Contract and Trust in Fifteenth-Century Church Courts
Abstract This chapter looks at the relationship between the ecclesiastical courts and the customs of credit in fifteenth-century England. It suggests that the church courts in particular shaped the language and performative ritual used at the point of contracting credit. Though court records and household inventories suggest that written instruments were used when contracting credit, ecclesiastical jurisdiction over credits sworn on oath in the later medieval period placed greater emphasis on the declarations and performance of trust than the written record as a form of proof. The commutation of the oath from the sacred to the profane, marked by the rise of oral credit contracts in the secular courts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, highlights the significance of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in shaping credit contracts and the emergence of a language of faith that continued to underpin contracts.
Keywords credit, law, custom, oaths, courts.