Criminals and coroners, thieves and thrill-seekers, prostitutes and poets: medieval London was every bit as complex and vice-ridden as our modern cities. Aside from occasional forays into Spain and Italy, most of the story told in A Burnable Book and its yet-to-be-titled sequel takes place in the urban triangle formed by the City of London and its two suburbs: Southwark, a growing town across the Thames; and Westminster, the royal capital and home of the abbey, the Parliament, and the king’s courts.
This part of the webpage (still very much under construction) is intended as a resource for those who want to learn more about John Gower and his urban environment—and perhaps visit the medieval city virtually or in person. Daily Life in Medieval London takes you to a richly detailed website at the Museum of the City of London. ‘Sin City,’ an article I wrote for BBC History Magazine, discusses the seamier side of the fourteenth-century city. ‘In the Archive’ provides links to primary sources available on line so that those interested can read, say, city court proceedings from the Guildhall, or the actual confession of John Rykener, the transvestite prostitute who inspires the character of Edgar/Eleanor Rykener. The ‘Further Reading’ tab will lead you to the Note to the Reader from A Burnable Book, an account of the scholarly sources I have found most helpful in imagining medieval London.
For the spatially inclined, included in the sidebar are two maps of Gower’s London. The first is a street plan drawn for the UK edition of A Burnable Book. This map visualizes some of the basic contours of the city as it was known circa 1385 (including the names of medieval London’s wards, which play an important role in the novel). The second is an interactive Google map (in its early stages) that highlights some key sites from the medieval city tagged to their modern locations while providing information on their significance to fourteenth-century Londoners. Down the road I hope to build out this section by making the Google map social and bringing the two maps together using GIS technology (a project for the future).
You’ll find lots of additional information about the medieval city, its inhabitants, its literary culture, and its daily life by following the various links through this portion of the website. Please feel free to suggest additional resources for inclusion on this page. Meanwhile, as you browse, take a listen to some sacred song from the Old Hall Manuscript, a compilation of English church music composed and compiled in the age of Gower and Chaucer. Enjoy your time in John Gower’s London!