Editor’s Choice: Aristocratic Marriage, Adultery and Divorce in the Fourteenth Century

How do you solve a problem like Lucy?

“Twice-married, twice-abducted, once-divorced disregarder of the moral conventions of medieval Yorkshire, the heiress Lucy de Thweng was obviously quite a girl.” So a commentator in the English Historical Review. But is this fair/true?

Well, the first bit is. Lucy (1279-1347) was “abducted” from her first husband, William Latimer, in 1304 while he was on campaign in Scotland, by another Yorkshire lord, Nicholas Meinill (let’s just say that she didn’t put up much of a fight). She initiated divorce proceedings on the grounds of consanguinity and cruelty. Latimer was understandably angry, not least because of losing her substantial lands, and refused to countenance it. Eventually, however, the divorce was granted… only for Lucy to enter into a marriage with another Yorkshire lord, Robert de Everingham. She was then “re-abducted”/rescued by Meinill, surviving him and after his death marrying one Bartholomew de Fanacourt and living happily ever after. Are you following this?

Not by contemporaries, but by a later historian, she was dubbed “that notorious lady”, and clearly her life was eventful. But, argues the author of this book, though this is somewhat extreme – was it really quite so unusual in that context as we might think? In fact, by using a careful examination of documents from the time, such as bishops’ registers, chancery rolls, parliamentary rolls, and ecclesiastical letters, etc., and finding other documented cases of divorce, abduction, remarriage, etc., and using Lucy herself as a sort of lens, the author shows that actually, Lucy’s marital troubles weren’t that unusual; that it wasn’t *that* uncommon for women to sue for divorce and ending up getting it, despite the Church attempting to act as a heavy-handed medieval form of Relate; and how this played out in terms of inheritance, bastardy, etc. Lucy is in effect used as a test-case through which to explore these issues. Whether Yorkshire was exceptional in this regard remains to be seen.

This will appeal to medieval historians, of course; to those studying women and gender history; to legal historians; and there may well be some local Yorkshire interest. At Boydell we feel this could make a compelling TV series, with Maxine Peake as Lucy and perhaps Aidan Turner as Meinill, with Sean Bean getting in on the act somewhere, of course, perhaps as her father Marmaduke or her clerical brother Gavin de Thweng, who fixed the whole thing basically.

(This post has been adapted from a light-hearted briefing to the sales and marketing department.)

Aristocratic Marriage, Adultery and Divorce in the Fourteenth Century
The Life of Lucy de Thweng (1279-1347)
by Bridget Wells-Furby
Hardback / 9781783273676 / £45 or $74.25