In dei nomine

This was my first attempt at translating legal Latin. Having researched my family history back to about 1650, I began to find that I needed to use every available resource in order to piece the fragments together, and the further back you go the more useful it is to read Latin. My only qualification is an O level pass obtained in 1955 (I think!) after which I thankfully quit. Now I needed to try to recover a bit of this ground; since I had a copy of a will (in English) proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1591 and the Latin record of the ensuing legal dispute, both written in a particularly clear hand, it seemed as good a place to start as any. Comparing this text with others from the same source, it is obvious that a lot of the wording follows a set formula, so this example actually may be useful to anyone wanting to tackle the same type of record.

The will itself is fairly easy to read, once you get used to the italic script. The hardest thing is to distinguish between u and n, or m, in and ni. The i's are dotted, but generally not in the right place. Capital letters are ornate, so much so that some are hard to recognise. However, they can be worked out from the rest of the word and the context. It is worth the effort to make a list. The Latin is in the same hand, which is useful, but uses many more of the conventional abbreviations. To begin with it is like doing a crossword, filling in the missing letters, except that the missing letters themselves form part of the clue! After a while, you start to see the pattern.

  1. Omitted endings which should decline in case, gender and number to match the thing or person described (so omission saved work and hid ignorance). The contraction is indicated by modifying the last remaining letter: each letter has its own particular "flourish". Thus
    def.png (2K)def(unct.) quod.png (2K)quod(am) commiss.png (5K)Commiss(o)
    Three occur frequently because each gets used for a common grammatical form:
    1. present participles all have stems ending in n, continued with a curving line up and back;
      peten.png (2K)peten(-s, -tis ...) proceden.png (3K)proceden(-s...)
    2. past participles mostly have stems ending in t: the stroke of the t is extended, curving up to a dot;
      Deduct.png (3K)Deduct(-um, -a ...)
    3. gerunds and gerundives all have stems ending in d: here the top of the d is looped back over itself.
      exercend.png (3K)exercend(-um, -o...).
  2. Commonly used words which are shortened by leaving letters out of the stem but preserve the ending, presumably because it helps make the meaning clear. These are always shown by some mark over the word, always including a horizontal line. Amongst others I noticed
    1. dci.png (1K)dci = dicti pdcis.png (2K)pdcis = predictis
    2. Willmum for Willelmum, Nichaus for Nicholaus, Johe for Johanne
    3. huidi.png (2K) hui(usmo)di, literally "of this manner" but used simply to mean this or this same
    4. coi for cuicuimodi, "of whatever type"
    5. ltme.png (1K)l(egi)t(i)me ltimum.png (2K)l(egi)timum
      This is tricky because "lt" looks quite like "ff", which was used for capital F, so ltme looks like Fine which seems also to express the meaning. However capital F appears also in the name Francisco (a witness) and there is a clear difference. In most cases a faint horizontal line is visible through the "lt" to indicate omitted letters. For some time I thought that the contraction represented the word "ultime" which also appears in full. On reflection, however, it seems unlikely that an initial letter would be omitted and in a couple of cases "legitimate" makes better sense.
      francisco.png (4K) Francisco ultime.png (2K)ultime
    6. In words where the stem ends in "tion" this is cut down to "to"; actually it is hard to say if the contraction uses a shortened t or an exaggerated c.
      allegatoi.png (5K)allegat(i)o(n)i intentoem.png (3K)intent(i)o(n)em
  3. Standard contractions which always expand in one way. Much the commonest is that for -que, tacked on to the end of many different words to mean "and".
    atque.png (2K)atque etc.png (1K)et cetera viz.png (1K)videlicet xpi.png (1K)xpi = Christi
    There are actually two distinct abbreviations in the second example: "et" is represented by the loop and "cetera" reduced to c. We still use this form, writing "&c". "Videlicet" literally means "let it be seen"; again this is still used but the abbreviation has taken on a life of its own, written and pronounced "viz". "xp" seems an odd choice of letters to signify Christ but this abbreviation goes back to the earliest days when the language of the Christian church was Greek and χρ are the first two letters of the Greek form of Christ's name. They just happen to look like xp although they sound quite different.
  4. Contractions forced by reaching the end of the line, sometimes rather more abbreviated than normal. Words are occasionally continued on the next line. When the word finishes too soon, a space filler is inserted (or several).
    testo.png (2K)test(imoni)o filler.png (1K)filler

Then you have to try to disentangle the grammar and that's where the fun really begins. The Latin in this document shows very clearly the desire of the lawyers to cover all possibilities and also to sound authoritative; the effect is to produce immensely long and unreadable sentences. The whole record runs to about 500 words but contains just two full stops; the main verb for the first sentence comes in line 10 of the original. So I had to chip away at it word by word.

