This book is the first collection of translated sources on towns in medieval England between 1100 and 1500. Drawing on a variety of written evidence for the significan and dynamic period, it provides an overview of English medieval urban history. Readers are invited to consider the challenges and opportunities presented by a wide range of sources. The merchant, for example, is seen from different angles - as an economic agent, as a religious patron and in Chaucer's fictional depiction. The prominence of London and the other major cities is reflected in the selection, but due attention is also given to a number of small market towns. Occasions of conflict are represented, as are examples of groups and societies which both contributed to and helped to contain the tensions within urban society. Changing indicators of wealth and poverty are considered, together with evidence for more complex questions concerning the quality of life in the medieval town. The book moves between the experience of urban life and contemporary perceptions of it - from domestic furnishings to legends of civic origins and plays in which townspeople enacted their own history.
The introduction situates the extracts within the larger context of European urban history, and against a wider chronological backdrop. The traces of medieval urban experience are to be found in a great variety of historical sources. New scholarship in the related fields of social history and the history of gender relations, economic history and the history of religion has also brought fresh evidence and new questions to the particular context of urban studies.
This chapter contains an introduction and a selection of translated and annotated texts on economic life. A long tradition has seen the medieval urban craft worker as an isolated figure, and as one who was tightly regulated by what has sometimes been called the 'structure' of the crafts. Young women were bound apprentices as well as men, and indeed women are found across the entire spectrum of the medieval urban economy, although it is hard to assess their relative prominence in any particular area. London custom, which appears to have had an influence on that of other English towns, permitted a single woman or a widow to conduct a business in her own right, as a femme sole.
This chapter contains an introduction and a selection of translated and annotated texts on social development. Urban society in the Middle Ages was in some important ways very like that of the countryside. The social experience of the town differed from that of its rural surroundings by virtue of its concentrated diversity and its fluidity. Late medieval observers often declared that they were looking at significant social change in the form of inferior artisans and their wives who affected the manners and dress of their betters. An element in the urban population prior to the end of the thirteenth century, the history of which was both tragically unique and yet absolutely characteristic, was the Jews. Following the Norman Conquest, Jewish settlers scattered themselves through sixty English towns. From well before the Conquest, English towns were home to longterm and short-term settlers from all other parts of Christendom.
This chapter contains an introduction and a selection of translated and annotated texts on tensions an violence in medieval towns. Economic growth raised the stakes, leading to differentiation of wealth and status and encouraging increased competition for control of taxation and access to markets. During the long thirteenth century, as the medieval European economy expanded to its limits, a series of clashes over municipal jurisdiction sprang from a clear economic motivation. The university environment generated in peculiarly concentrated form a widely encountered tendency of young men in towns to congregate socially, to drink, and on occasion to prove their developing masculinity in acts of collective violence. As the medieval town was defined by the diversity of its component elements, so it was condemned to the strains of tension and to periodic violence. Most recorded incidents had their origins in domestic arguments, generational conflicts, tensions in the workplace or the perceived corruption of justices or tax officials, each of which was fostered by the multiple inequalities of urban society.
This chapter contains an introduction and a selection of translated and annotated texts on urban government. The rhetoric of urban government emphasised the ideal of unity under the crown: several town councils claimed that their respective city was 'the king's chamber'. The assumptions behind medieval government were far from any modern principle of democracy. The underlying principle of citizenship was that full rights to participate in the economic opportunities of urban life carried a responsibility to share in its regulation through office-holding and to bear its costs by contribution to civic taxes. Monarchs under financial duress were the more willing to delegate powers for a financial return. No civic corporation under the aegis of the medieval English monarchy was allowed to forget that it exercised delegated authority on suffrance. The county towns, as an elite class of regional centres was defined by about 1100, would always be seen from the point of view of royal government as means for the expression and assertion of central authority.
The records sampled in this chapter demonstrate the partially successful attempts of urban councils and officials to establish and to implement norms of good practice for building. It also demonstrates the process to foster a more inclusive sense of collective responsibility for public spaces, for common interests in food supply, water and health, and for the quality of life in the town. Life at close quarters, industrial sounds and at the same time a pervasive flavour of the farmyard characterised the streets of the medieval town. It is illuminating to consider the range of urban and environmental matters for which city rulers were willing and even anxious to take responsibility. The provision of a town cross was a public work with both practical and symbolic purpose. These and the efforts to provide uncontaminated water were significant contributions by town councils to the enhancement of the quality of life.
This chapter contains an introduction and a selection of translated and annotated texts on urban growth. The use by English monarchs of their towns as frames for the spectacular display of royal power would have a long history. The different case of Bury St Edmunds exemplifies the potential of a monastic establishment to act as a catalyst of urban growth. A reflection of urban growth in the Anglo-Norman period are the bids by local groups of merchants for increased autonomy and scope to manage their affairs, free from the daily meddling of royal officials. A spectacular instance of urban promotion was the bishop of Salisbury's project to relocate both his cathedral and its surrounding city from the dramatic hilltop setting of 'Old Salisbury' to the foot of the escarpment. While archaeology has revealed traces of earlier settlement on the site of 'New Salisbury', the grid-planned and fortified town in the thirteenth century is a dramatic instance of ecclesiastical involvement in the urban expansion of the period.
As much as it was a tangible construction of stone, wood and plaster, the medieval town was an idea in the minds of its inhabitants and of its visitors. Mythologised or romantic as they might be, ideas of the town's prestigious origins and present eminence influenced the ideals and actions of its population. The sources gathered in this chapter include examples of the currency and expression of such ideas. They also exemplify some of the ways in which a distinguished history and idealised image of the town circulated and became embedded in local culture. Liberally strewn with allusions to the antique world of Rome, William fitz-Stephen's text joins Christian hagiography to a classicising emulation of pre-Christian writers in the praise of cities. At the end of the period the celebratory allusions to the history of Exeter and of Bristol come from civic officials: a mayor and a town clerk.
This chapter contains an introduction and a selection of translated and annotated texts on religion and culture. Fraternities added to the texture of urban religious life, and further accentuated the scope for the agency and variety of lay religion. Urban wills are eloquent of a creative range of both devotional and fraternal ties, forged over a lifetime as so many means to address the challenges of life in the late medieval town. In addition to the material and spiritual support offered to their own members, guilds or fraternities often provided charitable support to a wider community. Although vastly depleted by Reformation and seventeenth-century iconoclasm, enough evidence survives to show how the fabric of a medieval city church functioned as a site for the construction of both social and religious identities. Yet, late medieval religious culture was too multivalent to be manipulated in the sole interest of bishops or magistrates.