ISBN : 9780198705208
The political narrative of late medieval English towns is often reduced to the story of the gradual intensification of oligarchy, in which power was exercised and projected by an ever smaller ruling group over an increasingly subservient urban population. Contesting the City takes its inspiration not from English historiography, but from a more dynamic continental scholarship on towns in the southern Low Countries, Germany, and France. Its premise is that scholarly debate about urban oligarchy has obscured contemporary debate about urban citizenship. It identifies from the records of English towns a tradition of urban citizenship, which did not draw upon the intellectual legacy of classical models of the 'citizen'. This was a vernacular citizenship, which was not peculiar to England, but which was present elsewhere in late medieval Europe. It was a citizenship that was defined and created through action. There were multiple, and divergent, ideas about citizenship, which encouraged townspeople to make demands, to assert rights, and to resist authority. This volume exploits the rich archival sources of the five major towns in England - Bristol, Coventry, London, Norwich, and York - in order to present a new picture of town government and urban politics over three centuries. The power of urban governors was much more precarious than historians have imagined. Urban oligarchy could never prevail - whether ideologically or in practice - when there was never a single, fixed meaning of the citizen.
2 Citizenship and Citizens
3 Space: Boundaries
4 Civic Time: Elections
5 Communication: Sound and Sight
6 Written Constitutions: Text and Object