The Five Towns Introduced
Now that it has been established that neither a single written law compilation was available, nor that common regulations regarding the discussed subjects were valid throughout northern Europe during the later Middle Ages, it is time to determine whether any communality can be found in legal practice at the urban courts. Questions such as which written laws were available in the courts; whether any influence of other compilations on the contents of the written laws can be established; whether the written laws were used for the administration of justice; and what the content was of the judgements passed by the courts will be answered in Chapters 4 to 7 as regards the five towns selected for particular study (Aberdeen, Kampen, Lübeck, Reval and Danzig). In this chapter these towns will first be introduced and then compared.
Aberdeen was the only one of the five towns considered in this study that was an integral part of a single state throughout its medieval history: the kingdom of Scotland. This does not mean that this status was uncontested throughout its history. English kings in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries repeatedly tried to annex Scotland to their kingship. Moreover, the medieval Scottish kings never ruled a fully centralised kingdom. The territory was too vast and inhospitable for effective control in all corners of the land.1 Despite the existence of several burghs, Scotland remained essentially a rural society throughout the Middle Ages. Towns were small compared to those in England and on the continent, and only a small proportion of Scots came to live in them.2
Aberdeen is situated at the transition of a cliffy coastline from the south and dune-fringed beaches from the north, between the estuaries of the rivers Dee and Don. Until 1891 two towns existed in Aberdeen: Old Aberdeen, or Aberdon as it was sometimes called, and New Aberdeen. Old Aberdeen was the seat of a bishop from 1131 and was centred around St Machar’s Cathedral.3 New Aberdeen started as a small trading and fishing
1 Clancy and Crawford, ‘The formation of the Scottish Kingdom’, 29.
2 Ditchburn and Macdonald, ‘Medieval Scotland’, 97; Dennison, Ditchburn and Lynch, eds, Aberdeen before 1800, xxvi; Lynch, Spearman and Stell, ‘Introduction’, 4.
3 The name Old Aberdeen suggests that the settlement is older than New Aberdeen. By