chapter  1
20 Pages

Definition and Location: The London Mercery, 1130s–1230s

So wrote Thomas of Britain, a poet at the court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, probably in the late 1150s.1 London was part of the rich and courtly background of his poem about the love of Isolde, Queen of England, and Prince Tristan. By describing contemporary London he placed his story in the world of Henry and Eleanor and gave his courtly audience a sense of reality and familiarity. Among the luxuries which came to London from abroad, he mentioned silks of rare colours. Throughout the Middle Ages the greatest mercery was silk. Silk was the obvious choice for the goods of the Lord Caerdin when he disguised himself as a merchant in order to travel to London and fetch Isolde to his dying friend, Tristan: ‘He sails upriver with his merchandise and within the mouth, outside the entry to the port, has anchored his ship in a haven. Then, in his boat, he goes straight up to London beneath the bridge, and there displays his wares, unfolds and spreads his silks’.2