You might say this week that the theme is working with others, whether this involves archaeology or history. However, before I get down to reporting what has been happening I thought I would just make a final reference to Paul Bennett’s lecture as the new Visiting Professor in the Centre on this coming Tuesday.
Progress on the Tudors and Stuarts History Weekend website continues but is not quite finished. Consequently, this week I am going to concentrate on a fascinating lecture I heard last night by Keith Parfitt of Canterbury Archaeological Trust.
Before I move to the main section of the blog this week, I thought I would alert readers to a new blog that is be launched on Monday 5 September by my colleague Dr Claire Bartram, a senior lecturer in English Literature here.
Returning to the maritime theme of a couple of weeks ago for both the late medieval and early modern periods, I thought I would showcase four representations of ships this week because Dr Martin Watts is working on the ‘Maritime Whitstable’ project and I’m intending to start writing an article of Kentish fishing and fishermen very shortly.
Now that the Canterbury Christ Church campus is almost deserted, the students having finished last Friday and only a few stalwarts in the School still working in their offices today, it seems a good time to bring you up to date with the thinking of members within the Centre about future plans. As you might expect these are quite diverse and range from Dr Lesley Hardy’s desire to concentrate on Public History to Dr John Bulaitis’ proposal to hold a conference in 2017 on ‘Tithe through Time’, a subject that he feels has considerable merit as a means of understanding social tensions in the countryside from medieval to modern times.
Hopefully some of you will have taken the time to look at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend webpages to see the exciting range of speakers and guided tours available next April. For those who have, you will have seen that one of the themed sections is ‘Books and Manuscripts’, and it is this topic that I want to use as my starting point for my blog this week. I want to feature the work of one of the English Literature lecturers at Canterbury Christ Church: Dr Claire Bartram, a Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Studies, who focuses her research interests on book history. Furthermore, she is particularly interested in the role of texts and the place of the writer in early modern provincial society. At present she is busy putting the finishing touches to her forthcoming edited collection of essays Book Culture in Provincial Society: Texts, Authors and Communities in Kent c.1400-1700 that includes chapters on the literate practices of mariners, strangers, monks and clergy daughters, and seeks to challenge and re-complicate the perception of the cultural dominance of the gentry in the county. This will be an important contribution to the study of how political, theological and cultural ideas were disseminated both at the local and regional levels, and also the relationships between London and the royal court at the centre, and the gentry and their social inferiors in the provinces, specifically these various groups in Kent. The county is an ideal testing ground for such research because it had a number of gentry families from across the religious divide in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as politically active small and medium-sized towns, many of which had a long history of sophisticated civic administration. In particular, the Cinque Ports and the episcopal towns formed a complex network of well-organised civic authorities where town clerks, mayors and jurats frequently ‘rode together’ to consult major Crown officials and senior churchmen in Kent, London, Lambeth and Westminster.
Note the deer at the top
Just to give you a brief flavour of this collection and the richness of the Kent archives, I’ll pick out a few points about a certain clerk in fifteenth-century Sandwich. One of the reasons for using this example is that I was in the town recently with a friend from the University of Birmingham who is a specialist in pre- and post-Conquest periods. As those of you who know the town will appreciate, she was especially struck by St Clement’s church and thus it seemed appropriate to include this wonderful carving as my image this week.
However to return to the clerk, on the 20 October 1449, John Serle was rewarded by the mayor of Sandwich Robert Cok when he received a corrody [board and lodging] at St Bartholomew’s hospital for ‘his good service and for his future labour’. This was an unusual occurrence, most people paid for the opportunity to enter the hospital, which suggests that he was envisaged by the mayor and jurats as a man of substance and trust, of ‘good conversation’. To such a recognition of his personal worth could be added his role as the town’s common clerk whose writings would also demonstrate the moral standing of the town’s government and its governors. Even though Serle remains a shadowy figure in terms of his personal history, his work as common clerk provides opportunities to investigate the producers of texts and their audiences, those who can be seen as ‘consumers’ of these same texts, in late medieval urban society.
Even though today it is impossible to ascertain the full extent of Serle’s writings for and on behalf of the town during his tenure as common clerk of Sandwich, among the books he contributed to or produced are the admissions register of St John’s hospital, the first of the great civic year books, and a composite register of St Bartholomew’s hospital. Each is valuable as an indicator of his contribution to the written heritage of the town, as well as to the processes in which he was engaged as he fulfilled his duties. Furthermore each offers evidence of different aspects of these activities, including the level of his own intervention through such matters as scribal decoration and choice of material; and in broad terms the St John’s register has the least, that from St Bartholomew’s the most.
Taking the latter, now preserved in a slim leather-bound volume, Serle’s paper book is divided into three sections: copies of over seventy deeds (1227–1445), a copied rental from 1427, and the hospital ordinances copied from the town custumal. So what might have prompted Serle to create a register at St Bartholomew’s hospital near the end of his tenure as common clerk and almost a decade after he had become a brother at the hospital? Interestingly, both the rental and hospital ordinances have headings and are begun on a fresh page but this layout is not used for the deeds which may indicate that part of the original has been lost. Yet, perhaps of even greater interest, unlike some cartularies he does not appear to have ordered the deeds either by parish or chronologically (except very broadly), which may have made it difficult to use by the hospital authorities thereafter unless the order was already well known.
Looking at the section on the hospital regulations, whereas Serle would have referred to documents held in the hospital’s own archive for the other two sections of his register, the writing of these ordinances probably led him to examine the custumals in the civic records, his copy following the regulations as they are in the town archive. His retention of Latin for the regulations, as well as for the earlier parts of the register, at a time when he himself had introduced English into the town’s year book is interesting. Although there is little to indicate his motives, it is possible that he sought to stress the hospital’s ancient foundation, its authority and its significance as a responsible charitable institution. Furthermore, like the rental preamble his copying of the ordinances emphasised the role of the mayor and jurats in the good governance of St Bartholomew’s.
Thus what at first glance looks to be a very unpromising administrative manuscript is instead, I think, a valuable way in to researching ideas about the work of late medieval clerks and the uses of writing in urban society. Moreover it would indicate, I believe, that the mayor’s offer of a corrody in 1449 was not misplaced and that Serle did indeed provide good labour during his long service as Sandwich’s common clerk.