Thing Thursday: Etymologies

Working through a stack of North Country wills for my dissertation today, and thinking about the interplay between public displays of largesse and social power, I came across this little gem.

“To Hugh Williams, the clerke of my lordes kitchen, my best horse…To William Hill, my awmbling nagge.”(1)

The wills that I am working on frequently incorporate large inventories of the testator’s goods and chattels, all very carefully ordered. The value, both monetary and symbolic, of each gift was assessed before being divvied up amongst family, friends and religious establishment. Although wills are notoriously laconic, they give the distinct impression that each gift spoke volumes about the esteem in which the recipient was held and the status of both giver and receiver in society.

While a horse was no doubt gratefully received, I like to imagine Tom’s  buddy Will being reminded of exactly where he stood in Tom’s estimation, every time Hugh galloped past him as he plodded along the country lanes on his poor old, awmbling nagge.
Fun fact: the French term for an ambling nag, is a haquenée, a word adopted for the English Hackney horse, which lent its name to the Hackney cab. (2)

1.)Will of Thomas Monghumbre a.k.a. Thomas Wilson, (undated), North Country Wills (Leeds: Surtees Society, 1908) p. 134

2.) Online Etymological Dictionary


~ by medievalness on October 27, 2011.

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