Unit 4 – Table of contents

    • Agricultural change and population growth.
    • The growth of cities.
    • Urban government and freedoms.
    • Characteristics of medieval cities
    • The development of trade
    • Craftwork and craft guilds.
    • A new social class: the bourgeoisie.
    • Royal power.
    • The appearance of Parliaments.
    • Culture.
    • Gothic architecture.
    • Gothic painting and sculpture.
    • Causes and consequences.
    • The recovery of the 15th century.



Text – Urban Privileges: Charter of Lorris, 1155

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Charter of Lorris (1155)

Taking into account that we are going to speak about cities in this unit and what we have already studied:

  • What were the main economic activities carried out in the cities, and not in the manors?
  • For the merchants to be successful, what conditions should be met?
  • Does an increase in security have any type of effect on feudal lords and their relationship with the monarchs?
  • What type of power did the king have during Feudalism? What part had he granted to the feudal lords?


The growth of the medieval economy, to point where towns although containing a minority of the population were at the forefront of economic activity, is among the most significant aspects of the 11th and 12th centuries. This growth had a widespread impact on all aspects of society – from religious ideals and practice to the gradual monetization of all sorts of social relationships. Towns were fundamental to this process, as was the protection of their leading inhabitants. Kings often supported the towns, which provided a source of support distinct from the unreliable aristocracy. This is the charter of Lorris, granted by King Louis VII in 1155, and which was widely imitated in northern France.

  • 1. Every one who has a house in the parish of Lorris shall pay as cens 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 measurage fee on the grain which he has raised by his own labour.
  • 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 offence on the same day.
  • 9. No one, neither we nor any other, shall exact from the burghers of Lorris any tallage, tax, or subsidy.
  • 12. If a man shall have had a quarrel with another, but without breaking into a fortified house, and if the parties shall have reached an agreement without bringing a suit before the provost, no fine shall be due to us or our provost on account of the affair.
  • 15. No inhabitant of Lorris is to render us the obligation of corvee, except twice a year, when our wine is to be carried to Orleans, and not elsewhere.
  • 17. Any burgher who wishes to sell his property shall have the privilege of doing so; and, having received the price of the sale, he shall have the right to go from the town freely and without molestation, if he so desires, unless he has committed some offence in it.
  • 35. We ordain that every time there shall be a change of provosts in the town the new provost shall take an oath faithfully to observe these regulations; and the same thing shall be done by new sergeants every time that they are installed.

From Frederic Austin Ogg, ed., A Source Book of Medieval History, (New York: 1907), 328-330



Charter: A written grant from the sovereign power of a country conferring certain rights and privileges on a person, corporation, or the people. A document outlining the principles, functions, and organization of a corporate body; a constitution.

Measurage fee: tax over a cargo

Cens: census. Official count of a particular population.

Burgher: resident of a burgh or borough (medieval city or town), especially middle class dedicated to craftwork or trade.

Provost: The chief magistrate or convener of a burgh, equivalent to a mayor.

Corvee: was unpaid labour imposed by the authorities on certain classes of people, such as peasants, for the performance of work on public projects.


  1. What does rule number 2 mean?
  2. What type of properties had to pay taxes?
  3. What economic activities were promoted (by no paying taxes)? What are the differences with the manors?
  4. Who had the role of judge? Who had it in the manors?
  5. Why do you think “Any burgher who wishes to sell his property shall have the privilege of doing so” is written in number 17?
  6. If a recently-appointed provost had to take oath to observe these regulations… what controls the type of life of the cities?
  7. The kings grants the charter… what do you think he gets in exchange?
  8. With the possibility of collecting taxes, what do you think that changes in the power of the kings in this period?
  9. If cities are safer because there is more security, and therefore there are more handcrafts and more trade, who gets more political power?


Text – Bocaccio and the Black Death

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 Bocaccio and the Black Death

The Italian writer Bocaccio lived through the plague when it reached Florence in 1348, and it inspired him to write his long collection of stories, The Decameron.

I say that in the year 1348 a deadly plague entered the noble city of Florence, the most beautiful in Italy. Some people say that it came through the influence of the heavenly bodies, and others that it was caused by God’s anger at our evil actions. Whatever the cause, It had begun some years earlier in the East, where it claimed many lives, before it spread westwards, growing in strength as it went from one place to another.

The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a nose bleed was the sign of the arrival of death. It began both in men and women with swellings in the groin or under the armpits. These grew to the size of a small apple or an egg. After this point the disease started to alter in nature, with black or livid spots appearing on the arms, the thighs, everywhere. Sometimes they were large and well spaced, other times small and numerous.

No doctor’s advice, no medicine seemed to be of any help. Either the disease was incurable or the doctors simply didn’t know how to cure it. Many tried, though.

The pestilence spread so efficiently that, not only did it pass from person to person, but if an animal touched the belongings of some sick or dead person it contracted the pestilence and died of it in a short time.

As our city sunk into this affliction and misery the reverend authority of the law, both divine and human, sunk with it and practically disappeared, for those who were supposed to be its ministers and executors were, like other people, either dead, sick or so taken up with the needs of their own families that they could not perform their offices. That left everyone else free to make his or her own arrangements.

A large number of men and women abandoned their city, houses, families and possessions in order to go elsewhere, at least to the Florentine countryside, as if the wrath of God punishing humankind with this pestilence would not follow them there.

[…] The poor and even the middling classes faced an even grimmer prospect. Most of them stayed in their own homes and neighbourhoods, either because they hoped they would be safe there or because they could afford to do no other. They fell sick by the thousands every day, and having neither servants nor anyone else to care for them they almost always died. Many of them died in the street either during the day or by night, while those who died in their homes were noticed by their neighbours only when the smell of their decomposing bodies brought them to public attention.

There were dead bodies all over […] They would drag the dead bodies out of their homes and left them in front of their doors. In the morning great numbers of them could be seen.

What more can be said except that the cruelty of heaven (and perhaps in part of humankind as well) was such that between March and July, thanks to the force of the plague and the fear that led the healthy to abandon the sick, more than one hundred thousand people died within the walls of Florence.


  1. Does Bocaccio know what caused the plague?
  2. What were the symptoms he describes?
  3. Does he consider that leaving the city was enough for not suffering the plague?
  4. What were the consequences it had for Florence during the plague?
  5. What were the consequences after the plague?

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