The Development of Borough Customary Law in Medieval Britain, Esther Liberman Cuenca (Fordham University), Tuesday 31 May 2016

The Development of Borough Customary Law in Medieval Britain

Esther Liberman Cuenca (Fordham University)

Tuesday 31 May 2016, 5.30pm in KG/84

This lecture explores the development of borough customary law, or customary practices that took on the force of law within English towns and cities, as it began to appear in royal charters and custumals (or collections of customs) in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Compared to the abundant scholarship on medieval common law and canon law, both of which generated extensive treatises and commentaries by medieval contemporaries who were professionals formally trained in schools, publications on medieval English customary law have been few and far between. Law merchant and manorial customary law have received some attention, but fewer studies have focused on borough customary law, with the notable exception of Mary Bateson’s seminal Selden Society volumes, collectively entitled Borough Customs (1904-6), which focused mainly property rights and the jurisdiction of the borough courts. Building on Bateson’s work, this talk grapples with how borough officials began to develop their own set of customs as both prescriptive guidelines and as laws that helped them intervene in the pressing concerns of their communities. An examination of over fifty charters from the boroughs of Beverley, Bristol, Colchester, Dublin, and Southampton—as well as six stand-alone custumals from Exeter, Ipswich, Lincoln, Newcastle, Northampton, and Winchester— show that the majority dealt with the procedures and jurisdiction of the borough courts, bearing directly on the source of legal power for the urban elite, but that this focus shifts markedly over time to the requirements and particular challenges of holding political office.

This change in focus reveals three crucial features of the development of borough customary law in this early period. First, the appearance of independently produced custumals embodied a shift in the way borough customary came to be conceptualized. Borough customs were not only seigniorial privileges that granted rights, but also a set of laws that ensured officials could exercise these rights with sufficient responsibility, restraint, and consistency. Second, the increasing emphasis in later charters and custumals on the duties, character, and qualifications of holding political office exemplifies a broader trend in the development of customary law, one that signals the maturation and ever-growing influence of towns as loci of power and the power of men tasked with their governance. Lastly, the discourse of borough customary law combined two, inextricably linked conceptions of custom that depended on both seigniorial charters, with privileges handed down or renewed over time, and collections of practices and traditions that were rooted in local context and concerns.

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Passion, Mystery and Performance: The First Two Centuries of the York Play – Dr Jeremy Goldberg (7 June)

Centre for Medieval Studies & York Festival of Ideas Lecture

Passion, Mystery and Performance: The First Two Centuries of the York Play

Jeremy Goldberg (York)

Tuesday 7 June
6:00pm – King’s Manor K/133
Free Admission. Booking Required

York’s multi-pageant Creation to Domesday cycle for the feast of Corpus Christi – popularly the York mystery plays – is first noticed early in the reign of Richard II. It lasted almost two centuries until its effective suppression by the then Dean of York following its last performance in 1569. The cycle represented a significant devotional and cultural phenomenon, but also a major medieval tourist attraction. Its nature and meaning was not fixed from the time of its first notice and the changing relationship between the crafts that performed the cycle and the city governors who increasingly came to control it is an important part of the story.

This lecture will consider in particular the origins of the cycle, the role of crafts and groups of artisans and traders in relation to individual pageants, and questions to do with the nature of the production. It will ask to what degree spoken text was part of performance before the 1470s and will explore issues relating to performance, in particular how far women were excluded from or included in productions. Finally it will offer some thoughts about the last years of the cycle and its demise before its revival in the modern era.

Jeremy Goldberg is a Reader in the Department of History and a member of the Medieval Urban Household Research Project. A native of Hull, he has been passionate about the Middle Ages since childhood. He joined the department in 1988 having previously been a research fellow at Clare College, Cambridge and before that a temporary lecturer at the University of Keele. His research focuses upon later medieval English social and cultural history; women’s and gender history.

Bede, the recta fides, and the Lateran Council of 649 – Miranda Wilcox (Brigham Young University & CMS Visiting Professor)

Bede, the recta fides, and the Lateran Council of 649

Miranda Wilcox (Brigham Young University & CMS Visiting Professor)
Tuesday 10 May
5.30pm – King’s Manor KG/84

Fifty years after Archbishop Theodore convened a synod at Hatfield in 679 to demonstrate the orthodoxy of the English in anticipation of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Bede memorialized the synod and its orthodoxy in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Given the contested nature of what constituted the true faith—the recta fides—it is surprising that Bede only quoted portions of the definition of faith made by the English bishops and recorded in a synodical letter to Rome. Bede’s selectiveness raises pressing questions: What did he leave out? Why did he leave it out?

