Church and City in the Middle Ages:
In Honour of Clive Burgess
Monday 17th – Thursday 20th July, 2017
Convened by David Harry and Christian Steer
Symposium Report by Eleanor Quinton
Reminiscences of the 34th Harlaxton Medieval Symposium
Church and City in the Middle Ages, in honour of Clive Burgess.
17th to 20th July 2017
Monday 17th July
Arriving at Harlaxton this afternoon was nostalgic: this place was once an annual feature of my life, but I was last here a decade ago. Despite the evidence of refurbishment work in many of the grand spaces, such as the conservatory and the new availability of Wifi since I was last here, it is the same old Harlaxton: the blue corridor is still as resplendent as ever with all its gold leaf, the plasterwork around the cedar staircase is still makes your jaw drop at its intricacy, the clock still chimes every quarter hour, the views over the manor’s formal gardens, and Lincolnshire beyond, which were bathed in sun this afternoon, remain breath-taking and the culture of the place still an odd mix of ostentatious and institutional, the latter betrayed by all its green lit fire escapes and its signs and posters for the students of the University of Evansville.
The conference this year was in honour of Clive Burgess, Senior Lecturer in the department of History, Royal Holloway University of London, and a great friend of Harlaxton. The opening talk by Peter Fleming was, appropriately, a survey of chroniclers and historians of Bristol, from Rikart’s Mayor of Bristowe is Kalendar and other late medieval documents onwards, culminating in Clive’s own extensive work on Bristol’s medieval parish life, focused on the records of the parish of All Saints. This talk successfully established the parameters for the whole conference, and after a tea break in the grandeur of the Great Hall, we were treated to three talks on medieval church music and liturgy by Magnus Williamson, Amy Appleford and Nigel Morgan. Together, these talks covered such themes as London’s changing role in the production of liturgical works for English patrons, whether they be parish churches requiring liturgical texts or private individuals increasingly wishing to own their own vernacular texts of the Office of the Dead; the ubiquity of choral and organ music in churches on the eve of the Reformation; the organisation of musical space inside churches, and the usurpation of Uses such as that of St Paul’s by Sarum by the early 15th century. After dinner, the theme of medieval liturgy and music continued and the conference took an immersive approach by wandering down to Harlaxton parish church to hear compline according to the Use of Sarum, officiated by three excellent male voices, Roger Bowers, Christopher Hodkinson and Magnus Williamson. While we were told that we should stand, move around and chat in the fashion of an authentic medieval congregation, I think we were all carried away by the beautiful simplicity of the service which was largely conducted in plainsong – so we sat, listened and absorbed. Later, having walked back to the manor, the more energetic amongst the delegates now moved to the bar and brought drinks out to the gardens to watch the sun go down; myself, having decided not to wait for the old-fashioned cage lift to make its way slowly down to the ground floor, I began the long trek up all those flights of stairs to my room in the eaves, and called it a very pleasant day.
Tuesday 18th July
This was the most intensive – but nicely paced – day of the conference with a whole programme of fascinating talks on urban religious orders, religious celebration, parish organisation and lay pious provision. The day began with three papers by Nick Holder, Martin Heale and Julian Luxford on the subject of religious orders, their establishment and their role in the urban environment. These talks complemented each other well: the first two took a general approach to the difficulties of establishing an urban monastic precinct in London, and the links which clearly existed between lay guilds and monastic communities who were trying to reach out to the wider community on the eve of the Reformation; the third offered a case-study, bringing together some of the earlier themes of lay patronage and monastic orders in the wider community by exploring the London Charterhouse and the pious provision made there by Sir Robert Reade, a knight and justice of London and Kent. After the break, we reconvened to enjoy two focussed papers on the urban mendicant orders: the first by Elizabeth New argued that mendicant seals bore evidence of the friars’ influence on their design, while the second, by James Clark, argued that the mendicant orders established a more prominent status in small, emerging towns in the late middle ages than in larger and longer-established centres, often thanks to royal patronage.
