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Annotation The towns of Italy in the later Middle Ages presents over one hundred fascinating documents, carefully selected and coordinated from the richest.
Table of contents

The work of overlooked co-operative experts is critically examined for the first time and reinserted into the process of state development. The interventions of these organisers, intellectuals and farmers built up key institutions that shaped everyday life across rural communities.

The movement weathered war and revolution, to become an indispensable part of an Irish state infrastructure after independence in The strained relationship and economic rivalry that developed between Irish and British co-operators is also explored in order to illuminate the changing relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom from an economic perspective. Civilising Rural Ireland will appeal to a wide audience interested in modern Irish history and readers are introduced to an eclectic range of personalities who shared an interest in co-operation and whose actions possessed important consequences for the way Ireland developed.

The creative use of local and national sources, many of which are examined for the first time, mean the book offers a new perspective on an important period in the making of modern Ireland. This account shows the importance of knowledge and expertise in the promotion of a model of Caribbean development that is best described as liberal rather than state-centred and authoritarian. It explores how the post-war period saw an attempt by the Colonial Office to revive Caribbean economies by transforming cane sugar from a low-value foodstuff into a lucrative starting compound for making fuels, plastics and medical products.

In addition, it shows that as Caribbean territories moved towards independence and America sought to shape the future of the region, scientific and economic advice became a key strategy for the maintenance of British control of the West Indian colonies. Britain needed to counter attempts by American-backed experts to promote a very different approach to industrial development after informed by the priorities of US foreign policy.

The study of witchcraft accusations in Europe during the period after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy. Witches were scratched in England, swum in Germany, beaten in the Netherlands and shot in France. The continued widespread belief in witchcraft and magic in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France has received considerable academic attention.

The book discusses the extent and nature of witchcraft accusations in the period and provides a general survey of the published work on the subject for an English audience. It explores the presence of magical elements in everyday life during the modern period in Spain. The book provides a general overview of vernacular magical beliefs and practices in Italy from the time of unification to the present, with particular attention to how these traditions have been studied.

By functioning as mechanisms of social ethos and control, narratives of magical harm were assured a place at the very heart of rural Finnish social dynamics into the twentieth century.

Population and Settlement in the Low Countries and Northern France in the Later Middle Ages

The book draws upon over narratives recorded in rural Finland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that provide information concerning the social relations, tensions and strategies that framed sorcery and the counter-magic employed against it. It is concerned with a special form of witchcraft that is practised only amongst Hungarians living in Transylvania.

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But in its overall image of the medieval Italian city, the book perhaps errs a little on the side of stability. A significant reason for this impression may be the focus upon published sources, amongst which, apart from civic histories, many of a semi-official nature, normative measures such as statutes and by-laws prevail. For the operation of such legislation in daily and controversial practice, one would need to spend more time in the law courts, and in the company of the civil notaries.

As historians in the field know all too well, that obscure army of thousands of lawyers has left, in most towns of the peninsula, an overwhelmingly daunting mass of evidence, not only of personal testaments, household and shop inventories, and contracts relating to economic and social relationships, but also of conflicts and their negotiated resolution. The paucity of legal and notarial materials in this collection could be justified by the wealth of other sources more readily available in print; yet their better representation would have helped to balance the weight of official and governmental views of urban society and culture.

The editor in his introduction anticipates criticism of exclusions from the range of sources in his volume, asking to be judged rather upon what has been included. This is entirely fair, except where the editorial selection process results in a cumulative image of the central subject - medieval Italian towns - which is significantly unbalanced. Professor Dean's introduction also includes a welcome call to consider not only the well known cities, but also less familiar places, in order to broaden the perspective on the subject as a whole. To some extent the range of towns represented in the collection lives up to the expectation thus engendered: here are not only Florence, Venice and Milan, but also Perugia, Parma and Ferrara.

All the same, it is not just carping to point out that the net has still not been cast particularly wide. The peninsula south of Rome is represented only by fleeting visits to Brindisi, Barletta, Reggio and Naples; in the northwest, Genoa merits just one significant appearance. And something might usefully have been done here to include in the picture the smaller, market towns, whose persistent absence from general discussions encourages a false impression that Italy knew only the great contrasts of big-town urbanity and utter rusticity.

A further point about the scope of this collection relates to its chronological range. This is nowhere very precisely defined, but effectively extends from to The first of these dates presumably relates to the availability of sources, although it would have been worthwhile to indicate that attempts to forge a communal identity, which figure largely in this volume, were anticipated in many towns during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In fact, the majority of the documents included in the section on 'political structures' relate to the replacement of communal solutions and the imposition, from the late thirteenth century onwards, of relatively narrowly based civic regimes or 'tyrannies'.

