|Subject:||Urban origins and local history in medieval perception|
|Original source:||1. Bristol Record Office, MS. 04720 (Mayor's register); Corporation of London Records Office, Liber de Antiquis Legibus, ff 157-58; 3. Bodleian Library, Ms. Digby 233, ff.117-120, 157-158.|
|Transcription in:||1. Lucy Toulmin Smith, ed. The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar, Camden Society, new series, vol.5 (1872), 8-10; 2. Thomas Stapleton, ed. De Antiquis Legibus Liber. Cronica Maiorum et Vicecomitum Londoniarum. Camden Society, vol.34 (1846), 238-40; 3. D. Fowler, C. Briggs, and P. Remley, eds. The Governance of Kings and Princes: John Trevisa's Middle English translation of the De Regimine Principum of Aegidius Romanus, New York: Garland Publishing, 1997, 288-96, 283-85.|
|Original language:||1. Middle English; 2. Latin; 3. Middle English|
|Location:||Bristol, London, Berkeley|
|Date:||late 13th to late 15th centuries|
[1. Legend of the foundation of Bristol]
Since it is very appropriate and in the public interest for every burgess of the town of Bristol especially those who are men of position to have knowledge and an understanding of the origins and earliest foundation of that venerable town, then let him read the ancient chronicles of Brut. Therein he will learn how Brutus established and built the city of New Troy, which is now London, in memory of the great Troy from which he and all his kin came. Then he reigned for over twenty years and was buried in the new Troy. And he had three sons manly men Lotryn, Albanac, and Kambor. Brutus made Lotryn king of the land called Great Britain, Albanac king of Scotland, and Kambor king of Wales. After the deaths of Lotryn and Albanac, Madhan reigned for 30 years. And after Madhan, Memprys reigned for 22 years. And after Memprys there reigned for 40 years his son Ebrac, a noble and manly prince, who through his strength and courage, with the help of his Britons, conquered all France and won there great riches, so that when he came home he made and built a noble city, giving it his name, Eborac, which is now Evirwyk, alias York. He also built the castle of Maydens, which is Edinburgh in Scotland. And after this Ebrac, his son Brut Geneshall reigned for 30 years. And after him reigned king Leile, who built the city of Carlisle; in whose time Jerusalem was ruled by King Solomon, who built the Temple of our Lord. And after this king Leile, his son Ludludubras, who built the cities of Winchester and Canterbury, reigned for 13 years. And after this king Ludludubras there reigned for 21 years his son Bladud, a great practitioner of the dark arts, who built the city of Bath and planned the hot baths there. And after this king Bladud there reigned his son Leire, who built the town of Leicester and named it after himself. Soon after this king Leire, as a result of great wars, the country was divided into four parts; that is, England [was assigned] to one Dowalyn, Scotland to one Scater, Wales to one Rudak, and Cornwall to one Cloton. This Cloton was, by lawful title, the rightful heir to all these territories and he had a son named Donebaude. This king Donebaude had two manly men for sons, one being Belyne and the other Brynne, who after the death of their father divided the country between them, as their father had ordered and arranged. That is, Belyne the elder son had all the land on this side of the Humber and Brynne had all the land beyond the Humber up to Scotland. Because Belyne had the larger and better share, Brynne was angry and wanted more, but Belyne would not allow it, so they began to war. But Brynne, the younger brother, could not raise sufficient forces to overpower his brother, so he, by the advice of his supporters, departed for France, lived there for a long time, and increased his dominions through marriage, for he was Duke of all Burgundy through having married Duke Selbyn's daughter, who was heiress to that territory. While Brynne was living in France, King Belyne reigned nobly and peacefully in this country among his Britons, and built four royal highways through the land: the one running east to west that is called Watling Street; another running south to north that is called Icknield Street; and the two other routes he made across the country were called Fosse and Fossdyke. And he well maintained those laws that his father Donebaude had put in place during his time.
Meanwhile, Brynne assembled a large force of Burgundians and Frenchmen and came to this country to fight against his brother Belyne. But with much effort and persuasion their mother, Conswenner, brought them to a peace agreement. Then joyfully they went together to the city of New Troy and lived there for a year. They then undertook an enterprise for the conquest of all France; this they accomplished and then passed on to Rome and conquered all Rome, Lombardy, and Germany, and received homage and fealty from earls, barons, and all other lords of those lands from them King Arthur had his title to all his conquests. After they had done this the two brothers returned home, with their Britons, to this land of Great Britain and lived there together happily. It was then Brynne first founded and built the respectable town of Bristut, which is now Bristol, situating it upon a small hill that is, between St. Nicholas' gate, St. John's gate, St. Leonard's gate, and the New gate. And for many years after that, no more was built. And then Brynne returned overseas to his home and lordship in Burgundy, living there for the rest of his life. But King Belyne resided in New Troy and built there an impressive gate right beside the water of the Thames, calling it Billingsgate, after his own name; and he reigned nobly all his life and is buried in London.
[2. Biographical notes about the author, appended to his chronicle]
There was a certain resident of the city of Cologne, a man by the name of Arnald, with the surname de Grevingge, who had a wife named Oda who was born and raised in that city. They lived a simple life conforming to the laws of God and men, according to Christian values. After, in this pious and righteous way of life, many years of marriage they were still without children of their own. But hearing tales of numerous and impressive miracles God had performed in England through [the shrine of] the blessed Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had recently been martyred by impious men, they made a vow to set out for England to visit the tomb of that martyr. So, setting out, they crossed the sea and came to Canterbury, where the body of that martyr lies; and, offering their adorations to the saint, they made a vow that if the Lord would give them a child, they would commit it to [a life of] service to God and, if a boy, they would name him for the martyr Thomas and see he became a monk so that, dressed in a religious habit, he could in that very church serve God and the blessed martyr all the days of his life. Having done this, they did not wish to return home without visiting London, of whose reputation as a noble and famous city they had heard in their own country. So, going to London, they found accommodations there. After they had been there for some time, the woman became pregnant and, when her husband learned of the pregnancy, he was unwilling to undertake the return journey home, because of the risk of any harm coming to her, until after she had given birth.
The time of delivery arriving, she gave birth to a son, and he was given the name Thomas, just as his parents had vowed. Afterwards, because the infant was sickly, they continued on in London rather than going home, until once more she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, who was named Juliana. Meanwhile, however, Oda's mother of whom she and her husband were more deeply fond than of any other relatives, friends, or acquaintances died, and consequently they never after felt a desire to return to their own country; but, buying themselves a house in the city of the Londoners, were made London citizens. As things worked out, their son Thomas did not become a monk as the parents had vowed. Rather, at the time when King Richard of England and King Philip of France with a vast host of Crusaders set off for the Holy Land (when Saladin was occupying it), and the Count of Flanders, Baldwin by name, having taken up the Cross, arrived at Constantinople, which he seized by force and became emperor thereof, Thomas was serving as a Crusader in the Count's army; having reached Constantinople, he died there. His sister Juliana, however, was married to a certain newcomer from Germany, by the name of Thedmar, of the city of Bremen. Living a pious and righteous married life, they had 11 children that is, 6 daughters and five sons. Of the daughters, two died before pubescence, and four others made advantageous marriages within the city of London; from them came many offspring that is, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and other relations too numerous for me to list. As for the five sons of Thedmar and Juliana, one died underage, and three after having reached the age of 24. But the fifth son, who was named after his grandfather Arnald, lived a long time after the deaths of all his brothers and sisters.
It is about matters concerning him that I propose to write. [There follows an account of a dream that Arnald's mother had, while pregnant of him, its interpretation as indicating the time and circumstances of Arnald's birth and a prediction that Arnald would be his father's heir]. And so it actually came about. For the woman's husband was not in the city when she went into labour, but had taken accommodations outside the city until his wife had delivered. As soon as the boy was born the birth taking place around the ninth hour [as predicted] he came home, and henceforth remained there, as head of the household, for the rest of his life. After his death, his house came into the possession of that Arnald, his son, by rightful inheritance.... This Arnald was born at the ninth hour of the day, on August 10, 1201.
Memorandum that, following the disturbances in the realm of England in the time of the Earl of Leicester, the citizens made fine with the Lord King for offences of which they were accused (and which certain of them had committed) in the sum of 20,000 marks sterling, in order to have his good will; at the same time the citizens were commanded to pay, with all speed, a large sum of money owed by the king to the King of France. But they were unable to make a fair and equitable assessment of this money on each and every citizen within so short a space. Provision was made for citizens to give loans, some greater, some smaller, in order to make swift payment of the money to the King of France. Afterwards levies were made on the citizens a second time, and again a third time, to pay the instalments due the Lord King. Later, because the Lord King wished to give a thousand marks to the Duke of Brunswick, who had just married the Queen's cousin, he sent a writ to the citizens [instructing] that an assessment of £1500 was to be made upon them under the supervision of John Waleran, then Warden of the Tower and of the city of London, and William de Haselbech. But then John and William had the sum of over £560 assessed on eight men, not by a jury of neighbours, but by certain malevolent men of the city whom John himself had selected for that purpose. Thereafter, anything that was levied in pursuance to that writ was assessed by due process of jury inquest; and it should be noted that the entire assessment resulting from that writ did not amount to a thousand pounds sterling. Eventually the community as a whole was able to make provision that an enquiry be undertaken by men of the inquest and by members of the crafts, under oath, into who in the past had been oppressed and who had been shown favouritism. And based on it[s findings], a tallage was to be imposed. In which tallage a number of people were discharged of liability [for payment], notably those contributory to the aforementioned imprest of John and William; in which context an award was given concerning Arnold Fitz Thedmar, as noted below on this page:
Concerning Arnold Thedmar in this regard, it was judged by his neighbours and certain [residents] of the other wards that Arnold was excessively burdened, in that Arnold first paid, towards the ransom of 20,000 marks, 4 marks and 40 pence [assessed] on [the value of] the house in which he lives; then afterwards 20 marks by [assessment of a jury of] his neighbours, and another 5 marks as an increase. And after that 100 marks, which were assessed before John Waleran and William de Haselbech without [involvement of] his neighbours. Later, half a mark, and then 15 shillings on his [income from] rents. Therefore the jurors have awarded that Arnold be left in peace and be discharged of liability for any [further instalments] of the ransom and of [contribution towards] the fine of one thousand marks due the King of Germany.
This award was recorded in the rolls of the city and the chamberlains.
After this, Walter Hervy, during his term as mayor [1271/72], associating with himself whomever of the citizens he wished had brought before him all the rolls of tallages previously imposed in the City and attempted to extort from the citizens all the amounts recorded there, without being prepared to make any allowance to those who had been overburdened beyond their means. He ignored that some had been discharged by the oath of their neighbours or by letters of the Lord King. At that point a very large sum of money was demanded from Arnold Thedmar, which was assessed on him through an irregular process, without any jury [involved], as already mentioned. He [Arnold], however, went before the Lord King Henry, who was still alive at that point, and procured from him a letter addressed to the mayor and citizens, to the effect that they should not presume to harass him in any way counter to the [award] enrolled by the city chamberlain; and later he procured a letter from his son, the Lord Edward, to the same effect. Yet that Walter, so long as he remained mayor, never ceased to harass Arnold in demanding that sum of money, or part of it, from him.
Later Henry le Waleys was made mayor. He, summoning before him certain citizens to investigate, under oath, the remaining arrears due from the city, once more unjustly made demand on him [Arnold] for a certain sum of money in regard to the aforementioned exaction; who thereupon procured the letter from the Lord Edward. This being read out before the mayor and citizens, they conceded that the aforesaid enrolment should be respected.
[3. Philosophical perspective on the origins of cities]
[Book III, Part i, The Rule of the City]
The first way may be explained as follows. In the Ethics, Book One, the philosopher says that all actions and all choices appear to aim at some kind of good. And in the Politics, Book One, it is written that all human works are undertaken because of something in them that seems good. So if all men devise their works on the basis of something that seems good therein, and a city is a work of mankind (by those men who create the city), a city must be created because of something about it that seems good. This is not to be taken to mean that a city is created for reasons that actually are good, but only something that seems good. For when we direct our works towards something that is good, sometimes we are naturally inclined towards the good and sometimes our natural disposition is corrupted. A seeming good that men desire by their natural disposition is indeed good, and the creation of a city is such a good. For in the Politics, Book One, it is said that all men are inclined by nature towards [being part of] a community such as is the community of a city; then, by extending this to men who create a city, if they are inclined by their natural disposition towards making it, the city is made not only because of something that seems good but also because of something that is indeed good.
A second way to show this is in relation to the city that is created, through contrast with other communities. For each kind of community is constituted to [achieve] something of what is good, but the foremost [kind of] community is best constituted for that good. Such a community is the community of a city, which is a more important [kind of] community than the community of a household or of a street. So that if the community of a household is constituted to achieve some good and indeed for many kinds of good, as is shown more fully in the second book the community of a street is more important than the community of a household, for it is much better constituted for [achieving] good. And yet the community which is more important than community of household or of street is best constituted for good. In other words, [according to] the Politics, Book One, allowing that every community is created because of some good, and particularly the most important of them all, which incorporates all the others, is created because of some good, this community is a political community, which is commonly called civitas, a city.
It should be understood that the community of a city is more important than community of household or of street; thus the community of a city is the most important of the three communities of household, street, and city. But another community is more important than the community of a city, and that is the community of a kingdom, which will be discussed in its own section, where we shall state that the community of the kingdom is more advantageous to human life and more important than the community of a city; to an extent it would seem that the community of a kingdom is as superior to the community of a city as the community of a city is to community of household or street. For, just as a city comprises households and streets and is more important than household and street and more self-sufficient for life's needs than community of household or street, so the community of a kingdom contains cities and more perfectly suffices for life's needs than that community [of a city].
Then, since it is one thing to be self-sufficient and another to be virtuous,
so it is one thing to live self-sufficiently and another to live virtuously.
