Literature & History, Volume 11, Number 1, Spring 2002
A Woman’s ‘Secret Anguish’
Between August and December 1742, Thomas Mascall, an Attorney from St Mary-le-bow, Durham, received six letters from Ursula Watson, a merchant’s niece from Houghton-le-Spring in Sunderland. Responding to Thomas’s concern about her relationship with one Thomas Griffith, Ursula wrote to assure Mascall that she loved only him. In her letters, she expressed remorse for the sorrow she had caused Mascall and fear that her actions had lessened his regard for her. Invoking the style and form of words found in the Common Prayer Book – a common practice in courting rituals – Ursula expressed
an urgent desire that their relationship would continue ‘till Death us do part’.Less than a year later, Ursula apparently had second thoughts. She denied having a relationship with Mascall, claiming that any intimations of a contract had been ‘careless and unintentional’. Infuriated by Ursula’s rejection, and the fact that Ursula was now betrothed to Griffith, Mascall appeared before the Consistory Court of Durham, and later the appeal Court of York. He testified that after a courtship lasting two years, a promise to marry had been exchanged between himself and Ursula on four occasions.