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Commerce, crime and community in England, 1300–1500
Author: Teresa Phipps

This book explores the legal actions of women living in three English towns – Nottingham, Chester and Winchester – during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For the first time, it brings together women’s involvement in a wide range of litigation, including pleas of debt and trespass, as well as the actions for which they were punished under local policing and regulations. The book details the multiple reasons that women engaged with the law in their local communities, all arising from their interpersonal relationships and everyday work and trade. Through the examination of thousands of original court cases, it reveals the identities of hundreds of ordinary urban women and the wide range of legal actions that they participated in. This wide-ranging, comparative study examines the differing ways that women’s legal status was defined in multiple towns, and according to different situations and pleas. It pays close attention to the experiences of married women and the complex and malleable nature of coverture, which did not always make them completely invisible. The book offers new perspectives on women’s legal position and engagement with the law, their work and commercial roles, the gendering of violence and honour, and the practical implications of coverture and marital status, highlighting the importance of examining the legal roles and experiences of individual women. Its basis in the records of medieval town courts also offers a valuable insight into the workings of these courts and the lives and identities of those that used them.

Selected sources
Author: Gervase Rosser

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.

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Gervase Rosser

As the sources in Section VII make clear, the diversity and economic hierarchy of the medieval town created a social environment in which there could be no natural community. These very conditions, however, go far to explain the deliberate creation, by townspeople themselves, of hundreds of voluntary associations. More diverse, flexible and indeed voluntary than the professional

in Towns in medieval England
Gervase Rosser

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. Economic growth raised the stakes, leading to further 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

in Towns in medieval England
Gervase Rosser

The ruling officers of every medieval town invested the place with a religious identity, claiming on this basis the reverence of its subjects. 1 Devotion was recruited in this way to the service of ecclesiastical and political authority. The relics incorporated in the spire of St Paul’s cathedral in London epitomised the distinction and pre-eminence claimed by the bishop

in Towns in medieval England
Gervase Rosser

Life at close quarters, industrial sounds and at the same time a pervasive flavour of the farmyard characterised the streets of the medieval town. Communal spaces, together with a larger idea of the public realm, had to be won from the persistent residue of private sokes and ecclesiastical franchises, and tended to remain at constant risk of reappropriation for personal and

in Towns in medieval England
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Gervase Rosser

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 section include examples of the

in Towns in medieval England
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Conflicting perspectives on the modern city
Elizabeth McKellar

Hatton, A New View of London, 1708, Introduction, p. ii) London in the seventeenth century was one of the most important and rapidly expanding capitals in Europe. From the 1660s onwards it was transformed from an essentially medieval town of wooden buildings located within the City walls to a modern metropolis

in The birth of modern London
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Teresa Phipps

these women may have been defining moments of their lives or points of crisis, but most of the cases and actions included here were more quotidian, representing the inordinate negotiations that made up everyday life and work. The negotiation of justice was therefore a normal part of urban life. Women and men living within England’s hundreds of medieval towns actively used their local courts to manage their interpersonal relationships, enforce business obligations and seek restitution for attacks that brought harm to their persons

in Medieval women and urban justice
Women and debt litigation
Teresa Phipps

provincial trade, facilitated by the existence of various markets, fairs, shops and stalls. As a result, debt litigation was a major component of the business of England’s medieval town courts, often accounting for the majority of complaints. Across numerous jurisdictions, women featured as both plaintiffs and defendants in these cases. Women such as Agatha Spycer and Alice Mercer were integrated into the networks of local commerce, some being tied to others in credit agreements of a significant scale, while others bought and sold

in Medieval women and urban justice