While some have assumed that Bede was ignorant of the theological and historical contexts, particularly the Christological crises, of the seventh century, textual evidence reveals otherwise. Bede’s understanding of what constituted heretical and orthodox Christology, that is how the divine and human are related in the person of Jesus Christ, developed over his lifetime as he acquired sources. I propose a timeline of when Bede gained access to two key Roman sources: The Book of Pontiffs and the acts of the Lateran Council (649), and discuss how these sources changed the trajectory of Bede’s heresiology and Christology. Although Bede was relatively familiar with the competing Christologies which had divided the East and West by the time he completed the Ecclesiastical History in 731, I argue that he purposefully and wisely focused on Trinitarian doctrine in his account of the Hatfield synod, thus shaping the Anglo-Saxon perception of the recta fides for centuries.


Professor Miranda Wilcox is Associate Professor of English at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah where she teaches medieval literature. Her research focuses on the intersections of religious and textual culture in early medieval Europe, especially in Anglo-Saxon England. She is working on a book project titled Confessing the Faith in Anglo-Saxon England. This winter she is working on a chapter about definitions of faith made by Anglo-Saxon church councils and continental definitions transmitted to Anglo-Saxon England. She received a master’s and doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame.

St. Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster: Visual and Political Culture 1292-1941

St. Stephen’s Chapel Westminster: Visual and Political Culture 1292-1941 (19-20 September 2016, Palace of Westminster)

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This major conference will present the results of a three-year project to
explore the history of a building at the heart of the political life of the
nation for over 700 years. It will take place from 19 to 20 September 2016 at
the Palace of Westminster.

The conference will showcase the research undertaken by a team of experts
on the transformation of St Stephen’s chapel from medieval chapel to the
first House of Commons debating chamber, as well as including academics
whose research on the chapel directly complements the project’s findings.

Keynote speakers include Professor David Carpenter (King’s College, London)
& Dr Paul Seaward (History of Parliament)

There will be a reception at the Society of Antiquaries with a display of
art and artefacts relating to the Chapel.

A digital model of St Stephen’s and the Commons chamber, incorporating
research from the project, will be on show for the first time.

There is no registration fee or catering charge for this conference, but
all those wishing to attend need to register via the link below. Spaces are
limited, and you are encouraged to book early.

To book your place at the conference, please visit our Eventbrite page:

For any queries, contact the project’s administrative assistant, Jonathan
Hanley via email:

Norse in the North, 4 June 2016

Registration for Norse in the North 2016 is now open!


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The conference will take place on 4 June 2016 and will feature papers on the theme
of ‘Translation and Transmission‘ in Old Norse studies, with a keynote
lecture given by Heather O’Donoghue. The other speakers will be:

  • Ryder Patzcuk-Russell (University of Birmingham): Latin-Old Norse Interaction and Medieval Linguistic Ideologies: The Evidence of Lárentius Saga.
  • Katherine Whitehouse (University of Nottingham): The Viking translation of place in South Yorkshire major names.
  • Annika Christensen (University of Leeds): Seyðabrævið: Old Norse and the language of the Faroe Islands.
  • Sophie Bønding (Aarhus University): The Golden Past and the Glorious Future: N.F.S. Grundtvig’s re-actualisation and dissemination of Old Norse Mythology.
  • Anja Ute Blode (Universität zu Köln): … første Danee konningh war Dan – The transmission of a legendary king in Old Danish historiography.
  • Jon Hui (University of Cambridge): Manuscript Transmission in ‘The Matter of Gautland’
  • Tom Morcom (Durham University): Passing on Stories in Good Faith: the subversive redaction of Gautreks saga.

The cost of registration is £10, which will include lunch and tea/coffee
throughout the day, and can be purchased here. There will also be an optional post-conference dinner, notincluded in the cost of registration, at a nearby York restaurant (to be determined) at approximately 18:30.

For further information, please email .

