Medieval Towns and Townsmen: Impacts on Europe’s Socio-Political
Every society has been molded by historical structures in political, economic and social aspects. These structures which influenced people in their actions and interactions caused a progression that would soon yield to changes in the status quo. However while we speak of multi-level changes, much of it is triggered by power struggles and the question of who rules- such is the essence of politics. It is interesting to understand that Europe’s modern-day community has evolved from medieval town characterized by unique economic relations into states as we know them today.
This paper will show even in a brief manner, the development (not necessary linear and positive) resulting as a consequence of the rise of medieval towns and townsmen in Europe. Townsmen are individuals in the former which perform duties as officers or officials in the community. Most of them are merchants manifesting the significance of economic trade and businesses that emerged during that time.
First, let us discuss some of Medieval Europe’s context based from historical accounts. Medieval Europe (500-1500) has been referred to as the “Respublica Christiana”. It has been known for the merger of religious and political authorities in its general affairs. The dominant socio-political and economic structure however is named “feudalism”. This is the system of granting from the kings downward of lands and rights in exchange for military and political support (Bale, 2005).
What has been developed from this system is customary loyalty to the immediate feudal superiors and obedience to the Church. Two townsmen which are worthy of mention in our proceedings are Gregorio Dati (Florence) and St. Francis (Assisi). They represent although symbolically the roles that religion and political and economic system played in much of Europe’s development. From the writings left for studies about Dati, it appears that:
“Dati shows a clear example of what the new “free” merchant society was able to give to its citizenry. It is clear that there were many economic opportunities in Florence in the late 14th century, and these opportunities gave way to changes in economic and political structure which not only had a significant effect on the city’s current demographic and economic circumstances, but would eventually lead to new ways of thinking and organizing society”. (Cited in Reflecting Economic Circumstance in Florence from Pitti and Dati)
Gregorio Dati was appointed Standard Bearer of Justice, the highest position in Florence. One must understand that the European Guilds consist of the highly influential persons in the community and have great importance in major dynamics at that time. Dati is a member of the said organization. The guilds and Florence’s economic system had an effect in the city’s processes.
It had reliance on trade yet this helped the people develop. The merchant economy allowed new people to participate during the hard economic times. The development brought by the Guilds changed Florence into a dynamic society with residents who have turned analytical and independent. Prosperity thus was achieved but alongside this development is an opportunity to question the status quo.
St. Francis being a townsman himself has performed his merchant roles as well although limited to his early years as he devoted himself to his religious calling. He has been a part of this enlargement of followers and believers of the Church which preserved order for a time.
Europe’s economy and population expanded as so did towns and cities which became centers of commerce, religion and education. This provided resources for Christian Crusades and finance overseas voyages and colonial explorations. (Bale, 2005). This colonial expedition is the root of the internationalization of capitalism.
The Great Reformation and Renaissance have enabled the rise of critical thinking and revolts, as the latter produced enlightenment from arts and science, philosophy and innovations (e.g. the invention of printing press) that initially demanded a rebirth or revival of ancient learning. The Protestant Reformation and the political theology of Martin Luther King in the 16th Century enhanced the authority of the kings and the legitimacy of the kingdoms. Previously, the kings are not very much empowered but when they beat the feudal barons and challenged the Papacy, they became state defenders- such is the rise of statehood.
From these presentations, we can deduce that the development in social and political orientations out of the nature of medieval towns had an important role in developing new political and economic structures; from oligarchy to statehood and; from merchant system to capitalism. While the situations changed, so did the status quo.
Bale, Tim. European Politics. New York: Palgrave, 2005.
Baylis, John and Steven Smith. The Globalization of World Politics 2nd Edition. Oxford:
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Brucker, Gene, ed. Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence: The Diaries of Buonaccorso Pitti
& Gregorio Dati. Ed Gene Brucker. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1991.
Holmes, Georges. “Emergence of Urban Ideology at Florence.” Transactions of the Royal
Historical Society 23 (1973): 111-134
“St. Francis of Assisi” in www.wikipedia.com