SC 1/53/45 – 1480 – London – Letter from Richard Cely the Elder to George Cely (his son)

This month I’ve decided to return to the Cely Letters, for the first of a closely related set of three, and is itself a sequel to the last one that appeared in the Baelfyr.

The letter begins by reciting back the details of a sale of wool to Johnde Selermer of Gent. The price of 13 marks per sack was fairly typical for Cotswold wool. A srapler is about 1,00lb or 450kg, a poke about half that and a sack betweena half and a third. The quantities weren’t standardized. There isn’t much more to be said about this transaction right now, but remember it, for it will not be the last the Celys hear of it.

The next section says that Rychard had shipped 16 sarplers of Cotswold wool from London to Calais. These days, you would go to Dover for such a cargo, but at the time, itb would have been preferable to minimize land transport ion favour of the sea. It would however, have required the winds to be in the right direction, which is why most carho shipping was seasonal. Wool being shipped would need to be inspected and certified for customs purposes, which would have involved a certain amount of unpacking and repacking. It seems that 6 sarplers of this cargo had only been through the process the same day as the ships left, which have meant a fair bit of work, and probably a premium cost for the labour and skilled assayer. Rychard would have little choice as the cargo vessels would have travelled in convoy to minimise the risk of piracy or privateering, although 1480 was relatively peaceful, Given tides and winds, would not have been willing to wait. It is quite likely that to spread the risk that the cargo would have been shipped across several of the vessels. With no idea of the weather to come, it would still have been something to pray over.

George’s brother Rychard the younger, was in the Cotswolds buying and packing the next consignment for the family business. The details in this letter detail the purchase of a total of 3,000 fells from Wylliam Medwynter (the initial reason I started looking at these letters), Fells are the complete skin of a sheep, with the fleece still attached. They would be processed in Flanders to remove the wool from the skin (involving the medieval staple of urine), the wool used and the skins turned into parchment, Sheep parchment was preferred for important legal documents as it was thinner than that from cattle, and as a result it was harder to erase without noticeable damage, and hence change contracts, deeds, etc. by stealth. The availability and prices for fells tended to coincide with the diseases and consequent mortality of the flocks.

George was asked to purcgase canvas for wrapping wool into bales. This canvas needed to be robust enough to survive the stresses of shipping, but otherwise wasn’t anything special. It was cheaper to buy it on the continent and ship it back to England. The description of the required width is alittle muddled, but it seems to boil down to not to wide, and not to narrow. An ell is a unit of length for cloth, but the widths varied enormously. An ell in England would be about 45” wide in England, but only 27” wide in Flanders, and thinner that that elsewhere in Europe. It’s unclear whether a half quarter means ‘a half to a quarter’ or ‘half of a quarter’, in effect one eighth. Given that George was located at Calais, and was soon to head to the market at Antwerp, it seems likely that the request was for Flemish canvas at the width they produced it. The final part of the letter is, I suspect, something common from the dawn of writing up until the present day, namely a parent demanding that their child writes more. It seems that George is considered both negligent in keeping his father in touch with both business and current affairs, at least in the opinion of that father. And if George can’t write for his father’s sake, then he should at least write for the sake of their lord, who is most courteous to them. However, it probably didn’t escape George’s notice that that same lord, Sir John Weston, Prior of the Knights of Saint John, was on his way to Calais with the wool fleet.

Malden’s Transcription:

M l iiij c iiij xx

I grete you wyll and I have resayvyd a lecter from you wryt at Celays the xxix day of May the weche I have wyll understand and that ze have solde vj sarplerys & pok of my medell cottyswolde to John de Solermer of Gante pryse the sacke xiij marke for the weche I am wyll plesyd were for I have schepyd at London the laste day of May xvij sarplerys of my cottyswolde woll were of be vj clotys medell woll in grete haste for the cokyys were made the same day and the schepys depertyd ij day of Jun and my lorde levetenant he depertyd the same day and I pray God send my lorde and the woll schepys wyll to Caleys Rychard Cely hath be in Cottyswolde and hath bogwyt xv c fellys for you and him seve and xv c for me of Wylliam Medewynter the weche cam to London thys same day I wyll ye bye for me v or vj c of canvase at the marte for to packe wo[ll] wyt of a good brede not elle brode halfe quarter lese and not ot of the smaleste but pra thy rond canvase for to packyng in woll I pray you send me wrytyng of all sych maters as schall long to me for [I] thynke ye mythe wryt myche more nor ye doe for my lorde Send Johnys send to me for tyyngs every weke for the weche my lorde takyt a….plear for to have syche tyyng as ye here in thys partys for the weche ye may no lese doe but wryt moche the more of tyyngs for my lordys sake for in good faythe he is a curtes lorde to me and to you and Rychard Cely I wryt no more but Jhesu kepe you. Wryt at London the ij day of June in gret haste.

per Rychard Cely.

Addressed: To Jorge Cely at Caleys or the mart thys lecter delyverd.



I greet you well and I have received a letter from you, written at Calais on the 29 th day of May, the which I have well understood, and that you have sold 6 sarplers and a poke of my middle Cotswold [wool] to John de Solermer of Gent, priced at 13 marks per sack, for the which I am well pleased. Wherefore I have shipped from London, on the last day of May, 17 sarplers of my Cotswold wool, of which 6 balse of middle wool [were] in great haste, for the certifications [in the customs register] were made the same day, and the ships departed on the 2 nd day of June, and my Lord Lieutenant departed the same day, and I pray God send my lord and the wool ships safe to Calais. Richard Cely has been in the Cotswolds and has bought 1,500 fells for you and himself, 1,500 for me from Wylliam Medwynter, the which came to London today. I want you to buy for me 500 or 600 of canvas at the mart, for packing wool, of a good breadth, not as broad as an ell, a half quarter less, and not of the thinnest, but well finished canvas, for packing wool. I pray you send me writing of all such matters as shall affect me, for I think you might write much more than you do, for my lord Saint John sends to me for tidings every week, for the which my lord takes a […] pleasure in having such tidings as you hear in those parts, for the which you may do no less than write much more tidings for my lord’s sake, for in good faith he is a courteous lord to me and to you and Rychard Cely. I write no more, but Jesus keep you. Written at London the 2 nd day of June in great haste.

By Rychard Cely.

Addressed: To Jorge Cely at Calais or the mart this letter [be] delivered.