January 2024 MLD Blog

Welcome to the Medieval Londoners Blog.  Please subscribe to receive updates on new material added to the Medieval Londoners Project and other items of interest to those working on medieval London. Since the last post, MLD has added over 1000 new records: 600 on Jewish Londoners, 308 on the Pinners and Wiresellers, 103 records of lawyers active in the central courts, and 58 records for clerks and lawyers serving in the courts of Common Pleas and King’s Bench. For other forthcoming datasets, see What’s New in MLD?

Medieval Jewish Londoners

There is a surprising amount of documentation about the Jews who resided in London before their expulsion from England in 1290, particularly for the wealthier Jews who paid the regular tallages assessed by the crown. Many of the new MLD records come from these royal levies in 1189, 1194, 1239 and 1241, along with other sources such as deeds, the Pipe Rolls, and debt disputes. Secondary sources, particularly by Joe Hillaby, proved an especially important source of records on London Jews. Also noteworthy are the biographies of Jews who were incarcerated or sought refuge in the Tower of London. Compiled by Historic Royal Palaces for The Jewish History of the Medieval Tower of London, this project also produced a catalogue of archival sources for studying medieval English Jews. We have included in MLD only those biographies relating to Londoners: 48 of the total 245 biographies.

The entries for Jewish Londoners relate some powerful stories about the difficulties they faced.  Elijah le Blund, for example, was a member of the wealthy le Blund family, who were so harshly taxed by the crown that in 1252 Eijah, his wife Flora, his brother Aaron and his wife Pigona, and their son Samuel attempted to flee England. They were caught, their properties were confiscated, and the men were imprisoned in the Tower of London, released only on payment of very large sums that considerably reduced their wealth. In 1264, Elijah fled to the Tower on his own, this time seeking protection from a violent attack on the London Jewry led by supporters of Simon de Montfort in which many were killed and properties burnt to the ground.  Elijah died in the Tower, likely of wounds he acquired during the attack. His nephew Samuel had difficulty paying his tallage arrears and seems to have also been a victim of the Montfortian civil war and anti-Jewish riots. Samuel’s properties were destroyed, and after he died, his treasure was supposedly dug up and taken away from his house.

Detail from a miniature showing the expulsion of the Jews. From the chronicle of Rochester cathedral priory. England, c.1100-c.1650 (BL Cotton MS Nero D II, f. 183v).

Inclusion of this dataset in MLD required adoption of naming protocols that differed from our usual practice. Jews in medieval England had Hebrew names, but usually spoke French, yet scribes recorded their names in Latin, often christianizing Hebrew names. Modern translators have also tended to anglicize Jewish names. Further difficulties arise because Jews relied heavily on matronymics and patronymics, which makes awkward MLD’s usual reliance on putting surnames first in the Standard Name field. In light of these issues, although we follow MLD practice for standardizing forenames by anglicizing them, we start the Standard Name with the individual’s forename, which mirrors current practice by scholars of editions of medieval Jewish sources. We have made exceptions, however, for individuals in well-known families that normally use a surname, such as Crespin, Le Blund, and L’Eveske. For more discussion of these issues, plus a searchable table of Jewish forenames, see MLD Naming Protocols for Jewish Londoners.

The 600 records in this dataset were entered by Rachel Podd and Maryanne Kowaleski. MLD now contains references to 313 different Jews who resided in London between 1155 and 1290. We hope to continue building this dataset by using the many other printed sources available for this work: volunteers to help are welcome!

Pinners and Wiresellers

Pin used in the head-covering of a townswoman. By Robert Campin, c. 1435. National Gallery of Art.

The Pinners officially became a craft in 1356 when their ordinances were approved by the mayor and aldermen of London. Metal pins were a ubiquitous dress accessory in medieval London, especially in the later middle ages when the elaborate head-coverings worn by wealthy women (and men) were held together by pins, as were the veils worn by nuns and most other kinds of loose or draped clothing.

