Medieval People in Town and Country: New Perspectives from Demography and Bioarchaeology

Examining the contrasts and interplay of rural and urban medieval societies.

By Dr. Maryanne Kowaleski
Joseph Fitzpatrick S.J. Distinguished Professor of History
Fordham University


Medievalists, especially medievalists in North America, pay far too little attention to the medieval 90 percent, above all the peasants, who vastly outnumbered the kings, popes, poets, mystics, preachers, and artists that we know so well.1 All of us, scholars, students, and the general public, can greatly enrich our understanding of the Middle Ages if we take more notice of the ordinary men and women who constituted the backbone and chief support of the medieval economy and society. To awaken readers to the charms of the 90 percent, I focus here on a long-standing topos in medieval studies: the contrasts and interplay of rural and urban societies. I aim particularly to highlight the new perspectives that demography and archaeology, particularly the field of bioarchaeology, can offer to this old debate.

The urban/rural dichotomy has been considered in a variety of medieval disciplines, especially history. In the first half of the twentieth century, Henri Pirenne and others imagined cities as places of relative freedom compared to the restrictive servitude and marketless settlements of peasants.2 Some decades later, Michael Postan famously described cities as “non-feudal islands in the feudal seas.”3 Other scholars have stressed the exploitative fiscal, political, jurisdictional, and economic impact of cities on their rural surroundings, a paradigm applied in particular to capital cities and the urbanized regions of Italy and the Low Countries. More recently historians—including myself—have questioned the overly rigid division of town and country by examining how early capitalism was fostered by commercial agriculture and close ties between urban and rural markets.4

The urban/rural dichotomy has raised other issues for literary scholars, who have looked, for example, at the genre of urban encomium (exemplified for England by William FitzStephen’s over-the-top description of twelfth-century London), or at the social meanings of poems like “London Lickpenny,” which depict country bumpkins in big-city markets, or at John Gower’s condemnation of the peasants who invaded London, or at the contrasts developed in many romances between dark forests and glittering cities.5 Archaeologists, landscape historians, and art historians have also had much to say about, for instance, the contrasting defense systems of urban and rural castles; about whether innovations in house design originated in town or country; and about the territorial agendas behind carefully designed urban squares, palazzos, and monuments.6 Some art historians even characterize certain visual qualities as specifically “urban,” that is, fuller and more three-dimensional.7

These are all important ways of thinking about town and country. The foundation that necessarily underpins them all is, of course, the lived experiences of city folk and country folk, both their differences and their similarities. Let’s access their lives through the stimulating new findings being offered by archaeologists and historical demographers, and primarily in England between roughly the eleventh and early sixteenth centuries.

Sources and Methods

Bioarchaeology offers especially promising ways to help us track differences and similarities in urban and rural communities. Paleodemography, a subfield of bioarchaeology, is the study of the vital statistics of past human populations (such as mortality, fertility, and migration), chiefly using osteoarchaeology (the scientific study of human skeletal remains), but also paleopathology (the study of ancient diseases) and newer methods, such as stable isotope and DNA analysis.8 These fields have developed rapidly in the last twenty years, and, as Robin Fleming and Roberta Gilchrist have so eloquently argued, they can now help us formulate an “osteobiography” of individuals and whole communities, giving us information that texts and documents simply cannot reveal.9 Osteoarchaeologists, for example, can estimate the age at which a person died by looking for specific changes in the cranium, teeth, ribs, pelvis, and femur, many of which need to be observed microscopically. They are able to estimate the age at death by placing most skeletons in five- or ten-year age groups, although the difficulties encountered in precisely identifying ages for children and adolescents require a catch-all category called “subadults” for those who died between the ages of about two and seventeen years of age. Archaeologists have also developed methods to sex skeletons, such as measuring the size of the angle between the pubic bones, or by examining differences between female and male skulls. Sexing skeletons is more challenging than ageing them because it requires a well-preserved skull or pelvis and is virtually impossible to apply to subadults or to skeletons over age fifty without expensive DNA testing.10

