Papers on Medieval Prosopography: Session #47 at KZOO 2015

Pieter Brueghel - Kermesse (The Feast of Saint George)

Slowly but surely, the summaries of my KZOO sessions are trickling out as jet lag subsides and I get back into the swing of things. This was another great session I attended at #KZOO2015; focusing on Prosopography.

Prague - Karlův most (Charles Bridge)
Prague – Karlův most (Charles Bridge)

Missing Voice: Johlin z Vodnan’s Place in Late Medieval Bohemian Preaching

Reid S. Weber (University of Florida)

This was my favourite session on Day 1:Thursday. It had 3 fantastic papers on Prosopography, (the study of characteristics and relationship patterns of groups for which there is little biographical data – if I garbled that definition, I apologise). The topics covered were: Jan WHO? Bohemian preaching before Jan Hus, Flemish immigration, and the Lesser Crafts in late medieval London.

The first paper was given by Reid S. Weber from the University of Florida. Weber examined the lives of Bohemian preachers before, and leading up to, the time of Jan Hus. Although there are plenty of Reformist sermons in Central Europe, they were often overlooked. Weber was interested in the lesser known preachers outside of the popular Bohemian Reformation movement, in particular, a Dominican friar named Johlin Z Vodnan.

Weber began by giving a little background on Jan Hus and the Hussite movement in Bohemia during the 15th century and why sermons are a good source for examining religious movements. Jan Hus was burned at the stake for heresy on July 6, 1415. His execution caused outrage in Bohemia and was seen as a sign of pending doom and the coming of the Anti Christ. Hussites have often been perceived as forerunners of the Protestant movement since the Bohemian Reformation looked like a form of ‘proto-Protestantism’.Some Bohemian scholars have called it the “First Reformation”. Weber suggested the Bohemian Reformation could be considered the result of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (May 14, 1316 – November 29, 1378). Charles IV helped Prague expand and increased the city’s religious significance. Bohemian Historians often mark the beginning of the Reformation to Austrian monk, Conrad Waldhauser (d. 1369), who was invited by Charles IV to preach to the populace of Prague.

Weber discussed various popular preachers who came to Prague to give sermons before Jan Hus. Hus is noteworthy for 10 consecutive years of sermons. Hus inspired many other preachers and future reformers and preached as often as 3 times per day. Weber’s interest, Johlin z Vodnan, was a contemporary of Hus, who began appearing on the scene in 1381. Was Vodnan a foil to Hus? Vodnan’s sermons demonstrate that he was well educated. His sermon collection has been dated to 1408 by several scholars, unfortunately, not much is known about him; he may have left school early and gone into a monastery as there is no record of him finishing his studies. Vodnan bears a startling resemblance to Hus in his works. Both preached on the value of the sermons themselves. Hus builds on the preaching of John the Baptist in 1404, as does Vodnana, earlier in 1403. Both agreed that preaching was a pathway to God, and both interpreted Biblical passages in a similar way even though Vodnan was considered a critic of Hus. Hus rejected the chance to recant his work and spare his life. Vodnan began his sermon collection like Hus, in order to protect himself against his detractors and against accusations of heresy. All preachers at the time felt the need to protect themselves from slander and the need to preach to the flock regularly.

Pieter Brueghel - Kermesse (The Feast of Saint George)
Pieter Brueghel – Kermesse (The Feast of Saint George)

Fourteenth-Century London as a Pole of Attraction for Immigrants: Banished Flemings and Their Assimilation

Milan Pajič (University of Strasbourg)

Next up, we had Milan Pajič talk about the immigration of Flemish merchants to London during the 14th century and the prevailing attitudes towards them. In 1330, Edward III (November 13, 1312 – June 21, 1377) granted letters of protection to Flemish merchants to be able to exercise their trade in England. He encouraged merchants from Flanders to ply their trade in England in order to attract skilled cloth labourers. Many Flemish weavers left the Low Countries due to turbulence and England was experiencing relative period of peace and protection from the King. England lost a significant portion of its population to the plague so immigration was welcomed. Many Flemish immigrants settled in England in the 1350s as a result of these factors.

