Celebration at the Town House

On the evening of 14 June a special event was held in the Town House to mark the completion of the Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers project.

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L-R: Vice-Principal Professor Marion Campbell, Dr Andrew Simpson, Dr Edda Frankot, Dr William Hepburn, Lord Provost Barney Crockett, Dr Jackson Armstrong, Dr Claire Hawes, City Archivist Mr Phil Astley. Photo Credit: Norman Adams / Copyright Aberdeen City Council.

The eight earliest-surviving council register volumes were on display, and music and talks highlighted vignettes from the new resource created by this project, Aberdeen Registers Online: 1398–1511. Lord Provost Barney Crockett spoke on behalf of the City of Aberdeen, and Vice-Principal Professor Marion Campbell on behalf of the University of Aberdeen.

The event opened with a performance on recorder by Ruaraidh Wishart, Ed Friday, Kate Friday, and Marie McLean of a special composition entitled Fantasia for a Doric Fishman. The piece drew inspiration from the so-called ‘Fishman’, one of the most well-known decorations in the registers (see ARO-2-0102-01). Until recently moving to Abertay University, Ruaraidh Wishart was a senior archivist with the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives.

Short talks and highlights were given by LACR members, including Jackson Armstrong, Phil Astley, Edda Frankot, Andrew Simpson, and Claire Hawes. The evening also showcased some creative follow-on projects in response to the registers.

William Hepburn introduced Playing in the Archives, his Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Creative Economies Engagement Fellowship, which investigates how Aberdeen’s registers could provide the inspiration for video game development. William explained how he is assessing the effectiveness of video games as a scholarly medium for examining the burgh records and the historical subjects they inform.

Claire Hawes and musicians Davy Cattanach and Paddy Buchanan performed four Songs from Medieval Aberdeen. Claire’s introduction to their music explained that their composition project was made possible with a 2018 Creative Funding Award from Aberdeen City Council. The trio set out to explore how songwriters can use historical material in their work. These original songs were the result, inspired by stories and themes from the records, and the Scots language of the registers.

There was also a special cake, decorated by Aberdeen cake makers O’Caykx, which displayed some of the information about the words and languages of the registers in icing.

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ARO Infographic Cake: Showing proportions of Latin and vernacular words in each register through the scrumptious medium of icing. Photo credit: Jackson Armstrong.

The cake icing depicted the proportion of words in each register in Latin (dark icing) and Scots (light icing). The small amount of orange marked in registers five and six reflects the appearance of a small amount of Dutch (or Middle Low German) in those volumes. The later registers have a greater proportion of content in Scots, and a greater number of words overall. It was a delicious way to mark the completion of the project!

Songs from Medieval Aberdeen

Dr Claire Hawes has collaborated with musicians Davy Cattanach and Paddy Buchanan to explore how songwriters can use historical material in their work. As part of the University of Aberdeen’s May Festival the trio performed today a set of original songs composed in response to the contents of the Aberdeen council registers.

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The performance included an introduction by Claire into the nature of the collaboration, its steps and dialogues, and the question of how historians can contribute to the creative process. Claire, Davy and Paddy set out to answer the question by writing songs based on Aberdeen’s medieval town records. The introduction explained how the group encountered some expected differences between historical research and song writing, but also found some similarities.

The Songs from Medieval Aberdeen experiment was a success – resulting in composition of four songs, entitled Balingar, Kervel, Candilmas Time, The Brokin Folkis, and The Fisher Folk of Futy. Each song tells its own story from the Aberdeen registers, and was performed on guitar and bodhran with vocals in Scots. Claire’s introduction examined how the lyrics were crafted neither in Middle Scots nor Modern Scots (nor Doric), but still drew from the language of the registers.

A full audience in the Linklater Rooms at King’s College was given a special treat to hear these songs performed as a set for the first time. The trio said they were keen to record the songs when time allows!

The project was made possible with a Creative Funding Award from Aberdeen City Council.

Paddy and Davy

Who Killed David Dun? Home Version

Twine game

 

By William Hepburn

In 2017 I designed an event called ‘Who Killed David Dun?’ at the first Granite Noir festival. At the event I presented a fictional murder mystery narrative based on historical evidence from the Aberdeen Council Registers. The twist was that the narrative was a piece of fiction where audience choices, decided by majority vote, guided the story, a bit like the recent ‘Bandersnatch’ episode of Black Mirror on Netflix and sharing one of its sources of inspiration – the interactive adventure books of the 1980s and 1990s such as the Fighting Fantasy series.

The story was built using the interactive fiction tool Twine. However, the game was made in a bespoke fashion for a live setting and consisted of a framework of choices on Twine shown on a projector, a script of the all the narrative branches read by me as the audience progressed through the story and paper handouts for the audience containing extracts from the medieval Aberdeen Council Registers. I have now integrated these elements so that the story can be played on a computer or (hopefully!) mobile device. The only element of the original event not carried over is a series of transcription challenges the audience had to pass to progress the narrative.

The game can be played in your web browser here.

