The Northern Way: Archivists to unravel secrets of medieval life up North

A nun who faked her own death, an archbishop who went into battle with an army of clergymen, and why being a priest was the most dangerous job of the Middle Ages: these are just some of the stories beginning to emerge from fourteenth-century records held in the University of York’s archives.

Joan of Leeds was fed up of her life in a medieval nunnery. By 1318, her urge to escape the vows she had pledged to poverty, chastity and obedience had grown so strong that she resorted to faking her own death.

After tricking her fellow sisters into burying a dummy they believed to be her body, Joan fled. But alas, her freedom was short lived as she was soon discovered and ordered to return to the convent by the Archbishop of York.

Archivists from the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York have uncovered Joan’s story as they begin to explore registers recording the business of the archbishops of York between 1304 and 1405.

Ink, skilfully scrawled onto parchment by medieval scribes, preserves the secrets of people – from nobles to peasants and bishops to curates – who lived during periods of disease, war, famine, political strife and religious reformation in the King’s City in the North and surrounding province.

Before coming into the University’s care, the 16 heavy volumes had endured a perilous existence and have not been extensively studied. In the Middle Ages they were carried by the Archbishop’s officials on his travels; after the English Civil War they found their way to storage in London, only being restored to the Diocesan Registry in York Minster in the late eighteenth century. Parts of some registers have been published, but often untranslated from the original Latin.

Now, with an injection of just under £1m of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a research team of medieval historians and archivists from the University and The National Archives (UK) are taking on the painstaking task of translating the volumes and indexing them to make their contents digitally available to all for free.

“Archbishops of York in the fourteenth century had incredibly varied roles,” explains Professor Sarah Rees Jones, medieval historian at the University of York and Principal Investigator on the project.

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“On the one hand they carried out diplomatic work in Europe and Rome and rubbed shoulders with the VIPs of the Middle Ages. However, they were also on the ground resolving disputes between ordinary people, inspecting priories and monasteries and correcting wayward monks and nuns.

“That’s why these Registers provide such a rich account of people from all walks of fourteenth-century life during a fascinating and extremely turbulent period.”

Over the course of their research, the team is hoping to find out more about some of history’s most extraordinary archbishops – characters such as William Melton, who led an army of priests and citizens into battle to defend the City of York against the Scots in 1319.

“In the Middles Ages, York was an extremely important northern city on the frontline of the Scottish wars of independence,” says Professor Rees Jones. “But unfortunately the fight didn’t go well for Melton and his army of clergy. Their lack of military training resulted in a reported 4,000 men dying on the battlefield and a further 1,000 are believed to have drowned in the River Swale trying to escape.”

Not all archbishops of York documented by the registers were such loyal subjects to their kings. Archbishop Richard le Scrope was executed in 1405 for his participation in the Northern Rising against Henry IV – an act immortalised in the eponymous Shakespeare play. “The records may well provide more information on this episode and offer some fresh insights into Scrope’s motivations for getting involved,” Professor Rees Jones adds.

The registers also chronicle the Black Death which swept through Europe from 1347 to 1351 and wiped out 60% of the British population. “The equivalent would be if 40 million people died in Britain today within the space of around four years” says Professor Rees Jones. “There were empty monasteries and entire villages were decimated.”

“Being a priest was one of the most dangerous jobs in Europe during that time as they visited the sick and administered last rites at death beds.”

However, the Black Death did bring about important change in the church. “Because so many priests had died there weren’t enough people trained in Latin, so delivering sermons in English had to be adopted as the new status quo,” Professor Rees Jones adds.

“The registers may shed new light on what it was like to live through this period and will perhaps give us a sense of how the Church reasserted its authority after such catastrophic events.”

The project, called ‘The Northern Way’ will run for 33 months in partnership with The National Archives (UK) and with the support of the Chapter of York Minster. The team will also generate a programme of lectures, publications and joint research with local history groups and postgraduate students.

Once indexed, the material from the registers will be linked via the York’s Archishops’ Registers Revealed platform to ecclesiastical records at The National Archives, the British Library and York Minster to provide a complete picture of the role of the northern archbishops in national affairs.

“These chronicles will give us a window into the lives of important figures and ordinary people,” Professor Rees Jones says. “Their revelations may change our perception of northern identity and parts of history as we know it.”

Blog post by Gary Brannan, Project Officer at the Borthwick Institute for Archives.

 

 

John Arnold, ‘Lordship, Violence and Very Small Churches in Southern France, c. 1000-1200’ – The York Medieval Lecture Spring Term, 2018

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John Arnold, ‘Lordship, Violence and Very Small Churches in Southern France, c. 1000-1200’

The York Medieval Lecture 2018, Tuesday 13 February at 5:30pm in K/133

John Arnold is a cultural historian of medieval religion, with particular interests in gender, affect, and the theory of history-writing. He was appointed as Professor of Medieval History at the University of Cambridge in 2016, having previously worked at Birkbeck, University of London and the University of East Anglia. He has been editor of the journal Cultural and Social History, and currently sits on the editorial board of Past & Present.

