Frances Gies & Joseph Gies 2016 (first published 1969). Life in a Medieval City. New York: Harper Collins, 274 pp.

An imagined year, 1250, in the life of Troyes, France, permanent population then about 10,000 and one of the biggest and richest in Europe. One of the “fair cities”, made wealthy by the hot and cold fairs (summer & winter) bringing traders from far. This only possible behind city walls, this and other infrastructure (eg insurance) supported by the city. The prologue sketches the context, cities newly revived in the 13th century and are the birth of the middle class (bourgeois from one who lives in a city, ie burgher).

The book is a tour of the industries and hubs of the city. Small business (craftsman). Big business (speculating merchants and bankers - already there is a surprisingly sophisticated system of credit across Europe). The doctor (contagion is starting to be understood). The church (and cathedral - multi-generation building project, progress an index of city weaith); childbirth and children (“The greatest hazard in the life of a wopman of the thirteenth centure is childbirth. If she survives the childbearing period, she stands a good chance of outliving her husband. … The baby’s chances of survival are poorer than the mother’s”). Books and authors (not only scholars’ work but also folk tales and other yarns being recorded).

The authors’ choice of Troyes evidently made easy for the abundant original sources, freely but casually quoted in their admirable writing style. Two amateur historians (as they describe themselves) who cut enough corners to turn their knowledge into prose both informative and very readable. And writen in the present tense, which makes very immediate.