The Burgh Records at the Why Archives & Records Matter Conference 2023

The Conference at Riddle’s Court – interior images via @CILIPScotland

On 11 May William & Jackson spoke at the Scottish Council on Archives‘  Why Archives & Records Matter Conference. This was a really insightful day, with presentations from a wide mix of fields (including healthcare, public services, and tourism, to name a few) working with archives and records.

It was striking that so many of the talks and discussions concentrated on the themes of trust, transparency, accountability, and evidence – all very much live topics in 2023 – and all crucial to healthy & vibrant democratic societies. Congratulations to the SCA in bringing together a showcase of how important and impactful archives and records are to all aspects society, economy, & culture.

Jackson & William spoke about about using archives in video game development, through the burgh records project and the making of Strange Sickness.

The event was held in beautiful Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh, a 16th-century merchant’s tenement restored by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust.

New Book by William Hepburn on the Royal Court of James IV

This month, The Household and Court of James IV of Scotland, 1488-1513 is published by Boydell Press, volume 4 in the Scottish Historical Review Monograph Second Series. Jackson Armstrong asked the author, FLAG Research Fellow William Hepburn, some questions about the book.

It’s really exciting to have this new contribution to our understanding of medieval and renaissance Scotland. But let’s start with the fundamentals: what is a court and is it the same thing as household?

A lot of ink has been spilt on this at least as far back as Walter Map in the twelfth century who wrote, as a courtier of Henry II, that in a ‘spirit of perplexity I may say that in the court I exist and of the court I speak, but what the court is, God knows, I know not.’ My whole book is really about trying to find an answer to this question for the court of James IV. Broadly speaking, I argue that the court is the space around the king – wherever he may be – and the people who occupy it, while the household is an institution of paid officers which organises and serves the needs of the court.

What types of sources survive to tell us about the royal court in this period?

There are many sources which have some bearing on the history of the court, but some of the key sources for the court of James IV are two sets of financial records, the treasurer’s accounts, which record a rich variety of expenditure at court, and the exchequer rolls, which record the regular revenues and expenditures of the crown. In particular, the comptroller’s accounts included within the exchequer rolls provide vital evidence of the payment of fees to individuals for service in the household. James IV’s is the first Scottish reign from which the treasurer’s and comptroller’s accounts survive in substantial numbers. It is also the first from which a household ordinance of certain Scottish origin, the 1508 bill of household, survives. These prescriptive documents describe rules for the court, in this case largely concerned with who was entitled to be at court, and receive bed and board there, and the number of servants and subordinates they were allowed to have with them. In the process it provides a snapshot of the court and its structure at a moment in time. While the records of James IV’s court are rich compared to earlier Scottish kings, some of its European contemporaries, such as the court of the Dukes of Burgundy, are far better documented.

Was the Scottish royal court similar to other princely courts in Europe?

It was. As part of a European courtly culture and society it shared many of the same influences and actively exchanged goods, personnel and ideas with the other courts of Europe, perhaps most notably when Scottish kings married women from, for instance, France, Denmark and, in James IV’s case, England, who brought with them large entourages of their compatriots. The Scottish court was, however, much smaller than the courts in the neighbouring realms of France and England. Also, every court is unique, and heavily influenced by the personality of the ruler at its core. In James IV’s case, the king’s apparently gregarious personality seems to have made his court a playful and entertaining place, even as the games and entertainments held there were freighted with status opportunities for those involved.

How significant was the reign of James IV for developments within the royal court?

The nature of the surviving Scottish sources makes it difficult to discern long-lasting institutional changes at the Scottish court equivalent to the development of the royal chamber identified at the contemporary courts of the early Tudor monarchs of England. However, James IV’s reign was looked upon as something of a golden age in the decades that followed. The court was a key feature of this depiction, most famously in the words of the poet Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount, who had been at the court of James IV and celebrated it through his poetry as a courtier of James V. The example set by James IV’s court is also found in references to it in administrative records from James V’s reign. Indeed, one of the comptroller’s accounts from James IV’s reign only survives as a copy from the reign of his son, in which it provided an example for the officers of the later king to follow.

And of course, what about burghs – how urban was the royal court and what insights do burgh records offer?

The court was wherever the king was, and the king was often in, or near, towns. One of William Dunbar’s poems is based around the apparent distaste of courtiers for Stirling, where one of the king’s chief residences was located, compared to Edinburgh, located next to another of the king’s most-used palaces at Holyrood. Even in burghs that weren’t beside a royal palace there could be much interaction between town and court. Aberdeen’s rich records provide detail about royal visits, such as the gifts offered to monarchs when they visited, and the treasurer’s accounts can round out our picture of these occasions with evidence of royal spending in Aberdeen. One royal visit to Aberdeen, by James IV’s queen Margaret Tudor, is vividly recorded in a poem written for the occasion, again by William Dunbar. It describes how the burgh and its burgesses, lavishly dressed for the occasion, honoured the queen and the monarchy more broadly using tableaux constructed along the route of the queen’s entry to the town, including scenes such as a depiction of the vaunted Scottish king of yesteryear Robert I (Robert the Bruce).