The Pinners were a small and low-status craft that faced increasingly stiff competition from the massive numbers of pins imported from overseas, particularly high-quality pins from the Low Countries. In 1462 they joined other crafts in attempting to secure a ban on foreign imports. Edward IV responded with protectionist legislation that forbade the importation of a large range of manufactured goods, including pins. This favorable charter may have been the impetus behind the Pinners’ decision to start an audit book, which began with the Pinners’ 1356 ordinances and Edward’s charter of 1463.  Most of the book, however, recorded the expenditures and revenues of the craft and its affiliated relgious fraternity of St James, stretching over a period of almost fifty years. The Pinners book (BL MS Egerton 1142) has been translated by Barbara Megson, was published by the London Record Society in 2009, and is now avaialble on British History Online.

The fortunes of the Pinners did not, however, continue to thrive. Beset by financial challenges such as repair bills for the premises they rented for their meetings, unpaid loans they made to craft members, and continuing competition from foreign imports, the Pinners chose in the late 1490s to amalgamate their craft with the Wiremongers (who had joined with the Chapemakers in 1479), calling the new craft the Wiresellers.

Dr Marija Blaskovic has created a dataset of 308 records taken from the Appendices to Megson’s edition, which include the wills of 32 testators (1352-1529) and a list of the craft wardens (including the umper, the senior warden) for the period 1356-1510/11. She is now working on a second dataset that will include references to the expenses and members of the Pinners’ fraternity of St James.

London Lawyers

Lawyers, clerks, and litigants in the Court of King’s Bench. Copyright Inner Temple Library.

With the consent of Sir John Baker and the Selden Society, MLD has started a project to extract biographies of London lawyers in John Baker, The Men of Court 1440 to 1550 : A Prosopography of the Inns of Court and Chancery and the Courts of Law, Selden Society, supplementary series, vol. 18 (London, 2012). Although most medieval lawyers would have resided in London while studying at the Inns of Court, the majority eventually left London and conducted the bulk of their legal practice elsewhere. A good part of the work in constructing this dataset therefore lies in determining which lawyers continued to reside in London or spent enough of their working life in the city to justify inclusion in MLD. This work is being done by Dylan Warnasiri, a senior at Fordham University who is interested in a legal career.

An initial dataset of 103 entries (Acton to Carpenter) has been uploaded, with a second installment (C thru H) due to be uploaded in the coming months.

Clerks and Lawyers of the Courts of Common Pleas and King’s Bench

Prof. Malcolm Richardson continues to add records for the professional clerks and lawyers of the central courts in Westminster. His starting point this time was Linda Clark’s section on “Clerks and Officials of the Courts if King’s Bench and Common Pleas,” in The History of Parliament. The Commons 1422-1461, vol. 1, pp. 446-50. His dataset includes 58 men, all of whom served as MPs, but usually for constituencies outside of London. Most were lawyers who had trained at the London Inns of Chancery as young men. Although most young lawyers left London to practice law in the provinces, a number of them continued to practice law in the central courts at Westminster.  MLD counts as “Londoners” those who not only had their main residence in London, but also those who we can show regularly worked in London (or Westminster or Southwark) and owned property or were buried there.

This group includes men like Thomas del Rowe, who served as a clerk of the court of Common Pleas and keeper of writs, a position he lost to a rival claimaint who also accused him of removing writs from the great hall of Westminster. He did eventually rise to become a filazer in Common Pleas from 1449 to 1452 (a filazer was the clerk who wrote out and enrolled judicial writs, a lucrative position). Work as a filazer would have kept him in London for many months of the year. Although he served as a MP for Horsham (sussex), he held property in St George’s Lane (outside Newgate) through his wife, Thomasia, a daughter and the heir of Peter Pope, a London draper. Del Rowe also accused several prominent Londoners of being involved in the murder of his brother James (called a ‘gentleman of London’) in Yorkshire.

