Documents and Books: A Case Study of Luket Nantron and Geoffrey Spirleng as Fifteenth-Century Administrators and Textwriters

Article excerpt

Upon his return to England in the aftermath of the Hundred Years War, Sir John Fastolf embarked upon a program of property acquisition in East Anglia. Caister Castle, on the coast of Norfolk, was one of the properties he acquired and began to improve and by 1448 it was a complete, furnished, impressive castellated residence. However, Caister was not Fastolfs residence until 1454. From 1438 until 1454 he spent the majority of his time at "Fastolf Place" in Southwark. Caister could not manage itself, though, so Fastolf endowed it with a full complement of servants, and tasked local men with advising him and representing him in legal cases held in Norwich, Yarmouth and King's Lynn. One such man was his "chaplain" Thomas Howes. Though Howes was "chaplain" in job-title, and though he was indeed responsible for religious elements of daily life at Caister, Howes was more than what we might today deem a "chaplain." Thomas Howes managed Fastolf's other servants, directed his non-resident legal advisors, and dispatched goods to Fastolf in London. Howes's administrative tasks were so diverse that he had his own administrative assistant, a man named Geoffrey Spirleng. It is with Geoffrey Spirleng that this examination of the work of junior clerks will begin. Spirleng went on to write a copy of The Canterbury Tales, together with his son Thomas. However, this did not happen until at least thirty years after he began to work as an assistant to Thomas Howes. This article will examine Spirleng's early work in the circle of Sir John Fastolf, and his progression up a kind of career ladder within the circle. Finally, it will attempt to relate the clerkly work that Spirleng did for Howes with his later literary output.

The second man with whom this article is concerned is one with the unusual name of Luket Nantron. Nantron was a native of Paris, and his name first appears in the corpus of letters and documents associated with Sir John Fastolf in 1455 and 1456. His given name was possibly an anglicization in the same way that the Italian merchant Carlo Gigli was referred to as Karoll Giles within the Fastolf circle. (1) In contrast with Spirleng, Nantron was mostly connected with Fastolfs interests in London, as he worked alongside Fastolfs London-based receiver Christopher Hansson. (2) However, his work with Hansson highlights some similarities between Nantron and Spirleng, as both men were assisting more senior members of Fastolf's circle. Like Spirleng, Nantron performed general and apparently mundane clerkly duties, but unlike Spirleng he appears to have first become associated with Fastolf during Fastolfs time in the service of John Duke of Bedford (b. 1389 to d. 1435) in France. Both of these men produced "literary" work as the scribes of manuscript books, and carried out this work alongside their duties as clerks writing documents and letters. There are two letters in the Paston Letters corpus from one of the family's scribes, William Ebesham, to John Paston II in which he listed his scribal output and asked for payment for the work (letters 751 and 755). In these lists he grouped together his administrative work ("wrytyng of the prue seal" and "witnesses") with his work as a copyist of books (seven quires of the "great book," a "book of physyke"). He was also responsible for book decoration (he asked for payment for "rubrissheng of all the booke"). This valuable document gives information about how written administration and the writing of literature related to each other in the Paston circle. Unfortunately, no such account exists for Sir John Fastolf and his scribes. Therefore, this article will look for similar information indirectly by piecing together alternative sources of evidence.

This article draws together circumstantial and palaeographical evidence concerning Spirleng and Nantron as men who began their writing careers in the circle of Sir John Fastolf. Both of these men began drafting letters and documents, and ended their careers having produced high-prestige literary books (one of them within a few years of having been trained in basic writing skills). …