These impressive scientific achievements, however, do come with some methodological problems. First, cemetery populations are not the same as living populations, not least because they include huge numbers of infants and children who died before becoming adults and were only briefly part of the living community.11 Second, paleopathologists, who diagnose illnesses from past human remains, can enumerate a great many features of a person’s life, such as diet, trauma suffered as a child, and a wide variety of threats to health, but they cannot identify diseases that leave no trace on bones, like cholera or the plague. Third, using skeletons to assess the health of the living runs into what archaeologists call the “osteological paradox”: skeletons with few stress markers were not necessarily healthy, but may simply have died before weathering a trauma that left signs on their bones. And skeletons with numerous signs of past illness may actually represent the best survivors of their time. Fourth, we rarely have skeletons from the entire cemetery, given the logistical impossibilities of excavating underneath modern buildings or roads. Fifth, many skeletons cannot be included in the data sample because they are so poorly preserved, a problem especially for infants, whose bodies decay more quickly and who were sometimes deliberately buried elsewhere, such as the edges of the graveyard. Sixth, because many graveyards were in use well into the nineteenth century or later, medieval skeletal remains are often mixed with modern remains. Indeed, in the absence of grave goods or other datable features, most “medieval” cemeteries cover at least two and often five centuries.

The seventh problem—and a big one for the task at hand—is the difficulty of comparing data from different cemeteries. This challenge is confounded by institutional differences; cemeteries attached to hospitals and monasteries or that were used mainly for plague victims have quite different populations than ordinary parish graveyards. Excavators also encounter varying soil conditions that preserve some skeletons better than others, and osteoarchaeologists can employ different techniques for sexing, ageing, and analyzing skeletons, although recent efforts to standardize methods have helped to reduce this problem. The comparative analysis I offer here also suffers from a shortage of data from rural cemeteries because of the emphasis in Britain on rescue archaeology in the face of ongoing building development in town centers.12 A large proportion of the excavated urban cemeteries for the medieval period, moreover, are from hospitals or monasteries and thus are not wholly representative of the general population that would have been buried in a parish cemetery. To address some of these problems, I focus only on English graveyards with secure medieval dating. All the urban/rural comparisons drawn here are necessarily more suggestive than definitive, but skeletal data provide excellent insights into the otherwise underdocumented lives of ordinary men and women.

My other major tools come from a more familiar discipline—the work of historical demographers on the key features of past populations, such as their total size, average ages at death, and the percentages who were single, married, or widowed.13 Demographers focus on what we call the “vital rates” of fertility (how many children women had), nuptiality (how many women got married), and mortality (the numbers who died). They also seek to measure sex ratios (the number of men for every 100 women), household size and composition, age structure, and migration. In the hands of demographers, the silent majority of the Middle Ages—the peasants, laborers, women, and the poor so rarely mentioned in our surviving documents—had real agency when they reacted to urbanization, famine, the Black Death, war, and the like. A peasant woman c.1300 who decided at age sixteen to migrate from her home village to a town twenty miles away had no effect on the course of history, but demography studies her as one drop in a wave of many thousands of such women who made similar decisions. Through demography, therefore, teenaged peasant girls become collectively powerful in shaping the society and economy of medieval towns and villages.

