Article

Towns and Cities in Medieval England

Benjamin McRee

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0085
Towns and Cities in Medieval England

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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England was famously unurbanized in the medieval era, at least in comparison with much of the European continent. Outside of London, which did rank as one of the largest and most important economic centers in Europe, there were few English cities that could have stood with their continental counterparts in size, wealth, or political importance. Why, then, has there been so much scholarly fuss over the history of English towns? The rich documentation that survives for many urban settlements certainly provides at least a partial answer. But scholars have always had deeper reasons, ranging from the significance of urban constitutional experiments, which were especially important to early historians of town life, to the value of the goods that passed through their ports and gates and changed hands in their markets. Most of the work done in the past half century has focused on a handful of such central themes, with governmental arrangements, economic organization, and social relations being the most important. These themes reflect a conviction that the importance of towns was greater than their size alone would suggest. The literature addressing these and other issues does not, unfortunately, break neatly into discrete categories. As a result, there is considerable overlap among the works in the sections that follow. Treatments of the urban economy, for example, often include a detailed discussion of social organization, as do accounts of politics and government. At least one of the works in the Women section has important implications for the economy, while an article listed under Economy focuses on women. Likewise, the comprehensive approach found in individual town studies naturally includes a bit of everything. The boundaries between the categories used here are best regarded, then, as porous, and those wanting to learn about particular aspects of urban life should sample broadly.

Article.  5517 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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