I received my author copies of my book, hurrah! It’s not out officially for another month, but in honour of actually having the real paper-and-ink copy in my hands, I thought I could share another short extract from the book with you.
Here is a small extract from Chapter 3, Fathers and Sons. After writing on abusive fathers, it’s nice to feature a little bit of affective ties between fathers and their offspring! Part of the point of my book has been to address the popular misconception that medieval fathers were cold authoritarians, detached from their children’s upbringing. In this extract, we see something of the relationship between the merchant Richard Cely and his son George, who was at this point a young man in his early 20s, and was managing family business in Calais and Bruges while his father was in London.
The strength of paternal affection could become particularly clear in a crisis. In the winter of 1479 George Cely was struck down by a serious illness, and Richard [Cely] senior’s concern for his son is evident. Richard senior seems to have been the kind of man who fretted, and the mercantile trade had inherent risks for his sons. For instance, he wrote to Richard junior anxiously telling him not to cross the Channel if the weather was bad, and relayed the same information to George a week later. But his love and concern for George are never more palpable than in letters both from himself and by other family members in November and December 1479.
Late 1479 saw deaths from illness in the Stonor and Paston families; of course, we do not know if these people all died of the same disease, but research suggests that this year featured a particularly high number of deaths from infectious disease. An epidemic was afoot, which naturally enough spread from England to the mercantile colonies of Calais, Bruges and Antwerp. Richard senior’s location in London must have meant he was well aware of the spread of the disease, and so when news of George’s illness first reached the family it is understandable that he was deeply concerned:
I understande be John Rose зe were sore seke at Bregys, werefore youre moder and bothe youre breon and Wyll Maryon and I were sory and hevy for you.
Will Maryon, writing to George a couple of days later, corroborated this, saying:
My master yowre fader and my maysterys yowre modere hat ben ryght heuy for yow. After tym that they hard that ye war seke ther covde nothy[n]g make them mery, nat tyell yt warre Alhalowhyn Heuen that my master hat wrytyng from yow…
Less than a week after sending his first letter, Richard senior sent an anxious second missive:
Be as mery as ye can and spare for no coste of syche tyngke as may be good for you in good mete [and] dryke; and youre fessychons, doe be there consell and plese them at my coste… I wyll not that ye labor to the marte: kepe youreselve wyll in onny wyse. I haue lever my money be note resayuyd tyll anoder tyme radar nor ye schall labor yourseleve and not holle .…
Richard senior, who was normally very concerned and somewhat overbearing with regard to business matters, tossed aside questions of profit when it came to the health of his son. The same day, Richard junior also wrote to his brother, and informed him that ‘owry father and mother … goys a pillgrymage dayly for you’, and reinforced Richard senior’s request: ‘Owr father and mother desyer yow not to labor nowher tyll зe be hoy[l].’ George wrote them a reply the next day, but his messenger died en route, probably of the same sickness, and so his letter was much delayed. In the meantime the family was very anxious: ‘whe marwell grehytly that whe haue no wrytng from yow.’ Not until 11 December could Richard Cely senior finally write to George: ‘I haue resayuyd a letter from you wryt … the xxj day of Novembor … the weche was to youre moder and me and bothe youre brethon and Wyll Maryon a gret comford.’ Both Richard senior and junior were careful to express not only their own affection, but also to stress that the whole family was thinking of George; it was all they could do with George on the other side of the Channel, but it was hopefully a comfort to him, and is perhaps some of the strongest evidence of affective ties in the corpus of medieval correspondence.
This concern was not one-sided, either. When Richard senior was sick in 1480, Richard junior anxiously wrote to George that ‘howr father has ben dysesyd sor. I tryste hyt be byt an axys [fit of ague], byt I wolde fayre that ye who her tyll he be better mendyt.’ A week letter his relief was evident when he wrote: ‘howr father ys aull hool and ryught merry, thankyd be God’. He even cut the length of his salutation in half and put this information in the first sentence, overriding etiquette in his eagerness to provide news. Richard was usually careful to tell his brother about the health of their household, which usually meant their parents and his godfather who interestingly seems to spend much time living with the Celys, as evidently their wellbeing was of import to both Richard as sender and George as recipient of the letters.
Richard Cely senior’s health, perhaps not fully recovered from his illness the previous year, failed in the January of 1481. I presume that the illness came on quite quickly, because letters from John and William Dalton, both of whom had regular contact with the family, made no reference to his health in the conventional good wishes of their letters of December and early January. Then in late January John Dalton, George’s close friend, wrote consolingly:
I understond of your grett hevenes of your faider, on whose sole God have mercy … in the reverens of God take it pacyenly and hurte nott yoursell … I pray yow that I may be recomaunddyd vnto your broder Rychard Cely, and ych of yow cheere oder in þe reuerens of owr Layde, who preserue yow.
This demonstrates that both George and Richard were grieving for their father, and reinforces the already strong sense in the letters that the two brothers were a support for one another. Dalton’s words read as far more than conventional platitudes: his urging that George ‘hurte nott yoursell’ suggests that George’s grief was severe, because his friend feared it could harm him.