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Who decides? Urban councils and consensus in the late Middle Ages

Liddy, Christian D. (2021) 'Who decides? Urban councils and consensus in the late Middle Ages.', Social history., 46 (4).


The prosaic records of town council meetings are an essential, if problematic, source for historians of late medieval European towns. They are a window on to the concerns, fears and ambitions of urban authorities, yet they have proved especially intractable to historians interested in the social history of urban politics. They seem to present a monotonously harmonious picture of civic unity, social solidarity and political unanimity. Urban historians have increasingly looked outside the town hall for evidence of the social divisions and political discord that truly characterized town life. They have uncovered an unstable world of ‘contentious politics’, in which revolt was only one possible means of dissent. This article argues that historians should return to the town hall and to the council chamber, in order to reassess the value of town council minutes. Placing the rich, and still relatively little-used, civic archive of the English city of Norwich within a wider European context, it focuses on the meaning and significance of the easily overlooked records of non-attendance at council meetings. It locates official anxieties about non-attendance not within a narrowly legal or institutional framework, but within a contemporary culture of urban citizenship, which was performative and disputatious. The article identifies a form of ‘consensus politics’ that involved, indeed promoted, conflict.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0.
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Social History.
Date accepted:27 March 2021
Date deposited:29 March 2021
Date of first online publication:November 2021
Date first made open access:No date available

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