SPECTACLES would have been valuable tools for those who practised specific occupations within late medieval London. There were large numbers of people whose livelihoods depended on being able to read such as lawyers, notaries, merchants, and the clergy. In addition, the increasing rates of lay literacy in fifteenth century London, with an expectation that apprentices would be literate, the introduction of printed books, and the proliferation in the number of grammar schools, would have increased the need for devices which aided failing eyesight.1 Those whose trades included intricate work on small objects, such as goldsmiths, may also have been in need of spectacles to carry out work on small and delicate items. Spectacles were not only aids for close-reading, however. John Lydgate, in his poem concerning the welcome of Henry VI into London in 1432, stated that the written texts which were presented during the pageants were in such large print that they could be read ‘withoute a spectakle’ (l.268), which suggests that spectacles also be aids for distance vision.2 Spectacles were invented in the Italian States in the late thirteenth century and it was from Italy that spectacle production spread to other regions, such as the Low Countries.3 Spectacles required high quality clear glass and Italian, specifically Venetian, glass techniques influenced medieval glass production all over Europe.4 There was no English industry in spectacle production within later medieval England.5 There was, however, a well-established ‘spectacle industry’ in the Low Countries at this time.6 The prominence of the Low Countries in spectacle production was partly due to its remarkably urbanized economy which facilitated the production of such specialized items, with both Holland and Flanders being two of the most urbanized regions in Europe by the late fifteenth century.7 Spectacle production no doubt also proliferated during the structural change in the economy of the Southern Netherlands from the late fourteenth to the late fifteenth centuries, during which the economy became more specialized in the production of luxury goods.8 Spectacles were imported into England from the Low Countries in large numbers during the fifteenth century. There were also immigrant spectacle makers in England who had originated from the Low Countries. Immigrants from the Low Countries are often recorded in sources written by the English officials as ‘Flemings’ or ‘Doche’, homogenous terms that could refer to immigrants from the Low Countries and northern parts of modern-day Germany.9 The ‘Doche’ were the most numerous group of immigrants in late medieval London, with large communities living within the capital itself and its suburbs of Westminster and Southwark.10 The earliest recorded spectacle maker in England noted to date was identified by Martha Carlin in a tax assessment as one ‘Matthew Spectakelmakere’ of Southwark, who Carlin stated was recorded between 1441–43.11 Matthew was, in fact, assessed on 12 October 1442.12 Paul van Besen of ‘Suthwerk’, an immigrant from the Low Countries who was recorded in 1458–9, was identified by Michael Rhodes as the earliest recorded spectacle maker, which Carlin has disputed.13 However, recent research has not only revealed a spectacle maker who was recorded earlier than Matthew Spectakelmakere, but also that he was not the only Doche spectacle maker in Southwark during the 1440s. The earliest recorded spectacle maker was likely an individual named Peter Camur who petitioned the court of Chancery in Westminster to complain about a dispute between himself and a man named Ralf Vanesome.14 Within his petition, Peter described himself as a ‘Spectakelman’ living in London and mentioned that he had a ‘kynneswoman’ named Katherine Adryan. Considering the lack of English expertise in spectacle production, and the developed industry in the Low Countries, Peter’s occupation as ‘Spectakelman’ suggests that Peter was an immigrant from the Low Countries. This is also supported by the fact that he was related to an immigrant. Katherine Adryan, Peter’s kinswoman, was recorded within the assessments for a tax levied against first generation immigrants called the alien subsidy. This tax was levied against immigrants in the 1439 parliament and was sporadically re-granted from 1440 to 1487.15 Katherine was assessed on multiple occasions from 1441 to 1451, six of these assessments allow us to gauge her place of residence. Four record a domicile in Broad Street Ward in London, and two come from rolls which likely include inhabitants of Broad Street Ward, so it is reasonable to assume that Katherine Adryan is the same individual recorded in each different assessment.16 Based on the title of the chancellor to whom Peter’s petition was addressed, ‘the bishop of Bath and Welles’, the petition dates either from 1433–43 or 1467–72. The dates in which Katherine was assessed for the alien subsidy can help us narrow down the date-range in which the petition was made. Katherine was assessed from 1441 to 1451 and thus it is probable that Peter’s petition dates from 1433–43. This makes the petition particularly significant as it very likely represents the earliest known recorded instance of a spectacle maker in England. The alien subsidy returns also highlight that there were other spectacle makers working in Southwark prior to Paul van Besen in 1458 other than ‘Matthew Spectakelmakere’. Indeed, one Guy Spectakelmaker was recorded as a householder in Surrey in 1443, and Paul Spektaklmaker was recorded as a servant, in this context an employee, in Surrey in 1449.17 That these individuals were assessed for