For, as is said in the Liber De Causis, existence is
the most prevalent [condition], for first of all
things that are created have being in some fashion. But not everything exists sufficiently;
only such things as are complete and perfect, according to their kind,
Then the creation of a city is the cause of many kinds of good and many kinds of great good for through it men obtain the aforesaid three kinds of good. For men live in a political association, without which a man cannot live. When we speak of a man living as a man, we draw out [the meaning of] political life to living by law, good customs, and a constitution; he who refuses to live thus does not live as a man but, as has already been shown and will again be later, such a one is worse than a man or better than a man, for man is by nature a political animal, and a civil one as shall be shown. So, in regard to the human way of life, men live by political association and by creating cities.
Secondly, through that creation men provide not only for living but also for living sufficiently. For in a single house or a single street cannot be found everything that suffices for living. For that reason is created a city, in which there are many streets: in one street smiths ply their craft, and in another weavers their craft, and in a third some other craft, as required for [producing] the various things that help us in living. For a city is never perfect unless those who reside in it may find therein the things that are necessary for life. So from a city we obtain not simply a place to live but also sufficient living. For if the city is perfect, it contains everything that is necessary for living. It is correctly said, in the Politics, Book One, that the community which is a city formed from many streets is a perfect community, for it follows that such a community has been created to contain everything that is necessary for living.
Thirdly, through making a city we achieve virtuous living. For the intention of he who gives laws and creates a city should not be simply that citizens may obtain in the city the necessaries of life, but also that they live well, according to law and virtuously. Therefore in the Politics, Book One, it is said that a city is created for the purpose of living, but endures because of living well. Maybe the [primary] motivation for men to create a city was for living and for obtaining sufficient living; arguing that living alone might not allow for self-sufficiency in life, they created a city so that each should help the other achieve sufficient living. But, once the city was created, men gave the matter more thought and saw that it is not enough to live sufficiently unless they also live virtuously. For without law and uprightness, the city might not survive. So they constituted the political association so as to provide for living, and for sufficient living (to live a good life), and for living according to law and virtuously.
Then if we obtain so much, and so many kinds, of good through the creation of cities, it is well said in the Politics, Book One, that the first who created a city was the cause of the greatest good.
[Chapters 3 to 5]
The other way is through a co-operative agreement amongst those who create a city or a kingdom. For, as the philosopher states in the Politics, Book Two, men anciently lived far apart, as in the time of Aristotle [when] there were certain people, who were called Arcadians, each of whom lived by himself. Then, after a time, the men who lived so dispersedly reached an agreement to create a city and dwelt therein so that they could better have the necessaries helpful in life. So a kingdom could be created in similar fashion, if many cities and towns feared the might of enemies and agreed to place themselves under a single king.
Either of these processes is natural, but the first is more natural than the second. The first [method of] creating a city or a kingdom is doubly natural: first, because it is made through procreation, which is the work of nature; second, because men are naturally inclined to create cities and kingdoms.
For if children and grandchildren increase in one household through procreation, to the point where they cannot all dwell together therein, but build themselves multiple houses and so create a street, and increase more and more so that they cannot all dwell in a single street but make for themselves multiple streets and thus create a city, and make many cities and thus create a kingdom, such creation of city and kingdom is perfectly natural, not only because men are naturally inclined to such acts of creation but also because such acts arise out of the procreation of children, which is the work of nature.
The second way of creating kingdom or city is when men agree together on such an act of creation, and this kind of creation is natural. Though it is not as natural as the first way of creation, it is nonetheless natural. For, in order to live, men are naturally inclined towards an agreement to create a city which will provide them with sufficient living; they are also naturally inclined to create a principate or kingdom, for through such an act of creation they are better able to live in peace and may better withstand enemies who would violently attack them. Therefore such an inclination is natural, for just as men have a natural inclination to live and to have sufficient living, which is [achieved] through association with a city, so they have a natural inclination to live in peace and to withstand their enemies efficiently, and that is [achieved] through association with a principate or kingdom; for we have seen that cities that are not subject to any king often experience considerable quarrelling and conflict with each other.
Two ways of producing cities and kingdoms have been identified, either of which may be described as natural ways by which cities and kingdoms come about; we may add a third way, which is, simply, through violence. For when men dwell in a dispersed fashion it might happen that one rises as a despot and uses violence to become their master; and once he is lord over them he may use his might to assemble them and force them to make a city. A kingdom might similarly be created through violence and tyranny, in the case where a lord of one city overpowers [others] through tyranny, civil might, and strength, and makes himself their king.
[Book III, Part ii ,The Rule of the Kingdom in Time of Peace]
... Our intent in this chapter is to state what defines a city and what defines a kingdom.
Everyone knows well enough that a town is made up of houses and kingdoms are made up of towns. And let it be understood that although a city is to some extent a product of nature (for we have a natural inclination to create cities), cities are not made or built except through human skills and labour. Those things that are produced through human industry can be defined by the purpose and benefit they are designed to achieve. We know what is the essence of a house if we know that the beneficial purpose for which it is created is to protect us from rain, cold, and heat. Therefore, if we wish to know what a city is, the advantageous purposes to be served by building a city should be taken into account, and it should be understood which is the principal benefit among those advantages. The philosopher, in the Politics, Book Three, describes what a city is and enumerates six benefits for which a city is designed.
First, a city is constituted as a place of association in which people may dwell together, which gives rise to sociability and pleasure; for without companionship no man can have enjoyment from his possessions. For if a man had plenty of gold and silver and abundant food stores yet lived without companionship, so that other men did not know how wealthy he was nor could he share his riches with other men, he would not place much value on being rich. So a city is created that men can live together in one place, and have pleasurable and sociable lives.
Second, a city is created not only to live pleasurably and sociably but [to provide the necessaries] for one's own life. For men who are in the same city service each others' life needs, each assisting the others [obtain] the things needed to live.
Third, a city is created for defence and avoidance of injury. For [because] one man, living a solitary life, is not sufficient to resist enemies or to avoid wrong being done to him, a city is created. For one who lives a solitary life cannot defend himself against enemies. If he is a member of the populace of the city, he can live safely and without fear.
Fourth, a city is constituted for exchanges and contracts. For it was noted earlier, when we discussed laws, that exchanges and contracts are made according to the law known as ius gentium and that the making of exchanges and contracts is the business of mankind. Since no man has all the necessaries of life unless he exchanges some of the things he has for those he lacks, therefore buying and selling, exchanges, and contracts are necessary and are more easily accomplished if men reside in proximity to one another.
The fifth benefit for which a city is created is for association through marriage. Because men who live communally are friends and more amicable towards one another, or for some other advantage that they see arising from it, they become allied through making marriage contracts.
The sixth benefit for which a city is created is for living freely and virtuously. For, if they live together in a city they are better able to punish wrongdoers and those who commit offences than if they were scattered and lived alone. And so it is, consequently, that many give up committing evil and adopt good behaviours and actions in fear of punishment. In their behaviour they are disposed to be good and virtuous men, for virtues and virtuous acts produce the greatest good.
However, of all these advantages which are part of the rationale for creating cities, a city is principally created for living freely and virtuously; through which is achieved the greatest goal and greatest good that we can expect to hope for in something. It is well said in the Politics, Book Three, that living near to each other, association through marriage, defence, exchanging of goods, and other such are things without which a city could not exist. Nevertheless, a city is created principally for living well, virtuously, and in contentment. So if I were asked what a city is, I would have to say that it is an association of citizens for living well and virtuously, and for advantage and sufficient living in its own right.
[The chapter proceeds to extend the above definition to a kingdom.]
For living by virtue is the end principally desired of each citizen, and of each city and the whole kingdom...
Since we have indicated what a city is and what a kingdom is, it can easily be shown what kind of people should be in the kingdom or in a city. For if city and kingdom are constituted for a good and virtuous life, the people of the kingdom should be good and virtuous. Therefore the philosopher says, in the Politics, Book Three, that he who commits numerous good and virtuous acts is a truer citizen than he who has an abundance of noble kin, money, or other material goods. Many believe that they are citizens of a kingdom if they have in that kingdom many houses and extensive possessions; but those who perform many good and virtuous deeds, and uphold the rightful laws and statutes of the realm, are more truly of the kingdom than those who have noble kin, civil power and authority, and considerable material goods.
Introduction | The Trojan foundation legend | Ricart's kalendar
Borough records and the writing of history | Town chronicles
Other sources of evidence for foundation legends | Towns from the theoretical perspective
The question of how towns came into being (e.g. organic process versus historical acts of foundation) was not evidently one that taxed the minds of the vast majority of members of medieval society, any more than it impinges on the consciousness of most people today. We can hardly be surprised that, in the highly urbanized landscape of modern Western civilization, towns are taken for granted as the norm and it is the rural or wilderness areas that appear to most as interstitial or reliquated. During the first half of the medieval millennium it was towns that may have seemed not anomalous but distinctive in a predominantly rural society; certainly they posed some particular problems in the context of national administration and came to require treatment that, in some respects, varied from that of the mainstream of society. We should not over-emphasize this differentiation, however, for it developed only very gradually. Although awareness of a social identity specifically associated with residence in a town was beginning to emerge, not all residents (and possibly only a minority) had such a status. To a large degree the populations of towns, and conditions of urban life, were very similar to those of the countryside.
Nor did towns attract attention as the subject of historical investigation for most of the Middle Ages. Certainly there were incidental references to towns in historical chronicles, insofar as they featured in, or impacted upon, events taking place on a larger canvas, in the affairs of kings and princes; but local history and urban history the former referring to studies of particular communities, places, or regions, and the latter to the study of towns collectively as a characteristic of civilized society are generally considered to have come into their own in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, albeit as antiquarian interests, rather than the academic disciplines they now are. Thus, for example, Domesday Book and FitzStephen's description of London, though both very valuable sources to today's historians, can hardly be considered histories. The first was strictly an administrative record intended to serve the central government rather than local communities: more of a series of snapshots of towns, even though those, being taken at two different points in time, let us deduce processes and directions of historical change across a pivotal transition in English history. The second is likewise a snapshot, more akin to the travel literature of a later time, relying on personal observation and recollection, rather than scientific research and critical judgement aimed at explaining change; nor is it the product of someone centrally involved in urban society, interested in elucidating and preserving the heritage of that society, but rather of a churchman seeking to eulogize the city and its citizens for virtues worthy of emulation.
But descriptions of towns, whether laudatory like FitzStephen's and like Lucian's slightly later (completed ca.1199) De Laude Cestrie, or satirical like that of Richard of Devizes, though not so uncommon outside England, were not yet recognized as a genre (known as urban encomium) in their own right; English examples were mostly embedded as descriptive digressions within larger works of a chronicular character. Even the Benedictine Lucian's stand-alone panegyric lengthier and more conspicuously replete with allegory than FitzStephen's, though correspondingly poorer in observational detail and known only from the author's original, so probably little circulated is concerned rather less with local history or description than with symbolic readings of topographical features and in particular with Chester's principal churches and the saints to which they were dedicated; his view of the purpose of writing history was conventionally Christian (suitably, for the intended audience of his fellow monks at the Abbey of St. Werburgh) in its aim to inspire readers to greater devotion to God by presenting instances of virtues to be emulated or sins to be avoided. Nor were the above-named works the earliest of this type, for William of Malmesbury had, earlier in the same century, included in one of his chronicles descriptions of the topography of Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Rome, all of which had been the subject of earlier descriptive literature, such as the popular Mirabilia Urbis Rome (ca.1143). Those great cities of the ancient world, so central to Christian historical tradition, captured the imagination in an iconic fashion, and were taken to be the closest man-made representations of the Eternal City. Rome provided a yardstick with which FitzStephen and Lucian could compare London and Chester. The supposed appearance of the Heavenly city or its earthly reflections served as a model for many medieval European depictions of cities and even as a basis for town planning. In that context it was easy for medieval writers to imagine that the central crossroads of cities like Chester or Bristol had been created deliberately as a Christian symbol, the more prosaic historical causes having been lost to memory. Founding, building, and living in cities was thus at no time in medieval England a new-fangled concept; it was well documented in the Bible and in the literature of the classical world, and the ancient Greek and Roman words for cities would become the foundation for our concepts of 'civilization' and 'politics'.
At first glance, when considering the historiographical mainstream of medieval literature, we might think that the local history of individual towns was of little, if any, concern to townspeople, or indeed medieval people as a whole, other than a handful of monastic writers. The written documents initially generated by, or for, burgesses were concerned with the practicalities of life: records defining scope of jurisdiction and mechanics of administering the same; of individual and communal property or rights, including identification of eligibility; of dues leviable, owed and paid; of the rules governing the conduct of behaviour; and of due process to investigate and punish offences against those rules. Nor were most of these documents readily accessible to anyone who might have wished to research local history, for reasons that include limited means of dissemination of information, unscientific management of archival collections, secrecy issues, and literacy requirements. Nonetheless, we can perceive what might be considered the early stirrings of local history, and even urban history, in some of the literary initiatives of medieval England.
Before focusing on that, we must be aware of a more general issue of historiography. A challenge facing medieval writers of human history was to reconcile variant interpretations in different sources of information. There was, first and foremost, the Biblical account, which established intellectual assumptions for all educated Christians. Divine Creation could, of course, have no place for cities or indeed any forms of group settlement; human genealogy and the geographical spread of the human race had to be traced back to Adam and Eve, taking into account complications stemming from the reset in population growth consequent to Noah's Flood. Moreover, civil society had to be explained as a consequence of the Fall, imprinting an immediate value judgement on the nature of urban communities as places inherently sinful and transitory; the Bible contained admonitory examples of morally decadent cities, and the medieval European phenonmenon of the revolutionary commune only confirmed many churchmen in viewing urban society with distaste. This attitude began to change from about the end of the twelfth century, when even bishops and abbots were becoming involved in the speculative trend of founding new towns; when the orders of mendicant friars emerged it was towns they targeted as fertile ground for their missions, not simply because perceived as large collectives in need of salvation but also because recognized as already demonstrating some commitment to spiritual improvement and charitable works, as evidenced through such things as sponsorship of church and hospital construction, adoption of patron saints, and formation of socio-religious gilds. This shift in attitude helped open the way for Christian philosophers to give thought on how secular society ought to be structured and operate to provide for an optimal way of life (particularly in terms of moral behaviour) pending the arrival of the day of Divine Judgement.
