Continuing my posts on the vocabulary of the Essex Wills and its place in English lexical history, an introduction to which can be found here.
The Essex Wills are naturally full of words for everyday objects and, to a lesser extent, notions. The majority are words that are still used, though the things to which they are applied may now be different in design or appearance. A large majority are words, or meanings of words, that are no longer used, but are carefully recorded in dictionaries, and especially in the Oxford English Dictionary. But a significant number have escaped notice by lexicographers and yet can be found, often in large numbers, in wills, inventories, and other non-literary documents of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and sometimes in earlier and later documents).
The odd-looking expression ‘dovercott copdich’ occurs once in the Essex Wills in 1603 (XII. 162). My guess is that copdich is cup dish, which I have discussed in this blog post, i.e. some kind of table utensil. Dovercott must presumably be Dovercot, a former variant of the name of Dovercourt, the town in north-east Essex, close to Harwich. I guess that a Dovercourt cup dish was either one with a connection to Dovercourt, or perhaps one with a scene of Dovercourt depicted on it.
Dovercourt’s main claim to fame before the Reformation was the rood in the church of All Saints.
This church, in the Catholic times, was greatly celebrated for a miraculous rood, or crucifix, enshrined in the church, which, from its supposed sanctity, attracted many visitors and pilgrims. Its power was thought to be so great, that the vulgar imagined any attempt to close the church-doors upon it would be attended with sudden death; they were therefore left open night and day. This fancied security proved fatal to three misjudging, though well meaning men, who, together with a fourth that escaped, entered the church by night, in the year 1532, and removed the rood to the distance of a quarter of a mile, and burnt it to ashes; being prompted to this action by a wish to prevent the idolatrous worship paid to it by the Catholics. (The Harwich Guide (1808) 54.)
Robert Nares’s Glossary (1822) has the following discussion:
DOVER-COURT, or, corruptly, DOVERCOT. A parish in Essex, near and leading to Harwich; where was once a miraculous cross which spoke, if the legends may be credited.
And how the rood of Dovercot did speak,Whether this place was alluded to in the following proverb, or some court, conjectured by the editor of those proverbs to have been kept at Dover, and which was rendered tumultuous by the numerous resort of seamen, may be doubted:
Confirming his opinions to be true.
Collier of Croyd., O. Pl., xi, 195.
Dover-court, all speakers and no hearers.Ray, p. 246.
Possibly the church which contained that rood was the scene of confusion alluded to in the proverb; for we are told by Fox, that a rumour was spread that no man could shut the door, which therefore stood open night and day; and that the resort of people to it was much and very great. Martyrs, vol. ii, p. 392. However this be, the proverb was long current.
Nares’s first reference is to the following:
a1600 I. T. Grim, Collier of Croydon I. ii. in Select Collection of Old Plays (1744) V. 259 Have you not heard, my lords, the wondrous fame Of holy Dunstan, abbot of Glassenbury? What miracles he hath atchieved of late; And how the rood of Dovercot did speak, Confirming his opinion to be true; And how the holy consistory fell, With all the monks that were assembled there, Saving one beam whereon this Dunstan sate; And other more such miracles as these.
There does not seem to be any other surviving evidence for the belief that the rood of Dovercourt miraculously spoke. And in any case this seems to point to a single event rather than anything that could be the basis for an expression meaning a lot of people talking. So it is unclear whether our dovercott copdich relates to the catchphrase ‘Dovercourt, all speakers and no hearers’.
?a1800 Lines in Belfry St. Peter’s, Shrewsb., When bells ring round and in their order be, They do denote how neighbours should agree; But when they clam, the harsh sound spoils the sport, And ’tis like women keeping Dovercourt. (at clam v.2 1a: compare the 1671 example below.)
1695 Whether Parl. be dissolved by Death of Princess of Orange 4 They turn more Mobbish than a Dover Court. (at mobbish adj.)
If you search Early English Books Online, you find:
1662 T. Fuller Hist. Worthies [Wing F2441] Dover-court, all speakers and no hearers.
1670 M. Medbourne tr. Moliere Tartuffe [Wing M2385 image 3] 2 All talk at once, your house is Dover-Court.
1671 T. White Tintinnalogia [Wing T1304C] sig. A3v, And ’tis like Women keeping Dover Court; For when all talk, there’s none to lend an ear The others story, and her own to hear.
1673 M. Stevenson Norfolk Drollery [Wing S5503] 66 Whilst others freely talk, I must sit mute, I’m not a Man ordain’d for Dover Court.
1683 J. Savage Sacred Rite of Confirmation [Wing S770] 24 What kind of Church were they likely to found at Samaria, where like a Dover-court all should be speakers and no hearers, especially where so many women were permitted to tattle?
1693 R. Ames Fatal Friendship [Wing A2978] 22 One while, like Dover-Court, ’t appears, All Men have Tongues, but none have Ears.
1696 W. King Second Admonition Dissenting Inhabitants of Derry [Wing K534] App. 253 A scoff.., alledging..That it brings in a confused Noise in a Christian Assembly, too like a Dover-Court, where ’tis said all speak and none hear.
1699 J. Dunton Dublin Scuffle [Wing D2622] As great a noise as Dover Court, for every Man was…
1700 T. Brown Amusements Serious & Comical [Wing B5051] 117 In short, I thought the whole Room was a perfect Resemblance of Dover-Court, where all Speak, but no body heard nor answer’d.
In the 1670 quotation, the French original has ‘Chacun y parle haut, Et c’est tout justement la cour du roi Pétaud.’ ‘La cour du roi Pétaud, où tout le mond est maître.’
Perhaps the ‘cup dish’ featured a comic portrayal of many speakers and no listeners. Evidently the catchphrase was very familiar in the later seventeenth century. But it seems to have fallen out of use soon afterwards. There seems to be no mention of it in Samuel Dale’s History and Antiquities of Harwich and Dovercourt (1730).