a guest post by William Davis
Part 1 of 3
We now have uploaded to our online image database the transcriptions of all the items in X.c.51 (1-46), a small collection of manuscript letters from 1630-60 or so, archived by date. The title of the collection in the online catalog record is, “Autograph letters signed to Lady Mary Powell and her husband Sir Edward Powell, bart., from various correspondents [manuscript], 1630-1633”, but although it is properly standardized, it sounds boring and pretentious, while not giving any hint of what the items are actually about. What we have here are records of the ground-level administration of two estates in southern England near the Welsh border; the day-to-day lives of various common people; and stories of notable small town events that very seldom make the history books.
This is the first of three posts looking at major interests of the writers of these letters by theme. First are a few remarks of explanation and orientation. Then, the themes of personal concerns with health, social position, and religion occupy the remainder of this post. They are always present, the stuff of formulaic thoughts and phrases repeated in almost every single letter, but also erupt regularly in problems demanding attention.
The second post will deal with long-distance travel in the early seventeenth century and the couriers connecting the farms with London, carrying letters, packages, goods, and livestock. The third post will include details of the upkeep of the properties and 17th century farm management. These three blog posts represent a window into one corner of the early modern world, not an effort to set that corner into a larger social and cultural context. Basically, these posts are an opportunity to let the stories tell themselves. Reading the letters would only be a first step in an historian’s work, but it is an important and unusually fun one.
Digression: Why I Love Paleography
I began to dabble in paleography due to a combination of frustration at not being able to read what I was photographing and an insane confidence that it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. However, after everyone at the Folger began working from home in April, 2020, I decided to get organized and join an introductory class taught by Heather Wolfe, our Curator of Manuscripts. This led me to the sick realization that, like a person who feels compelled to clean the house before the hired housekeeper’s appointment, I would have to become comfortable with transcription before the first class, lest I be revealed as ignorant (quelle horreur!)
My plan was simple. First, I studied the sheet of sample letters and examples of contractions from the Alphabet Book that Heather has put together.
Then, print-out in hand, I moved on to the Transcriptions collection in our on-line image database, where I could attempt to transcribe the first few lines of a straightforward letter or other document, then check my work against the transcription, and then repeat the process through the document. Checking frequently allowed me to correct errors quickly, and I could see my accuracy improve as I worked my way down the page, gradually becoming more familiar with the letters and the writer’s style. Then, I moved on to a more challenging document. It worked very well, allowing me to proceed at my own pace, and become comfortable with the personal idiosyncrasies of different writers. When I got to class, I had confidence that I wouldn’t be completely lost: I was somewhat oriented and prepared to have a go at deciphering early modern chicken scratch.
What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how much fun it was. I have never been one for puzzles, which I essentially found to be an end in themselves: once I’ve finished, it no longer has any real relevance. An early modern letter, though, is a puzzle with meaning and an after-life. It is a time capsule from some 400 years ago, give or take a few. It is a small window into a similar but exotic world, both in presuppositions and in details, and at the same time a highly personal view into the mind of the writer. The bulk of this post shows what I mean. In addition, once you transcribe a letter or other document, other folks can read it too, and researchers can do full-text searches, transforming a brief and general description in a library finding aid into a set of highly relevant sources for a larger argument. That work can now be found in the Folger’s online Transcriptions Collection. It also makes you feel much better about being unable to spell, since English spelling was only standardized in the 1800s. Paleography, I soon discovered, is a series of puzzles well worth doing.
Orientation to the Powell Letters I: Who’s Who
A. The Managers and the Servants: The folk engaged in the day-to-day operations of the estates
- Thomas Crompton (sometimes spelled Crumpton, by himself). A steward; in other words, the manager of the Powells’ Estates/Farms: Westonzoyland Manor in Somersetshire, south of Bridgewater and 144 miles west of London; and Pengethley Manor in Sellack, Herefordshire, north of Westonzoyland across the Severn River near Ross-on-Wye. Crompton travels frequently, completing property transactions for himself and his employers; making major livestock purchases without prior approval; and hiring new help. Clearly very competent and politically adept, he can navigate difficult residents of the rural districts as well as juggle the three aristocrats pretty well. Crompton wrote most of the letters in the collection.
