Sunday, 25 October 2015

Celebrating 600 years since the Battle of Agincourt

To mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415), we wanted to show you a document in our collections issued by Henry V several months before the famous victory over the French.

Worcestershire has long been associated with Agincourt.  Michael Drayton's 17th-century poem The Battaile of Agincourt famously evoked the Worcestershire bowmen, their banners emblazoned with the pear that is still emblematic of the county today.  Whilst we do not hold a direct documentary connection between the county and Agincourt in the archives, we do have a document shedding light on the ways in which the machinery of Henry's government interacted with the local area in the early years of his reign, in the run up to the campaigns in France.

Letters patent of Henry V, pardoning the Abbot and Convent of Bordesley.  The document lacks the large, decorative initial "H" (for Henricus, or Henry) that typifies other documents of this type, which could mean that the document was unfinished.  Ref. BA 15587

Our document consists of letters patent[1] issued by Henry V in favour of the abbot and convent of Bordesley, a Cistercian[2] monastery located in what is now Redditch.  It pardons the abbot and convent for "all treasons, murders, rapes, rebellions, insurrections, felonies, conspiracies, trespasses, offences, negligences, extortions, misprisions, ignorances, contempts, concealments and deceptions" committed between November and December of the previous year, as well as a variety of other offences such as those against forest law and the statute of liveries of cloths.

Upon reading this, one might think that Bordesley Abbey harboured some extremely miscreant monks!  After all, a Bordesley novice had been imprisoned in Newgate in the 13th century, there was a scandal between a monk and a local woman early in the following century, and one monk was pardoned for the death of another in 1339.  In the 1360s, a little over a decade after the Black Death had first ravaged England, monks (and even possibly a former abbot) twice attempted to seize control of the abbey through force of arms.

Fragment of the Great Seal of Henry V in brown wax.  Obverse (front) shows the King enthroned.  It was once attached to the document with the green silk cord, but has since become detached. 

However, investigation in the Calendars of Patent Rolls (which summarize letters patent issued under the Great Seal) revealed that this type of blanket pardon, sometimes with the same wording, was fairly common during Henry V's reign.  Henry was keen to tidy matters at home before he embarked on his campaigns, and in the wake of Sir John Oldcastle's Lollard[3] rebellion, his domestic policy involved enforcing law and order.  At the same time, he wanted a peaceful, reconciled realm, and so issued sweeping pardons.     

Henry was also a strong supporter and reformer of religious houses.  He wanted monks and nuns rigorously to follow their vows, since he was relying on their spiritual support and prayers during his reign, not least during the French campaigns.  He preferred more ascetic, austere monks like Carthusians, so he might have looked favourably upon Bordesley as one of the few Cistercian monasteries in a county dominated by large Benedictine[4] houses like the Priory of Worcester (by the 15th century, the Benedictines had gained a reputation for laxness in adhering to their vows). 

Fragment of the reverse (back) of the Great Seal of Henry V, showing the King on horseback 

Bordesley was also a royal foundation, and as such enjoyed privileges, such as rights in Feckenham Forest.  The abbey suffered economically and culturally after the Black Death in the mid-14th century.  Bordesley seems to have enjoyed a revival in the early 15th century, perhaps shortly before Agincourt, and embarked on a building campaign in the abbey church and cloister.  On the other hand, they had leased much of their property, rents were low, and the abandonment and reorganisation of mills and industrial buildings within the monastic complex suggests they needed to keep an eye on their finances. 

With this background in mind, it would be interesting to find out what exactly prompted the king to pardon Bordesley in 1415!  More research is required, but it's possible that the abbot and convent, like other individuals and religious houses, wanted to ensure that they were on the new king's good books, and applied for a pardon excusing them from falling foul of any recent statutes.  To add to the mystery, it seems that our letters patent were not enrolled, and they don't appear in the Calendars of Patent Rolls.  This could mean that the Abbot didn't pay the fee for enrolment for some reason!

Further Reading

Calendars of Patent Rolls (HMSO, 1891-1986).  University of Iowa Libraries has created a resource of searchable scans of the Calendars.

Harriss, G.L.  Shaping the Nation: England 1360-1461 (Oxford, 2005).

'Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Bordesley', in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2, ed. J W Willis-Bund and William Page (London, 1971), pp. 151-154.
Mercer, M.  Henry V: The Rebirth of Chivalry (The National Archives, 2004).

Rahtz, P. and S. Hirst.  Bordesley Abbey, Redditch, Hereford-Worcestershire: first report on excavations 1969-1973.  British Archaeological Reports 23 (1976).

'Royal grants in letters patent and charters from 1199'The National Archives Research Guide.     

University of Reading.  The Bordesley Abbey Project

[1] Letters Patent are royal grants issued under the Great Seal for a wide variety of purposes, including conferring titles, commissions, lands, privileges, and pardons.  They were issued open with a pendant seal (rather than sealed closed), addressed "To all to whom these presents shall come"—a kind of public proclamation.  The original Patent Rolls are stored at The National Archives in Kew.
[2] The Cistercian Order was descended from the Benedictines.  They were known as White Monks because of their white habits, and emphasized austerity and living in remote, inhospitable places.
[3] Lollardy was a politico-religious movement in 14th-16th-century England based on the writings of John Wycliffe.  Lollard beliefs were considered heretical, but gained support amongst certain groups of the gentry and nobility, including Sir John Oldcastle, Henry V's friend and comrade.  Oldcastle was arrested, but escaped and launched a failed insurrection in 1413-1414.  He was captured and eventually executed in 1417.

