- Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household in Medieval England
Coeditors Maryanne Kowaleski and P. J. P Goldberg have successfully bridged the transatlantic divide to bring together a group of scholars and essays that challenge previous conceptualizations of domesticity in late medieval England. The collection deconstructs terms often taken at face value, reverses domestic stereotypes, and demonstrates the integral relation between constructions of space and the making of social values.
Felicity Riddy’s “‘Burgeis’ Domesticity in Late-Medieval England” defines domesticity “as a specifically urban set of values associated with the particular mode of living of the ‘burgeiserie’” (p. 17). Drawing from a range of genres, including inventories of domestic objects, she makes a convincing case for bourgeois households as residential spaces as well as venues for business and manufacture done by household members and various others (p. 17). Because the inhabitants of the home were not always biologically related, matters of privacy enforced by the law emerge alongside workplace ethics. And since “burgeis” values imposed order on household life, it stands to reason that the organization of space and time should follow, though Riddy is careful to characterize this phenomenon as an ongoing struggle.
In “Buttery and Pantry and Their Antecedents,” Mark Gardiner addresses the arrangement of domestic space in buildings of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, arguing that the buttery and pantry “were not just rooms, but were, in some respects, an embodiment of domestic order” (p. 40). Like Riddy, Gardiner reads a range of documents in relation to the arrangement of rooms both as literal space and as a principle of social order. Household officials were bequeathed specific responsibilities relating to the rooms to which they were assigned, though a simple dichotomy between the symbolism of certain rooms and the duties associated with them is to be avoided. Gardiner contributes significantly to the “transformation of the ideas of domestic space” (p. 57).
In “Building Domesticity in the City: English Urban Housing Before the Black Death,” Sarah Rees Jones, as other contributors to the volume, attaches greater cultural and social significance to domestic spaces, including their reflection of “the construction of social hierarchies of gender and labour, and how they were used in the negotiation of domestic roles and relationships such as courtship, marriage, and working life” (p. 66). Beginning her study in the preplague era, Jones asserts that the binary of hall house and small house develops over time, as do social values associated with the size and complexity of one’s abode, its location in the communal scheme of things, how much property it included, and how that property was used, protected and/or circumscribed; matters regulating property in all of these ways found precedence in the law.
In her case study of urban and rural houses and households in Yorkshire, Jane Grenville suggests that despite “a new urban consciousness,” interaction between the two spheres creates tensions that “resulted in two distinct traditions of urban building, one truly innovative and the other interestingly conservative” (p. 93). The relation between Wharram Percy and York is complex both in literal building construction and in the construction of social values. As partial evidence of the effect of one community upon the other, “peasants actively sought to place their children in households that reflected the values of their own, a fact we can [End Page 243] see most clearly reflected not in the documentary evidence but in the buildings themselves” (p. 117). When studied together, the two communities inform one another in significant ways.
P. J. P. Goldberg begins “Fashioning of Bourgeois Domesticity in Later Medieval England” with the premise that “peasant and bourgeois societies were characterised by different values systems” (p. 124). While peasant households tended to have more cooking implements than fancy utensils or bedding, as well as implements of husbandry and farm animals, the mercantile household contained items valuable enough to bequeath as heirlooms. Goldberg’s study also provides insight on the constructed nature of a religiously inflected value system. His reading of the “bedchamber” or “even...