The terminal date, on the other hand, seems to result simply from a reasonable desire not to duplicate existing document collections on the Quattrocento. No clear message stands out from these chronological choices, and one might think this intentional, were it not that the cover blurb states that ' The Towns of Italy in the Later Middle Ages is carefully structured around the crisis of the fourteenth century'. This was perhaps an unwise claim, since the light which this collection sheds upon the particular social problems consequent upon demographic and economic pressures in the fourteenth century is largely indirect.

The book does implicitly underline the complexity of the issues at stake, precisely because it is not organised to demonstrate the effects of a 'crisis'. For example, it includes a sample of the moralising literature which, in the wake of the population losses after , criticised newly prosperous survivors who affected dress and manners above their social station; yet also included is sumptuary legislation from Bologna in the later thirteenth century, demonstrating incidentally that the perception of social mobility was not brought in by the early fourteenth-century famines or the Black Death.

One cannot review this collection of sources on medieval Italian towns without expressing disappointment at what was presumably the publisher's decision to exclude visual material. There is, of course, so much to be learned from the material evidence of urban culture; and the practical and financial difficulties of reproducing black-and-white images on text paper are now very much smaller than they used to be. The absences consequent upon this decision are many: the plans and topography of cities; the structure and internal disposition of town houses; the symbolic imagery both of the communes and of rival interests; the costumes and trappings of religious and civic festivals; the evidence of artisan production and trade; the architecture and decoration of civic churches; all the material culture of everyday life.

One realises, in expressing this lament, how much good could yet be done by publishers to help break the exaggerated dominance of written sources in historical research. None of these reservations, however. It can be hoped that their publication will contribute to the better understanding of cities in general. Those which so many of us in the west inhabit today are the direct descendants of those whose formative period is chronicled in the documents included in this book.

Debate on the traumas of life in our modern cities is generally all too lacking in a historical dimension; and rare exceptions, such as Prince Charles's invocation of the supposed harmony of medieval Italian urban life, can appear idealising for rhetorical effect. Read critically, these medieval texts can begin to yield a more balanced picture.

I am grateful to Dr. Rosser for his careful consideration of my book. Phrases such as 'accessible and lively' and 'a mine of thought-provoking material' are very gratifying.

I also liked 'gentle, unhectoring editor'. He makes six substantial points, on which I would like to comment.


This is a low-lying region, consisting of recent marine and riverine deposits. Much of the area is covered with clays, potentially fertile, but damp and difficult to drain and cultivate, with patches of sands which, by contrast are dry but infertile. Fingers of this damp lowland extended up the valleys of the Scheldt and its tributaries into the plateau region of Hainaut and Brabant, and also into the fifth region, the sands of the Kempenland. These are leached and infertile. Locally deposits are to be found of both acid peat and the sub-surface hardpan, which leads to the water logging of the surface.

In the Middle Ages much of this sandy region was forested, but the destruction of the woodland was followed by the formation of the heath which today covers much of it. It is to be supposed that the clearances were made primarily for cultivation, but that the lands were abandoned after relatively few harvests. In the eighteenth century the Kempenland appears to have been mainly.

Around its margin, however, the region of sands ends abruptly, and is bordered, at a significantly lower altitude, by a belt of alluvium. Furthermore, strips of alluvial clay extend up the valleys of the rivers, particularly the Mark, Lei and Dommel which flow northwards to the Maas estuary.


These clays, part fluvial, part estuarine, are most extensive in the north, where they today comprise a wide belt of damp lowland along the lower Maas and Scheldt. It is built mostly of chalk rock, but much of its surface is covered with deposits of either limon or clay-with-flints. The latter gives rise to a damp and heavy soil, but covers a relatively small area.

Along the valleys, notably that of the Somme, lay strips of damp and poorly drained alluvium, with some deposits of peat 2. Most of this region, however, was in the later Middle Ages one of easy movement, rich soil and dense rural population. Grain yields which were amongst the highest known in medieval Europe, were obtained here, and it was no accident that this became a major source of the grain-supply of the Flemish cities.

Climatic variation within this area is not great. The whole area belongs to the North-west European region of mild winters and cool summers, with appreciable rainfall all seasons. There are, however, regional differences within the area which correspond roughly with the landform regions already described. The Scarplands of Luxembourg and Lorraine have the greatest seasonal range of temperature, with January averages from The Ardennes were recognized in the Middle Ages as a hard land, with long and snowy winters, and poor, leached soils capable of producing little more than oats and hay.

