Liber Primus Kilkenniensis – Kilkenny’s First Book

Brian Keyes

Reporter:

Brian Keyes

Liber Primus Kilkenny

Liber Primus Kilkenny

The Liber Primus is Kilkenny’s oldest town book. It contains entries from between 1231 and 1537.
These mostly set down the rights and office holders of Kilkenny Corporation over time, but it is also one of the most important records of medieval town life to survive in Ireland. In it, we can read about laws issued from the Tholsel (town hall) that regulate everything from feasts after childbirth to bread prices to street cleaning.
Having been kept safe in the Tholsel for centuries, the Liber Primus has been on display in the Medieval Mile Museum since early 2017. Preparations are now underway to turn the page of the ancient book and reveal new stories from Kilkenny’s ancient past. Here’s a taste of what is to come:

“The Thomas Brown Affair”
In the winter of 1438, Thomas Brown, a baker, was brought to court in front of the town’s Mayor and the assembled community. Thomas had accused another citizen of the town of ‘unjust detention’.
But, rather than taking the case to the Mayor’s court, he had gone over everyone’s head and used a royal writ. This was seen as a gross infringement of the town's privileges, enough to expel him as a Burgess and charge him a huge fee for re-entry (100 shillings equals 5 pounds, which today would be many thousands), and as a dreadful warning to others.

“A Vile Tongue”
On May 10th, 1448, a woman named Joan White “having the most vile tongue” verbally abused John Knaresborough, his wife Margaret Freyn and their children. We are told that her words were “outrageous, rough and sharp” but the rest is left to our imagination.
Were they a reflection on the parentage of the children or the character of the parents? What’s clear is that slander was taken very seriously. The Knaresboroughs were a leading Kilkenny family (as were the Whites). Dishonouring a prominent burgess was a grave charge and cost Joan White 20 shillings to John and Margaret and 20 shillings to the Mayor!