Medieval historical demographers do not have the types of primary sources—such as parish registers or detailed censuses—that modern demographers enjoy, so we have to be especially creative in squeezing relevant information from documents not designed to reveal demographic data. Some of the best sources—inquisitions post mortem and monastic obituary lists—cover only elite and privileged populations.14 Wills, used somewhat controversially to calculate replacement rates (which show if the population was increasing or declining), also represent only the propertied classes.15 Hearth taxes, which in England usually survive as urban murage taxes (levied on the income of households to pay for the construction or maintenance of a town wall), can provide a useful window into the distribution of wealth within a town, the proportions married, and the size of the household, depending on the details offered in the tax.16 Tithing lists have been exploited to track changes in adult male populations, particularly in the countryside.17 Demographic studies drawing on manorial sources, such as court rolls, once promised to reveal a great deal about the population history of rural people, but have met with limited success and much debate.18 By far the best source for studying medieval English populations are the English poll taxes, which reached much broader swathes of both urban and rural populations than any earlier tax. The poll tax for 1377—which took four pence from every lay person over age fourteen (except for the indigent)—is the most suitable source for demographic analysis because it captured an exceptionally larger share of the population and listed men and women individually.19 The 1377 returns are not perfect, of course, but they represent our best source for understanding the demographic structures of town and country, including the balance of men and women, the proportions married, the size of households, and the percentages of servants.20

Men, Women, and Households

Both the poll taxes and the cemeteries speak with one voice on a critical difference between medieval English towns and villages: there were many more women in towns. This is conventionally measured by sex ratio, and as analysis of the 1377 poll taxes demonstrates (Table 1), villages had more men and towns had more women. There are regional variations within these categories, but the general trends differentiating town and countryside by gender are very evident.21 These varying sex ratios are corroborated in the cemetery evidence. Most cemeteries had high sex ratios (more men than women), but town cemeteries less so than rural ones. Among the factors that scholars have investigated as responsible for the very high sex ratios in cemetery data are female infanticide, excess maternal mortality (from the rigors of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation), differential neglect of girls, the health disadvantages of working inside smoky interiors, and research bias in designating hard-to-sex skeletons (especially older women, whose skeletons can thicken with age and thus look more like male skeletons).22 There is no scholarly consensus as yet, but the explanation probably lies in some combination of these factors. The contrasts emphasized here between town and country, however, are less affected by this mystery of “missing women” in medieval cemeteries, particularly given the general agreement of trends in both the poll-tax and cemetery data that towns had more women than rural villages.

Source: Poll tax data calculated from the figures in Carolyn C. Fenwick, ed., The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379, and 1381, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1998–2005), 1: 91–94 (Carlisle), 143–44 (Dartmouth), 194–205 (Colchester); 2: 224–27 (Northampton), 266–71 (38 villages in Northumberland), 313–21 (12 villages in Oxfordshire), 321–22 (Oxford), 355–73 (41 villages in Rutland), 579–81 (Chichester), 641–42 (Coventry); 3: 128–29 (Worcester), 135–40 (York), 188–94 (Hull). Unnamed servants whose gender could not be determined were excluded from these figures; this group was especially large for Coventry, Dartmouth, Northampton, and York.

Poll-tax data can go even further to fill out this picture of women-heavy towns and cities (Table 2). Rural populations contained fewer single people—around 30 percent of the taxpayers—than towns, where single people generally represented over 40 percent of the taxpayers, a figure that includes both the never married and widowed. This urban trend towards more women and more single people is echoed in the proportions of urban households headed by women; though varying widely (Table 2, column four), towns usually had many more households headed by women than rural settlements. In villages, the married couple and thus the male head of household were more common.23 And finally, urban households tended to be slightly larger than rural households (Table 2, last column).

Source: Poll tax figures as in Table 1, above.

Town households in late medieval England were larger because they contained more servants, including apprentices. In general (Table 3), urban households had twice as many servants as rural households, and some 20 to 30 percent of urban taxpayers over fourteen were in service, compared to only about 10 percent of the rural taxpayers. In the countryside, the agricultural economy rested more on family labor. Towns also had considerably more female servants than the countryside as measured by the sex ratio of servants (Table 3, column five), though these servant sex ratios almost certainly undercount female servants since we know that women, especially poorer women like servants or widows, were the group most likely to escape enumeration in the poll tax.24 Even so, these figures still show the relative importance of female servants in urban populations. To all of these findings we can add one more contrast between rural and urban settlements: English towns tended to have not only more single people, but also a higher proportion of solitary households; that is, single people often lived alone. The poll taxes cannot show this because they omit children, but the most complete household census to survive for England (Coventry in 1523) reveals that almost 13 percent of households contained only one person, and 83 percent of these were women.25

Source: Poll tax figures as in Table 1, above.