I started to brush up my Latin by reading Latin for Local and Family Historians by Denis Stuart, Phillimore, 1995, which covers the grammar and spelling used in medieval and later times with examples and exercises related to various types of record. Collins Latin Dictionary plus Grammar is a very user-friendly resource and the grammar section gives concise but comprehensive information about the way different forms were actually used in classical Latin. Medieval Latin has many extra words: for these a good resource is the Revised Medieval Latin Word-list prepared by R. E. Latham, OUP, 1965 but several times reprinted.

I have set out my transcription of the Latin and my translation side by side in the following table, splitting up the original into numbered blocks according to what I think are natural breaks. I have expanded the contractions in the Latin, showing the inserted letters in magenta, which distinguishes them without breaking up the word itself. I hope they are right! In the translation I have retained capitals as used in the original; they are used to emphasize important words and also to mark the beginning of new clauses. Likewise I have tried to preserve something fairly close to the original word order. In some cases I have had to bring words forward in order to get something vaguely intelligible and then I have used bold or italic styles to show the correspondence between the original and the translation. There are also a couple of places where I have used an extra word in the translation which has no match in the Latin; these are shown in parenthesis.

In dei Nomine Amen
Auditis visis et intellectis ut plenare et mature discussis per nos Willelmum Lewin legum Doctorem ad exercendum officium Magistri Custodis sive Commissarii Curie Prerogative Cantuariensis legitime Deputate
In the Name of god Amen.
having Heard seen and understood for a full and considered discussion by us, William Lewin Doctor of Laws exercising the office of Master Custodian or Commissioner of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury as lawful Deputy,
meritis et circumstanciis cuiusdam negotii testamentarii sive approbationis testamenti sive ultime voluntatis Jacobi Bridge nuper de Hothfield in Comitate Kantis defuncti quodam coram nobis in Iuditio of the merits and circumstances of a certain testamentary affair or probate of the testament or last will of James Bridge, late of Hothfield in the County of Kent deceased, which same (came) before us in Trial
inter Robertum Bridge fratrem naturalem et legitimum atque executorem in testamento sive ultima voluntate dicti Defuncti nominatum partem huiusmodi negotium promoventem ex una between Robert Bridge natural and legitimate surviving brother and also executor to the testament or last will of the said deceased, called the party bringing the case on the one side
et Nicholum Symondes et Henricum Godfrey proximos consanguineos dicti defuncti parte contra quam huiusmodi negotium promovetur partibus ex altera and Nicholas Symondes and Henry Godfrey close kin of the said deceased the party against whom this case is brought by the parties on the other side
aliquandiu vertibatur et pendebat indecisus vertiturque adhuc et pendet indecisus rite et legitime procedens partibus predictis per earum procuratores coram nobis in Iuditio legitime comparentis for a while it turned and hung undecided and still it turns and hangs undecided duly and lawfully proceding by the parties aforesaid through their proctors lawfully appearing before us in Trial
parteque prefati Roberti Bridge Suitam ferri et Iusticiam etiam pro parte sua parte vero memoratum Nicholai Symondes et Henrici Godfrey Iusticiam etiam pro parte sua instanter respective postulante et petente. both the party of the said Robert Bridge urgently demanding his Suit to be carried and Justice even for his side and also the party of the well known Nicholas Symondes and Henry Godfrey likewise urgently pleading for Justice on their side.
Rimatoque primitus per nos toto et integro processu in huiusmodi causa coram nobis habito et facto ac diligenter recensito and (the case) having first been Examined by us in full and complete process in this case before us, known and composed and also diligently reviewed
Servatisque per nos de Iure in hac parte servandis ad nostre sive Diffinitive sive nostri finalis Decreti prolationem in huiusmodi negotio ferendam sic and Points of law recorded by us in this case enabling the pronouncement of our Definitive or our final Decree in this case as follows
Duximus procedenda fore et procedimus in hunc qui sequitur modum We have considered what the outcome should be and we proceed in the manner which follows
Quia per acta inactitata deducta exhibita allegata proposita probata pariter et confessata in huiusmodi negotio comperimus luculenter et invenimus partem prefati Roberti Bridge intentionem suam in quadam allegationi alias super testamento dicti Jacobi Bridge defuncti coram nobis in huiusmodi negotio data et oblata Because by things done enacted deduced exhibited alleged proposed well proved and confessed in this case we discover very well and we come to the part of the said Robert Bridge (and) his accusation in a certain petition over the testament of the said late James Bridge given and offered before us at another time in this case
