Churches, Images, Visits

Aachen Cathedral (and associated thoughts)

Two weeks ago I moved to Berlin with my husband. We are planning to be here until August, while I work on a project part-funded by the DAAD, during which time I will be a postdoctoral researcher at the Großbritannien-Zentrum, part of the Humboldt University. We decided to drive from Oxford to Berlin, stopping in Aachen, and ticking off a medievalist bucket list item: Aachen Cathedral. Not all of the photographs in this post are mine, but their attributions should be clear.

Our hotel was over a mile from the town centre and we decided to take advantage of a relatively warm (for April in northern Europe) evening by walking in. This had the added advantage of not having to take our bike rack off the car, or get the car out of the hotel’s Tiefgarage. About halfway there, as we stopped at a traffic light, we realised that a Santiago ‘Pilgerweg’ scallop shell had been stuck onto the lamp-post. Clearly a sign.

Camino scallop shell (photo: Mary Boyle)

After walking all the way around the cathedral in an attempt to locate the door, we managed to get inside with only five minutes to spare before closing. Five minutes to drink in one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen.

Time and space come together in the Aachener Dom. Charlemagne began to build the Palatine Chapel in the 790s, but the intervening 12+ centuries have more than had their say. The church was targeted by Vikings in the ninth century and restored in the tenth. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries saw Gothic additions, most spectacularly the quire. The Hungarian chapel was added in the eighteenth century, and in 1802, with the foundation of the Diocese of Aachen, the ancient church became a cathedral. This first Diocese of Aachen lasted a mere nineteen years, but was re-founded in 1930, when the church became a cathedral once more. The twentieth century also saw the Domwache: volunteers who, rather than seeking shelter during air raids, instead stayed in the cathedral, putting out fires as they started. And in 1978, Aachen Cathedral became Germany’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The twenty-first century has already made a contribution, as the cathedral has recently undergone intensive restoration work.

Outside you can see the melding of different architectural styles – most obviously in the form of the nineteenth-century tower perched on top. My mind immediately jumped back to the year I spent living in Trier, where successive generations, from the Romans onwards, made their mark on its cathedral on top of – or next to – those who had come before. The thirteenth-century Gothic Liebfrauenkirche was built adjoining the cathedral, on Roman foundations, but was closed for refurbishment for my entire time in the town.

Charlemagne is thought to have modelled the eight-sided Palatine Chapel (all that remains of his palace) on San Vitale in Ravenna, which he had visited several times, but he was consciously drawing on an architectural tradition of which San Vitale was itself a part: Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was thought to have been octagonal in shape. Templar churches were often built on this pattern and medieval pilgrims, following the example of the Templars, referred to the octagonal Dome of the Rock as the Temple of Solomon. Pilgrims provided various reports as to what was supposed to be inside, although on the whole they did not attempt to gain entry, as Christians and Jews were barred. A notable exception (or so he claims) was the fifteenth-century German pilgrim Arnold von Harff, who gleefully recounted a night-time excursion to the ‘templum Salomonis’ disguised as a Mamluk. [1]

Aachen Cathedral (all photos mine):

San Vitale (all photos mine):

Templar churches: Temple Church, London (top) and Convento de Cristo, Tomar, Portugal (bottom). All photos mine (apologies for the quality; they were taken on a Nokia in 2007):

Five minutes in Aachen Cathedral was, of course, only enough to whet my appetite, and I don’t think that I can really tick it off my bucket list as yet. So, an excuse to go back to Aachen – and I’d better get back to Trier as well, and finally see the inside of the Liebfrauenkirche.

There’s plenty of information available online about Aachen Cathedral, but the German and English Wikipedia articles are a good starting place, and the Route Charlemagne has various flyers full of information, including one on the cathedral, which I’ve used here, to which I’m linking in German and English. The website is also available in French and Dutch.

[1] Die Pilgerfahrt des Ritters Arnold von Harff, ed. by E. von Groote (Cologne: Heberle (Lempertz), 1860), p.178.

