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Growing Up in Medieval London

The Experience of Childhood in History

Barbara A. Hanawalt

Publication Date - February 1995

ISBN: 9780195093841

320 pages
5-5/16 x 8 inches

Retail Price to Students: $24.99


When Barbara Hanawalt's acclaimed history The Ties That Bound first appeared, it was hailed for its unprecedented research and vivid re-creation of medieval life. David Levine, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called Hanawalt's book "as stimulating for the questions it asks as for the answers it provides" and he concluded that "one comes away from this stimulating book with the same sense of wonder that Thomas Hardy's Angel Clare felt [:] 'The impressionable peasant leads a larger, fuller, more dramatic life than the pachydermatous king.'"
Now, in Growing Up in Medieval London, Hanawalt again reveals the larger, fuller, more dramatic life of the common people, in this instance, the lives of children in London. Bringing together a wealth of evidence drawn from court records, literary sources, and books of advice, Hanawalt weaves a rich tapestry of the life of London youth during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Much of what she finds is eye opening. She shows for instance that--contrary to the belief of some historians--medieval adults did recognize and pay close attention to the various stages of childhood and adolescence. For instance, manuals on childrearing, such as "Rhodes's Book of Nurture" or "Seager's School of Virtue," clearly reflect the value parents placed in laying the proper groundwork for a child's future. Likewise, wardship cases reveal that in fact London laws granted orphans greater protection than do our own courts.
Hanawalt also breaks ground with her innovative narrative style. To bring medieval childhood to life, she creates composite profiles, based on the experiences of real children, which provide a more vivid portrait than otherwise possible of the trials and tribulations of medieval youths at work and at play. We discover through these portraits that the road to adulthood was fraught with danger. We meet Alison the Bastard Heiress, whose guardians married her off to their apprentice in order to gain control of her inheritance. We learn how Joan Rawlyns of Aldenham thwarted an attempt to sell her into prostitution. And we hear the unfortunate story of William Raynold and Thomas Appleford, two mercer's apprentices who found themselves forgotten by their senile master, and abused by his wife. These composite portraits, and many more, enrich our understanding of the many stages of life in the Middle Ages.
Written by a leading historian of the Middle Ages, these pages evoke the color and drama of medieval life. Ranging from birth and baptism, to apprenticeship and adulthood, here is a myth-shattering, innovative work that illuminates the nature of childhood in the Middle Ages.

About the Author(s)

Barbara Hanawalt is Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England and Crime and Conflict in English Communities, 1300-1348.


"Well written. A very interesting topic. Excellent for Western 'Civ' instructors who want their students to consider the importance of social history to culture."--David L. Ferch, Sierra College

"A delightful view of the lives of children and adolescents in London in the Middle Ages....This study is important. It is highly inclusive, offering insights into all ages and social classes. The richness of its details gives the opportunity for much discussion. It would be an excellent social text for medieval history."--Kliatt

"The book contains a mass of extremely useful material on the demography, affective relations and household economy of the medieval London family."--History Today

"The most enjoyable parts of this very readable book are the 'narratives' or case studies that she permits herself to create. Throwing off the historian's usual constraint against experimentation, she molds some of her material into fictional form. Based as it is on her careful research, this practice works."--Church History

"[A] vivid portrayal of life in medieval London....With her creative use of original sources and clarity of stle, Hanawalt's study will appeal to scholars and students at every level. The paperback edition makes it a natural for classroom use."--American Historical Review

"She has made excellent use of a variety of primary sources, reminding us vividly of the links between medieval society and our own."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This book comprises an enormously informative outlook on an unduly neglected area. It is a treasury of information and worthwhile questions for other historians to address."--Speculum--A Journal of Medieval Studies

"Professor Hanawalt has produced a very readable text on a lively and interesting topic. By blending traditional historical monograph with literary interpretation, Hanawalt has opened up a new approach for presenting history to both the academic and general reader."--Sixteenth Century Journal

"Barbara Hanawalt presents us with a vivid, imaginative glimpse of childhood and youth in an urban environment. Based on a treasure trove of sources, her book poses a direct challenge to Philippe Ariès' treatment of medieval childhood."--John R. Gillis, Rutgers University

"Excellent book for supplemental reading."--Paul Ton, Metropolitan State College

"Excellent and lucid exposition of the concept and realities of medieval childhood."--Pat Smith-Wasylin, Ithaca College

"Vintage Hanawalt--vigorous, challenging, persuasive, and humane."--Michael Altschul, Case Western Reserve University

"In a densely informative, fluid, and often charming study, Hanawalt dashes the widely accepted notions that medieval society lacked the concepts of childhood and adolescence as we understand them, and that it disallowed the cultural space for the expression of these states of development....Turning to the rich court documentation available in London (coroners' rolls; wills and bequests; records of orphans; business disputes, etc), and relying on a technique that includes 'fictional' portraits and scenarios to illustrate her more conventional expository narrative, Hanawalt paints a convincing picture of a 14th- and 15th-century London in which parents cherished their children no less than we do....The author conclusively demonstrates that then, as now, kids were allowed to be kids. Exemplary scholarship that blends traditional, painstaking research with contemporary approaches and understandings."--Kirkus Reviews

"Oh, how we have needed this work on the experience of growing up in past time! With Hanawalt's expert guidance, we discover what many analysts have claimed did not exist--the social institutions of medieval London that formed the boundaries and pathways of childhood and adolescence in a society with high mortality. They include the multiple worlds shaped by class and gender inequality, the systems of apprenticeship and domestic service, and the culture of matrimony. In data exploration, appraisal, and interpretation, the book sets a commendable standard for historical studies of the young and their paths to adulthood."--Glen H. Elder, Jr.

"This lively historical reconstruction, supported by a meticulous but unobtrusive stratum of documentation in wills, petitions, and other primary texts, should introduce an enlarged circle of readers to the rewards of archival research."--Paul Strohm, Indiana University

"No existing work explores the topic in greater depth or with a finer sense of time and place....[A]n engaging and often provocative book....[R]esonant and compelling ."--Albion