Manuscripts and Special Collections

Mistreatment of Women: View Documents

Click on the links to view images of the original document, alongside transcripts and translations where available.

Transcripts and translations for manuscript items are also available for download:


Document 1

WLC/LM/8, f. 190r: John Gower, ‘Confessio Amantis’, Book 8, lines 1373-1423 (composed c.1393, English) 
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The Tale of Apollonius of Tyre was well-known in the medieval period and told by many authors. John Gower used it in ‘Confessio Amantis’ to denounce the sin of incest and praise chastity and integrity. The hero, Apollonius, is banished for revealing the King’s incestuous affair with his own daughter, and suffers many trials. In this extract Apollonius’s daughter Thaise escapes from murder ordered by her adopted mother, but is taken by pirates and sold to a brothel-keeper.


Document 2

Mi 5/168/23/1: Extract from bill of complaint relating to the abduction and forced marriage of Jane Sacheverell (1485, English) 
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Jane Sacheverell was an heiress, the only daughter of Henry Stathum of Hopwell and Morley in Derbyshire. Her husband Sir John Sacheverell died either in 1483 or at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. In order to protect her young son Henry’s inheritance, the Sacheverell family arranged a marriage contract for Jane with their friend and neighbour, William Zouche. Their plans were scuppered when another family, the Willoughbys, abducted Jane and forced her to marry Richard Willoughby of Wollaton. This extract from a bill of complaint brought in Jane’s name describes the abduction on 11 November 1485. At the time of the abduction, the offence was a mere trespass under the law, but two years later King Henry VII made it a felony, in the Act ‘agaynst taking awaye of Women agaynst theire Wills’ (3 Henry VII, c.2).

A settlement was made between the families in May 1486. Jane obtained a divorce from Richard Willoughby on the grounds of her precontract with William Zouche, whom she went on to marry. A ‘precontract’ was a formal trothplight (agreement to marry, in front of witnesses), which had the legal force of a marriage solemnized in church.

After William’s death nearly 50 years later, Jane became a nun at Markyate Priory in Bedfordshire. She was Prioress there from 1508 until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, when she received a Crown pension. Another section of this resource contains a report on life in Markyate 60 years before Jane entered the convent.

Further reading:
• Alan Cameron, ‘Complaint in Henry VII’s Reign: the Origins and Reform of the Statute of 3 Henry VII, c.2?’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research , 51, Issue 123 (May 1978), 83-89


Document 3

Special Collection JN147.T4: Extract from Magna Carta (1215, Latin)
From Richard Thomson, An historical essay on the Magna charta of King John … (London : Printed for John Major ... and Robert Jennings ..., 1829), 68-71
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Magna Carta stated that forced marriages of widows were unlawful. However, feudal custom demanded that the consent of her lord should be obtained before any marriage. A vestige of this system, which survived into the 15th century, was the custom of the lord of the manor demanding ‘merchet’ payments from bondwomen on his estate when they married.


Document 4

WLC/LM/9, f. 142r: ‘Speculum Vitae’, lines 9259-9276 (composed mid-14th century, English)  
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This extract comes from an explanation of the 14 different branches of ‘lechery’ (lust) and the danger they present to the soul. Prostitution is ranked the second, and therefore one of the less serious, types of sexual misconduct. It is also mentioned in lines 7111-7118 of the same poem as one of the seven offices or ‘crafts’ of folly, from which their practitioners cannot make money without sinning. 


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