local-hist-art - 8/27/97
³Using Local Histories for SCA Research² by Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester.
NOTE: See also the files: Crit-Research-art, WK-Castles-msg, humanism-art,
p-marriage-art, per-latin-art, pop-religion-art, lim-foc-evnts-art.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefanıs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
Using Local Histories for SCA Research
--Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester
There is no other type of source that opens up the true character of daily
life in the Middle ages as does the local history. Local history is history
focused on a regional level or below, most Commonly on the county, city, or
village level. In Great Britain, upon which I will focus in this article,
almost any town of any size has a local history society. A trip through the
English countryside will reveal a wealth of local museums and archaeological
sites useful to anyone interested in the tiny details which are the icing of
historical research. Since, however, many of us do not have the means to hop
the next plane to England, I will focus on sources that many be found in large
public or research libraries in major cities. I give Library of Congress
numbers throughout to further assist you in your search.
At the county level, there is the superlative Victoria County Histories
(VCH) series, which, as the name suggests, was originally commissioned by Queen
Victoria. You will find it in the Library of Congress classification DA 670ıs.
The VCH is a fascinating multi-volume work detailing the geology, agriculture,
industry, flora and fauna, politics, and people of a particular county in
England. (Unfortunately, it is not yet complete for every county). You can
discover who the major lords were, where parish churches were located, and how
civil unrest affected the county. Need a place to live? The VCH will tell you
where the castles and manors were located and whether they are still standing.
You can also follow the growth of towns and watch other towns disappear. The
authors have already done the extensive checking of wills, charters,
archaeological information, parish records, and other documents for you (though
some of the older volumes do not incorporate recent finds). There is also an
excellent (though somewhat out-of-date) guide to the VCH, which lists pertinent
manuscripts (published and unpublished) for each county, along with names of
journals published by local history societies. This work, A Guide to the
Victoria History of the Counties of England, edited by A. Doubleday and W. Page
(London: Constable, 1948) will not be found by the rest of the VCH, but rather
at DA 1 D6.
If you are in a library on the Library of Congress numbering system, you
will find other books relating to local history on the shelf by the VCH. These
may include studies of specific towns and villages, as well as published
cartularies (collections of public documents detailing land transfers). But do
not assume that what you see on the shelf is the entirety of the information out
there. If youıve looked in the VCH, you will know the names of towns, prominent
churches and monasteries, and names of significant personages. Information
pertaining to these will probably be shelved elsewhere, so check the catalogue.
Feeling adventuresome? You may wish to venture into the documents
themselves. Many of these are now available in English translations. An
examination of these sources can often give you a good idea of the social status
and everyday life of various people, including peasants, merchants, clergy, and
nobility. You will find sources such as feet of fines , which are records of
land transfers in the royal county court; parish records, in which you will
find wills and similar things; and manorial records, which give a picture of
the everyday functions of an English manor. Also useful are the various
³rolls²: The Pipe Roll, which is the record of the Royal Exchequer, and the
Liberate Rolls, from which you can learn how much the royal household spent on
various items; and the Patent and Close Rolls, which are records of the public
and private records of the king, to name just a couple. Most of these rolls are
broken down by king and regnal year. We also possess guild rolls, university
rolls, and records of officeholders in various towns. It is worth looking at
some of the London records if you are at all interested in town life anywhere
(check the London Record Society volumes and the Middlesex County section in
your library -- DA 670ıs, under ³M²). Finally, Domesday Book is an invaluable
source. If you know Latin (even just enough to get by with a dictionary) an
even broader range of sources is open to you.
For a good basic introduction to local history in England, try Local
History in England by W.G. Hoskins (London: Longmans, 1959--DA 1 H6), which
will give you a good idea of all the avenues available for research. A
more recent guide is English Local History , by Kate Tiller (Wolfesboro Falls,
NH: Alan Sutton and Co., 1992 -- DA 1 T55) which has some nifty diagrams.
If your interest is piqued, a large variety of publications which even a
good research library may not have are available directly from England. The
British Association for Local History publishes a journal, The Local Historian;
their offices are housed with the Phillimore Bookshop, which specializes in
titles of use to the local historian. A catalogue is available on request:
Phillimore Bookshop, Shopwyke Hall, Chichester, Sussex
PO20 6BQ United Kingdom.
Each locale presents its own particular difficulties and surprises. My
own research has been on the county of Leicester. The VCH is not complete for
this county, but five volumes do exist, and they gave me a good deal of useful
information. Local history for Leicester, however, is immensely aided by the
1971 republication of John Nicholsı classic 1795 work History and Antiquities of
Leicester (DA 670 L5N62, four volumes in eight books). Nichols was one of the
pioneers of local history, and his two hundred-year-old work is still useful
today. Here I found descriptions of every parish in Leicester (with drawings of
the churches), including lists of their parish priests; the Leicester section
of Domesday Book, lists of holders of knightsı fees for several different reigns
(William I, John, Edward I, Edward II, and so on); depictions of the arms of
anyone above the rank of knight; pedigrees of major families; lists of Lord
Mayors of London who were from Leicester; along with surveys of landholders too
numerous to mention. If this is not enough for you, there are sections
pertinent to Leicester in all the major rolls I mentioned earlier, as well as
feet of fines, records of court pleas, and so forth. My Leicester research has
also taught me to pay attention to what bishopric a county was in: I was
initially frustrated in my attempts to find Leicester material pertaining to
higher-level church activities until I remembered that Leicester was not the
seat of a bishopric in the Middle Ages, but rather was a part of the huge
bishopric of Lincoln, for which I then found more than ample material. It also
helps to pay attention to major noble families. The absolutely fascinating
household accounts of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester (wife of Simon de Montfort)
for the year 1265 still survive and may be found in Manners and Household
Expenses of England in the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, edited by H.
Turner (Roxburghe Club, London, 1841). These, incidentally, are the earliest
such accounts extant.
If your persona is not English, do not despair! Though you may be
hampered if you do not know the local language, local history is well developed
elsewhere as well, especially in France and Italy. Even if you lack reading
skills in other languages, there will probably be a wealth of maps and such,
which will give you good place names; if you bring along the appropriate
dictionary, you can probably figure out more details. For important towns like
Paris and Florence, you may find useful sources in English translation.
A final note: Local histories can tell you some amazing things. I found
out just the other day from the VCH that Earl Simon is going to sell the Forest
of Leicester to the borough of Leicester this year (1239). I think my brother
may be out of a job soon...
Copyright 1996 by Susan Carroll-Clark, 53 Thorncliffe Park Dr. #611,
Toronto, Ontario M4H 1L1 CANADA. Permission granted for
republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited
and receives a copy.
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
All Rights Reserved
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