CFP: The Rood in Medieval Britain and Ireland c.900–c.1500 (University of York, 2–3 September 2016)

Deadline: 18th April

King’s Manor, University of York

The rood – understood as the cross itself, and/or the image of Christ crucified – was central to the visual and devotional culture of medieval Christianity. By the late middle ages, a rood was present in monumental form, either painted or sculpted, at the east end of the nave of every church. Yet roods in numerous other forms could be found in ecclesiastical contexts: as images, in various sizes and media – in manuscript illumination, on textiles, and in stained glass. Images of the rood were also to be found within domestic, civic, and military contexts, from the bedroom to the battlefield.

Following recent scholarship that has focused on early medieval roods (Sancta Crux/Halig Rod series, 2004-2010), and considered monumental roods on the Continent (Jacqueline Jung’s The Gothic Screen, 2013), this conference will bring together established academics, early career and emerging scholars, to share new research and foster debate on the forms and functions of images of the rood in Britain and Ireland c.900-c.1500. To this end, we invite proposals (max. 300 words) for papers of no longer than 30 minutes’ duration from scholars working within the disciplines of medieval Art History, Literature, History, Archaeology and Theology.

In considering the monumental church rood together with its counterparts in other media and contexts, this conference aims to reassess the complexities of the central image within the medieval Christian imagination.

Potential areas for discussion can include, but are not limited to, the rood in relation to materiality; sacred space; the liturgy; emotion/affect; conquest and crusade; the relationship between text and image; patronage, and pageantry/secular display.

Proposals should be emailed to no later than 18 April 2016.

Organisers: Dr Philippa Turner and Dr Jane Hawkes, Department of History of Art, University of York

Meet an Archaeologist – Dr Steve Ashby

Meet an Archaeologist – Dr Steve Ashby

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Steve Ashby is a medieval archaeologist with specialism in the archaeology of portable material culture and the use of animal products in craft and industry. He is trained in geology, zooarchaeology, and artefact studies, and is particularly interested in the relationship between the various regions of Britain and Scandinavia before, during, and after the Viking Age.

Before starting up at York, Steve was employed by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, as Finds Liaison Officer for Northamptonshire, a role that involved working closely with local communities, amateur archaeologists, and metal detectorists in order to preserve by record the vast numbers of chance finds recovered by members of the public. Steve continues his association with the PAS, and is interested in exploiting the potential of the data it produces, particularly regarding early medieval craft, trade, and identity, and battlefield archaeology.

Steve teaches in a range of medieval subjects, as well as in the practical aspects of artefact studies, and is also Chair of the Board of Studies, which means that he oversees all the teaching in the department, and will be one of the members of staff that new students will get to know quite well.

Steve is becoming a regular in the media on matters Viking, most recently recording two series of documentaries in support of the History Channel.

York Medieval Lecture – Prof. David Wallace (University of Pennsylvania) “Europe: New Foundations for an Unknown Future” (Wednesday 9 March)

David Wallace (University of Pennsylvania) “Europe: New Foundations for an Unknown Future

Wednesday 9 March 5:30pm – wine reception, KG/84
6:00pm – Lecture, Huntingdon room

The ‘greatest generation’ of literary historians, headed by E.R. Curtius and cheered on by T.S. Eliot, attempted after World War II to stabilize European literary tradition around tropes and figurae of Rome-centered Latinity. Through intensive philological discipline and the kind of comparatism developed with distinction at York, they encouraged and inspired several post-war generations, and their work continues to be of value. But their vision of European cultural integration, affirmed through creation and expansion of the EU, now seems inadequate to current understanding, or to explain the complexities of the medieval past. At a time when medieval is now routinely coupled with terms such as monstrosity, it is vital to consider alternative methods for mapping the medieval past, to consider how this might contribute to understanding our own difficult European moment, and to show that medieval can indicate a cultural, religious, and literary convivencia that is not to be repudiated, but rather aspired to.

For tickets to this event, please use the university booking website

David Wallace (BA York 1976; Ph.D. Cambridge 1983) has been Judith Rodin Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania since 1996, is Second Vice-President of the Medieval Academy of America, and is most recently editor of Europe: A Literary History, 1348-1418, 2 vols (Oxford University Press, 2016).

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Historic Atlas of York & Study Day (23 April 2016)

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A wonderful new historical atlas of the city brings together the results of more than 40 years of archaeological research, peeling back the layers of York’s history one by one and allowing us to see how it has evolved and changed over the last 2,000 years.

