The early modern city was, even at the best of times, a highly fragile community. The concept of a united body of inhabitants working together to achieve the goals of peace, justice and the promotion of the common good was readily voiced, especially by members of the urban elite.1 Yet in actual fact nobody could fail to recognize that any community was a collection of groups and individuals whose competing interests and inclinations were difficult to harmonize. Hard as this was in times of relative stability, it was all the more difficult to sustain the solidarity of the community in times of crisis.
'Crisis' is an ambiguous concept. Historians have long debated the exact meaning of the term and its applicability to various situations in the history of early modern Europe.2 But there is no question that a local crisis occurred whenever the customary routines and practices of a community were threatened or disrupted in a serious and sudden way. No matter how carefully members of the community could try to forestall and prevent any threats to the urban routine, no city in early modern Europe ever remained entirely immune to crisis. The causes of crisis took many different forms. In the long run, the most serious threats to urban stability often came from a breakdown of customary social relations within the community itself. But some of the gravest crises were caused by real or imagined threats from without. War, famine, pestilence, death, natural disaster and the machinations of Satan himself -- such a list of dangers may look very eclectic indeed. But to the men and women of the early modern city,____________________