HIST 204 Lecture Outline (Spring 2023 – Week 6)

HIST 204

Week 6:




Life in medieval towns (5:19 min.):

Exploring medieval Birmingham: 1300 (Birmingham was a small town in 1300, not a city like today) (6:28 min.):

Clarissa Dickson Wright: “The King’s Cookbook” (The Forme of Cury, written by the cooks of Richard II, c. 1390s) (BBC documentary, 28:54 min.; watch 0:00-4:40):



Saltarello (Italian, 14th cent.; 4:39 min.):

Bryd one breere (English, c. 1300; 3:07 min.):

The Coventry Carol: Lully, Lulla (English, 15th cent.; 3:36 min.):

Lullay, Lullow (English, 15th cent., 2:30 min.):

Veni, veni, Emmanuel (2:59 min.):


  • There is little privacy, and simple furnishings (chesthall in Palazzo Davanzati), even for the wealthy
  • Formal manners are very important
  • The rich enjoy many luxuries (grand houses with private gardens; fine clothing (menwomen), furnishings, and food; numerous servants, etc.), but little real comfort (by modern standards)
  • Here is a menu from Medieval Times – what is reasonably authentic? what is very inauthentic?
  • Ordinary people dress much more plainly
  • Men’s underwear: linen shirtlinen drawers; woolen hose
  • Time is reckoned by church bells
  • Shops are often clustered by trade or craft; shopping is done with silver pennies (cut as necessary into halfpennies and farthings)
  • Foods are preserved by drying, salting, smoking, and pickling in brine
  • Dinner (the main meal) is eaten in late morning or at mid-day; supper is a much lighter meal
  • Women are excluded from public office, from higher education, and from the professions, and are legally subordinated to their father (while unmarried) or husband (during marriage); their reputation is critical to their family’s honor, and their manners and behavior are closely watched.
  • Women can, however, inherit property, make contracts, sue and be sued in court
  • Childbirth is very dangerous; maternal and infant mortality rates are high
  • The children of the wealthy are cared for by wet-nurses, nurses, tutors, and other servants




Getting dressed in the 14th century: maid and mistress (7:08 min.):

Getting dressed in the 14th century: ploughman (4:50 min.):

  • Marriages among the wealthy are usually arranged by parents or guardians; consanguinity (marriage to a relative) is forbidden by the Church, as is divorce
  • Weddings and funerals of the rich are grand affairs, with religious services, almsgiving, and banqueting

Online readings:

William Fitzstephen, Description of London (excerpt), c. 1173
Describes, inter alia, the city’s churches, defenses, size, division into administrative wards (there are 24, each governed by an alderman), its rule by sheriffs (appointed by the king; London does not yet have a commune or a mayor); its suburbs, schools, shops, and recreations

Christine de Pizan (1364-c. 1430), The Treasure of the City of Ladies: responsibilities of women, rich and poor
Note that ladies of the gentry and aristocracy are advised to educate themselves in all aspects of estate administration and finances, since so often the husbands are away from home and the wives are left in charge. Similarly, urban wives are advised to learn all about their husbands’ trades or crafts, so that they can assist and advise their husbands and run the business in their husbands’ absence.

Jean “Clopinel” de Meun’s continuation of Guillaume de Lorris’s allegorical poem, The Romance of the RoseDuenna’s advice on table manners for young women, late 13th cent.
A well-behaved lady sees that everyone else is served first; she makes sure to attend to her guests’ preferences and needs; she is very sparing in her own eating and drinking, and very dainty in her table manners; and she guards herself especially against getting drunk or falling asleep at the table.

Expenses of the Aragonese ambassadors in England, 1415:
The four ambassadors and their servants spent almost £2 per day, mostly on food. In 1415, a skilled craftsman in London earned about 6-8d. per day, or 3-4s. per week. If he spent 75% of his income on food, what could he have afforded to feed his household each week on 27-36d.?