1380 | London

Dressing the Part

Cat got your tongue?

On October 24, John Warde, of the county of York, and Richard Lynham, of Somerset County, two impostors, were brought to the hall of the Guildhall before the mayor, aldermen, and sheriffs and questioned why, although they were stout enough to work for their food and raiment and had their tongues to talk with, they pretended that they were mutes and had been deprived of their tongues, and went about in diverse places of the city carrying in their hands two ell measures, an iron hook and pincers, and a piece of leather shaped like part of a tongue, edged with silver and with writing around it to this effect: “This is the tongue of John Warde.”

With which instruments and by means of diverse signs they gave many persons to understand that they were traders, in token whereof they carried the ell measure, that they had been plundered by robbers of their goods, and that their tongues had been drawn out with the said hook and then cut off with the pincers, they making a horrible noise like unto a roaring, and opening their mouths, so that it seemed to all who examined the same that their tongues had been cut off, to the defrauding of other poor and infirm persons and in manifest deceit of the whole of the people.

Wherefore they were asked how they would acquit themselves thereof; upon which they acknowledged that they had done all the things above imputed to them. And it was awarded that they should be put upon the pillory on three different days, each time for one hour in the day, the said instruments being hung about their necks each day.

About This Text

From the Letter Books of the City of London. This example of medieval imposture comes from a series of records kept by the city of London that were edited and in parts translated—from French and Latin—by Henry Thomas Riley in his book Memorials of London and London Life, in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries. Riley also published translations of works by Plautus, Lucan, Pliny the Elder, Terence, and Ovid. He died at the age of sixty-one in 1878 from an illness caused, as a contemporary obituary stated, by “hard mental work.”