Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson is the author of Law in Common: Legal Cultures in Late Medieval England. He teaches at York.

Take that, astrolabe: Medieval Time

Tom Johnson, 19 October 2023

How​ will we know when the world is ending? According to ‘The Pricke of Conscience’, an English poem c.1340, the apocalypse will proceed with a fortnight of terrifying signs. On the first day the sea will rise to the height of a mountain, then on the second day drain away to a trickle. There will be a hideous roaring from the ‘mast wonderful fisshes of the se’, blood...

That Tendre Age: Tudor Children

Tom Johnson, 15 June 2023

Children​ have always liked to stash things in hidey-holes. The Carmelite church in Coventry was built with resonance passages, a series of hollows under the wooden floorboards of the chancel. In the 15th century, the church was home to a choir, which meant herding together a dozen young boys and making them stand still for long periods of time; in the 1550s, the building came to be used as a...

In​ 1641, the Golden Grape, a three-masted five-hundred-ton Dutch merchant fluyt, set off from Cádiz to Le Havre with an official cargo of 1253 barrels of raisins, four hundred jars of olive oil and a little wine. Its unofficial cargo, laden at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, was a great quantity of silk taffeta and a bag of five hundred gold pistoles, defying the ban on bullion...

I adjure you, egg: Medieval Magic

Tom Johnson, 21 March 2024

In​ the Wellcome Collection, there is a 15th-century parchment roll that works as a kind of holy tape measure. Unfurled to its fullest extent, the manuscript gauges the combined height of Jesus and the Virgin Mary: about three and a half metres if they were standing one on top of the other. On the dorse is a text promising that whoever carries ‘thys mesure’ around with them...

No More Baubles: Post-Plague Consumption

Tom Johnson, 22 September 2022

Half​ of London was dead, and it was time to spend. Between the plague of 1348 and a second wave in 1361, wages rose steeply, and workers couldn’t wait to enjoy the good things in life. ‘There is scarcely a villein today who is satisfied with his lot,’ a sermon writer complained. Oxherds and ploughmen were eating well. Artisans were going about dressed as gentlemen,...

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