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Welsh History Review


Vol. 2, nos. 1-4 1964-65

Medieval London, from commune to capital : Book review.

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his central theme; his analysis of the School of Forgery at Glastonbury
whets the appetite for a full-scale detective story on the subject. Through-
out this study, too, he is critically aware of the literary quality and value
of the texts that form the basis of his argument, and this admirable
balance between the need to instruct and delight retains the reader's
attention to the end.
University College, Cardiff.
University of London, The Athlone Press, 1963. Pp. xiv and 377. 50s.
In a country replete with archives and unwritten histories, London is
the best-documented of towns, and perhaps the most shamelessly
neglected. Dr. Williams's book is therefore welcome both as a contribution
to medieval urban history and as an example of what can be done with
the city's astonishing records. Its theme is first the weathering of the
revolutionary Commune of 1193 by half-a-century of use, and then its
transformation into the familiar system of later times, in which mayor,
aldermen, and councillors rule as before, but the gilds control the
franchise: a system developed just as the national capital emerged in the
first stages of the Hundred Years War.
The most potent external force at work was the king himself; whether
compromising, like John, meddling and bullying, like Henry III, or
bullying and organizing, like Edward I. Within the city there was one
monotonous constant, the remarkable growth of population that
eventually swamped the patriciate, and transferred power from the
representatives of the old city dynasties to the corporate personalities of
the craft and trade gilds. The Commune which settled so quickly into
respectability was, in Dr. Williams's words, 'based on the Husting of [a]
little landed oligarchy of hereditary citizens'. Any increase of population
was bound to affect it in time, but in fact it proved very resilient, and its
aldermanate remained a permanent feature of the city's government,
changing its members but not its form. What did disappear in the turmoil
of the thirteenth century was the landowner, and with him the city dynast;
after the Commune the prominent London families are as short-lived as
those in provincial towns. In the provinces the talented migrated to
London, or died; in London they died, or migrated into gentility.
Landownership appears to be the only business on which the English
can concentrate for more than three generations at a time.
The civil war of the 1260s disorganized the patriciate, but it took the
violent pressures of Edward I's reign and the disturbances of Edward II's
to settle the constituents of the new order. What undid the dynasts was
as much Henry Ill's ill-judged interference as the popular risings; the
aldermen found themselves beset alternately by a capricious and resentful
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