Strike Gold! Medieval Irish exchequer ‘Gold Seam’ recruitment

Medieval Irish exchequer

2 Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Medieval History at TCD and TNA (UK)

The Medieval Irish Exchequer ‘Gold Seam’work package within Beyond 2022 aims to reconstruct entire series of medieval Irish financial and administrative records, held at TNA, to the level of individual items and, where possible, entries.

Beyond 2022 is seeking two exceptional archival and historical researchers as Medieval Postdoctoral Fellows, to be based in London at TNA and Trinity College Dublin respectively.

The research fellows will edit in digital format to the highest editorial standards the receipt and issue rolls of the medieval Irish Exchequer, subsidiary files of writs and memoranda and the enrolled accounts of the Treasurer of Ireland, which cover the period c.1270-1450. 

Working as part of an interdisciplinary and international team, they will principally use TEI methodologies to edit the large corpus of over 400 rolls and subsidiary files for presentation in the online scholarly edition.

Closing date for applications: Monday 25 May 2020 at 5pm

Separate applications are required from candidates applying for the fellowships tenable at TNA (UK) and Trinity College Dublin.

Full particulars:

Research Fellow based at The National Archives UK

Research Fellow based at Trinity College Dublin

“There Be Dragons”: St George’s Day (April 23rd) in Late Medieval Dublin—and Norwich

By Peter Crooks, Director, Beyond 2022

Above: The Norwich Dragon ‘Snap’ Arrives at the Cathedral Gate and is refused entrance.

Before coming back to Trinity in 2013, I spent a number of years working at the University of East Anglia. Norwich is a medievalist’s dream. The castle was constructed in the generation after the Conquest of 1066. At 315 feet, the Gothic spire of Norwich cathedral is the second tallest in England. The town is encircled by medieval city walls. And there are dragons!

The dragons are part of Norwich’s civic identity. Every year during the Lord Mayor’s Procession, ‘Snap’ the local dragon is brought out for a ceremonial drubbing—a tradition that goes back to the fifteenth century, revived in recent times.

There are dragons, too, carved into the medieval fabric of the city. High up on the entrance gate to Norwich cathedral, a wonderful carved dragon crouches like a winged crocodile ready to pounce on the visitors who pass beneath as they enter the cathedral precincts.

Above: Dragon carving above the Ethelbert Gate, Norwich Cathedral

I used to take my two daughters to visit this particular dragon regularly during our years there. Fortunately they were too young then to ask tricky questions like what the ‘crocodile’ was doing. Clearly it was up to no good, but the details might have been tricky to explain. Most saints’ lives would benefit from a parental guidance classification. In legend, the dragon terrorises the city of Silene (Libya). The inhabitants of Silene keep the dragon at bay with an offering of two sheep each evening. But when they run out of sheep, they are forced instead to offer up for dinner … their children.

At this point, a chap named George sweeps into the story, slays the poor dragon, rescues the maiden who was to be dinner, and saves the city. I should stress that dragon-slaying is almost certainly the thing my two daughters would now object to. Cruelty to animals. That and the very idea of a maiden in distress.

Needless to say, the hero of the hour is Saint George, dragon-slayer and martyr, whose feast day of April 23rd is celebrated as the national day of England, accompanied in a normal year by parades and flags (but not a bank holiday).

There is an oft-observed irony in the fact that George — whose banner of the red cross finds expression as a symbol English identity most publicly through the medium of white-and-red face paint at sporting fixtures— was himself a multicultural figure who continues to be venerated all over Europe and the Middle East.

The details of George’s life story were murky even in the early Middle Ages, but he certainly wasn’t English. His origins lay in the Eastern Roman Empire, possibly Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey). His mother reputedly came from Palestine. He was believed to be a military leader who confessed his Christian faith to the Emperor. After seven years of torture and torment George was finally executed on this day, April 23rd, 303AD—though not before he had surreptitiously converted the Empress, who then joined him in martyrdom. The story of George and the dragon is an embellishment of the High Middle Ages, and it boosted the popularity of St George still further.

Then, in the fourteenth century, the English monarchy adopted St George as its patron—Edward III notably founding the Order of the Garter under his patronage, together with the chapel of St George at Windsor Castle in the 1340s. George, universal saint of the Christian church, now came to symbolise the English nation in arms pitted against foreign dragons, especially England’s ancient enemies in the Hundred Years War, the French.

It is easy to see how such a national emblem could be crudely recycled through history in each conflict between England and European rivals. In 1805, for instance, an etching of King George III depicts him (his name was George after all), rather implausibly, astride a charger slaying a Napoleonic dragon as Britannia (maiden in distress, again) cowers behind.

