The du Cotil documents

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The du Cotil documents

This article by Joan Stevens and Jean Arthur was first published in the 1970 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

80 manuscripts

This collection of 80 manuscripts concerning the du Costil family, now extinct, had been assembled in a small box by the late Miss Julia Marett, and she had sorted them out from the vast La Haule collection. It is not known what the connexion was with La Haule, perhaps an early Dumaresq marriage.

The documents are all dated in the 15th century, and most of them bear seals, in many cases in perfect condition, and this fact alone qualifies the collection for close attention. One single manuscript, the will of Drouet Cotil and Michelle, his wife, in Latin, is being treated separately.

It is not proposed to give transcripts, or even notes, on each individual manuscript, but such detailed notes have been prepared, one list being given tc the owner and one placed in the Museum Library. Here we shall deal only with the interesting and important facts which emerge from their study. Therefore in many instances the actual transaction, often just the sale of wheat rente, is not mentioned in this article; as is so often the case it is the oblique information which is of historical value.

The names of fiefs and other place names quoted are of considerable interest; they show that a certain field or area was so named at a given date, and they give the contemporary spelling, so essential for word derivations.

In some cases we have been able to locate small fiefs of which there was little other evidence. But some of the intriguing names found here have not been identified, and, for the present, remain a mystery. For the most part these parchments are in excellent condition.

Guillaume De Laic's seal

Bailiffs' seals

We do not claim that the seals in this collection were previously unknown, but there cannot be many surviving examples of the seal of Guillaume de Layc, who held the pos¬ition of Bailiff only from 1405-06; his motif appears to be a dog, or similar animal, with a bushy tail, and the surrounding legend, hard to read, says "Guillame Delaic GL" de Layc (or Laic) was followed in office by Thomas Danyel (1406-25) whose seal shows a five pointed star, or the wheel of a SPUl(2), and again, perfect specimens exist here.

There are two complete, and one broken, examples, on documents of 1435, of the Lempriere eagle, for Jean Lempriere who was Bailiff from 1435-36.

On documents of 1440, 1443 and 1445, Drouet Hardy appeared as Lieut-Bailiff for Sir John Bernard (1436-42) whose seal bears a pike, surrounded by a legend, in very small letters, which seems to read "Decora certius", which might perhaps be translated as "the surer course is seemliness".

Thomas Danyel's seal

From 1446-51 Regnauld de Carteret of Longueville was Bailiff, and he used a seal with his crest, a squirrel, instead of his arms, the familiar four fusils, on two documents of 1450.

Jean Poingdestre was Bailiff from 1452-53, in 1467 and 1476, and there are several examples of his seal. One is similar to that illustrated on page 322 of Payne's Armorial, showing the clenched fist between the initials LP. However they are not clear and could equally well be PD for Poingdestre. Nicolas Morin was Bailiff from 1459-62, 1464-67 and again in 1477, and his arms of two pendant fir cones appear on several documents.

Another, a 1540 copy of a 1498 original, has a de Carteret seal, showing the four fusiIs with a label for difference. Hélier de Carteret, who was Bailiff at the date in question, was a fifth son, and generally used, correctly, the fusiIs differenced with an annulet. Did he, on this occasion, borrow his elder brother's signet?

It is noticable, and surprising, that as time goes on the seals become inferior, and in the latter years no Bailiff's insignia appears on the reverse of the seal, but just a thumb imprint.

Did many valuable possessions, such as signets, disappear, by sale or confiscation, during the harsh years of the French domination of 1461-68? It is most disappointing that the three documents dating during this French occupation throw no light at all on this dark and ugly chapter in Island history.

Personal names

Personal names which are now extinct appear in documents of this period. Such is the case here, though many can be found in the Extentes, particularly that of 1528, the one nearest in date to this collection.

Regnauld de Carteret's seal

As in all epochs, John is the commonest name for a man, but at this period we are still close to Latin in written affairs, and so it appears as John, for Johannes, instead of the French Jean, which it was soon to become.