Images, Papers

Fortunatus: A German view of Italians in London

I promised a sequel to my last post, in which I looked at what the Libelle of Englyshe Polyce has to say about English attitudes to foreign merchants operating in the country in the late Middle Ages. This time, I’m looking at how those relationships feed into a non-English view of the situation by offering you an episode of the German proto-novel Fortunatus. I’m taking the opportunity to post this now, as term is about to start, and I don’t expect to have much time for blogging.

But first, an introduction. Fortunatus was first published in Augsburg (a centre of German vernacular printing) in 1509, and it draws upon various travel narratives which were circulating at the time, including John Mandeville and Bernhard von Breydenbach, whose book I’ve written about here. This reliance on older texts means that, for example, Fortunatus finds himself in what appears to be a pre-1453 Constantinople (i.e. before the Fall), visiting

Sant Sophia kirchen/ darinnen gar ain schöne kappel ist/ geweicht in der eer unser lieben frawen

[the Hagia Sophia, in which there is a lovely chapel dedicated to Our Lady]

The storyline, briefly, follows Fortunatus and his sons. While travelling through the woods, Fortunatus meets Lady Fortune, who gives him a purse full of money, which can never run out. He later supplements this by stealing a magic hat from the sultan in Alexandria – a hat which has the power to transport its wearer wherever he wishes. But Fortunatus begins his travels long before. Early in the narrative, he finds himself in London. There is a second London episode, involving Fortunatus’s son, Andalosia, but it’s only Fortunatus’s time London I want to talk about here. As Jurij Striedler has pointed out (quoted in the Reclam edition of Fortunatus), only this first episode has to be set in London. In the Andalosia episode, the location plays ‘so gut wie gar keine Rolle’: the action could take place anywhere.

Not so for the first London episode! As Striedler points out, the author seems to be pretty well informed about the city, and it’s portrayed as more than just a harbour and a commercial city. There’s a moment in which I’d like to think that the author is adding a bit of local colour: Fortunatus goes for a drink, and we read

Sy sprach zu ir magt / “gang bring ym ain pint bier”

[She said to her maid, “Go and bring a pint of beer”]

The word ‘pint’ is glossed as ‘Kanne’, and it does appear in Lexer as ein flüssigkeitsmass (a measurement of liquid), but there aren’t many references given.

But I think it’s important not to stretch Striedler’s latter point: London is primarily represented in the text as a centre of trade. The first thing we hear about it is that it’s the capital of England and,

da nun von allen orten der welt kauffleüt ligend und da iren gewerb tribent

[where merchants from all over the world carry out their business]

Although Fortunatus doesn’t specifically go to London to involve himself in the mercantile world, London as a centre of trade enables pretty much everything in this section of the narrative. The very first people he meets have been sent there for commercial purposes:

zwen jung die reich vätter in Cipern hetten / die sy ayff der Galee auch gen Lunden sandten und ynen vil kostliche kauffmannschatz bevolhen / sy waren auch vor nyemer auß gewesen und  wißten nut vil wie man sich regieren und halten solt in frembden landen / dann sovil sy von iren vätern gehört / in guote underweisung gegeben / hetten sy in gevolget

[two young men with rich fathers in Cyprus who had sent them to London on a galley, and entrusted them with a lot of valuable merchandise. They had never travelled abroad before and knew only what they had heard from their fathers about how to conduct themselves and behave in foreign countries. It was good advice, if only they had followed it]

We already have a sense that London is not safe for non-locals. Fortunatus then goes to the mercantile hub of Lombard Street to find a job – small details like this bear out the author’s knowledge of London – and he is taken on by a wealthy Florentine merchant, Jeronimus Roberti. But things soon go wrong. Another Florentine in London, a wicked young man named Andrean is asked by Jeronimus to secure the release of an imprisoned nobleman. He takes the nobleman back to Jeronimus’s house, and murders him, hoping to steal his jewels. He then tells everyone in the house that the nobleman had tried to kill him, and that he had acted in self-defence; stuffs his body down Jeronimus’s privy; and escapes to Alexandria, where – for good measure – he renounces Christianity.

Disposing of the body. 1509 Augsburg woodcut, as reproduced in 2007 Reclam edition.

Fortunatus is not in London when Andrean commits murder, and disposes of the corpse, and the reason is historically plausible.

