'Havying nothing upon hym saving onely his sherte': Event, Narrative and Material Culture in Early Modern England
This essay investigates the relationship between speech and materiality: the way people talked about material culture within a specific discourse. It examines how deponents in ecclesiastical court cases marshalled descriptions of clothing in relation to the legal questions they were required to answer. The crimes which could be prosecuted in ecclesiastical courts included those of tithe dispute; matrimonial contention; sexual misconduct of all kinds; contests over testamentary issues; and the whole range of slanderous utterances.1 Between the mid sixteenth and the mid seventeenth centuries, these courts saw an unprecedented increase in business,2 and their popularity made them central to the maintenance of moral order and the definition of social norms. The reform which they were attempting relied upon the essential premise that it is possible to define human actions clearly in order to compare them against established standards, and thus to draw clear boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Descriptions of material culture are therefore used by deponents to delineate social and moral
Thanks to the staff and students of The Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester, The Shakespeare Institute and the Hilton Shepherd Postgraduate Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Birmingham, for comments on previous versions of this paper. 1 For a more detailed account of the distinctions between types of cases, see M. Ingram
(1987), Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 2-3, and for the position of ecclesiastical justice within the wider legal context pp. 27-9. 2 J.A. Sharpe (1983), "'Such disagreement betwyx neighbours": Litigation and Human
Relations in Early Modern England', in John Bossy ed., Disputes and Settlements, Law and Human Relations in the West, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 168; Ingram (1987), pp. 13-5, sees it beginning after 1570.