Amongst others, we find Guillotin, Guillemyn, Rauf, Raulin, Macey, Drouet, Loys, Philipot, Jacquet, Damyan, Denys, Perrotin, Jourdain. Philippe, so ubiquitous later on, was not then common. Amongst women's names we find Agnes, Perote, Michelle, Rauline, Rich¬arde, Marguet, Guillemyne, Georgette, Thomasse, Cardine, Mariote and Colecte. (sic)

There are varied spellings of familiar family names. We find here Mallard, Baudein, Le Nepveu, Dessoubslement or de Soubzlement, Ie Galles, Blancpy, or (all in one docu¬ment) Le Marcant, Le Marchant and Le Merquant. Unexpected names appear too, such as Don, Lee, Morisse, Grant, Dyanne and Sureye; others are Boulion, John Trachy dit Bordier, Canu, Le Quetier dit le Rousset, le Rous dit Ie Vallot, Espiart, Ie Caumes, Ie Jardey, Ie Chambrier, de Fanouillieres, du Boc, Blancvillain, Vymber, Cesson, Damadde and Vasse, most, but not all, of which appear in the Extente.

The fief of Meleches appears as Demenachis (v Extente) and that of es Baudains as "es Baudeyns ou fieu de la priourte de Sainct Clemt" (1462). The fief Moessonnyere, belonging to the Cure de St Clement, is a newcomer, as far as we know, to the vast list of fief names, but fields C101 and 109 are called La Moissoniere, which seems significant.

Sir John Bernard's seal

The fief of Crapedoyt appears, so spelt, in 1477, and the fief Torne (Torney in the Extente of 1331) in 1473. Another is the fief es Regnaus, in 1445, the context suggesting that it might be near Vinchelez, though no such fief is known there, and Grouville, where there is a Ville es Regnauds, seems more probable.

In 1477 we find "John Nycolle de la Cornee" further confirmation of this family’s Cornish origin; but the next year he is "John Nycolle, Master Porter Demontorgueil, a native of England".

Interesting place namesw

There are other place names of extreme interest. In 1462 some land is designated "le sue du Roncheril de la Croues de Ia Bataille au fieu es Baudeyns" in a sale. Fields C168 and 169 are named Le Clos du Roncier, and C170 is Le Champ Baudains, and is just south of La Croix de Ia Bataille, confirmation that the battle in question was fought before this date at least.

What we now know as La Rigondaine appears in these documents as La Rocque Godain, La Rocque Godeynne or la Rocque Godainne. Le Huterol, which appears in other later sources as Huterel (1597), Hutere (1613 and 1754), has not been identified or located. It is, or was, in St Clement, on the fief du Hommet, and in 1474 it was described as being near the houses of Perrot in Boterel and John Ie Nepveu.

Extremely interesting is the mention, in 1494, of "au port luytault" in St. Clement, on the fief of Samares. What is now known as Pontorson Lane was La Rue de Pontlienaut, Pontlietaut, or Pontlieutaut, Pont Lietant, Pont Lietaut, in the 17th century.

In the Assize Roll of 1309 there is a Radulphus Lietaud in St. Clement, and in the Cartulaire dues were paid to St Clement's Priory on "Ia masure Lietaut" in 1363 and in 1381, suggesting that Radulphus' house had fallen into ruins. But a "Port Luytault" suggests a gap in the rocks just west of Le Hocq, or possibly the scribe made a mistake and intended to write Pont, though he in fact wrote Port very clearly.

In 1499 a Pierre Damadde sold some land to Laurens Costil (the 's' was included or omitted quite arbitrarily) and Richarde his wife to the north west of Samares Manor. In a Terrier of the Samares fief of 1608 there is an item "entre la terre et la croix pierre Damades" and further on "les cotiis dentre l'hostel Pierre Damades et I'hostel du Roussel, the word hostel merely indicating the house of the man mentioned.

Jean Poingdestre's seal

Contracts used to be passed in relation to a saint's day, but this cumbersome method gradually gave way to modern dating during the period covered by these documents. The first Tuesday after the Translation of St Benest, for instance, is an awkward date to find. Some of these instances, though, are well worth recording.