Ardennam valles et cingunt ardua saxa ; In pluviis heret, nimio sub sole fatiscit ; Iudicio nostro semper cultore careret, Nullus carorum cupiat fieri incola terrae! The lowland regions of Hainaut and Brabant are both drier and warmer than the Ardennes-Eifel plateau. Winters are milder than those of Lorraine by, on average, a degree or two, and summers a little cooler. Rainfall falls off northwards from about mm along the southern margin of the low plateau of Belgium to mm or even less in the Kempenland.

The seasonal distribution is fairly even, and the slight summer maximum of Lorraine is not conspicuous in Brabant. Climatic variations are so much a function of altitude that they have been omitted from the analysis of the population distribution. The latter is held to have been dependent on soil and relief, and these factors are analysed later as the principal determinants of population density. Settlement : Figure 3 shows the distribution of all named settlements whose sites could be located in the territories being examined. Inspection suggests a predominance of settlements of intermediate size, from 15 to 30 hearths, in the Scarplands region; of small or very small settlements in the Ardennes-Eifel, and of medium sized settlements over northern France and Central Belgium.

The Kempen- land, however, presents the anomalous situation of very large settlements in a region which, on physical grounds, might be judged the least able to support them. The diagram, figure 4, shows the number and size of recorded settlements in each of the six physiographic regions described above. Scarplands : The pattern of rural settlements in Lorraine and southern Luxembourg is today one of medium to large nucleated settlements. These as a general rule either occupy valley sites along the courses of the small streams or lie on the margin of the flood plains of the larger.

In many instances the village, or perhaps a group of neighbouring villages, is today surrounded by a broken ring of woodland, which covers the hilly ground that separates its domain from that of its neighbours. We have in these woodland barriers Figure 5 relics of the medieval forest which once covered a great deal of the area. It has been argued — convincingly in the opinion of the writer — that rural north-west Europe probably achieved its maximum population growth in the early fourteenth century x ; that it declined in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and regained its previous level only in modern times.

The sharp population growth of more recent years has thus been almost exclusively an urban phenomenon. The Low Countries appear to have been visited less severely by the Plague than many other areas, and it is to be presumed that the population recovered more quickly. It is likely then that the totals indicated by the hearth-rolls for the middle and later years of the fifteenth century may not have fallen much — possibly no more than ten per cent — below the pre-Black Death totals.

This would suggest that the maximum clearance of the forest had been achieved by the early fourteenth century, and that the relict woodlands of today were in existence, with only minor changes, in the later Middle Ages 2. If this is so, it should be possible to isolate many of the medieval settlements and measure the area of cleared land — whether cropland, meadow or grazing — dependent upon each.

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Since the number of hearths is given in the hearth-rolls, a ratio of population to cleared land can, with perhaps only a small margin of error, can be established. Figure 5 shows an area near Waldbredimus, to the east of the city of Luxembourg. It comprises the valley of the Busserbach, and is almost surrounded by woodland, which cuts off its eight communities, all of them named in the hearth-roll, from their neighbours. A total of hearths was recorded, suggesting a population of a little over The area of cleared land is today about 23 square kilometres, indicating that there may have been a density of about 44 persons to the square kilometre of cleared land.

Other such areas were tested in this way, particularly a similar area on the right bank of the Moselle to the east of Thionville, and another near Breidweiler, south-west of Echternach. The latter is a highly dissected area, with a continuous barrier of woodland covering the steep slopes which enclose the region. The data derived from the topographical maps and the hearth-rolls for these three areas can be tabulated :.

Ardennes- Eifel : The hearth-list of the Duchy of Luxembourg of includes, in addition to part of Lorraine and the Gutland of Luxembourg, the south-western Eifel and the southern margin of the Ardennes. The addition of data from the hearth-list extends the area covered to the greater part of the Ardennes. The officials of the Duke of Burgundy, who thus surveyed much of the Ardennes region, must have encountered problems not met with in the Scarplands to the south.

These are followed in the record by ten entries, each representing a group of settlements and together making a total of hearths. The names listed in each group allow an approximate delimitation of the area represented and it is seen that the overall density of settlement must have been very light. It is tempting to assume that the settlements were so small that their separate enumeration was not attempted. Apart from the small towns of Bastogne, which had "mesnai- ges", and La Roche, with 72, there were separate entries with a total of households, an average of 5.

