Clothed in agreement

The later medieval muniments of Worcester Cathedral Library contain some interesting oddities amongst the rental agreed to for various land transactions.[1] Earlier pieces on this topic have been concerned with rents that involve roses or different kinds of spice, pepper, cumin and cloves. There are further unusual rents to be considered and those in this blog are involved with clothing, most often gloves.


An illustration showing medieval clothing. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


The only agreements that mention actual clothes are where there is a consideration, or upfront one-off payment as part of the deal. There are only three of these, all dating from the thirteenth century. In one, Joan, daughter of Reginald Ernulf of Scyrnach gave to Simon, son of William de Scyrnach, four acres of land in Scyrnach for his life for an annual cash rent coupled with a consideration of a cloak worth three shillings. In the same period, an agreement between two men over some land and buildings in Worcester required a consideration of not only twenty-six shillings but also a coat of russet with a black fur lining. Russet is a coarse woollen cloth dyed with woad and madder which gives it a greyish-brown hue, so this is not an especially fine garment but the insistence on a lining of black fur raises it above the ordinary and would also have made it very warm to wear. Another agreement over land with its associated building in Worcester itself specifies a tunic together with a payment of ten shillings as the consideration, although here there is no detail as to the type of cloth or any particular features that the tunic may need to possess.


A further illustration showing medieval cloaks and tunics. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Gloves feature not as considerations but as the rent itself. They are uncommon amongst the types of alternative rents in that only rarely is there an insistence on the rent being paid in kind, that is by a pair of gloves; in all but a very few cases the value of the gloves is specified and the clause which does so goes on to offer the value as a cash alternative. There is only one other rent payment in the whole catalogue of medieval muniments which offers this facility and that is a fourteenth century agreement between Robert Walerand and Robert de Chamberleng of Suffolk which transfers the land that he owns in Hopwode in Worcestershire for an annual payment of either a pair of gilded spurs worth sixpence or sixpence. Gloves are never valued as highly as sixpence; the monetary equivalent is usually a penny or a halfpenny. In the mid thirteenth century, for example, Robert, the clerk of Alstonclif, tranferred some land to his mother Felice in return for a rent of a pair of gloves or a halfpenny. Interestingly the idea of gloves being as important as rental payments appears in two related documents of this period. Henry Abetot gave land in the village of Lauwarn to Richard, the clerk of Monte Duderhull, and the rent is specified as one penny or a pair of white gloves. Later Richard conveyed this land to the Prior and Convent of Worcester and the rent to be paid by them was one penny or a pair of gloves to Henry. Richard obviously felt that giving away the land that had been given to him should not deprive Henry of his annual pair of gloves, and while his gift to Worcester is specified as a gift in pure alms for his soul and those of his ancestors, nonetheless there is a payment to be made to the original owner of the land, even if the qualification of the gloves being white has been lost in the later transaction.


A cartoon of a gloved hand which appears in medieval manuscript f96. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Presumably similar considerations applied when Ralph, the son of Richard de Newerk gave to the Prior and Convent an annual rent of twelve pence which he received for a tenement he held in the parish of St John’s. For this the Prior and Convent was to pay either one penny or a pair of gloves worth one penny to Walter Scarlet, which may relate to another transaction. In this Walter Scarlet gave to Richard de Newerk an annual rent of twelve pence which he had from a tenement in the same parish and for which the payment was one penny or a pair of gloves worth that.

Gloves also feature prominently in a curious group of these charters in which the rents are to be paid to several different people. The one referred to above, in which the consideration was the russet coat, is an agreement between John Galin and Geoffrey Jordan over some property in Baker Street in Worcester. John apparently held this from Cecilia, described as the daughter of Humphrey le Herbenir and the rent demanded is thirty-two pence to the capital lord, one halfpenny to Cecilia, and a pair of gloves worth a halfpenny or a halfpenny to John. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, William Lovy gave to the gardener of the Prior and Convent of Worcester a house in Worcester which he had previously bought from Walter de Wyggemore next to that of Henry le Hunte, also one penny of rent which he received from Henry, and a meadow nearby which he had purchased from John de Bosco. The rent for this was to be one penny to Thomas Syward, one pair of gloves worth a halfpenny to Walter de Wyggemore, twelve pence to the Bursar of the Prior and Convent, and four pence to John de Bosco. No doubt there was a connection with Thomas Syward which is not specified here and for which the written evidence has been lost. The last of these charters is a complicated agreement between Thomas de Evesham and Maurice Schiffle. By it Thomas transfers to Maurice a shop in Worcester next to that of Ralph Siward, also a plot of land and its buildings which were previously inhabited by Ralph’s father, and two shillings of rent which Thomas received from one John Sebront who had previously paid it to Geoffrey le Poer. The rent for this is one pair of gloves or a halfpenny, presumably to Thomas, four pence to Ralph Siward for the shop, and one pair of gloves of unspecified value to Geoffrey le Poer.

Quite why gloves should be considered as a suitable rental payment, or why, almost alone of all the strange rents that were involved in land transactions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, gloves should be offered as an alternative to a monetary payment are questions that are unlikely ever to be satisfactorily answered, but we can at least be sure that many of these transfers of land or property in the later medieval period carried with them their own peculiar reasons as to what should be an acceptable payment.


Mary Ward



[1] The work on these documents has been undertaken from the catalogue entries by Dr. Susan Brock rather than directly from the documents themselves.




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