The Historian as Accidental Poet

G. O. Sayles (1901–1994) payed out, volume by volume, a lifetime over the king’s bench rolls at the UK Public Records Office, now The National Archives. His is the second life, consumed by those rolls, and that’s only up to Henry V.[1] Several more will be claimed, I am sure, by the vastly more numerous records of the later kings and queens who sat, figuratively if not literaly, in propre persona.
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coram rege

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

detail of TNA KB27/795 civil side, rot. 1 (Hillary term, 39 Henry VI)

Back in October, at the formal start of my doctoral programme, my supervisor suggested I start looking for relevant examples of gentry behaving badly in the archival records of the Court of King’s Bench. A substantial quantity of those records (specifically, the plea and controlment rolls, which record the workings of that particular judicial body) are online as digital photos in the AALT database (the Anglo-American Legal Tradition project) hosted by the University of Houston. While this makes them much more accessible it does not make them any easier to understand.

Over the last six months, wedged between the conference papers, background reading, archival workshops, and seminars, I have slowly and tediously, learned how to ‘read’ these documents in a way that actually helps with my work. Although, I can’t claim fluency yet. In an effort to remind myself that there has been some actual progress during that time, and because I don’t trust my own memory to keep any of this strait, I will share what little I have learned about the King’s Bench over a few blog entries.

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Kzoo 2013 books

There are more things to say about K-zoo this year, but I’m still recovering and all my little cognitive workers are still unpacking from the trip, re-filling things, and gathering up all that cardboard and those little bags of air they pack books in, to get the offices back into order for the rest of the week. For now, the best I can do is record the new intake of books.

I was as disciplined as possible in my book buying this time. I declined several titles and I studiously avoided browsing when I knew I had reached my limit. The final day fire-sale at Powells did add three more titles, but these were worth the added weight. Here is the haul:

not too towering a pile

not too towering a pile

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The Last of the Great Chained Libraries

medievalfragments

By Jenny Weston

On a beautiful sunny day last week, the Turning Over a New Leaf project team decided to take a day off from the office to visit a spectacular chained library in the small town of Zutphen (located in the eastern part of the Netherlands). Built in 1564 as part of the church of St Walburga, it is one of only five chained libraries in the world that survive ‘intact’—that is, complete with the original books, chains, rods, and furniture.

Needless to say, it was a rather surreal moment for all of us to step into the little room to see the dark-wood lecterns, upon which were placed (in neat rows, side-by-side) beautiful 15th- and 16th-century books, secured in place by metal chains.

Looking closer, it is possible to see just how the chained-library system works. Each book is fitted with a metal clasp, usually on the back cover…

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April Review

So what occupied my time for the month of April? I’m not really sure, I will need to check. Hey! my day-book is a useless collection of mostly blank pages and short, largely uninformative, to-do-lists! Hmm. Was involved in some ‘incident’ and this is an effort to cover up unauthorized orders?

No. I’m thinking of U-boat commanders and their order logs. I was just crap at keeping track of things for almost the entire month of April.

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