Secondly, writers were faced with oral history, some elements stemming from persistent pre-Christian religious beliefs and others from passed-down knowledge or legends originating within a variety of cultures. These included stories, or corrupted memories of stories, from the classical world, while the sites, architectural remnants, and monuments of Roman colonization of Britain, decaying or repurposed only gradually through the Middle Ages, continued to excite curiosity and speculation, as indeed did pre-Roman monumental sites. In addition there was a linguistic heritage, particularly place-names, whose etymology had to be explained; origins legends point to a fundamental assumption that many places were likely to have been named after a founder figure. The predilection for looking back into the remote past to identify such figures was particularly pronounced in medieval Italy. There the high degree of political fragmentation, giving rise to aggressive competition between city-states and enhanced desire for a distinctive historical identity that could contribute to the appearance of civic dignity as well as to sentiments of local patriotism, combined with the relative sophistication of urban lay culture (including literacy), resulted in most sizable Italian cities formulating some origins legend based on awareness (often imperfect) of, and interest in, history. Indeed it may be suggested that they were trying to appropriate some of the prestige of heroic figures prominent in classical civilizations they wished to emulate in some regards, just as the adoption of particular Christian saints as civic patrons was aimed at invoking Divine protection. But in many northern European countries too such phenomenena are well evidenced.
A third world-view was found in the literature and philosophy of the classical world, completely divorced from Christian tradition, yet increasingly seeping into play within and beyond the universities. The writings of philosophers such as Aristotle and their commentators conveyed many ideas that resonated with the realities of human society observable in the medieval period, such as that Man was a social animal, or with Christian goals, such as that people should aim to live virtuously. Yet there was also a fundamental divergence with the core tenets that guided Christian thinkers; their preoccupation was with the soul on its pilgrimage towards the afterlife, so that, during the interlude between life and death, such matters as material needs, government, social harmony, or indeed civil society in general had only a minor and temporary importance.
The Trojan foundation legend
Although a number of English cities could legitimately have claimed a link to Ancient Rome, the more popular medieval works masquerading as history sought to look further back in time, and it was rather the fabled city of Troy that most captured the popular imagination. The legend of the Trojan foundation of Britain can be traced back to the Historia Brittonum written in the ninth century and later attributed to Nennius. There is no reason to suppose that author was the inventor of the story, and we can accept his claim to have taken it from "ancient books", for his work does have the appearance of being a compilation from other sources. Writing in the previous century, the more discriminating Bede, although well-versed in classical literature, makes no mention of it, but for him the history of England was essentially the history of Christianity there and he shows no interest in pagan legends, so there is nothing to say that the Trojan connection was not current in his day.
In a rather garbled and conflicting account that indiscriminately and (in line with scholarly habits of that period) uncritically reflects different versions of the legend among his sources, Nennius traced British heritage back to both Romans and Greeks, via the marriage of a daughter of Latinus, king of Italy, to Aeneas, descendant of the Greek king who built Troy; Aeneas consequently himself became king. From this couple descended, after some generations, Romulus and Remus, and more immediately sons Ascanius and Silvius. From the latter (the junior) the Britons were said to be descended, although Britain was named after Brutus, son of Ascanius, who while a Roman consul reduced Spain and subsequently Britain to Roman provinces (this being prior to the historical invasion of Julius Caesar). Brutus, having been exiled for accidentally killing his father, made his way via Gaul to Britain, which he governed and filled with his own descendants. Elsewhere in his history, Nennius described Brutus as a brother of Silvius, and later as the grandson of Alanus, son of Rhea (mother of Romulus and Remus) and a descendant, several generations removed, of Aeneas of Troy.
In yet another version of the legend linking Britain to Brutus, Nennius traced the lineage of European peoples back, through Japheth son of Noah, to Adam. Adam's 28th generation descendants included Alanus who, with his sons Francus, Romanus, Alamanus, and Bruttus, were said to be the first inhabitants of Europe, their names indicating them as the founders of France, Italy, Germany and Britain. Aeneas of Troy's lineage was likewise traced back to Japheth. Thus the heritage of England was tied in to the genesis of western Christendom as a whole and to the somewhat over-inflated perception among the English that their nation was, or ought to be considered, one of the leading players within that larger political entity.
The idea that the founders and/or first princes of the European nations might be of Trojan descent was spreading across Europe from about the seventh century, when a chronicle attributed to Fredegar seems to have initiated the idea by tracing the genealogy of the kings of the Franks back to Aeneas and other heroes of the classical world. Although Homer's Iliad was little known in the West before the late fifteenth century, so strong was the preoccupation of translators with Aristotle's works, interest in Troy had been excited by other accounts of the Trojan War passed down from the Greek epic cycle, in particular books misrepresenting themselves as Latin translations of works by Dictys of Crete and Dares of Phrygia (names found in Homer); they were in circulation by the sixth century, if not before, and were widely read. Only Dares' account followed the story as far as Aeneas and his fellow exiles, but it was accepted by many later writers as a credible source and could have been one of the ancient books Nennius consulted.
The fiction of Trojan heritage was disseminated by Geoffrey of Monmouth's romanticized chronicle The History of the Kings of Britain, a persuasive parody of an historical narrative, written around 1136 and already very popular before the close of that century; its influence was increased by its use as a source by contemporary and later writers who could be considered more serious historians, as well as by numerous writers of less disguised romances, particularly those which are collectively referred to under the name Brut. Reading, or being read to, had long been a valued source of both education and entertainment that slowly expanded beyond elite groups, down into the middle class, and helps explain growing demand not only for romances but also chronicles; legendary tales were also converted into poems for recitation and lyrics for minstrelsy. Such legends may well have seemed quite acceptable as historical fact, or embellishment of true events, to receptive listeners. Geoffrey's account opens with the legend of the Trojan foundation of Britain, in its main lines similar to that of Nennius but turned into a more elaborate and romantic story through the addition of details that are considered the product of Geoffrey's imagination. One of his additions is that, on his travels, the exiled Brutus, who is now the leader of a group of Trojan fugitives, is joined by a second group of Trojans led by one Corineus, who subsequently becomes the founder and ruler of Cornwall. Brutus, as the ruler of the now renamed Britain (previously being Albion, inhabited by a race of giants), founds a city on the Thames which he calls New Troy (this notion being inspired partly by a supposed derivation from the tribal name Trinovantes), and builds himself a palace there, on the site of the future Guildhall. After his death his sons divide Britain into three kingdoms, later known as England, Scotland and Wales.
The Trojan legend continued to be a feature of many chronicles of English history and accepted as historical fact down to the late sixteenth century. FitzStephen shows his awareness of it; he does not dwell there, but uses it to explain other perceived parallels between London and Rome, in a curious divergence that veers close to the territory of urban history. London is perceived as a successor to the glorious accomplishments of Rome, while the Trojan legend ties it to the heroism of the founders of both Troy and Rome, although the assiduous Londoners did not neglect to link themselves with Arthurian authority as well. Ancient Rome seems to have held a particular fascination for medieval townsmen, offering an aspirational model of a powerful and prosperous city, and hub of a civilization whose roads and ruins remained visible in not a few places throughout much of the Middle Ages; far from waning over time, the enthusiasm for things Roman surged during the twelfth century as Roman art, literature, and law received renewed attention and imitation. Men like FitzStephen and Geoffrey of Monmouth exemplify medieval perception of this legacy, the latter's history having been described as "a pastiche of reminiscences of the genuine past, carefully placed in a new historical context... Every line in it reflects the interest of twelfth century Englishmen in the past, and their respect for the past." [Christopher Brooke, The Twelfth Century Renaissance, London: Thames and Hudson, 1969, p.10] Just as the Romulus and Remus myth was used to explain the derivation of the name Rome whose authority in the classical world Virgil had sought to bolster by linking it to mighty Troy, through the descent of Romulus from Aeneas so Geoffrey of Monmouth and others sought to enhance the reputations of English towns by linking them, through their names, to authoritative, if imaginary, figures of the past, and ultimately through genealogy to Brutus. By claiming that London was originally called New Troy, Geoffrey was portraying it as an inheritor of classical tradition and respectability.
On the other hand, Geoffrey was particularly keen to demonstrate a pre-Roman heritage, and one way in which he did so was by formulating or reiterating pseudo-Celtic names for various cities, such as Canterbury (Kaerlem), Winchester (Kaerguen), Bath (Kaerbadon), and Exeter (Kaerhuilgoit), crediting the foundation of most to specific British kings several indicated in Ricart's text above. Geoffrey explained the transition from 'New Troy' to 'London' as a tribute to King Lud's renovation policy: he improved the city walls and built new towers (including those of Ludgate) and ordered the citizens to build themselves houses that were the equal of any in foreign cities; thereafter the place was known as Kaerlud, later corrupted to Kaerlondon. The Brut has a different version of this story, not acknowledging any renovation programme (though allowing that Lud built Ludgate), but noting that since Lud preferred to reside in New Troy rather than in any other part of his realm, it became known as Ludstan, and thence was corrupted to London; Layamon's verse version has Lud himself ordering the name-change to Kaerlud, so that he would be better remembered, only to have this self-memorialization thwarted when Roman and Saxon invaders called it Lundin and Lundene, respectively. Such attempts to trace the evolution of London's name may have hit on a little genuine oral history, but then expanded it into guesses that missed the mark. The Brut also made unique contributions to the list of founders, such as Berynger, under King Westmer a governor of northern parts, who was credited with Berwick-upon-Tweed. Such then was the folkloric basis that allowed Ricart to put in context the legend of Bristol's foundation.
The book begun by Robert Ricart has been described by Denys Hay as "The most impressive, and the earliest, of the genuine town chronicles outside London." Ricart may not have thought of it in that way, at least at the outset; he characterized it under both the terms register and calendar. It is an early example of an official compilation, begun under instructions given by William Spencer, mayor of 1478/79, to Ricart as town clerk. Whether the scope of the realized work was conceived by Spencer or by Ricart cannot be said with certainty, although the latter seems more likely. What Spencer had in mind was a reference volume of memoranda relating to Bristol's legal privileges, to act as a tool serviceable for "the peaceful tranquillity and prosperity of those inhabiting the town" [from the preamble to the Kalendar, my translation], leaving to Ricart the discretion of deciding what fell into that category. Ricart, however, appears to have envisaged as his primary audience the ruling elite from which Bristol's mayors would be chosen, and to have seen his register as having not just a reference purpose, but also an educational one.
He planned its organization in six parts, the first dealing with the foundation of Bristol and tracing its heritage back to ancient times, followed by a versified list of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-Angevin kings of England, with some miscellaneous historical memoranda added afterward. The second part of the book was given over to the sequel to the legend of the foundation: a description of the development of the town, post-Conquest, in terms of the construction of castle and abbey and grants of royal privileges. In its third part, the register took the form of annals with a local focus, though with little detail other than names of mayors and bailiffs at first (not without errors in the earliest period) until mid-fifteenth century, from when local memory and written sources permitted a variety of matters to be mentioned. This was fairly typical of town chronicles across Europe: beginning as lists of officials, with stray items of news (whether local, regional, or national) occasionally inserted; gradually the narrative becoming richer and more detailed particularly once events are contemporary with the writer and/or continuator(s); sometimes the narrative elements becoming the dominant feature. Part four described, perhaps with a view to serving as a manual, the conduct of local elections, entry into office (along with oaths to be sworn), and duties of the chief officials of the town; it is possible that Ricart is himself shown within one of the illustrations created for his register, depicting the swearing-in of mayor-elect Spencer. Part five was intended as an index to the location, in other documents, of records of borough customs, legal privileges, constitutional provisions, and by-laws; but the demands of Ricart's ambitious scheme were evidently too much for his time or endurance and he satisfied himself with an abstract of the important borough charter granted by King John (1188). The final part copied some documents pertinent to the liberties of London, the model (or mother town) assigned to Bristol. We might infer that, whereas this final feature of the volume stated key elements of the jurisdictional authority of the town, the opening feature, the legend, asserted a much more ancient basis for a claim to authority.
Robert Ricart mentions in his register that he was elected and entered into the office of town clerk in September 1478. This is generally assumed to be when he first began that role, although typical procedure elsewhere, and probably at Bristol too, was for appointments to bureaucratic posts to be reconfirmed annually through a nominal 'election' (giving the opportunity for removal of unsatisfactory incumbents). It is not impossible, therefore, that Ricart was in the office earlier. As far as we can tell, his predecessor in office was Thomas Osney, who had held the clerkship since at least 1458, but whose name does not appear on record after January 1477, so Ricart might have taken up the duties of a deceased predecessor at any point in 1478, or even been appointed through the election of September 1477. That his handwriting has been discerned in the All Saints' parish register from about 1466 to 1478 does not preclude some overlap in him acting in the two posts. According to Toulmin Smith, Ricart's hand appears in the Mayor's Register down to 1506 and has been identified in a different borough record for an entry dated 1508. But we have references in two sources to Thomas Hardyng, a scrivener, being town clerk in 1504 and later, and other opinion has Ricart's contribution to the register ending in 1503 [J. Latimer, "The Maire of Bristowe Is Kalendar: Its List of Civic officers, Collated with Contemporary Legal Mss", Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, vol.26 (1903), p.114]. If Ricart did indeed continue scribal work into the sixteenth century, it could have been as a free-lancer; his career preceding his clerkship gives a few indications of involvement, from 1471 and perhaps as early as 1460, in the kinds of attorney work that were fairly typical of men associated with town clerk posts at this period, and he may have continued earning private commissions thus after retiring from the clerkship. Effort to maintain the chronicle, however, petered out after 1497, apart from the identifications of city officials, until picked up by a new writer in 1522, nor is Ricart himself heard of in any other context after 1496; so his clerkship (though not necessarily his involvement with the register) may have ended well before 1504.
