The Later Middle Ages: A Missing Chapter in the History of Migration to England

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The Medieval Section’s December lecture on migration to English during the later Middle Ages will be given by Dr Bart Lambert, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of York. Dr Lambert has kindly provided the following details about his talk:

Historians studying migration to the British Isles traditionally concentrate on the successive comings of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans, before moving rapidly forward to the arrival of minority religious and ethnic groups, both as refugees and as forced migrants, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet in 2015, the AHRC-funded England’s Immigrants-project revealed that during the later Middle Ages, between 1 and 5 per cent of the English population was born abroad. These first-generation immigrants made essential contributions to the country’s commercial, agricultural and manufacturing economies and left a lasting cultural legacy. Their presence prompted the government to develop new legal frameworks, parts of which are still in place today. This paper will explore the lives of late medieval England’s immigrant population and establish its wider significance in light of the longer-term history of migration to the British Isles.

The lecture meeting will take place in the Swarthmore Education Institute at 2pm on Saturday 9th December and will be followed by the Medieval Section’s traditional Christmas afternoon tea.


Virtual Reality in Viking Rediscover the Legend Exhibition


When I attended the Society for Museum Archaeology conference in Sheffield last week Natalie Buy from York Museums Trust and Gareth Beale from University of York gave a presentation about the touring Vikings Rediscover the Legend exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum. Unfortunately for Yorkshire readers the exhibition closed on 5th November, although it will also be shown in Nottingham, Southport, Aberdeen and Norwich over the next two years. The idea is that each venue contributes exhibits from its own collection to complement the treasures from the British Museum.


One exhibition but with five different identities, one of the speakers at the conference called it a veritable smorgasbord of objects, many of them star exhibits in the roll call of great Viking discoveries over many years, including the Lewis chessmen, the Cuerdale hoard (selection from above), the and the Coppergate helmet, as well as new additions to the corpus such as the Bedale hoard and the Vale of York hoard.

This high calibre material is used to explore the impact of the Vikings in Britain and the new discoveries enable a rethink of what it meant to be a Viking. There is also a contemporary collecting display showing film posters, Lego and even Viking cat hats. It also includes low key but popular interactives such as dressing up and jigsaws for families with children but still offers rich archaeological information for those who want to know more.


Perhaps the most exciting element of the displays involves the use of digital technology to create an immersive environment showing the camp at Torksey where the Vikings overwintered in 872-3. Whilst the popular image of Vikings as raiders and invaders is very powerful, Torksey was where they worked, traded, and lived with their families. Archaeologists have found a wide range of material that was dropped and lost in the mud. The image above gives a flavour of the experience looking through the viewer. The visitor can turn the viewer through 360 degrees and, thanks to the Languages Department at University of York, can hear people of the time conversing in Old Norse and Frankish.

The virtual reality draws upon technology used in the creative industries and the exhibition project provided an opportunity to see how it worked in a museum environment. It cleverly gives the visitor a sense of life one thousand years ago by presenting vignettes of Viking life: a boatyard where ship maintenance is taking place; in the camp at Torksey in the rain, showing people sheltering under tents and awnings; and a trading scene involving a shipment of barrels of wine. Visitors view the VR scenes through a mask that is held in front of the face. This was a little bit heavy for prolonged use but the version I saw in Sheffield used cardboard and was lighter. It certainly brought the 9th century Vikings’camp to life.

The venue for the exhibition was the existing Medieval gallery in the Yorkshire Museum and this made for a sometimes cramped experience. Poor design meant that the visitor had to walk to one side of some of the cases in order to see the label for an object that presented to the front. In one instance this meant walking into a crowded cul-de-sac where other visitors were looking at interpretation. This brought back unfortunate memories of the Viking Ship exhibition at the British Museum. This may simply be the result of adapting the touring exhibition for the venue and hopefully it won’t be repeated at the next venue.


At the time of writing I am hoping to invite one of the speakers, Gareth Beale, to speak to the Medieval Section of the YHAS about this work and it may be possible to bring along the lighter versions of the viewers so that members can enjoy the immersive experience of Torksey Viking camp.

