Thomas Betson (merchant)

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At greate Cales on this syde on the see
I sent you this rynge for a token

Thomas Betson (d. 1486) was an English wool trader, a member of the Merchants of the Staple. His preserved correspondence with other merchants and suppliers in the 1470s and 1480s provides insight into the trade inside England and between England and continental Europe, mainly France and Flanders. He is also known today for penning a love letter to his kinswoman and future bride Katherine Rich (Kateryn Ryche) in June 1476.


  • Jesus. An°. xvj°.
    My nowne hartely belovid Cossen Kateryn, I recomande me unto you withe all the inwardnesse of myn hart. And now lately ye shall understond that I resseyvid a token from you, the which was and is to me right hartely welcom, and with glad will I resseyvid it; and over that I had a letter from Holake, youre gentyll Sqwyer, by the which I understond right well that ye be in good helth of body, and mery at hart. And I pray God hartely to his plesour to contenew the same: for it is to me veray grete comforth that ye so be, so helpe me Jesu. And yf ye wold be a good etter of your mete allwaye, that ye myght waxe and grow fast to be a woman, ye shuld make me the gladdest man of the world, be my trouth: for whanne I remembre your favour and your sadde lofynge delynge to me-wardes, for south ye make me evene veray glade and joyus in my hart: and on the tother syde agayn whanne I remembre your yonge youthe, and seeth well that ye be none etter of youre mete, the which shuld helpe you greately in waxynge, for south than ye make me veray hevy agayn. And therfore I praye you, myn nown swete Cossen, evene as you lofe me to be mery and to eate your mete lyke a woman. And yf ye so will do for my love, looke what ye will desyre of me, whatsomever it be, and be my trouth I promesse you by the helpe of our Lord to performe it to my power. I can [no] more say now, but at my comyng home I will tell you mych more betwene you and me and God before. And where as ye, full womanly and lyke a lofer, remembre me with manyfolde recomendacion in dyversse maners, remyttynge the same to my discresscion to depart them ther as I love best, for south, myn nown swete Cossen, ye shall understond that with good hart and good will I resseyve and take to my self the one half of them, and them will I kepe by me; and the tother half with hartely love and favour I send hem to you, myn nown swete Cossen, agayn, for to kepe by you: and over that I send you the blissynge that our Lady gave hir dere sonne, and ever well to fare. I pray you grete well my horssc, and praye hym to gyfe yow iij of his yeres to helpe you with all: and I will at my comynge home gyf hym iiij of my yeres and iiij horsse lofes till amendes. Tell hym that I prayed hym so. And Cossen Kateryn I thannke you for hym, and my wif shall thanke you for hym hereafter; for ye do grete cost apon hym as it is told me. Myn nown swete Cossen, it was told me but late that ye were at Cales to seeke me, but ye cowde not se me nor fynde me: for south ye myght have comen to my counter, and ther ye shuld bothe fynde me and see me, and not have fawtid off me: but ye sought me in a wronge Cales, and that ye shuld well know yf ye were here and saw this Cales, as wold God ye were and som of them with you that were with you at your gentill Cales. I praye you, gentill Cossen, comaunde me to the Cloke, and pray hym to amend his unthryfte maners: for he strykes ever in undew tyme, and he will be ever afore, and that is a shrewde condiscion. Tell hym with owte he amend his condiscion that he will cause strangers to advoide and come no more there. I trust to you that he shall amend agaynest myn commynge, the which shalbe shortely with all hanndes and all feete with Godes grace. My veray feithefull Cossen, I trust to you that thowe all I have not remembred my right worshipfull maystres your modyr afore in this letter that ye will of your gentilnesse recomaunde me to her maystresshipe as many tymes as it shall pies you: and ye may say, yf it plese you, that in Wytson Weke next I intend to the marte-ward. And I trust you will praye for me: for I shall praye for you, and, so it may be, none so well. And Almyghty Jesu make you a good woman, and send you many good yeres and longe to lyve in helth and vertu to his plesour. At greate Cales on this syde on the see, the fyrst day of June, whanne every man was gone to his Dener, and the Cloke smote noynne, and all oure howsold cryed after me and badde me come down; come down to dener at ones! and what answer I gave hem ye know it of old.
                Be your feithefull Cossen and lofer
                    Thomas Betson.
    I sent you this rynge for a token.
      To my feithefull and hartely belovid Cossen Kateryn Ryche at Stonor this letter be delyvered in hast.
    • "To his Kinswoman Katherine Ryche" (June 1476), Stonor Letters and Papers
    • Reported in: The Oxford Book of English Prose (1925), no. 26
    • Gloss: nowne) own · resseyvid) received · sadde) serious · lofynge) loving · depart) divide · horsse lofes) horseshoes · do grete cost) spend much money · counter) office · fawtid off) missed · Cloke) clock · marte-ward) to the market


Referring to the famous love letter:
  • One of the most charming of all private letters of the time that have survived.
    • C. L. Kingsford. Reported in: V. H. Galbraith, Studies in the Public Records (1948), p. 24
  • Sometimes, however, medieval records throw a pleasanter light on these child marriages. Such was the light thrown by the Ménagier de Paris's book for his young wife, so kindly, so affectionate, so full of indulgence for her youth; and such also is the light thrown by the charming letter which Thomas Betson wrote to little Katherine Riche on the first day of June in 1476. It is a veritable gem, and it is strange that it has not attracted more notice, for certainly no anthology of English letters should be without it.

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