The city of London has been around for over two millennia, and with each passing century, it changes ever so slightly. From the Roman Londinium to medieval London, we see the city grow from a settlement of between 30,000 to 60,000 people to a bustling town of around 80,000 to 100,000 people. With growth comes changes to the city that would become the capital of England, and one of the most significant periods of transformation for the capital was during the fourteenth century. What was life like in fourteenth-century London for the average citizen of this sprawling city? Kathryn Warner attempts to answer this question in her latest nonfiction book, “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People.”
I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always fascinated by learning about how people from different centuries lived their everyday lives, so when I heard about this title, it piqued my interest.
London was an international melting pot for Europe, so Warner used many stories to show the city’s diversity. To narrow down the information used in this particular book, Warner explains to her audience that she would only use tales from the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. This book is broken down into bite-sized chapters exploring different aspects of London life, from government and religion to medical, housing, and marriage. This may sound like your average time traveler guidebook, so those of us living in the 21st century can understand the fourteenth century, but Warner gives this genre a bit of a twist.
Instead of focusing on the different aspects and what was considered normal for citizens to eat or wear, Warner looks at unique cases that correspond with the elements that defined fourteenth-century London. They give great insights into how deadly the time was and how the average London citizens dealt with the legal restrictions of everyday life. Every aspect of fourteenth-century life had consequences for those who broke the rules, from charging too much for a loaf of bread or a mug of ale to stealing clothes or building violations. We also get great insight into how women and children were treated, the darker aspects of life, and how they were approached.
The one issue I had with this book was that it showed the cases that were the exceptions to the rules instead of showing what the standards were. Although I am glad Warner included the information she did, like her glossary, nicknames, and the introduction of surnames, I did want more facts to make this book feel complete. I wanted to know what the typical fashion was like for Londoners and what they ate during a normal day. What did a typical day look like for someone who lived in London during the fourteenth century?
“London, A Fourteenth-Century City, and its People” by Kathryn Warner is a well-researched and captivating look into London’s past for those who love learning new facts about medieval Europe. If you like learning new factoids about medieval London, you will find this book rather entertaining.