Above: George III slays the dragon Napoleon (1805)

These developments in the Cult of St George reverberated in Ireland. The administrative records surviving from the late Middle Ages in Ireland were predominantly records of English government in Ireland. And a quick search of the Beyond 2022 corpus reveals a growing number of references to St George from the later fourteenth century onwards.

At precisely the same era (early fifteenth century) that the dragon at the Lord Mayor’s Procession in Norwich was developing into an annual revelry, St George was also establishing himself in the religious and institutional life of another city in the medieval English world: medieval Dublin.

In 1426, a religious fraternity or Guild of St George was established in Dublin. This Guild of St George played a central role in the municipal and religious life of the city, as outgoing mayors were appointed as ‘wardens’ of the guild. The original foundation charter, which was issued under the great seal of Ireland in the name of King Henry VI, survives in Dublin City Archives. Another copy of the same charter was ‘enrolled’—that is copied out on a roll of parchment and stored in the royal chancery of Ireland. Many of these chancery rolls eventually found their way into the Public Record Office of Ireland in the nineteenth century, only to be destroyed in 1922.

In 1474 a military brotherhood under the patronage of St George was founded by the Earl of Kildare. This brotherhood was intended to defend ‘the Pale’, that imagined bastion of English civilization in Ireland. Captained by the Great Earl of Kildare from 1479, the brotherhood was to assemble symbolically each year on St George’s Day. Its members led a standing force of 120 mounted archers, 40 men-at-arms, and 40 pages, paid by parliamentary subsidy. St George, in militaristic guise once again, was given a new dragon to slay—the ‘Irish enemies’ of the English colony.

But the story is not quite so stark in cultural terms. A list of books in the private library of the Earls of Kildare survives. Among the many texts the Geraldines had was “Saint george is passion” (St George’s Passion). The version they had, however, was the Irish-language text, Páis Georgi, not an English or Latin ‘life’ of the martyr. St George was, then, ever the multicultural figure— and national identity, then as now, is an inherently slippery concept.

But we must return to dragons.  From the fifteenth century, an annual procession made its way through the main thoroughfare of Dublin on St George’s Day. We have a detailed description dating, probably, from the late fifteenth century,  of the “The Pageant of St George’s Day”. According to this record, the martyrdom of St George was enacted publicly in Dublin’s streets. The outgoing mayor had the job of finding characters to play the Emperor and Empress, who were to ‘well apparelled’ (i.e., nicely turned out), as well as someone to play ‘St George on horseback’. The senior master of the Guild of St George was tasked with finding a maid ‘well apparelled to lead the dragon’, while the clerk of the market was to find a ‘good line for the dragon’—that is, a leash on which to lead the dragon.

History does not relate who was tasked with finding a real life dragon!

Above: ‘The Pageant of St George’s Day, Dublin’. Original survives as British Library MS 4791, from the Reverend J. Milles Collection. The text reproduced here was edited in the nineteenth century by the indefatigable J.T. Gilbert, a founding member of the staff of the Public Record Office of Ireland (Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin, ed. J. T. Gilbert, vol. 1, p. 242).

What lies beneath: an armchair excursion under Dublin’s streets.

by Ciarán Wallace, Deputy Director, Beyond 2022.

1: Church Street, between the Bridewell and the quays.  Google street view 2020.

When I give a paper on Beyond 2022 and the Public Record Office of Ireland destroyed in 1922, I like to display a photograph of the premises, taken in 1915, showing the Record House which survived and the Record Treasury to the rear which did not. To conclude my talk I put up an image of the location today, along the left side of Church Street in Dublin, as you cross the tram tracks heading south towards the river. People know the unremarkable modern building but they do not usually know its back-story. As a historian with a strong interest in Dublin and its built environment this got me thinking – the vaults of the old PROI lie beneath the modern offices, but what lay beneath those vaults?

2: PROI Mills Album

3: The restored Four Courts complex (1949).   XAW027118 IRELAND (1949). Courts of Justice, Dublin.

First let’s fill in the gap between the destruction in 1922 and the modern office block we see today. This image looks south and shows the Four Courts complex in 1949. The OPW have finished their admirable reconstruction work on the neo-classical buildings, originally completed at the turn of the nineteenth century. The stonework and paved areas look bright and new, but to the right of the courts we see a huddle of older buildings facing onto the Fr Matthew Bridge.  Just below them in the image the broad temporary flat roof covering the exposed PROI vaults is clearly visible. Beside it, Dublin Corporations’ efforts to widen Church Street are briefly evident as you move towards the river before the street narrows again to its older, poorer, span.

