‘Order’, ‘budget’ and ‘unity’ were among the themes explored in the first FLAG workshop on the topic of New perspectives on civic administration in fifteenth-century towns.
On 5 and 6 November FLAG hosted its first international workshop, a ‘hybrid’ in-person and online gathering in Aberdeen. This brought the project team together, alongside participants invited to share perspectives from their own work.
The FLAG team presented the project’s challenge to identify shared aspects of ‘urbanitas’ in towns as different as Augsburg and Aberdeen. The themes of ‘order’, ‘budget’ and ‘unity’, and the digital tools and methods deployed in FLAG, were explored in the first two papers given by the project researchers.
The invitees then presented work-in-progress papers on their own work, covering aspects of medieval urban record keeping, and the interlinked themes of ‘order’, ‘budget’ and ‘unity’. An important goal of FLAG is to bring Scottish and German historiography into closer dialogue, and this was evident in the rich discussions that followed each paper. We were also treated to a display of Aberdeen council register volume one, by Phil Astley (City Archivist). Our hybrid format was a success, with the kind assistance of PhD student Ebba Strutzenbladh as facilitator. All participants followed the current measures for covid-19 mitigation. The programme outline follows below.
The meeting also allowed for some excursions around the formal planned sessions, including to Dunottar Castle, and Huntly Castle.
On 5 November the programme included the following sessions:
Welcome and introduction – Jörg Rogge (Mainz) and Jackson Armstrong (Aberdeen)
Wim Peters (Mainz) and William Hepburn (Aberdeen), Digital hermeneutics: methodology and first results from the Aberdeen ARO corpus
Regina Schäfer (Mainz), Talking about Law and Order in Augsburg
Amy Blakeway (St Andrews), War and the burghs, 1528–1550
Julia Bruch (Köln), Accounting Practices in Monasteries, Towns and Courts. Methodological Reflections
Elizabeth Gemmill (Oxford), The language of things: descriptions of objects and consumables in the burgh court records of late medieval Aberdeen
Jessica Bruns (Halle), Knowledge between pages. Book usage as a new form of administrative practice in late medieval Soest
Eliza Hartrich (UEA, Norwich), For the Comene Wele? Languages of Unity and Division in English and Irish Municipal Records, c. 1450-1500
Phil Astley (Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives) – viewing of Aberdeen Council Register volume from City Archives
On 6 November the programme included the following sessions:
Jens Klingner (ISGV, Dresden), Texts and transmission. City books and account books from late medieval Dresden
Andrew Simpson (Edinburgh), Brieves in the Burgh Records of Aberdeen, ca.1400-1500: Some Preliminary Thoughts
Christian Speer (Halle), Are town books reliable witnesses of the past? Critical considerations on the categories “note“, “transcript” and “fair copy” based on the Libri civitatis and Libri obligationum of Görlitz in the 14th and 15th century
The workshop was held in the Craig Suite at the Sir Duncan C. Rice Library, University of Aberdeen. The crisp November weather offered a sunny treat to participants, some of whom who also took up the kind offer of a visit to see the Kirk of St Nicholas.
Following the end of the workshop the sun came out for a visit to King’s College Chapel, and St Machar’s Cathedral, while others went to see the Dons lose to the Steelmen, before carrying on to hear Public Service Broadcasting play at the Music Hall!
With members of the current FLAG project, it will present the digital humanities work which is currently underway, investigating the ARO alongside a comparable digital resource from medieval Augsburg.
And, with Dr Claire Hawes, it will showcase creative responses to the themes and language in the ARO, in the form of contemporary song-writing and musical performance.
Claire will discuss the process by which she and Aberdeen-based musicians collaborated to write a set of songs which were performed at the Scottish Parliament in early 2020. These songs have now been recorded for the first time and they will be included in the session!
A paper in the form of a ‘thread’ of 12 tweets from @medievalabdn, by Dr William Hepburn and Dr Jackson Armstrong, will look at the story that has led so far to the Strange Sickness game project, and the steps on the road to creating and bringing a historical research-based game to life.
