- Probate Inventories of French Immigrants in Early Modern London by Greig Parker
The presence of French Huguenot refugees and other immigrants in early modern London has been examined in terms of settlement patterns, religious integration, and the formation of a strong professional identity. With this book, the archaeologist Greig Parker proposes a re-investigation of this presence by opening a window onto the French immigrants’ domestic interiors. Standardized formal inventories recorded the resaleable possessions of a deceased person, valued room by room. Following a constraining and fairly convincing multi-step method, Parker hand-picks ninety-two probate inventories recorded all over London and stored at the London Metropolitan Archives. Yet he acknowledges certain doubts regarding the complete accuracy of this selection. These could easily be cast aside: Probate Inventories currently stands as the most complete and methodical collection of administrative archives concerning any migrant community (first, second, and third generations) in early modern England. As expected, the transcribed inventories recorded the belongings of old men, then considered the head of their household, with the exception of nine independent widows. The ninety-two itemized inventories are unequal in length and content; Parker insists on the possibility that some might have been incomplete since only goods with a decent resale value were recorded. The lists highlight considerable differences in ownership: some possessed basic furniture, while others enjoyed the luxury of rich textiles and ornaments. One of the strengths of this book is indeed its choice of reproducing inventories from the middle and sometimes lower ranks of the French immigrant society, disproving assumptions of a shared migrant experience. In addition to the transcriptions, Parker offers several comprehensive lists of names and occupations recorded in the inventories, thus allowing the reader to grasp the importance of social ties and economic networks beyond the French community. The transcriptions are preceded by a discerning thirty-two page, critical Introduction. Parker avoids the exploitation of a single (or rather simple) and exclusive interpretative model, concentrating rather on the critical relevance of this corpus of inventories in regard to different historical schools of interest. The historian in European domesticity [End Page 390] and urbanity will find substantial evidence testifying to the late seventeenth-century transformation in consumer behaviour and taste, as well as the organization of the domestic and professional space in an urban context. Those interested in migrant identities and cultural exchanges will be struck by the absence of a clear French identity in probate inventories (apart from the possession of a French Bible or golden coins). Is this proof that the domestic experience of French immigrants in London was similar to that of their British hosts? Probably not, says Parker, as certain degrees of community belonging show through the combined analysis of a name, a location, evident social ties with French churches, and specific professional activities such as textile-weaving or tailoring. Without a doubt, Parker’s contribution to Huguenot scholarship and domestic history will be invaluable to researchers and students in migrant communities in early modern London, as well as those interested in the material culture of the urban middle classes.