Book fastenings and furnishings: an archaeology of late medieval books

Book fastenings and furnishings: an archaeology of late medieval books

By Charlotte L. Howsam

PhD Dissertation, University of Sheffield, 2016

Photo by judy dean / Flickr
Photo by judy dean / Flickr

Abstract: Throughout the late medieval period, books were an integral part of religious monastic life, and yet such objects have received little attention from an analytical archaeological perspective, despite the significant quantity of metal book fittings recovered from archaeological sites. This thesis explores the archaeological collections held by English Heritage together with published excavation reports, investigating late medieval book fittings, dating between the mid-eleventh and mid-sixteenth centuries, which have been archaeologically recovered from English monastic sites.

This work presents the first typology of these artefacts and considers in detail the many and varied forms of late medieval book fittings. In order to contextualise and give a clear understanding of this material, this study investigates late medieval book production, monasticism, and the types of books housed within monasteries and the locations in which they were used and stored. This research goes on to examine the wider social and cultural contexts of book fittings within late medieval monastic society using pictorial and documentary evidence, and extant late medieval bookbindings and library catalogues, in conjunction with the archaeological material.

The themes explored include the types of books on which book fittings were used, the influences of different monastic orders, their geographical distribution and the significance of their deposition, particularly as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. By undertaking these methods of investigation, it has become clear that, within the catalogue, different forms of book fittings and styles of decoration were more commonly used in certain regions and by particular monastic orders, and that significant numbers of books were destroyed and their fittings disposed of during the Dissolution in the 1530s both on and away from monastic sites.

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This research brings together both archaeological and historical approaches to the study of late medieval book fittings, creating an innovative and broad-based study of this particular form of material culture so leading to a new insight into the archaeology of late medieval books.

Click here to read this thesis from the WhiteRose Digital Consortium

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