When we picture medieval towns, most of us probably think of urban monuments such as cathedrals and guildhalls, and we tend, naturally enough, to think of bishops, merchants, and artisans. But these data suggest that we should be thinking of women, too—lots of women, some migrants from the countryside, many in service, and many not married. They lived and worked in larger households than in the countryside, but there were lots and lots of them. The cathedrals and churches had their male clergy and the guildhalls their masters and apprentices, but the streets and houses and lodging rooms of medieval English towns were teeming with women and servants. And the countryside was, by comparison, rather bereft of single women and servants, filled instead with married couples and families. Looking at these demographic characteristics, the question then becomes: What accounts for these differences between towns and the countryside? What was it about urban and rural life that may have fostered these trends?

Mortality and Marriage

Demography and especially paleodemography offer some intriguing answers. Towns everywhere and at all times have had a significantly higher mortality rate than the countryside. What is called the “urban graveyard effect” is vividly evident in analyses of death rates in early modern parish registers and assessments of plague deaths.26 Although little direct evidence for the mortality rates of ordinary men and women in medieval England survives, considerable indirect evidence suggests that urban living offered greater risks than rural life. Comparisons of heirs named in urban and rural wills, for example, show lower replacement rates in medieval towns, and monastic obituary lists show higher mortality in the most urbanized areas.27 In the early fifteenth century the life expectancy of London-area Westminster monks was in the mid-twenties, but monks living in the smaller northern town of Durham could expect to live into their thirties.28 Unfortunately, we have no really reliable documentary data on peasant mortality, although we have hints that peasants had even lower life expectancies than well-fed Benedictine monks.29 The extant documentary data on mortality rates refer only to men; there is no hard documentary evidence on female mortality for medieval England.

Paleodemographers are able, however, to provide useful evidence on mortality by assessing the ages of skeletons and dividing them into age groups to determine peaks in mortality.30 A comparison of the age at which adults died in the well-excavated rural village of Wharram Percy and the urban parish of Saint Helen-on-the-Walls in York, about twenty miles away, shows that the Wharram Percy villagers lived longer than townspeople. Only 50 percent of the rural residents died by age forty-four compared to 69 percent of urban adults.31 Slightly more of the York residents lived past age fifty, compared to the Wharram Percy villagers, but this discrepancy could be due to several factors, especially the inclusion of more well-off male residents, who lived longer than the poorer (mostly female) parishioners.

Wealth and status could have a marked influence on overall health and thus mortality, as evident in a comparison of three different medieval cemeteries in the city of York (Fig. 1). Saint Helen-on-the-Walls was a relatively poor parish on the northern edge of the city; Fishergate was the graveyard for the Gilbertine priory of Saint Andrew (which included affluent canons as well as some lay benefactors).32 Jewbury was York’s Jewish cemetery, where the skeletons represented a distinctive population in terms of burial practices, the frequency of certain genetic traits (characteristic of closed communities), and better health than most urban cemetery populations.33 This three-way comparison (Fig. 1) shows that those buried at the higher-status urban cemeteries of Fishergate and Jewbury lived longer than even the Wharram Percy villagers; only 50 percent of the people buried at Fishergate had died by age forty and 56 percent of those buried at Jewbury (compared to 66 percent at Wharram Percy). But an even bigger difference is evident in the high percentage of Jews who lived past the age of fifty; 30 percent of the Jewish adult skeletons were over fifty years of age, compared to about 20 percent for the Fishergate skeletons and only 9 percent from Saint Helen’s. At Fishergate, low-status women (the status of many burials in this cemetery could be roughly assessed from where they were buried) died significantly earlier than other adults, although the relatively long lives of moderate-status women in this cemetery suggests that poverty may have played a larger role than gender in mortality.34 All of these trends bear stark witness to the negative effects of urban poverty, a poverty that was gendered female, given the low sex ratios of urban populations. It is also worth noting that the harsher mortality figures for Saint Helen-on-the-Walls were probably more typical of most towns since its cemetery population was drawn from the local laity. Saint Helen’s greater number of female than male burials also comes closer to reflecting the actual sex ratios of the living communities in towns than the sex ratios for monastic, hospital, or Jewish cemeteries.35