 

January Lectures on ‘The Common Books of Aberdeen, 1398-1511’

This month LACR alumna Dr Claire Hawes delivered a pair of joint lectures for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Scottish History Society.

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The subject was ‘The Common Books of Aberdeen’ and the presentation gave a fascinating overview of the historical richness of the council register volumes which have been at the core of the LACR project.  Claire delivered her talk to substantial audiences in Edinburgh on 14 January at the National Museum Scotland, and on 15 January in Aberdeen for the Aberdeen & North East Section of the Antiquaries. The lecture illuminated some of the aspects of medieval life that are apparent in the volumes: the role of crafts, the presence of animals, the regulation of behaviour, and the place of the burgh in the political affairs of the Scottish kingdom, to name just a few. The Scots language was also prominent in the colourful examples explored by Claire as she set out some of the ways in which the registers will serve as a bountiful resource for future research. Well done, Claire!

 

 

 

 

 

Malice in Medieval Aberdeen

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.

LACR activities over the summer

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).

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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’.

Bakers’ marks and bread boards: ‘Marking’ the completion of William Hepburn’s and Claire Hawes’ roles with LACR

In February 1458 the Aberdeen town clerk recorded the marks of the ‘baxstaris of bred’ who were permitted to perform their craft in the town. An Aberdeenshire woodworker has created two beautiful oak bread boards inspired by these marks. They were presented to Claire and William by the LACR team.

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Bread boards inspired by the bakers’ marks, made by Dan Stewart.

William Hepburn and Claire Hawes joined LACR in summer 2016 and this month we recognised the completion of their roles with the project. For two years they have been at the cutting edge of the largest transcription effort in medieval Scottish history perhaps since the nineteenth century – building a corpus of some 1.75 million words from the earliest eight register volumes.

Those who follow the Aberdeen City Archives on Facebook may have seen these marks on World Baking Day. In the 1450s the council was minded to record those men who had permission to bake bread. At other times in the fifteenth century measures were taken to regulate the standard of baked goods, and the use of ovens. In June 1470 an ordinance set out that the bakers as a group were to be held in the tolbooth until all of them paid fines for breaking the standard weight (‘pase’) of bread at 13 ounces. If any were to break the standard in future ‘thair craggis’ (necks) were to be put in the ‘stokis’ (stocks) ‘and sall be bannyst fra the craft for a yer and ilke baxtar that has ane howine sal ansuer to the bailyeis that na brede [be] bakin in thair howynnis bot that sall halde the samyn pase’ . (And they shall be banished from the craft for a year, and each baker with his own oven shall answer to the bailies if any bread is baked in their ovens that isn’t of the standard weight).1

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Bakers’ marks, ACR, volume 5/1, p. 337.

In 1458 eleven ‘baxstaris’ marks were recorded in the registers, denoting those men who were permitted to perform the craft of baking. Those who are listed against their marks are: Androu Baxstar, William Club, William Atkynson, Thom of Spens, William Buchane, Thom Imlach, William Catnes, Robert Ranyson, John Quhit Hud (no mark given), Will Baxstar, Thom Glede, and Androu Mair.2

Dan Stewart of Fettercairn Woodcraft was asked by Jackson Armstrong if he would make two bread boards in a creative response to the bakers’ marks.

Dan said: ‘I was really excited to take on this challenge. I thought it was a lovely way to bring these medieval bakers marks into a useful contemporary item. It felt very fitting to use pyrography (burning the marks into the wood) and the resulting effect pays respect to how the marks may have looked branded onto a loaf of bread. I thought the gift for William and Claire was a lovely idea and I couldn’t wait to get started’.

These boards were presented by the project team to William Hepburn and Claire Hawes in recognition of the completion of their roles in the LACR project.

William said ‘The board is beautifully crafted and makes a great memento of my time working with the Aberdeen Council Registers’.

Claire said ‘It’s been a real privilege to work on this material. This transcription of Aberdeen’s burgh registers is going to open up many exciting new avenues for research on Scotland’s late medieval towns, and beyond’.

William Hepburn and Claire Hawes now hold Honorary Research Fellowships in the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies.


  1. ACR, 6, p. 20 (16 June 1470). 
  2. ACR, 5/1, p. 337 (6 Feb 1457/8). 

Lunchtime Talk: The Nicholas and other ships from medieval Aberdeen

Please join us on Wednesday 6 June at the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen where Edda Frankot will be presenting brand-new findings about the ships that hailed from medieval Aberdeen, based on the transcriptons from the LACR project. Who sailed these ships, who owned them, were did they go and what did they carry? Most of the information that has survived is included in records of legal cases, so another important question is: why did the skippers, shipowners and merchants of Aberdeen end up in court? Find out on 6 June at 12.30 at the Maritime Museum. Admission free.

Ships, Taverns and Peacemaking: Project Symposium II meets in Aberdeen

Ships, taverns and peacemaking were among the topics discussed at the second LACR symposium on the subject of ‘Cultures of Law in Urban Northern Europe’.

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International legal and diplomatic disputes over ships were among the subjects discussed by participants. (Lego interpretation courtesy Findlay Armstrong.)

