Medieval Towns



Document #1



What rights and privileges were given to people living in this French town?


How could a serf become a freeman in the town?




1. Every one who has a house in the parish of Lorris shall pay…sixpence only for his house, and for each acre of land that he possesses in the parish.


2. No inhabitant of the parish of Lorris shall be required to pay a toll or any other tax on his provisions; and let him not be made to pay any measurage fee on the grain which he has raised by his own labor.


3. No burgher shall go on an expedition, on foot or on horseback, from which he cannot return the same day to his home if he desires….


6. No person while on his way to the fairs and markets of Lorris, or returning, shall be arrested or disturbed, unless he shall have committed an offense on the same day….


9. No one…shall exact from the burghers of Lorris any tallage, tax, or subsidy….


16. No one shall be detained in prison if he can furnish surety that he will present himself for judgment….


18. Any person who shall dwell a year and a day in the parish of Lorris, without any claim having pursued him there, and without having refused to lay his case before us or our provost {a presiding officer}, shall abide there freely and without molestation {harassment}.


SOURCE: A charter of the French town of Lorris, near Orléans, by King Louis VII in 1155.



Document #2

Question: How could a boy of very humble origins become a merchant during the early Middle Ages?


When the boy had passed his childish years quietly at home [in Norfolk, England], he began to follow more prudent ways of life, and to learn carefully and persistently the teachings of worldly fore-thought. He chose not to follow the life of a husbandman but . . .aspiring to the merchant's trade, he began to follow the peddler's way of life, first learning how to gain in small bargains and things of insignificant price and thence ... to buy and sell and gain from things of greater expense. For in his beginnings he was wont to wander with small wares around the villages and farmsteads of his own neighborhood, but in process of time he gradually associated himself by compact with city merchants. . . . At first he lived for four years as a peddler in Lincolnshire, going on foot and carrying the cheapest wares; then he traveled abroad, first to St. Andrews in Scotland and then to Rome. On his return . . . he began to launch on bolder courses and to coast frequently by sea to the foreign lands that lay about him. . . . At length his great labors and cares bore much fruit of worldly gain. For he labored not only as a merchant but also as a shipman . . . to Denmark and Flanders and Scotland; in all which lands he found certain rare wares, which he carried to other parts wherein he knew them to be less familiar and coveted by the inhabitants. . . . Hence he made great profit in all his bargains, and gathered much wealth in the sweat of his brow, for he sold dear in one place the wares which he had bought elsewhere at a small price.

SOURCE: Life of St. Godric of Finchale, trans. by G. G. Coulton, Social Life in Briiain from the Conquest to the Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), pp. 415-17.



Document #3

Question: From the evidence presented in this document, what conclusions could you draw concerning trade during the Late Middle Ages?


SOURCE: Medieval trade routes during the 12c and 13c.





Document 4

Question:  Why could it be said that a medieval guild [gild] was a trade monopoly?


. . That no foreign merchant buy within the city from a foreigner, corn, hides, or wool, except from a citizen. And that no foreigner have a wine tavern, except aboard ships.... And that no foreigner sell cloth at retail in the city. And that no foreign merchant tarry in the city with his merchandise in order to sell it except for forty days.... Also that all reasonable persons have their gild, just as the burgesses of Bristol have, or were accustomed to have.

SOURCE: Rights of a Dublin [Ireland] Guild, 1152.



Document #5

Question:  What were some of the “drawbacks” of living in a medieval town?


Even the best of the streets are dark, tortuous, and filthy. There is almost no paving. The waste water of the houses is flung from the windows. Horrid offal [waste] is thus cast out, as well as the blood and refuse from the numerous slaughterhouses. Pigs are privileged as scavengers, . . . The streets are the darker because the second stories of the houses project considerably over the first, the third over the second, . . . Consequently, there is almost a roof formed over the lanes, cutting off rain, light and air. . . All the thoroughfares, too, are amazingly crooked, . . . At night these twisting avenues are dark as pitch.

SOURCE: A description of a medieval town about 1220.



Document #6


What is the king's argument for exiling French Jews?
Did Jewish money-lenders threaten the well-being of Christians?
Why was religious toleration so difficult in 12c France?


Philip Augustus Orders Jews Out of France


Long the object of Christian controversy, hated as moneylenders by ordinary people, and feared by the clergy as successful competitors with Christianity, Jews became easy scapegoats for rulers who wished to exploit fear and prejudice. In 1182, Philip II Augustus, eyeing the wealthy Jews of Paris, ordered all non-converting Jews out of France and confiscated their property and possessions.


[When Philip became king] a great multitude of Jews had been dwelling in France for a long time….[In Paris] they grew so rich that they claimed as their own almost half of the whole city, and they had Christians in their houses as menservants and maidservants, who were backsliders from the faith of Jesus Christ and judaized with the Jews….

And whereas the Lord had said…in Deuteronomy [23:19-20]: “thou shall not lend upon usury to thy brother, but to the stranger,” the Jews…understood by “stranger” every Christian, and they took from the Christians their money at usury. And so heavily burdened in this wise were citizens and soldiers and peasants…that many of them were constrained to part with their possessions. Others were bound under oath in houses of the Jews in Paris, held as if captives in prison.

The most Christian King Philip hearing of these things…released all Christians of his kingdom from their debts to the Jews, and kept a fifth part of the whole amount for himself….[Then in] 1182, in the month of April…an edict went forth from…the king…that all the Jews of his kingdom should be prepared to go forth by the coming feast of St. John the Baptist. And the king gave them leave to sell each his movable goods before the time fixed.

When faithless Jews heard this edict some of them…converted to the Lord [Jesus Christ, and] to them the king, out of regard for the Christian religion, restored all their possessions…and gave them perpetual liberty. Others were blinded by their ancient error and persisted in their perfidy1….The infidel Jews…astonished and stupefied by the strength of mind of Philip the king and his constancy in the Lord…prepared to sell all their household goods. The time was now at hand when the king ordered them to leave France….Then did the Jews sell all their movable possessions in great haste, while their landed property reverted to the crown. Thus the Jews, having sold their goods and taken the price for the expenses of their journey, departed with their wives and children and all their households in the…year of the Lord 1182.

1 violation of a promise or oath.