- John Beale. Also a steward, though less competent than Crompton, with a particular interest in religion and legal matters. He appears to be comfortable with structure, and his tenure at Westonzoyland Manor is an exercise in frustration as he attempts unsuccessfully to do a job in an unfamiliar place where animals, weather, and other people escape his efforts to exercise control.
- Mr. Anthony Erbury (and his son, Anthony Erbury the younger). The vicar in Westonzoyland; the son succeeded his father.
B. The Rich Landowning Aristocracy: The often absent powers
- Lord Edward Powell, First Baronet of Pengethley (c. 1580-1653). One of His Majesty’s Masters of Requests from 1622-1641.1 Given his appointment from the king, I would suspect that he was a cavalier, i.e. a supporter of King Charles II in the English Civil War.2 He is the inheritor of Pengethley manor. He visits the properties regularly. His marriage is childless.
- Lady Mary Powell ([1585-7]-1651), Lord Edward’s wife and daughter of Lady Vanlore. She is addressed as “your Ladishippe” in the letters, and in later years as “The Roundhead Lady” (i.e. an ardent supporter of Parliament in the English Civil War, which began in 1642). Lady Powell had substantial say in running of both manors (cf. letter 40: at Pengethley, Crompton promises to “observe all the directions in your Ladyships Letter … we will haue a care in scoringe and all things else according to Command, received from your Ladyship …”3) She visits the properties occasionally with her mother (letter 1).
- Lady Jacoba Vanlore b. Jacoba or Jacomina Teighbott (1558-1636), widow of Sir Peter Vanlore, 1st Baronet (c. 1547-1627), affluent jeweler, trader, and landowner, esp. in Berkshire, and mother of Lady Mary Powell. The two live together in London during this period. She is the inheritor of Westonzoyland Manor (cf. letter 1).
Orientation to the Powell Letters II: Why the Powells Later Became Somewhat Famous
A bitter battle over Lady Powell’s estate apparently began even before her death in 1651. The Powells were childless, and by the early 1640s were completely estranged (see X.c.51 (42) or X.c.51 (43) 1644-45), and many close relatives were very interested in the estate. The complex and melodramatic saga, complete with private petitions to Parliament, published pamphlets, and a witchcraft trial, is described in a blog post by Dr. Vivienne Larminie. The witchcraft trial is discussed in a book chapter.4 Alas, not even one of the four contemporary printed pamphlets from 1654-5 is in the Folger collections, but the text of three are available through EEBO.5
I suggest that the letters can be used to gain a different perspective on some of the players in the later drama. In the letters, the atmosphere is free of the inheritance concerns, and Thomas Crompton is able to speak for himself. It is something to keep in mind as you read them.6
An often long, largely formulaic opening and closing is found in virtually every letter. They generally include a discussion of other letters, wishes to pass on good wishes to other members of the household, expressions of obsequiousness, and frequently prayers and wishes for good health. I suspect that this last serves several purposes, not only emphasizing natural concern for friends and family and feelings of personal helplessness in such matters, but also highlighting the writer’s piety and regard for the recipients.
A sample opening:
A sample closing:
Thus … my prayers to God, for
your. ladyships. my lady: Vanloores. and master. his health. I rest:/ (letter 20)
This focused, repetitive concern with health, letter after letter, makes sense in light of the ubiquity and seriousness of common diseases at that time. Letter 37 pretty much says it all:
The Widdowe Roper fell sick on Thursday last, and died on
Satter day morninge last followinge, …
Given how long it generally took to deliver a letter from Westonzoyland to London, a writer easily could fall sick after writing, and die before their letter was delivered. Even if everyone is well, outbreaks constantly threaten, putting them in danger:
I haue received. your letter. and am glad to here8 of your ladyships. my lady:
Vanloores and master. his worships. healthes, but sorrowfull to here
that the sicknis doeth soe fast inc^rease The which. the Lord
for his mercie sake cease, if it be his pleazure./ (letter 24)
The fear of an epidemic appears to have caused quite a commotion around Pengethley, when a shipment of “infected goodes” was delivered and immediately quarantined, along with the carriers, and even Lady Powell’s promised yarn. Lady Vanlore’s new maid left for London before she could be stopped, much to Crompton’s dismay. Logic and the nautical terminology might suggest that the cargo came up the Severn River from the Bristol Channel.
