The Reformation and the Towns in England: Politics and Political Culture, c. 1540-1640

By Robert Tittler | Go to book overview

5
The Problem of Enabling Authority

The effort to consolidate and control the varied resources of individual communities could prove a substantial challenge for almost any provincial town of the age. To do so with legal security, and to be empowered to manage such resources effectively -- e.g. to renovate, lease, or even sell properties -- posed even more complex challenges. These efforts obviously required substantial capital outlays. They also required a legal status or authority which could withstand litigious challenges to the title, management, or disposition of the resources in question.

Prospective purchasers of dissolved lands and other resources also often required certain clarifications of title of the properties or rights to particular jurisdictions.1 Though this may seem odd to us today, the situation seemed real enough in the many towns which had suffered severe economic stagnation or decay, or even mere administrative laxity, in the decades leading up to the Reformation era. There are more signs of urban prosperity in the pre-Reformation decades than one used to think,2 but the ranks of decayed and

____________________
1
A. R. Bridbury, "English Provincial Towns in the Later Middle Ages", Ec.HR, 2nd ser., 34/ 1 ( Feb. 1981), 24.
2
The debate on urban prosperity, or the absence of it, in the late Middle Ages includes the following contributions: M. M. Postan, The Medieval Economy and Society ( 1972); A. R. Bridbury, Economic Growth: England in the Later Middle Ages ( 1962); D. M. Palliser, "A Crisis in English Towns? The Case of York, 1460-1640", Northern History, 14 ( 1978), 108-25; Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City; and "Urban Decay in Late Medieval England", in P. Abrams and E. A. Wrigley (eds.), Towns in Societies: Essays in Economic History and Historical Sociology ( Cambridge, 1978); R. B. Dobson, "Urban Decline in Late Medieval England", TRHS, 5th ser., 27 ( 1977), 1-22; S. H. Rigby, "Urban Decline in the Later Middle Ages?", Urban History Yearbook ( 1979), 46-59; Bridbury, "English Provincial Towns", 1-21; R. Tittler , "Late Medieval Urban Prosperity", Ec.HR, 2nd ser., 37/ 4 ( Nov. 1984), 551-4, and A. R. Bridbury, "Late Medieval Urban Prosperity, a Rejoinder", ibid. 555-6; D. M. Palliser, "Urban Decay Revisited", in J. A. F. Thompson (ed.), Towns and Townspeople in the Fifteenth Century ( 1988), 1-21; M. Bailey, "A Tale of Two Towns: Buntingford and Standon in the Later Middle Ages"

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