Papers at the conference running 25-28 May 2021 may be found with the Twitter hashtag #MAMG21.
This month and last the language used to describe certain types of violent, but non-lethal, offences in the cases before the burgh courts of Aberdeen was the topic of two presentations by Jackson Armstrong. In Providence, Rhode Island on Friday 26 October, at the North American Conference on British Studies, Jackson spoke on ‘Malice’ and Motivation for Hostility in the Burgh Courts of Late Medieval Aberdeen. This was part of a panel of papers concerning England and Scotland, on late medieval and Tudor towns. At the Aberdeen Maritime Museum on 14 November Jackson spoke on a similar topic as a lunchtime talk.
Both events generated excellent interest and questions.
Members of the LACR team and LACR alumni presented a number of talks and papers over the summer, engaging the public and disseminating research.
In June Edda Frankot held a talk at the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen entitled ‘The Nicholas and other ships from medieval Aberdeen. Evidence from the Council Registers’. This offered some brand new insights into the contents of the corpus utilising the now complete transcriptions and the search tool which has been developed by third-year students from the university and which will form the basis of the tool that should ultimately become available to the public. The talk concerned the ships from Aberdeen that were active in long-distance shipping in the fifteenth century, their shipmasters and owners, and their cargo. It also asked why the skippers, shipowners and merchants ended up in court, as the council registers are, of course, mainly legal records. A separate blog post on some of the aspects of this talk will be published separately soon.
In July LACR was represented at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds with a paper entitled ‘Legal Business outside the Courts: Private and Public Houses as Spaces of Law in the fifteenth century’ presented by Edda Frankot. This paper was part of a session entitled ‘Fiat Iustitia: The Practice of Law inside and outside the Courts’. This session also included papers by Bridgette Slavin from Medaille College in New York on ‘Youthful Offenders in the Courts of 13th- and 14th-Century Ireland’ and by Joseph Figliulo-Rosswurm from the University of California in Santa Barbara on ‘Between the Tactics of the Weak and the Technology of Power: Memory in a Florentine Criminal Court, c. 1343-1363’, though the latter unfortunately had to cancel.
In August, LACR alumna Anna Havinga (Bristol University) presented two papers at conferences in Scotland: ‘Dutch elements in the Aberdeen Council Registers (1398-1511)’, at the 12th Forum for Research on Languages of Scotland and Ulster Triennial Conference in Glasgow, and ‘The emergence of the vernacular in 15th-century Scottish legal texts’, at the 20th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics in Edinburgh.
For the EAUH conference (European Association for Urban History) at the end of August in Rome, Andrew Simpson co-organised a session with Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz from the University of Amsterdam on ‘Cultures of Law in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Town’. This included a paper co-written by Jackson Armstrong and Edda Frankot on ‘Cultures of Law in Urban Northern Europe’, as well as papers by Frans Camphuijsen from the University of Amsterdam (‘Law courts and contested legal culture in the towns of late medieval Europe’), Griet Vermeesch and Ans Vervaeke from the Free University of Brussels (‘The gatekeepers of urban justice. The pivotal role of lower legal professionals in legal culture in the eighteenth-century Habsburg Low Countries’), and Miriam Tveit from Nord University in Bodø (Urban law in market towns. Legal cultural encounters in 14th and 15th century Scandinavia).
Finally, the September edition of ARC Magazine (the monthly magazine of the Archives and Records Association), which this month is devoted to the topic of Archives and Technology, contains a short illustrated article by City Archivist and LACR project partner Phil Astley entitled ‘Transcription and Technology: Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers, 1398-1511’.
Whereas at the first symposium participants presented a ‘gobbet’ or source extract that illustrated the topic they wished to develop further, on this occasion draft papers were circulated ahead of the event. These papers served as the focus of the planned sessions. In each case a respondent commented on the draft paper, then the author (or co-authors) offered a reply, and then the discussion was opened out to involve the wider group.
The constructive sessions were focused on developing the papers for our intended book on cultures of law in urban northern Europe, focused on the late medieval and early modern period. We anticipate it will contain these papers in their final form and some additional invited contributions. In that work it is already clear that the experience of Scotland in its Northern European context will be prominent.