Here was a mischance happined betweene the Carriers
for bringinge downe infected goodes, which are keept at the
lee; and Iohn Smith came the same time alonge with it;
but if it ^had pleased God that I had beene here before my
lady: Vanloores new maied had beene gone herehence, shee
should not a cum yet;. my Cister hath not sent your
ladyshipps: yearne as yett: nither shall shee vntell your
ladyship: send for it againe, for it dayngerowse; lands man
who brought the goods. is keept out it and dare not cume
home, and was put by Carringe for a certayne time./
but God bee thanked there is none dead nor sick as yett./ (letter 17)9
Sickness was a great equalizer; no one, not even the aristocrats, were exempt:
I reioyce to here of your. ladyshipp: mendment, I pray God to
Continue it, vntell hee hath made yow perfitt, boeth in body
& soule (through; & in Christ, Iesu, Amen./ (letter 2)
In addition, given the state of medicine at the time, a small problem rightly caused everyone worry. This results in some interesting efforts at positive spin on physical ailments. In letter 28, Crompton attempts to diffuse recent concern for his health:
I prayes ^(God) I and all the rest
of my Company here are in good health. I had nothinge but
a little headache that I ame subiecte to, which did worse feare me
then hurte me, I prayse God, I andme [= ame] very sorry, that those
which spoke of itt, had nothinge else to fill vp theire
John Beale came up with a particularly memorable description of a nameless difficulty and subsequent recovery in letter 29:
Later, Beale carefully explains how the aristocrats had misunderstood a chronic but not completely debilitating condition for an acute illness, and blamed him for forcing Sara to travel while sick:
I finde by my ladies answere mencioned in your last lettre, that what I intended
concerning the transportinge of Sara into her owne countrie, was taken in ill
parte, but being rightly vnderstood, there was no such cause, it was her owne
willingnes it should be so, she is not sicke, but lame in her feete, yet able
to goe abowt indifferent13 well. (letter 34)
It is notable that there is little discussion of curing ills, apart from divine intervention. While veterinarians (or at least consulting livestock experts) are mentioned (letter 32), physicians are not. That does not mean that they were not summoned, but in the letters, folk are waiting to get better (or not), or getting on with things. However, questions touching on health concerns sometimes crop up in other arenas.
II. Commoners and Aristocrats
Many relations between commoners and nobles followed well-known and well-grooved channels: obsequies proffered by those of lower status; rents duly paid by tenants, either annually or upon death. There are other transactions, though, in the form of requests for assistance by or for commoners living on properties owned by nobles, or in areas governed by them. The nobility were looked to as sources of justice and also of benevolence. Many of these stories are unique, ephemeral, and unimportant beyond the few participants, and therefore easily lost to history.
Intriguingly, the nobles are occasionally called on to assist in solving medical problems in one way or another. For example, Crompton passes along a request to Sir Edward to apparently arrange for the King to touch “two poore younge men” to heal them of scrofula. Known as “the King’s Evil,” scrofula is tuberculosis that settles not in the lungs, but in the lymph glands (especially of the head and neck, and particularly common in children.) It causes large, obvious, unsightly nodules on the face and neck. “The custom [of curing it by the sovereign’s touch] reached its zenith during the Restoration: Charles II is said to have touched more than 90,000 victims between 1660 and 1682.” However, it requires more digging to find out how the process of getting the sufferers and the sovereign together actually worked. This is one such account:
I am much desired by Bartholmew Hyate, and Iohn Parsons,
of Liny, to put your. worship: in mind of your. promise made at Parasons
Howse, to two poore younge men, Neighboures sonns here of Middlezoy.
who) when yow were at Liny, presented themselfes vnto your worship:,
T.he younge men hauinge the kings Evill, theire desire and humble shute14
was then to your. worship: and is nowe likewise: that yow would be pleased
to helpe them, and to send your man with them to gett them disspached
And they will pray for your. worships. health and increase of Honnours:
here; and greater preferment, with everlastinge peace in the world to cum,
The which. The Lord for his mercies sake grante, Amen./ (letter 25)
An entirely different problem stemming from bad health comes up in a later letter, due to financial desperation and the moral quandry resulting from the proposed solution.
Mr. Erburie came vnto me this Eveninge, willinge me to advertise your worship.
towchinge a thinge which may tende to the preiudice of my Ladie Vanlore.