Another filazer, Richard Bruyn, leased property in St Clement Danes and St Dunsan in the East and likely held other properties through his wife, Joan Rickhill, a Kentish heiress. He apparently married her in c. 1431 when she divorced her first husband. For almost twenty years he provided legal counsel to the abbot of Wesminster; he was also admitted to the Merchant Taylors, perhaps for his legal help. He served as under-sheriff of London but also MP for Newcastle-under Lyme and for Stafford. He had Lancastrian sympathies since in 1460, he was pardoned for attacking the city from the Tower.

A New Book

The Medieval Hospital: Literary Culture and Community in England, 1350-1550 (University of Notre Dame Press, 2023) by Nicole R. Rice, analyzes the role played by late medieval hospitals as sites of literary production and cultural contestation. Three of the chapters focus on St Bartholomew’s hospital in London. Chapter 2 explores how the late medieval literary history of St Bartholmew’s centered around the treatment of women, highlighting the themes of corruption and purification. Chapter 3 examines the reading practices of the lay community in the hospital’s close, particularly the texs that the bibliophile and scribe, John Shirley, himself a resident, copied and assembled for his neighbors. Chapter 4 looks at collaborative devotional reading at St Bartholomew’s and St Mark’s hospital in Bristol for clerical and lay, female and male hospital residents.

Papers on London at the November 2023 NACBS meeting

Among the eight medieval sessions at the annual conference of the North American Conference on British Studies, held this year in Baltimore in November 2023, the following papers focused on London. If you are interested in giving a paper on a medieval topic at the 2024 conference, to be held in Denver, November 15-17, contact kowaleski@fordham.edu.

  • John McEwan (St Louis University): London and the Expedition of Louis of France to England: Consequences for the Men in London’s Civic Government
  • Bethany Donovan (University of Michigan): Counterfeit Leather and Craft Competition in Late Medieval London
  • Caroline M. Barron (University of London, Royal Holloway): The Drawings of the Aldermen of London in 1446
  • Nicole R. Rice (St John’s University): Widows Reading at the Late Medieval Hospital: The Case of Joan Astley
  • Katherine L. French (University of Michigan): All that Glitters is not Gold: Women Goldsmiths in Late Medieval London
  • Martha Carlin (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee): An Emperor Visits London: Lodging and Feeding the Entourage of Charles V, June 1522
  • Shannon McSheffrey (Concordia University): Stalled Careers, Masculinity, and Xenophobia in the Early Sixteenth-Century London Skinners’ Company
  • Vanessa A. Harding (Birkbeck, University of London): Early Modern London Families: Beyond the Household

December 2022 MLD Blog

Welcome to the Medieval Londoners Blog.  Please subscribe to receive updates on new material added to the Medieval Londoners Project and other items of interest to those working on medieval London. Since the last post, MLD has added 114 records about London nuns (mostly prioresses) and c. 1150 records of Mercers who were Staplers or Merchant Adventurers. For other forthcoming datasets, see What’s New in MLD?

Nuns and Prioresses

Seal of Matilda, Prioress of Holywell, c. 1220 x 1230. From John McEwan, Seals in Medieval London 1050-1300: A Catalogue (London Record Society extra series vol. 1, 2016) citing TNA E42/419, pt.I, verso.

