Women’s History Month guest, Kathleen Neal

This year I’ve asked a couple of my Medievalist friends to share some of their world with us. Dr Kathleen Neal lectures at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash University. Like me, she has two doctorates. Her other one is very scientific and I do wonder why I became the science fiction writer and she became the respected lecturer. Except… her research is cogent and thoughtful and every time I read something of hers I want to return to my first specialisation and settle intellectually in the Middle Ages forever.  She’s given us a transliteration of a marriage agreement, a translation and some notes. Any formatting errors are my fault – let me know when you find them and I’ll try to fix them.  – Gillian

A medieval marriage agreement

The indenture (an agreement in two halves, one for each of the parties) transcribed and translated below concerned the marriage of Margaret de Bohun, granddaughter of Edward I, to Hugh, the son of Hugh de Courtenay. The couple were only children at this time: Margaret was about three years old, and Hugh about eleven. The marriage was eventually formalised in August 1325. This document attests to the involvement in the negotiations of two senior royal women —the bride’s mother, Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I; and the bride’s step-grandmother, the queen, Margaret of France, Edward I’s second wife. Both were joint parties to the final agreement, together with Earl Humphrey de Bohun, Elizabeth’s second husband and the father of her children. The indenture lays out the lands and rights that were to be settled on the young couple on their marriage, and the terms under which they could be passed on. All the de Courtenay lands were to be given jointly to Margaret and the younger Hugh, with the elder Hugh retaining a life’s interest providing him with an equivalent income. If Margaret and Hugh successfully bore heirs, they would inherit all the lands; but if their direct line failed the estate would return to Hugh the elder or his next heirs. In return, her father, Earl Humphrey, promised to pay Hugh de Courtenay 1000 marks on the day of the marriage.

The indenture also specifies Margaret’s dower rights, or rights in widowhood: a generous arrangement. She was to enjoy access to all the lands and dues she had held in marriage in return for a ‘rose rent’ if she was widowed in her father-in-law’s lifetime. And if she outlived both the elder and younger Hugh, she was to continue to hold all of her marriage lands, rent free, provided that she refrained from actions to recover or enforce dower during her father-in-law’s lifetime. Dower arrangements were essential for providing for women in widowhood, but were notoriously difficult to enforce, hence the careful attention here to specifying a gradual and conditional access to her rights; these measures attempted to protect both parties. We see a hint of the intergenerational implications of dower in the mention of lands that are held in dower which will return to the elder Hugh over time. At the moment when the indenture was sealed, the elder Hugh’s mother, Eleanor le Despenser, was still living, meaning that certain de Courtenay lands were currently assigned to her in dower, and would not return to the main estate until her death (in 1328). Families with multiple generations of living widows sometimes struggled to meet the generous endowments of previous generations. Luckily for Margaret, this did not affect her.

Margaret’s mother, Countess Elizabeth, died in 1316, in or following childbirth,[1] and her father Earl Humphrey became embroiled in the opposition to Edward II. He died as a traitor and rebel at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, and his children and lands were taken into the king’s hands. Happily for young Margaret, the king relented and permitted her marriage to go ahead as planned three years later, and also allowed her elder brother John to inherit their father’s lands and titles. Soon afterwards, the fortunes of the de Bohuns and their allies recovered further with the return of Queen Isabella and her son, the future Edward III, from France, and a shift in political favour towards the ‘rebels’ of the previous reign. Edward III later confirmed Margaret’s father-in-law as earl of Devon, a title to which he had claim through his cousin, Isabel, countess of Aumale. The earldom passed in due course to the younger Hugh, making Margaret countess of Devon. Like many elite women, she retained a close relationship with her marital family throughout her life. Her brother Humphrey [VIII] earl of Hereford bequeathed several items of personal and family significance to her in his will. [2]


Indenture and articles of agreement of marriage made between Margaret, Queen of England, and Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, and lady Elizabeth his wife, of the one part, and Sir Hugh de Courtenay of the other, for the marriage of Hugh son of the said Hugh with Margaret, daughter of the said Earl and Countess. Kew, The National Archives, DL 27/13. CATALOGUE LINK: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C5414200

French text.

