if you discovered your friend’s wife in bed with another man in thirteenth century england, you’d tell your friend, right? [edit: and/or conclude that one or more of you must be a time lord(s)!] how to tell him though? hmmmm. email? text? nooooo. send him a letter! yeah, send him a letter.
it would’ve been an awkward sorta letter to write, though, but you know what? there was a form letter for the occasion! i know! who knew that they even had form letters in the 1200s?! but they did! and they were kept in collections called formularies, some of which are still hanging around in archives like at the british museum.
here from Lost Letters of Medieval Life: English Society, 1200-1250 [pg. 222 – link added by me]:
“F. tells G. that he has seen another man in bed with G.’s wife
“To his beloved friend A., B. sends greetings. Except that I believed it would offend you, I would reveal something that I lately saw. But because it is wicked to conceal wickedness, I prefer to disclose [it] rather than to have the odium of the heavenly realm. For I saw your wife in R.’s bed, the two of them alone and naked together. And so that she cannot deny it, I took her girdle [i.e., belt] as a token, which I send to you, and the sight of it should serve you as evidence of this misdeed. You should see to it that she is punished, together with him. Farewell.”
so there you go.
the editors of Lost Letters reckon that this form letter was composed a bit tongue-in-cheek, but still with a serious lesson in mind [links added by me]:
“At first sight, this would seem to be an odd candidate for inclusion in a collection of model letters, since the compiler is unlikely to have assumed that there was a need for a form letter in which one friend notified another of the adultery of the latter’s wife. It seems likely that this letter was included in the collection for somewhat different reasons. First, it may have been intended, at least in part, for the amusement of the business students and other male readers for whom the formulary was primarily designed. In a similar fashion John of Garlande included some smutty material in his ‘Dictionarius’, a contemporary treatise designed to teach Latin vocabulary but written primarily in the form of a walking tour of Paris. Second, and more seriously, this letter may have been included to remind readers that, if they ever made a serious accusation against another person in writing, they had better have solid evidence — such as the wife’s girdle, in this case — to support their allegation.”
in anglo-saxon england/the early medieval period, you could just kill a guy if you caught him sleeping with your wife, and everyone would be very understanding. by the 1200s, however, this course of action was no longer permitted [pg. 226 – link added by me]:
“Around 1215, Thomas of Chobham, a canon laywer and subdean of Salisbury, summarized the legal recourse available to an outraged husband, as he understood it: ‘It is worth noting that secular law once allowed a man to kill an adulterer found with his wife. This is no longer permitted, but only for him to cut off the man’s genitals so that he will never spawn another who will follow him in his vileness.‘”
so there was that possibility!
you had to keep your wife under control, though. if you didn’t, you couldn’t accuse her of adultery in the ecclesiastical courts or castrate anybody:
“[S]ince women were considered to be sexually voracious, and certain occupations, such as that of barmaid, exposed them to dangerous temptations, a husband who allowed his wife to work in a drinking-house was not permitted to press charges of adultery against her if she succumbed.“
“Canon lawyers also ruled that a wife who had been raped could not be charged with adultery….”
(note: comments do not require an email. master john of garlande!)