Rob Ellis

I am the Web and Marketing Administrator in the School of English and Drama. I took up this post in the Spring of 2013, having previously completed a PhD on fourteenth-century London writing under the supervision of Professor Julia Boffey. During my PhD research, I...

Empty Words: Writing Medieval London

New on the Blog: Empty Words - Writing Medieval London

In this post I publish my PhD thesis, ‘Verba Vana: Empty Words in Ricardian London’, which was completed in 2012.

Two things prompted me to publish my project here. Firstly, three years after submitting it, I have finally reached the stage where I’ve forgotten enough of the thesis to no longer be embarrassed by it. Secondly, while I have moved sideways in the intervening three years (staying in HE, but moving into the administrative sphere), I remain interested in developments in the field. In particular, recent and on-going discussions about London scribal practices suggested to me that there may be broader interest in my discussion (and transcription/translation) of the 1388 Guild Petitions, including the Mercers’ Petition – sometimes thought to have been written by Adam Pinkhurst.

The links below lead to two pdfs of the thesis (the first contains the body of the thesis, the second the appendices and bibliography). These faithfully reproduce the thesis that was passed by my examiners: Professors Ardis Butterfield and Mark Ormrod. The thesis does show signs of intellectual naivety, and my weaknesses in palaeography and languages will be obvious. But it also contains some fresh analyses, both of canonical literary texts (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Gower’s Confessio Amantis, Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide) and little-studied civic documents (including extracts from Letter-Book H and the Westminster Chronicle, as well as various petitions). As such, I hope this thesis may prove useful to some.

Feel free to contact me (r.ellis@qmul.ac.uk) with any questions or comments you may have.

Thesis

Volume 1 – Thesis (*.pdf)

Volume 2 – Appendices (*.pdf)

Abstract

Verba Vana, or ‘empty words’, are named as among the defining features of London by a late fourteenth-century Anglo-Latin poem which itemises the properties of seven English cities. This thesis examines the implications of this description; it explores, in essence, what it meant to live, work, and especially write, in an urban space notorious for the vacuity of its words. The thesis demonstrates that anxieties concerning the notoriety of empty words can be detected in a wide variety of surviving urban writings produced in the 1380s and 1390s. These include anxieties not only about idle talk – such as janglynge, slander, and other sins of the tongue – but also about the deficiencies of official discourses which are partisan, fragmentary and susceptible to contradiction and revision. This thesis explores these anxieties over the course of four discrete chapters. Chapter one, focusing on Letter-Book H, Richard Maidstone’s Concordia and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Cook’s Tale, considers how writers engaged with the urban power struggles that were played out on Cheapside. Chapter two, examining the 1388 Guild Petitions, considers how the London guilds legitimised their textual endeavours and argues that the famous Mercers’ Petition is a translation of the hitherto-ignored Embroiderers’ Petition. Chapter three, looking at several works by Chaucer, John Gower, the Monk of Westminster and various urban officials, explores the discursive space that emerges following justified and unjustified executions. Chapter four, focusing on Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and John Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide, contends that the crises of speech and authority that these poems dramatise can be productively read within the context of the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Through close textual analysis, this thesis analyses specific responses to the prevalence of empty words in the city, while also reflecting more broadly on the remarkable cultural, linguistic, social, and political developments witnessed in this period.

Full Contents

Volume I

Preliminary Materials

Declaration
Abstract
List of Tables
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
Acknowledgments
Notes on Quotations and Appendices

Introduction

A Prelude: The Variable Fortunes of Nicholas Exton
Introduction

1. ‘Chepp, stupha, Coklana’:  Ricardian Cheapside and Urban Power Struggles

Introduction
Conceptualising Late Fourteenth-Century Cheapside
‘[T]am tubis & fistulis ducatur per Chepe’ (4.3): Order and Transparency in Letter-Book H
‘[I]nsurreccionem congregaciones & conuenticule’ (5.2): Sir Nicholas Brembre’s Anti-Associational Rhetoric
‘Mediam dum rex venit usque plateam’ (275): Mediation in Richard Maidstone’s Concordia
‘For whan ther any ridyng was in Chepe/Out of the shoppe thider wolde he lepe’ (I.4377-78): Conflict Irresolution in Chaucer’s Cook’s Tale
Conclusion

2. ‘[D]olium, leo verbaque vana’: Strategies of Legitimation in the 1388 Guild Petitions

Introduction
The 1388 Guild Petitions: Context and Form
Group One: Modelling Petitions
Group Two: Expanding Models
Group Three: Experimentations with Language, Rhetoric, and Voice
Recontextualising the Mercers’ Petition: The Mercers as Translators
Analysing the Mercers’ Petition: The Mercers as Innovators
The Language of Petitioning: A Second Mercers’ Petition
Preliminary Conclusions
‘[O]ue graunt noyse’: Strategies of Legitimation
Conclusion: Verba Superflua

