Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
John Macnair Todd died in 2009. For decades he had been one of Cumbria's leading medieval historians. He was responsible for interpreting the newly-discovered original manuscript of the Lanercost Cartualry and it was his initiative which led to the discovery, in 1981, of the medieval bodies which became known as "St Bees Man and Woman". This book of scholarly essays is a fitting tribute to his lifetime's work.
Each essay opens a window to cast light on some often small aspect of life in Cumbria between the times of the Romans and the days of the Tudors.
David Shotter questions whether the North-West was the Roman Empire's Wild West. Even as a militarised area without villas, as in the south of England, the area developed good roads and communications and a working market economy.
Rachel Norman, looking at those centuries after the Romans left about which we know so little, senses that newly emerging archaeological evidence will gradually yield a picture of cultures living alongside and influencing each other. Such mutual understandings might have underlain the meeting of Christian and pagan images in the Gosforth Cross and Deirdre O'Sullivan suggests that such processes were part of the development of parish communities.
Hugh Docherty examines a charter from King Henry II for Adam, Nepos of the Sheriff of Carlisle. The original charter is held in the Record Office in Carlisle. It granted "half a curucate of land in the fee of Dalston" to Adam as recompense for his services during the king's visit to Carlisle in 1186.
Keith Stringer looks at the complex relations between the people of Gilsland and their lords, the Moultons, in the thirteenth century. He concludes that "peoples' affiliations and identities were hardly less pluralistic in the medieval past than they are today."
Alexander Grant turns to St Bees Man and Woman. The man was probably Anthony, who had been Lord Lucie for less than three years when he was killed on crusade in Lithuania. The woman beside him would have been, not his widow, who remarried and died many years later in London, but his sister Maud. She was his heiress and had married a Percy. She died childless and the lands of the Lucies, which covered much of west Cumberland, descended to the Percies in Northumberland. The Lucie lords were long resident in Cumberland and had been a potent force in the county for two centuries. With the death of Maud, power in the county lay with absentee landlords, much to the county's detriment.
The last two essays examine the lives of two notable men. Laurence Nowell of Read Hall, Lancaster, was, according to William Shannon, a "Lexicographer, Toponymist, Cartographer and Enigma". "Nowell was a pioneer in the Anglo-Saxon language, in place-name studies and in map-making, and that he can be claimed to have single-handedly invented the idea of historical cartography."
The other biographical essay concerns John May, who was Bishop of Carlisle for twenty years during the reign of Elizabeth I, from 1577 to 1598. Some have considered May to have been a nonentity or to have been "a monster of tyranny and covetousness". Henry Summerson suggests that he may have been "one of those small, fussy men who can quite easily get on the nerves of others less active". He was a cheerful, convivial man, courteous and courageous, and he deserves respect for his perseverance in the face of the dreadful famine and sickness which wreaked havoc in the diocese in the 1590s.
These are scholarly essays, detailed and closely argued, as befits the memory of John Todd. Together, they represent an important step forward in assembling a clearer picture of what life was like in the Cumbria of the middle ages.