Tutor: Tom Johnson
Module type: Period Topic
Module code: HIS00064C
Late-medieval England was a society in flux. In the tumultuous decades after the Black Death, ordinary people had more leisure time, more money, and more ways to spend it. During this unstable and socially mobile time, local communities became deeply concerned with the problem of disorder. This was a wide category, encompassing everything from outright violence and open insults in the streets to gossiping in taverns and sexual immorality in private. Through local law-courts and legislation, through negotiations and informal associations like gilds, and through common rituals like feasts, ordinary people tried to settle disputes through peaceful means. Yet the spectre of the scrounging vagabond, the petty thief, and the loose-tongued gossip remained potent in the late Middle Ages, as communities persistently attempted – but often failed – to enforce good governance. Who was suspected of disorder? What were the limits of community tolerance? How were conflicts resolved? And were efforts to impose order ever successful?
We will explore these questions through an investigation of some fascinating evidence: we will look at court records which preserve medieval insults, popular literature such as the Robin Hood ballads, coroners’ reports on how people died, and even financial accounts which can tell us how people spent their money. Together, these very different sources can help to illuminate the vibrant and complex world of disorder and social control in late-medieval England.
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