John has strong ties with the University of York, having studied here as for his undergraduate degree, and in particular with the Centre for Medieval Studies, where he completed his PhD. (Not only was John supervised for his doctorate by a current York medievalist – Prof. Pete Biller – but has since supervised the PhD of another, Tom Johnson!) John’s doctoral research on the inquisition of the Cathar heresy in southern France formed the foundation of his book, Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), as well as many subsequent articles on subjects including textual power, orality and literacy, and the history of emotions.

While John’s core interest lies in the history of medieval religion, he has also written widely on what it means to do history in the present today, as, for example, in his first book, History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000), and his later What is Medieval History? (Polity, 2008). His most recent published project continues in this vein, in a co-edited volume (with Matthew Hilton and Jan Rüger) on the intellectual legacy of Eric Hobsbawm: History after Hobsbawm: Writing the Past for the Twenty-First Century, co-edited with (Oxford University Press, 2018).

John’s current research, however, has seen him return to the south of France. Along with Pete Biller, he has recently published a source-book for the Manchester Medieval Sources series, Heresy and Inquisition in France, c. 1200-c. 1300 (Manchester University Press, February 2015). And he is currently completing a monograph on the making of lay religion in southern France, c. 1000-1350 – the research for which forms the basis of his talk at York.

Medieval Bake-Off (5 December 2017)

Students, staff, and CMS alumni gathered in King’s Manor Refectory on Tuesday 5th December for the annual Christmas Bake-Off competition. As the judging got underway, attendees enjoyed refreshments including mulled wine, and medieval carols performed by the CMS choir Cantio Conventus.

We had a fantastic selection of bakes, including a cake representation of The Divine Comedy, multiple illuminated manuscripts, and a delicious “50” cake to celebrate the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Centre this summer.

The judges, CMS Director Sarah Rees-Jones, Charlie Iffans, Head of Frontline Security, and Dimitris Charalampopoulos, King’s Manor Catering Manager, judged the bakes based on design, taste, and overall excellence, and after comprehensively assessing the offerings, three winners were selected:

  1. Best flavour – Gevulde Speculaas, baked by CMS MA Daphne Slob.
  2. Best design – “Marginally Tasty” Madeira cake with lemon icing, team-baked by Alex Kiddier, Claire Walsh, and Isobel Staton, who are all CMS MA students.
  3. Showstopper –a Chili chocolate “Hellmouth” cake, baked by CMS PhD Alana Bennett.

But it wasn’t just baking on offer, as the event offered a chance to view (and vote on) the posters produced by our current MA students on topics from the core course module. A poster entitled “Pots, Pans, and Punishments” about Hrotsvitha’s Dulcitius took the prize, produced by CMS MA students: Daphne Slob, Isobel Staton, Max Botheras, and Claudia Rosillo. All the posters are now on display in the CMS building.

The CMS Christmas Bake-Off is also the chance to award the Garmonsway Dissertation prize for best MA Dissertation for the previous cohort, and this was awarded to Philippa Carter, for her dissertation on: Immaculate complexions: Skin, Sexuality and Gender in the Middle English Romances, which scored a whopping 95!

As the event wrapped up, Alana Bennett (CMS PhD) continued to serenade us with her hurdy-gurdy, adding to the medieval-themed festivities.

Images courtesy of Harriet Evans, Giacomo Valeri and Lydia Zeldenrust:

 

Antony Bale, ‘Medieval Pilgrims’ Books: Some Evidence, and Problems of Evidence’ (Tuesday 31 October 2017)

It was a pleasure to return to the King’s Manor last month to give a visiting lecture on my current research. I spoke about what I’ve been doing as part of my Leverhulme-funded project Pilgrim Libraries: Books and Reading on the Medieval Routes to Rome and Jerusalem. My paper in York, entitled ‘Medieval Pilgrims’ Books: Some Evidence, and Problems of Evidence’, was very much about research in progress, and I emphasised research as a process – involving experimentation, chance, unpredictable results, and sources that challenge one’s disciplinary training and methodological assumptions.

I presented five case-studies from my research, in a kind of backwards anti-pilgrimage: I started in nineteenth-century Cambridge and worked backwards to eleventh-century crusader Tyre. The pilgrims’ books I presented belonged to

  • Norman Bennet (1867-1961): Jerusalem, c. 1889
  • Louis de Quincampoix (d. c. 1540): Eastern Meditteranean, ?Rhodes/Jerusalem, c. 1520
  • Robert Langton (1470-1524): Santiago, Rome, and Jerusalem, c. 1520
  • Margery Kempe (c. 1373-1439): Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago, Wilsnack, Aachen, and Canterbury, 1413-1430
  • Margaret of Beverley (d. 1215): Jerusalem, Santiago, Rome

All of these pilgrims and their reading are the subject of my ongoing research.

