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The Bailiffs' Minute Book of Dunwich: 1404-1430.

The attention to detail and critical skills that are the hallmarks of a well edited document are abundantly evident in Mark Bailey's treatment of The Bailiffs' Minute Book of Dunwich 1404-1430. This kind of source material, quasi-ephemeral in nature, remains extant for only a small number of medieval English towns (indeed, this is the only one surviving from Dunwich); it was "a selective notebook, a vital point of reference for the borough's administrators but not a final or comprehensive record of its finances" (p. 5). But in Bailey's hands, the minute book becomes a valuable tool for the study of a whole range of topics relating to the East Anglian town, from the effect of strong sea tides on the natural harbour of the medieval town, to the nature of the trade and small industry which occupied its inhabitants.

The introduction to the work is divided into several sections. The first reviews the topography of Dunwich, and explores the causes, natural and economic, underlying the severe drop in population which characterized the fourteenth century there. Another section describes in brief but lucid fashion the administrative structure of town government, and particular note is made of the value of the minute book to this aspect of the history of Dunwich. Most obviously, it enables the editor to compile a list of the bailiffs who performed such important functions in the town. (Their names are provided in Appendix B). The most interesting section is that which examines the fishing industry of the fifteenth century. The editor notes that, where municipal and manorial records only rarely mention the day-to-day activities of persons involved in the medieval fishery, the minute book "is especially important because it contains invaluable raw data about local fishermen" (p. 15). The discussion of boat owners, skippers, and crews, and the place they occupied in Dunwich society, although brief, will nevertheless become a standard reference in future studies of the late medieval fishing industry. Throughout the introduction the reader's attention is drawn, when appropriate, to a map depicting the topography of Dunwich around the year 1400, and to a useful glossary of technical terms particular to the book and the marine-based industry of Dunwich.

Bailey's editorial skills are commendable, but he is generous in acknowledging the preliminary efforts made with respect to the minute book manuscript by his deceased predecessor, Richard Allnutt. For the first nine pages of the book he supplies both a transliteration and a translation of the original Latin text, and his work will thus be of real value to students who are just beginning to develop their own skills in this aspect of the discipline of medieval history. Footnotes supply information designed both to clarify and supplement the sometimes bewildering array of personal names and references to ordinary and extraordinary tax assessments. An index includes names of all Dunwich's leading citizens and burgesses, and should be consulted in all prosopographical studies of the town.

Close reading of the contents of the minute book reveals much information of use to scholars of town life in medieval East Anglia. Some features are singled out for discussion by Bailey, others are left for discovery to the particular interests of his readers. There is much here, for example, on the place of women in late medieval Dunwich. The names of wives, widows, and unmarried women were included, for example, in assessments for the landfines periodically collected by bailiffs and other council members in order to supplement the fixed income of the borough (see, for example, pp. 49-50, land-fines for 1407-08). Women appear as recipients of gifts from the town council (see the references to Juliana Phelyp) and, as was the case in so many English urban centres, in references to commercial brewing (pp. 66, 91). Similarly, historians of the Anglo-French wars of the late medieval period will find ample evidence in the minute book for the ongoing efforts by the town council to maintain seaward defences in good order. References abound to the purchase of guns and materials for their upkeep; their numbers and the costs to which they attest bear witness to the importance attached by the community of Dunwich, however impoverished in the fifteenth century, to the adequate deployment of defensive weaponry in an unstable international climate. Finally, while Bailey readily admits that most of the figures found in the book cannot be subjected with confidence to systematic quantitative analysis, he points out that in the matter of tax assessments and internal levies, the manuscript reflects in dependable fashion at least the general direction of economic trends between the years 1404 and 1430. His arrangement of tax data into clearly defined columns and tables will allow future historians of Dunwich to make pertinent use of his figures.

All edited texts reveal quirks particular to their interpreters, and Bailey's work on the Dunwich minute book is no exception. Although accomplished for the most part in accurate fashion, a few errors mar the edition. For example, Bailey consistently refers to "Xmas," when the term "Christmas'" would surely have been more appropriate. Nouns sometimes appear inexplicably in upper case (Array of Arms, p. 33), and dates are not always translated in uniform fashion, either as calendar dates or saints' days (p. 33). In the introduction there is some confusion evident between pages 7 and 10 with respect to the precise role of members of the town council of Dunwich in the election of borough representatives to parliament. But these are small flaws, and they do not detract from an otherwise exemplary edition of a difficult text, one that clearly presented its interpreter with problems and challenges.
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Author:Neville, Cynthia J.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:935
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