[4] The Benedictine Order followed the Rule of St Benedict.  The Benedictines had more monastic houses in England than any other order.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

WWI in the Archives Workshop

On Friday 6th November we are running our WWI in the Archives workshop. There is a lot of interest in this period, and this workshop

The first part of the workshop will look at how you can trace a soldier within the records held here. Many people are working on projects researching men listed on war memorials, whilst others are tracing family members. Using online resources and printed material it is often possible to find information about the men and ensure they are more than just names.

We'll also explore what can be discovered about the war period in the archives. As well as researching soldiers there are people who are looking at the history of their town or village in the period to understand how the war affected their locality. As part of the workshop we'll be getting out original records, including letters from the front line.

The workshop runs from 10am-12:30pm. To book a place, which costs £8, please go to where you can book and pay online. If you have any questions please email or ring 01905 766352.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Catch up with our Skills for the Future Trainee

Next week we will bid our Skills for the Future Trainee, Sarah, a fond farewell. She has worked incredibly hard and achieved a lot since starting with our Service in July 2014. Staff and customers alike will be sad to see her go, but we look forward to hearing about her next steps. Here, Sarah tells us a bit about plans for her final week and what she will be doing next:

I have had a wonderful time working with Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, and now it's sadly time for my traineeship to end.  What I have enjoyed most of all is meeting and helping customers so I am looking forward to continuing that by helping customers of The Hive in my new part time role within the library, while in an additional role I will be working at Ashmolean Broadway to help with the daily running of the museum, using a lot of the skills I have learned in heritage throughout my traineeship.

I have been busy for the last 15 months learning all I could about the historic documents and artefacts held by Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, and helping to relay information to customers about them.  I have learned about digitisation, conserved some books and documents, welcomed visitors to the Archaeology Day School and helped deliver school workshops, and wrote and delivered a brand new workshop. I have helped people access the service and its resources by responding to enquiries, advising customers at the Explore the Past desk, talking to customers in the self service area and meeting customers at events. 

I am finishing my last couple of projects in WAAS before my traineeship ends on 27th October.  I have created a hand over pack for the Absent Voter Transcription Project and am putting the finishing touches to the new Explore the Past leaflet I have designed.  A loyal band of volunteers transcribing the absent voter records from 1918 and 1919 supported me as I wrote about the project for the PG cert in Management and Leadership (heritage).  The project will continue without me, but now the volunteers know what they are doing I just needed to leave a pack for my colleagues.  And eventually the completed transcriptions will be available to researchers.  Meanwhile staff and volunteers at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and even friends from outside the service, kindly posed for photographs for the new leaflet.  It's now on its way to the printers -  look out for it in tourist information centres around Worcestershire!
By Sarah Ganderton

Best of luck for the future, Sarah! You can catch up with all of Sarah's Skills for the Future Trainee posts here

Friday, 16 October 2015

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology…In Manchester!

On 13th October WAAS Manager Victoria Bryant and User Services Manager Lisa Snook travelled to The Lowry in Salford Quays to attend the Discovering Communities Discovering Collections conference 2015.  In fact, they didn't just attend – Lisa gave a paper on a project that we have been working on over the summer to learn more about how to engage more young people (aged 13-19) with archives, with an emphasis on using Social Media.

Victoria outside The Lowry, Salford Quays

WAAS has a proud tradition of delivering papers at this conference, with Oliver Russell giving a paper at the very first conference in Birmingham in 2013 and Gillian Roberts last year.  The paper was well received and extensively Tweeted (#DCDC2015) during the day.

Throughout the day we discussed the digital developments of The National Archives, Wellcome Library and other archives, libraries and museums around the country; how services are using Digital Volunteers to develop indexes and information online; how to (and how not to!) run a digital project; and new developments in terms of digital collections at The National Archives. The presentations provided plenty of information, discussion and ideas. In addition, Lisa had an exciting 5 minutes of being interviewed and filmed as a 'Talking Head' for use in promoting the conference. 

Lisa being a Talking Head!

The day was long, useful, interesting and thought provoking.  We have returned with plenty of thoughts and ideas for digital development in Worcestershire; so watch this space!

Friday, 2 October 2015

New course - Introduction to Archaeology

In November we are starting a new 6 part Introduction to Archaeology course. Led by Justin Hughes, one of our experienced archaeologists and tutors it will introduce you to some of the basics of archaeology. Many people have enjoyed our workshops and walks over the years, or come on our community digs, and we've had lots of requests for a short course to understand how archaeology works. Justin, who many of you will know from the community digs and events, has run a number of WEA courses and has put this one together.

Justin Hughes

The course lasts 6 weeks and covers:
  • Locating Archaeological Sites: maps, photos, Historic Environment Record
  • Non-invasive archaeology: geophysics, LIDAR
  • Archaeological excavations
  •  How do archaeologists record information?
  •  Worcestershire & the Midlands Prehistory
  • Worcestershire & the Midlands History – Romans, Medieval and Modern

We'll be using many local examples of archaeological sites, although we will also stray over the border to look at interesting regional examples.

Dig Bromsgrove - community excavation

The course is ideal for anyone who'd like to know more about archaeology. You may have watched Time Team or come to one of our events and wondered how the archaeologists can tell what has happened. Maybe you've been on one of our community digs and would like to know more about the process, or perhaps you have an interest in archaeology and the past and would like to know more. You don't have to have any previous background or knowledge, just an interest!
Using the Historic Environment Record for research
The course runs on Thursday afternoons 2-4pm here in The Hive from Wednesday 4th November. It costs £45 and can be booked through                                                                                   

For more details please email or ring 01905 766352