Norman Bennet’s 1880s pilgrimage started at Jaffa, and, as far as we know, followed a standard tour of sites mentioned in the bible. Like most English Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, Bennet’s journey was concerned with travel to a sacred past, not an itinerary to the interesting places of his present. From the port of Jaffa, Bennett went to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem he travelled east, into the Judean desert – we know that he visited the site of the Valley of Achor, mentioned in the Book of Joshua (Joshua vii.21-26); he visited Ein-Shemesh, the crusader-era monastery at Wadi Qelt, and the River Cherith (Carit), where the prophet Elijah was said to have been fed by ravens; the Spring of Elisha at Ain Sultan, where Elisha purified the spring with salt, as described in 2 Kings ii:19-22; he visited the Mount of Temptation and the Orthodox monastery at Quarantine, al-Quarantul, near Jericho; he visited Jericho itself; and he seems to have visited Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea.

Bennet’s pilgrimage is relevant to my research because we only know about it thanks to the guide book he took with him, which includes his annotations. This book, which is now held in the British Library in London, was Alexander Howard’s Guide to Jerusalem, a travel-guide for the English-speaking pilgrim, which was printed in London in 1888.

 

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Alexander Howard, Howard’s Guide to Jerusalem (London, 1888) London, British Library E. 102. 010077. Photo: Anthony Bale.

Bennet carried his copy of Howard’s Guide with him, and annotated it, slightly messily, in pencil. His annotations are really fascinating and help us reconstruct the experience of pilgrimage for a nineteenth-century Englishman in Ottoman Palestine.

Bennet commented on worldly concerns – a Pole with an ‘evil countenance’ in Jerusalem, pink lemonade, hot plum pudding that he ate in Jericho – but his jottings also show how the landscape moved him.

The glorious blue of the Dead Sea reflected in a blue mist on the mountains of Benjamin. The mountains of Moab rose solemn & grand with their deep blue sides towering to the white fleece clouds which floated above while to crown all the beautiful azure the sky formed what might be correctly called a background unparalleled in the silence of a heavenly beauty.

Bennet’s book thus has much in common with medieval pilgrims’ annotations in their books, revealing a somewhat personal and intimate script, albeit one that is still highly scripted and mediated, within the framework of pilgrimage.

Pilgrims’ books allow us to glimpse the individual pilgrim within the long history of pilgrimage. Bibliographic work on pilgrims’ reading and writing allows us to situate pilgrims in place and time; we can retrieve the traveller within the history of travel, put pilgrimage into its intellectual and cultural contexts, and also show the constant surprises and variety of pilgrim experiences.

The Lords of Misrule: The Wakefield Mystery Plays

From Thursday 23rd to Saturday 25th November, the CMS Lords of Misrule acting troupe presented the Wakefield Mystery Plays. The production took place at Saint Mary Bishophill junior from 7:00-9:00pm and featured a selection of medieval carols and music by the Lords’ music group Cantio Conventus. Tickets were £6/£4 with concessions.

The play, directed by Emily Hansen, was performed by cast composed largely of this year’s MA cohort who presented scenes from the nativity and Shepherd’s Tale. The production and baking team were headed by Madeline Salzman while the musicians and singers were directed by Alana Bennett.

More details on our next performance scheduled for March 2018 will follow.

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The Lords of Misrule cast, musicians and production team Autumn 2017

If you want to know more about the Lords of Misrule, our future productions or are thinking of joining us then please contact us at: lordsofmisrule@gmail.com.

Visiting Professor (15-30 June) – Professor Sarah McNamer (Georgetown University)

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Dr Sarah McNamer is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Studies. Her primary interest is in the relation between literature and the history of emotion. Her book, Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2010, received the “Book of the Year” award from the Conference on Christianity and Literature. Current projects include a book in progress, The Poetics of Emotion in Middle English Literature, and a critical edition and translation of the short Italian version of the pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditations on the Life of Christ from the unique manuscript likely to reflect the original version of this influential work. The latter will be published in the William and Katherine Devers Series on Dante and Medieval Italian Literature, University of Notre Dame Press, in the fall of 2017.

