Seminar Nine

Civic Cultures

The idea of the city, whether the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem, Rome, centre of holiness and of corruption, or the great ‘Eastern’ city of Constantinople, has a strong hold in the European imaginary, and cities are vividly represented in iconography and narrative.  We have seen a little of this in e.g. Wace’s Roman de Brut, where the city is simultaneously a marker of the aspiration to permanence and of the experience of transcience and discontinuity (so that London, for instance, is Troynovant).  To date however, we have not historically imagined many contexts for the texts we study other than royal, baronial and ecclesiastical and perhaps gentry chambers and halls in which texts might be read/performed, sometimes individually, more often aloud among groups of varying size.  Sometimes these are in known specific regional areas (such as Gaimar and Constance Fitzgilbert’s Lincolnshire), sometimes their spatialization is more generic (as in e.gHorn).  We need also more specifically to imagine urban environments into our contexts: the twelfth century onwards saw greatly increased numbers of towns being planted (we saw something of this in Fouke FitzWaryn where both Welsh lords and Marcher lords held towns against each other, and where the elements of pastoral we readily attach to the founding of Brutain and the rural setting of the Welsh marches is the vehicle of a more complex network of sites and social alliances and memories inclusive of the idea of the town).

Ecclesiastical, monastic and secular lords alike were interested in towns and the revenues that their markets and fairs could bring: so too were the burgesses and other citizens- artisans, traders, shopkeepers- who made their living in urban rather than purely agrarian settings.  The great period of town and market development in England and one of particular significance for the position of that other major urban player, the monastery, is from the twelfth to the end of the fourteenth centuries.  Borough charters – the documents of identity as a burgess- and even more so, borough custumals, the rules of each town, continued in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to be in French if they were not in Latin, as did town identities.  Following the vastly increased development of new towns after the Conquest, monastic, royal, seigneurial and town lords compete with burgesses for revenue, prestige, control.  In this complex history much discussion has focussed on how far towns offered a distinctive kind of freedom within the structures of feudal lordship. The extent to which a commune of citizens could conceive of themselves as a collective and act as one was often important in the defense of their burghal privileges, as well as in the initial securing of a town charter.  As Sarah Rees Jones has shown, there is an important change in the relation to text in the thirteenth century:  those who own land by burgage tenure do not need a lord’s permission to buy and sell.1  Title deeds enable entry to a city community and show one’s status, defining one as a householder (versus a landless tenant). So we move, in the terms of Clanchy’s study of medieval literacies, from memory to written record: identity is no longer entirely an agreement with your lord, held in the communal memory of witnesses, and embodied in not so much in the charter itself as in the seal, knife or other object appended to it (quite as important a commemoration of the transaction as any writing within the charter). Now documents have power not only as memorial objects but as themselves constitutive. Writing creates trust and status, a status which in this context defines the legal and literary world of the burgess as distinct from the peasant and the aristocrat. The city and writing become associated as marks of inclusion as a civic literary and legal culture distinct from agrarian and aristocratic life develops.  These developments also enable us consciously to expand our sense of the class range of French users in England (hence there is some preliminary reading on language for the seminar).

A number of discourses and genres of documents could be studied beyond the present small selection; for example model cities: the role of the heavenly Jerusalem in conceptions of civic and urban identity (numerous illustrated apocalpyses of the thirteenth century show the heavenly Jerusalem descending at the end of time: cf the role of this city in the Gawain-poet’s Pearl), the earthly Jerusalem or Rome as holy cities on mappae mundi and in pilgrimage discourse, and the Other of these, Babylon (source of division- and of linguistic variety); the role of female mythic, saintly and allegorical patronage in civic identity; the literature of entries and procession; the literature and records of gilds, the role of gilds in communitarian discourse (cf Langland’s Piers Plowman, the possibility that Julian of Norwich addresses the guildsmen of Norwich in her term ‘evene cristene’, etc): the question of when and how the medieval city becomes dystopic and utopic, etc.

Here we concentrate on some documents of urban identity that cross the divide between the culture of record and literary culture and which illustrate the uses of French in imagining and regulating medieval civic culture in England: For primary texts, we look at  town law; the role of towns in mental chorographies of Britain; thought on the governance of the city from a London compilation; penitential estates satire on merchants and the regulations of an urban confraterntity in London using French poetry as a focus for their cultural identity.

