Pavarotti’s Medieval Sheep

As reported in various top shelf media outlets, including, the Turkish Daily News, and the National Nine News, Luciano Pavarotti, best known to contemporary culture as the third of the Three Tenors most likely to eat you accidentally, has been awarded the medieval honor of “Freedom of the City of London” for his charity work.

According to the AP source, during Ye Olde Medieval times, the award “allowed recipients to trade within the commercial centre of the British capital [… and] bestowed the right to drive sheep across London Bridge and be hanged with a silken cord if handed the death penalty.”

As my readers (of whom there is a distressing number these days) can well attest, I love lists that juxtapose weird, nonsensical items just as much as the next gorilla caterer, zombie taxidermist, or coincidentally sentient bowl of alphabet soup, but why not also mention that the Freedom of the City was not originally some collection of innocuous commercial honors? Being granted the freedom of a city was more like emancipation. The reason you could trade within the city after being granted it was because you were no longer a bondsperson tied to the financial interests of your feudal lord.*

So my congratulations to Mr. Pavarotti.** Today, you are no longer a 13th century slave. The rest of us, I guess, are not so lucky.

*The real medievalists in the audience (of whom there is an even more distressing number these days) will be aware that words like “feudal” didn’t really exist during the middle ages, nor did words like “slave” have the same semantic outline. But stop nitpicking me. Picking nits is my job.
**Also, my apologies about the fat joke. It is more an indication of my own deep personal insecurities than of any failing on your part. Also, please don’t eat think poorly of me.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dr. Virago

    Glad to see you back, Carl. I love your blog.

    As for your nits, I won’t pick them, even though I could, and even though I really, really want to. Instead, I will urge your distressingly low number of readers to read Sylvia Thrupp’s _The Merchant Class of London_, and to look up “freedom” in the index, if they want the scoop on the subject. Or, if they are interested in the city of York, they should consult Heather Swanson’s _Medieval Artisans_.

    Your essential point is right: the freedom of the city in the Middle Ages conferred some real material benefits, not just silly honorifics for increasingly silly opera singers.

  • LLCoolCarlIII

    Thanks, quod she. You’ve actually upped the useful information content of my blog by about a zillion percent. Maybe I ought to add a standard critical reference to the end of my rants. But then, that would take work…

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