A series of maps take a snapshot look at the city at different periods of its history – under the Romans in 200AD; in the Anglian period when York was capital of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria; under the Vikings; in 1100AD following the Norman invasion; and then roughly every 200 years up to the 1850s, when Victorian York was on the cusp of its industrial expansion. Each of the historical maps shows what we know about the roads, streets and rivers of the city at the time, all superimposed above the faint outline of Victorian York, to help you get your bearings.

So the Roman map shows the Roman fortress plumped down right where the Minster is today. The fortress walls are depicted in red, and show individual towers. the site of the Roman baths and forum are shown – and, on the other side of the River Ouse, burial sites under what is now The Mount and the railway station, as well as a cluster of temples around what is now Micklegate.

The inhabited area at the time is shaded in brown. So by flipping through the maps in sequence, you can quickly see how the size and centre of gravity of the city shifted over time. In Alcuin’s time – the Anglo-Saxon period – the are around the old Roman fortress was still inhabited, but a new area had been colonised south of the Foss around what is now Walmgate.

By Viking times, the inhabited area of the city had expanded enormously. And by 1100, the city walls as we know them today had begun to appear, together with the the first Norman Minster and castles at the Eye of York and at Baile Hill. You can also see clearly how the Normans had dammed the Foss to create a defensive moat around York Castle – creating as a by-product the King’s pool, a large lake to the east of York.

By 1300, the Minster has clearly grown in prestige and size, as has St Mary’s Abbey, and the city is dotted with ‘new’ churches.

Little seems to have changed by 1500 – but in fact, as a result of the Black Death, the population of the city had declined hugely from 20-30,000 in 1300 to something like 7,000 in 1500.


In support of this publication, the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP) will be hosting a study day on Saturday 23rd April 2016 based at King’s Manor in the heart of this historic city.  The day is intended to explain and explore the making of the atlas, highlighting some of the challenges in mapping historic York, and introducing the wider comparative European context for the project.

Tickets for this event are priced at £25 per person and are available here.  For further information on the Historic Towns Atlas please visit Study Day.

To purchase the atlas, go to the website of Oxbow Books

Dr Kate Giles on the Wall Paintings at Pickering Church (23 February 2016)

[from the York Press, 19 February 2016]

A PROJECT to highlight one of Yorkshire’s hidden gems is being launched in Pickering.

Pickering Parish Church is aiming to conserve its wall paintings and improve visitor facilities through a Heritage Lottery Fund Project “Let there be Light”.

Father Antony Pritchett, Vicar of Pickering, said: “The present church has stood in the town for almost 1,000 years, and painted on to its walls are what have been described as Yorkshire’s hidden gem – medieval images of saints and sinners, of kings and conquerors.

The wall paintings were painted about 1450 but then covered over at the Reformation. Rediscovered in 1852, they were then painted over again, only to be restored in the 1880s.

Fr Pritchett said the wall paintings had delighted and thrilled people ever since.

“Pickering’s wall paintings are amazing,” he said.

“Visitors enter the church, and just gasp out loud at seeing the paintings because they’ve probably never seen anything like them before.

“Pickering has one of the most complete sets of medieval wall paintings in the country, and increasingly they are being considered one of the most important examples of their kind in northern Europe.”

Fr Pritchett said the Parish Church was hoping to get Heritage Lottery Funds to help clean and better conserve the paintings, and to improve visitor facilities, including improved lighting.

The church is also working closely on this project with the University of York, and the main speaker at the Heritage Lottery Launch will be Dr Kate Giles, leading expert on Pickering’s wall paintings.

Fr Pritchett said: “Dr Giles has talked to many groups about Pickering’s wall paintings, though I believe that this is the first time she will actually have done so in the building itself. Most recently she was talking about them on television.

“At the launch event we will be displaying some early drawings of the wall paintings not generally on public view, so it’s going to be a really good, fascinating and quite thrilling evening.”

Following the talk there will be an opportunity for the audience to offer views, ideas and suggestions on the project.

Fr Pritchett said: “Pickering is very fortunate to have these wall paintings – once seen they are never forgotten – and I think we could make a fantastic visitor experience which would be great for Pickering and great for Ryedale.

The launch meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 23, at 7.30pm, in Pickering Parish Church.

There is no charge for the evening, and refreshments will be available.