MLD recently added a dataset of London nuns compiled by Olivia Geraci (with contributions by Morgan McMinn); most of these records relate to prioresses in four female religious houses: St Mary Clerkenwell, Holywell (Haliwell), St Helen’s Bishopsgate, and the Minoresses without Aldgate. The references to prioresses were taken primarily from listings in the three volumes of The Heads of Religious Houses: England and Wales, edited by David M. Smith and others (Cambridge, 2001-2008). But the Calendars of Letter Books also provided some interesting references to London nuns. In 1363, for example, the executor of the Tailor Robert Westmelne was summoned to the Guildhall to answer for money bequeathed by Robert to his three under-age sons and his two daughters;  Margaret married a Mercer, and Isabella, a minor, was a nun at Holywell priory, an Augustinian house in Shoreditch, outside the city walls. In rendering his account, the executor, John Madefrey, a Pepperer, noted that he had paid to Dame Elena, the Prioress of Holywell [Ellen Gossham], the sum of £46 13s. 4d, £40 of which was bequeathed to Isabella by her father, plus 10 marks that she inherited on the death of one of her brothers. But there was a condition attached to this bequest: if at the age of 14 Isabella wanted to leave the convent, all this money should be returned to her, minus the cost of her expenses while residing at Holywell. If she died before reaching 14, then one-half of the money was to be returned and expended for the good of her father’s soul, and the other half was to be distributed to the remaining children of Robert. Since medieval nuns were cloistered, the extant records for nuns below the rank of prioress are very scarce, so we do not know if Isabella stayed in the convent or left, but this entry does provide insight into how young girls of the merchant class could be when they entered the convent.

The Get to Know Medieval Londoners Project

Please check out a new Medieval Londoners digital project called  Get to Know Medieval Londoners, which uses a crowdsourcing platform called Zooniverse to bridge the gap between the academy and popular enthusiasm for the middle ages while simultaneously advancing the study of London. Created by Grace Campagna, a Contributing Editor of MLD, as part of her master’s thesis in Medieval Studies at Fordham University, this project draws on over 3000 medieval property records from London’s Husting Court that were part of a project called The Social and Economic Study of Medieval London c. 1100-1666. This initiative ran from 1979 to 1988 and examined the history of property ownership in thirteen London parishes, especially those centered on the market area of Cheapside. The lead researchers, Derek Keene and Vanessa Harding, with help from Martha Carlin, David Crouch, Joanna Mattingly, and John Stedman transcribed and translated property transactions onto large index cards that were recently digitized in a collaboration between Fordham and the Institute of Historical Research.

Volunteers on the project help with data collection through workflows, which provide prompts to identify people and geographic locations in the property transaction. One task, for example, asks volunteers to record the name, gender, occupation, citizenship status, and other identifying characteristics of each person recorded on the index card. Zooniverse is an ideal platform for this work because it is free of cost for both participants and researchers, runs on all major browsers, and already has an extensive and dedicated volunteer base. All of the data produced during the course of the project will become part of the Medieval Londoners Database, which also governs many of the data collections standards used in this project. Volunteers will receive credit for their work through a cataloguer field in each database record they contribute.

Example of a digitized index card with an English transcription of the Latin text in a Husting Court plea dated 26 February 1397, regarding property in the parish of St Christospher, as used in the Get to Know Medieval Londoners crowdsourcing project (Husting Court roll 125, case no. 78).

After several months of testing and development, Get to Know Medieval Londoners officially launched on June 28th, 2022. In its first few months, the project attracted over 1,300 volunteers who have made nearly 17,000 data classifications. The site features extensive discussion boards for asking questions and sharing findings. Through dialogue with each other and the project team, participants have added dozens of new abbreviations to reference guides, helped each other translate phrases from Anglo-Norman, found rare examples of women admitted to the freedom of the city, and much more.

The project has already garnered considerable attention. Indeed, Get to Know Medieval Londoners has been asked to partner with Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, the UK’s premier genealogical magazine, to participate in their annual Transcription Tuesday event on Jan. 31, 2023. In prior years, this event has helped projects transcribe over 100,000 pages of historical material. For instructions on how to join in, head over to the project event page.

If you are interested in participating, you can also check the Get to Know Medieval Londoners announcement board for more updates.