Quam quidem Allegationem pro hic lectum et insertum habemus et haberi volumus sufficienter et ad plenum quoad infra pronunciandum fundasse pariter et probasse Which particular Accusation previously read and inserted we hold and we wish to be held as being pronounced well-founded and proved fully and from top to bottom
Nihilque effectuale ex parte aut per partem dictorum Nicholai Symondes et Henrici Godfrey in huiusmodi negotio fuisse aut esse deductus allegatus exhibitus probatus quodam intentionem prefati Roberti Bridge in ea parte elideret siu quomodolibet enervaret. and Nothing effectual from the party or through the party of the said Nicholas Symondes and Henry Godfrey in this case that was or is deduced alleged exhibited or proved would erase or in any way weaken the accusation of the said Robert Bridge on his side.
Idcirco nos Willelmus Lewin legum doctor Iudex antedictus Christi nomine primitus invocato atque ipsum solum deum oculis nostris preponentes et habentes
deque et cum consilio Iurisperitorum cum quibus in hac parte coitavimus
Therefore we William Lewin doctor of laws Judge aforesaid, having first invoked the name of Christ and placing and holding this sole god in our eyes
and by and with the counsel of those versed in the law with whom we have met in this case
prenominatum Jacobum Bridge dum vixit mentis compotem et in sua sana memoria existentem
suum rite et legitime condidisse testamentum suam in se continens ultimam voluntatem
atque in eodem sive eadem prefatum Robertum Bridge suum et testamenti sui huiusmodi ferrisse constituisse et nominasse executorem
Ceteraque voluisse et disposuisse pro ut in eodem sive eadem continetur
pronunciamus decernemus et declaramus
we pronounce decree and declare
the aforenamed James Bridge while he lived continuing composed in mind and in his sound memory
to have duly and lawfully composed his testament, containing his last will
and in it the aforesaid Robert Bridge to have been carried constituted and nominated executor of his same will
and other matters to have been determined and disposed in accordance with what is contained in it
Testamentumque ex parte prefati Roberti Bridge in huiusmodi negotio exhibitum atque alias coram nobis in cuicuimodi forma probatum fuisse et esse verum et ultimum Testamentum sive ultimam voluntatem prefati Jacobi Bridge defuncti
proque viribus et valore huiusmodi testamenti
pronunciamus et declaramus.
and we pronounce and declare
the testament exhibited by the party of the said Robert Bridge in this case and also at other times before us in whatever form to have been and to be the true and final Testament or last will of the said James Bridge deceased
and for the strengths and the worth of this same testament
Approbationemque et insunuat*ionem testamenti predicti Defuncti alias per nos in cuicuimodi forma factum
Administrationemque omnia et singulorum bonorum Iurium Creditorum et Cattalorum dicti Defuncti prefati Roberto Bridge executori antedicto antea per nos commissum
approbamus Confirmamus et Ratificamus per hanc nostram Suitam Diffinitivam : quam sive quod ferrimus et promulgamus in hiis Scriptis
* I take this to be misspelt and read it as "insinuationem"
and the Probate and registration of the testament of the said deceased made by us at another time in whatever form
and the Administration of all and single goods Rights Credits and Moveable goods of the said Deceased previously committed by us to Robert Bridge aforesaid executor
we approve Confirm and Ratify by this our definitive Trial : as concerning which we bring forth and promulgate in this written record
Lecta lata et promulgata fuit hic Suita Diffinitiva per dictum Magistrum Willmum Lewin doctorem legum secundo die Iuridico post diem Cinerum
die veneris undecimo videlicet die mensis Februarii Anno Domini iuxta cursum et computationem Ecclesie Anglicane Millesimo quingentesimo nonagesimo primo in loco Communis London
this definitive Suit was Read carried and promulgated by the said Master William Lewin doctor of laws the second day of Jurisdiction after Ash Wednesday
namely Friday the eleventh day of the month of February in the Year of our Lord following the rule and calculation of the English Church One thousand five hundred and ninety one in the court of Common Pleas, London
iudicialiter et pro tribunali sedenti ad petitionem Galfridi Clerke Notarii publici procuratoris antedicti Roberti Bridge
et in presentia Johannis Theaker Notarii publici procuratoris predictorum Nicholai Symondes et Henrici Godfrey
judicially and before a tribunal sitting at the petition of Geoffrey Clerke public Notary to the proctor of the aforesaid Robert Bridge
and in the presence of John Theaker public Notary to the proctor of the said Nicholas Symondes and Henry Godfrey
Super cuius Suite prolatione dictus Galfridus Clerke requisivit me Johannem Laive Notarium publicum tunc presentem ad conficiendum sibi unum vel plura Instrumenta publica ac testes &c For the duration of which Suit the said Geoffrey Clerke requested me John Laive public Notary being then present to gather for him one or several public Instruments and also witnesses etc
presentibus tunc et ibidem Francisco Clerke Thoma Willet Johanne Burroughs et Johanne Eyne Notariis publicis dicte Curie procuratoribus testibus &c By those present then and there Francis Clerke Thomas Willet John Burroughs and John Eyne public Notaries of the said Court proctors, witnesses etc