chapter  9
18 Pages

A cursus for craftsmen? Career cycles of the worsted weavers of late-medieval Norwich


Scholars, like medieval townsmen, create their own communities. Each of these communities carries with it a set of assumptions shaped by the survival of sources in their fi eld. Craft guilds were a phenomenon common across medieval Europe, but the historiography of guilds in different regions has been shaped by the survival of records unique to each location. Historians of continental guilds have been able to engage in sophisticated economic debates because of the breadth of sources available to them, but the historiography of medieval English guilds has focused more on political issues, such as civic power and governance. 1 In similar fashion, English historians are split between those who study London guilds and those who look more to the provincial towns. London itself is blessed with a wealth and range of sources unmatched in the rest of the country. Its 60,000 or so inhabitants at the end of the fi fteenth century dwarfed the size of England’s second-rank towns, each of which fell within the range of 8,000 to 12,000 residents. None could rival London for social prestige, political infl uence, or sheer wealth, but England’s towns merit study for other reasons. As regional capitals and market hubs, the second-rank towns developed into relatively sophisticated urban centres that enjoyed a good measure of political autonomy from the crown. And though small by relative standards, each was large enough to sustain a well-diversifi ed, craft-based economy.