From time to time student volunteers join sections of the History for short placements. This summer, the 1422-1504 section played host to David Whitehorn, a second-year history undergraduate from Royal Holloway, University of London. David writes of his experience:
I have to admit I didn’t really know anything about the History of Parliament before I applied for the placement, but over my time here I have come to realise what a valuable resource it is for both historians and the general public. One thing that struck was the amount of time and effort that goes into producing the series: the section I’ve been working on (1422-1504) has been in production since before I was born. It is only with this expenditure of time that such detailed and meticulously researched work can be produced. An office full of boxes of envelopes of research notes was testament to the depth and scale of the series as well as the fact that it started before the use of computers had really taken off. It is with that in mind that I write my reflections on the brief period that I have spent with the History of Parliament.
One of my tasks while I have been here has been to look at the role of customs officials, some of whom went on to become MPs. One of these customs officials was none other than Richard Whityngton, the man who inspired the well-known story of Dick Whittington. In between several stints as mayor of London, Whityngton also served as a customs official collecting customs on ‘wools, hides and woolfells’ in the ports of London. There was, however, no mention of a cat. Another highlight of my time here was traveling to the National Archives at Kew to work with some original documents. I photographed some documents that had been written by the very customs officials that I had been researching in the days before. The old parchment documents stretch for several metres and are packed with almost indecipherable writing. Thankfully, I was only photographing the documents, rather than having to understand them as my Latin is less than fantastic and medieval handwriting is very different from modern writing. However, I would concede that I think fifteenth-century writers would have similar trouble dealing with my scrawl. I also spent some time doing some research into the MPs who fought at the Battle of Agincourt, for which the 600-year anniversary is coming up next year. I was surprised by how many there were who had fought at Agincourt, demonstrating how the composition of Parliament has changed over the years, as I can’t imagine many of their modern day counterparts doing likewise.
All in all, it has been an interesting insight into what it is like to work on a major historical research project and I have learnt a lot about how much work goes into projects like this as well as learning some interesting facts about Parliament in the fifteenth century.
For more on Parliament and Agincourt, see our blogpost ‘The legend of Agincourt in Parliament‘