The Anglo-Norman Territories

4

Town life

 

    One of the most striking aspects of the history of western Europe in the 11th 12th centuries is the emergence of towns, settlements of unusual size with a diverse economic base, in which agriculture played only a small part compared to trade and manufacturing, and a varied social make-up, in which new classes of craftsmen and merchants were a significant component. Throughout the realm ruled by the Norman and Plantagenet kings there had been recognisable towns, such as London or Rouen, since the late 9th century, but the quickening pace of economic growth after 1000 brought about not only their enlargement, but also the foundation of many new urban settlements, especially in parts of southern England and in Gascony. As time went on townsfolk were able to use their economic power to acquire a measure self-government and a new political force was born.

Archaeological evidence shows that town streets became crowded with buildings, largely of timber, but also, in the case of those belonging to the richer merchants, of stone, favoured for both its fire-proof and status-enhancing qualities. Prominent amongst the Anglo-Norman merchant class were the Jews who established important colonies in cities such as London, Norwich and Rouen.

Although urban fortunes were rising in the period under discussion, the people attracted in ever-increasing numbers to the towns also suffered from disadvantages of their new environment including regular epidemics of disease caused by squalid and crowded living conditions.

Romanesque stone houses
The Jews in Normandy in the middle ages
Norman new towns
Urban Housing in Norman England
Daily life in towns

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