Medieval glass vessels in England AD 1200-1500: A Survey
By Rachel Caroline Tyson
PhD Dissertation, Durham University, 1996
Abstract: A considerable amount of vessel glass of the period 1200 to 1500 has been excavated in England, particularly since the 1960s. This thesis conducts a survey of the vessel glass from museums and archaeology units, from over two hundred sites across England. The glass includes goblets, beakers, bowls, jugs and other decorative vessels, lamps, some liturgical vessels, flasks, urinals, distilling and other ‘industrial’ vessels, from England, Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. The glass was catalogued, and the functions, dates and production areas of the vessels were examined, to provide a basis for further research. Other sources of evidence used include documentary, iconographical, furnace site and scientific evidence.
The use of glass in medieval society was then examined. The sites where glass was excavated were investigated, to establish who used glass. They were found to be high-status castles, manors and palaces; monastic and other ecclesiastical sites; and affluent urban residences. Surprisingly, no glass was found to have been used on less wealthy sites.
The social situations in which glass might have been used were proposed. The use of glass vessels as ‘symbols of power’, suitable for ‘conspicuous consumption’ were examined. The reasons for the high status of the glass, which was not intrinsically valuable, and much of which is utilitarian, were considered. The forms and decoration of tablewares often emulated other highly valued metal vessels. The goblet and the medieval banquet made use of religious symbolism. Table vessels were used communally in the 13th and 14th century, but some evidence suggests that they were used individually by the 15th century. Changes in the use of glass throughout the period were outlined, showing how the quantities of each form change, from the dominance of tablewares in the 13th and 14th centuries, to that of utilitarian wares by the 15th century.