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Urban politics and material culture at the end of the Middle Ages: the Coventry tapestry in St Mary's Hall

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 March 2012

CHRISTIAN D. LIDDY*
Affiliation:
Department of History, University of Durham, 43 North Bailey, Durham, DH1 3EX, UK

Abstract:

This article uses the evidence of the internal decoration and spatial hierarchy of an English town hall to explore the construction of urban oligarchy in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Urban historians have regarded this period as one of fundamental importance in the political history of pre-modern English towns. It is associated with the emergence of the ‘close corporation’, an oligarchic form of government which remained largely in place until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. The article examines the iconography and historical context of a tapestry, custom-made for the town hall of Coventry around 1500, to present a different view of the character of urban political culture at the end of the Middle Ages.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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References

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13 I owe this information to Miss Margaret Condon, formerly of the Public Record Office.

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18 The Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) report is no. 0154. There is a copy in CRO, 1694/12/1. Frances Lennard of the Textile Conservation Centre, now at the University of Glasgow, kindly gave me access to Nevinson's additional report.

19 J. Nevinson, ‘Report on the tapestry in St Mary's Hall, Coventry’.

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26 BL Harleian MS 6388, pp. 13, 15.

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28 Register of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, ed. Harris, xiii–xiv.

29 Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1391–96, 131.

30 Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 162.

31 The Records of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, St. Mary, St. John the Baptist and St. Katherine of Coventry, ed. G. Templeman (Dugdale Society, 19, 1944), 144.

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34 Lancaster, St Mary's Hall, 42. On Poissonnier, see the brief note in Delmarcel, G., Flemish Tapestry (London, 1999), 368Google Scholar.

35 Workshops started to add borders from the 1500s. I owe this information to Katherine Wilson.

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41 I would like to thank my colleague, Richard Gameson, for discussion of this subject.

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50 Cf. Rigby, ‘Urban “oligarchy”’, 65.

51 The glass is examined in Rudebeck, ‘John Thornton’, 16.

52 Sharp, Illustrative Papers, 218.

53 Rudebeck, ‘John Thornton’, 30.

54 Dugdale, Antiquities of Warwickshire, 120.

55 Rudebeck, ‘John Thornton’, 27.

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59 BL Additional MS 11364, fol. 6r; CRO PA 2/5, fol. 11v.

60 BL Harleian MS 6388, p. 20.

61 Register of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, ed. Harris, xxiv, 14.

62 CRO PA 351/1, p. 16.

63 Griffiths, Reign of King Henry VI, 785.

64 Ibid., 793.

65 Ibid., 4–5.

66 Records of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, ed. Templeman, 143.

67 These communal feasts followed the special masses on the feasts of the Trinity, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St John the Baptist and St Katherine: Dugdale, Antiquities of Warwickshire, 122.

68 Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 90, 162.

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70 The quotation is from CRO PA 351/1, p. 15.

71 Records of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, ed. Templeman, 1–33.

72 Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 121, 126; Dugdale, Antiquities of Warwickshire, 123.

73 Sharp, Illustrative Papers, 220.

74 Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 41–3. For a more recent study which questions the picture of general decay within Coventry, see Leech, D., ‘Stability and change at the end of the Middle Ages: Coventry, 1450–1525’, Midland History, 34 (2009), 121CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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76 Coventry Leet Book, ed. Harris, 567, 577–8.

77 BL Harleian MS 6388, pp. 24–5; Bodleian Library MS Top Warwickshire d.4, fols. 12r, 13r; Birmingham Reference Library, MS 273978, fols. 4v–5r; CRO PA 2/4, fols. 13v, 14v; CRO PA 2/5, fols. 15r, 16v; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Record Office, DR 37 box 123/7, fols. 18v–19r; BL Additional MS 11364, fol. 7r–v; Coventry Leet Book, ed. Harris, 491–2, 556–7, 570.

78 CRO PA 2/4, fol. 14v.

79 Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Record Office, DR 37 box 123/7, fol. 7v.

80 McSheffrey, S., Gender and Heresy: Women and Men in Lollard Communities 1420–1530 (Philadelphia, 1995), 23–5Google Scholar.

81 Lollards of Coventry 1486–1522, ed. S. McSheffrey and N. Tanner (Camden 5th ser., 23, 2003), 16, 66, 67, 79–80; McSheffrey, Gender and Heresy, 23; Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 21, 171–2.

82 Lollards of Coventry, ed. McSheffrey and Tanner, 79–80. See also ibid., 242, for evidence from 1512.

83 Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 172.

84 Burgess, C., ‘A repertory for reinforcement: configuring Catholicism in fifteenth-century Bristol’, in Clark, L. (ed.), Of Mice and Men: Image, Belief and Regulation in Late Medieval England (Woodbridge, 2005), 99122Google Scholar.

85 For a comparison with Norwich, see McRee, ‘Religious gilds and civic order’, 96–7.

86 Coventry Leet Book, ed. Harris, 544.

87 McRee, ‘Religious gilds and civic order’, 94. In the third quarter of the fourteenth century, members of the Holy Trinity guild had been expelled for offences such as fornication and adultery: Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 138 n. 7.

88 CRO PA 351/1, p. 15; BL Harleian MS 6388, pp. 10, 12; BL Additional MS 11364, fol. 4r; Bodleian Library, MS Top Warwickshire d.4, fol. 4r; Birmingham Reference Library, MS 115915, and MS 273978, fol. 2v; CRO PA 2/3, p. 45, PA 2/4, fols. 7v–8r, and PA 2/5, fols. 4v, 6r; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Record Office, DR 37 box 123/7, fols. 3v, 16r.

89 I would like to thank my student, Harriet Eales, for this point. The assize regulated the weight of bread, according to the price of grain.

90 Coventry Leet Book, ed. Harris, 544–5, 567–9.

91 Goldberg, P.J.P., ‘Coventry's “Lollard” Programme of 1492 and the Making of Utopia’, in Horrox, R. and Jones, S. Rees (eds.), Pragmatic Utopias: Ideals and Communities 1200–1630 (Cambridge, 2001), 105–8Google Scholar. Where I differ strongly from this analysis is in the view that the 1492 programme constituted a ‘Lollard’ scheme. For a discussion of the relationship between the civic oligarchy of Coventry and the city's Lollard community, see McSheffrey, Gender and Heresy, 37–45.

92 McSheffrey, ‘Jurors, respectable masculinity, and Christian morality’, 277; idem, Marriage, Sex, and Civic Culture, 185.

93 Vauchez, A., ‘Introduction’, in idem (ed.), La religion civique à l’époque médiévale et moderne: Chrétienté et Islam (Rome, 1995), 15Google Scholar.

94 G. Rosser, ‘Urban culture and the church 1300–1540’, in Palliser (ed.), Cambridge Urban History, 347–8.

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96 The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar, ed. L.T. Smith (Camden Society n.s., 5, 1872); P. Fleming, ‘Making history: culture, politics and The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar’, in Biggs, D.L. et al. . (eds.), Reputation and Representation in Fifteenth-Century Europe (Brill, 2004), 289316Google Scholar.

97 Wood, A., Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2002), 116CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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