A case might be argued for Ricart as an episcopal nominee and his register as a component of Bishop Carpenter's anti-Lollardy policy, intended to ensure civic officials were well-versed in orthodox, though secular, matters and in the standards of behaviour required of those who were expected to set an example for the populace at large; it was not unknown for borough authorities in regions not so far from his diocese to include Lollard sympathisers (e.g. at Northampton and Coventry), and Bristol had also proven fertile ground for heretical beliefs. But such a case would be largely circumstantial and flimsy and will not be attempted here. Ricart was probably of a local family, and likely received some formal schooling, just possibly even to university level, although there is no reason to suppose he was a clergyman, at least not one in holy orders, for such clerics are rarely found holding civic office. He was, rather, that type of clerk becoming more typical in the Late Middle Ages: one who was part lawyer, part scribe.
Borough records and the writing of history
Ricart's register is not an isolated example, but nor should it (as is sometimes the case) be treated as if typical or representative. In contrast to monastic chronicles, for which the conventions of form and style were fairly consistent, there was no obvious standard for the compilation of urban registers, and we see a fair amount of variation on the theme; to an extent different towns or at least their administrations can be characterized, in terms of their scope of activities and their preoccupations, by what information was selected to be preserved in such volumes. But the notion of creating ready-reference tools or manuals for government in book form was a relatively late one in English towns, although the case of Ipswich shows that well over a century earlier there existed some consciousness of the desirability of preserving local customs in writing and of the need, given the expanding use of writing for the conduct of business, for a communal seal along with official guardians of that and borough archives.
Over time the widening range of activities and responsibilities of civic administrations gave rise to new kinds of records, and the technology of written record-keeping itself helped reshape the character of government. As that administration matured, professionalized, and established its own traditions and trappings of power that is, became self-conscious, and even self-righteous there was a growing sense within its ranks that not only its chief decisions, but acts and actions of all kinds, and even some of its deliberations, were noteworthy and ought to be a matter of record rather than left reliant on memory. This has left us with a number of relatively detailed, and occasionally quite intimate, series of chronologically compiled records reflecting the proceedings and/or outputs of borough governments, such as London's Letter Books, York's Memorandum Books, Ipswich's General Court records, Coventry's Leet Books, Salisbury's Entry Books, and King's Lynn's Hall Books, which might be described (with some exaggeration) as chronicles of local government; certainly from the perspective of modern historians they serve as such. Documents like these may have been organized somewhat, though not necessarily consciously, according to established conventions for annals, but they differ from chronicles in that they are unique records serving an information function for a restricted audience, as opposed to narrative works reproduced for distribution (i.e. publication) for educational purposes. Nonetheless, it could be argued that this distinction is little more than quibbling; the compilers of those series evidently conceived them as reference tools to preserve, and assist future rediscovery of, historical information pertinent to the locale.
The need for improved manageability of burgeoning borough archives particularly access to those documents expected to be frequent reference resources was recognized both by those responsible for executive decision-making and by the bureaucrats in charge of the archives, who were becoming better educated and more skilled. The Late Middle Ages saw greater initiatives on the part of urban officials, notably but not exclusively town clerks, to develop tools and techniques providing readier access to key information. This included backup copies official duplicates in some cases, simple transcripts in others of individual important documents that were needed for regular consultation or some other practical purpose, while the originals were kept safely stored away; for example, at Lynn, Yarmouth, and Norwich a special copy, called the porthors, or porthois of the fullest royal charter of liberties was made to be taken out of town when those liberties needed to be proven elsewhere.
But more common was the compilation of registers of copies of select documents considered required for ready reference; as already noted, these registers took various forms, some categorized today as custumals and others as commonplace books, although neither descriptor quite does them justice. Some were produced for posterity, albeit with a practical rather than historical intent, while others seem to have been the initiative of town clerks, or commissioned by and often for the use of particular individuals involved in local government. These collections of transcripts, sometimes arranged according to an explicit or discernible plan, could also, like the corporate minute books mentioned above, have chronicular characteristics. The most famous examples come from London: notably (but not exclusively) the Liber Albus, Liber Custumarum, and an early but unnamed collection of national laws, local ordinances, and of geographical, historical or pseudo-historical information; the last was produced at the time, and to serve the purpose, of efforts by the barons, supported by the Londoners, to force King John to constitutional rule based on usages and privileges that were established, alleged, or desired. One of these compilations, known as Arnold's Chronicle after the London merchant by whom, or at whose behest, it was made ca.1503, and comparable in the scope of its subject-matter to Ricart's kalendar, even became one of the earliest books printed (in Holland, though for the London market).
Admittedly most of these registers, like the volumes of minutes of corporation meetings, were kept more for administrative and legal than for historical and educational purposes, yet at one end of the spectrum such compilations exhibit characteristics of chronicles. A good example, preserved amongst King's Lynn's archives [KL/C10/2], is the modest and only semi-official volume known as William Asshebourne's Book, perhaps begun as that town clerk's personal reference tool, although any original intent was diverted as it became a repository for memoranda and evidences related directly, or indirectly, to a particularly turbulent episode in local politics. One text copied, regrettably incompletely, into the volume is a fairly lengthy narrative of the origins of Lynn as a trading community and the development of local self-government with particular reference to the role of the merchant gild. The source of the original is unknown, but it seems likely to have been some document produced by or for the gild itself. It is distinct from and probably older than the gild's response to the royal enquiry of 1389 concerning socio-religious gilds' origins and purposes; it may well have been produced in the context of the struggle between gildsmen and bishop for control of local administration, for it largely ignores the role of the bishop as territorial lord and town founder, and promotes the belief, opposed by the bishop, that the first royal grant of liberties implied the right to be governed by a mayor.
This account describes a community of local traders who, prospering, establish an association administered by elected officers, which takes responsibility for both practical and charitable matters beneficial to the community. Merchants from further afield (foreign countries may be meant), seeing the place well-situated for profitable commerce, move in, settling on reclaimed marshland from which they owe annual services to the seigneurial lords, while Jews are also attracted and congregate along Jews Lane. Many of these newcomers pay to become members of what had been known as the Great Gild since time immemorial. Purchasing an empty plot, the membership builds a guildhall there for meetings. A charter of King John subsequently grants Lynn the status of a free borough, the right to a mayor, official recognition to the gild, and the same legal privileges as Oxford. Since which time they have been electing a mayor who, with the advice of the gild alderman and assistance from chamberlains, governs the inhabitants and executes royal mandates. The narrative goes on to outline the responsibilities performed by the gild and the duties of its officers.
As a reflection of what was remembered of local history from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, this text seems broadly accurate in terms of processes, though a little fuzzy in its chronology (no actual dates being presented); it relies on historical facts Lynn having no antiquity, real or imagined, and no legends to resort to but it shows bias in what it chooses to say and what it omits. Its purpose was not so much the writing of history as presentation of an interpretation to bolster a particular political perspective on local constitutional arrangements; it may have seemed interesting to William Ashebourne for evidence that might be brought into play in the different constitutional conflict of his time, when the gild leadership was at odds with a reformist mayoral government loosely allied with the bishop. For our present purposes, however, the significance of this text is that it shows an awareness of, and an ability to explain, the role of commerce as a causal factor in the origins of an urban community and development of its population and institutions.
Although, as a relatively young urban foundation, Lynn could claim no links to an heroic distant past with which to embellish its history, this account of the creation of institutions of self-government might be thought of as local legend in its own right. It is somewhat reminiscent of the account of the provisions made for institutions of local government at Ipswich in 1200, again including a merchant gild. This text, in essence the formal record of the borough constitution, has more of the character of a chronicle than the Lynn text; proceedings are recounted in strict chronological order, even though the period covered is only a few months. Details in this text, such as precise dates and credible identifications of the principal participants, suggest it was likely written not long after the events taking place; it would have worked well as a preamble to one or other of the enrolments of borough customs and gild statutes whose compilation was ordered as the final step in the proceedings, but may have been a separate record. The copies we have, however, are all in later compilations and could have been susceptible to some rewording or expansion. The account is at pains to rationalize the actions taken, according to criteria such as authorization by royal charter, popular support, best interests of the town, and established practice in other towns, but such expressions are not uncommon in borough documents, although rarely are they contained in examples of such early date.
Although those original rolls have not survived, we are fortunate to have six codex-form registers, most of them created during the first half of the fourteenth century, reproducing the custumal and adding to it other memoranda that vary somewhat from edition to edition. The variants include formal fair-copy versions made to ensure the preservation of key documentation relating to borough privileges, powers, and revenue sources, and plain working copies intended for the use of the town's clerk and/or its executive officers. The Ipswich Little Domesday series, as it is known to us (after the name assigned to the original roll of borough customs), enables us to see a progression in development.
Some of the texts and and memoranda scattered throughout these several registers present information of a kind that might have found a place in medieval chronicles, and would certainly provide material for post-medieval antiquarians writing local histories; for example:
It would be going too far, however, to suggest that these books were produced as local histories, or even that the intent was to preserve texts for historical reasons (though modern historians can certainly appreciate that value of such works). Insofar as these were historical records with an educational purpose, it was that they sought to preserve and make conveniently available from a single source the kinds of information that would be instructive to the borough bailiffs in the conduct of their duties, to the town council in formulating sound decisions, and to the town clerk in providing helpful advice to those administrators; a subset of posterity, if you will. Though the successive editions did not exactly build upon each other variations in content being based at least partly on a perception of which texts were of relevance and practical use around the time of compilation, with little if any evidence that the compiler's idiosyncratic interests had a determinative role there are indications of efforts, as the editions attracted new material, to shuffle the sequence of entries a little in order to create proximities between related texts and to improve usability, though no overall table of contents was provided (except one for the custumal proper), nor were the contents divided into formal sections. A late edition, probably begun in the 1430s, updated the Domesday by furnishing the customs in an English translation and, at a later point, incorporating by-laws of that period by assigning them numbers continuing the sequence of the custumal chapters.
The next step in this evolution came in 1520, when one of the town councillors, Richard Percyvale, completed what has subsequently been called the Great Domesday, being a much expanded collection of texts dating from 1200 up to his own time, reorganized into seven sections, with the older and original Domesday materials mostly in the initial sections, and later materials in subsequent sections. This roughly chronological arrangement, together with the inclusion of content beyond the scope of intent of the medieval registers (such as verses by Lydgate on the kings of England, coats of arms of European monarchs, extracts from royal records, grants and leases of communal property, texts related to the Corpus Christi gild, and documentation of charitable foundations), and a broadening of the intended audience beyond borough government to the burgesses at large, arguably place Percyvale's Domesday in the same category as Ricart's Kalendar, as transitional between corporate record and antiquarian history.
Paralleling, and in part stemming from, the development of borough administration was a sharpened sense of communal identity and associated feelings of civic pride, albeit that the process of self-definition was largely, though not entirely, in the hands of the urban ruling class; in addition, competitive advantages were perceived in demonstrating the relative antiquity of borough privileges and, by extension, urban existence. One manifestation of this was the small but increasing number of chronicles compiled by townsmen, especially Londoners, dealing with national history but often incorporating, or even focusing on, local events and details, particularly those within the memory of people still living at the time of writing; to an extent this was a contextualizing of local history in a national framework. Several London-born or London-resident ecclesiastics worked on national chronicles in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries and, insofar as they dealt with towns at all, appear sympathetic towards them [Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, vol.1 (1974), p.508].
In the fifteenth century copies of the London works found their way into the homes of not a few affluent citizens, who evidently liked to read (or be read to) about local history. These were non-official records, although sometimes the product of, or commissioned by, members of the ruling class, and occasionally found their way into wider compilations of an official nature, yet still local products. The output of Londoners seems that much more prolific given the absence in England of chronicles commissioned by the monarchy despite the fact that kings tended to be the central focus of chronicles, at least until Parliament was well established as a force behind events, in the late fourteenth century. By contrast, FitzStephen's Description of London, though famous now, seems to have been relatively little-known in the Middle Ages, only a handful of copies existing today, while not even all copies of his Life of Becket include the Description; however, at least one copy, in a commonplace book, demonstrates that the Description was in private circulation, and there is no telling how much the copy in the city's Liber Custumarum may have been read by members of the Corporation. That a second surviving London commonplace book, contemporary with the first, highlights extracts from Geoffrey of Monmouth's account of Brutus' foundation of New Troy suggests that there may have been a shared acceptance, at least among the city's political leaders, of the foundation myth linking London to Troy.
The London chronicle probably best-known today, though little read in its own day, is the Cronica Maiorum et Vicecomitum Londoniarum. These annals, whose chapters are headed by the names of each pair of city sheriffs for that year, form the greater part of the private compilation known as the Liber de Antiquis Legibus; the laws referred to one set of civic and one of national ordinances take up only a small part of the volume, accompanied by extracts from the chronicle of William of Malmesbury, lists of Holy Roman Emperors, Popes, archbishops, bishops, and London mayors, together with other memoranda the compiler decided to include as useful reference tools. The chronicle proper was the first that has survived to us to focus almost entirely on urban affairs. It covers the period from1188/89, the year to which the chronicler attributes the introduction of the mayoralty in London, up to 1274; that it becomes fuller in detail from the 1230s may point to the compiler being active in writing an account of locally cataclysmic events of which he had some direct knowledge, while a further increase in richness and intimacy from about 1257, in the context of the civil war in which London was closely involved, suggests the compiler to have personally witnessed at least some of the events he describes. It is an important source of information at a time from which the surviving city archives as a whole are not very rich, yet a time when London society was in upheaval, as local factionalism paralleled and reflected the national struggle between divergent political philosophies. Such conflicts have a tendency to generate extraordinary amounts of documentation another instance, already discussed, being William Asshebourne's Book.
