Katalin Szende, Trust, Authority, and the Written Word in the Royal Towns of Medieval Hungary (Turnhout, 2018: USML 41). xx+416 pp. ISBN 978-2-503-57881-1.

A comprehensive overview of the formation of urban pragmatic literacy in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. This book is the first comprehensive overview of how written administration was established in the royal towns of medieval Hungary. Using the conceptual framework of trust and authority, the volume sheds light on the growing complexity of urban society and the impact that the various uses of writing had on managing this society, both by the king and by the local magistrates. The present survey and analysis of a broad range of surviving sources reveals that trust in administrative literacy was built up gradually, through a series of decisive and chronologically distinct steps. These included the acquisition of an authentic seal; the appointment of a clerk or notary; setting up a writing office; drawing up town books; and, finally, establishing an archive from the assemblage of collected documents. Although the development of literacy in Hungarian towns has its own history, the questions posed by the study are not unlike those raised for other towns of medieval Europe. For instance, both the gradually increasing use of various vernaculars and the controversial role of writing in Jewish-Christian contacts can be meaningfully compared with similar processes elsewhere. The study of Central European towns can therefore be used both to broaden seemingly disparate research frameworks and to contribute to studies that take a more general approach to Europe and beyond.


List of Figures and Tables
On This Volume; Trust and Authority; Literate Mentalities; European Frameworks

1. Setting the Scene

Whose Literacy? Urban Development and Urban Society in Medieval Hungary; Pragmatic Approaches to Pragmatic Literacy; Sources and Scholarship

2. In the First-Person Plural: Civic Literacy and Communal Identity

Royal Charters and Urban Identity; The Beginnings of Civic Literacy; Civic Literacy and Places of Authentication; Formulae and Community; The Municipal Seal: the Matrix of Identity; Communal Concerns: The Contents of Early Municipal Documents; Conclusions: Trust in Charters

3. From Charters to Books and Back

The Institutionalisation of Writing Offices; Municipal Books as Instruments of Civic Governance; The Material of Town Books: The Use of Paper in Administration; The Contents of Municipal Books: Thematic Differentiation; Outlook 1: The Beginnings of Pragmatic Literacy in Craft Guilds; Outlook 2: Town Chronicles and Municipal Literacy; Conclusions: Trust in Municipal Books

4. Language and Literacy

Language on the Research Agenda; Why Not Monolingual?; Areas of Urban Life Where Language Became an Issue; Medieval Urban Language Use in the Light of Sociolinguistic Research; Conclusions: Trust in Language

5. “in cartula scribere faciat” – The Uses of Writing between Christians and Jews

Legislation on Jews and Literacy – A Chronological Overview; Records of Urban Administration as Sources on Jewish-Christian; Conclusions: Trust in Writing between Christians and Jews

6. From Charters to Archives

Variations on Archives; The Advent and Advantage of Civic Archives: Storage and Safekeeping; Binding Records: The Example of Sopron; Using Civic Archives; Conclusions: Trust in Archives

Final Conclusions


Appendix 1: Gazetteer of Names of Towns in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary Discussed in the Book; Appendix 2: Regnal Years of the Kings of Medieval Hungary; Appendix 3: Documents Issued by Civic Authorities in Hungary, (1244) 1255-1305; Appendix 4: Earliest Mentioning of Municipal Notaries (up to 1400); Appendix 5: The Earliest Preserved Charters of Bishops’ Towns (Issued by the Municipality); Appendix 6: Municipal Books Started before 1500