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The Close Rolls reveal that on December 14th, 1286, while Edward I was in Gascony, his cousin Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, witnessed the enrollment of a settlement among the heirs and parceners of Stephen de Bocton, a tenant-in-chief, lately deceased.[1] Stephen was survived by his wife and three daughters, two of whom were married. There were thus six people with a direct interest in the division of Stephen’s estate. Interestingly, among the lands and income to which they were now entitled were a number of rents specifically attached to various feast days, including Christmas. Presumably such rents enabled lords to entertain their important allies and tenants at banquets to mark these important moments in the liturgical, social and political calendar. After all, we know that ostensive feasting was an integral part of alliance formation and maintenance, and by no means insignificant in maintaining the dignity of lordship that enabled land holders to command the respect of their neighbours and dependents.[2] Even those who weren’t invited may have ‘feasted’ on the news of the rich dishes and their staggering variety.

I imagine, then, that the division of the Christmas rents may have been among the articles of inheritance that were hotly contested or at least seriously debated and considered in the course of reaching the settlement, because it is far from clear that all parties got an equal share of the festive goodies:

  • 26 ½ hens and a cock to Idonea, Stephen’s eldest daughter and her husband Thomas de Gatesden.[3]
  • 25 hens and two cocks, and a hundred horse-shoes to Joan, Stephen’s second daughter and her husband Ralph de Otringden.
  • 29 hens and a cock to Isolda, Stephen’s third daughter.
  • nothing for Matilda, Stephen’s widow – or at least nothing recorded in this entry on the Close Rolls.[4]
image from wikimedia commons

Fowl, I say! Image from wikimedia commons

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Oh boy, I have been waiting a long time for this kind of software to be free and accessible to mere mortals, and finally, it is here! This is the preliminary result of me testing out a piece of shareware devoted to displaying frequency analyses as pretty cloud diagrams.[1] Basically all I’ve done here is paste a random, small assortment of Latin letter transcriptions from TNA, SC 1 (familiar to many readers here) into an online tool I recently discovered, called Wordle, and play with the display settings until I liked what I saw:

latin cloud

How cool is that?! In one visual sweep, you can start to pick out the most commonly recurring elements of vocabulary (granted, in declined form – but maybe that’s important and interesting in a different way from the stem lemma…).

My next project is to build some select files so that word clouds can be compared between, for instance, letters to the King, and those sent in his name; or letters from men, compared to letters from women… Such tantalizing possibilities! Bring on the summer!

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[1] Perhaps it’s the scientist in me, but I often find visual data so much clearer to deal with. Give me a nice graph and a regression line, and we know where we stand – including the awareness that those little lines/dots/asterisks are a product of fallible human intent and design, rather than any kind of all-knowing objectivity whether derived from or metaphorically similar to an ultimate deity. Got that? Good.

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

You can also find my academic profile on Academia.edu

Twitter: @KB_Neal

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