To Be Worth Forty Shillings

Jonah Miller

  • Accounting for Oneself: Worth, Status and the Social Order in Early Modern England by Alexandra Shepard
    Oxford, 357 pp, £65.00, February 2015, ISBN 978 0 19 960079 3

‘What are yow worthe in goodes if all your debtes were payd?’ John Tanner was asked in 1620 when he appeared as a witness at the church court in Chichester. ‘Twenty shillings,’ he answered. He had been called by one Robert Constable to support a case for defamation against Stephen Pentecost. Pentecost’s witnesses said Tanner couldn’t be trusted: he was ‘a poore needy fellow’ with ‘a little cottage of his owne to dwell in … and noe other meanes to live’. One claimed he ‘could not find whereof he [Tanner] could levye xx s’; others that he was ‘much imployed by and under the said Mr Constable’ whom he called ‘master’, and who provided ‘most of his mayntynaunce’. Constable fought back by getting his other witnesses to denounce Pentecost’s witnesses. A local curate called them ‘poor needy fellows of small or noe credit & such as … may be easily drawne to depose an untruth’. Tanner, meanwhile, was recast as a man who ‘well performed his worke with care’ and ‘such a one as is to be beleved upon his oath’.

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