Aliens and Strangers in Bristol's Ordinances: A reconsidération of approaches to late medieval migration
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Abstract This study investigates a peculiarity of scholarly work on English medieval migration: the separation of migrants from within the kingdom of England (local migrants) and migrants from outside the kingdom (long-distance migrants) into two strands of scholarship. Scholars who have researched and published on local migrants have very rarely done so for long-distance migrants and vice versa. This leads us to ask if the medieval sources show a similar split-perception on the part of medieval people, or if the division stems from the way the surviving sources frame medieval migration, or modern ideas of migration influencing scholars’ interpretations? These questions are answered over the course of four chapters using ordinances from Bristol’s guilds and civic government, dated from 1344-1490. Chapter one discusses the terms frequently used to split society up into different groups in the ordinances. Two of these terms, stranger and alien, were used to refer to local and long-distance migrants respectively, though stranger was often ambiguous suggesting migrants were not neatly divided in two in the middle ages. Chapter two shows that local and long-distance migrants did not have significantly different legal rights as defined by the ordinances. Moreover, efforts to regulate both groups grew across the fifteenth century largely in response to Bristol’s ailing economy. Chapter three demonstrates that Bristol’s civic authorities were far more concerned with protecting the rights of the towns burgesses than making fine distinctions between migrants based on their origins. Chapter four moves away from the ordinances as the three previous chapters demonstrate the reasons for the separate study of medieval migrants are not likely to be found in them. Instead it investigates a sample of modern scholarly literature. This chapter compares works in the two strands of scholarship showing they share many approaches and fundamental questions. Finally some explanations for the split are offered: the influence of nation-states on modern understandings of migration, the nature of the source materials commonly used to study local and long-distance migrants presenting an artificially divided perception, and the changing popularity of different topics in academia meaning interest in the sources which can be used to study local and long-distance migrants coming to wider attention at different times.