Manuscripts and Special Collections

Punishing Sin: 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/4, f. 74v: Robert of Gretham, 'Mirur’, lines 2925-2947 (composed c.1250, Anglo-Norman) 
View image with transcript/translation    

Robert of Gretham chose the title of ‘Mirur’ ('Mirror') for his book, which was a popular metaphor at the time. He believed that as we look in a mirror we can see a true reflection of ourselves, with all our imperfections, and that this enables us to make ourselves up or alter our image to make ourselves more beautiful. Robert wanted his book to be a 'spiritual mirror' so that when looking into his book his readers could see a reflection of their souls and learn how to beautify or change them with virtues to make them more pleasing to God.

This sermon for the third Sunday after Epiphany deals with the sacrament of Penance, and gives advice on how sinners must confess to the priest and act according to his advice. This guidance was also given in many other sermons and books of instruction.


Document 2

WLC/LM/4, f. 8r: William of Waddington, ‘Le Manuel des Péchés’ (composed c.1220-1240, Anglo-Norman) 
View image with transcript/translation    

'The Tale of the Proud Lady Who was burnt again and again in Hell by a Burning Wheel'.

This extract is the 'exemplar' or story of a Lord's beautiful wife, who was proud of her beauty which she had achieved by artful or skilful means. This was a sin, and for this she had to suffer a kind of torture until she realised and accepted that her suffering in Hell was, in fact, the result of her wrongdoing. The wheel would immediately bring to the medieval mind a wheel of torture. Her torture was repeated over and over, and each time the woman 'rose up', as if from the dead, it was because of her sinful pride during her lifetime.

Pope Gregory the Great wrote that sinners 'will expiate their faults by purgatorial flames', and added that 'the pain [will] be more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life'. (Ps.3 Poenit, n.1, quoted in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913)


Document 3

AN/PN 352/20: Penance of Margery Billage of Car Colston for fornication with William Sommer (1591, English) 
View image with transcript/translation  

Penance was a public and ritual humiliation, and a ceremony of contrition by a sinner. This aspect of ecclesiastical discipline was retained by the Anglican Church even after the Reformation of the mid-16th century had outlawed other ‘Catholic’ practices. The last penance in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham was performed in 1794.

No medieval records survive, but this late-16th century penance must have been similar to those ordered to be performed by hundreds of people in earlier centuries. The document describes the procedure, and shows that Margery had to do her penance on three successive Sundays, twice in her own parish and once in another, probably William Sommer’s home parish.

For more about the people brought before the court of the Archdeacon of Nottingham, see the Archdeaconry Resources pages.


Document 4

Medical Chir. Society Over.X WZ250.D46 DIS: Extracts from John Disney, A view of ancient laws against immorality and profaneness ... (Cambridge : Corn. Crownfield, 1729)  
View image

This book looks back to the ancient world and collects together evidence ‘from the Jewish, Roman, Greek, Gothic, Lombard and other laws down to the middle of the eleventh century’. Shown here are pages introducing the crime of adultery, and describing various ancient punishments.


Document 5

WLC/LM/8, f. 86r: John Gower, ‘Confessio Amantis’, Book 4, lines 3619-3638 (composed c.1393, English) 
View image with transcript/translation    

Punishment in works of literature is often made ‘to fit the crime’. This tale concerns a king’s son, Iphis, who falls in love with a lower-born girl, Araxarathen, who spurns his advances. In despair, he kills himself. In this passage, she repents and calls on the gods to punish her, and is turned to stone because she was so hard-hearted.


Next page: Saints

Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651