A tenaunte of hers, one Chede a younge man Languishinge of a comsumption,
and not able to prevaile for the takinge of an estate in revercion of his livinge,
which he laboured for at your last beinge here. is now perswaded by somme
of his frindes to marie, that so with his mariage porcion he may doe good
vnto his brethren and sisters. To prevent this Mr Erburie adviseth, that
you would be pleased to deale with Cheade, and to take the revercion to your
selfe. He purposeth to delaie the maryinge of them vntill he shall heare
from you, And if it may please you to bargayne for it, he will vse his best
endeavour to bringe it to as lowe a rate as possibly he can. which as I finde
by him, wilbe betweene 30. or 40li:/ (letter 30, Nov. 25, 1631)15
It looks like Cheade can’t work the due to his health. He would like to make a deal with Sir Edward for the latter to give him the proceeds of another estate until Cheade’s death, after which the estate would revert. This would give him an annual income, by which Cheade could support himself and his extended family. Since Cheade is Lady Vanlore’s tenant, however, this would deprive her of his rent.
It appears that Sir Edward is not particularly receptive to such pleas as these, given that each is a second attempt. While there is no mention in the letters of any response on his part even then, it could easily be the case that he took action directly.
Then again, Crompton felt it necessary to ask Sir Edward to confirm that he should give £10 to the poor, as Lady Vanlore requested; could Sir Edward be a Scrooge?
I desire to knowe by your ladyships: next letter. .from my lady: Vanloore
and my Master. wheather I shall ^(giue) the Tenn pounds my lady Vanloore
said I should, to the poore, or noe; for in trueth here is greate
nesseseitie; they are all most starued:/ I desire to haue my
Master. his approbation in it:/ (letter 23)
Matters of business can be every bit as difficult to navigate as charity, but for different reasons. One can be quite callous without embarrassment, standing behind the bulwark of the law and blaming it for one’s actions. However, although the only question is what the law says, the situation can be quite difficult to figure out:
I haue fetched; and the Bayly togeather; two Keyne from Gurauton,
due to my lady. Vanloore from by the death of one Thomas: Watts,
an Ignorantt:/ I desire that my Master. may knowe, that wee
haue not taken possession of the grounde Called Bullocks which
was watts his; for Mr. Powell saieth wee should committ a Trespas
in soe doeinge, for the Custum is, if the Tennant die bafter our lady
day [March 25], Then the Executour, or administratour. is to hould it, vntle Mickealmas=
followinge [September 29]; but they are at strife and know not who shall be, administratour.
nither doeth the landholder,
haueinge not yet paid his Rent,
beinge one of my lady: Tennants
whose name is Iohn Samis,
knowe to whome he shall pay it.
soe I bid him keepe it and pay it
to non of them, he& he saith he will./ (letter 27)16
From time to time, though, aristocrats were called upon to right clear wrongs by those in positions of power, like the police shaking down the local farmers:
I desire my Master. may knowe that here were this weeke last
past the shreife his bayliffes and did take away 4 of Thomas: Bakers
oxen, which dwelleth in rottenrowe, and two of Iohn Parsons of Liny./.
soe they paid Twelfe pounds and had theire oxen againe; the Bayliffes
offered Parsons if he would giue them Ten shillings they would let his bease
alone, I thinke in that manour. they gott a matter of 30s: in that Towne./
here inclosed is a note Coppied out of the shreife his warrant; by
vertue whereof they did straine; The Tennants here humbly desire
my Master. that he would be pleased to take sum course in it, that they
may haue theire monies againe, and be noe more soe vniustly vexed./ (letter 24)17
It is not surprising that an absent landlord is called on to rectify problems, given what went on in these small towns. In Westonzoyland, not only are the local bayliffs a problem, but so is the local vicar, due to his negligence.
The Erburys, father and son, between them served (more or less) as vicars in Westonzoyland for over 20 years. Citing copies of these letters in the Somerset Record Office, the following description of them from “Westonzoyland” in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 8, the Poldens and the Levels:18
Anthony Erbury, 1617-29, was said in 1629 not to have read a service for a year. and Anthony Erbury the younger, vicar 1629-38, was frequently absent, involved in litigation in the Court of High Commission.