1. Sarah Rees Jones, In York between the Conquest and the Black Death (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).


(i) Maryanne Kowaleski’s list of documentary genres in the French of England; medieval list of saints’ resting places and towns; short extract from a borough customal 4 pp. (photocopies).

(ii) The election of the Mayor of London (reworking of extracts from Brunetto Latini’s Livre du trésorinto the Liber custumarum), pp. 16-19 and 24-25 (photocopied text and translation, with some notes at the end).

(iii) extracts from John Gower’s Miroir de l’omme in translation, pp. 330-360 (e-res).

(iv) The regulations of the Puy de Londres pp. 216-28 (photocopy).


(i) the first chapter of the Liber Custumarum is supplied to you without a translation for part of the first paragraph.  This late French prose has variable spelling: if you read sentences and phrases aloud, you will often find it easier to identify particular words, though as always you should never settle on such an identification until you are sure of the grammatical role of the word in its sentence.

(ii) extract from Gower’s Miroir de l’omme (vv. 25237-25260) in the original (photocopy).


(a) We’ll consider our first very short texts collectively (the single sheets on monastic and urban chorographies, the small sample of borough law).

(b) We need an introducer to comment on the system of political values of the Liber custumarum as evidenced in our extract.

(c)  We need an introducer to discuss Gower’s vision and rhetoric on the state of the city and the world in the extract

(d) We’ll again resort to collective mode to comment on the social functions of the Puy, its use of French and the role of poetry in its identity.


[read the following bibliographical list through sections A, B, C: 3 specific articles of preliminary reading for the seminar are bolded: items of particular relevance which you are not required to read but to which your attention is particularly drawn are asterisked]

A. Further Reading on Civic, Mercantile and Pragmatic Frenches

*Britnell, Richard, French in Towns (in Wogan-Browne, Language and Culture, on res)

*Kowaleski, Maryanne, ‘The French of England: A Maritime Lingua Franca?’ (in Wogan-Browne, Language and Culture, on res.)

*Ormrod, W.M., ‘The use of English: language, law and political culture in fourteenth-century England’, Speculum 78 (2003), 750-787. (this brilliant study on the use of French, Latin and English in governance and administration is of particular relevance for London).

Rothwell,  William, ‘The Trilingual England of Geoffrey Chaucer’, SAC 16 (1994), 45-67.

*—, “Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice: From Oriental Bazaar to English Cloister in Anglo-French”, Modern Language Review 94 (1999), 647-659.  (on late medieval business language).

—, ‘English and French in England after 1362’, English Studies 82 (2001), 839-59.

—, ‘The Teaching and Learning of French in Later Medieval England’, Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und Literatur 111 (2001), 1-18.

B. London, Merchants and Others, and Literature

Aronovici, Carol. “Glimpses of Democracy in Mediaeval Urbanism.” The Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians 4/1, The History of City Planning (1944): 4-17.

Barron, Caroline M., London in the Later Middle Ages: Government and People 1200-1500 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Britnell, R.H. “Sedentary Long-Distance Trade and the English Merchant Class in Thirteenth-Century England” in Thirteenth Century England V Proceedings of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Conference 1993. Ed. P.R. Cross and S.D. Lloyd.Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1993, 1995, pp. 129-41.

Butterfield, Ardis, ed., Chaucer and the City (Boydell and Brewer, 2006).

*Hanna, Ralph, London Literature, 1300-1380 (Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2005).

Masschaele, James. “Urban Trade in Medieval England: The Evidence of Foreign Gild Membership Lists.” In Thirteenth Century England V Proceedings of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Conference 1993. Ed. P.R. Cross and S.D. Lloyd. (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1993, 1995), pp. 115-28.

*Carol M. Meale, “The Libelle of Englyshe Polycye and Mercantile Literary Culture in Late-Medieval London” in London and Europe in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Julia Boffey and Pamela King (London: Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, 1995), pp. 206-8, 219-226  (although focussed on a particular poem, this is also a valuable account of merchant literary culture in London: very good background reading).

Staley, Lynn, Languages of Power in the Age of Richard II  (Penn State Press, 2005).

Swanson, Heather. “The Illusion of Economic Structure: Craft Guilds in Late Medieval English Towns.” Past and Present 121 (1988): 29-48.

