Wednesday, July 25, 2012

MEMSO 4.0 Launched! Celebrate with a 20% discount for new subscribers

In May we launched MEMSO 4.0 which introduced a host of usability changes to Medieval and Early Modern Sources Online (MEMSO). New features include easier access and navigation of the entire catalogue, and enhanced research tools (integrating dictionaries, Wikipedia and Google maps) as part of the main interface. Since then, we have rolled out even more features, including making the 'personal bookshelf' functionality easier to access. Lots of other usability tweaks and an updated graphic design mean that MEMSO's place as one of the most innovative historical research tools is maintained.
Meanwhile, MEMSO continues to grow with new titles and content presented in ways that are designed to help historians work with them. We know it's not enough to just digitise an ebook, it's what we do with them to make them usable and accessible to serious researchers that matters.

Subscribe now and save!

Does your institution's library subscribe to MEMSO yet? If not, now is a good time to consider it. Persuade your university to take a trial of MEMSO before August 15th, and qualify them for a 20% discount on the first year's subscription. And remember, if MEMSO doesn't have the books YOU are looking for yet, just ask. Trial requests for institutional libraries can be sent by visiting

Personal, short term access affordable to anyone

Did you know that you can access the full power of MEMSO from just $10? You can access the entire collection, including a large collection of manuscripts from the English State Papers, for that low fee. Pay for a longer period, and you also get to download and keep favourite titles at the end of your access time. It's a great way to get all the power of MEMSO at a very low cost, for particular projects, courses, or even just to show your librarian what they're missing. To try MEMSO for size, visit

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for daily extracts from MEMSO

For a couple of years now, we have been publishing daily tweets on Twitter based on some of the moreunusual material we find in MEMSO. The tweets are just for fun, but tend to lead us in a host of unusual directions. If you're interested in history, the chances are you'll enjoy our extracts, which, while they not be strictly eligible for peer review, have attracted quite an audience. As well as Twitter, you can find extended accounts of the stories we post at Facebook and on our Blog
Recent examples:
  1. Nuns go wild - rebellious nuns take to burning down the monastery in rebellion against Cardinal Wolsey
  2. Women's rights and artichokes in Tudor Ireland. A frustrated dowager chucks vegetables at her oblivious new husband.
  3. A cart of old virgins dressed in cow parts, fit for a queen.
  4. Dwarfs in the courts of Early Modern Europe.
  5. Think your Friday afternoon tutorial is murder? Medieval students were worse.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nuns go Wild


18 July 1528. Thomas Benet writes to Cardinal Wolsey. He has "used every effort to bring over the nuns [of Wilton] to Wolsey's wishes. Found them untoward, and put three or four of the captains of them in ward. Has closed up the doors, that none may have access to the nunnery. Found only a few [supporters] of the new [abbess-]elect and her sisters compliant. As they are now visted by the plague, and much straightened by their lodging by the burning of the dormintory, thought it best to advertise Wolsey before taking further proceedings".

The backstory was a dispute between Wolsey, Henry VIII, and the Boleyn family as to the appointment of a new abbess. Wolsey wanted one Isabel Jourdain, on the basis that she was - ahem - qualified for the job. Anne Boleyn wanted Eleanor Carey, a kinswoman by her sister's husband. However it was discovered that Carey had 'two children by sundry priests', and was having an affair with a household servant. Therefore Boleyn and the Carey's suggested Eleanor's sister instead, while attempting to smear Louvain's reputation with accusations of lack of chastity.

Henry VIII attempted to solve the dispute by ruling out all the candidates - both the Careys and also Louvain, but Wolsey went ahead and appointed Isabel Louvain anyway, thus sparking the first major disagreement between Henry and Wolsey as to authority over the church.

A nun, possibly

The 18 July letter appears to show a state of chaos at Wilton Abbey, with fires and open rebellion against Wolsey's candidate mixing with an outbreak of the plague to create what can only be described as 'an unholy mess'.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Women's Rights and Artichokes in Tudor Ireland

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. Mary is holding an artichoke, doubtless about to thrown at some ignorant male noggin or other. See here for the symbolism implied by the artichoke, which coincidentally also referred to a widow's loss of status when she remarried.
Joan, dowager countess of Ormond, states a common complaint of aristocratic women while in conversation with Brian Jones, constable of Carlow. While the conversation was taking place, her 2nd husband was asleep on a pallet nearby.

"Whiles I was a widow [to James, E of Ormond] and had not married an Englishman [Francis Bryan], I defended and kept my own [property], or at the least, no man went about to defeat me of my right. Well is the woman unmarried; [for now] I am bade to hold my peace, and [instructed] that my husband shall have answer made unto him."

Joan then gave vent to her frustration in more tangible form. Having about her a large number of artichokes, taken from the Lord Deputy of Ireland's garden, she "full familiarly threw all the artichokes at [her husband] one after the other".

The full document can be read below, and goes on to to describe Joan's wish to defend her rights, but realisation that she was unlikely to succeed: 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A cart of old virgins.

Sometimes real history is beyond anything that Baldrick cooked up in Blackadder.

Question: The Queen's coming to town. How should we welcome her?

Answer: A float of old virgins dressed in cow parts? You betcha!

11 July 1613: To honour Queen Anne's visit to Rodney Stoke, the Tanner, Chandler and Butcher trades presented the Queen with 'a carte of olde Virgines, the carte covered with hides and hornes, and the Virgines with their attires made of cow tayles, and braceletts for the necks of hornes'.

Further note. A) Tanners have clearly always been awesome. B) This is the sort of out-there fun that Sigmund Freud has totally ruined. I for one hunger for the day when innocent older ladies could be dressed in the offcuts of a cow without gving rise to any smirking.