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Exploring Late Medieval Links Across the Seas at Exeter
This week we have a guest post from Sheila Sweetinburgh at Canterbury Christ Church University, who is reporting on the Fifteenth Century conference, held in Exeter last week, with a good showing of Centre staff and PhD students. The post first appeared on Canterbury Christ Church University’s Centre for Kent History and Heritage blog here and is reproduced in full here with permission and many thanks. Please consider following their blog!
This week is more of a brief note in that Professor Louise Wilkinson has been very busy writing the report on History’s impact work over the last few years, including the activities of the Centre, as well as getting matters organised for the new undergraduates, while Dr Diane Heath has also been busy working on her ‘Medieval Animals’ application. She has also been getting ready for the Canterbury Education Day where the Centre is one of the places involved. The initiative is organised by The Canterbury Tales, and St Augustine’s Abbey is another of the venues where activities take place.
In contrast to these Canterbury-based activities, I have been away from Kent having been at ‘The Fifteenth Century’ conference in Exeter. Among the plenary speakers was Professor Caroline Barron, whom some of you may remember will be coming to Canterbury in April 2020 to speak at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. Next April she will be talking about Thomas Becket as a Londoner and his legacy within his native city, for the influence of St Thomas permeated city life in medieval London until Henry VIII ordered the destruction of his shrine and the removal of his name from all liturgical books. However, for the Exeter conference, Professor Barron chose to investigate the chronicle accounts of The English Rising (Peasants’ Revolt) of 1381. She was especially keen to compare Jean Froissart’s Chronicle, which is often quoted by historians but not seen as accurate regarding the Rising, to that of the Anonimalle Chronicle, whose author is thought to have been an eyewitness of events in June 1381, regarding their descriptions of who was in the Tower of London on the night of Wednesday 12 June and who was also with the young Richard II at Mile End on the following Friday. For as she said, there is considerable correlation between the two accounts and where they differ is very informative and may include the names of those Froissart consulted for his work.
West front of Exeter Cathedral
After outlining the ways Froissart’s Chronicle has come down to us, she gave a short account of his career. In particular, she noted how he moved in aristocratic circles in Flanders and France and how he seems to have sort out information on events, especially from the various heralds, as a means to gain eyewitness accounts, albeit he is envisaged as viewing matters through a chivalric lens. Her candidates for his informants about the situation in the Tower that night are two among the four Flemish nobles that Froissart mentions as being there.
As well as proposing that Froissart’s Chronicle should be seen as more reliable than it has been given credit for in the past, Professor Barron was keen to highlight the importance for Froissart of the urban dimension, especially the role of the Londoners, but equally that he appears to have had a deep concern about the problems of serfdom in England. Thus, in terms of the theme of the conference – the British Isles and their mainland European neighbours – Froissart may be offering a more European perspective on events in 1381, as mediated in the first place through the eyes of these Flemish noblemen.
Bishop Oldham founder of Manchester Grammar School, funeral monument in Exeter Cathedral
The two other plenary lectures by Dr John Goodall (English Heritage) on Europe and the Perpendicular Style and Dr Malcolm Vale (St John’s College, Oxford) on ‘political nostalgia’ in terms of England and its continental neighbours between 1450 and 1520 were similarly fascinating. Nevertheless, I’m going to leave them aside and instead just give you a taster of one of the other sessions entitled ‘Alien Communities in England’. This was chaired by Susan Maddock (UEA) who had previously given us a great paper on the two-way relationship respecting merchants from Lynn in Danzig and vice versa. Among these exchanges, in addition to goods passing backwards and forwards between the Baltic and the North Sea, were the merchants themselves, certain apprentices and various types of craftsmen. Interestingly, there seemed to be more official structures to support the aliens in place at Danzig compared to Lynn, including a court held fortnightly. Nonetheless, those from Danzig apparently generally faced little if any hostility in Lynn, apart from the actions of a very few individuals, but in this case the town authorities were keen to stop such matters in favour of the foreigners.
This idea of how far and in what ways these aliens had a sense of belonging was important for all three papers in the session Susan chaired. Indeed, it might be said to be central to Joshua Ravenhill’s presentation. Joshua is a doctoral student at the University of York who is working on aliens in 15th-century London, and in the first part of his paper he explored why he thinks words such as integration and assimilation aren’t helpful when we are thinking about immigrant experiences. For not only was/is the situation not a binary between ‘foreigners’ and ‘natives’ but in many ways such concepts fail to take account of the ways immigrants become/wish to remain part of some ‘communities’ and not others. Such ideas may be seen in the works of social anthropologists such as Anthony Cohen and they offer a useful perspective, and one that Joshua sought to illustrate using wills made by aliens in London.