3. ‘Lancea cum scutis’: Language and Violence in Exemplary Narratives and Historical Records

Introduction
The Rest is Never Silence: Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale and Questions of Doubt
‘Hold conseil and descoevere it noght’ (III.779): Gower’s ‘Tale of Phebus and Cornide’ and the Triumphing of Silence
Gower’s ‘Tale of Phebus and Cornide’ in Context
‘This thing is knowen overal’ (III.1893): Gower’s ‘Tale of Orestes’ and the Fame of Death
‘Diverse opinion ther is’ (III.2114): Clytemnestra’s Death and Orestes’s Shame
‘[T]ho befell a wonder thing’ (III.2172): Gower’s Women and the Problems of Tale-Telling
Gower’s ‘Tale of Orestes’ in Context: The Many Lives and Deaths of Clytemnestra
The Life, Death, and Afterlives of John Constantyn, Cordwainer
‘[U]t volunt quidam’: Constantyn, the Westminster Chronicle, and the Spread of Public Speech

4. ‘[P]ira pomaque regia thronus’: Judging Speech in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and Clanvowe’s Boke of Cupide

Introduction
‘[S]he brast on forto wepe’ (Boke of Cupide, 210): Competitive Speechifying
‘[A]l that euere he wol he may’ (Boke of Cupide, 16): The Failures of Regal Authority
‘[W]hat may been youre help?’ (V.459): Supplanting Monarchs    277
‘[W]ith that song I awoke’ (Boke of Cupide, 290): Revisiting the Aesthetics of Irresolution
‘I can for tene sey not oon worde more’ (209): The Boke of Cupide and the Politics of Irresolution
‘[Y]e get namoore of me’ (V.343): Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and the Politics of Irresolution

Conclusion

 

Volume II

Notes to Appendices

Appendix 1 – The Stores of the Cities

1a) Text and Translation

Text
Translation

1b) Additional Comments on Stanza 1
1c) The Stores’ description of Lincoln: A Walking Tour?

Appendix 2: The Variable Fortunes of Nicholas Exton

2a) Nicholas Exton’s indecentibus verbis

Text
Translation
Manuscript Image

2b) Nicholas Exton’s Slander

Text
Translation
Manuscript Images

2c) Nicholas Exton’s Pardon

Text
Translation

Appendix 3 – John Godefray’s False ‘cappes’

Text
Translation

Appendix 4 – John de Stratton’s Forgeries

Text
Translation

Appendix 5 – Richard Norbury, John More, and John Northampton’s Insurrection

Text
Translation

Appendix 6 – Brembre’s Proclamations

6a) Proclamation 1

Text
Translation

6b) Proclamation 2

Text

6c) Proclamation 3

Text
Translation

6d) Proclamation 4

Text
Translation

6e) Proclamation 5

Text
Translation

6f) Proclamation 6

Text
Translation

Appendix 7 – The 1388 Guild Petitions

7a) The Pinners’ Petition

Text
Translation

7b) The Founders’ Petition

Text
Translation

7c) The Drapers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7d) The Painters’ Petition

Text
Translation

7e) The Armourers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7f) The <…>steres’ Petition

Text
Translation

7g) The Goldsmiths’ Petition

Text
Translation

7h) The Saddlers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7i) The Cordwainers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7j) The Embroiderers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7k) The Mercers’ Petition

Text

7l) The Cutlers, Bowyers, Fletchers, Spurriers, and Bladesmiths’ Petition

Text
Translation

7m) The Leathersellers and Whittawyers’ Petition

Text
Translation

7n) The Tailors’ Petition

Text
Translation

7o) The Anglo-Norman Mercers’ Petition (Partial Transcription)

Text

Appendix 8 – The Mercers’ Petition and the Embroiderers’ Petition Side-by-Side

Appendix 9 – Anti-Victualler Statute

Text
Translation
Manuscript Images

Appendix 10 – Table of Correspondences among the 1388 Guild Petitions

Table 4 – The Correspondences amongst the 1388 Guild Petition
Notes to Table 4
Key to Petitions
Key to Accusations

Appendix 11 – A document associated with the Leathersellers and Whittawyers’ Petition    508

Text
Translation

Appendix 12 – Official Responses to John Constantyn’s Execution

12a) Brembre’s Petition

Text
Translation

12b) Royal Warrant

Text
Translation

12c) Royal Ratification in Letter-Book H

Text
Translation

Appendix 13 – William Mayhew’s Protest

Text
Translation

Appendix 14 – Further Images from Letter-Book H

Bibliography

Manuscript Sources
Reference Works
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources

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