a tax for first generation aliens gives credence to the argument that ‘Doche’ immigrants were those who dominated spectacle production. The location category ‘Surrey’ is a general one, yet considering the large number of immigrants from the Low Countries who settled in Southwark, and its proximity to London which was England’s largest market for luxury goods like spectacles, it is probable that these individuals lived in Southwark.18 Southwark was a popular location for alien artisans because it did not lie within the jurisdiction of the city of London, which meant that aliens could set up their trade and sell by retail without having the freedom of the city. Habitation in Southwark also ensured that most alien craftsmen were not subject to the regulations of the London craft guilds.19 The proximity of Southwark to high concentrations of literate clerks connected to the royal bureaucracy, who were centred around Westminster, also meant that Southwark was close to a group who would purchase spectacles.20 Peter Camur, Matthew Spectakelmakere, Guy Spectakelmaker, and Paul Spektaklmaker are the earliest known spectacle makers in England and all of them were ‘Doche’ aliens who likely originated from the Low Countries. These immigrants chose to migrate to London and its suburbs, particularly Southwark, partly to profit from the absence of a spectacle industry in England. London was a centre of the luxury goods market and the high numbers of wealthy merchants, clergy, and goldsmiths would have provided a perfect customer base to whom to sell spectacles. By immigrating and taking advantage of these factors, these four men contributed to the importation of the new technology and skills of spectacle production to London, and Southwark, and thus to England. This should be viewed within the context of other immigrants from the Low Countries who introduced new products into England in the late medieval period. The production of hopped beer, for example, was brought over to England by immigrants predominantly from Holland in the later fourteenth century.21 These immigrants also brought over skills in the making of timepieces, especially in dial and balance production.22 Skills imported by ‘Doche’ immigrants also contributed significantly to the production of certain goods within England. ‘Doche’ immigrants in the fifteenth century introduced new techniques in organ production, such as the introduction of stops, and skilled immigrant brick makers made an important contribution to the brickmaking industry.23 Footnotes 1 Caroline M. Barron, ‘The Expansion of Education in Fifteenth-Century London’, in John Blair and Brian Golding (eds), The Cloister and the World: Essays in Medieval History in Honour of Barbara Harvey (Oxford, 1996), 230, 241, 245 2 John Lydgate, ‘Ordenaunces for the Kyng made in the Cite of London’, in Clare Sponsler (ed.), John Lydgate: Mummings and Entertainments (Michigan, 2010) <http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/sponsler-lydgate-mummings-and-entertainments> I am grateful to the Notes and Queries editorial team for bringing this poem to my attention. 3 Judith Stevenson, ‘A New Type of Late Medieval Spectacle Frame from the city of London’, The London Archaeologist (LA), vii (1995), 324. 4 Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, Glass: A World History (London, 2002), 14, 23. 5 Michael Rhodes, ‘A Pair of Fifteenth-Century Spectacle Frames from the City of London’, in The Antiquaries Journal, lxii (Dorking, 1983), 66. 6 Michael Rhodes, ‘A Pair of Late Medieval Spectacles from the Trig Lane Site’, LA, iv (1980), p. 25. See also Macfarlane and Martin, Glass: A World History, 23. 7 Bas J. P. van Bavel and Jan Luiten van Zanden, ‘The Jump-Start of the Holland Economy during the Late Medieval Crisis 1350–1500’, English Historical Review (EHR), lvii (2004), 503–13. 8 Herman van der Wee, ‘Structural Changes and Specialization in the Industry of the Southern Netherlands 1100–1600’, EHR, xxviii (1975), 212–15. 9 Martha Carlin, Medieval Southwark (London, 1996), 149. 10 J.L. Bolton, The Alien Communities of London in the Fifteenth Century (Stamford, 1998), 30–5. Gervase Rosser, Medieval Westminster: 1200–1540 (Oxford, 1989), 193. Carlin, Medieval Southwark, 149. 11 Carlin, Medieval Southwark, 152. 12 E 179/235/17, rots 3–4d. All E179 references have been drawn from the England’s Immigrants 1330–1550 database <https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/> 13 Rhodes, A Pair of Late Medieval Spectacles, 25. Carlin, Medieval Southwark, 152. 14 TNA C1/46/39. 15 For context about the alien subsidies see Bolton, The Alien Communities, 3–5. 16 Assessments from Broad Street Ward: (1441) ‘Katherine Adryan’ TNA E179/144/42, m.20, ‘Katherine Adryan’ (January 1443) TNA E179/144/52, m.9, ‘Katherine Adryan’ (May 1443) TNA E179/144/53, m.15. Assessments likely to be from Broad Street Ward: ‘Katherine Adryan’ (1449) TNA E 179/235/23, m.2 ‘Katherine Adrian’ (1451) TNA E179/144/64, m.8. 17 TNA E 199/43/5, m.2 (Guy Spektakelmaker), TNA E 179/242/126, m. 2 (Paul Spektaklmaker). 18 Carlin, Medieval Southwark, 149. 19 Bolton, The Alien Communities, 15. 20 Rosser, Medieval Westminster, 202. 21 Richard W. Unger, ‘Technical Change in the Brewing Industry in Germany, The Low Countries and England in the Later Middle Ages’, The Journal of European Economic History, xxi (1992), 290. 22 Carlin, Medieval Southwark, 152. 23 Rosser, Medieval Westminster, 163. Terrance Paul Smith, The Medieval Brickmaking Industry in England 1400–1450 (Oxford, 1985), 19. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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