Mistress Chauncy

This is another of those rare women who sought sanctuary – this time a really rare bird, a married woman who sought sanctuary for debt without her husband. In 1536, Gerard Chauncy, stockfishmonger of London and “yeoman of the King’s Chamber and waiter in the Tower of London,” wrote a petition to the Chancellor to complain about various wrongs, mostly committed by his wife, whom unfortunately he doesn’t name.

These problems dated back about a decade, to the mid-1520s, when Chauncy himself had had to flee London “being in trouble and suit in the law.” In his absence, his wife liquidated his assets in the City of London so that she could flee with them to sanctuary at Westminster. She became a “privileged person” in the Westminster sanctuary for some eight or nine years, Chauncy says. While she was there, he contended, she spent all his money and sold all his property, without his permission.

These complaints about his wife neatly avoided a big problem with his story – that as husband it was his duty to support her financially. That was part of the “coverture” deal: all her assets became his on marriage, but the flip side was that he then had to support her. He indicated that he was “absent” for eight or nine years, leaving her behind to cope with his financial mess. THEN he got all pissy about her having spent his money. Honestly. It’s one or the other, dude – either she has equal rights in the assets or you’re fully responsible for supporting the household.

Chauncy’s petition wasn’t aimed at her (it’s not even clear she was still alive); that’s just backstory in his attempt to retrieve some of his property. If Mrs Chauncy had the possibility of dumping him, I hope that’s what she did.

TNA, C 1/752/63-64. Top image source.

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