Southwark lies opposite London proper, on the other side of the bridge across the Thames. The land on which Southwark is built is largely owned by the monks of Bermondsey Abbey.
The significance of Southwark is that it is right next to the city of London, but will not come under the city's jurisdiction until 1550. The city's authority ends at the Southwark end of the bridge, which means that Southwark is a favoured dwelling place for London criminals and a favoured destination for fugitives from the city's justice.
The Bishop of Rochester maintains a town-house in Southwark, but his establishment is dwarfed by the luxury of Winchester House, the palace of the Bishop of Winchester. Boasting courtyards, gardens with fountains and fishponds, a Great Hall, and state appartments overlooking the river, the palace is a testament to the wealth and power which the Bishop commands.
Some of that wealth comes from dubious sources. Prostitution is illegal in the city of London itself, but no such restriction apply to Southwark, leading to the development of perhaps its most notorious feature, the Southwark Stews. ("Stew" being a medieval term for brothel). These are a row of some twenty houses, each with its own sign painted on the wall - the Boar's Head, the Cross Keys, the Cardinal's Hat, the Castle, the Crane, the Bell, the Swan... The Church might rail against the immorality of these places, but its message is rather blunted by the fact that the Stews are leased from the Bishop of Winchester!
Since unrepentant prostitutes are denied a Christian burial, the parish church devotes a special portion of its graveyard to the workers in the Stews. This is known as the Single Women's Churchyard, for not even the Southwark brothel-keepers are permitted to employ married women.
Southwark also contains many famous inns - the Spurre, the Queen's Head, the George, the Bull, the Hart, and the King's Head, amongst others.
All these hostelries do a brisk business, for Southwark is not only the route by which travellers from the continent approach London, but the spot where the roads from Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire all meet the Dover road - the route which medieval pilgrims, like those in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, take to Canterbury. Needless to say, the large numbers of such tourists are a boon to the criminals who made Southwark their base.
With its high degreee of criminality, it's hardly surprising that Southwark boasts several prisons. The Clink, an ecclesiastical prison a little to the west of Winchester House, is where malefactors from the Stews can expect to find themselves. The Marshalsea prison lies on the east side of the High Street, not far from the George Inn, and the King's Bench Prison and the White Lion Prison are slightly further south, close to the point where the High Street and the Dover Road meet.
Southwark's tradesmen are outside the control of most of the city's Guilds (with a few exceptions - the Goldsmiths, for example, are allowed to enforce standards on the quality of goods throughout the county). This is a sore spot for many of the Guilds, but the Royal government has always been wary of increasing the power of the already over-mighty London Commune, so the situation has been allowed to persist.
With a large criminal population, a large transient population, a great deal of criminal activity and a center of organized prostitution to boot, Southwark is prime vampire territory, as Mithras recognized shortly after he reassumed control of the city in 1154. The Jackdaw, as leader of London's underworld, naturally wanted control of Southwark's gangs and its highly profitable Stews.
Mithras, equally naturally, wasn't fool enough to give it to him. To balance the Jackdaw's power, he gave Southwark and its gangs to the guardianship of the Lady Matilda, a vicious and ruthless Toreador ancilla. The result, as Mithras completely expected, was the eruption of an intense, low-level war between the Jackdaw's criminal faction and Matilda's, a war that - from Mithras' point of view - served to keep each of them preoccupied with neutralising the other.
The Jackdaw, older and more patient, was willing to wait for Matilda to make a mistake, reasoning that her ambition and impatience would be her undoing. He was proved right more quickly than he anticipated. Matilda created a false Jackdaw, a young boy who she selected for his uncanny resemblence to her rival, groomed, trained, and Embraced. Through her faux-Jackdaw, Matilda opened negotiations with the Tremere, planning to betray them to the Prince and let their honest testimony of how they had been aided by the "Jackdaw" bring down the wrath of the Prince on her rival.
The plot failed and left Matilda a fugitive from a Blood Hunt. Even sweeter, from the Jackdaw's point of view, was that his arch-rival Chalice of Mercia was the one to uncover the plot and destroy his upstart rival.
But the Malkavian elder's hopes of taking control of Southwark at last were dashed when Chalice somehow manoeuvered her protege, the Prince's former scribe Nicholas Poole, into taking control of the domain in Matilda's place. Nicholas was to be a new kind of undead Lord for Southwark, one who would oppose and frustrate the Jackdaw's schemes out of sincere concern for the mortals there rather than a desire to increase his own wealth and power. It would, Mithras reasoned, provide a brake on the Jackdaw's activities without creating an opening for yet another ambitions schemer who might betray the city as Matilda had done.
And if Nicholas failed, Mithras shrugged to himself, the Domain would still be there, waiting to be reassigned. Although despite his own doubts, the Prince had yet to see Chalice proved wrong in making such a call.
Matilda had not controlled Southwark alone. Such prime territory was too large, too rich, for a single vampire to claim exclusively. To forestall complaints that she was hoarding, she activiely encouraged other Cainites to settle in the area, but all of them were young - neonates or ancillae - and none had any connections to the other. Thus, she tried to prevent the formation of a Cainite "community" in Southwark which might seek to impose its own views on her. Mithras chose to maintain the situation after Matilda was ousted. Southwark could be a useful powerbase for an ambitious, troublesome elder; better, he reasoned, to keep it fragmented and divided. And its younger residents were useful cats-paws to draw out any such elders. Let them scheme to displace the existing Cainite population and unite Southwark under their banner, Mithras reasoned. Their schemes would provide a perfect excuse to expel them from the city if it proved expedient to do so