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Urban Life in the Middle Ages Essay

The book “Urban Life in the Middle Ages” by Keith D. Lilley discusses historical development and urban changes affected urban population during the Middle Ages. The author claims that: ”the Middle Ages is a contested heritage – it means different things for different people” (p. 21). Lilley describes a medieval town as the main regional and even cultural unit which kept traditions, values and unique way of life. The book consists of an introduction, 7 chapters, conclusions, tables, figures and plates.

The first three chapters address urban culture and heritage, legal foundations of towns and the main institutions. The author describes medieval culture and legacies, the main factors and driven forces of change. Also, Lilley draws a line between medieval urban heritage and contemporary culture stating that “medieval urbanism impinges upon the modern age’ (p. 17). The second chapter describes the main institutions and their impact on and role in urbanism. Lilley pays a special attention to chartered towns, functions of municipal government and urban governance.

The fourth chapter discusses emergence of and development of towns in England and Wales, France and in east Central Europe. Lilley explains that in many countries, towns’ population was numbered thousands rather than hundreds, and the city was clearly differentiated from the rural settlements around it. Within the city, however, population, as not particularly dense, and certainly was not uniformly distributed. Lilley suggests that a significant proportion of the area within towns was used for agriculture or viniculture, while a town remained a center of cultural, religious and material life.

The fifth and the sixth chapters are devoted to urban planning and ownership. Lilley writes that urban population paid much attention to landscapes and urban planning which marked city’s identity and national culture. Lilley gives examples of urban designs, structure of urban settlements and location of the central part and periphery of the city. The sixth chapter describes the main types of property rights and landholding. The fundamental fact about the property rights was their fragmentation.

Holdings were scattered over a wide area: a couple of holdings in one settlement, a vineyard in the next, an estate in the next still. Even within rural settlements large, compact blocks of land or sizable estates comprising an entire settlement were extremely rare. In the seventh chapter, Lilley describes domestic life and personality of townspeople, their values and preferences, way of life and traditions, occupations and trade. The book does not have a separate chapter for church and its impact on town life, but Lilley discusses the problems and issues of churches in every chapter.

He underlines that religion played a crucial role in lives of medieval people determining their way of life and traditions. Churches were predominantly found in urban contexts, and monastic foundations were increasingly favored by the elite. The surrounding countryside was dotted with small family monasteries, nunneries and proprietary churches. A society in which rural elites were increasingly prepared to invest in a local church or a family monastery was one in which they might also be prepared to make donations to large-scale monastic foundations to build up their local prestige.

I would recommend this book to everyone interested in history and sociology, archeology, urban planning and cultural studies. The book is based on substantial analysis of resources and historical documents, and involves excellent illustrative materials for every chapter. A unique vision of historical development and comparative analysis with modern city planning and culture Works Cited 1. Lilley, K. D. Urban Life in the Middle Ages: 1000-1450 (European Culture and Society). Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

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