Great hall – St Nicholas’ Priory, Exeter
Paul Williams, another doctoral student and this time from the University of Exeter, gave us ideas about the alien community in Exeter in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Using various national subsidies and Exeter corporation shop fines for his analysis, among the criteria Paul investigated were the types of occupation these people engaged in, whereabouts in Exeter they seemed to congregate, whether they only took service in their countrymen’s households and were they able to become freeman and hold civic and/or parish office. In many ways the picture Paul provided was one where it would seem such markers of belonging were taken up by at least a proportion of these aliens, and issues such as office holding would have been out of reach of many Exeter men anyway. Paul felt that this generally positive scenario was predicated on Exeter’s buoyant economy during this period, and that this was certainly a significant factor.
To take us to another provincial city, I took the audience to 15th-century Canterbury. Like Paul I deployed national and local records to explore even if only tentatively the lives of those below many of Joshua’s and some of Paul’s respective (merchant) aliens. To keep this brief, I just want to give a resume of a single individual to highlight the value of bring together these records, as well as the problems of identification.
Powderham Castle – built by Sir Philip Courtenay (d. 1406)
The man in question is Gylkyn Goodknight who, even if he wasn’t operating as an independent craftsman making caps until 1472, still may have been in Canterbury during the previous decade. The most tentative identification is from the 1463 alien list because in that year the royal clerk recorded the presence of Gilderkyn Ducheman, who was ‘Dutch’, suggesting he was from somewhere in the Low Countries. Two years later the clerk noted a Gilderkyn Goodknyght among the Canterbury aliens and he was again listed in 1466, although interestingly not in 1467 or 68. Provided this in the same man who then became an intrant (independent, licenced producer/trader), he worked as a capper for six years, residing in Newingate ward. His business appears to have been on a relatively small scale in that the Canterbury chamberlains never expected more than 10d annually, the fee having started at 6d. Whether he had married in Canterbury or the couple had come to the city together is unknown but in 1478 it was Katherine his widow who paid the licence fee of 6d, although she was unable to continue making caps after that, unless, of course, she remarried, but either way she disappears from the civic records.
Yet even these examples can only offer a partial sense of their time in Canterbury, by looking at a range of these immigrant ‘biographies’ and bringing them together, I think this approach provides a means to explore notions of longevity, a sense of belonging, social mobility, the presence/absence of ethnic/craft enclaves, as well as any evidence of hostility or opposition and their sense of place within the complex networks of ties to be found in late medieval Canterbury society.
As I hope you can tell, it was a very enjoyable and thought-provoking conference, so many thanks to the organisers and everyone who took part, and it probably resonated even more due to events that were unfolding concurrently at Westminster and beyond.
Sheila Sweetinburgh, Canterbury Christ Church University
Two Exeter books shortlisted for 2019 Current Archaeology Awards
We’re pleased to announce that two books with medieval themes written by Exeter academics have been shortlisted for the 2019 Current Archaeology Awards, in the ‘Book of the Year’ category – see here. Nick Holder (Honorary Research Fellow, History, and English Heritage) has The Friaries of Medieval London, a survey of these important religious houses; Professor Stephen Rippon (Archaeology) has Kingdom, Civitas and County, an examination of the longue durée of British landscape. Do have a look at the eight nominations and perhaps vote for one of the two Exeter books, or for one of the other excellent books on the shortlist. Voting closes on 11 February 2019 so don’t delay!
Nick Holder writes about his book: “As a crossover historian-archaeologist I set out to write a book about the lost religious landscape of medieval London. On the face of it the subject wasn’t very promising: there are very few documents surviving from the friaries’ archives and there’s barely a friary wall surviving above ground in London. But with some patient searching in traditional archives such as The National Archives at Kew, and in newer institutions such as the London Archaeological Archive of the Museum of London, I was able to piece together a substantial body of evidence about what the friaries looked like and how the friars used their London bases. I also asked four colleagues to help me out in the areas where they had particular expertise: Ian Betts (floor tiles), Jens Röhrkasten (spiritual life), Mark Samuel (architectural fragments) and Christian Steer (burials). We try to move beyond the ‘local history’ of London and consider wider themes such as the way that the mendicant orders seem to reinvent themselves as more traditional monastic orders after the shock of the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, which, in effect, closed down several small religious groups.”
Stephen Rippon writes about his nomination: “Too much research is constrained by traditional periodization, and this inhibits our understanding of the past. In Kingdom, Civitas, and County I have therefore taken one topic – the development of territorial organisation within the landscape – and mapped this across three periods that have traditionally been studied quite separately: the Iron Age, Roman, and early medieval periods. I hope that I show far greater continuities within the landscape than have been previously identified, which mean that our countryside of today has roots that go back several millennia.”
Best of luck to both!
