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East Anglia and its North Sea world

Fri, 9 Apr 2010

The relationship between East Anglia and its North Sea world will be explored during a major international conference at the University of East Anglia and a public exhibition.

Letters patent of Henry VI confirming Henry IV’s grant, made in 1404, of powers of self-government to English merchants in Prussia, Denmark, Norway, the Hanse regions and Sweden, 1428 (King’s Lynn Borough Archives)


The region has always had strong links with the lands and communities around the North Sea and these have had a profound influence on East Anglia’s history and on the people and communities within it.

The conference on April 13-16 will explore the depth and diversity of these links to establish their impact on the histories of East Anglia and its North Sea world, from pre-Viking and Anglo-Saxon periods to the middle ages.

Topics to be covered range from the archaeology of pre-Viking East Anglia, the impact of the English century on Icelandic society, and architecture of the North Sea world, to Anglo-Flemish political relations, religion and culture, as well as commercial and economic links, animal exploitation, trade and conflict.

The conference is being organised by Prof David Bates, Dr Lucy Marten and Dr Rob Liddiard from the university’s Centre of East Anglian Studies (CEAS), part of the School of History. “For much of the middle ages Norwich was one of the top four cities in the country and so its economic links and cultural connections were incredibly important,” said Dr Marten.

“This region was a kingdom for the first half of the period we are looking at. While that doesn’t last the culture, economy and trade were maintained and grew over the centuries, for example with the North Sea ports of King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich and Dunwich.

“It’s history is not just about peace, after the Vikings attacked East Anglia was a Danish-run kingdom for a while and the legacy that left behind can still be seen today. Relations between East Anglia and its North Sea world have mainly been peaceful, involving migration and commercial, artistic, architectural and religious exchanges. It is only in the so-called Viking period, in the 9th-11th centuries, that violence was a consistent and major factor.”

The conference will include contributions from scholars working in Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, together with those based in the UK. There will be a visit to churches in Norwich and to a new archive exhibition at Norfolk Record Office in Norwich. The public exhibition, entitled Norfolk and its North Sea World in the Late Middle Ages, runs from April 13 to July 13. A range of documents from the Record Office and the King’s Lynn Borough Archives, along with artefacts from Norwich Castle Museum, will be on display in The Long Gallery at the Archive Centre.

The items include a sumptuously decorated letters patent of Henry VI, issued in 1428, confirming Henry IV’s grant, made in 1404, of powers of self-government to English merchants in Prussia, Scandinavia and the Hanseatic regions. Another important document is the Great Yarmouth customs account for 1379-80, which shows a port heaving with vessels from the Baltic, Germany and the Low Countries. The Yarmouth accounts are significant for being one of only three series of English local customs accounts which survive locally, and of which they are the most extensive and complete.

Norfolk County Archivist Dr John Alban said: “Documents written in Latin, French, English, Dutch and Low German reinforce the international flavour and the fact that, during the middle ages, the North Sea served as a great routeway between Norfolk and the continent.

“Trade and commerce with the Low Countries, Scandinavia and particularly with the German Hanse are explained through a wealth of documents from the important ports of Lynn and Great Yarmouth.  Cultural links are represented by a rare 14th-century fragment from the earliest known exemplar of a Netherlandish chronicle, De Brabantsche Yeesten. The fragment, written shortly before 1340 was later used to form the end leaves of the Norwich Consistory Court Act Book, 1533-8.”

The exhibition also takes Norfolk’s role in the great invasion crisis of 1385-6 as an example of how the North Sea could sometimes be the means by which the stability of the county was threatened. On display will be documents describing the extensive early artillery defences on Norwich city walls – ‘the arms called gunis‘ –  while there is also an extremely rare original municipal commission of array for Lynn, one of only two examples of such documents from the 14th century known to exist in the UK.

For more information about the conference and work of CEAS visit www.uea.ac.uk/ceas. For information about the exhibition visit www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk/nrolongergallery.htm

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