Fig. 1. Age at death of adults in three medieval York cemeteries; SH=Saint Helen-on the-Wall; FG=church and priory of Saint Andrew, Fishergate; JB=Jewbury. Data calculated from Brothwell, “On the Possibility of Urban-Rural Contrasts,” 132, excluding those under age 20.

The impact of gender (and fertility, through the lens of childbirth) on mortality is also evident in a close comparison of male and female ages of death in the urban parish of Saint Helen-on-the-Walls, where an especially large percentage of women died at ages twenty-five to thirty-four (Fig. 2) compared to men, who lived longer lives than urban women. This pattern of adult women dying in particularly large numbers in their late twenties and early thirties is likewise found in other urban cemeteries, such as Saint Mark’s in Lincoln and York Minster.36 The paleodemographer Anne Grauer offers several hypotheses to explain this phenomenon. Following the lead of historical demographers, she attributes the relatively high number of women in towns to female-led migration from the countryside and links these young migrant women’s employment with a delayed age at marriage, so that the peak mortality she observes at ages twenty-five to thirty-four reflects the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth for this late-marrying cohort.37 If women were marrying in their teens, we would expect to find female mortality peaking earlier, before age twenty-five. Her argument here can also be supported by early modern evidence that finds urban migrants marrying later than native-born urban women.38 Not all paleodemographers agree, however, that the maternal stresses of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation were actually harsh enough to cause the age-related mortality profile of women observed by Grauer and others in medieval cemeteries.39

Fig. 2. Age at death of adult men and women in the urban parish of Saint Helen-on-the-Walls. Dawes, “The Human Bones,” 65.

Grauer also explores another explanation—that in-migrating countrywomen often died quickly from the plethora of urban pathogens they encountered in the city. The skeletons from Saint Helen’s thus might exemplify the “osteological paradox” discussed by osteoarchaeologists. The male skeletons were older on average but that is because more of them were born and grew up in the city and thus were better able to resist the onslaught of urban disease, as indicated in the more frequent signs of illness on male compared to female skeletons. These men suffered, but they survived and died later, leaving evidence on their bones of the diseases and nutritional deficiencies they had overcome. In-migrating women suffered and succumbed, weakened both by their lesser resistance to urban pathogens and the dangers of motherhood, leaving skeletons less touched by signs of the diseases that had felled them at earlier ages. There is no real proof for this hypothesis, but it does reflect paleopathologists’ understanding of the different disease environments of town and country.40 This example from Saint Helen’s therefore shows not only the differences between the urban and rural environments, but also the importance of gender differences. It vividly illustrates the complicated links between mortality, fertility, and migration that are at stake in understanding the lives of medieval men and women in town and country.

