Conference Blog: The Lubeck Colloquium

The Lubeck Colloquium is now at its halfway mark and the theme of urban nobility has already proved an extremely interesting one.

The keynote speech on the first morning was by Brian Ayers (UEA, formerly Norfolk Council) who laid down some challenges to the group, assembled from 17 different countries and 35 cities. Brian focussed on specific definitions of nobility (birth), as opposed to aristocracy (potentially self-made) and how in many cases nobility is largely absent from towns, with aspirational merchant classes the real driving force. Brian highlighted various attempts by self-made merchants to portray their aristocratic credentials, such as the De La Poles of 14th century Hull.

This tension between landed elites, ecclesiastical aristocracy and the (often more successful) emerging mercantile classes has been fascinating to see explored through the lens of various European cities.

I have particularly enjoyed contributions from Aarhus, Copenhagen, Cork, Bristol and Deventer.

For Aarhus, Jette Linaa promoted the identification of nobility as a visible dialogue between power, the promotion of the past and permanence within an urban landscape. This was explored through the positioning of the cathedral and subsequent town halls in the town

For Bristol, Peter Insol, made a distinction between an earlier feudal ‘town’, with burgage plots laid-out by the nobility which, along with the realignment of the River Frome, provided the preconditions for a medieval merchant town to then thrive. Ciara Brett from Cork provided a fascinating account of the medieval walled city, which contained a number of castles belong to different families who needed to co-exist and co-operate to make Cork ‘work’.

The papers by Bart Vermeulen (Deventer) and Jane Jark Clausen (Copenhagen), based on new excavation results, raised the possibility of these urban foci originating as early moated seigneurial sites (associated with small early churches in Copenhagen). As Bart succinctly put it: ‘this is a rural site in an urban setting’. For Copenhagen, the excavation of a cemetery at St Clements church has pushed the foundation of the city back 100 to the first half of the 11th century, earlier than the foundation of the town by Bishop Absalon in 1167 AD. This work shows how archaeology is in a unique position to counter traditional historic narratives!

I have had a great schnitzel last night, drunk a pitcher of beer in a 13th century cellar and enjoyed Lubeck’s famous marzipan (will be bringing some home with me, for sure)!

I will do a final update at the end of the conference and my paper on Thursday.