For example, St Ambrose, (7 December) La Pentacoute, (in 1455) or Penchercouste, (1478), St. Bartholomew, (24 August) The Purification of Notre Dame, (2 February) Delaphiphane, Epiphany (6 January) St John devant la Porte latine, (6 May) St Gregoire, (there are ten St Gregories to choose from) The Ascension of St Pol, (? 29 June 29th) St. Maur, (5 October) St Brandon, (Brendan, Brelade, 16 May) St Cler, martyr, (St Cler of Rochester, 4 November) and St Tadee, apostle (St Thadeus, 28 October), and many others.

The first occasion with modern dating in this collection is 1479, but the old custom was not readily relinquished, as the last document, dated 1499, was passed on the Monday before the feast of "St John devant la porte latine".

First use of 'clos'

The word "clos" appears in 1470, a very early date for enclosed land, and it concerns Marguet Despres, wife of Guille Allayn, whose son sells his inheritance to John Morant The land appears to be in Grouville and included one vergee in "le clos John Daage" as well as half a vergee "a l'hotel au Doubleure". The context suggests that this land was west of La Croix de la Bataille.

Nicholas Morin's seal

There are one or two interesting words or phrases which one does not meet in documents of a later date. After the names of each of the contracting parties it was customary to say "et ses hers". In some of these documents the phrase used after the name of the second contracting party is "et yssiens" (with variations of spelling) clearly meaning "les siens" that is, his own people. But in some cases they say "et essorans".

This may be a corruption of the Latin exorientes, present participle of exorior, meaning to issue or rise up from, or it may come from the Old French essoudre or essordre, meaning to issue from, derived from exsurgere. So "essorans" in this context must mean the issue, that is the heirs of the contracting parties.

In many cases the facts are stated and followed by these words, an example of 1477, "et accorda ledit John que ces lett res fussent audienciees es lyeux ou il appartient luy present ou absent touteffoyes que mestier en sera, et jura par son serment …” This was a standard formula used in contracts for expressing that the vendor agreed that the written document should be read out publicly at the proper place.

There are two ouye de paroisse documents here, and though such transactions are well known, the ratifying document, with a date as early as this, is not common. One is dated 1436, and mentions the previous transaction passed by ouye de paroisse at St Clement (of which the date is not given) by which Jannequin du Costil had sold two vergees of land to Guille du Costil on the fiefs of Hommet and Crapedoyt, on which he still owed part payment.

Creation of obits

But perhaps the most interesting of all in this collection are three examples of the creation of an obit. As all such celebrations were to be confiscated in 1547, these are late examples, and we have thought it right to give particulars of each, and a full transcript with paraphrased translation of one.

In all three documents the party receiving the obit is Sire Thomas Cotil. On 12 March 1490 three sisters, Thomasse, Cardine and Mariote Morel, gave five cabots of wheat rente for an obit. Their brother Perrotin agreed to the gift.

On 5 March 1491 John Nycolle gave four cabots of rente on bis house at Grouville so that Sire Thomas may pray for him and the souls of his deceased friends.

The transcript which follows is that of the most interesting of the three documents. It shows that at this late date, 1490, praying for the soul of the donor and for those of his departed friends was not always the primary object in making such a gift.

The second gift mentioned was made only for the lifetime of the priest Thomas Cotil, which indicates that it was his welfare as well as that of the souls of the departed for which John Cotil, son of Thomas, was providing. Were the emotions and doubts which launched the Reformation stirring in men's minds even in this remote Island?