These are ingenious arguments, but what about the link between gender, mortality, and fertility in rural settlements, where in-migration was less of a factor? Although the evidence from rural cemeteries is admittedly sparse, it does point to one critical similarity between town and country: medieval women died before men in both urban and rural settlements, buried at ages that might suggest a good number died from the complications of pregnancy, childbirth, or lactation. A comparison of the urban parish of Saint Helen’s with the rural villages of Wharram Percy and Raunds Furnell (Northamptonshire) employs less sensitive age groupings than those developed by Grauer, but show that peasant women tended to die earlier than men, although the difference was not as marked as in Saint Helen’s (Fig. 3). The peak of female deaths for Wharram Percy was in the twenty-six to forty-four age group, suggesting that if maternal mortality was an important factor, then Wharram Percy women might also have been marrying at a later age. The skeletons excavated in the late Anglo-Saxon village of Raunds Furnell tell the same story of earlier female than male deaths, but the peak of female mortality was earlier, in the age group of seventeen to twenty-five, when an astonishing 41 percent of adult women died, in contrast to York Saint Helen’s, where adult female mortality peaked later, at ages twenty-five to thirty-four.41 Whether the Raunds Furnell data reflect a characteristic rural environment or the different conditions in the late Anglo-Saxon period is not clear, though it might well be Raunds’s rural milieu that was most influential in producing an earlier female age at death since its data is comparable to the (less robust) figures from the high and late medieval rural cemetery at Ormesby in Norfolk. In both villages, women died earlier than men and died at ages that might reflect an early age at marriage (assuming that maternal mortality was an important factor).42

Fig. 3. Age at death of adults by gender in three settlements: the parish of Saint Helen-on-the Walls in York (SH), and the villages of Wharram Percy (WP) and Raunds Furnell (RF). Calculated from data in Roberts, Lewis and Boocock, “Infectious Disease, Sex, and Gender,” 100.

To sum up, then, the cemetery evidence suggests that women did not (as David Herlihy suggested almost forty years ago) begin to outlive men after c.1000, that women married younger in villages than in towns, and that maternal mortality could have been one of the factors in the earlier deaths of women, rural as well as urban, although women who survived their child-rearing years often lived longer than men.43 It also provides suggestive evidence for an earlier age at marriage for village women than for urban women that may date back to the late Saxon period, with this gap narrowing considerably by the later Middle Ages.


These are necessarily tentative findings, but we are on surer ground when assessing morbidity, that is, patterns of specific diseases in town and country. Paleopathologists have identified a number of stress indicators on bones that reflect infectious diseases more prevalent in medieval urban environments. For example, the greater air pollution in towns afflicted urban residents with infections of the upper respiratory tract that can be seen in a condition called maxillary sinusitis, identified by irregular pitting and new bone formation on the interior surface of sinuses. Urban residents, especially those from the poor parish of Saint Helen-on-the-Walls in York and a hospital graveyard in the Sussex town of Chichester, were more susceptible to this infection than rural villagers in Wharram Percy and Raunds Furnell (Table 4).44 We know that medieval towns sought to regulate the burning of coal as well as the proximity to residential areas of foundries, tanneries, and lime kilns; what we see in these skeletons is both the pollution that prompted these regulations and their inability to limit urban pollution that was both hazardous and ill-smelling.45

Sources: Maxillary sinusitis: Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 173, 233. Periositis: Mays, “The Human Remains,” 169; Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 235; Waldron, “The Human Remains,” in Murray et al., “Excavation of a Medieval Cemetery,” 36. Dental enamel hypoplasia: Mays, “The Human Remains,” 138; Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 187, 264.

The close quarters in which townspeople lived, aggravated by the unhygienic surroundings produced from proximity to rubbish, made them more susceptible to infection—what scholars refer to as the “urban pathogen load.”46 Their susceptibility to infection is evident in a condition called periostitis, which shows up as an inflammation of the bone surface, manifested by fine pitting and longitudinal striation on the outer surfaces of the tibia and porous bone formation. While living, sufferers endured ulcerations and infectious lesions on their lower legs, probably over long periods. Periostitis was more common in towns (Table 4), resulting most likely from greater exposure to the viruses and bacteria of the urban environment. This disease seems to have been relatively equal opportunity, afflicting alike the poor of Saint Helens, the canons and rich of Fishergate, and the Jews of Jewbury at much higher rates than the peasants of Wharram Percy.47