Als sich nun die sach verloffen hett / do was Fortunatus nit tzu Lunden Sonder er was in seines herren dienst in ain statt gefarenn genant Sanduwick / da er seim herren guot in ain schif geladen het

[When these things were happening, Fortunatus was not in London, but had travelled on his master’s business to a town called Sandwich, where he was loading his master’s goods onto a ship]

As Caroline Barron explains, Florentine and Genoese merchant ships did dock in Sandwich, but Venetian ones didn’t.

The story of the murder, of course, comes out. Roberti and his entire household are condemned to death and taken to the new gallows which are:

zwüschen der statt und Vestminster / [where there] ist gar ain schöner pallast. ist darinne des künigs radthauß / und ain grosse schöne kirchen

[between the town and Westminster [where there] is a really beautiful palace, and inside is the king’s council chamber and a large and beautiful church]

Being led to the gallows. 1509 Augsburg woodcut, as reproduced in the 2007 Reclam edition.

Fortunatus is spared at the last minute. Ascending the gallows, Roberti’s cook, who:

was ain Englischer der schray mit lauter stym / das es maniglich höret / das Fortunatus nit umb die ding wißt

[was an Englishman, cried out loudly so that many people heard him, that Fortunatus didn’t know anything about it]

Now there is an argument that, in London, the chances are that it would be an English person who saves him, but the author didn’t have to emphasise Fortunatus’s saviour’s nationality. Indeed, by emphasising his nationality, we realise how few English people Fortunatus engages with in his time in England – we’re thinking about a really insular merchant community (no pun intended). And this is probably Fortunatus’s only positive interaction with an Englishman. After discussion with the judge, Fortunatus is saved from the gallows

so er auch nit ain Florentin / und unschuldig was

[since he was not a Florentine, and was innocent]

Both reasons seem to be of equal weight! He is nonetheless advised to leave the country because the (female) mob will kill him:

nu mach dich bald auß dem land / wann die frauwen der gassen werden dich zu tod schlagen

[Now get out of the land quickly, or the women in the alleys will beat you to death]

This is given weight by the king granting permission to sack Jeronimus’s house, and the reactions of the other Italians in London to this officially-sanctioned looting:

Do die andern Florentiner und Lambarder horten wie man also sackman gemacht het / do forchten sy sich übel / ires leibs und ires guots

[When the other Florentines and Lombards heard about the plundering, they were afraid for their lives and goods]

London would presumably have been well-known to Fortunatus’s German audience as a trading centre largely because of the presence of the Hanseatic League in the Steelyard – they had been in London since 1282. Relations between the League and England were complex, and particularly bad during 1470-74, in the Anglo-Hanseatic War. This ended with the Treaty of Utrecht (1474), which granted the League possession of the Steelyard. In 1493, though, a mob broke into the Steelyard and set fire to some of its buildings. This aspect of London’s trade, though, is entirely left out of the text – at least explicitly. What we do see, though, is something of a witch-hunt of people associated with a certain place: a Florentine household is implicated in a murder; every member of the household is executed; and the other Florentines and Lombards in London become afraid because the king’s men are plundering Jeronimus’s property.

It is through commercial London that the plot is moved on: by his trip to Lombard Street, a centre of international, mercantile London, where Fortunatus becomes involved with the Florentine merchant community. And it is the reality of how international trade worked in London that takes him to Sandwich – and means that he is ultimately freed from implication in the murder. After the miscarriage of justice which culminates in the execution of Jeronimus Roberti, Fortunatus is absolved of guilt essentially because he isn’t a Florentine. In Fortunatus, the bad treatment of foreign merchants trading in London is precipitated by Andrean’s murder of the nobleman, but – as we’ve seen – in the late Middle Ages, there was significant English resentment towards foreigners trading in London. The fact that Andrean is also a Florentine emphasises that, in many ways, the merchant community is being understood as a separate society within London, but the reactions of the other Italians show a familiar fear of the scapegoating of an entire group. Ralph Flenley writes that Italian merchants were the largest group of foreign merchants in England in the period, and the target of the most hostility. G.A. Holmes, in an article on Florentine merchants in England wrote: ‘One of the conspicuous features of the Lancastrian period was English hatred of the foreign merchant’. He refers to an Italian poem of the time by Frescobaldi, warning merchants travelling to England that they should wear dark clothes and keep away from men of the court.

