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.