"A tous ceulx qui ces presentes Leyttres verront ou orront Guillaume de Hamptonne Luy¬tenant de Clement le Hardy Baillif de notre sire Le Roy dengleterre en lisle de gersoy Saluten dieu Sachent tous que Lan de grace mil CCCC quatre vingts et dix le iiii jour du moes de octobre furent presents en droit a saint clement par deuant nous Cest assauoir Sire thomas cotil fils droet cotil dune partie et Robin duboc et Rauline sa famme fille Johan auerty daultre La quelle Rauline o lautoritey de son dit mary de sa pure et aggreable voluntey donna ceda et delessa affin de heritage de elle et de ses hers audit sire thomas et a ses hers ou assignes en cheritey et aumosne pour prier pour les ames de ses amys trespasses toult et ytel droit guit (? que) ladite Rauline pouet auoir sus vne messon et mesnage ou souleit demeurer perrin (perrotin) martin seante ladite messon en la paroesse de saint clement ou fieu au prieur deuers leest de leglise Et se obligea ladite Rauline o lotoritey susdit fornir et garantir ledit don et delessance affin de heritage delle et de ses hers audit sire thomas et a ses hers ou assignes comme deuant est dit sus lobligacion de tous ses biens meubles et heritages presents et aduenir Et jurerent les dis maries par la foy et serment de leurs corps que james contre les choses dessusdits nyront ne feront auer par eulx ne par aultre en temps aduenir en aulcnne maniere en painne de pariures Et en especialladite famme jura par Ie serment de son corps que pour faire ledit don et ladite delessance nauoit estey ferue menachie ne melestec en aulcune maniere mes Ie fesoit de son pur grey et assent et que james nyroit ne feroit aller en lencontre par voie de mariage emcombrey Item en ycelle mesmes Instance de droit fut present Johan cotil fils thomas cotillequel Johan de sa pure et aggreable volunte donna semblablement ceda et delessa en cheritey et aumosne pour prier pour les ames de ses amys trespasses audit sire thomas tout et ytel droit que ledit Johan pouet auoir sus la meson et mesnage dictes durant Ie terme de la vie dudit sire thomas et apres Ie deccdement dudit sire thomas ledit Johan ou ses hers possederont dudit droit et jura ledit Johan par la foy et serment de son corps de naIler james du garantyie en paine de pariure des queUes choses aincy faites ledit sire thomas nous requist lettre et nos auantdit luytenant luy ottroy¬asmes En tesmoing de ce nous auons scelley ces lettres du sceel de la baillie de la dicte Isle de gersoy Presents a ce thomas lempriere et Johan poingdestre Jures du roy donne comme dessus."


"Rauline, daughter of John Averty, with the consent of her husband Robin du boc, gave by way of charity and alms, to Sire Thomas Cotil and his heirs or assigns, all her rights to a house and homestead, where Perrin Martin used to live, on the fief of the Priory at St Clement to the east of the (parish) church, that he might pray for the souls of her deceased friends.
She guaranteed her gift on the security of all her moveable effects and hereditaments present and to come. She and her husband swore by the oaths of their bodies that they would never oppose the agreement or allow it to be opposed in the future, on pain of perjury.
Rauline further swore that she made the gift of her own free will and would not oppose it or cause others to oppose it by way of a suit for restoration of married women's property. At the same time John Cotil, son of Thomas, likewise gave all his rights on the said house for the same purpose to Sire Thomas during his lifetime.
After the death of Sire Thomas, John Cotil would become repossessed of his share of the house, and he swore to abide by the terms of the contract. Sire Thomas requested a copy of the trans¬action, which was duly accorded to him, and sealed and witnessed by the Jurats, Thomas Lempriere and John Poingdestre".

Sire Thomas does not appear in the printed list of Rectors of St Martin, but in the Registers of the See of Coutances, 1487-1557, he is quoted as being in charge of the palish church "vacant ... by the death of Master Peter Pesnecq" in 1500. It may be that he held the position for a short time only.

Another member of the family, John, be¬came an Advocate in 1532, but was probably a cousin, not a brother of Sire Thomas. The latter's father, Drouet, was Denonciateur in 1475, the earliest recorded holder of that office.

In 1531 Richard Cotil, whose relationship has not been established, was Con¬stable of St Clement, and in 1556, the family was said to be living at Maitland, in St Clement, previously known as Le Manoir d'Elie, after the fief on which it stands. So they were a family of some standing at the period when they were passing the contracts which are the subject of this article.

Note-We are very grateful to Mr S W Bisson for his expert advice concerning the legal terms used, and for offering us his helpful comments on this article.

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