Townlife in Fourteenth-Century Scotland

Townlife in Fourteenth-Century Scotland

Townlife in Fourteenth-Century Scotland

Townlife in Fourteenth-Century Scotland

Excerpt

The history of medieval Scotland is a colourful one, dominated by such heroes as Macbeth, St Margaret, Robert Bruce, and William Wallace. But increasingly those interested in Scotland's past have begun to ask about less well-known figures, about those people who were the ancestors of the majority of modern Scots. What were their lives like, how did they cope with the world around them, what were their achievements? It used to be felt that the sources for Scotland's early history were too scarce to allow historians even to begin to answer these questions. But in recent years people have looked at the sources afresh, and have produced new kinds of evidence. This book brings together the sources and the analyses of historians and archaeologists in order to examine one group from Scotland's past: the townspeople of the fourteenth century.

The origin of Scotland's towns is still a contentious issue, partly because of the way in which 'towns' are defined. If they are defined as communities having special privileges conferred on them by a king or other overlord, then it could be argued that towns, or as they were known in Scotland, burghs, first appeared in the country in the early twelfth century. If, on the other hand, they are defined more broadly as settlements where a large proportion of the population spends all or a good part of its time in occupations which are not agricultural, and where the exchange of goods takes place, then archaeological evidence suggests that towns were known in Scotland before the twelfth century. Some of these became burghs, others did not. Those that were successful were often aided by deliberate royal policy from the twelfth century on, as the Scottish kings granted them privileges and encouraged both domestic and foreign immigration. By the fourteenth century, such flourishing settlements were recognised as burghs, and it is on these which this study focuses. While it is not the purpose of this book to enter into the debate on burghal origins, the picture presented here may help to underline the fact that towns were not some strange new-fangled institutions introduced by the feudalising David I under Norman influence, but rather a form of settlement which fitted easily into, and complemented, the largely rural pattern of medieval Scotland. Indeed in . . .

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