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1 - Your Oratrice: Women's Petitions to the Late Medieval Court of Chancery

from Part I - Shaping Women's Testimony

Cordelia Beattie
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
Bronach Kane
Affiliation:
Bath Spa University
Fiona Williamson
Affiliation:
National University of Malaysia
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Summary

Beseecheth meekly your poor oratrice Denise Gros of London, widow.

[Chancery bill, 1443–56]

Right meekly beseecheth your gracious lordship your poor oratice and bedewoman Elizabeth the wife of one Joce Lamanva.

[Chancery bill, c.1471]

Meekly beseecheth your good lordship your daily oratrice and poor maiden Johanne Fowler.

[Chancery bill, 1475–80 or 1483–5]

The late medieval court of Chancery has often been held to be a court that was particularly accessible to women. Married women, for example, such as Elizabeth the wife of Joce Lamanva (quoted above), could bring cases to Chancery in their own right, rather than having to be represented by their husbands, as the restrictions of common law did not apply. Petitioners would ask the Chancellor to provide redress for problems that could not be resolved fairly in another legal jurisdiction. If accepted into the court, the Chancellor (usually a bishop or archbishop in this period) would judge cases according to ‘conscience’, some contemporary notion of what was fair, rather than strict rules of evidence, making Chancery an early ‘equity’ court. Cases were begun by a complaint, which could be made orally, although our main source for how this court operated are the written bills that were submitted to it by lawyers, on behalf of petitioners. As the court did not make decisions based on legal precedents it did not have to store its records.

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Publisher: Pickering & Chatto
First published in: 2014

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