It is generally accepted that the compiler was Arnold Fitz Thedmar, on the grounds of circumstantial evidence, notably the inclusion within the chronicle of a number of matters significant to his own life and of the autobiographical account (most of which is presented above) appended at the very end of the volume, not part of the chronicle proper. Most of what we know of Arnold comes from the chronicle itself and from an abstract of his will, made at the time of probate. He would have been well-positioned to produce a chronicle: he was directly involved in city affairs as one of the ward aldermen probably of Bridge Ward who comprised the civic elite; and his claim to have had, in1270, custody of key documents of the civic archives (such as its royal charters) suggests he may have then been serving as the city chamberlain. As a wealthy landowner, he had an axe to grind with what he considered oppressive and unfair taxation. As the son of German immigrants he had connections with foreign merchants and according to the Dictionary of National Biography served as alderman of the Germanic Hanse. On the other hand, his German roots he could be referred to as Arnold "the Easterling" and "the Teutonic" may have been a factor in antagonism he felt being directed at him from some fellow Londoners, it has been suggested. But his political leanings and his forwardness in expressing them seem to have been more contributory towards his troubles; he was a man of decided socio-political biases: traditionalist, a royalist partisan, and contemptuous of populism at a time of strong populist sentiment within his community. He has been described, on the basis of the chronicle's tone, his role in events, and the opinions he expressed, as an "embodiment of the bourgeois virtues." [Gwyn Williams, Medieval London: From Commune to Capital, London: Athlone Press, 1963, p.20]
That in February 1275 Arnold Fitz Thedmar's will received probate in the city's husting court matches well with the chronicle narrative stopping during the course of the previous year, suggesting an unplanned termination of the work. Later hands, of men less literate and possibly foreigners by birth, made a few minor additions to the work before it passed into the borough archives, perhaps through the initiative of Stephen Eswy, Arnold's fellow alderman, trustee, and kinsman by marriage; another possibility, put forward by Henry Riley [Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London 1188-1274, London: Teubner, 1863, p.x], is that it was, a generation later, part of a bequest to the Corporation by Andrew Horn of a collection of books.
Arnold evidently did not originally intend to include an autobiography of himself in his compilation, nor do the substantial passages about himself constitute a complete autobiography by any means. They are not part of the chronicle per se, but placed at the end of the volume, with the story of his birth and descent being on the final parchment leaves, followed by his complaint about unjust taxation which, however, shows no sign of being written as a continuation of the birth/descent account.
The departure represented by the Cronica Maiorum et Vicecomitum Londoniarum is not so much that it has a local focus, for monastic chronicles also tended to fill out national history with matters pertinent to the monastery where they were written. It is more that the author is a layman closely associated with civic administration and therefore writing, as monks often did, with a particular eye to the affairs of the institution to which connected. Gransden [op.cit., p.511] describes it as a "pièce justificative of the city oligarchy", although the detail accorded to local factionalism during the baronial war and political opinions expressed give it more the look of an account attempting to uphold urban aristocratic rule against leaders who pandered to the unruly masses and used popular support to justify actions that contravened established legal process and bypassed aldermannic authority. Fitz Thedmar's own personality came increasingly to the fore in his writing as he became a victim of populist reform, and this victimization may do much to explain his motivation for writing in such detail. The work stands rather in isolation for a while, the Annales Londonienses being the next instance of a London-focused chronicle (albeit a continuation of the Flores Historiarum, itself abbreviated then augmented with new material) suspected of being written by someone associated with city government Andrew Horn although henceforth London chronicles do not reveal the personalities of their authors in the way that Fitz Thedmar's did.
Examples of locally-focused chronicles are much scarcer outside London, Ricart's being the best-known exception. One compiled in Lynn in the mid-fourteenth century, at least in part, begins with material lifted from another regional chronicle which is then continued by a friar of Lynn, focusing on contemporary events of national significance, with only a smattering of local events (mostly natural disasters). Interestingly, this brief chronicle was inserted on blank space in a commonplace book [British Library Add Ms. 47214] suspected to have been compiled for some East Anglian lawyer of that period; the original contents of the book included extracts from a Bury St. Edmunds chronicle, lists of kings, the order of coronation, Saxon and Norman laws, and other documents relating to legal matters. The promisingly titled Latin work De Antiquitate et Fundatione Burgi Magne Jernemuthe containing the medieval form of the name of Yarmouth and covering local events from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries, is known only from its inclusion in a seventeenth century volume [Bodleian Library Ms. Rawlinson Essex 11] and has not yet received the close study that could determine if its source began life as a medieval chronicle. However, it may well prove the work of Thomas Damet, a prominent citizen of Yarmouth with legal training; after serving as its town clerk (1568-73) he went on to produce other historical works about his home town and is suspected to have made the Hutch Map, reconstructing how the coastline around the Yarmouth area may have looked around 1000 A.D. Another Latin manuscript De libertatibus villae et portus de Jernemouth, although opening with a note that
"The town of Great Yarmouth existed for some time before the Conquest, established by predecessors of the kings of England on [the site of] the port of Great Yarmouth, in order to capitalize on and enhance the profits stemming from that port, and made a royal borough."
is not a chronicle but rather a report incorporating extracts from Little Domesday Book and royal charters, with some connecting narrative, produced in the fourteenth century for a bishop of Norwich, not for any evident historical purpose but perhaps in connection with mediation in the town's jurisdictional disputes with its immediate neighbours.
The registers produced primarily for administrative purposes could also include elements that would not have been out of place in a chronicle. This is well exemplified by two late-fourteenth century volumes produced at Colchester by a sequence of town clerks; they are known as the Red Paper Book and the Red Parchment Book, the former being slightly older. They fall into the same genre of record as the Ipswich Domesday books, but with components that are even more clearly chronicular in character, mixed in amongst the administrative and bureaucratic reference texts and tools.
The Red Paper Book contained, before the ravages of time led to the destruction of some contents, borough ordinances, texts of oaths taken by civic officials, records of disputes with the local abbey and terms of settlements reached, and a mishmash of other documents, which continued to be copied into the volume up to the nineteenth century. Many of these record events which might have found place in a chronicle, but the Paper Book is not organized in such a fashion or indeed any fashion at all, although a table of contents (or kalendar, as it self-describes) was included from an early point in the compilation. The first item in the contents list are "new" constitutional provisions (1372) to reform electoral procedures and financial administration (though their text is lost from the Paper Book), followed by a chronicle of the accomplishments of borough bailiffs between 1373 and 1378. The constitutional reforms of 1372 are themselves a reflection of a vibrant and prospering period in Colchester's history and, together with the chronicle, suggest strong feelings of civic pride within the town's ruling class, evidenced particularly in the case of William Reyne, a prominent figure in local government at that period, and whose acts feature prominently in the chronicle, his colleagues in the ballivalties almost being ignored.
The commencement of the paper and parchment registers have to be understood in this context of local revitalization. The former's chronicle was begun by town clerk Robert Beche, though conceivably at the initiative or encouragement of Reyne, perhaps as an historical record and/or to provide future borough rulers with a model of leadership somewhat like Latini's qualities of governors copied into a London register, or indeed the character of Ricart's chronicle as a guide for officials in the performance of their duties. Later it devolved into an administrative tool, as office-holders changed and the enthusiasm of the 1370s subsided over the course of the '80s. Beche's successor as town clerk, Michael Aunger, turned his attention to a new and improved register, more wisely (albeit more expensively) constructed from durable parchment.
The prominent item in the Red Parchment Book is a chronological index to key contents of the borough court rolls: deed and will registrations, leases of public land, and freeman admissions; indexing was extended back as far as the first roll of Edward III's reign it probably seeming unnecessary to cover earlier rolls and this handy time-saving tool was maintained up to the mid-sixteenth century. As with Fitz Thedmar's and Ricart's chronicles, each grouping of entries was headed by the names of the bailiffs of that year. Occasionally notes were made of other important events, such as authorization in 1407 for residents near the town's port to build a footbridge across the river there, and regulation of the tawyers' craft in 1424. Considering the sparse character of the London and Bristol chronicles for the early period they cover, the Colchester index could almost be taken for a chronicle, but it clearly was not compiled as an historical record per se. Also copied into the Parchment Book are, again, officials' oaths, sets of civic ordinances (including the reforms of 1372), documentation of town boundaries, tolls payable on imports, and various other documents that would have been useful to town clerks and/or bailiffs in carrying out their duties.
More interesting for the purpose of this discussion is that among the texts, which date from late fourteenth to early fifteenth century, preceding the index is a seemingly related group of items comprising: a royal grant (1407) to certain Colcester men, including a bailiff of that year and another of the previous, of approval, corporate status, and other privileges to a socio-religious gild dedicated to St. Helen; a list of Christian kings of England, from Ine to Henry V (continued in later hands) with minor additional notes for each, such as place of burial; and a chronicle of events tracing the antiquity of Colchester. Before the volume was rebound and its folios slightly disordered in the process, it commenced with that last text. This locally-focused chronicle so bare-bones that it might be seen as no more than a chronology begins at 219 A.D. with the supposed foundation of Colchester by a British leader, Coel, who proceeds to the rule of the entire region and later all of Britain; it links him with the seminal Romano-Christian emperor, Constantine, by claiming the latter's mother, Helena, to have been Coel's daughter. The chronicle goes on to recount the key events of the life of Constantine, who is at one point described as a citizen of Colchester, and the legend of Helena's discovery of the True Cross of Christ. Following their deaths, the chronicle, skipping ahead several centuries and becoming a little disordered chronologically, returns to more local matters, such as the acquisition of the skull of St. Helen as a relic for the abbey of Bury St. Edmund's (1145), a Viking assault on Colchester (1071) which prompts William the Conqueror to give custody of Colchester (1072) to Eudo Dapifer, who builds a castle atop the foundations of Coel's palace, and restores a chapel believed founded by Helen, and the re-dedication of that chapel (1239) to St. Helen. The chronicle ends, with William II's confirmation of the city to Eudo, rather abruptly but having achieved its purpose, being to demonstrate the antiquity and royal connections both of Colchester and of the chapel serving as the meeting-place of the socio-religious gild. More specifically, it may have been intended to provide historical background and justification for the re-dedication of St. Helen's chapel, and as such might have been a work by a monk of the Abbey of St. John's, which owned the chapel, or compiled from such a work.
The identification of Coel as ruler of Colchester, and the connection with Helen (an historical figure but of whose birthplace we are ignorant) , were not new but had been mentioned in the chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon and popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth, with his usual elaboration and making Constantine a king of Britain; a much earlier writer had already suggested that Constantine might have become a Christian during his years in Britain (while, as FitzStephen indicates, London was quite prepared to stake a claim as Constantine's birthplace). The link with Coel was captured in local folklore though we do not know how early through reference to the Norman castle as Colkynescastell, while Henry V's charter (1413) confirming borough privileges is decorated with a capital depicting Helen, Constantine, and the True Cross and a label connecting them with Colchester; this composition became the basis for the borough's first coat of arms, perhaps around the same period, Helen and the Cross having already made an appearance on one side of the fourteenth century borough seal, indicating that she was perceived as the patron saint of the town (which was depicted on the other side). She served to tie Colchester's heritage to both the classical world and the first Christian monarch.
Other sources of evidence for foundation legends
Classical and Christian history were not the only sources that could be tapped for foundation legends. Nathaniel Bacon (writing in 1654, and himself the recorder and one-time town clerk of Ipswich, as well as the brother of another former town clerk and bailiff of the borough) provides us with a slightly deficient translation of a royal inquisition of 1340 into a dispute between Ipswich and Harwich, concerning which of them ought to control the port of Orwell that is, the tidal stretch of the river connecting Ipswich with the sea and, more significantly, the cargo vessels plying it and tolls collected from the same. This found in favour of Ipswich; the evidence put forward by the jury included the statement that:
"the Burrough aforesaid at the first was seated there by reason of the port aforesaid, as the Chiefe Towne of the whole County of Suffolk, by a certain Pagan king named Ypus, who named the said towne by his name Ypswich."
Although Bacon was incredulous, holding the statement to be irrelevant to the enquiry and some foolish notion of one of the jurors, this was precisely the kind of occasion when some jurisdictional right or revenue source was at stake that such claims might be rolled out to demonstrate the historical precedence of a disputing party; Ipswich's claim rested largely on the fact that the borough was held at fee farm from the king (and that tolls went towards the farm payable), by grant of his progenitors, so any evidence that suggested the longevity of that connection may have seemed pertinent to the jury. By contrast with the venerable borough of Ipswich, whose rights were presented as delegated by the royal owner of the river to the royal town, the upstart rival of the port of Harwich, intruding itself into that long-standing arrangement, was portrayed as a mere hamlet within a manor which itself was held only by a subordinate of the king. From the Ipswich example we can seen that foundation legends were not mere self-aggrandizement but could have very practical ramifications for the economic well-being of the towns to which they related. Nor is it inconceivable that Ipswich's foundation legend might be an echo of oral history concerning the leader of some Germanic group who settled there, and the fact that it found no place in the Ipswich Domesday is no reflection on how well known or trusted the legend may have been locally.
We can perhaps more readily give credence to Hugh Candidus, whose twelfth-century history of Peterborough Abbey, where he was a monk, names Seaxwulf as the founder of Medeshamstede (renamed Peterborough in the late tenth century after it acquired the status of a burh, following refoundation and fortification of the monastery) in the territory of the Gyrwas tribe. Seaxwulf had already been identified as the first abbot by Bede (ca.731) and earlier mentioned as a Mercian bishop by his contemporary Stephen of Ripon in his Vita Sancti Wilfrithi (ca.710). Hugh described Seaxwulf as a powerful man well-versed in worldly matters as well as those of the Church, and it is conceivable that he might have been a local ruler who retired into the abbey after founding it. Peterborough Abbey was a well-endowed institution and Hugh could probably call on a good library there as well as local tradition. However, he also transmits a more dubious claim, put forward in a charter forged at Peterborough in or not long before his time, which tried to push back the foundation date into the mid-seventh century.
