Urban society and government in Early Modern Period

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  • Urban society and government in Early Modern Period (according to Penny Roberts)
    • Layout and life of early modern European towns
      • Skylines were dominated by churches and theirs streets by hubbud of market-place
      • since many were walled there was clear physical demarcation of urban space which was characterised by narrow streets and open squares
      • town life involved collective responsibilities
      • Within local parish, town-dwellers participated in devotions an d processions
      • as heads of household within administrative district, such as a quarter, they would pay tax and serve on local militia
      • Occupation might prompt person to join guild or conferaternity
        • to live and work alongside their fellow-workers in a particular street or to meet regularly at particular inn or other meeting place
        • Social status clearly delineated by inclusion in and exclusion from such groups
      • women
        • could join confraternities and some guilds and act as heads of household
        • could not serve in militia or hold municipal office
      • According to Friedrichs and Cowan
        • Citizenship was highly prized but also often restricted to those of certain status and property, as was administration or urban affairs
    • Urban governance
      • was in hands of narrow group of officials
      • often co-opted but sometimes more democratically elected
      • usually consisting of mayor and aldermen supported by wider group of councillors
      • By necessity, those who held top offices had to be wealthy enough to spare time required by position
        • thus a number of established local families usually dominated the town hall
    • Processes of selection
      • processes of selection and proportion of population involved varied throughout towns and was jealously defended
        • necessary since most towns had at least nominal overlord (king, duke, bishop or prince) whose representatives posed a challenge to municipal autonomy and could interfere in issues of precedence and jurisdiction
          • main exceptions
            • Venice
            • German Imperial Free Cities such as Nuremberg
      • In larger towns of early modern Europe
        • medieval town hall was rebuilt on a grand scale reflecting renewed confidence and ambition among its occupants and greater urban prosperity
      • inherent economic and political privileges of town life for elite reinforced civic values and a sense of citizenship which were reflected in civic rituals and ceremonial
    • Main responsibilities of town councils
      • concerned provision for everyday and emergency situations
      • to avert or deal with crises
      • to mediate between interests of overlord and inhabitants
      • among most pressing matters were:
        • provision of grain
        • measures to prevent spread of plague (which hit early modern towns on average every fifteen years)
        • unpredictable incidence of fire and flood, or more unusually, earthquake and volcanic eruption
          • According to Latham most notable incident of this was Great Fire of London in 1666
          • e.g. Lisbon earthquake of 1755
          • both Fire of London and Lisbon Earthquake necessitated considerable urban planning and renewal
      • organisation of local militia
      • regulation of crafts and guilds
      • organisation of civic events
      • presided over number of major social and cultural changes in early modern period which put growing demands on municipalities
        • chief among these was responsibility for distribution of poor relief
          • became more organised in response to demographic pressures from 1520s as well as for educational institutions and for hospitals all previously the preserve of the Church
      • Reformation, and religious changes which resulted, placed unprecedented strains on municipal governance, as town councils struggled to accommodate confessional diversity and to mediate tensions between faiths
    • Rise of bureaucracy
      • significant social development, reflected in growth of urban administrative centres
      • especially in increasingly centralised states such as France
        • in many of its larger towns with a significant administrative presence, especially those with sovereign courts or parlements,municipal government that was previously dominated by merchants was taken over by legal elite
    • Manufacturing towns were increasingly transformed into centres of distribution as 'putting-out' systems developed
      • elsewhere, where commerce remained the highest importance
        • mercantile elites retained their hold, notably in dominance of urban patriciates of Venice and Dutch Republic
      • in contrast, in Poland and parts of Eastern Europe
        • society was increasingly dominated by 'feudal' nobility and this led to urban stagnation
    • growth in administration and revolt
      • According to Benedict
        • growth in administration was extension of increasing central authority which has provoked debate about whether  autonomy of municipal institutions was being eroded or enhanced as a result
      • Urban elites found their hands increasingly tied
        • tied by encroachment of royal authority, with officials sent in to oversee their activities, from municipal finance to control of local militia and municipal elections
      • reduction in urban autonomy
        • one of key concerns of centralising rulers, who were well aware of need to curb resistance from towns, as well as nurture their economic prosperity
      • impact of urban culture led to a growing emphasis on law and order
      • religious festivals were curbed and civic rituals increasingly secularised, reinforcing authority of both municipality and crown
        • religious festivals once served to reinforce civic solidarity but now provided opportunity for violent confrontation
      • further trend in urban economy was for greater exclusivity of master craftsmen at expense of journeymen (who could only produce not sell unlike master craftsmen who could sell as well)
        • entry to masterships, with status and potential wealth they entailed, was made increasingly difficult
          • became more expensive, often restricted to sons of existing masters, and applicants were subject to rigorous moral and religious tests
          • Resulted in growing gap between masters and those they employed, leading to tension and protest
      • According to Beik
        • urban revolts were common in period, and of concern to authorities, although they 'took place within context of traditional power relations'
      • Focus of discontent was usually a new or increased levy, or anxiety about price of grain or bread
        • situation was worsened by slumps, especially in textile industry, and general economic adversity for craftsmen, particular in C17th
    • towns continued to play central role in transmission of ideas
      • because of their dynamic and diverse concentration of commerce, culture and people
      • Both Renaissance and Reformation movements are traditionally recognised as principally urban phenomena
      • Alongside courts and Church, major towns were key centres of patronage and display, also housing foremost educational institutions: schools, colleges and universities
      • Development of print culture and its greatest impact in towns with their higher literacy rates
      • Theatres and opera houses were established in major centres, attracting a broad cross-section of society
      • By C18th, distinctive forms of urban association and sociability had developed, such as coffee houses and literary salons, which bolstered increased focus on civility of manners (according to Borsay)
      • towns were also becoming more politicised with, once again, capital cities such as London and Paris taking lead in formenting radical thinking, discontent and even revolution

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