During the afternoon the subject moved to civic ceremony and parish organisation, with lectures by Sandy Heslop, Justin Colson and Robert Swanson which were all surveys of change. Sandy’s paper was on Norwich churches before and after the Black Death, and gave evidence that over time, despite the depleted size of parish populations, the scale of the remaining churches increased along with their patronage. Justin’s paper offered nuance to the common assumption that parish organisation became more oligarchic over the course of the sixteenth century by pointing out the continued breadth of local office-holding, a theme picked up again after tea by Gabriel Byng, whose study of the uniquely rich parish records of Chagford, Devon, also allowed a more complex picture of local office-holding to emerge. While there was clearly a move toward fewer probi homines at the top of the parish hierarchy, reducing from twelve to four during the early sixteenth century, their influence was often kept in check by frequent changes of office and by the devolution of powers further down the hierarchy. Robert Swanson’s paper, meanwhile, explored the relationship between Lincoln College, Oxford, and two Oxford parishes which it helped to administer, demonstrating that while parishes could sometimes be viewed as an asset, at other more impecunious times they could be a burden and it was preferable to offload their administration. The final talk of the day by Claire Daunton, explored pious provision in the wills of around eighty merchants, tradesmen and their families in Lynn in the fifteenth century. The town’s benefactors, perhaps like those of Hull, were perfunctory in their religious provisions, and Claire’s paper explored the possible reasons for this: had they made other pious provision during their lifetime, which was a theme of some of Clive Burgess’ work, or were they simply less pious than their parallels in other towns?
The day culminated in evening drinks, both in the coach house courtyard and in the bar and conservatory. Meanwhile, the conference’s postgraduate delegates – including this year’s Dobson Scholars Claire Kennan and Esther Lewis – exhibited poster displays showcasing their research with many of the symposium’s delegates eager to hear all about their work. It was a happy end to a happy day.
Wednesday 19th July
Another brilliant round of papers this morning, beginning with Jon Cannon on the spectacular parish church of St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. Jon argued that the cathedral-like qualities of this parish church were unique in their abundance, and that this grandeur suggested the influence of wealthy patrons, perhaps ecclesiastical ones. The parish in which it stands was fast-growing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the ambition of the building project, whilst unique in its extent, is also evidenced in other fast-developing English suburbs of that time. Next, was James Lee – examined many years ago by Clive! – who spoke on late medieval Bristol reminding us of the value placed on record-keeping and procedure at the parish level; people were legalistic and cared about the veracity of the records kept by parish officials, on which procedure their social and economic standing depended, and there was a move by the 1380s towards granting parishioners greater access to them. During questions, it emerged that this was a development also noted by Caroline Barron in London during the same decade, when Londoners were fashioning and implementing a controversial set of civic oaths and ordinances known as the Jubilee Book. After break, three papers followed which dissected different forms of commemoration in the medieval church: Anna Eavis’ paper focused on the commemorative stained glass in the north and south clerestory of Long Melford Church, Suffolk, much of which can be linked to John Clopton and the “in set” of influential medieval Londoners commemorated in the glazing schemes. Following this, John Goodall brought life to the cage chantry, arguing that the idea derived from other forms of enclosed space such as bed furniture, and that caged chantries were just one of a number of forms of enclosure within churches which gave physical presence to social stratification. David Lepine closed this session reflecting on Richard Fleming, bishop of Lincoln, whose chantry and cadaver tomb in the cathedral were once accompanied by an epitaph almost certainly written by himself in the years of illness leading up to his death in 1431. The epitaph survives independently, and it contrasts Fleming’s own vigour and beauty as a young man to his ultimate station as nothing more than “food for worms”. The bishop was clearly proud of his head of hair, referred to in his epitaph and then preserved in stone on his monument which shows a mane of golden locks, most unusual for the priesthood!
Lincoln’s Bishops’ Palace was the destination of the afternoon’s trip and before we left, Rosemary Hayes told us about Bishop William Alnwick (1436-1449) who was responsible for many improvements to the palace which, as he was at pains to record in his will, cost more than the sum of his diocesan rents and revenues.
The trip to the palace itself was a real eye-opener, and thanks to David Stocker who was on hand to point out some of its curiosities, such as Alnwick’s Burgindian-style stone buffet inserted into the wall of his lavish new dining hall. The layout of the palace also made clever use of its position on Lincoln’s rocky outcrop, with large cellars spanning the length of both formal halls, and terraced gardens overlooking the city. Our visit to Lincoln gave an opportunity to admire Fleming’s chantry chapel and monument in situ where David Lepine admirably fielded questions and comments from eagle-eyed delegates.
