Life in a Medieval City by Frances and Joseph Gies

I have a trilogy of books on my shelves about medieval life by Frances and Joseph Gies and Life in a Medieval City is the first of the three that I have read. There is also Life in a Medieval Castle and Life in a Medieval Village by the couple along with a selection of other titles covering medieval history. These medieval life books are classics in the social history of the middle ages and now I know why. The book uses the medieval French city of Troyes as a model to examine many aspects of daily life of newly emerging medieval cities and free communes of Western Europe. A variety of sources are marshaled, especially in regards to Troyes, and are used effectively to recreate medieval city life in the reader’s mind.

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     What is remarkable about this little volume is how many facets of city life are examined in such a few number of pages. From the big players such as the Church and its cathedrals along with the burgher class and other movers and shakers down to the midwives at childbirth and the apprentices at the various trades, most everyone is included. Most everyone of the medieval urban population is included somewhere in the book and they all receive quite a fair share of the page count. The only section of society that doesn’t have a dedicated section would be destitute, jobless, or the extremely poor. While they are addressed in other chapters in relation to the topic or profession at hand, it would have been nice to see a specific portion of the work to be focused in on what is usually the least well known and overlooked portion of society. Still this is certainly not a volume only examining the upper echelons of society and the book really shines when discussing communal events of the city at large such as weddings and the regional fairs.
     There were several sections of the book that I particularly enjoyed. These included the descriptions and contrasts of “small business” and “big business.” A whole variety of urban trades and the guilds that they were associated with were described as well as how large scale commerce actually took place. The detailed look at the major regional fair hosted right by Troyes, the Champagne Fair, was also an enlightening segment. One other topic that I particularly enjoyed was the coverage of universities and their students in the high middle ages as they were beginning to come into their own. What also makes this book stand out are the excellent notes at the end of the book as well as a substantial bibliography for each individual chapter.
    If you are looking for a work that covers the social history of urban medieval life, look no further than the vivid and accurate representation found in Life in a Medieval City. From commerce, traditions, and material life, Frances and Joseph Gies bring the medieval urban world to life.
    4.5 out of 5 stars.