Exeter, 1540-1640: The Growth of an English County Town

Exeter, 1540-1640: The Growth of an English County Town

Exeter, 1540-1640: The Growth of an English County Town

Exeter, 1540-1640: The Growth of an English County Town

Excerpt

My purpose in this study is not to write a History of Exeter in the conventional sense. A narrative history of the city in the early modern period could possibly be written, but only as a monument to dullness. Narrative history is perhaps geared to measure the rate of change of societies only of a certain magnitude, and much of local history belongs to that microcosmic world which is too fine for the historian's calipers. Hence I have preferred a topical approach.

My original concern was with the structure of English society as a whole. England in the sixteenth century was still in many ways a federation of small societies, and the status of an individual was defined by his membership in one of them. Society at large was not yet an agglomeration of individuals but a confederation of local communities, owing obedience to the commanding power of the Crown but by no means sacrificing their own sense of identity or their own group interests in doing so. I have, therefore, chosen to study one of these local societies, from a two-fold point of view. On the one hand, I am concerned with the history of the city itself as a separate and complete historical unit; on the other, with its role as a member in the heterogeneous national society of the sixteenth century.

I have deliberately stressed the fact that Exeter was a community, that is, not a political or geographical entity merely but a miniature world of full dimensions. It has been my assumption--and I have sought to sustain it throughout--that this borough community retained in the sixteenth century much of the integral, comprehensive quality of earlier medieval urban society, and that it embraced every important aspect of the townsman's life: political, economic, religious, and social in the most general sense. For him the city precincts were the limits of a world, and the greater universe of . . .

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