HIST 204 Lecture Outline (Spring 2017 – Week 5)

Week 5: Tuesday


Music by Thibaut, count of Champagne and lord of Troyes (1201-53):

Seigneurs, sachiez qui or ne s’en ira (3:46 min.):

Dame, ensinc est qu’il m’en covient aler (5:02 min.):

Chanson mariale (6:01 min.):

Music from the Carmina burana (S. German, 12th cent.?):

Ich was ein chint so wolgetan (Maledicantur tilie, 2:50 min.)


Growth of towns in the 11th century and later:

  • At or near major seaports (e.g., Lübeck, Bruges, Genoa, Venice, Naples)
  • On major rivers (e.g., London, Paris, Toledo, Cologne, Rome) or roads (e.g., Milan)
  • Site of major commercial fairs (especially in county of Champagne, e.g., Troyes)

Typical features of medieval towns and cities (but not of villages) included:

  • Large population
  • Wide range of occupations and incomes
  • Densely-packed housing
  • Fortifications or other defenses
  • More than one church
  • One or more courts
  • One or more prisons
  • One or more markets and fairs
  • Monetized economy
  • Commercial entertainment (drinking houses, brothels, professional entertainers)
  • Problems with sanitation, rubbish-disposal, and traffic

Major medieval urban export industries included:

  • Woolen cloth production (spinning and weaving)
  • Woolen cloth finishing (fulling, shearing, dyeing)
  • Linen cloth production
  • Luxury cloth production (silks, velvets, etc.)
  • Arms and armor manufacture
  • Brewing
  • Metalworking (including goldsmithing and minting)
  • Wholesale trading in major commodities for export (e.g., grain, timber, minerals, furs, wine, wool, spices)

Beginning in the 12th century, many towns formed communes (sworn self-governance associations) that struggled to obtain a charter granting self-government rights from their lords (king, queen, prince, bishop, etc.). Chartered towns paid a fee-farm (a fixed annual fee) to their lords in return for the right to collect their own taxes and tolls. Other benefits of a charter might include the right for a town to:

  • elect its own government
  • make and enforce its own laws
  • run its own courts

Many towns also established guilds to regulate crafts and trades. Membership in a guild made one a citizen of the town. Only guild masters could keep shops and supervise apprentices (trainees) and journeymen (wage-workers who had completed an apprenticeship but could not afford to open their own shop). Guilds enjoyed commercial monopolies in return for undertaking responsibility for self-regulation.

Main money denominations:

Penny (d.): in Latin, denarius; in French, denier; in Italian, denaro; in German, Pfennig
Shilling (s.): in Latin, solidus; in French, sou or sol; in Italian, soldo (denomination) or grosso (coin); in German, Schilling
Pound (£): In Latin, libra; in French, livre; in Italian, lira; in German, Pfund

12d. = 1s.
20s. = £1
£1 = 20s. = 240d.

The penny could be divided into:

2 halfpennies or ha’pence (each worth 1/2d.), in Latin, 2 oboli (abbreviated ob.)
4 farthings (each worth 1/4d.); in Latin, 4 quadrantes (abbreviated q. or qua.)

Standard fractions of the pound:

Two-thirds of a pound, known as a mark (Latin, marca; abbreviated m.): 13s. 4d. (=160d.)
One-third of a pound, or half a mark: 6s. 8d. (=80d.)

Click for images of an Italian grosso (1s. = 12d.), and English pennies (1d.), halfpennies, (1/2d.), and farthings (1/4d.)

Online readings:

Charter of the shearers of Arras, 1236
[Note on text: the muid of Flanders was a measure of capacity containing 1011 liters]

Two apprenticeship contracts for weavers in Arras and Marseilles, c. 1250

A purchase on credit in Marseille, 1248

Regulations of the London Cordwainers’ (shoemakers’) guild, 1375

Photograph of two 15th-cent. shops with dwelling above, from Horsham, Sussex



Music by Thibaut, comte de Champagne (1201-53):

Dame, merci (4:42 min.)

Jews in medieval towns were excluded from citizenship and from trade and craft guilds; many thus entered unregulated occupations, such as moneylending, medicine, schoolteaching (in Jewish schools), and wholesale trading

Steps in woolen and linen textile production:

Click here for a reconstruction of the medieval marketplace in Norwich

Town government:

Generally headed by a mayor and council drawn from the wealthiest families, sometimes elected by the masters of the guilds, sometimes by the “better sort” of the citizens, sometimes self-perpetuating, sometimes chosen by the lord

Courts might be held by several authorities:

  • by the lord of the town (especially for capital offenses)
  • by the municipal government (especially for lesser offenses)
  • by the bishop (for matters relating to the church)

In the 12th century, the re-discovery in Western Europe of Justinian’s codification of Roman law (mid 500s) stimulated the development of secular and ecclesiastical (canon) law (click here to see a manuscript of Gratian’s Decretum, c. 1170)

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