The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The carnal use of her body

The sorry tale of Alse Mathewe of Pentlow is the very stuff of ballads. By the 1580s, when this happened, the 1572 Vagrancy Act had led to considerable changes in the way that the poor were cared for in Britain. It is possible that Robert Gosnold of Pentlow had originally agreed with the parish to take the vagrant Alse in as a servant. When she became pregnant, she moved across the 'border' to Belchamp St Paul. Pentlow Parish must have been relieved that they were no longer liable to care for the mother and baby, but it looks as if parish of Belchamp St Paul attempted to pass the bill back to Pentlow by getting Alse to testify that Robert Gosnold was the child's father….

From the EPIPHANY 1589 Sessions Rolls

24 September 1588

...he allured her to
commit whoredom with him

Examination, taken before Israel Amyce, esquire, at Tilbury-near-Clare, of Davie Cox, servant to Robert Gosnold of Pentlow, yeoman, who says and confesses that he is of the age of sixteen years or thereabouts, and also that he is servant to the said Gosnold, and that one Alse Mathewe, his fellow-servant, did about three quarters of a year past fall in love with him, and that she about that time earnestly entices him to commit adultery with her, whereunto he confesses that he gave his consent, and further says that he had the carnal use of her body three or four sundry times since.

Examination of Alse Mathewe, taken as above, who says and confesses that about the time aforesaid she was fellow-servant with the said [Davie], and that he allured her to commit whoredom with him, and that he has had the carnal use of her body divers and sundry times since, but how often she remembers not.

6 January 1589

and that the last time he had
to do with her was about
the Feast of Pentecost last in a field
called "Morefyld" at a gate

Scope and Content Examination, taken before Israel Amyce, esquire, of Clemence, wife of Edmund Jervis of PENTLOW, husbandman, Alse, wife of William Lumly of the same, husbandman, Margaret, wife of John Shelly of the same, husbandman, Alse, wife of Richard Hardie of Belchamp St. Paul, husbandman, Ann, wife of Christopher Hardie of the same, husbandman, and Ann Carter of Foxearth, widow, who say and confess that they, with two other midwives, were at the birth of the child of Alse Mathewe at PENTLOW, and that they were present when one Mother Lamberd a midwife in Clare, co.Suffolk, came thither, and that the said midwife did earnestly persuade the said [Alse] to confess the truth concerning two honest men, namely Mr. Friar and the Goodman Wilson, whom [she] had slandered; unto whom the said Alse answered, being in very grievous pain and great peril [of death], that she never said anything of or against the said Fryar or Wilson but that which is very true; and further[ they say] that she confessed that one Davie is the father of the child and that she would take her death thereupon, and [that] he had to deal with her divers and sundry times, and that the last time he had to do with her was about the Feast of Pentecost last in a field called "Morefyld" at a gate.

Also the said examinates say and affirm that the said Alse, being in her greatest pain, [said] no man had ever to do with her but the said Davie, and that she protested and took God to witness that her [master was] clear from any wickedness committed against her, and that she cried out saying "Woe worth Mr. Friar [and Peter] Wilson who persuaded and enticed me wrongfully to accuse my master before the Justice".

On 16th Feb 1589, there is the following entry of a birth in the Pentlow parish register.
    'Isabel, dau of Isabel Mathew a harlot;'