In 1351, Edward issued an invitation to Flemings who were banished. From 1352, 126 people with Dutch names were found in court documents; before this, there was no mention of the Dutch in records. It is difficult to determine the demographics of the number of Flemings who immigrated to England.  Most exiles came with their families, and most were weavers. Women were employed as brewsters, hucksters and in clothing production. Several of the exiles banished in 1351 became English citizens, however, their assimilation in London was more difficult than in smaller towns. Flemish immigrants faced many obstacles from local government and were attacked by citizens. In smaller towns, where there were no organised guilds, and they had no textile industry, the competition was low and tensions were not as high. In London, the English craftsmen wanted to preserve their monopoly on the cloth industry. Adding to this irritation, and arousing further jealousy, was the fact that the Flemish were granted their own guild and exemptions due to the high quality of their trade. Anti Flemish sentiment was at its highest during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381, resulting in many Flemings being killed by angry mobs. English textile workers saw the Flemish merchants as a threat to the English keeping “English jobs”.

Pair of English gloves (1603-1625) - The V&A Museum, London.
Pair of English gloves (1603-1625) – The V&A Museum, London.

The Glovers of Medieval London

Caroline M. Barron (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Last, but certainly not least, was a wonderful paper given by Caroline M. Barron on the Glovers of medieval London. It appears that gloves were much more valuable than we assumed, they were often used for paying rent, and were valued for half a penny. Wish I could pay my rent with my gloves – alas!

What can city records tell us about this group pf lesser craftsmen? They are few surviving records from the earlier periods of lesser crafts. There was also pressure for reforms from the government in the late 14th century that included lesser crafts that had a corporate organisation. From the London ledgers and several records, people have attempted to cobble together the history of these lesser crafts. Two events gave them prominence: One was a charter issued in 1319 by Edward II. Edward II decreed no one could enter England to ply their craft unless the group contained 6 members. The second event was the Black Death. The aftermath of the plague’s devastation in England produced a shortage of skilled labour, so smaller merchants and tradesmen took advantage of this and were able to form craft associations and demand higher wages. Another impact of the plague was that people were buried in mass graves. Proper burial was important and thus the plague motivated people to get together in groups and fraternities to ensure they were buried properly by their brethren.

The first ordinances from the Glovers come in the middle of the Black Death, in 1349. Later, in 1388, we have a record of the spiritual care of the Glovers. The high point for them was the second half of the 14th century but they continued to do well until the mid-15th century. They received a grant of arms in 1464 and a petition against alien goods as protection from the incursion of the Low Countries. The Glovers felt threatened by the vast number of gloves coming into London from the Low Countries.

The Glover’s wills give us a better idea of their lives than their ordinances. Barron looked at approximately 37 wills in the 14th century and discovered a few interesting things:

1.) The wills record where they lived: More than half of the Glovers lived in the Parish of St. Magnus, north of London Bridge or in the Paris of St. Olive in Southwark. Most of them worked on London Bridge.

2.)The extent in which they refer to their craft or fraternity: Many of them do not make reference to their fraternity. Some left money and objects in their wills to the craft.

3.) Religious aspects of the fraternity: The wills show a definite link between the Glovers and Cathusians in 15th century.

4.) Apprentices: Did they have them and were they sufficiently established? It turns out that they did have apprentices and iterestingly enough, they had female apprentices. The shortage of skilled labour after the Black Death might explain this. As the 15th century wore on, the references to female apprentices gradually lessened as the population bounced back.

5.) Equipment: What can the Will’s tell you? Unfortunately, the Glover’s wills didn’t tend to specify the tools of the trade although they appeared to have many chests!

6.) Wealth: How prosperous were these Glovers? Most weren’t extremely wealthy but some were well-to-do. Some Glovers left silver spoons, ornate chests and large sums of money; in one will, a Glover left £100 which is an extraordinary amount for the time, and a girdle decorated with silver! Glovers flourished until the mid-15th century until foreign crafts pressed them to join with the Pursers.

~Sandra Alvarez

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