Anne Sutton and the Mercer-Staplers and -Merchant Adventurers

Those of us at MLD were sad to hear that Anne Sutton passed away in June 2022. Anne was our first major contributor, giving MLD over 3500 biographies that she had assembled for her book on The Mercery of London (2005). With the help of Liz Duchovni, we have recently processed another dataset of over 1150 records donated by Dr Sutton: 255 refer to  Mercers who were wool merchants or members of the Merchant Staplers, a special group of merchants given exclusive right by the crown to purchase English wool for export through and to appointed markets (or staples). Most of the staples on the continent were in the Low Countries; the best known and longest serving staple was at Calais. About 930 of the new records deal with Mercers who were members of the Merchant Adventurers, a regulated company that exported cloth in exchange for a variety of imports from northern Europe. The London company received a royal charter in 1407, but smaller companies of Merchant Adventurers also formed in other ports, such as Bristol and York. The London Mercers who dominated the company focused most of their trade on Antwerp and the cloth fairs in the Low Countries in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. In later centuries the London company came to focus more on Hamburg.

For MLD, we have  included only those Staplers and Merchant Adventurers who resided in London before 1520. We have also expanded many of the abbreviations to make the information more user-friendly; see Sutton lists: Abbreviations, Sources, Editorial Practice for details. The lists are especially valuable for the references to the overseas trade of individual Mercers, as detailed in the national port customs accounts (TNA E122). Although Sutton’s list gives only the accounting year when the Mercer appeared as wool exporter or as an importer of cloth and other goods, users can now access a complete transcription of the entries in the online editions of TNA E122  medieval London customs accounts edited by Dr Stuart Jenks for the Hansischer Historical Society.

MLD records for the Mercer John Abbot, compiled from information provided by Anne Sutton in her lists of the Mercers who were also Staplers and Merchant Adventurers.

Many of the obituaries for Anne Sutton emphasize her work on behalf of the Richard III Society, especially her long tenure as the editor of The Ricardian, the Society’s journal, and her many publications about Richard III, including her last monograph, The King’s Work: The Defence of the North under the Yorkist Kings 1471-85 (2021).  But let’s not forget that Anne was a formidable scholar of medieval London who served as assistant archivist of the Corporation London from 1973 to 1980 and as archivist of the Mercers Company from 1981 to 2002, when she retired.  She authored many books and articles about medieval London, especially material on the Mercers and women, including her magnum opus, The Mercery of London : Trade, Goods and People, 1130-1578 (2005) and Wives and Widows of Medieval London (2016).  She was also co-editor with Caroline Barron of Medieval London Widows 1300-1500 (1994), and one of her most recent articles was “Nicholas Alwyn, Mayor of London: A Man of Two Loyalties, London and Spalding,” in Medieval Londoners: Essays to Mark the Eightieth Birthday of Caroline M. Barron (2019).

Anne Sutton at a 2001 conference in Durham [photo: M. Kowaleski]

As an archivist, Anne Sutton was especially skilled at finding new records and hunting down multiple sources and references; her footnotes were themselves a work of art and offered a comprehensive bibliography to readers of her work. As a trustee of the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, Anne was an enthusiastic supporter of its grants to support research and publications on the period of the late middle ages.Donations in Anne’s memory can be given to the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust (to whom cheques should be payable) and sent to: PO Box 6302, Newbury, RG14 9QU. To Gift Aid your  donation, please download the form from the Trust’s website. Queries can be emailed to christian.steer@york.ac.uk

Presentations on Medieval London at the NACBS

The following talks on medieval London were delivered at the annual conference of the NACBS (North American Conference on British Studies) in Chicago, Nov. 10-12, 2022.

Kate Kelsey Staples (University of West Virginia): Appraising Reputation in the Secondhand Trade in Late Medieval London

Bethany Donovan (University of Michigan): All that Glitters is Not Gold: Fraudulent Goods in Late Medieval London

Grace Campagna (Fordham University) and Maryanne Kowaleski (Fordham University): Crowdsourcing the Medieval Londoners Project

Katherine French (University of Michigan): The Afterlives of Apprentices in Late Medieval London

Shannon McSheffrey (Concordia University): Strangers in the City: Dutch Hatmakers and their Rogue Guild in London circa 1500