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Florilegium Urbanum
Introduction | Community | Economy | Government | Lifecycle

 Prologue 

The aim of Florilegium Urbanum is to provide a considered selection of primary source texts illustrative of various aspects of medieval urban life, and to present those texts in modern English. The texts have been translated from the original Latin or Anglo-Norman French, or converted from Middle English; the language of the original is indicated in the header for each document. My underlying purpose is not simply to put online a set of primary documents, however, but to provide a richer understanding of medieval English towns and townspeople by presenting extracts from medieval records in a framework of commentary and explanation that will, I hope, give readers better insight into the character, perspectives and preoccupations of urban society. Introductory essays to each section are not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, but to provide a general context for understanding the primary documents and to indicate some of the key themes and concepts of the subject area.

The term florilegium refers to a compilation of excerpts from other writings. It is formed from two Latin words and means, in a literal sense, a sampling of flowers; that is, a collection of choice blooms into an appealing floral arrangement. The same concept is seen in "anthology", which is likewise based on Greek words for "flowers" and "gathering".

Medieval florilegia were extensive (almost encyclopedic) and systematic collections of extracts drawn mainly from the writings of the Church Fathers and other early Christian authors, as far back as the Gospels, although classical writings might also be sampled. The aim was to pull out passages that exemplified certain topics and, taken together, might present an overall treatment of some ethical or doctrinal theme.

In the post-medieval period, "florilegia" was applied less discriminately to miscellanies or compilations of literary or scientific character. I therefore do not feel too guilty if my application of the term to this collection of extracts from medieval archives is not precisely in the spirit of the earliest florilegia. Although in that my intent is to try to present (in most cases) texts casting a general light on urban life, as opposed to texts highly particular to unique circumstances, and is also of course to educate, I hope I have not strayed too far from that spirit.

Documents such as are excerpted here give some indication of the range of source materials available for the study of medieval towns; the majority are still unpublished. For the most part they derive from the official record of medieval government, rather than intimate accounts of private matters; but they can be revealing.

"Such things may be only shadows, but they are the shadows of men and women."
G.H. Martin, 1973

 Note on editing conventions 

Most of the documents included here were accessed via published transcripts. Not a few of those transcripts were accompanied by translations by the transcriber, or a colleague. I have chosen to provide a fresh translation in the great majority of cases, since my emphasis is on conveying the sense of the originals in a form that a wide audience can easily understand. To achieve this it has sometimes been necessary to take small liberties in interpreting terminology of the original, or in modifying the structure of the original – although I have avoided the latter where practicable. This prioritization of sense over strict equivalence of word meanings and grammatical structure conforms, albeit unintentionally, to the medieval convention of translation. In cases where I felt it advisable to retain terms that were either technical or now not in usage, footnotes (or links to my glossary) are provided to explain those terms. I have striven (not always successfully) for consistency in translating terms across the numerous documents, but in some cases different translations of the same expression were necessitated by differences of context. Punctuation is used to support the modern translation, and does not necessarily reflect any medieval punctuation in the originals.

The earlier translations into English to which I refer above are in a form truer to the language and manner of expression of the original, but at the cost of using an English style that is today not always easy to understand. Readers wishing for this kind of stricter translation are referred to the print sources identified in the headers. However, they should note that I have also taken opportunity of my new translation to correct occasional errors or omissions in some of the earlier translations. Where the primary sources themselves lack explicit internal evidence for dating, I have usually relied on dates estimated by the original transcriber/translator.

I must echo the sentiments of Salzman, in his preface to English Life in the Middle Ages (1926) when he says:

"My quotations are important for their meaning, and it is more essential that the reader should grasp that meaning than that he should have the exact original before his eyes and be left to gape amazedly at unfamiliar combinations of vowels and consonants. But no one will be more pleased than myself if any readers are moved to turn to those originals and tackle them for themselves."

In a few cases, I have chosen to include texts that were only available to me in English translation. I have thought it sensible not to attempt modernization of those texts, without having reference to the version in its original language.

Minor interpolations to make the sense of the text clearer or more explicit, or occasionally to provide a synopsis of extensive omitted sections of text, are represented by text enclosed within square parentheses [ ]. These interpolations are, I recognize, uncomfortably frequent; but I have felt them necessary, since my readers in the democratized environment of the Web will include newcomers to medieval urban history. Doubtful readings or meanings are indicated by inclusion of a question mark in those parentheses. An ellipsis indicates either missing or illegible text in the original, or my decision to omit some text from my translation.

I have modernized and standardized Christian names, but have left surnames in the form found in the original source, except in occasional cases where a single document contains variants of the same surname – in which case I have selected one – or where I have found it necessary to make a correction or clarification, such as when a name has been incorrectly transcribed or is well-known in a different spelling. Occupational qualifiers have been translated only in those cases where, in my judgement, they appear to be designating an actual occupation, rather than indicating an affixed surname. Names of places (when referring to places, as opposed to use as surnames) I have modernized, when able to identify the actual location, past or present.

Keywords have been included at the beginning of each page, to give a quick sense of the principal or significant subjects dealt with by each document. These keywords are taken from a controlled vocabulary, and a search on any one or combination should retrieve other documents dealing with the same subject; the thesaurus will be added to this Web site at a later date.

Please note that on this Web site 'Public Record Office' is used to refer to the British institution subsequently renamed the National Archives. And that the names of some other archival repositories may also be out of date due to periodic structural changes in local government.

Introduction | Community | Economy | Government | Lifecycle


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Created: August 18, 2001.
Last update: February 22, 2014
© Stephen Alsford, 2001-2014