Many congratulations on the publication!

The book is available in all good bookshops and directly from Boydell & Brewer.

The Town Hall of Medieval Augsburg

Herbst/Winter (Oktober–Dezember), showing Augsburg Perlachplatz, by Heinrich Vogtherr the Younger (c. 1550). The Town Hall is on the right. See . Original painting in DHM, Berlin.

On 20 February the Burgh Records Project was pleased to welcome Prof. Dr Jörg Rogge (JGU Mainz), to Aberdeen, to give a paper on “The town hall of medieval Augsburg – a material expression of communal self-concept”.

Jörg’s paper explored the administrative functions of the Town House (Rathaus), its upkeep and renovation (works detailed in the BMB Baumeisterbücher), and the symbolic aspects of the building.

He addressed the medieval Town House as – foremost – a functional space. As a secure building it was the place where the council met, where peace-breakers were imprisoned, where taxes were paid until the 1470s and where financial officials, including the Baumeister, conducted their transactions (in a dedicated chamber known as the Baumeisterstube), and stored their records. It was the focal point in Augsburg for demonstration of a consensus between the governing council and wider civic community of burghers, and the Town Hall itself expressed the idea of a ‘cooperative community’.

All the same, Jörg argued, such a consensus came to be replaced by a less participatory civic culture in the decades from the 1470s-1490s, and onwards. In this regard the paper examined how the same building came to be more exclusively focused on the urban elite, asserting their position as rulers of the city and exercising their collective power in way that adopted the forms used by the nobility.

The elaborate model of the medieval townhouse pictured above is in the Maximilian Museum in Augsburg. It was made by craftsmen in the early seventeenth century, when the medieval building was demolished to make way for the new construction designed by Elias Holl, in 1615, which survives today.

Jörg remained in Aberdeen for the week and collaborated in person in FLAG-related writing projects, and managed to catch a Dons match.

Year End 2022: Awards nominations, The World & alewives at yuletide

There are a few highlights to note as 2022 draws to a close.

After our excursion to Germany with the FLAG team in October, we returned home to learn that Strange Sickness had received some wonderful recognition.

Strange Sickness was nominated for a BAFTA Scotland Award in the game category, and longlisted in the creativity category at the Scottish Games Awards. The latter was part of the first ever Scottish Games Week, held at the end of October, which was a busy set of activities bringing the games industry together across Scotland.

The BAFTA Scotland Awards ceremony in Glasgow in November was only the second time that the whole Strange Sickness team of William, Katherine, Alana and Jackson had been together in person. It was a dazzling night – no less than two Doctor Whos were there – and it was a great honour to be recognised in this way.

On 29 December, William featured in a radio interview for The World, about the Strange Sickness project.

The World, based in Boston, Massachusetts, is US public radio’s longest-running daily global news programme. Check out the interview in the broadcast online here.

And finally, something seasonal from the Burgh Records…

On this day (31 December) in 1481, several alewives were convicted for selling ale at a higher price than the burgh statutes allowed. Presumably demand was high during the festive period of yule! The day was, of course, not reckoned to be the end of the year under the old calendar, although the date did fall within the yuletide period. These cases were heard in the bailie court which met this day (it was a Monday). The next day of business was the yule head court, held on Monday 7 January. See this blog post about holidays in the ARO.

Of these women only two were identified by their given names: Joneta (spouse of William Rate), and Agnes Baxtar. Another woman, called the spouse of William Moyses and the widow of John Cathkyn, was named. One man – Nicholas Baxtar – was also convicted for selling ale against the common ordinance on behalf of his wife (possibly Agnes who was listed separately) and the wives of Duncan Smyth and John Sincler.

No punishments were specified, suggesting that these measures were a matter of course, the convictions being more of a slap on the wrist than anything more severe. Brewing was a craft dominated by women, and here is a little snapshot of the way in which the courts were used, even during a holiday period, to regulate those who supplied this refreshment to the people of the burgh.

References: ARO-6-0710-02, ARO-6-0710-03, ARO-6-0710-04, ARO-6-0710-05.

Link to Scottish Games Network story about BAFTA nominations.

To Mainz and Augsburg: FLAG Workshop II meets in Germany

Mainz: The Old Cathedral (foreground) and St Martin’s Cathedral

Late medieval urban government was under discussion through the main project themes of ‘order’, ‘budget’ and ‘unity’.

On 6 and 7 October FLAG hosted its second international workshop, a gathering in person at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. The main purpose of the workshop was for the project team to share working drafts of publications, and to hear insights and input from a panel of commentators and round-table participants. Following the event a group of FLAG team members visited Augsburg – long overdue as we had originally hoped a team meeting there would have been a first gathering back in 2020!

