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The Collation

“What manner o’thing is your crocodile?”: December 2021

For our final Crocodile Mystery of the year, here’s a paleographical challenge. What’s going on here, and why might the Crocodile find it interesting? (Disclaimer: This is not a Folger manuscript).

Leave your thoughts, guesses, and attempts at transcriptions in the comments below and we’ll be back next week with more info!


It’s a deposition by an unnamed deponent, about his having heard from one of two men or their wives about the theft of a book by one Margaret Cotton, but he doesn’t know more than that.

William Ingram — November 30, 2021

Is someone accusing Margaret Cotton of stealing a booke from Hydes? Sounds like the deponents (?) have less than reliable memories. Can’t wait to see more of the story.

Nicole Winard — November 30, 2021

A good while ago, someone heard a rumour (though he can no longer remember when or where he heard it, or who exactly told him) that Margaret Cotton had nicked a book on alchemy – probably. Scandalous! Clearly she was up to no good.

Elisabeth Chaghafi — November 30, 2021

This is a deposition in which the deponent heard from Hyde or his wife or John Swetson or his wife about a book stolen from Hyde by Margaret Cotton, but that was a year and a half or two years ago.

steve May — November 30, 2021

This is part of a deposition, i.e. a written transcription of a witness’s oral statement to a specific set of questions during legal proceedings, hence why the writing is so hurried. It’s also bracketed with Latin legal formulae.

One relatively standard start would be “Ad secundam articulam dicit et respondit…” (To the second article he says and responds…). This is probably the sense of the first few words, though the d in “Ad” is different from the rest of the passage, 2m would be the more normal Latin abbreviation of secundam (the scribe is apparently thinking “second”), and I don’t know what’s going on with the first character of the third word.

The normal formula for ending a deposition is “et aliter nescit deponere” (and he knows nothing else to depose). Again this is probably the sense of what is being said here, though al[iter] looks more like haliter, possibly reflecting the pronunciation of the scribe, and I can’t quite make out the last few letters of what I presume is deponere.

There is another example of a deposition here, showing these formulae:

My transcription of the crocodile image is

Ad 2d art(?) et respondit that he well remembreth that about
a year & a halfe or 2 yeers last past he this deponent hath heard
of hyde or his wyf or John Swifte or his wyf but this
Deponent syes that he doth not remember of which of the men in what
place he heard it, that the said margarett cotton did steale a
book (as this deponent thinketh Alexis secretes) from the said Hyde et
hal[iter] nescit deponere(?)

The book which is stolen appear to be “The secrets of Alexis: containing many excellent remedies against divers diseases, wounds, and other accidents. With the manner to make distillations, parfumes … and meltings … ” by Girolamo Ruscelli
There is a digitised copy of the 1615 edition at

Philip Allfrey — November 30, 2021

I see the third word as “Int” for “interrogatorium” (interrogatory).

Misha Teramura — December 2, 2021

Oh, that would make sense!

Philip Allfrey — December 2, 2021