Monday, 3 February 2014

Richard of Devizes

I was awoken from my slumbers at the kitchen table last night by the reading of a description of London by Richard of Devizes, a 12th century monk who I had never heard of before. This morning I Wikied him up, and got the full quote (below) which includes a description of Bath which Joanne would probably go along with, whether she has ever visited here or not.

You can tell from his name that Richard originally came from Devizes (derr) and you suspect from his final description of Winchester that this was where he ended up living and working. It seems as though Winchester is just as profane a place to live in as any other by the time you reach the end, though.

He is a little harsh on the French (and the Welsh, and the Scots) I feel, but that has been a national sport for the English since William the Conquerer - it still is.

No matter what people have said about London down the ages, it always seems to have the ring of truth about it, and all of its traits and characteristics can be recognised by any modern person who has only visited the metropolis once. Even people who love London would agree with Richard's summing-up on the place, but they would end with "But I love it."

You will arrive in London. Behold, I prophesy to you: whatever evil or malicious thing that can be found in any part of the world, you will find in that one city. Do not associate with the crowds of pimps; do not mingle with the throngs in eating-houses; avoid dice and gambling, the theatre and the tavern. You will meet with more braggarts there than in all France; the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatterers, pretty boys, effeminates, pederasts, singing and dancing girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-wanderers, magicians, mimes, beggars, buffoons: all this tribe fill all the houses. Therefore, if you do not want to dwell with evildoers, do not live in London. I do not speak against learned or religious men, or against Jews: however, because of their living amidst evil people, I believe they are less perfect there than elsewhere.
I do not go to the extent of saying that you should not go to any city whatever, since in my opinion there is nowhere for you to live except in a city; I refer only to which city. If, therefore, you arrive in the neighbourhood of Canterbury or if, indeed, you pass through it, your journey will be wasted. There is a whole collection of men there who have been abandoned by their lately deified leader, I know not whom, who was high priest of the men of Canterbury, who now, through lack of bread and of work, die in the open day in the broad streets. Rochester and Chichester are mere hamlets, and there is no reason why they should be called cities, except for the bishops' seats.
Oxford scarcely sustains, much less satisfies, her own men. Exeter refreshes both men and beasts with the same provender. Bath, placed or, rather, dumped down in the midst of the valleys, in an exceedingly heavy air and sulphureous vapour, is at the gates of hell. Neither should you choose a seat in the Marches, Worcester, Chester, or Hereford, because of the Welsh, who are prodigal of the lives of others. York is full of Scotsmen, filthy and treacherous creatures scarcely men. The region of Ely stinks perpetually from the surrounding fens. In Durham, Norwich, and Lincoln there are very few people of your sort amongst the powerful, and you will hear almost no-one speaking French. At Bristol there is no-one who is not or has not been a soap-maker, and every Frenchman loves soap-makers as he loves a dung-heap.
Outside the cities, every market-place, village, or town has inhabitants both ignorant and boorish. Moreover, for such qualities always look on Cornishmen as we in France consider our Flemings. In other respects, that country is most blessed with the dews of heaven and with richness of soil. In each locality there are some good men, but there are fewer of them by far in all of them put together than in one city, Winchester.
That city is in those parts the Jerusalem of the Jews; in that city alone do they enjoy perpetual peace. That city is a school for those who want to live and fare well. There they breed men; there you can have plenty of bread and wine for nothing. Monks are there of such mercifulness and gentleness, clerks of such wisdom and frankness, citizens of such courteousness and good faith, women of such beauty and modesty, that for a little I would go there myself and be a Christian among such Christians. I send you to that city, the city of cities, the mother of all and better than all others. There is one vice there and one alone, which is by custom greatly indulged in. I would say, with all due respect to the learned men and to the Jews, that the people of Winchester lie like sentries. Indeed, nowhere else under heaven are so many false rumours made up so easily as there; otherwise they are truthful in all things.


  1. Sleeping at the kitchen table!?!? I tell the farmer off for doing this - not that it makes any difference. I must say reading that stuff written by Richard of Devizes, or anywhere else for that matter, would probably send me to sleep.

    1. Keep focussed, Weave. That was verging on a rant, and that's my job here.

  2. I don't think London has changed much; nor would I have it change. My memories of Ely are of it stinking of the Sugar Beet Factory... now sadly gone I believe.

    Do we know what 'smooth skinned lads' are?

  3. Now I know why I feel so good in London. And Richard is a miserable old sod, seeing only black and white. I have a wonderful and meaningful picture I took at Devices - when I look at it I get as depressed as Richard seems to be (though the picture is absolutely great). Don't you English say that such a man "leeches"=?

    1. I haven't heard of that expression in that context. Richard (of Devizes) was a bit of a joker, I think.

  4. Alas, poor Britain. Or at least all of it outside Winchester, and perhaps that city, notwithstanding...
    My knowledge of your little isle, not of green, according to Richard, is from the kindly folk of Jayne Eyre; the gracious middle and lower classes of Jane Austen. How about that Dickon in the Secret Garden? Except, he's Yorkshire.
    But, I have my sister-in-law, and her husband who works for the National Trust, they're keepers, and probably represent the multitudes Richard overlooked, then and now.
    So listen, one of my bucket list goals is to reach your follower numbers, and every time I'm nearly there I look down and see some more of my lot have signed on. Will it be pistols at noon?
    Have a nice evening; hope your projects are going well.

    1. If you live in Bath, it is sometimes hard to escape Jane Austen - mainly thanks to the Japanese visitors.

      I think that if you really want to increase your followers, then you should keep a load of animals in your back yard (and bedroom) which you have no intention of eating, and write endless posts about clearing up the mess they leave behind them. That seems to work. Sorry to have stolen some of your followers, but I don't think they have left you to come to me - no pistols please.

    2. Of whom can you be writing Tom?

      Glad Richard puts in a good, if brief, word for Exeter. I grew up in London and consider him spot on.

  5. That's a guy who knew how to rant! Quite poetically, too...