If we think back to my previous post, which thought about foreign merchants in England from the English perspective, perhaps this episode in Fortunatus is not that surprising, and the fears of the Italian merchants who were not directly implicated in the murder committed by Andrean look perfectly reasonable. It seems that an English reputation for mistreating foreigners, and Italians in particular, had sunk into the popular imagination by the time that Fortunatus was written.

Fortunatus ed. by Hans-Gert Roloff (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2007)
Caroline M. Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages : Government and People, 1200-1500 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Ralph Flenley, “London and Foreign Merchants in the Reign of Henry VI,” English Historical Review, 25 (1910), 644-55.
M.S. Giuseppi, ‘Alien Merchants in England in the Fifteenth Century’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 9 (1895), pp. 75-98.
A. Holmes, ‘Florentine Merchants in England, 1346-1436’, The Economic History Review, 13 (1960), 193-208.

If you don’t read German, you might be interested in Michael Haldane’s translation of Fortunatus, where you can also see all of the woodcuts.

Images, Incunabula, Papers

The ‘Libelle of Englyshe Polycye’: An English view of Europe in the Fifteenth Century

It can be useful to take a non-linear approach to events – to look back and see our present reflected in the past. The debates filling newspapers and website about the forms British trade with Europe could or should take have made me cast my mind back to the subject of a paper I gave in 2014, in which I looked at the portrayal of merchant life in London in the late Middle Ages. My attention was caught by an anonymous poem which appeared in the middle of the fifteenth century. It was called the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye.

It can’t have been fun, being a foreign merchant in late-medieval England. There were frequent attempts to control the merchant population by ever-increasing taxes, by restricting them from carrying more than half of their income out of England – that is to say that they had to spend half of what they made in England and, briefly, in the middle of the fifteenth century, there was an ordinance which stated that while they were in England, they had to live with a host. In Robert Bale’s Chronicle of London, we read: ‘In the which parliament was ordeyned that the lumbardes shuld goo to host for VII yer’. That is to say that for the next seven years, any Lombards entering the country had to stay with an English sponsor. He also reports that that ‘all maner alienes enherite in the land shuld yerely pay a tribute to the kyng’ (p. 114).

But it’s the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye which is really of interest to me here, and I’d like to pull out a few sample quotations. Its opening, for example, is as follows:

Here beginneth the Prologe of the processe of the Libelle of Englyshe polycye, exhortynge alle Englande to kepe the see [sea] enviroun and namelye the narowe see [the Channel], shewynge whate profete commeth thereof and also whate worshype and salvacione to Englande and to all Englyshe menne

Sixteenth-century map by the Dutch cartographer, Christiaan Sgroten. Source: Wikipedia.

The poet goes on to recommend bluntly (and in a rather repetitive manner) ‘that we bee maysteres of the narowe see’. Towards the end, he describes the sea as:

the rounde wall,
As thoughe England were lykened to a cite
And the wall environ were the see.
Kepe than the see, that is the wall of Englond,
And than is Englond kepte by Goddes sonde

In addition to promoting keeping tight control over the Channel, the poet also lists the various commodities of foreign merchants, and how to take advantage of them. The poet is particularly unflattering about Florentine and Venetian merchants, who – so he says – bring nothing of value into the country, but remove many costly goods in exchange. Perhaps this was a way around being required to spend half their earnings in England. Their imports are, apparently:

Nifles, trifles, that litell have availed
And thynges with whiche they fetely blere oure eye,
Wyth thynges not endurynge that we bye

The goods which they take away, however are another matter. The Italians:

bere hens oure beste chaffare
Clothe, woll and tynne, whiche, as I seyde beforne,
Oute of this londe werste might be forborne

The poet then provides a substantial amount of text outlining what he considers to be deceitful behaviour on the part of the Florentines and Venetians. They are not, though, the only objects of the poet’s ire. He treats as many nations as possible in a similar fashion – including Scotland:

Therefor if we wolde manly take on honde
To kepe thys see fro Flaundres and fro Spayne
And fro Scotelonde lych as fro Pety Bretayne,
Wee schulde ryght sone have pease for all here bostes,
For they muste nede passe by oure Englysshe costes