IMS Open Lecture Series: ‘Medieval Cursing and Its Uses’

Tuesday 31st October 2017 at 17.30 in the Parkinson Building: Nathan Bodington Council Chamber.

Sarah Hamilton is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Exeter. She researches religion and society in the early Middle Ages with an especial interest in liturgy. Her books include Understanding Medieval Liturgy: Essays in Interpretation, edited with Helen Gittos (2015), Church and People in the Medieval West, 900-1200 (2013) and The Practice of Penance, 900-1050 (2001). She is currently PI for the HERA funded project, After Empire: Using and not using the past in the crisis of the Carolingian world, c. 900-c.1050.

‘Let them be above the face of the earth on a dung heap, so that they are an example of disgrace and cursing to present and future generations. And just as these lights are extinguished, thrown down from our hands today, so may their lights be extinguished in eternity.’

This paper explores texts like this one from early tenth-century Rheims to investigate the gap between the oral world of ritual performance and that of text. Anathema – the cursing and excommunication of obdurate sinners – was the most powerful spiritual weapon available to bishops. Its use is attested from the time of the early Church onwards, but the earliest surviving liturgical records date only from the tenth and eleventh centuries. Investigating how and why such records came to be made at this time, this paper suggests they can cast fresh light both on the development of episcopal authority in this period, and on how and why service books came to be compiled.

Holy but not healthy? Fish-eating in the Middle Ages

feeding the five thousand British Library Arundel MS 157 f.7

The next lecture in the programme of the Medieval Section will be given by Associate Professor Iona McCleery of the University of Leeds who will speak about fish eating in the Middle Ages. Dr McCleery has kindly sent the following summary:- ‘Medieval people seem to have started to eat a lot of fish from the 11th century onwards (what archaeologists call the ‘fish event horizon’). This is usually explained as widespread adoption of strict Christian dietary rules and/or the development of deep sea fishing technology. However, from around the same time medieval medical writings began to view fish as unhealthy foodstuffs. This talk will explore the ambiguous role of fish in medieval culture, drawing in particular on medieval miracle narratives as sources for the complex relationships between medicine, spirituality and daily life.’

Iona McCleery is Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Leeds (since 2007). She researches the history of medicine, food, healing miracles and late medieval Portugal and its early empire. Between 2010 and 2014 she ran the Wellcome Trust-funded project You Are What You Ate, which was a collaboration of Wakefield Council and the universities of Leeds and Bradford on the history, archaeology, science and representation of food.

The lecture will be held at 2pm in the Swarthmore Institute in Leeds on 11th November.

Medieval Section Lecture – Looking for the Old Norse Influence in Leeds on 14th October

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In the early Middle Ages, Scandinavian influence on British life, language and culture was profound.  The Vikings had a major and lasting impact, and their legacy still resonates strongly in modern constructions of British identity and heritage. Scandinavian settlement began in earnest in the late ninth century, especially in the North and East of England, and probably its most enduring and significant effect was on the English language.  The Gersum Project is a three-year collaborative research project in English lexicography, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from 2016–19.  It is named after the Middle English word gersum, borrowed from Old Norse gørsemi ‘treasure’, and it will be the fullest survey ever undertaken of the rich and varied body of English words derived from Old Norse.

