The aim of this book is to examine some of the ways in which people in medieval Britain presented themselves. It is primarily about small artefacts, especially jewellery. It says little about costume, although that provided the immediate setting for many of the objects discussed; nor is it a study of buildings, although those provided the backdrop for the people wearing the costume. Nor is it a catalogue. Instead, it considers the reasons for people’s decisions to acquire, display, conceal, and discard some of the things that were important to them, and examines how much the wish to acquire, retain, and pass such things on to heirs explains behaviour in the Middle Ages. The book’s approach is chronological, to explore the changes and the reasons for them during the whole of the Middle Ages. It is not restricted to the study of a single group of people, but explores the significance to the whole of society of some of the things available at various times, and the restrictions that limited their acquisition and use. Many of the objects considered and the documents cited relate to the richest or most powerful people, but one of the aims of the book is to consider whether theirs was an example that others invariably sought to follow, or whether at different times different aspirations were expressed, showing social disharmony and disunity. Because the emphasis of the book is on the artefacts that people used in order to show their affiliations and status, it says little about such things as household items. Locks and keys, for instance, were in most periods primarily functional; important as they are for showing the need for security in medieval buildings, they were rarely made with an eye on what people were going to think of those who turned them—except in the early period, they do not seem to have been regarded as things that served to define their owners’ social place or aspirations. Details of weapons, armour, and horse trappings do not get much attention either, since their finer points would have mattered only to a very privileged few. On the other hand, drinking-vessels and tableware are included, because they were very often used in ways that made them visible and a direct reflection of social standing.
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