Back at Harlaxton, a quick wash and brush up – with several of the chaps slipping into their DJs! – and it was time for the formal book launch, Saints and Cults in Medieval England edited by Sue Powell and beautifully produced by the indefatigable Shaun Tyas. The Conference dinner was as memorable as ever – a night of good food, great company and mirthful reminiscences by Christian Steer – and of course by Clive Burgess. There were toasts to Clive, to the staff of Harlaxton College and to scholarship, and plenty of opportunity to write messages in the book of tributes which would be presented to Clive the next day.
Clive Burgess’ career has also been shaped by his research on medieval London, so it was fitting that the last day of the conference concentrated on London history. The first talk, by Vincent Gillespie, pondered the extent of lay access to, and influence on, the London Charterhouse. The Carthusians have been remembered for their remoteness, asceticism and for the brave stand they made against Thomas Cromwell during the suppression of the 1530s, resulting in a number of executions, but this paper made it clear that Charterhouses established near urban centres were a departure from the more rural houses which were characteristic of the movement in its first 200 years. Following the model of the Parisian Charterhouse, the one established on the perimeter of London in the 1370s relied on civic endowment which made it, from the outset, beholden to the community on its doorstep, and over time a symbiotic relationship grew up in which the Charterhouse developed a reputation in the art of dying, making it invaluable to Londoners focused on their passage through Purgatory. The paper was a masterful survey of the ways in which Carthusians faced a constant tension between the ascetic rules of their order and the commemorative wishes of the Londoners who endowed and maintained the house.
After break, the conference concluded with three papers on late medieval London, all of which focused on specific urban communities, both spatial and cultural. Katherine French explored the records of three London parishes to illuminate the lives of the large body of parish poor. Such people are hard to find records for because their participation in the life of the parish, as civic officers or as witnesses or sureties, was so much more scant. But through a survey of parish rentals, sometimes of single-room tenements, and through extraordinary money-raising projects recorded at parish level, something of the lives of ordinary Londoners can occasionally be glimpsed, including the fluidity of households in which unrelated parishioners could end up cohabiting in order to help make ends meet. The paper was a fascinating reminder that all we usually see in the civic records are the successful top slice of society, and that this should not distort our view of the late medieval city. She was followed by Julia Boffey and focused on the circulation of the “Complaint of God”, also known as the “Remorse of Conscience”, a poem in which God is in dialogue with man about his sin and the need to make amends. The poem was attributed to William Lichfeld, rector of All Hallows by the Tower (d.1447); Julia argued that the majority of the manuscript versions that survive seem to have been copied in London, attesting to Londoners’ particular penchant for Middle English pious literature. The final talk of the conference was by Caroline Barron and concerned the precinct of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in the fifteenth century, which she argues was a “virtual London parish”: the beginnings of what became a thriving community of what seems to have been learned Londoners came in 1373 when the hospital was granted freedoms from the Augustinian Priory to which is was attached, including the right to have its own cemetery. Caroline surveyed the hospital’s cartulary, written from the 1450s, and was able to find valuable information about the occupants of the precinct’s tenements. This seems to have been the medieval equivalent of a gated community, often of book-owning widows, retirees or clerics – but sometimes also goldsmiths, living away from the bustle of the commercial districts in the relative safety and serenity of their own enclosed slice of London, worshipping at their own chapel of the Holy Cross within the hospital precinct and acting as each other’s executors and sureties. While the conference had been largely devoted to medieval parish life, this talk was a reminder that communities could develop organically where there was mutual advantage, and exist in parallel to expected social structures.
David Harry rounded off a wonderful four days and had everyone on their feet for one final applause thanking Clive for his scholarship, his teaching and – most especially – his friendship over many years. Another thoroughly enjoyable and intellectually-stimulating Harlaxton conference was over – but it has become such an institution in medievalist academia that we can depend on being able to return again – as well as to being able to enjoy the proceedings of this year’s conference in print in the not too distant future. Thank you to Christian Steer and David Harry for putting on such a packed and interesting programme – it was a fitting tribute to Clive’s career and a truly memorable few days.
Dr. Eleanor Quinton,
Secretary, Harlaxton Medieval Symposium 1997-2005
Harlaxton Will Return In…2018. Further details will be available on the Symposium website in early 2018.