The Early Modern City, 1450-1750

By Christopher R. Friedrichs | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER TWELVE
Urban Conflict

The stability and security of urban life were constantly being challenged by forces which emerged or seemed to emerge from outside the normal nexus of human relations in the city -- natural disasters, fire, disease, warfare or the assumed machinations of the community's secret enemies. But the breakdown of harmonious relations among the city's inhabitants could not always be attributed to such external forces. Despite all efforts by the urban elite to maintain order and ensure a minimum level of material and social satisfaction among the inhabitants, it was inevitable that conflicts would occasionally break out among different groups within the community. Many of these conflicts were relatively benign: some, in fact, were little more than particularly animated manifestations of the normal give-and-take that characterized everyday politics in the early modern city. But sometimes the intensity of conflict would escalate, triggering violence and bringing about, at least temporarily, radical changes in the way a community was governed.

Not all potential sources of social tension actually led to conflict. Organized gender-based conflict, for example, was virtually unknown in the early modern city. Inequalities due to gender were often acute, and such differences could lead to sharp disputes within specific families or households. Women were also active in many of the broader forms of social conflict which disrupted urban life: there is ample evidence of women organizing with each other or with men to promote the causes they regarded as urgent. But women almost always articulated their goals in terms of the interests of their family or some broader social group which encompassed both genders. They petitioned, marched and occasionally rioted to demand bread for their children, work for their families, protection for their

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