This chapter is historiographical and conceptual in focus. It explores and critiques the paradigm of urban oligarchy, which has exercised a profound influence upon the history of late medieval English towns. It demonstrates that the emphasis upon the comparative stability of English towns is misplaced and that division was as much a part of urban politics as was consensus. It introduces the category of citizenship, upon which there is a recent continental scholarship, much of it connected to the theme of revolt. Finally, it explains the choice of the five towns of Bristol, Coventry, London, Norwich, and York, and the historical period.
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