Workshop underway in Mainz

The papers presented in advance for discussion addressed FLAG’s examination of urbanitas as a focus for comparison between Augsburg and Aberdeen, and explored the digital methods we are using. The discussions around the papers highlighted the importance of bringing Scottish and German historiography into new dialogue, which is also one of the goals of FLAG.

On the morning of the 6th we were treated to a guided tour by excavation director Dr. Guido Faccani of Mainz’s ‘Old Cathedral’ (today’s Lutheran Johanniskirche). This is the only cathedral building originating in the early middle ages in Germany, and it is the predecessor building of the Romanesque cathedral of St Martin.

Dr. Faccani leads the tour

On 6 October the programme included the following sessions:

Welcome and introduction – Professor Jörg Rogge and Dr. Jackson Armstrong

Dr. Regina Schäfer: On administrative structures and terminology in Augsburg (1368 to 1466). Commentators: Dr. Mathias Kluge, Augsburg; Dr. Dominique Adrian, Nancy.

Dr. William Hepburn: Compt, rekning and payment: The Economic Ideal of Urban Government in Late Medieval Aberdeen. Commentators: Dr. Eliza Hartrich, University of East Anglia; Professor Graeme Small, Durham.

Dr. Wim Peters & Dr. William Hepburn: Evaluation of digitised sources – digital hermeneutics. Commentators: Professor Jessica Nowak, Leipzig/Mainz; Dr. Benjamin Hitz, Basel.

Above: Images of Augsburg Cathedral (L), effigy of Abbot Heinrich Friess (d.1482), in the Basilica of SS. Ulrich and Afra (C), and the Perlachturm (R)

On 7 October the programme included the following sessions:

Professor Jörg Rogge & Dr. Jackson Armstrong: Urbanitas – Augsburg and Aberdeen in Comparison. Commentators: Prof. Gabriel Zeilinger, Erlangen-Nürnberg; Dr. Alan MacDonald, Dundee.

Roundtable: Professor Michael Brown, St. Andrews; Professor Edda Frankot, Universität Nord; Professor Jelle Haemers, Leuven; Professor Steffen Krieb, Akademie der Wissenschaften in Mainz.

On 8 and 9 October members of the FLAG team visited Augsburg, and included a visit to the Maximilian Museum which holds the fifteenth-century archive chest, and early modern wooden models of the medieval town house.

Jörg Rogge, Regina Schäfer, and William Hepburn with the archive chest of 1470 from the Augsburg town house, in the Maximilian Museum.

Above: detailed images of the model of the medieval town house of Augsburg, in the Maximilian Museum.

Festivals, Museums, Galleries – Events This Month

September sees a number of events linked to the Burgh Records Project & the Strange Sickness game.

On Saturday 17th September, 15:45-16:15, at the Sir Duncan Rice Library, William & Jackson will contribute to the Uni-Versal History & Heritage Festival with a short talk on Strange Sickness. More details may be found here

On Wednesday 21st September, 12:30-13:15, at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, William & Jackson will present a Lunchtime talk on the making of Strange Sickness. More details may be found here: talk

And on Friday 30th September, 19:00-22:00, at the Aberdeen Art Gallery, as part of Gallery Late: Medieval Mayhem, William & Jackson will have a showcase of Strange Sickness and be on hand to chat about the game and answer questions! More details at this link: medieval

Rumour has it they may have medieval-themed costumes in the works for some of these sessions…

Come along and learn about exploring history through games!

The Grays of Aberdeen and composer Robert Carver’s family relations

Musician and researcher D. James Ross has published a short paper about his investigations into the nebulous but fascinating Gray family in Aberdeen in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

A member of the family was Robert Kervour (Carver), Scotland’s most outstanding Renaissance composer. He is also the man who, as heir to the chaplain Andrew Gray who died in 1504, was to be given possession of Gray’s still for aquavite and rosewater (see the blog post and news item from 2019).

The new paper, entitled “Shifting Shades of Gray: A Musical Dynasty in Mediaeval Aberdeen”, appears on the Early Music Review website. It makes use of the Aberdeen Registers Online.

D. James Ross is the author of a number of works including Musick Fyne: Robert Carver and the Art of Music in Renaissance Scotland (1993).

FLAG Workshop-Bericht auf der Plattform H-Soz-Kult veröffentlicht / FLAG Workshop report out on H-Soz-Kult platform

Neue Perspektiven für die städtische Verwaltung in Städten des 15. Jahrhunderts / New perspectives on civic administration in 15th-century towns

A report of our international workshop held on 5 and 6 November 2021 has been published on H-Soz-Kult (a moderated history-information platform based in Berlin). This report was prepared by Regina Schäfer and William Hepburn. The citation and link follows below:

Tagungsbericht: New perspectives on civic administration in 15th-century towns, 05.11.2021 – 06.11.2021 Aberdeen und digital, in: H-Soz-Kult, 8.01.2022, <>.