Their absence from the parish services are spectacularly and poetically described by Crompton in letter 13:
The parisheners, many of them with. the Churchwardens haue beene
here with mee, & remember. theire duties to my lady: Vanloore
& my master:, desiringe mee to sertifie theire worshipps: that
theise two Sundayes past they haue beene serued with a few
prayers ^(read) r..d by they knowe not who, sum from the est, & sum
out of the west; sum times in season, & sum times out;
Old Erberee haue not read here this Twelfe mounthes, &
younge Erberee haue beene gone almost this 3 weekes, vp into
the Est, to feast, like a beast; & hath leaft his poore flocke
to starue, Therefore they humbly intreate, theire worshipps: that
they would Consider of Gods cause, & theire want; [letter 13, n.d.; archived between letter 12 (April 11, 1630) and letter 14 (April 21, 1630)]
There was no change over the next several weeks:
our Prist Erberee is not as yett cum home:/ (letter 15, May 3, 1630)
Finally they both must have, though, because by November of that year, the son took over as vicar, and:
old Mr. E Erberee is cum to
liue here, and ^his sonn is gone to
liue where he liued./ (letter 20, Nov. 21, 1630)
And this is not the only discussion of problems with maintaining a resident vicar to appear in X.d.51. One of the documents archived after the letters, “The humble peticion of Thomas Crumpton gentleman & other the Inhabitants of ^the Hamblett of & Chappellrie of Strangford of the parish of ffownehopeun.hope in the dioces of Hereford./” (item 46) shows the frustration of the parishioners at the diocese’s happy acceptance of their tithes, but its’ complete lack of interest in installing a curate and using those tithes to support him and the church property:
Soe it is may it please your Grace that the said Chappell
hath of late yeares bin suffred to runn to ruine the font &
Tombstones carried away to priuate houses & conuerted to
other vses & the parish: enforced to report to other Churches
where they can find admittance. All which disorder hath
come not by the indeuocion of the poore parishoioners but as
the old people dwelling thereabout affirme thouroughe
the fault of the Deane & Chapter of Hereford who receiuing
the tithes of the said Chappelry haue for many yeares past
neclegted to appoint a Curatt there or to make any
allowance for the Curatt as anciently hath bin done (X.d.51 [46, n.d.])
Back in Westonzoyland, by November the vicar was active once again in the parish. At that time, Mr. Erbury proposed a solution to the problem of Cheade the consumptive marrying for the money (letter 30; see above). Next he appears in late December in decidedly less savory circumstances:
Mr Erbury threatens one widowe Voke (as she tells me) with a Citacion
from Wells, for a Mortuarie payd to you. I praie you send word what
shalbe done in defence thereof. he came vnto me and shewed me an old writing
which he named a Composicion, by vertue whereof (as he said) he is to haue
Mortuaries, I asked him, why he had not heretofore gathered them, he
answered, he did lett his Tithes to Croydon, and he received them. I
wished him to shewe it to Sir Edward. Powell whose servaunte I was, and
in his & your steed to demaund & receive them. (letter 32, Dec. 24, 1631)19
To be as fair as possible, it appears that Erbury’s dispute is with Sir Edward, not with the widow Voke, but it seems rather bad form to lean on the widow, particularly when she had already paid the mortuary in good faith.
Thus we have a set of short tales, pinpoints of light in the darkness illuminating every day scenes concerning health, and religion in the early 1630s. This is by no means all there is! I invite you to explore the letters yourself, and to await more discussion in later posts.
William Davis is Senior Photography Associate at the Folger. He has done many things related to imaging and cataloging there since 1993, including working closely with the microfilm collection, completely digitizing 19 First Folios prior to the 2016 tour, and advocating for shelfmark and pagination standardization, none of which have anything to do with his training in the history of religions in South Asia.
- On His Majesty’s Masters of Requests, citing the Institute of Historical Research, “Masters of Requests”. On the Court of Requests.
- See paragraph 1 of “Biography”.
- scoringe = perhaps scoring: II.6.c. To mark out (a path, a boundary, etc.). (OED)
- “The case of Joan Peterson: witchcraft, family conflict, legal invention and constitutional theory,” by Clive Holmes. Chapter 8 of Law and Legal Process: Substantive Law and Procedure in English Legal History, edited by Matthew Dyson and David Ibbetson. Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 148-166.