 4: A bird’s-eye view of Dublin H W Brewer (1890)

Moving back in time to 1890, H.W. Brewer’s bird’s-eye view of the city gives a somewhat romantic view of Inn’s Quay in front of the Four Courts, but the sense of jumbled roofs and smoking chimneys in this picture is echoed by the more precise Ordnance Survey map of the same era.  We can also see that the jumble of buildings on the corner of Church Street and the quays included the Four Courts Hotel, while a match factory, and two foundries sat alarmingly close to the records stored in the PROI. This 1888 map shows how narrow Church Street was for its much of its length, it also gives the old, full name of King’s Inns Quay, dethroned after independence to just Inns Quay.

5:  Ordnance Survey Ireland, Historic 25 inch map (1888 – 1913)

Compare that map with this fascinating OPW plan from 1865 showing the proposed site of the PROI and another extension to the rear of the Four Courts. Suddenly a lost world of small alleys and back courts appears – all cleared away by the expanding boundary of the courts. Morgan Place, which had been a street outside the perimeter was now absorbed into the complex, most of Pill Lane to the northern edge and all of Mountrath Street at the north-eastern corner disappeared along with their shopkeepers, merchants and residents.

6: NAI 01-OPW5-HC-1-42 (1865) 

7: Dublin City Sheet 13 (1864 revised). UCD Digital Library, Ordnance Survey Ireland 19th century Historical Maps. 

The OS map of 1864 shows the interior layout of the (as yet unbuilt) Record Treasury building, and a new court house north of the Four Courts across the Pill Lane, straightened, diverted and renamed as Chancery Street. This map is a revision of an earlier version from 1847 where the tighter, curved perimeter of the Four Courts is clearly visible.

8: Dublin City Sheets 13 + 20 (1847). UCD Digital Library, Ordnance Survey Ireland 19th century Historical Maps.

Another bird’s-eye view of the same period (1846), this time from the Illustrated London News, suggests the crowded nature of the district as houses, shops and factories all huddle around the courts.

9: City of Dublin Illustrated London News (1846)

10: Wide Streets Commissioners’ Map of ground in Pill Lane (1833), Dublin City Library and Archive.

Today building development in Dublin can take years to work its way through the planning and appeals system, but it seems that this is nothing new. This 1833 map of the land along Pill Lane and Mountrath Street plots thirty individual premises including the New (and Old) White Cross Inn, all of them firmly in the sights of those most prolific of urban developers – the Wide Streets Commissioners. Yet it appears to have taken forty years for the entire clearance and rebuilding process to go through, allowing the boundary of the courts to expand. The plots on the 1833 map are also marked for development on this attractive map from 1825, four decade before the PROI was eventually built.

11:  Wide Streets Commissioners’ map of Pill Lane and Four Courts (1825), Dublin City Library and Archive.

Seventy years before that, John Rocque’s absorbingly detailed map of Dublin (1756) shows a very different street plan around Church Street and King’s Inns Quay. Thomas Cooley and James Gandon have not yet begun their neo-classical domed court building facing the river, instead a vacant site occupies the space where the Four Courts will arise. Unlike today, buildings sit immediately beside the river, the quay fronts are irregular on both banks of the Liffey and the buttresses of the Old Bridge give it a spikey appearance on the map.

12:  John Rocque’s map (1756) BnF Gallica 

However the street name still reflects the King’s Inns. The legal profession were already in residence for more than a century, as illustrated on John Speed’s map of 1610. Situated beside the only dry crossing point on the river, this had long been a prime location. 

13:  John Speede’s map (1610). No. 3 = The King’s Inns. No. 5 = The Bridge. Dublin City Library and Archive.

Bounded by Church Street and Pill Lane, the Honorable Society of King’s Inns had been providing legal training here since 1541 when Henry VIII granted them the lands of Saint Saviour’s Priory. The Dominicans founded this monastery in the thirteenth century, on the north shore of the Liffey across from the medieval walled city, as H.B. Clarke’s wonderful composite map shows.

14: The past mapped onto the present. Irish Historic Towns Atlas no. 11 Dublin, part I, to 1610 by H.B. Clarke Locator B8 = Saint Saviour’s Priory (Dominican) and F4 = Kings Inns.

So as this one small patch of Dublin reveals, the past also has a past, and the landscape of one person’s ‘rare auld times’ was probably an earlier generation’s ‘dreaded modernity’. The persistence of some streets and the disappearance of others can make us lose our bearings, but surviving records and the widespread and free availability of so many digital maps of Dublin’s streets, means that we can take our time, enjoy some armchair archaeology and find out what lies beneath.

