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THE GREAT HOUSEHOLD IN LATE MEDIEVAL ENGLAND. [76 illus. B/W & col., figs. tables, maps.]

Woolgar, C.M.

Published by New Haven/London: Yale University Pr. c. 1999., 1999
ISBN 10: 0300076878 / ISBN 13: 9780300076875
/ Hardcover
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Bibliographic Details


Publisher: New Haven/London: Yale University Pr. c. 1999.

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included


Fine, unmarked, illus. Hardback; DJ-Fine. ix + 254 pp. Bookseller Inventory # 026431

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Synopsis: In the later medieval centuries, a whole range of important social, political, and artistic activities took place against the backdrop of the great English households. In this lively book, C. M. Woolgar explores the fascinating details of life in a great house. Based on extensive investigation of household accounts and related primary documents, Woolgar vividly illuminates the operations of great households. He also delineates the major changes that transformed the economy and geography of both lay and clerical households between 1200 and 1500.

In this portrait of aristocratic and gentry life in medieval England, Woolgar describes the roles of family members, the situations of servants, the uses of space within the household, food and drink for daily consumption and for special occasions, furnishing, clothing, arrangements for travel, household animals, cleanliness and hygiene, entertainment, the practices of religion, and intellectual life. The author also analyzes the qualitative and social evolution of great households as definitions of magnificence and conventions of etiquette became increasingly elaborate.

Review: Outside the present-day royal households, little remains in Britain that can compare with the "great household." A gradually dying entity since the early 20th century, the great household included family, servants, and hangers-on, and provided more than merely food and shelter for its members. As C.M. Woolgar argues in his book The Great Household in Late Medieval England, the great household functioned as a social microcosm and, consequently, day-to-day life in and around the household provides valuable insight into the period's social history.

The Great Household examines the basic characteristics of both aristocratic and gentry households between 1200 and 1500: size, membership, dynamics, economics, and social context. Woolgar bases his study on the households of two aristocrats, two gentry families, and two bishops. Together, they provide examples of a style of living at different ranks of upper-class society and a geographical spread across the country. Eight chapters focus on various elements of medieval life, including food and drink, rituals of preparing and consuming meals, religion and intellectual life, household size, and concepts of hospitality. He supplements his study with tables, period illustrations and illuminations, and contemporary photographs. An archivist and head of special collections at the University of Southampton, Woolgar enthusiastically embraces his subject matter and knows it well. Frequently, however, his passion for detail obfuscates critical analysis and broader contrast of medieval households with each other or with those of other periods. Nevertheless, The Great Household in Late Medieval England paints a fascinating portrait of upper-class medieval life. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack

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