Tuesday, 1 April 2014

B is for Burghers

http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/




My aim in these posts is to look at those bits of medieval history that are relevant to writers. I want to look at burghers here, or the wealthy but not noble inhabitants of cities. They’re a group who are often ignored in medieval sources. Even the most famous division of medieval society carves it up into those who work, those who fight and those who pray, meaning rural peasants, military nobles and priests/monks.


Where wealthy city dwellers and merchants were mentioned, it was typically to say how awful they were. Medieval fiction portrayed them as rapacious villains, or suggested that it was fine to pillage their possessions in a way it wasn’t when honest peasants were mentioned. It was essentially a reaction to the idea of non-nobles having wealth, coupled with a disdain for business. Harsh taxes and charges of usury were common. But the merchants and the business people were there.


What does this mean for writers? Well, it could help shape a few attitudes in your novels, if you like, but the main point here is not to forget that these people existed. It’s tempting to just go ‘peasants, fight-y people, priests’ and leave it at that, but always remember the people with whom they spend all the gold from their adventures.

8 comments:

Jolie du Pre said...

Very interesting. Thanks. It's always easier to go with the stereotypes, but should we?

Jaimie Ramsey said...

A bit of history I never heard before! Thanks for the informative post. :)

Stopping by from the A to Z! I'm at jaimieramsey.com.

Honoré said...

Are we already at "B"? ;)

kathrynoh said...

Sometimes the best stories come from the regular folk in history. I'm always curious about everyday life in different time.s

Chrystal Mahan said...

Thanks for this tip. I am working on taking an old short story from my creative writing undergrad class and turning it into a historical vampire series. Basically, a more in-depth version of the short story. I think this information will come in hand.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Hi Stu! Queen of Sarcasm, here. Thanks for popping by my blog just snow and saying hello.

I think you're right - it's important, as a writer, to know the difference between people in medieval times. I do tend to think of them as peasants or royalty or knights - oh, and lepers... weren't there a lot of lepers back then? Seriously, I'd never heard of burghers before, so thanks.

I was just wondering ... if burghers didn't wash on a regular basis, would they actually be cheeseburghers?

Feather Stone said...

I've been fascinated by medieval history. The movies tend to romanticize the life of that era. I suspect it was filled with hardship and fear as there was the constant threat of invasion besides the overlords abuse.

Nicole Murray said...

I agree with kathrynoh. I was raised to believe that hero's are the everyday working man. Just surviving and trying to do the right thing on a daily basis should be a hero's tale.