Gersum Project logo

English words with Old Norse origins certainly enriched the language.  They include such basic modern-day items as sky, egg, law, leg, call, take, window, knife, die and skin, and the pronouns they, their and them, as well as medieval words as diverse and intriguing as hernez ‘brains’, muged ‘drizzled’, stange ‘pole’ and wothe ‘danger’.  These are cultural artefacts which link us directly to the Vikings, and many of which English-speakers still use on a daily basis; and there are hundreds of other similar borrowings in standard and regional English usage, especially Northern dialects.  The Gersum Project is investigating their early history to address questions about how we can identify Old Norse loans, and how and by whom these words were used in the first few centuries after their adoption into English, especially in the crucial Middle English period.  The project’s research will result in a fully searchable online catalogue of the more than 1000 different words for which an origin in Norse has been suggested in a corpus of major Middle English poems from the North of England, including famous works of literature such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and The Wars of Alexander.  Users of the catalogue will be able to explore, amongst other issues, each word’s etymology, meaning, textual attestations and dialectal distribution.  The project also incorporates a number of events, including an inter-disciplinary conference in Cambridge and a series of talks open to the general public.  The project team is Dr Richard Dance (Cambridge), Dr Sara Pons-Sanz (Cardiff) and Dr Brittany Schorn (Cambridge).  For more information, please visit our website .


Richard Dance studied in Oxford, where he completed a doctorate in 1997 on the Old Norse influence on early Middle English vocabulary.  He is Reader in Early English in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of St Catharine’s College.

Brittany Schorn completed her doctorate on Old Norse poetry in Cambridge in 2012. She is Research Associate on the Gersum Project, and based in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in the University of Cambridge.

The lecture will take place at 2pm at Swarthmore Education Centre in Leeds in the main hall on the lower ground floor. This is because of the need to allow for a larger than usual turnout for the session, which is being held jointly with the Yorkshire Dialect Society.

Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project


The next meeting of Harrogate Archaeological Society will feature an illustrated talk  by Dr Jennifer Crangle entitled ‘Rothwell’s bones; medieval curation of the dead’. Dr Crangle, together with Dr Elizabeth Craig-Atkins and Prof Dawn Hadley, established the ‘Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project’ based on the medieval crypt and collection of human skeletal material at Holy Trinity Church, Rothwell, Northamptonshire.

This subterranean charnel chapel houses one of only two remaining in situ medieval ossuaries (collections of human bones) in England. The Project aims to further the understanding of charnelling practices in the medieval period and in gaining insight into the role of human remains in medieval Christian religious practice.

The lecture will take place on Saturday 5th August at 2.30 p.m. at Harlow Hill Methodist Church, Otley Road, Harrogate HG2 0AG (£3 admission fee for non-members includes refreshments).


800th Anniversary of St Robert of Knaresborough in 2018

There will be an open event/soft launch for local people and the co-ordinating group behind the commemoration of the 800th anniversary of Saint Robert on the afternoon of Sunday, 24th September in Knaresborough (2-5pm at Gracious Street Methodist Church Centre).

Saint Robert was born in 1160 lived as a hermit by the River Nidd. Robert gained a reputation for his charitable works for the poor and redeeming men from prison,  which upset the authorities.  He spent some time at St. Hilda’s Chapel in Rudfarlington. He established an order of Trinitarian Friars at Knaresborough Priory. He died on 24 September 1218.

Also locally is St Robert’s Well on  the York Road, just outside Knaresborough. It strtedas a well and was converted into a  cold bath. This site is 400m from Robert’s cave and chapel to which it was connected by a track. More recently a business park has been  built on the site of this well but people still make offerings of coins through a metal grid covering the well.

The event website is in early development, but you can visit it here where there are some photos of the cave occupied by Saint Robert during the reign of King John.  I understand there are markings on the inside of the cave but it is not clear what their historical significance is. If you’re interested in finding out more about this locally and regionally important saint there are The Metrical Life of St. Robert of Knaresborough, edited by Joyce Bazire in the Early Text Society publications (1953) and Rotha Mary Clay’s The Hermits and Anchorites of England (1914). This link also includes a translation of a 13th Century Life of St Robert by Frank Bottomley.

It would be good to organise a visit to Knaresborough for Medieval Section members next year to mark the occasion, perhaps ending with a visit to Fountains Abbey, whose monks tried to appropriate Saint Robert’s body after his death. Do let me know if this might be of interest. If you are local and a member of the Section perhaps you’d like to attend the launch event and tell us about the plans to commemorate Saint Robert’s 800th anniversary next year.

Thanks to Peter Lacy for bringing this to the attention of the Medieval Section.