On 25 May the programme included the following sessions:
Claire Hawes (Aberdeen) responded to William Hepburn (Aberdeen) & Graeme Small (Durham), Common Books in Aberdeen, c. 1398 – c. 1511
Christian Liddy (Durham) responded to Graeme Small (Durham) & William Hepburn (Aberdeen), Reading the social history of the archive the other way round: Aberdeen’s council registers, 1591–1437–1398
Edda Frankot (Aberdeen) responded to David Ditchburn (TCD), Bells, Clocks & The Beginnings of ‘Lawyer Time’ in Late Medieval Scotland
David Ditchburn (TCD) responded to Edda Frankot (Aberdeen), Legal business outside the courts: private and public houses as spaces of law
Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz (Amsterdam) responded to Jelle Haemers (KU Leuven) & Chanelle Delameillieure (KU Leuven), Recalcitrant Brides and Grooms. Jurisdiction, Marriage, and Conflicts with Parents in Fifteenth-Century Ghent
Jelle Haemers (KU Leuven) & Chanelle Delameillieure (KU Leuven) responded to Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz, Conflicts about property: ships and inheritances in Danzig and the Hanse region (15th–16th centuries)
Michael H. Brown (St Andrews) responded to Jörg Rogge (Mainz), Pax Urbana – the use of law for the achievement of political goals
Jörg Rogge (Mainz) responded to Michael H. Brown (St Andrews), The Burgh and the Forest: Burgesses and officers in fifteenth-century Scotland
Participants gathered in Old Aberdeen. Image: ‘The Prospect of Old Aberdien’, from John Slezer, Theatrum Scotiae (1693). AUL: SB f91(41) Sle 1. (Courtesy University of Aberdeen.)
On 26 May the programme included the following sessions:
Andrew Simpson (Aberdeen) responded to Jackson Armstrong (Aberdeen), ‘Malice’ and motivation for hostility in the burgh courts of late medieval Aberdeen
Jackson Armstrong (Aberdeen) responded to Andrew Simpson (Aberdeen), Men of Law in the Aberdeen Council Register: A Preliminary Study, c.1450 – c.1460
Anna Havinga (Bristol) responded to Joanna Kopaczyk (Glasgow), Language as code: language choices and functions in a multilingual legal culture
Joanna Kopaczyk (Glasgow) responded to Anna Havinga (Bristol), Language shift in the Aberdeen Council Registers
Sessions were chaired by LACR members Claire Hawes (Aberdeen), William Hepburn (Aberdeen), Andrew Mackillop (Glasgow), Adam Wyner (Swansea). Michael P. Brown, co-director of RIISS offered a welcome, and Edda Frankot and Jackson Armstrong provided an introduction and chaired the summative discussion sessions.
The symposium was held in the Craig Suite at the Sir Duncan C. Rice Library, University of Aberdeen. While much of the country was drenched in rain, the sun was out and the weather extended a warm welcome to our visitors!
On 10 November 2017 members of the project team presented at the Scottish Records Association conference, held at the National Records of Scotland, New Register House, Edinburgh.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Putting on the Writs: Scottish Court and Legal Records’.
The day included four sessions, on Civil and Ecclesiastical Courts, Sheriff and Franchise courts, and a plenary. The third session of the day was on the topic of ‘Burgh Records’, and consisted of two papers:
Dr Jackson Armstrong and Dr William Hepburn jointly presented an overview of the project ‘Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers (LACR)’.
Dr Edda Frankot presented a paper on ‘The Records of the Medieval Burgh Courts of Aberdeen’.
Further information can be found at the SRA website:
The ICMRSLL is a long-running conference focussed on Scottish culture in the medieval and early modern period. The centre piece of this iteration, to which delegates repeatedly turned in their discussions, was a plenary debate between Professor Sally Mapstone, representing literary scholarship, and professor Roger Mason, representing historians. Their discussion emphasised that in the scholarship on this period the boundary between their disciplines was blurred. This was underlined by the diversity of the papers given at the conference. Some were particularly relevant to the themes of the LACR project.