Dr. McNamer will be visiting the Centre for Medieval Studies from 15 to 30 June. The subject of her research during this time, “Did the Pearl-Poet Write at the Court of Edward III?,” is part of her current book project, Feeling by the Book: The Work of the Pearl-Poet in the History of Emotion. This book presents a new hypothesis for the place of the Pearl-Poet in history, locating him at the court of Edward III and building a case that he is likely to have served as chaplain and poet-mentor to royalty, specifically to Prince Lionel, Duke of Clarence. Within this provisional context, the book explores how each of the poet’s four works, Pearl, Patience, Cleanness, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, function as affective scripts, eliciting and shaping emotion in ways that served particular personal and political aims for the royal family in the late 1350s and early 1360s. This earlier dating for the poems, which builds on the work of Cooke, Fein, and Ingledew, raises broad questions about early English literary history. If the Pearl-Poet wrote ca. 1360, at the centre of the English court, how might this alter and enrich current understandings of the history of English literature?

Dr. McNamer looks forward to conversations about this subject at the Centre for Medieval Studies; she will be in residence from June 15-30. Graduate students and faculty should feel free to contact her at mcnamer@georgetown.edu.

She will also deliver a paper related to this project, “God’s Hot Haste: The Power of Divine Disgust in Cleanness,” at the “Powerful Emotions/Emotions and Power” conference co-sponsored by the University of York and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, 28-29 June.

 

Powerful Emotions/ Emotions and Power c.400-1850 (28-29 June 2017)

Powerful Emotions/ Emotions and Power c.400-1850

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Dates: 28‒29 June 2017
Venue: Humanities Research Centre, Berrick Saul Building, University of York

This interdisciplinary conference is jointly organised by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and the Centres for Medieval Studies, Renaissance and Early Modern Studies and Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York.

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Registration is now open.

CMS Annual Progression Workshop 2-4pm, Tuesday 23 May (K/111)

The CMS Annual Progression Workshop will take place on 23 May 2017 and will feature three first-year PhD students talking about their research projects:

  • Lauren Stokeld, “The Language of Built Structures in Medieval English from the Earliest Texts up to 1250”
  • Luke Giraudet, “An Anonymous 15th Century Parisian Journal: Civic Community and the Individual at the Time of French Civil War and English Occupation”
  • Tim Wingard, “Queering the Medieval Animal and Animalising the Medieval Queer: Animals and Transgressive Sexuality in Late Medieval England”

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All staff and MA and PhD students are warmly invited to come along and to support – there will be cake!

When: 23 May 2017, 2-4pm
Where: K/111

Researchers bring Old Norse language back to JORVIK Viking Centre

Old Norse has been brought back to life by researchers at the University of York through the voices of new animatronic Viking characters at the world-famous JORVIK Viking Centre.

 

 

The characters, which are voiced by Masters and PhD students at the University’s Centre for Medieval Studies and Department of English and Related Literature, form part of the revamped JORVIK Viking Centre, which opens its doors for the first time in 16 months following substantial damage to the attraction as a result of the 2015 floods.

The animatronic characters within JORVIK help tell the stories of what life was like in the year AD960 and are based on over 30 years of archaeological research by York Archaeological Trust, who discovered the remains of the Viking city during the Coppergate excavations of 1976-81.

Expert in the language, literature and history of the Viking Age, Dr Matthew Townend, translated the Jorvik script into Old Norse and Anglo Saxon, working alongside a team of students who were able to speak Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon for the voices of the animatronic characters.

Dr Townend said: “Old Norse is the ancestor of all the modern Scandinavian languages, and also exerted a profound influence on the English language, especially in the north of England.

“The University of York is one of a small number of institutions in the UK where Old Norse language and literature are studied intensively, and it’s been really exciting for the students and myself to be able to contribute our expertise to the re-fit of the world-famous JORVIK Viking Centre. We hope very much that our linguistic soundscape will help to take visitors back in time to a fascinating and important period.”

PhD student in the Department of English and Related Literature, Nik Gunn, provided language training for staff at the Centre, allowing them access to the basic principles of the Old Norse language to engage visitors with the way in which the Vikings communicated and the meaning of common phrases.

Rich heritage

Nik Gunn said: “Recreating material culture is something that archaeologists and heritage professionals have been doing well for decades, so bringing ‘everyday’ Old Norse, and Old English, back to life was a really interesting challenge.

“Linguistic diversity is such a crucial element of the story of Viking Age England, and hearing the languages that would have been spoken in 10th century York will help to raise awareness of this rich heritage.”

Sarah Maltby, Director of Attractions for JORVIK Viking Centre, said: “University research helps organisations, like York Archaeological Trust, to deliver engaging and authentic interpretations of history to the public.

“JORVIK is well known for its sights and smells, however with this new incarnation we are able to additionally expand on the soundscape and in particular the languages spoken.

“In AD960, Jorvik was an ethnically-diverse city with a population of 15,000; so as well as old Norse, visitors will hear animatronics speak Old English, Ancient Arabic, Old Irish and Middle Welsh.”