There are many questions here regarding "sometime" but none of them looked as if they referred to the Medieval context of the word. I was tempted to write "Middle English" instead of "Medieval England" but I'm not sure that would be correct—I did use the tag though.

What was the Medieval meaning of "sometime"?

I am asking this because the modern meaning is, as defined in Wiktionary:

  1. At an indefinite but stated time in the past or future.
    • I'll see you at the pub sometime this evening.
    • This will certainly happen sometime in the future.
  2. (obsolete) Sometimes.
  3. (obsolete) At an unstated past or future time; once; formerly.

Yet, Alison Weir in 'Elizabeth of York' quotes (unspecified origin, but presumably Medieval chroniclers; all in quotation marks in the text):

...'Here lies the body of Richard III, sometime King of England'.

...'eldest legitimate and natural daughter of the late Edward, sometime king of England',...

...'Here rests Queen Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, sometime king; sister of Edward V, who bore the name of king;'...

None of these examples include a definition for time; the time when the mentioned people were kings is clearly undefined. Yet, in this usage that would also mean that the people writing the inscriptions did not know when Richard III/Edward IV/etc were kings (which I don't believe they didn't actually know).

  • Your definition (3) above. (I'd say obsolescent/archaic rather than obsolete even today). 'At an unstated past or future time' doesn't entail that the author doesn't know the time they're not mentioning. Jun 4, 2020 at 11:18
  • Was that then the common definition at that time (so no one using "sometime" would have "known" when that time was)?
    – gktscrk
    Jun 4, 2020 at 11:20
  • 1
    OED will be needed to trace usage. But it could well use these quotes to prove that this usage was at least around at the time! Etymon just has << late 13c., "at one time or another" (adv.); as an adjective, late 15c. Meaning "at some future time" is late 14c. From some + time (n.). >> The adjectival usage comes after both adverbial senses. Jun 4, 2020 at 11:23

1 Answer 1


The Middle English Dictionary lists this 1381 quote containing “sometime”:

Iohan schep, som-tyme seynte marie prest of ʒork, and now of colchestre, Greteth wel Iohan nameles & Iohn þe mullere.

(Modern English equivalent)

The meaning of sometime here is formerly: “Johan Scep” used to be Saint Marie’s priest of York but then he became that of Colchester.

Looking at the OED, you can also find examples with this same meaning as late as 1852 (Gentleman’s Magazine, though this is probably using the word archaically):

John Jewel, sometime Bishop of Salisbury.

While it’s not clear to me when your examples were written (namely whether it’s modern or just modernization of Middle English), the only possible meaning for “sometime” in your examples is the same: formerly.

  • Thanks. I've accepted this as I think you answer my question well. I believe those quotations to have been modernized Middle English, the origin isn't clearly mentioned but seems to refer to an inscription in one case and chronicles/letters in others.
    – gktscrk
    Jun 4, 2020 at 11:58

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