That the Viking role in urbanizing England was not forgotten is shown by the legend of Havelok the Dane and its association with the foundation of Grimsby. The story has come down in various versions, with the best-known in the form of a late thirteenth century Middle English poem, although there are two less elaborate Anglo-Norman versions, the earlier from the 1130s, themselves evidently derived from some earlier source; it is conceivable the tale could contain remnants of folklore from the period of Norse occupation of northern England. Havelok is a young orphaned Danish prince, whose unscrupulous guardian hands him into the custody of a servant, Grim, with orders to drown him. Grim, however, who has a ship he uses for mercantile activity (selling grain and livestock), flees to England with his family and the prince; there, driving his ship up onto the strand of the Humber estuary, he builds his family a cottage, thus founding what will become Grimsby. He takes up fishing, selling his catch in Lincoln, where Havelok finds employment for a while. Havelok is later married to Goldeboru, daughter of the deceased English king Ethelwold, at the initiative of another guardian with similarly nefarious intent. After Havelok discovers his true identity, he (with the aid of Grim's sons) wins back the thrones of both countries, rewarding the now-deceased Grim by marrying two of his daughters to earls (the third having already married a Grimsby merchant), founding at Grimsby a priory whose monks pray for Grim's soul, and (in a later, perhaps local, interpretation) granting toll exemptions to the town.
We may have here an oral history tradition of Danish foundation of the fishing port of Grimsby, by some Viking leader possibly named Grim (although the name may be an alias of Odin), which has been worked into the romance of Havelok the Anglo-Norman version having Grim (as a fisherman and salt-merchant) but no local references to Grimsby or Lincoln. This localization served both to dignify Grimsby and antiquate its status (which does not in fact look urban until the beginning of the thirteenth century) perhaps in its competition with Lincoln, which could more credibly claim Scandinavian heritage; both of those places claimed to have relics and sites associated with aspects of the legend, as well as to give a romance touching on national identity more plausibility as history, perhaps particularly in Lincolnshire, where knowledge of the story seems to have been widespread. Precisely what advantage Lincoln may have sought from associating itself with the Havelok legend is unclear; the only attempted identification of a kingly founder was with Lud, based on one of Nennius' Celtic city names dubiously interpreted as belonging to Lincoln Caerluitcoyt, corrupted by Higden's time to Caerludcoit , but even Higden was skeptical of the attribution to Lud and there is no indication that it had any local currency. The Havelok legend also pandered to Christian sensibilities through, among other things, the detail of a cross-shaped birthmark on Grim's shoulder which identifies him as the rightful heir. As at Colchester, local credence given the legend is indicated by representation on Grimsby's thirteenth-century borough seal of Grim, armed with sword and shield, flanked by smaller crowned figures of Havelok and Goldeboru. In a very similar vein to the Havelok legend is the romance of Bevis, son of the count of Hampton and husband of the daughter of a king of Scotland, forced to flee a murderous usurperof his inheritance, and undergoing the usual series of travels, trials and tribulations before returning to claim vengeance and birthright; this story existed from at least the early thirteenth century. Bevis was later adopted as a founder figure of Southampton and as builder of the castle at Arundel (supposedly named after his horse Hirondelle), while both places claimed the site of his tomb in Southampton's case, Bevois Hill, a name apparently preceding the tradition linking it with Bevis.
There were of course many places that could not come up with such colourful foundation tales, yet even their origins might be passed down in oral history. One such example is preserved in the record of a royal investigation of 1290 into a complaint by Grimsby that the newer would-be town of Ravenserodd, founded on a sandbank in the mouth of the Humber, was attempting to hijack its commerce. The jurors gave two accounts of the origins of Ravenserodd, variant yet compatible with each other and with the meaning of the place-name:
"In the time of King Henry, father of the present king, at first by the casting up of the sea a certain small island was born, which is called Rawenserod, which is distant from the town of Grimisby by the space of one tide. And afterwards fishers dried their nets there, and men little by little first began to dwell and stay there, and afterwards ships laden with divers kinds of merchandize began to unload and sell there ....
Foundation legends were not universally male-dominated. To explain, or justify, claims by Coventry to exemption from toll (a 'foundation' of urban prosperity), the legend arose that an Earl of Mercia had made the grant by charter after his wife Godiva, petitioner on behalf of the townspeople, proved the sincerity of her pleas by riding naked through the town. Although the earliest surviving written record of the story is in the chronicle of Roger de Wendover (writing ca.1216-35), Earl Leofric and Godiva are historical persons who were remembered locally as the founders (ca.1043) of an abbey which became a nucleus for Coventry's urban development; Godiva was mistress of a sizeable estate in the region, with part of which the couple endowed the abbey, and in Domesday Coventry is mentioned as a village on her manor. It seems unlikely that a claim to chartered urban privileges would have been fabricated before the twelfth century, although the abbey's own foundation grant (itself a mid-twelfth century forgery) did include immunity from toll. The appropriation and reinvention of Godiva may well have been an effort by town leaders to produce a rallying symbol of civic liberty in a period when they were trying to shake off seigneurial domination (which included suppressing the fact that the abbey authorities were more likely than Godiva to have been the urban founders) and assert independent rights; certainly she appears to have become such a symbol by the close of the Middle Ages, when a Mass was celebrated annually on a day named after her, or rather after a telling corruption of her name into 'Good Eve'.
The early history of Oxford is likewise traditionally associated with a female member of the Mercian royal house, Frideswide, who wished to become a nun and performed a miracle upon an unwelcome royal suitor, before founding the monastery where she would live out her life; this legend does not suggest Frideswide was founder of Oxford, however, for the tragedy requiring her miracle occurs outside the gate of the town. Like Godiva, Frideswide is considered an historical person, though we know very little for certain of her or when she lived; but the broad strokes of the story are plausible enough, and it is generally accepted that she was likely an eighth century founder and abbess of some religious community situated on an important roadway connecting Mercia and Wessex, which crossed the Thames at Oxford. The presence of such a church, suspected of having both a collegiate and parochial character and perhaps dedicated to the Virgin Mary, helps explain archaeological evidence for mid-Saxon settlement, which would grow into Oxford; Frideswide would be viewed as the city's patron saint throughout the Middle Ages. About 1120 her church was refounded possibly on the original site, though this remains uncertain as a priory dedicated to St. Frideswide.
The earliest known references to her name are in two early-eleventh century documents in both of which Frideswide is said to be buried at Oxford. The oldest surviving account of the Frideswide legend appears in the Gesta pontificum Anglorum (ca.1125) of William of Malmesbury, one of the more discriminating historians of that period. She was the subject of two Lives written a little later in the same century, and her story is also given in surviving copies of priory records. These later versions note additional miracles; they also identify her father as Didanus, a sub-king of the Oxford region (the name being reminiscent of Dardanus, demi-god founder of a kingdom of which Troy was a part, and distant ancestor of Aeneas and Brutus), and have him founding the monastery at her entreaty, while the suitor is identified as Algar, sub-king of Leicester, a name reminiscent of the Mercian Earl Aelfgar (son of Leofric) whom Domesday names as sharing in the lordship of Oxford. These new names may have been inserted to give more credibility to the legend, as was the case with topographical details about London in the Brut and Geoffrey of Monmouth. Alternatively, if William had access to the priory archives as he claims, he may have simplified an older version of the story; however, such legends tend, in the transmission, to increase in detail rather than contract.
St. Frideswide was not the only founder figure associated with Oxford, however. A chronicle attributed to John of Wallingford claimed that the original monastery had received charter grants from King Alfred and even identified him with Frideswide's suitor. Geoffrey of Monmouth failed to identify a founder of Oxford but portrayed it as existing in Arthurian times, for his account of Merlin's prophecies includes reference to the walls of Oxford; later he lists it among the principal cities of Arthur's realm and assigns it the name Ridoc. If he knew of the Frideswide legend, he would probably not have imagined her as a town-founder; for him the building of towns was anciently the prerogative of kings. Geoffrey's want was supplied by chronicler John Rous (writing ca.1487) who, despite being Oxford-educated, was not critical of his sources and more than receptive to the fables told by Geoffrey. Rous assigned Geoffrey's King Mempricius (Ricart's Memprys) the honour of founding Oxford; but, demoting Geoffrey's 'Ridoc' to a later name for the town, Rous reverted to more conventional principles in proposing Caer Memre as the foundation name. He also repeated, and gussied up à la Geoffrey, a tradition that Alfred was the founder of its university, and bearing in mind the desire to demonstrate it older than rival Cambridge evidently endorsed another tradition tracing its roots to a school started in the vicinity by Greek philosophers accompanying Brutus in his progress from Troy to Britain. That Rous too identified Brynne as founder of Bristol suggests he was using The Brut as one of his sources; although a contemporary of Ricart, there is no reason to think the two men were ever in contact, and besides the legend of Brynne seems to have been well-established in Bristol long before Ricart's time.
The cases of Ypus and Grim suggest that alleged founders, such as Coel, Lud, Brynne, and Ebrauk who was claimed as founder not only of York but also, with even slighter justification, of Nottingham were not necessarily isolated instances, and that urban foundation myths may have been more common than reported in Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Brut. Some oral traditions may not have stood the test of time. Were there ever one for Salisbury, for example, it could have been scotched when the populace relocated from the site of Old Sarum to New Sarum. A similar fate could have met any tradition at Kingsford, once disembowelled and its remnant amalgamated into the urban conglomeration that acquired the name Norwich. The existence of lesser local legends, not stirring enough to find their way into romances, yet able to be harnessed for political purpose, is instanced by the story of a judicial duel at Leicester, used to rationalize a jurisdictional claim by the burgesses similar to the way in which London authorities used the Trojan legend to bolster their claim to the "free air" privilege. But most towns particularly smaller and newer ones, without material relics of any ancient settlement lacked the grounds or imagination to point to some founder in the distant past; Yarmouth's earliest known historian, Thomas Damet, for example, was conscious that only a relatively prosaic account could be given of its origins:
"the place and grounde whereuppon the Towne is buylded, and nowe dothe stand, was percell of a great sande lyinge within the mayne sea, at the mouthe of the fludd or ryver called Hierus ... of which ryver the name of the same Towne was derived when it was firste named, vidz. Hiermouth, or otherwise without aspiration it was called Jermouth."
More adventurous antiquarians subsequently made some effort to link Yarmouth with a postulated Roman town at the mouth of the Yare, for which the name Garianonum was invented, and to explain the town of their own time as a later replacement built nearby by the Saxon leader Cerdic. Neither attribution is traceable to any medieval account, and the more acceptable legends associated with Cerdic have him as founder-king only of Wessex. But we see here as too in the application of the legendary hero Lothbroc, in Norse sagas a prince and raider of England, to explain the origins of Lothingland, which neighboured Yarmouth the usual phenomenon of trying to trace back urban origins to an ancient past and authority figures. Associations with figures from the murky past might even be made in the case of small towns about which too little was remembered to formulate foundation legends; Amesbury, for instance was linked to Ambrosius Aurelianus and Bradford-on-Avon to Vortigern, more through coincidences than substantive evidence or local tradition. Antiquarian James Davis, decrying, in a partly satirical vein, flimsy origins theories based on etymological fantasies or unwarranted interpretations of the smallest archaeological finds, noted in regard to his home-town of Devizes that:
"The later authors, who mention this Town, are desirous of giving it an early original. Some would have this town British, some Roman, and others Saxon. They, who contend for its being British, assert Dunwallo to have been its founder, or Divisus. The first opinion has had the ill fortune to be supported, neither by facts, nor even by probabilities."
Assisted by the growing accessibility of public and private archives, disciplined thinkers like Davis whose interpretation of Devizes as a Norman foundation remains current orthodoxy initiated a sea-change in the perception of urban origins in England. We must appreciate, however, that all ages are constrained by the limits of whatever information is available to them when constructing a world-view, and that the human brain is predisposed to seek out whatever kind of meaning it wants, often to reinforce already-held beliefs, and to value different information sources accordingly. Medieval people at least, those who had the leisure to think about history at all desired a connectedness to the past (that distant time well beyond memory) insofar as it might engender pride in their heritage, personal or communal.
Towns from the theoretical perspective
Consideration of the origins of towns was not just a matter for historians; it also fell into the sphere of philosophers, who could approach the question from a more generalized and theoretical direction. Although comparatively productive in the area of monastic and even town chronicles, England produced relatively little original political philosophy. Nor did its chronicles tend to wax philosophical, for the most part, though chroniclers occasionally gave over to moralizing. Although the characters or particular deeds of individual kings might be subject to judgmental commentary, measured against a fairly well established set of criteria concerning the qualities of rulers, the institution of kingship was not itself open to question but simply accepted as an established fact. In like manner, the role or value of towns in society, or the reasons urbanization had occurred, were not addressed generically in chronicles, even though we can infer some understanding of it from the treatment given individual towns. Geoffrey of Monmouth and a few other chroniclers could demonstrate an interest in the origins of select towns, and have specific towns be the location for, or be involved in, particular events; but we rarely have any intimation that towns represent any kind of theme in national history, or still less that there might be an area of study that could be called urban history such perceptions are a relatively modern development.
However, the influence of political philosophy coming out of universities elsewhere in Europe, and thereby the attention given to cities as political units, was felt in England, perhaps particularly though by no means exclusively through the circulation of copies of the De Regimine Principum (ca.1280) of Giles of Rome; that work was, around the close of the fourteenth century, translated into English by John Trevisa, though the English version was little circulated.
