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Archaeologia Cantiana -  Vol. 134  2014  page 275

A History of the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Diocese of Canterbury, 1566-86, based on the
   Cause papers bound within the Volume MS.F.4.12. By Karen Rushton

not be entirely representative due to the seemingly haphazard collection of papers it contains, defamation causes do not appear to have dominated the proceedings of the diocesan courts. In contrast to this others such as Martin Ingram state that ‘suits alleging defamation of character, mostly concerning slanders of a sexual nature, formed one of the most prominent classes of litigation heard by the church courts in this period’.40 Such conclusions made by other researchers does bring into question more forcefully the representativeness of MS.F.4.12,41 but the main issue of note with defamation cases around this time was their rise in popularity over the course of the century, something which cannot be measured from the contents of MS.F.4.12. Consequently, it is important to be aware of the misleading nature of some statistics given as instances of tithe disputes were also on the rise, and whilst the number of defamation suits may have increased, the proportion in relation to other causes may not have altered in the same way.
   What can be said for certain regarding defamation suits is that they were largely concerned with sexual slander. Of the instances of defamation in MS.F.4.12 where the cause can be discerned, only one, entry 5, does not involve sexual slander, where the words spoken by one Thomas Bowser of Elestine Badfelde are detailed in the libel as ‘thow art or she is a wytch, & thow art, or she is nought of her body, or of thy body’. This is a trend highlighted elsewhere by C. Haigh who says that ‘the vast majority of defamation suits at Chester resulted from sexual laxity, and during the whole of the sixteenth century only half a dozen of all the cases in which the nature of the slander is known concerned other allegations’.44 Furthermore, it is the sexual behaviour of women that comes to light most often in the courts with only four of the seventeen suits in MS.F.4.12 relating to men.
   The way in which the libels and articles presented before the courts in defamation cases often included in English the words that had been spoken in order to initiate the case makes them particularly useful to social historians investigating the prevailing culture of medieval society. However, the recurrence of the words ‘a whore and an arrant whore’ in both entries 26 and 73 as well as in several cases cited by L. Gowing and one by C. Haigh brings into question the accuracy of the terms recorded by the courts.43 It seems unlikely that several individuals over a period of time and in three different places would have used the same term verbatim. Whilst the court in each case is clearly conveying the nature of the insult accurately, whether they are the exact words spoken is questionable, with the possibility that the church courts often repeated standard terms for insults with the same bearing.
   Nearly all the defamation cases in MS.F.4.12 were the result of private litigation by individuals wanting to dispel rumours circulating about them, leading to the question as to why people felt the need to initiate these suits. For some writing on the issue the main basis for bringing

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