Thrupp, Sylvia L., The Merchant Class of Medieval London (1300-1500) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1948)  (the great early social history study- still a classic).

C. The London Puy, its analogues, its music, the mercantile and manuscript context

Butterfield, Ardis, ‘Puy’ in Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, ed. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York and London: Garland, 1995).

Cooper, Helen, “London and Southwark Poetic Companies: ‘Si tost c’amis’ and the Canterbury Tales”, in Ardis Butterfield, ed., Chaucer and the City (Boydell and Brewer, 2006) [note that this article includes a most useful edition and translation of the surviving extant Anglo-Norman puys song]  (photocopied in your seminar pack).

*Catto, Jeremy, “Andrew Horn: Law and History in Fourteenth-Century England” in The Writing of History in the Middle Ages. Essays Presented to Richard William Southern. Edited by R.H.C. Davis and J.M. Wallace-Hadrill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), pp. 367-92.  (although this is mostly on Horn’s legal compilations, it is an important study of the man who compiled the Liber custumarum)  E-res.


Dennison, Lynda. “Liber Horn, Liber Custumarum, and Other MSS of the Queen Mary  Psalter Workshops.” In Medieval Art, Architecture and Archaeology in London.  Edited by Lindy Grant.  British Archaeological Association 10 (1990): 118-34.

Earp, Lawrence M, “Cantus coronatus.” Medieval France: an Encyclopedia. Edited by W.W. Kibler and G.A. Zinn. (New York: Garland, 1995).

Gros, Gérard, Le poème du Puy marial: Etude sur le serventois et le chant royal du XIVème siècle à la Renaissance (Paris: Editions Klincksieck, 1996).

Ker, N. R. “Liber Custumarum and Other MSS formerly at the Guildhall.” In N. R. Ker,Books, Collectors,  and Libraries: Studies in the Medieval Heritage, Edited by A. G. Watson (London: Hambledon Press, 1985), pp. 134-42.  BOD Spec COLL.

LeSaux, Françoise H.M., ed., The Formation of Culture in Medieval Britain: Celtic, Latin, and Norman Influences on English Music, Literature, History, and Art(Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995).

Newcomer, Charles B., “The Puy at Rouen” in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 31/2 (1916), pp. 211-31.

Richardson, Louise B. “The confrérie des jongleurs et des bourgeois and the Pui d’Arras in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Literature.”  Studies in Honor of Mario A. Pei, Edited by John Fisher and Paul A. Gaeng (Chapel Hill: University    of North Carolina Press, 1972), pp. 161-71.

Routledge, Michael, “Troubadours, trouvères, et la cour du Puy” in Contacts de langues, de civilisations et intertextualité. Edited by Gérard Gouiran (Montpellier: Centre d’Etudes Occitanes, 1992), pp. 1133-44.

Slocum, Kay Brainerd, “Confrérie, Bruderschaft, and Guild: the Formation of Musicians’Fraternal Organisations in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Europe” inEarly Music History 14 (1995) pp. 257-74.

Stewart, Lorna, “The Chant Royal, a Study of the Evolution of the Genre” inRomania 96    (1975) pp. 481-96.

Sutton, Anne F., The Mercery of London: Trades, Goods, and People (Burlington: Ashgate, 2004).

—, “The Silent Years of London Guild History before 1300: the Case of the Mercers” in Historical Research 71/175 (1998) pp. 121-41.

—, “The Tumbling Bear and its Patrons: A Venue for the London Pui and Mercery” inLondon and Europe in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Julia Boffey and Pamela King (London: Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary and Westfield College; Turnhout: Brepols, 1995), pp. 85-110.


*—, “Merchants, Music, and Social Harmony: the London Puy and Its French and London Contexts, circa 1300” in The London Journal 17 (1992) pp. 1-17.  [E-res]

Veale, E. “The ‘Great Twelve’: Mystery and Fraternity in Thirteenth-Century London” in Historical Research 64 (1991) pp. 237-63.

Note: A brilliant recent study of C12th Arras in NW France (thought by some to have been a model for the London Puy) shows what can be done regarding medieval urban cultures: Carol Symes, A Common Stage: Theater and Public Life in Medieval Arras (Cornell University Press, 2007).