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Kentish Book Culture

Writers, Archives, Libraries and Sociability 1400-1660

Edited By Claire Bartram

This volume explores the writing practices and book collections of a range of individuals in early modern Kent including monks, a mariner and an apothecary as well as members of the gentry and clergy and urban administrators. In a county with ready access to metropolitan, courtly and continental influences, a vibrant provincial book culture flourished, in which literacy was prized and book ownership widespread. Reinforcing the important social role played by the literate and revealing something of their creative potential, the essays gathered here also uncover an appetite for debate, reflected in the books owned, lent, written and published by the Kentish in the period covered. Underpinning all of this is an enduring culture of sociability, centred around the book as an object to be shared.

Interdisciplinary in approach, this collection brings together specialists in the history of the book, literary scholars, social historians and librarians to explore the nature of authorship and the dynamics of the market for print and manuscript books outside London. It demonstrates the rich potential of regional archival study to extend our understanding of medieval and early modern literature.

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7 ‘Wrytynge out of the playe booke’: Literacy and Identity in the Cinque Ports and Ancient Towns in the Sixteenth Century

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ABSTRACT

This chapter explores the use of marks and signatures in documents produced by member towns of the Cinque Port Confederation to challenge and re-complicate notions of ‘rising literacy’ in the early modern period. Prioritising a historical literacy perspective which stresses the importance of examining the context in which documents were produced, signed or marked, the chapter makes a strong case for the study of literacy within discrete localities arguing that the early and distinctive structures of civic government, which resulted from the Cinque Ports’ particular urban status, enabled the early establishment of literate culture in the region of the Cinque Ports and Romney Marsh.

This chapter engages with provincial book culture in the context of the remarkable dramatic and commemorative culture of the Cinque Port towns of New Romney and Lydd.1 Exploring literacy skills and attitudes towards education, the chapter surveys a range of material including prosopographical and testamentary evidence and a town clerk’s record of the players in a New Romney passion play to challenge and recomplicate notions of ‘rising literacy’ in the early modern period.2 It makes a strong case for the study of literacy within discrete localities, arguing that the early and distinctive structures of civic government ←185 | 186→which resulted from the Cinque Ports’ particular urban status enabled the early establishment of literate culture in the region of the Cinque Ports and Romney Marsh.3

Recent work has suggested that locality or pays must form the basis from...

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