Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
This book is intended as a comprehensive and accessible account of the society of England between the early thirteenth and the late fifteenth centuries. The dates 1200–1500 conventionally describe the ‘later middle ages’ in England, but are obviously not impermeable: some of the contributions that follow necessarily take certain matters back to the eleventh and forward to the sixteenth centuries. The book is organised around five large chapters which provide analyses of the historiographical background and the debate about demography (chapter 1), the social hierarchy and attitudes towards it (chapter 2), the experience of life in towns (chapter 6) and in the countryside (chapter 7), the forms of religious belief current in the society (chapter 11) and the other kinds of identity, individual and collective, that built on and helped to inform social organisation (chapter 15). Around these chapters is a series of shorter, more specialised studies that develops further some of the major themes from war to work, law to literacy, consumerism to magic.
The book thus aims to respond to a new agenda of social history which has extended the range of the sub-discipline from a preoccupation with the material existence of the lower orders to include a range of non-material aspects of life including attitudes to work and to crime, the development of ideas about nationality, and the existence (or otherwise) of self-consciousness or ‘individualism’.