Useful sources:

The ‘Irish’ Influenza of 1803

By David Brown

Archival Discovery Lead, Beyond 2022

Epidemics have become fortunately rare in Ireland. Although the measures now being taken to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 virus appear to us to be unprecedented, similar measures and symptoms have occurred before in Irish history. Some outbreaks of disease, such as those during the turmoil of the seventeenth century, may be well-known but the unusual increase in epidemics at the turn of the nineteenth century are largely forgotten.

In 1649, Oliver Cromwell’s troops who had just arrived in Ireland for a campaign of conquest, began to fall ill with the ‘Irish disease’. Two diseases were spreading rapidly throughout the population, a form of dysentery, the ‘Flux’, which affected both English soldiers and the Irish general population, and the ‘Purple Disease’, or cerebrospinal meningitis, which was causing many deaths in cities and towns. In December 1649, Cromwell’s colonel based in Dublin, Michael Jones, died from the Purple Disease. Cromwell besieged but did not bother to attack Kilkenny. Disease was so prevalent within the walls of the city that the defending garrison was soon reduced from 1,200 to 300 men, and surrendered. Galway, however, followed what we now consider to be textbook mitigation measures, when news of Cromwell’s invasion coincided with the appearance of plague in the town. The Corporation Book of Galway from 1650 describes what happened.

‘The population of the town had also increased considerably: several persons from the country flocking in with their families and property for protection; and in this crowded state was the place when the Plague made its appearance in the month of July, 1649, and continued to rage with unabated virulence until the end of April following, during which time it swept away upwards of 3,700 of the inhabitants, including 210 of the most respectable burgesses and freemen with their families. Those who survived or escaped the contagion gradually left the town, as the only means of preservation, until it was almost entirely deserted of its inhabitants. They assembled in the county, and having made a collection of 2,000 marks, to pay physicians and provide necessaries for the sick, they formed a committee of health, where judicious measures and assiduity finally succeeded in eradicating the infection.’

In 1650, the town of Galway knew enough about contagion to realise that ‘social distancing’, or leaving the cramped confines of the town and spreading out in encampments in the surrounding countryside could, together with a well-funded health service, combine to defeat the disease.

While epidemics were fairly common in Ireland, an unusual increase in the number and virulence of contagions occurred between 1796 and 1803. Two major influenza epidemics appeared in 1803 with very different symptoms. The first, the ‘Irish Influenza’, was understood at the time to have originated in Armagh and Dublin in January and spread throughout Europe. In Dublin ‘it was characterized by cough, oppression of chest, vertigo of back and limbs, pain of face and jaws, noise of ears and deafness, extreme weakness and lowness, even fainting, but without serious consequences’. In Armagh the reported symptoms were ‘a confused uneasiness of the head, heaviness and lassitude of the eyes; the parts about the eyes, and in some the whole countenance, swelled with a bloated, puffy appearance’. Young and otherwise healthy women and men were the most badly affected and the disease was far more prevalent in the countryside than in towns. However, accounts of an influenza outbreak in Munster in the same year sounds more familiar in an era of Covid-19.

Census of Ireland for the year 1851 Part V. Table of Deaths, p 164.

‘I did not see any case of influenza,’ wrote Dr Callanan from Cork, ‘although in daily expectation of its arrival, until the 27th of March, 1803. Its course was evidently traced from England to Waterford, where it raged at the assizes, before the assizes at Cork. The assemblage in courts, with the assistance of the theatre, disseminated the contagion through town and country more rapidly than any epidemic I ever saw. No one died of the simple influenza.’

‘In Cork [the proportion of those who died] was very small when unconnected with any other constitutional complaint. The old and infirm felt it very severely, as did children at the breast, many of whom died. It seemed to attack equally males and females. It appeared to us to be very contagious, as some boarding schools in the country remained free until visited by some person who brought it from the neighbouring towns. Some schools which had little or no communication with large towns escaped. The former influenzas, as far as we remember, were by no means so virulent, nor attended with such debility or languor. We have every reason to believe that this disorder did not spread in the direction of the wind, but according to the intercourse with different places where it raged at the time’.

Ireland was hit not by one but by two serious influenza epidemics in 1803. Commentators at the time believed that the epidemic in the north of the country originated there and spread outwards throughout Europe, while the second was imported through coastal cities. These epidemics commenced in March 1803, declined in June and had disappeared entirely by July. We can only hope that by copying the same disease control measures that have been common since the 1650s, an even better outcome can be achieved today.

(Source: The Census of Ireland (1851) collated, for the first time, data on causes of death throughout the country for the previous ten years. A lengthy history of ‘plagues and pestilences’ (pp 41-235) was included in the report by way of introduction to what was then a novel topic. The eye witness accounts included here were collated and reproduced in this report.)