge youthe. And seeth well that ye be none eteter off youre mete, the which shuld helpe you greately in waxynge; ffor south þan ye make me veray hevy agayn. And therffore I praye you, myn nown swete Cossen, evene as you loffe me to be mery and to eate your mete lyke a woman. And yff ye so will do ffor my loveff, looke what ye will desyre off me, whatsomever it be, and be my trouth I promesse you by the helpe of our Lord to perfforme it to my power.
I can no more say now, but at my comyng home I will tell you mych more betwene you and me and God beffore. And where as ye, ffull womanly and lyke a loffer, remembre me with manyffolde re|comendacion in dyversse maners, remyttynge the same to my discresscion to depart them þer as I loveff best, ffor south, myn nown swete Cossen, ye shall understond þat with good hart and good will I resseyve and take to my self the one halff off them, and them will I kepe by me; and the toþer halff with hartely loveff and ffavour
I send hem to you, myn nown swete Cossen, agayn, ffor to kepe by you: and over that I send you the blissynge þat our Lady gaveffe hir dere sonne, and ever well to ffare. I pray you grete well my horsse, and praye hym to gyffe yow iiij off his yeres to helpe you with all: and I will at my comynge home gyff hym iiij off my yeres and iiij horsse lofes till amendes. Tell hym þat I prayed hym so. And Cossen Kateryn I þannke you ffor hym, and my wiff shall þanke you ffor hym hereafter; ffor ye do grete cost apon hym as it is told me.
Myn nown swete Cossen, it was told me but late þat ye were at Cales to seeke me, but ye cowde not se me nor ffynde me: ffor south ye myght have comen to my counter, and þer ye shuld bothe ffynde me and see me, and not have ffawtid off me: but ye sought me in a wronge Cales, and þat ye shuld well know yff ye were here and saw this Cales, as wold God ye were and som off them with you þat were with you at your gentill Cales. I praye you, gentill Cossen, comaunde me to the Cloke, and pray hym to amend his unthryffte maners: ffor he strykes ever in undew tyme, and he will be ever affore, and that is a shrewde condiscion. Tell hym with owte he amend his condiscion that he will cause strangers to advoide and come no more there. I trust to you that he shall amend agaynest myn commynge, the which shalbe shortely with all hanndes and all ffeete with Godes grace. My veray ffeiȝtheffull Cossen, I trust to you þat thowe all I have not remembred my right worshipfull maystres your modyr affore in this letter þat ye will off your gentilnesse recomaunde me to her maystresshipe as many tymes as it shall ples you: and ye may say, yff it plese you, that in Wytson Weke next I intend to þe marte ward. And I trust you will praye ffor me: ffor I shall praye ffor you, and, so it may be, none so well.
And Almyghty Jhesu make you a good woman, and send you many good yeres and longe to lyveffe in helth and vertu to his plesour. At greate Cales on this syde on the see, the ffyrst day off June, whanne every man was gone to his Dener, and the Cloke smote noynne, and all oure howsold cryed after me and badde me come down; come down to dener at ones! and what answer I gaveffe hem ye know it off old.
Be your ffeiȝtheffull Cossen and loffer Thomas Betson.
I sent you this rynge ffor a token.
To my ffeiȝtheffull and hartely belovid Cossen Kateryn Ryche at Stonor this letter be delyvered in hast.
Two years later Thomas and Katherine were married – and they had five children together before Thomas passed away in 1486. Although Katherine remarried afterwards, her heart seems to have remained with her first husband. When she died in 1510, she had remains laid by the side of Thomas Berton at the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower in London.
You can read more about letter and the story of Thomas Berton in Eileen Power’s book Medieval People. The original letter was first published in The Stonor letters and papers, 1290-1483, edited by Charles Lethbridge Kingsford.