Old wine in new bottles

Everyone knows about the great battle victories of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). What is less well known is that Anglo-French conflict was rooted not only in Edward III’s claim to the French throne but also in the fact that English kings held the duchy of Aquitaine in south west France, thanks to Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine in the mid-12th century. In 1360, Edward III, exploiting the capture of the French king, John II, at the battle of Poitiers (1356), negotiated the treaty of Brétigny which gave him Aquitaine in full sovereignty. He immediately made it a lordship of the English crown akin to Ireland, and two years later he created his eldest son, Edward, ‘The Black Prince’, as Prince of Aquitaine. Over the next century the French made inroads into English holdings but it was not until 1453 that the English lost the heart of this area – Gascony.

This situation raises interesting questions on proto-imperialism, which will form part of our study. Should we see Aquitaine, especially after it was given fully into English ownership in 1360, as England’s first colony? The area was crucial as the main source of English wine. After London, Bordeaux was the largest city under English rule. Therefore, as with imperialism of later centuries, the interaction of localism and internationalism was crucial. We will be looking closely at relationships with the native population. We will also be considering whether the duchy was a place of surrogate warfare between the great powers as in later imperial struggles.

C 61 90 m2 entry 21 no2 jpg

Confirmation of the grant of trading privileges to the mayor, jurats, citizens and inhabitants of Bordeaux, 26 March 1377, from the Gascon Roll (The National Archives C 61/90 m2).

We can study all this in great depth thanks to the survival of the Gascon Rolls, the records of the administration of the duchy. Our project builds on experiences of other digital projects dealing with medieval records, including the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and on an earlier AHRC project covering the rolls to 1360, led by Dr Malcolm Vale. Our new project will involve a real dialogue between historians and digital experts. It also incorporates research on the technical environment and on how users approach it. This will be a multi-faceted approach combining texts, maps, images and interpretation. We aim to develop new norms and tools for digital editing projects which we will make available to other researchers through a creative commons license.

I will lead the research team along with other historical experts on the period (Dr Philip Morgan, University of Keele) and Paul Spence of the Department for Digital Humanities at King’s College London. We are lucky to have two excellently experienced research assistants, Dr Simon Harris and Dr Guilhem Pépin, who will be working closely with Paul’s team. We are also delighted to have opportunity to liaise with colleagues at the University of Bordeaux 3.

Professor Anne Curry
University of Southampton

Anne was awarded a Research Project Grant in December 2012.