Trevisa is better known for another accomplishment. He was not a chronicler himself, but in 1387 had completed an English translation (of which an extended version was printed by Caxton in 1482) of the fourteenth-century monastic chronicler Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon. This had been the last major general chronicle produced in England, a lengthy and almost encyclopedic history (with generous helpings of geography and theology) extending from the time of Divine Creation to Higden's own time, continued a little further by one or more others; although composed originally for the use of Higden's fellow monks of St. Werburgh's abbey, Chester, it acquired widespread popularity, from the late fourteenth into the early sixteenth century and provides a fair reflection of the knowledge of history of those members of late medieval English society who had enquiring minds. Among his sources for English history was the unreliable Geoffrey of Monmouth; Higden adopted the legend of the Trojan origin of European nations and also provided [Bk.I, cap.47-48] a variant of Nennius' list of English cities attributed with ancient names prefixed by 'caer', along with a consolidated synopsis of the founders or other derivations of a number of urban place-names. The publication of Trevisa's translation into the vernacular did much to sustain the influence of the Polychronicon.
Trevisa was, at the time of writing, up to his death in 1402, chaplain to Lord Berkeley and vicar of the small seigneurial town of Berkeley; he spent much of his time translating a variety of Latin works into English, some at his patron's request. Trevisa was widely read, had travelled abroad a little, and appears well-informed; his Latin was good but, as he himself admitted, he occasionally had difficulty with the Latin of some of the authors he translated and fell into the occasional error of misunderstanding the original text. Although his translation of Giles' De Regimine Principum may have been commissioned for political purposes, in some regards it was a nice complement to the Polychronicon, with one work examining society in its concrete aspects, and the other from an abstract perspective.
By the close of the fourteenth century, most of the English history commonly known to laymen came through Trevisa's translation of the Polychronicon, through the works that comprised the Brut sub-genre, and through chronicles produced in London [Hay, op.cit., p.72]. The Brut and the Polychronicon are among books known, from bequests, to have been owned by Londoners. In London at least the elite of urban society was interested in self-education through reading, including reading about their own history. There was a thriving book trade based there, and booksellers included among their stock copies of some of the London chronicles generated by several dozen authors during the fifteenth century. At least some of those writers seem so 'in the know' with regard to civic affairs, including news reports (written or oral) received from time to time by the mayor, that one wonders if they, like Fitz Thedmar and Horn, were not city politicians or bureaucrats.
It is, however, the De Regimine Principum that interests us here. It exemplifies the spread of Aristotelian concepts of politics and ethics, adapted and infused into the Catholic Christian world-view by Thomas Aquinas under whom Giles had studied and whose own works, or spin-offs of them, were well-known in England yet also conscious of the contemporary role of cities, especially those of Italy (where urbanization was significantly more advanced), as powerful entities within the political landscape. At the risk of over-generalizing, prior to Aquinas the attitude of Christian thinkers, notably the Augustinian school, towards secular government was that it had become necessary only because humans had fallen into sin and required an authority that would repress evil; contrary to Aristotle, government and politics could therefore not be seen as natural phenomena, and the greatest good was to be achieved through contemplative spirituality (as a prelude to the afterlife) rather than through political life, for 'civilization' was not a progressive development but a debasement from the original state of human innocence. As the influence of NeoPlatonic, Ciceronian and Aristotelian thought was felt, philosophers started to address civil matters from a more pragmatic viewpoint, within which it was believed humanity might hope to improve socio-cultural conditions to create a better earthly existence; in this context an existing "mirror of princes" literary genre was extended into more fully-blown political theory.
In the above extracts from Trevisa's rendering of Giles' thought the core ideas are drawn from Aristotle:
It is Giles, however, who acknowledges that towns can come into being through specific acts of foundation, though Plato had already made recommendations related to the establishment of urban colonies; such acts (in the sense normally of agreements by groups to live as a political community) are not precluded by Aristotle's theory and indeed may be inferred from some of what he says, but what was important to him was the general evolutionary process rather than the specific point at which a community became urban.
In developing the idea of acts of foundation Giles was doubtless influenced by what he learned from Aquinas, whose own (scanty) political theory favoured constitutional monarchy as the best form of government (a position Giles also took). In his tract De Regno (ca.1260s), Aquinas identified the foundation of cities as an inherent duty of kings a microcosmic imitation of God's creation of the world citing the legendary examples of Romulus creating Rome and Ninus Nineveh, although recognizing of course that some kings would merely rule over cities founded by their predecessors. But Giles envisages the act of urban foundation as coming more commonly through a consensual decision taken by a group that would become the citizenry, with the agency of the ruler-to-be only coming into play as a subsequent (take-over) phase. It may be for this reason that Giles' manual passes over Aristotle's considerations of what factors should be taken into account when establishing a city.
Aquinas had incorporated some of those considerations into his advice to rulers, while at the same time seeking to reconcile Aristotelian ideas with Christian principles; he presents Divine Creation as the original model for earthly initiatives, which however had to use the materials (such as wood, stone, and people) already created by God. He recognizes that a would-be city founder must first find a suitable site: able to furnish the necessaries of life, sanitary, pleasing, yet defensible. The next requirement is for planning the city's layout: designating areas for necessary facilities such as markets, churches, administrative buildings, and for the conduct of various trades; allocating plots to recruited settlers, taking into consideration their occupations. Then the founder has to ensure that the residents are provided with the necessaries of life, each according to what his status requires. Aquinas does not enlarge on this advice, although in subsequent chapters he goes more deeply into what kind of climate breeds prudent citizens capable of participating in government, how the soil should support the growth of crops and fodder and assure a clean water supply, and into the provision of an adequate food supply. Local agriculture is presented as the preferable food supply option, since the importation of supplies is vulnerable to disruption, entails the presence in a city of foreign traders whose ignorance of local customs could cause problems, and encourages the development of greed-driven vices in citizens who engage in commerce; however, he allows that a certain number of merchants are required to procure necessaries not produced locally and to dispose of surplus local produce.
Aquinas' treatise providing advice for rulers was continued through a lengthier extension written (ca.1301) by Ptolemy of Lucca, and the extended version circulated under the title De Regimine Principum; thanks partly to misattribution of the whole to Aquinas, it was widely circulated and influential. Ptolemy had been born into a middle-class family of the republican city-state of Lucca and spent part of his career in Florence, another republican city-state; he was therefore very conscious of the political factionalism that was generating communal forms of urban government, and of the roles of commerce, banking, and industry in shaping urban development. He does not show Aquinas' enthusiasm for monarchy, even a limited one, but he could not avoid the realities of Italian politics and followed Aquinas in arguing in support of papal sovereignty. Partly because Ptolemy allowed that different climates and national temperaments required different types of government, historians are not always in agreement on where exactly he stands in the political spectrum; but he clearly had a certain sympathy with the populist forms he had grown up knowing, and he tended to illustrate his arguments with contemporary Italian examples more than his predecessors had. He thus brings a more grounded perspective to Aristotelianism, in what at times appears almost a justification of Italian civic republicanism.
Ptolemy does not revisit or elaborate points already made by Aquinas in regard to the creation of cities, but takes up the narrative (according to the most recent editor of the De Regimine) during a discussion of why a city's site should not be so pleasing that it jeopardizes virtuous behaviour in citizens, by encouraging idle, immoderate, and insatiable recreation. In chapters that follow Ptolemy identifies the desirability for a territory to have ample natural resources meaning agriculture, livestock, and timber though he shifts his attention from city to king; he reiterates the moral concerns over commerce: how it fosters greed, fraud (through sale of adulterated victuals), and interpersonal conflict. A little further along he mentions the need for roads that are secure and traversable, coinage to facilitate commerce, standardized weights and measures, and hospitals providing welfare to the poor. Even though by now he has left behind urban design per se, is focusing on the needs of a sound government, whether republican or monarchic, and is drawing from classical sources and the Bible, Ptolemy may well have had Italian cities in his mind when discussing these matters.
Ptolemy returns specifically to the theme of cities later with a general discussion of why they are created, along lines not wholly dissimilar from those argued by Giles in the above extracts. Beginning with Aristotle's premise that humans are by nature social and political animals, Ptolemy argues that cities are first and foremost communities and that they serve to protect humans from various harms or dangers (such as wild animals), to furnish them with their needs in terms of food and clothing, to have access to care-givers (including physicians) when ill, and to provide moral supporters in circumstances of adversity. Civil society incorporates a wide range of occupations that can provide the various goods and services needed for a sufficient life; this occupational diversity makes it inevitable that there be different social ranks within urban society, reflected in different types of houses, but all are united by a communal bond, fuelled by charitable attitudes towards one another.
More conspicuously republican in sentiment was Marsilius of Padua, whose father was a notary of that city, other relatives being judges and lawyers. Educated at the university there, he later became associated with the University of Paris the seat of learning for Aquinas, Giles, and Ptolemy where he wrote the Defensor Pacis (1324), a political theory that immediately became controversial and by 1327 had earned him condemnation as a heretic. Even more than Ptolemy, Marsilius formed his views of politics not only from scholarly studies of the works of Aristotle and others, but from first-hand experience of civic republicanism; his family background likely exposed him to Paduan politics in his youth, and before writing the Defensor he had been employed by the pro-imperial families governing Verona and Milan, perhaps on diplomatic duties. Once Paris became too hot for him he entered the service of the Emperor Ludwig IV, who was able to harness Marsilius' arguments for use against papal authority.
Marsilius' views on the origins of cities or kingdoms derive partly from Aristotle, but the conclusions he draws from the Aristotelian idea that civic communities were created for the benefit of their constituents are more forcefully put, in terms of supreme authority lying with the citizens as a body, they being the source of laws and of the election of government; Marsilius maintains tradition in endorsing monarchy as the best form of government, but only when elective and accountable. The Church was subject to the authority of the state, and its legitimate sphere of activity related only to the spiritual welfare of citizens; the pope was merely the first among (episcopal) equals, and the proper authority over the Church was not he but its general council. As with that of Ptolemy, Marsilius' thought was at times sufficiently ambiguous that historians still debate whether it espoused or merely reflected principles and values underlying Italian civic republicanism, and whether he really favoured imperial sovereignty over northern Italian cities or simply saw it as a necessary evil to check papal influence.
Marsilius follows the mainstream of Aristotelian thought in seeing cities as the most nearly perfect expression of human association, and the product of an historical development as humanity increased in numbers, with its goal being to create the right conditions for people to attain the self-sufficiency that enables them to live well. He does not, however, consider the household as a true form of primitive community, but sees it as a situation in which persons related by blood or marriage are subjected to the arbitrary will of one individual; even the village he saw as a community dominated by the most powerful/influential member and given over to dissension because of a lack of standards of conduct, despite the village patriarch's efforts to intermediate disputes and resolve them equitably, though on an ad hoc basis. In this context, urbanization was not the result of an inevitable progression through different stages of communities, all of which were based on an inclination to associate inherent in human nature, nor of any natural human tendency to be political. Rather, Marsilius prefers to emphasize a gradual growth in human experience and knowledge of the principles of communal life, culminating in acts of conscious decision and volition to establish civil communities living in tranquillity (hence the characterization of civil government as the defender of the peace).
Such acts of volition, Marsilius explains, are informed by human inclination to obtain what is necessary to preserve life and to avoid things that are harmful to them. Provision of necessaries entails development of manual skills, requiring cooperation between individuals and human communication for inter-generational transmission of those skills, as well as the management of supplies of produced goods, to ensure communal needs can be met in times of adversity. Protection from harm necessitates group agreement on just standards of behaviour and guardians who will administer such standards and resist transgressors. In addition the civil community comes into being to provide for spiritual needs of its members, through the appointment of persons who will act as guides and teachers in such matters. These then are, in Marsilius' view, the motives that prompted men, as society became more complex and the widening range of interpersonal interactions and transactions created greater potential for conflict, to gather together and form cities. Such a perspective enables him to rationalize the differentiation of functions agricultural, manufacturing, military, administrative, and priestly in urban society, and see them all as necessary to the common good, which in turn justified the entire populace being the ultimate source of authority, regardless of whether civic government took the form of a republic or was a (necessarily constitutional) monarchy. Such authority derived not so much from abstract principles of popular sovereignty, however, but from consensual agreement on the part of those creating the city to subjugate their personal interests to independent but rational standards of justice, in order to create a community that can live peacefully and harmoniously.
How influential the thought of these Italian political theorists was in England is hard to say. This is partly because of the difficulty in pinpointing indirect transmission of ideas through, for example, pilgrimage, mercantile contact, employment of university-schooled men in the bureaucracy and the courts, and clerical sermons; and partly because evidence of direct transmission comes largely from the often serendipitous survival of copies of works and from bequests of books in wills, which are very likely incomplete records of personal collections. Certainly the works of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Giles were in circulation in England, and Henry VIII even commissioned an English translation of Marsilius' Defensor. Papal condemnation of Wycliffe in 1377 had included the accusation he had come under the influence of Marsiglian thought at Oxford; there is actually little sign of that in Wycliffe's ideas (though the case has been made for a connection between Wycliffe and Trevisa at university), but clearly the Defensor was believed available to university students. Furthermore, the Livres dou Trésor of Brunetto Latini like Marsilius, an educated man with practical experience in urban government and sympathetic to self-governing city-states was well enough known in England for his mirror of princes section to be copied into London's <Liber Custumarum; although his book was more a reference tool than a philosophical treatise, it shows the influence of Aristotle and Cicero, as well as the De regimine civitate of John of Viterbo . Latini's mirror begins with a general statement on urban government in which he briefly, if conservatively, attributes the origins of cities to the need to resolve social problems stemming from population increase covetousness and subjection of the weak to the strong communal living providing protection from forces of evil and the opportunity to live according to law.