For example, in a panel focussing on Dunfermline, Klaus Hoffman and Emily Wingfield came from separate disciplinary directions but together offered a rounded portrait of the Fife burgh’s literate culture. Hoffman, with a background in linguistics and experience working with the town records of Austria and Scotland, offered a paper on the town clerks and scribes of Dunfermline from 1573-1723. His findings were based on a sample of their work extending to 55,000 words. Hoffman was able to identify the hands of town clerks through records of their election, as well as what seem to the hands of their assistants – a role trainee notaries public might occupy as part of their seven years of training. He said these clerks could be understood as a ‘community of practice’ – a network of writers engaged in a joint enterprise and using a shared repertoire. The dates of Hoffman’s study covered the period in which the Scots language became anglicised, and Hoffman’s study revealed Dunfermline to be about 25 years behind central records in terms of anglicisation, which he attributed to the close ties between the local network of Dunfermline clerks. Emily Wingfield’s paper looked at the literary culture of Dunfermline from which the writings of Robert Henryson – thought to have been a notary public – emerged. She argued that there was an extensive literary network centred on Dunfermline, highlighting evidence such as the Miraculae of St Margaret of Scotland, written in Dunfermline in the mid-thirteenth century and surviving in a copy produced in Dunfermline in the reign of James III; the furnishing of Dunfermline Abbey with books by the abbot Richard Bothwell in the mid-fifteenth century; and the connection of the Liber Pluscardensis to a network of notaries.
In another panel looking at Scottish burghs more broadly, Elizabeth Ewan and Rob Falconer offered, respectively, observations on flyting and restorative justice. Ewan said that records of insults in burgh records offer virtually the only evidence of the ordinary speech of ordinary Scots and that in many cases they give us women’s voices. As well as discussing the themes of insults thrown on the streets – such as disease, dishonesty and physical appearance – Ewan explored the relationship between the flyting of the streets and the flying of the literary world, arguing that the former must have influenced the latter, that street flyting could have drawn on literary flyting and that it took formalised and performative qualities. Rob Falconer’s paper argued that criminality was a fundamental part of social relations in burghs. With the metaphor of the body politic in common use, behaviour that damaged this body could be framed as disease or contagion. In this worldview, moral lapses were dangerous if left untreated. Treatment involved ‘curing’ or ‘purging’ the offender. This often took the form of restorative justice, which was about repairing the harm done by the crime and not just punishing the offender. Once this had been done the offender could be accepted back into society, but if the ‘contagion’ represented by such an individual was too severe it had to be purged through, for example, banishment.
My paper was entitled ‘The Common Book: Burgh Registers and Documentary Culture in Fifteenth-Century Aberdeen’. As elsewhere in Scotland, there was a pronounced materiality to the rituals that governed life in medieval Aberdeen, from the transfer of tokens of land ownership to the public shaming of transgressors such as those who had to present the knife with which they had committed an assault to their victims. This materiality was enhanced by the creation of records – objects which preserved the memory of other objects. It made particular sense in towns, where there was usually close proximity between people and property, the sites where business concerning them was transacted and the places where the written records of them were stored. A burgh archive which gathered together many records such could function as a symbol of the burgh community whatever the format in which it preserved documents, but by shrinking thousands of enactments of this relationship into a portable, easily-searchable artefact, it had particular power. The materiality of these artefacts – burgh registers, often called common books by contemporaries – may have increased the value placed in writing itself. Even those who could not read or write could have seen their power as symbols of the burgh community. Perspectives may have been shifted simply by the awareness that the burgh government had the memory of the town stored in physical form, in much the same the way as Brian Stock outlined when he argued that texts did not have to be present for people to think or behave as if they were. 1
My paper pointed towards administrative practices in burghs as one factor contributing towards the increasing use of the written word in late medieval Scotland. The other papers I have highlighted also pointed towards the significance of burghs and their records to Scottish language and literature as, for instance, centres of literary networks or inspiration for poetic flytings. The work of the Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers project will help to make the richest source from burghs in this period more accessible to scholars, offering the potential for new insights on the language and literature of late medieval Scotland amongst many other subjects.