On 25 and 26 May LACR’s international network of scholars gathered in Aberdeen for the second time to discuss the theme of law in towns. This meeting and its precursor (in February 2017) were funded by the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies (RIISS).

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

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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!

Aberdeen Burgh Court Roll – Happy 700th ‘Birthday’

Regular readers of this blog will know that the focus of the Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers project are the eight registers that span the period 1398-1511. Yet the earliest record of council business anywhere in Scotland also resides at the Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives and is known as the Burgh Court Roll. Predating the first surviving Register by some 81 years, it dates from 1317.

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17/11/17 City Archivist , Phil Astley (blue shirt) with Lord Provost Barney Crockett and Dr Jackson Armstrong. Courtesy of Aberdeen City Council.

Being great lovers of birthday cake, the project team couldn’t let the roll’s 700th anniversary go by without a suitable celebration for this nationally important document, so on Monday 20th November a public talk was held in the Town and County Hall at the Town House in Aberdeen, with City Archivist, Phil Astley introducing fellow project members Dr Jackson Armstrong who provided an overview of the project and Dr Andrew Simpson who spoke about the context and content of the roll itself.

The Burgh Court Roll is a rather unusual looking item, markedly different to the volumes that we are working on. At around 160cm long and 20cm wide, it comprises five panels of parchment that were stitched together when it was created, including a brieve, a letter issued in the name of Robert the Bruce, which has been sewn to the main roll about half way along its length.

At some point in the nineteenth century, a small tube had been fashioned to accommodate the roll and, apart from those occasions when it was removed from the tube to be consulted, it was kept within the tube until 2006. At that time it underwent significant conservation work to repair a number of holes that had appeared over time and to “relax” and flatten it. We know that in the later sixteenth century there were more of these rolls in existence….”evil to be read”. Why has this particular one survived? The town clerk in 1591, one Mr Thomas Molisone, undertook an inventory of the burgh records and found various old books, leaves, and scrolls in a poor state of decay. He appears to have preserved only the surviving Burgh Court Roll as an exemplar from before the time of the first ‘buik’ dating from 1398.

The 1317 Burgh Court Roll covers a number of cases that came before the burgh’s head and bailie courts between August and October of that year. It has recently been translated from Latin to modern English by Andrew Simpson and Jackson Armstrong.

At the November 20th event, Andrew Simpson concentrated on one of these cases, presenting the narrative through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old Aberdonian woman who features in the first case. The dispute was heard between 1316 and 1317, and the young woman’s name was Ada.

While Ada had been brought up from infancy in Aberdeen, having been born at Martinmas in the year 1299, at some point her family had left the burgh to live in “another part of the kingdom”. But now, following the death of a close relative, Ada returned to her native town, in order to assert her rights of inheritance in a toft (i.e. a piece of land) and a tenement (i.e. a building) in the Gallowgate.

The trouble was that that land was currently held by an influential man, William of Lindsay, Rector of Ayr who had formerly served Robert the Bruce as Chamberlain of Scotland. The Chamberlain was responsible for overseeing the administration of law and order in the burghs, and the collection of customs and taxes due from the burghs to the king. So Ada’s adversary was not only powerful, but also, presumably, well-versed in the laws of the burghs. The case is a complex and fascinating one, shedding light not only on the legal procedures of the time and where these took place, but on how the fall-out from the Wars of Independence had an impact on the lives of individuals living or connected with Aberdeen. William of Lindsay had a claim to the property because he had been granted it by King Robert. But Ada’s claim was through an ancestor who had taken a loan from one Roginald of Buchan, for which they property had been given in security. Roginald had been forfeited by King Robert for his support for the Comyns against the king. King Robert had then granted the property to William of Lindsay. Later, following the victory at Bannockburn, Roginald had sought to return to the king’s peace. A problem thus arose when the king restored to Roginald all his former lands and possessions, including the property in the Gallowgate.

As Dr Simpson showed, ultimately, Ada secured a payment from William of Lindsay in return for transferring the lands to him. Ada declared her wish to do so at three head courts of the burgh. This procedure publicised her intentions, giving her kin ample opportunity to come forward to redeem the lands.

The court held by the bailies then convened in the open air at the site of the property and there Ada gave sasine (formal conveyance of the land) to William by the symbolic measure of presenting him with “hasp and staple” – a “staple” being a metal loop that held in place a “hasp” or catch on which, for example, a door might hang. The bailie received a denarius de uttoll from Ada, and from William a denarius de intoll. The denarius – penny – of intoll was a payment given to the bailie when someone was put into burgh land. Likewise, the penny of uttoll was paid on quitting burgh land.

The story of the seventeen-year-old Ada and her successful attempt to assert her hereditary rights in the Gallowgate somehow captures the imagination. That the Burgh Court Roll can reveal such fascinating glimpses into life in Scotland’s deep past is reason alone to celebrate its 700th year.

See also: https://news.aberdeencity.gov.uk/free-talk-to-mark-700th-birthday-of-nationally-significant-burgh-court-roll/

Written by Phil Astley, with Jackson Armstrong and Andrew Simpson.