Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Acquittance of 1383, from the collection of Rob Schäfer. All images © Rob Schäfer.
This exceptionally interesting document comes by generous permission of Rob Schäfer, a user of this web site from Germany. It dates from 1383, and derives from perhaps one of the more disreputable incidents of the Hundred Years' War, from the English perspective anyway. It also shows how an original document can tell us something about the smaller players in historical events; the people who were not important enough to be mentioned by the chroniclers but who played their part in major events.


Palais des Papes This was the time of the papal schism when there were two competing claimants to the papacy. The English supported Urban VI in Rome, the French supported Clement VII in Avignon.
The cathedral tower and papal palace at Avignon.
To cut a long story short, the bishop of Norwich raised money for a crusade against the Clementist French by promising remission from purgatory for all those who contributed their family jewels and the like, and set off across the channel with an army. When he got there, he was a bit shorthanded to take on the French king's army, so he decided to occupy a few Flemish towns instead. The trouble was, the Flemings were Urbanists like himself, but he claimed that because they were under the rule of the king of France at the time, that was good enough. When the French king heard about this, he raised an army from far and wide, including not only the local aristocracy, but such magnates from afar as the earl of Savoy and the duke of Bavaria. The end result was that the English were thoroughly beaten and booted out of the country.
OK, so that is the one minute opera version of events. Froissart chronicled the series of events in some detail, but to read up about them you will need one of the more complete and detailed versions of Froissart, such as The Chronicle of Froissart, translated by Sir John Bourchier Lord Berners in 1523-25, London 1901, Volume III. The more commonly available English translations of excerpts from Froissart seem to rather overlook this sorry little episode. The ever vigilant Rob Schäfer has indicated that there is a version of the Bourchier Chronicles of Froissart, edited and reduced by G.C. Macauley in 1924 on the web, with the Bishop of Norwich's campaign starting on p.296.
bishop of Norwich An image of the bishop of Nrowich at the head of his crusade, from an engraving derived from a Froissart manuscript (Bibliothèque nationale ms. 2644).
In this romanticised image the bishop heads his army wearing his bishop's mitre above a full suit of armour. Actually, according to Froissart, when the going got ugly he scuttled off to Calais for a quick exit home. Anyway, so much for the fancy associations. Now what about this document?

This document is in the form of a private charter in the French language, but it is essentially a receipt from a knight with the surname de Vallecouer who, with two other knights and 21 squires, provided forces to fight the English under the command of the count of Porcien. The technical term for this type of document is quittance in French, or acquittance in English. The document acknowledges his payment from the paymaster of the king's army. Porcien was in northern France, close to the Flemish border, so these were members of the local gentry defending their turf. They were not significant enough to be mentioned by name by Froissart, but then he claims the French king's army eventually numbered 26,000 men at arms, so he could hardly name them all.

The brief document has a seal attached by a tongue cut across the lower border. The seal is one sided in the continental manner rather than double sided in the English style. The script is a Gothic cursive, but the writing is pretty rough, suggesting it may have been written in rugged circumstances, perhaps in a tent on the field of battle rather than in some elegant chancery.

Transcription of this document was a co-operative international effort involving the owner, Rob Schäfer and a friend in Germany, and myself and Tania Colwell, a medieval French expert, in Australia. We don't guarantee that we have got it perfect even so, so any suggestions or corrections would be welcome. We had difficulty with our knight's Christian name, which appears to be written as Very with an abbreviation mark. I suggested Valery, but was told that was a most unlikely way to abbreviate it. However, since nobody has come up with an alternative suggestion, I'm sticking with it.

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