This is a book about cities and towns in early modern Europe. One might think that this is a perfectly straightforward statement, but in fact most of these terms require some clarification.
Some European languages have one principal word to describe an urban community, such as ville in French or Stadt in German. English, by contrast, has two: city and town. North American usage tends to favour 'city' except when the community is very small; British usage tends to favour 'town' except when the community is very large. But the distinction is never a precise one. In this book the terms city and town are used interchangeably.
'Early modern' is also problematic. Unlike 'medieval', which most people readily understand, the term 'early modern' has not achieved general currency. Historians use this phrase to refer to the period of European history which extends from the end of the middle ages to the beginning of truly modern times in the epoch of the French and Industrial Revolutions. Historians do not agree on the exact limits of the early modern era, but it always includes the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and usually includes something on either side. In this book the early modern era is defined as the period from 1450 to 1750.
Even ' Europe' creates difficulties. Modern politicians find it hard to define exactly what constitutes Europe; historians can scarcely be blamed for finding it no easier. In this book Europe is understood to correspond to the region encompassed, at the start of early modern times, by the Church of Rome. This includes all of western and central Europe and some of eastern Europe, but it excludes Russia and the Ottoman Empire -- lands whose social and political structures set them sharply apart from the region which, at the beginning of early modern times, could still be identified as 'Latin Christendom'.