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Civic government and identity in the provincial towns of late medieval England, c. 1370 to c. 1500

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Carrel, Helen Mary 


My doctoral research explores civic government and identity in the provincial towns of late medieval England and particularly focuses upon urban political culture in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centlllies. Unlike most lay authority figures in the period, town officials did not rule by hereditary right~~ by conquest, nor were they appointed by their social superiors. Instead most were selected by a group of their fellow-citizens, who were usually described as the 'worthy' men of the town -a loose definition suggesting both wealth and moral integrity. Consequently, it was necessary for contemporaries to develop an ideology to justify the power of these men and it is this ideology and how it was put into practice which is the chief concern of the thesis. Civic officials needed to present themselves as worthy of exercising legitimate power. They did this through ostentatious acts of piety and charity and an intense emphasis upon the personal morality and respectability of local officials. The project considers how contemporary images of just rule were adapted by town leaders for the urban setting and how religious rhetoric influenced their decisions in government assemblies and when presiding in the local cou1ts. Ch1istian ideas concerning what made a good or a bad city were important to town governments. Civic records highlight the tensions inherent in attempts to emulate the heavenly Jerusalem and to augment their own power through local building, cleaning and morality campaigns. Ultimately, alas, creating heaven on earth remained an unobtainable goal, but given the attractiveness of the imagery to local rulers, it is unsurpiising that they remained intent on trying: 'The greatness and the wealth of the nations will be brought into the city. But nothing that is impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things or tells lies' (Apocalypse 21: 26-7).





Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge