Online Medieval Sources Bibliography

An Annotated Bibliography of Printed and Online Primary Sources for the Middle Ages

Source Details

Bird, William Henry Benbow, ed., The Black Book of Winchester (Winchester: Warren and Son)

Text name(s): 

Number of pages of primary source text: 192


Dates: 1269 - 1551

Archival Reference: British Library MS Add. 6036

Original Language(s): 

  • Latin
  • English - Middle English
  • Anglo-Norman


  • Original language included.

Translation Comments: 

Geopolitical Region(s): 

  • England

County/Region: Winchester; Hampshire

Record Types: 

  • Law - Local Ordinances
  • Custumal

Subject Headings: 

  • Towns / Cities
  • Government
  • Family / Children
  • Economy - Trade
  • Economy - Guilds and Labor
  • Economy - Crafts and Industry
  • Law - Secular


  • Index
  • Glossary
  • Appendix
  • Introduction


Borough custumals recorded the local, or customary, laws of a town. They were compiled for a practical purpose: to guide, and even educate, successive generations of civic officials tasked with keeping law and order within their boroughs. Custumals may have been modified to reflect the changing needs of the community, but they also may have been copies of local laws from neighboring towns, and can shed light on social and economic practices in a medieval town. The ‘Black Book’ of Winchester seems to have been the principle register of the borough, containing lists of civic officials (especially mayors), the results of elections, property leases, oaths of fealty, and licenses. The Black Book also contains various ordinances meant to regulate the town’s crafts, victualers, market, domestic animals, apprenticeship, court procedure, and the duties of civic officers. The contents of this register (which is named for its black cover) are presented as they appeared in the original text.

Introduction Summary: 

The introduction (pp. ix-xx) contains a good summary of the contents of the Black Book. In addition, the editor raises questions that are critical to determining the extent to which the law was applied and the reliability of some of the claims made within the text.

Cataloger: ELC