See for instance Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). Thanks to Anne Rutten of the University of St Andrews, who presented on the consolidation of Stewart power through texts in the reigns of Robert II and III on the same panel as me at the ICMRSLL in Glasgow, for first directing me to the work of Stock. ↩
The Aberdeen Council Registers are unique survivals within a Scottish context: Aberdeen is the only burgh for which a nearly complete set of such books for the fifteenth century is extant. But within a European context Aberdeen is far from unique: many town archives in Europe have collections of medieval records, some of them much larger and stretching back into the fourteenth or even the thirteenth century. They provide important potential comparative material for the Aberdeen registers. In the context of my PhD research and focussing specifically on cases of maritime law, I had already looked at very similar material from the towns of Kampen (Netherlands), Lübeck (Germany), Danzig/Gdańsk (Poland) and Reval/Tallinn (Estonia). Very recently, I had the privilege to be introduced to another set of urban registers: the Reformationes and the Acta Consiliorum of Dubrovnik in Croatia.
Some of the Reformationes and Acta Consiliorum from Dubrovnik.
I was in Dubrovnik from 20 to 22 September to attend the ‘Mapping Urban Changes’ conference in the context of a proof-of-concept project which I am co-leading with Dr Adelyn Wilson from the School of Law called ‘Spaces of Power in Interregnum Aberdeen’. This sister project of LACR is funded by RIISS under a research development grant. It seeks to visualise the use of the physical space within the burghs of Old and New Aberdeen for the exercise of political, religious, mercantile and administrative power. In addition to presenting this project, I was at the conference to learn about relevant other projects and useful techniques and methodologies. In this respect the conference was very fruitful.
Visiting Dubrovnik also provided the opportunity to learn more about the Du:cac project, which has just been completed. This project, led by Dr Ana Plosnić Ŝkarić of Zagreb University, aimed to transcribe all relevant entries or deliberations from the period 1400-1450 concerning the spaces and buildings within the walls of Dubrovnik and link these to a searchable map. The Du:cac website includes a custom-made map with clickable points, indicating actual buildings, spaces near them (in those cases where a house is said to be near a church, for example), streets and neighbourhoods. These link to relevant transcriptions. The transcriptions will also be published as an e-book.
A screenshot from the Du:cac website, showing a map segment with clickable points.
The government of Dubrovnik was made up somewhat differently to that of Aberdeen. The city had three councils: the Major Council, the Minor and the Senate. Up until 1415 the deliberations of all three councils were kept in the same book, called Reformationes (these were begun in the late thirteenth century). From 1415, they were divided up into three registers. From the years between 1400 and 1450 there survive three volumes of Reformationes, nine volumes of Acta Consilii Maioris, twelve volumes of Acta Minoris Consilii and eleven volumes of Acta Consilii Rogatorum, comprising a total of 15,944 pages (the Aberdeen Council Registers from 1398-1511 comprise 5239 pages). The volumes are almost completely in Latin, with occasional words in Croat and some entries in Italian, which was used as a lingua franca in the Adriatic region, as Ana Plosnić explained to me. Latin was used in these registers until the end of the Dubrovnik republic in the late eighteenth century.
The Sponza Palace
Just before I had to catch a plane back to Aberdeen via Paris and had to leave the beautiful city (and weather) behind, there was an opportunity to visit the archives which are in the Sponza Palace, one of the few buildings which survived the 1667 earthquake in Dubrovnik unscathed. There, Ana Plosnić kindly showed me some of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century registers. The page layout of these look very similar to those of the Aberdeen books: with marginal headings and clearly recognizable entries. The Acta Consiliorum also include deliberations on elections, which provide interesting comparative material for the entries recently uncovered in Newburgh’s registers by LACR’s William Hepburn (see the post on his visiting scholarship at St Andrews University Library Special Collections). In Dubrovnik votes could be cast not only in favour of candidates, but also against them, and relatives were excluded from voting for a specific person (indicated as ex. or extra).
All in all, this encounter with the Dubrovnik material once again stresses the importance of considering the Aberdeen registers in a European context.