Supposing you were curious about what people in fifteenth-century England thought about people from other regions of the country, how would you find out the late-medieval reputation of people from Cornwall, East Anglia, Yorkshire, etc? Are some regions more likely to have a reputation than others? Is London the most likely epicenter for spreading word of regional reputation, as countrymen of different regions rubbed shoulders there? Or should one look along borders, with the logic that people from far away may not think about a particular county but the neighbors over the hill or over the river may consider them sheep-stealers or worse? Has anyone done work on these questions already, or would one have to trawl through late-medieval chronicles and letters looking for references to the region in question?

3 thoughts on “A question for historians

  1. For negative stereotypes, you might look at defamation cases – I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of some in which people sued for defamation for being called Scots. My completely vague memory is that these cases were in London, or at least, far enough from Scotland that there might be some doubt about who was from where (as opposed to on the borders, where people would probably have a clearer idea of who belonged to which side). I also think there’s some kind of reference to ideas about Kent in Peter Idley’s Advice to his son, in how he identifies himself? (I don’t have the book handy to check, sorry that’s so vague.) I also have a very vague sense that the prominence of Kentishmen in the Peasants’ Revolt was seen as sort of typical of Kent? Sorry to be so ridiculously vague!I have to say I don’t know of work on the subject, at least not so much within England – my sense is that people have looked at English/Scots and English/Welsh attitudes, more so than regional English ones (but again, my apologies, I can’t offer specifics!).

  2. I’m not a historian, but I have a nagging feeling that I’ve read a whole article on regional stereotypes and now I can’t dredge it up. Couple of ideas from the lit side about where to look, though: follow footnotes on the Parson’s Prologue, which leads to a huge literature on awareness of dialectical differences, which may hide more footnotes about regional stereotyping generally. More generally and more temporally appropriately, I bet a lot of the literature on language standardization in the 15th c. would provide leads about the types of texts people have looked at for perceptions of regional difference. And finally, I know A.G. Rigg (a Lancashire man himself) has a longstanding interest in this topic, and it may be that he has dropped hints about particular texts to look at into his History of Anglo-Latin Literature. If I can dig up my copy, I’ll check.

  3. Thank you–I hadn’t thought about using linguistic study as a back door, so to speak, into other kinds of perceptions of regional difference. And defamation cases sound like a gold mine. This is for a student, not me personally, so I’m not sure how far she’ll take it, but I’ll pass all this along. Thanks again.

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