Le vendrei prochein apres la feste seint mathi Lapostre, Lan du regne nostre seignur le Roi Edward, fuiz au Roi Edward vytisme, connuit entre tresnoble dame, ma dame Margarete Reyne Dengleterre, et monsieur Hunfrai de Bohun Counte de Hereford et Dessex et ma dame Elizabeth sa compaigne de une part, et mounsieur Hughe de Courtenay dautre part. Entieu manere qe Hughe le fuiz le dit monsieur Hughe, prendra a femme Margarete, fille as avauntditz Counte et Countesse, Et lavauntdit monsieur Hughe graunte qe quel houre, qui les avauntditz, Counte et Countesse, et luy; peussent assentir aperfaire le mariage susdit; qil adonques feoffera le dit Hughe son fuiz et Margarete sa femme, ioy[nt]ement de quatre centz marchez de terre ala verraie value, en lieu covenable. Atenir ales avauntditz Hughe et Margarete, et a heirs issainitz du corps le dit Hughe, et atailler outre le fiees; a la volentie le dit monieur Hughe le pierre. Rendaunt par au au dit monsieur Hughe atoute sa vie, vivaunt le dit Hugh son fuiz, quatre, centz marcs, a quatre termes del an. Et sil avigne qe lavaundit Hughe [le] fuiz; devie vivaunt le dit monsieur Hughe le perre; qe lavauntdite Margarete, eit et tigne les susditz, quatre centz marches de terre aschargee des susditz, quatre centz, marcs annuels atoute sa vie, por une Rose rendaunt par an, au dit monsieur Hughe e a ses heirs ala Nativitie seint Johan le Baptistr. Et escr[it] ce le dit monsieur Hughe, voet et graunte qe sil avigne a la dite Margarete sourvive lui; et le dit Hughe son fuiz; qe elle eit dowarre autresi bien de dettes les terres et tenementz qe le dit monsieur Hughe le perre tient, comme des terres et tenementz qe sont tenu en dowarre de son heritage, comme il escherront, issint qe la dit Margarete ne peusse doerre demaunder, ne actioun avoir de dowarre recoverir, vivaunt le dit monsieur Hughe le pere. Et le dit Counte graunte destre tenuz apaier le iour des esposailles, au dit monsieur Hughe pur le mariage susdit; Mil mars desterlilngs. Et le dit monieur Hughe graunte qe si tost comme les esposailles serront faites; qil se chargera, de la soustenaunte des avauntditz Hughe son fuiz et Margarete sa femme. Et agreignur seurtie faire; le dit monsieur Hugh graunte de enherit[ance] le dit Hughe son fuiz de tuit son heritage, atenir alui, et ases heirs de son corps engendrez, et atailler le fie; outre a sa volentie issuit qe toutes les terres devaunt … …rgent entrement al avauntdit monsieur Hughe a toute sa vie horspris, les quatre, centz marchez de terre res queux [en]fe[o]ffera les ditz Hughe son fuiz, et margarete sa femme auxi comme desus est dit, quel houre qe le dit Counte lui face a[voi]r [co]ngie du Roi; a ce faire. Et les avautditz Counte et Countesse, a le dit monsieur Hughe ount primis de bone foi de toutes les [cov]enaunces desusdites, loiaument tenir, assevrer, et parfourmir en touz points. En tesmoignaunte de queu chose les susdites p[ar]ties a cest escript endentee, entre chaungablement ount mys leur seals. Don’ a Westmester le iour et an desusditz.

English Translation:

