The history of Plantagenet government, its nature, exercise and legacy, in the overseas possessions held by the English kings as dukes of Aquitaine in south-west France during the Middle Ages (1154-1453) has attracted a considerable body of scholarly publication and interest. The published primary sources for its study are, however, very incomplete, full of gaps and of variable quality.
The Gascon Rolls (Rotuli Vasconie/C61 class in the UK National Archives) are among the most important of the great series of records relating to English government in the later Middle Ages. They represent the enrolment of executive orders, and other related records, created by the king-dukes for the government and administration of Aquitaine. They also provide detailed evidence for the king-dukes’ relations – political, diplomatic, financial, judicial, economic - with their Gascon subjects. Many rolls relate to the period of intensification of tension and conflict between England and France known as the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), culminating in England’s loss of Aquitaine after a three-hundred-year tenure of the duchy.
The edition production consists of calendars (summaries) in English of all entries on the rolls from 1317 to 1468, earlier rolls being available in printed form already. The edition is made available in a searchable electronic online form linked to high quality digital images of the rolls, thus making the records available worldwide.
Various universities and funding bodies have supported this project. Mention should also be made of the Ranulf Higden Society, a group of learned individuals whose work editing one of the earlier Gascon Rolls lay in part behind the ideas for the original projects, and whose full editions appear on this website.
The initial work of the project team was to establish the editorial framework. Dr Pépin focused on the source material for the project, and took the lead in the construction of the bibliography, and specialised in the identification of people and place in, and the institutions and history of Aquitaine. Drs Booth and Harris took the responsibility of producing the editorial guidelines (available on the website), and devoted a considerable amount of time to checking and standardising the calendars, and to elements relating to the identification of people and places in the British Isles and Ireland, and to the history and institutions of England in particular. Dr Vale, as lead investigator on the project took overall responsibility for the administration of the project. The rolls for the reign of Edward II were completed and progress made on some rolls for the period 1327 to 1359.
The Department of Digital Humanities (formerly the Centre for Computing in the Humanities) at King’s College London co-ordinated the technical research development on the project, and initially focused on developing editing tools for the project researchers to use.
Following the completion of the AHRC funded project, the work of the project team was able to be extended by two substantial private donations. The first of these was made by Jonathan Sumption, and the second by Château Ausone (Saint-Émilion).
With the completion of the AHRC project, the long-term future of the overall project looked uncertain with the retirement of both Dr Vale and Dr Booth. However, the provision of the interim funding provided the opportunity for an exciting new page in the life of the Gascon Rolls project. Prof Francoise Lainé and Prof Frédéric Boutoulle were successful in obtaining funding from the Laboratoire D'excellence (LABEX) - Unité mixte de recherche Ausonius - Université de Bordeaux 3, and from the Banque numérique du savoir d'Aquitaine (BNSA) financed by the Conseil régional d'Aquitaine and the Direction régionale des affaires culturelles (DRAC) for a one-year project based at the Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3, under the direction of Prof Lainé, and on her retirement, of Prof Boutoulle, retaining Drs Harris and Pépin as the researchers and the technical team at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London.
The work of the project at Bordeaux was directed towards concluding the work of the earlier project, but more particularly the production of a French-language focus to the digital resource and carrying out research into new forms of editing, publishing and visualising historical materials from this period.
Funding was awarded by the Leverhulme Trust for a two year project from 1 May 2013, led by Professor Anne Curry (Southampton) and Dr Philip Morgan (Keele), and Paul Spence (King’s College London). The project researchers were Dr Simon J. Harris (Keele) who worked with Dr Morgan on the rolls for 1361-1399; Dr Guilhem Pépin (Southampton) who worked with Professor Curry, with the kind assistance of Prof Francoise Lainé (Bordeaux), on the rolls for 1399-1468; and Emma Tonkin and other colleagues at the Department of Digital Humanities (King’s College London) who worked with Paul Spence on research into the practical and theoretical implications of using technology for historical research.
Entitled ‘Old wine in new bottles: English Gascony (1360-1453) for the Digital Future’, the Leverhulme project began in 1360 since in that year the duchy of Aquitaine was transferred to the English crown in full sovereignty, following Edward III’s successes in the Hundred Years War. This made it a lordship of the English crown akin to Ireland. Even though the English suffered a reversal of their fortunes from 1369 onwards, the core of the duchy, Gascony, remained part of the English polity until 1453 when it was captured by Charles VII, an event taken to mark the end of the Hundred Years War. The Leverhulme project combined historical analysis of the phenomenon of proto-empire with research into web-based modelling, analysis and presentation of medieval texts. Hence the title: ‘Old wine’ (Gascony was the main source of wine in England) into ‘new bottles’ (all the exciting things which can be done through advances in digital humanities). By combining the efforts of historians and digital scholars alike, the project aimed to reach wide international audiences through a multifaceted approach combining text, maps, images, and interpretation. It also aimed to establish new norms and tools for editing historical sources, promoting the sharing and re-use of the data by other historical projects worldwide.
During this phase almost all of the calendars of the period 1360 to 1468 were completed and placed on line, along with a number of blogs on key themes which were placed on the website by the editors and research assistants. In addition the KCL team developed maps and visualisations which provided new ways of looking at the data. This Leverhulme project also involved the active collaboration of the Université Bordeaux Montaigne (formerly Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3) and UMR Ausonius. Research associates Dr Simon Harris and Dr Guilhem Pépin - the former being helped voluntarily by Nigel Coulton, a skilled palaeographer and Latinist, and the latter by Françoise Lainé.
As Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southampton, Prof Curry was able to draw on her personal funding to ensure completion of the remaining calendars of the Leverhulme phase (1360-1468). She set about to find funds through her external activities to support completion of the calendars from 1330 to 1359. Some of these existed in full or part drafts but some were completely missing. Dr Guilhem Pépin, with the support of Prof Lainé, was able to complete all of the calendars for the 1330-59 period and to add all of the coding, as well as to review the whole run of calendars on the site. Dr Jonathan Mackman calendared four of the rolls which had not been dealt with in the AHRC phase, and Dr Simon Harris provided introductions and amendments to three of the part-complete calendars from that phase. With the technical support of Dr Paul Caton at KCL Digital Laboratory the remaining calendars have been placed on the site, in order to complete the full run from 1317 to 1468.
Friends of the National Archives (2018-19)
The final completion by Drs Pépin and Dr Mackman has been made possible through a generous award of the Friends of the National Archives.