This rather negates his later recommendation that, with England’s ‘wall’ secured:

thus shuld everi lande, one with another,
Entrecomon as brother wyth his brother,
And live togedre werreles in unite
Wythoute rancoure in verry charite

He is, however, careful to follow these pious wishes with a reiteration of his opening lines:

Here endithe the trewe processe of the libelle of Englysshe policie, exhortynge all Englande to kepe the see environ and namely the narowe see, shewynge whate worshipe, profite and salvacione commeth thereof to the reigne of Englonde, etc

The message is clear: peaceful coexistence means interacting as little as possible with your neighbours.

Setting sail in late-medieval Europe (from Fortunatus). Source:

About fifteen years after the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye, in 1456, there were riots in London against the Italian merchants. These were recorded in William Gregory’s Chronicle of London as ‘the rysynge and wanton reule of þe mayre and the mercers of London a-gayne the Lombardys’, which resulted in many Italian merchants leaving London. Many were incarcerated, and Gregory comments that ‘the comyn talkynge and noyse was that they shulde nevyr be delyveryd butt contynue in perpetualle preson’ (p. 199). Robert Bale describes the aftermath of the riots – Londoners were punished for their parts in riots, but this only led to more discontent (pp. 143-144):

And the Saterday folowyng were endited of ffelony a sherman dwelling at algate and a noþer man of the citee and a lordes man for a rising and riflyng that was made upon lumbardes and þen after they wer hanged. Wherwith the peple sore grucched

Caroline Barron suggests a couple of possible reasons for these riots: partly the fact that Italian merchants were doing well, and this made them easy targets, and partly the fact that they had previously disappeared from London in the fourteenth century, ‘and their re-emergence provoked resentment’(p. 113). Words reflect, or are reflected in, contemporary sentiments and actions.

I’m writing this post with a sequel in mind. I first discovered the Libelle of Englyshe Polycye when I was reading the German Fortunatus of 1509. The narrative tells of a young man who travels far and wide, eventually acquiring a purse which is constantly refilled with money. Early on, he falls in with merchants in London, with near disastrous consequences. In my next post, I’ll take a quick look at that episode – it seems that an English reputation for mistreating foreigners had by this point taken root in popular imagination.

The Libelle of Englyshe Polycye – online text
Caroline M. Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages : Government and People, 1200-1500 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
Ralph Flenley (ed.), Six Town Chronicles of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911)
James Gairdner (ed.), The Historical Collections of a Citizen of London in the Fifteenth Century (London: Camden Society, 1876)
George Warner (ed.), The libelle of Englyshe Polycye: A Poem on the Use of Sea-Power (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926)

Guest Post, Manuscripts, Outreach

Teachable Features 1: Binding Error, MS Bodl. 565

I’ve just written a blog for Teaching the Codex, the manuscript pedagogy initiative I run with my colleague, Dr Tristan Franklinos. We are launching a series called ‘Teachable Features’, as a resource for teachers to give quick demonstrations, as well as for anyone interested in learning about manuscripts who does not have immediate access to them.

“I originally described this binding error (amongst other issues relating to the manuscript) in an article for the Bodleian Library Record (April 2015, pp. 22-36), and it is by kind permission of the editor, Dr Alan Coates, that I am able to outline the issue here for Teaching the Codex. Images of the manuscript are reproduced by permission of the Bodleian Library.”

Source: Teachable Features 1: Binding Error, MS Bodl. 565

Articles, Manuscripts

William Wey’s Itinerary to the Holy Land: Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 565 (c. 1470)

I’m very excited that my article on binding errors and scribal identity in MS Bodl. 565 is available in the latest issue of the Bodleian Library Record (April 2015). In lieu of an abstract, here is the first paragraph:

In 1456, the middle-aged Master William Wey, bursar of Eton College, set out on the first of several pilgrimages which were to take him to Santiago de Compostela, Rome, and twice to Jerusalem. His descriptions of these journeys survive in a single manuscript, Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 565, which has not thus far been the subject of a detailed study. This has allowed the perpetuation of a binding error, despite two separate publications of its contents.

And here is an image of the manuscript in question: DSCF3387