On the Friday immediately after the feast of St Matthew the Apostle, in the eighth year of the reign of King Edward, son of King Edward [3], it was agreed between the most noble lady Margaret, queen of England, and milord Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford and Essex, and milady Elizabeth, his wife, on one hand, and milord Hugh de Courtenay on the other, in what manner Hugh, son of the said milord Hugh, might take as his wife Margaret, daughter of the aforesaid earl and countess. And the aforesaid milord Hugh granted that, at the time at which the aforesaid earl and countess and he could assent to complete the aforesaid marriage, that he would then enfeoff the said Hugh his son and Margaret his wife jointly with four-hundred marksworth of land at the true value, in a suitable place, to be held by the aforesaid Hugh and Margaret, and by the heirs issuing from the body of the said Hugh, in fee tail [4], by the consent of the said milord Hugh, the father. And they shall render in gold to the said milord Hugh for his whole life, while the said Hugh his son lives, four hundred marks, at the four terms of the year [5]. And if it should happen that the aforesaid Hugh the son should die before the said milord Hugh the father, the aforesaid Margaret will have and hold the aforesaid four-hundred marks-worth of land, and the duty of the aforesaid four-hundred marks annually for her whole life, for a rose rendered per year to the said milord Hugh and to his heirs on the Nativity of St John the Baptist (24 June). And it is written that the said milord Hugh wills and grants that if it should happen that the said Margaret should survive him and the said Hugh his son, that she shall hold well enough in dower from the dues of the lands and tenements that the said milord Hugh the father holds, just as from the lands and tenements from his inheritance which are held in dower, as they shall pass to him, provided that the said Margaret may not demand dower, nor take action of dower recovery, while the said milord Hugh the father lives. And the said earl grants to be bound to pay on the nuptial day to the said milord Hugh for the marriage above-said, one thousand marks sterling. And the said milord Hugh grants that as soon as the nuptials are done, that he will take charge of the sustenance of the aforesaid Hugh his son and Margaret his wife. And great surety was made; the said milord Hugh granted the inheritance of the said Hugh his son, of all his inheritance, to be held by him and his heirs begotten of his body in fee tail; out of his own will he gave that all the lands above-[said] … in their entirety to the aforesaid milord Hugh for life, excepting the four hundred marches of land the which he enfeoffed upon the said Hugh his son, and Margaret his wife, just as is said above, [at] the time in which the said earl shall cause him to have the king’s leave to do it. And the aforesaid earl and countess have promised in good faith to the said milord Hugh to hold, preserve and perform all the [undertakings] above-said in all their points. In testimony of which the above-said parties have written this indenture, placing their seals reciprocally upon it. Given at Westminster, on the said day and year aforesaid.


Attached by a tag. Green wax with the arms of Hugh de Courtenay; or, three torteaux, a label azure.[6]


[1] See my forthcoming entry on Elizabeth, Countess of Holland and Hereford, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. See also M. A. Everett Green, ‘Elizabeth, the Eighth Daughter of Edward the First’, Lives of the Princesses of England (London, 1831), III, 1–59; L. J. Wilkinson, ‘Royal Daughters and Diplomacy at the Court of Edward I’, Edward I: New Interpretations, ed. A. King and A. Spencer (Woodbridge, 2020), 84–104.

[1] Lucia Diaz Pascual, The de Bohun Dynasty: Power, Identity and Piety 1066–1399, unpublished PhD thesis (Royal Holloway, University of London, 2017), available at https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/files/27830947/2017diazpascuallphd.pdf

[accessed 1 March 2020]

, p.76. A number of de Bohun wills are published, and provide evidence of rich testamentary activity across the de Bohun kinship network, including among siblings and cousins, and between generations, see ‘The Will of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, with Extracts from the Inventory of His Effects. 1319—1322’, Archaeological Journal 2:1 (1845), 339–49; M. M. Bigelow, ‘The Bohun Wills’, AHR 1:3 (1896), 414-35. On the changing fortunes of the de Bohun family, see J. Ward, ‘The Wheel of Fortune and the Bohun Family in the Early Fourteenth Century’, Essex Archaeology and History 3rd ser., 39 (2008), 162–71.

[2] 8 Edward II ran 8 July 1314–7 July 1315. The feast of St Matthew the Apostle falls on 21 September, which fell on a Saturday in 1314. Consequently we can date this document to Friday 27 September 1314. This was not the date of the marriage of Margaret and Hugh, but their formal betrothal.

[3] ‘Fee tail’; a form of grant in which the land returns to the grantor in the absence of direct heirs of the grantee.

[4] The four terms were: Michaelmas (29 September), Hilary (13 January), Easter and Trinity; see Paul Brand, ‘Lawyer’s Time in the Later Middle Ages’, in C. Humphreys and W. M. Ormrod (eds), Time in the Medieval World (Woodbridge, 2001), pp. 73–104 (p.74).

[5] This copy bears the de Courtenay seal, meaning it was the copy made for the de Bohun / royal side of the contract. From there it entered the archives of the Duchy of Lancaster.

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