Self-Defenestration, Squatting and Structural Stress: The History and Conservation of St Nicholas’ Priory, Exeter
For some years now St Nicholas’ Priory, in the area of Exeter off Fore Street known as ‘the Mint’, has been closed to the public. However, conservation work continues and plans to reopen at least parts of the priory are afoot. The building is managed by Exeter Historic Buildings Trust (EHBT) and I recently met with the Trust’s representative, Lesley Lake, to discuss the priory’s history and its future.
The priory’s history goes back to shortly after the Norman Conquest. Gytha, Harold Godwinson’s mother, owned numerous properties in Exeter including St Olave’s Church; after the newly crowned King William defeated a rebellion by the city of Exeter in 1068, he gifted the church to Battle Abbey. In 1087 the monks from Battle who had been sent to take over the abbey’s new property decided to establish a Benedictine priory nearby as a sister house of Battle and dedicated it to St Nicholas. Over the following centuries the priory expanded, with most of what remains today dating from the fifteenth century.
Along with many other similar sites, much of St Nicholas’ was torn down following the Dissolution in 1536, leaving only the northern and western ranges standing. An amusing account survives describing how several local Exeter women attacked the workmen who came to dismantle the rood screen within the church, chasing one up the tower and forcing him to leap out of a window to safety. In spite of (or, rather, because of) their religious fervour the women were arrested and the remaining buildings were sold off. Eventually the priory was purchased by Robert Mallet in 1562, whose family leased the property for the next two centuries and converted part of the buildings into a mansion. During the mid-seventeenth century it was divided into two separate dwellings and Mint Lane was created, though it was not until 1864 that the dwelling over the lane connecting the two ranges was pulled down to widen the lane to the size it is today. In 1820 the Wilcocks purchased the building known as the ‘Priory’ and converted it into five premises for rent – the property was eventually sold to Exeter Corporation in 1912 and opened as a museum in 1916. Meanwhile, in 1775 the Roman Catholic Mission moved into a tenancy in another part of the extant buildings, the ‘Refectory’. Eleven years later, Lord Hugh Clifford of Chudleigh purchased the buildings for their permanent use, leading to the construction of the Roman Catholic church in 1788 and the Roman Catholic school of St. Nicholas in 1855. By 1959 the church and school had left the premises and in 1991 the Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust put the buildings on the market. In 1995 Carol Griffiths came across the empty and decaying Refectory and set about its restoration, founding the EHBT in 1996 and securing the lease of the property in 1998.
Today, the priory complex remains divided into these two sites: the ‘Priory’ or ‘St Nicholas’ Priory’ to the west; and the ‘Refectory’ at 21 The Mint to the north. ‘St Nicholas’ Priory’ is a Grade 1 listed building and is owned by Exeter City Council. It includes the Prior’s chambers, guest chambers, kitchen, a Norman cellar, and retains an original plaster ceiling – most of these rooms have been restored to resemble a Tudor dwelling.
The Refectory is a Grade 2* listed building and is leased by the EHBT from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Plymouth. The eighteenth-century Catholic church and the nineteenth-century school buildings are still extant and stand on the site of the chapter house and priory church, with a walled garden replacing what was once the roofed cloister. During the mid-seventeenth century the Refectory was sub-divided into several storeys and now contains the Refectory on the top floor, a flat, and a three bedroom house. Both the flat and the house are currently occupied and are the only income stream the EHBT have for the property outside of donations. The medieval roof timbers in the Refectory are particularly impressive and come from trees that were felled between 1439 and 1453.
The conservation of both sites has proved challenging. Squatters took over the Refectory in 1999 and stripped a Georgian cupboard of its panels for firewood. A little later, the refurbishment of roof was interrupted when the initial contractors went bankrupt – leaving the work unfinished and the medieval roof protected by only tarpaulins. The current closure of the Priory has been caused by significant structural problems, in part thanks to a large and heavy oak screen from the fifteenth century whose weight has been bearing down on the Norman cellar beneath. This problem is currently being solved by suspending the oak screen from a steel arch above, which is also designed to fortify the walls. In spite of these setbacks the EHBT and the Council have resolutely continued with their restorations. Of course, such hard work requires funds and, according to the EHBT, a total of £819,000 has been raised so far, much of which represents the award of Heritage Lottery Fund money for the project.
Although there is still plenty of work to be done and many organisational matters to resolve, enough should be completed for the Priory to open to the public for the Heritage Open Days festival in September. Parts of the site should also be open on 22 and 23 July, while on 21 July a special reception is planned for organisations who would potentially like to use this space for exhibitions, theatrical performance, or even ghost-hunting! If you have an event and would like to make use of this space, then you should contact EHBT via firstname.lastname@example.org – Lesley and the members of the trust will be very happy to hear from you! Hopefully, there will soon be plenty of diverse events to attend within these two fascinating buildings.
Tom Chadwick, PhD student in History