Review Of "English And French Towns In Feudal Society: A Comparative Study" By R. H. Hilton

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In six brief chapters Hilton offers the most ambitious comparative study of medieval urban life since J. Lestocquoy's Aux origines de la bourgeoisie (1952). Hilton's extended essay incorporates many new approaches to medieval urban studies. Once depicted as the solvents of feudal society, medieval towns are shown in the present work as the mortar to hold it together. Both internally and externally, urban communities fitted comfortably into a feudal framework. The author makes the case for this integration in part by stressing the neglected role of small market towns rather than emphasizing large commerical cities. Yet Hilton's comparative analysis of social structure and external power relations provides his most original contribution. French towns fell under the sway of lawyers and royal officials in the late Middle Ages. In England, merchant oligarchies retained their control, a circumstance that suggests another explanation for the precocious development of capitalism in England. Although not every reader will agree with the broad definition of feudal society employed, Hilton's emphasis on class structure and conflict offers a refreshing reminder of the inequalities in medieval towns. Recommended for all libraries. Advanced undergraduate; graduate; faculty; general.


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