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

Liddy, Christian D.

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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.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 27, 2021
Online Publication Date Oct 27, 2021
Publication Date 2021-11
Deposit Date Mar 29, 2021
Publicly Available Date Apr 27, 2023
Journal Social History
Print ISSN 0307-1022
Electronic ISSN 1470-1200
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 46
Issue 4
Pages 406-434
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Copyright Statement
This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in Social History. Liddy, Christian D. (2021). Who decides? Urban councils and consensus in the late Middle Ages. Social History 46(4): 406-434. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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