There was a broad consensus within medieval political philosophy about the origins of civil communities, though each writer had his own particular take on Aristotelian theory. By the time of Bartolus of Sassoferrato's Tractatus de Regimine civitatis (ca.1330), political science was moving away from its predominantly philosophical foundations and relying increasingly on historical observation and/or analysis of contemporary and classical examples of cities and their forms of government. At the same time other Italian philosophers, and even one archbishop of Canterbury, had moved sufficiently far away from the Patristic distaste for civil society that they could praise or advocate city-dwelling as a means of fostering the best Christian behaviours in people ; some writers were even using terms such as 'civility' and 'urbanity' to connote an approved standard of social behaviour (at that period more commonly expressed as gentility or courtesy that is, an attribute of the nobility), although such terms would not start to become fashionable before the very end of the Middle Ages. [Willem Boerefijn, The foundation, planning and building of new towns in the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe, unpublished thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2010, p.309; Johnn Gillingham, "From Civilitas to Civility: Codes of Manners in Medieval and Early Modern England," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., vol.12 (2002), pp.267-89.]
The latter part of the twelfth century might be said to herald in England the beginning of a period of recovery following disruptions to the social order and to the economy brought about by the imposition of a new national regime and then severe infighting within that regime. The Angevin dynasty increased the extent and pervasiveness of monarchical government, while at the same time shouldering more of the work of local administration on counties and towns; established towns were themselves undergoing population growth and numerous new towns were being created to capitalize on expanding agricultural production and commerce. It was from this period onwards that we see an upsurge in the production of written records throwing light, directly or peripherally, on England's towns. Whether produced locally in those towns for mainly administrative purposes, or on a more widespread basis in monastic scriptoria for historical/educational purposes, such records reflect not simply a stage in the transition from a primarily oral to a literate society, but also a perception of the increasing significance of the urban sector within a society conventionally and stereotypically portrayed as composed of warriors, clergymen, and (predominantly agricultural) labourers. Although created for pragmatic purposes, the records generated by boroughs also reveal efforts to define, delineate, characterize, and even construct urban community; such efforts not only looked towards the future, seeking to bolster social solidarity, political pretensions, and the perceived dignity of a town, but could cast back into the past in a quest for roots and the legitimacy they gave. Monastic chronicles, although preoccupied with general history as well as the history of the authors' own houses, could not entirely ignore that towns were part of the geographical, historical, and cultural landscapes they were documenting, though the reliability of their information varies considerably.
Whatever the source of the documentation, it could be argued that there was a shared desire to make sense of a changing social order and, to some extent, influence the shape of that order by defining or describing it. Whether consciously or otherwise, there was some effort within quite a few, perhaps most, of the larger urban communities not merely to define themselves politically but to try to establish common ideas about their history, regardless of whether such ideas were authentic, mythic, or fabricated. At the same time, the proliferation of towns brought them into competition with each other, whether in terms of the regional economic pie or, in some cases, a share in international commerce; one manifestation of this competition was in the acquisition of chartered privileges that could give economic advantage. Claims of connection with some ancient source of authority (or perceived authority) may have been driven in part by an effort to establish differentiations of urban status within this competitive environment. Furthermore we must allow for rivalry on a different plane: within the Christian cosmos; just as the greater churches tried to bolster their relative status and reputation through the acquisition of holy relics, churchmen in control of the technology of literature could seek to elevate or denigrate towns, whether it was by linking their history with saintly figures or other Christian exemplars or by drawing comparisons, favourable or unfavourable, with historical, Biblical, or even cosmological standards. Some linkages and comparisons could later prove useful to political interests within urban communities.
It appears that townsmen were interested not only in the what and when, but also in the who, how and why the agents of causation. By the Late Middle Ages the writing of chronicles was no longer the preserve of well-educated monks. While interest in serious history may still have been somewhat limited to the more educated members of society, the Book of Margery Kempe shows that even a townsperson with relatively little formal education, though not necessarily illiterate, nor unsophisticated, could produce something that is as much a chronicle of her adult life as a work of mysticism. Much of the literature written in towns seems to have been generated by townspeople who were participants in government, or at least associated with the ruling class (as Margery was), and this was not simply a result of more education. Similarly, Tout has noted that "an appreciable proportion of fourteenth-century English literature came from the civil servants of the state." Across the spectrum of society there seems to have been a desire for continuity with the past, just as there is with people of our own time, and (when the ability existed) for documenting that continuity; arguably, that same continuity may have been perceived as extending in both directions, with understanding of the past being seen as a pre-requisite for shaping the future. There was clearly a modest audience for works of history or pseudo-history, even if outside London that audience may have gone little beyond the circle of colleagues and friends of an author; in a time before mass publication, such writings could produce no monetary income and, though they might be hoped to garner reputation, social advancement, or career opportunities, they also appear to have been to some degree labours of love, or of the pursuit of knowledge.
The writings of churchmen such as Geoffrey of Monmouth and William FitzStephen exemplify an interest in urban origins and heritage. Modern historians have sought to explain this by a growing appreciation that towns were a defining feature of civilized society, combined with a desire to associate the peoples who formed English society with the development of its built infrastructure and their native leaders with town-founding accomplishments, for it was considered the duty of rulers not just to protect but to develop the territories over which they had jurisdiction. This appreciation of the importance of towns itself stemmed partly from increasing study of works generated by the classical civilizations which were focused on cities, partly from first-hand information about some of those cities, brought back to England by pilgrims, Crusaders, and supplicants to the papal curia, and perhaps partly from the new wave of town-founding visible in the writers' own time. With examples of seigneurial founders in front of them whereas organic development of towns was a more gradual process less susceptible to perception within a human lifetime it should not surprise us that the beginnings of some of England's larger and longer-established towns would be attributed to some presumed founder of the distant past. Nor should it come as a surprise that England's own great city, London, stands foremost in following the example of monastic chronicling, its residents some ecclesiastics, some laymen weaving into their continuations of established chronicles matters of local significance, and occasionally producing chronicles that were focused primarily on civic history. By the close of the Middle Ages, even a general history of England as John Rous' Historia Regum Anglie shows could be as interested in the shaping of its urban and rural landscapes as in the wars and conquests of kings; according to Leland he also wrote a tract on the antiquity of the town of Warwick (which he tried to identify with Gildas' Caerleon), although no such work has survived. Yet, in the search for awareness of civic history, we do not need to restrict ourselves to chronicles of national scope, for even among the mass of documentation produced primarily for the administrative purposes of individual towns there are traces of records made at least partly with historiographical intent that is, to preserve knowledge for future generations; to what extent such an intent reflects civic policy or enlightened initiatives on the part of individual compilers or comissioners of such records is harder to say and may not be susceptible to generalization.
It would be going too far to argue that the prominent authorial role of members of the urban ruling class represents any systematically deliberate or conscious effort to crystallize local information into fixed shapes and thereby supplant, or undermine the efficacy of, oral tradition and custom, although this charge has been laid for the Early Modern period. This is does not mean, however, that local folklore, or external legends adapted to local needs, were not encouraged and promulgated in writing for political purposes, such as the legitimization of a town's customary rights or privileges or superior status in regard to urban competitors by associating the town with authority figures from a more distant past than the historical grantors of borough privileges. That this mantle of legitimacy involved appropriating or reinventing traditions of other cultures was not seen as an obstacle. Legends could also serve an indoctrination process, helping to build civic pride out of a sense of collective identity and institutional dignity, particularly within the more literate stratum of lay society that furnished many of the personnel of borough government; they were, potentially, one element of the justificatory rationale for the exercise of power by those personnel. Less evident but perhaps also present was the hope that citizens associate with and emulate the heroic or virtuous behaviours of urban founders. Similar effect, in terms of inculcating values of citizenship and good government and encouraging all members of the community to play their roles in harmonious unison, was sought by the development of local religious and political ceremonies, along with their associated external trappings, and the promotion of saintly cults with local significance. This is part of the context in which fabrication of foundation and other local legends or, at the least, receptivity to legends recounted by supposed historians must be understood. Such legends, seemingly accepted locally as authentic history whether with or without any conscious suspension of disbelief is harder to say helped distinguish towns from each other, and created a type of precedent too ancient to be vulnerable to evidential refutation, though how weighty such claims might have proven in court is open to question.
In addition to their use on borough seals, visual reminders of local symbols might be placed at strategic points within a town. An example is the inclusion, in a late-fourteenth century stained-glass window of one of Coventry's principal churches, of a representation of Earl Leofric and his wife Godiva, the latter a kind of foundation symbol in terms of civic freedom from seigneurial dominance. The legend of Lady Godiva claimed pre-Conquest origins for that freedom; attempts (such as those by the men of London and Reading) to claim institutional privileges dating back at least as far as the Confessor, sometimes supported by forged documents, were fairly widespread once the Norman-Angevin dynasty had established firm control of England. Major town gates and the more elaborate examples of sheltered market crosses, as well as cathedral exteriors and interiors, were other places for the display of authority symbols, such as coats of arms and/or statues of kings, bishops, and perhaps mythical figures, to remind viewers of founders, patrons, and protectors. A crowned bust at Bath, for example, of unknown age but possibly a copy of a medieval original, is held to portray Bladud and has the form of something that may once have been set in a sculpture niche in a gateway. One of the original statues on a York gateway is thought to have represented Ebrauk, and at London Ludgate was once topped by a number of statues that included Lud. At Exeter a statue of Henry VII that was once positioned over the archway of the East Gate was garbed in a Roman-style toga, while one of the gateways in the wall separating the cathedral close from the rest of the city provided a reminder of another kind of authority through a statue depicting the Archangel Michael triumphing over the Devil. A pair of niched regal statues still flanking the arch of the sole surviving medieval gateway at Bristol are said to have been placed there ca.1380 because believed to represent Brynne and Belyne (or Brennius and Belinus as Geoffrey has it); they were perhaps taken from some earlier location. Originals of a pair of lions flanking Southampton's Bargate are apparently those featuring in the story of Bevis, who was himself depicted on a panel hung on the gateway; the lion statues are not documented before their refurbishment in the late sixteenth century, and the panel first mentioned even later, although there is some indication it replaced an older painting. Local legends were also reinforced by integrating them into ceremonial events, such as gild processions or royal entries.
As Gervase Rosser ["Myth, image and social power in the English medieval town", Urban History, vol.23, pt.1 (May 1996), pp.5-25] argues, however, legendary symbols were not the preserve of an urban ruling class looking for instruments of social control. Folkloric roots of local foundation legends are hidden in the misty past, and some perhaps entirely lost to our knowledge. The desire to feel connected to our ancestors and to a broader heritage appears a fundamental human need, and may have been particularly strong in urban communities where so many of the residents were immigrants or their progeny. Such linkages were provided by religion, by oral traditions, through the songs of minstrels, and increasingly through access to literature. Christian and pre-Christian legends became intermeshed and aligned, parts of a greater and seemingly coherent whole.
It has been observed that "a legend stimulated interest in the past, attracting immediate attention to any place or object connected with it." Urban foundation legends continued to be passed down in writing, unquestioningly, at the beginning of the era of the printing press by the early antiquarians, whose curiosity introduced the notion that local history was a subject worthy of investigation in its own right, rather than merely as part of a larger scheme. Such legends were, however, largely dismissed, glossed over, or ignored by those antiquarians who pioneered a more scientific local history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Yet, despite some of the evident fictions they contain, like much oral history they hold grains of true knowledge. It was understood that agents of authority, both secular and ecclesiastical, could play a pivotal role in the genesis of towns. It was understood that environmental factors were instrumental in urbanization, particularly the development of commerce, but also population growth (not simply through procreation, but also through immigration), mutual defence, and topography. It was remembered in very general terms that Britons, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings all had a hand in selecting and settling sites that would in time become towns.
Philosophers on the other hand favoured what appeared a more logical genesis of towns, through organic growth, though allowing the possibility of specific acts of foundation. Although they approached civilized society from a very different tangent to chroniclers, more sociological than historical, and to some extent viewed it through the prism of a much earlier time, still they too can provide us with insights into urban history in the Middle Ages. They perceived towns as a significant component of society and, through a combination of analytical observation and rational argument, were able to identify their salient characteristics and amenities. With philosophers and moralists, chroniclers, writers of poetry and romances, urban administrators and other townsmen, all showing some interest in towns and urban society, medieval understanding of the nature and origins of civil communities can be perceived through a range of perspectives, which today we might classify as social anthropology, history, folklore, theology, ethics, and political science.
"appropriate and in the public interest"
"chronicles of Brut"
"established and built"
"castle of Maydens"
"practitioner of the dark arts"
"Fosse and Fossdyke"
"founded and built"
"no more was built"
"Earl of Leicester"
"jury of neighbours"
"whomever of the citizens he wished"
"letters of the Lord King"
"living, living well, and living virtuously"
"Liber De Causis"
"worse than a man"
"quarrelling and conflict"
"defence and avoidance of injury"
"exchanges and contracts"
"association of citizens"
"advantage and sufficient living"
"those who have noble kin"
"study of towns collectively"
"replete with allegory"
"Mirabilia Urbis Rome"
"pronounced in medieval Italy"
"site of the future Guildhall"
"lists of officials"
"the events taking place"
"handful of copies"
"introduction of the mayoralty"
"matters significant to his own life"
"serving as the city chamberlain"
"according to the Dictionary of National Biography"
"foreigners by birth"
"One compiled in Lynn"
"De libertatibus villae et portus de Jernemouth"
"accomplishments of borough bailiffs"
"preceding the index"
"one of the jurors"
"crossed the Thames"
"grow into Oxford"
"give more credibility"
"not the only founder figure"
"theme in national history"
"planning the city's layout"
"most recent editor"
"to live well"
"acts of volition"
"case has been made"
"John of Viterbo:"
"reliability of their information"
"not necessarily illiterate"
"Tout has noted"
"harder to say"
"saintly cults with local significance"
"open to question"
|Created: March 14, 2012. Last update: January 8, 2019||© Stephen Alsford, 2012-2019|