Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Rural and urban elites in England during the later Middle Ages

Rural and urban elites in England during the later Middle Ages - Transcript of a lecture that largely deals with the interaction between rural and urban elites in Medieval England. It touches on aspects of the daily lives of these classes such as incomes, taxes and municipal issues.

The author of this talk is Richard Britnell who is an Emeritus Professor at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

From the site:

Until the twelfth century, at least outside London, it is difficult to define an English urban elite distinct from the rural elite. This is because the towns were characteristically administered directly to the profit of the king or of noblemen and leading churchmen. But from the point when towns started to acquire significant rights of self-government in the twelfth century the emergence of a separate urban elite was inevitable. Townsmen elected their officers from their own number, and that invariably meant from the wealthiest among them. Borough officers and councillors were expected to be chosen 'from the more discreet men of the city' (London, 1200), 'from the better, more discreet and more powerful (potenciores) of the town' (Ipswich, c. 1200), 'from the more discreet and better of their town' (Northampton, 1215). In this context 'better' (meliores) means 'more powerful' or 'more influential'. As in the countryside, therefore, there was a close correspondence between economic and political power amongst the urban elite. But the leading officers of each borough were never autonomous authorities; they were always directly responsible to the king or some other lord.

Between 1200 and 1550, however, it also became more common for borough affairs to be managed by elected councils, often of twelve or twenty-four members. This development gave elites more formal definition; the size of the council could be tailored to correspond to the size of the town, to the point that membership of the council virtually defined elite status. Borough councils are recorded in London, Ipswich and Northampton by the time of King John's death in 1216, and at nine other English towns by 1300. Such councils became a usual feature of urban government in the following centuries, no doubt under the influence of increasingly commonplace ideas about the importance of the king's council in the government of the realm. Often they were created in the first instance to resolve some particular problem. In Winchester the need for a formal council was apparently born from political tensions within the city in the 1260s and 1270s. At Colchester, where an elected council was first instituted in 1372, the reason was specifically to monitor borough finances. In some cases, as at Grimsby, where a council is first recorded in 1403, there was little apparent need for this extra formality, and the innovation was probably no more than a way of enhancing the honour of the leading burgesses by bringing them into line with their peers elsewhere.

1 comment:

Frisch said...

Could this rise in local governments also be attributed to the Black Death and the break down of societal controls duing this period. If not did this have an impact as well, or was the movement already in place by the time of the Black Death.