- The three pamphlets available on EEBO are: Some considerations humbly proposed … by Thomas Levingston esquire and Anne his wife (1654); The State of the case … between the Countess of Sterlin … by Petition in Parliament (1654); A true Narrative of the Case so much Controverted between Mistress Anne Levingston (1655). The fourth pamphlet, To the right honourable the Parliament … the humble Petition of Mary Countess of Stirling (1654), is held by the British Library.
- The result makes it somewhat difficult to credit the Levinson’s description of him here:
Now the Defendants being clear in their own considences from any wicked practise, plot, or combination, wherof they are falsly & malitiously accused by the means, occasion, and procurement of one Crump, otherwise Crompton, who was a mean menial servant unto the said Lady Powels husband, and had endeavoured wickedly to separate the said Lady from her husband to her dishonour, and who striveth and hopeth to gain a great personal Estate to himself by suggesting many falshoods against us the Defendants, and inciting others upon such grounds to contend for the said Lady Powels real Estate. (From Some considerations humbly proposed … by Thomas Levingston esquire and Anne his wife (1654))
- Maddam = Lady Powell
- here = hear
- at the lee = quarantined?; cf. 2.b. [Nautical phrase]: at lee: (a) windbound; (b) under shelter. (OED)
Cister = sister
yearne = yarn
Carringe = carrying?
- prayes, prayse = praise
feare me = frighten me
had nothinge else to fill vp theire discourse withall = had nothing else to talk about
- wiefe = wife
- droupe = droop
- indifferent = moderately
- shute = suit: “4.a. The action of entreating or petitioning a person to do something; petitioning, supplication.” (OED)
- preiudice = prejudice: “II. Harm, injury. 4.a. Harm, detriment, or injury to a person or thing resulting from a judgement or action, esp. one in which a person’s rights are disregarded; resulting injury.” (OED)
consumption: “2.a. Originally: abnormality or loss of humours, resulting in wasting (extreme weight loss) of the body; such wasting; (obsolete)….”; the identification of consumption as tuberculosis appears to have come later. (OED)
revercion: reversion “I.1.Law.a. An estate granted to one party and subsequently granted in turn or transferable to another, esp. upon the death of the original grantee; the right of succeeding to, or next occupying, such an estate.” and “b. The return of an estate to the original owner, or his or her heirs, after the expiry of a grant or death of the grantee; the right to such a return; an estate thus returned.” (OED)
marriage porcion = marriage portion: “a portion or dowry given to a bride at the time of her marriage.” (OED)
30. or 40li: = 30 or 40 pounds
- Bayly = Bailie: “Another form of the word BAILIFF n. with which it was formerly interchangeable; now obsolete in England …” (OED)
Keyne = cows
an Ignorantt: “B. n. 1. An ignorant person. Now rare.” (OED)
our lady day = Lady Day: “A day on which a religious festival in honour of the Virgin Mary is celebrated. Now only March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation. Formerly also December 8th, the Conception of the Virgin; September 8th, the Nativity; and August 15th, the Assumption.” (OED). As the letter is dated April 10, 1631, it appears that March 25th is meant.
Mickealmas = Michaelmas: “The feast of St Michael (St Michael and all Angels), one of the quarter days in England, Ireland, and Wales; the date of this, 29 September.” (OED)
- the shreife his bayliffes = the sheriff’s bayliffs
bease = beast
manour = manner
30s = 30 shillings
straine = strain: “8.a. To force, press, constrain (to a condition or an action). … Obsolete.” (OED)
sum = some
vniustly = unjustly
- Westonzoyland, pp. 190-210 of A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 8, the Poldens and the Levels. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2004.
- Wells: The parish of Westonzoyland is overseen by the bishop of Bath and Wells.
Mortuaryie(s) = mortuary: “A. n. 1.a. A customary gift formerly claimed by the incumbent of a parish from the estate of a deceased parishioner; (also) this type of gift. … Now historical.” (OED)
Composicion = composition: Possible definitions include, “12. The settling of a debt, liability, or claim, by some mutual arrangement; compounding.” Or, “25.a. An agreement for the payment (or the payment by agreement) of a sum of money, in lieu of the discharge of some other obligation, or in a different way from that required by the original contract; a compounding; spec. an agreement by which a creditor accepts a certain proportion of a debt, in satisfaction, from an insolvent debtor.” (OED)