The latter is raised by a small number of medium sized settlements, some of which may, in fact, have been composite. The analogous regions of the Eifel lay outside the Duchy of Luxembourg, but the southern borderland of the Eifel plateau fell within the limits of the surveys of and Settlements here also were of small average size, though somewhat larger than those of the Bastogne area. Though situated within the palaeozoic massif of the Ardennes, they lie at a lower altitude. Limestone occurs, especially in the last-named, in a series of east-to-west outcrops and has given rise bands of better soil.

In the fifteenth century these districts were more densely peopled and had an average settlement size considerably above that of the high Ardennes, and closer to that of southern Luxembourg and Lorraine. An attempt was made above to assess the density of population in relation to cleared land in the Scarplands region. The similar task for the Ardennes is somewhat easier. Here the forest is more extensive and settlements and clearings more discrete. Figure 6 represents an area to the south and south-west of Laroche, in which every settlement on the modern topographical map appeared also in the hearth-list.

Contours have been omitted from the map, but it should be noted that the forest which frames each group of.

The towns of Italy in the later Middle Ages

In all, hearths were indicated for this area in the Luxembourg survey of , and the cleared area, as shown on the modern topographical map, is about square kilometres. This would suggest 1. Obviously this area was not used intensively, and only a very small fraction of it could possibly have been under cultivation. Central Belgium : The plateau of central Belgium is one of lower altitude, better soil and easier movement. The not inconsiderable areas of lower Tertiary Eocene clay in the western part of the region had been forested, but clearance was rapid during the Middle Ages, and by the late fifteenth century forest was probably little more extensive that it is today.

The overall population densities for these areas nevertheless remained significantly below those of Lille, Mons and Valenciennes to the west and of Brabant to the east. East approximately of the longitude of Louvain Figure 3 settlements are seen to be more densely and more regularly spaced than to the west.

There can be little doubt that this reflects the variations in the quality of the soil. In northern Hainaut and southwestern Brabant, as well as in Flanders, soils are varied.

City life in the middle ages - Medieval Madness

There were in the fifteenth century exensive areas of poorly drained land as well as. In southeastern Brabant, on the other hand, relief is gentle and the limon almost continuous over the whole area. This has made possible a continuous pattern of medium-sized village settlements, which, it would appear, had already by the later Middle Ages, grown to the maximum size consistent with the quality and extent of their land and the level of their agricultural technology.

In consequence, woodland had, except for a few inconsequential woodlots, disappeared from this region. The area lying to the southeast of Louvain must be regarded not only as the most densely settled rural area within the whole territory of the Low Countries, but also as one of the most populous regions of medieval Europe.

Within this region of south-eastern Brabant, however, settlements appear to have diminished in size towards the south. It is probable that the more southerly part of this region was originally more densely wooded, and was settled at a somewhat later date and in smaller settlement units than the area lying between Louvain, Tirlemont and Diest.

Settlements are also on the average somewhat larger in West Flanders than along the valleys of the Lys and Scheldt and in the parts of East Flanders for which data is available. This may also reflect the somewhat later date at which the latter was settled. Kempenland : Settlements in North Brabant — approximately the districts of Anvers and Bois-le-Duc — are seen to have been both larger and less dense than in any other area north of the Ardennes. The sandy wastes, which characterise much of this region, were doubtless very thinly settled, if settled at all, in the later Middle Ages, but there were, within the Kempenland considerable areas of good.

In addition, the region as a whole is bordered almost continuously by a belt of alluvium, either fluvial or marine in origin. Most of this latter area lies above mean sea-level and, though liable to inundation and in need of continuous protection by dikes, could be used agriculturally during the Middle Ages.

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  • The sandy heaths made a contribution to the medieval economy, supplying fuel and rough grazing and occasionally a crop of oats, but it was the smaller areas of limon and alluvium which supported the village communities. The great majority of the latter were situated on the sands, but within a kilometre of the margin of sands and clay, thus benefitting from dry sites within a short walk of the moister cropland.

    The average size of settlements, even of those situated amid the hearthlands, was unusually large. Some must have stretched for immense distances along he junction of the sands and the alluvium. In the sixty kilomtres, for exemple, from east of Breda to the present Dutch-Belgian border south of Bergen op Zoom, there were 19 named settlements, with a total of 6, hearths.

    They must have presented the appearance rather of a loose ribbon development, with farmland stretching northward to the Maas, and heath, forest and rough grazing southwards into the sands of the Kempenland, than of a sequence of compact villages. Figure 7 shows settlements recorded in in relation to prevailing soil conditions. No attempt has been made to represent these medieval settlements as other than nucleated, though a loose and dispersed pattern must have been imposed by the occurrence of agricultural resources and is also confirmed by later cadastral maps.