Another indication of the difficulties facing town residents is their higher incidence of dental enamel hypoplasia (Table 4). This condition reflects nutritional deficiency or acute disease during childhood, and it shows up as lines, pits, and grooves on the surface of the teeth; clear ridging on adult teeth thus reflects childhood trauma, including not only severe illness or malnourishment, but also emotional stress. Individuals with this condition would have suffered from toothaches and decaying teeth. The condition has also been shown to correlate to socioeconomic status in that the more prosperous did not suffer the same dental enamel defects as the poor. In late medieval Britain, about 35 percent of cemetery populations have the condition, but percentages ranged from as low as 4 to as high as 76 percent.48

Urban residents also were more likely to be exposed to violence than were rural villagers. This hazard was highly gendered since male skeletons were far more likely than female ones to show signs of intentional injury from weapons, especially to the skull. Their incidence is, not surprisingly, highest in battlefield graveyards, like Towton, where 69 percent of skeletons exhibited weapons injuries.49 In late medieval Britain overall, however, the rates were much lower, just above 2 percent. Rural cemeteries, like Wharram Percy, where less than 1 percent of the skeletons exhibited injuries from weapons, tended to show fewer of these injuries compared to towns, where the numbers reached almost 3 percent in Lincoln, Pennell Street cemetery, and 4 percent at York Fishergate. The lower proportion of weapons injuries (1.3 percent) at urban cemeteries, like Saint Helen-on-the-Walls in York, could reflect the higher number of women in that parish. Overall, however, these figures suggest that towns were more violent places than villages, a pattern confirmed by documentary evidence on crime rates and criminal activity, like pickpocketing, assault, and felonies.50

Although medieval people often associated another danger—that of plague—with city life and sought to escape its virulence by fleeing to the countryside, the impact of plague varied more by region than by urban or rural locale.51 Rural plague mortality is less visible in both the historical and skeletal record because most descriptions of the horrors of the plague come from urban chroniclers, and plague victims in villages were simply buried in church graveyards used for centuries, making it impossible to distinguish them from other burials, especially since plague leaves no marks on the skeleton. The sheer number of plague victims in cities, however, led urban authorities to establish emergency burial grounds, as in London, where two large cemeteries were created on the outskirts of the city to deal with the thousands of victims of the Black Death in 1348–49. The partial excavation of one of these, at West Smithfield (north of Saint Paul’s cathedral and well outside the city walls) yielded over 4,000 skeletons.52 Another excavation, at East Smithfield, northeast of the Tower of London, included over 1,000 skeletons out of a total of about 2,400 that were probably buried there. The East Smithfield cemetery included individual graves laid out in eleven parallel rows, two mass-burial trenches and a mass-burial pit in one excavated area, and four parallel rows plus another mass-burial trench in another area.53 The corpses in the trenches had been carefully packed five deep, and evidence of the putrefied state of many corpses before burial suggests that they may have been stockpiled in local areas (perhaps at churches unable to cope with the numbers) before being carted to East Smithfield. They included adults and children, whose corpses were sometimes used to fill in spaces between adults in the trenches. Although the plague that killed them left no signs on their bones, their skeletons do reveal that many had also suffered from the infectious diseases associated with the urban environment.54

Written on the bones of medieval townspeople, then, is clear evidence of the hazards of city life. Many of these hazards were caused by the urban environment—air pollution from industrial enterprise and coal and wood burning, compounded by the challenges of sewage and waste disposal. Other hazards arose from the crowded conditions of urban living in multistory buildings; many central neighborhoods in larger cities, such as Cheapside in London, were as densely inhabited in 1300 as they were in 1600. In the center of Winchester, population concentration reached 81 people per acre, a figure that exceeds the density of many modern English cities.55 Crime rates were also higher amongst the crowded streets of towns, aggravated by large numbers of transients and numerous taverns, problems which show up in the high proportions of weapons injuries in towns.56 The inhabitants of these densely settled cities were early and quickly devastated by the bubonic plague in 1348, and many ended up in massive purpose-built graveyards, such as those at West Smithfield and East Smithfield, where over 12,000 corpses were buried in a few short months.57

Based on this evidence, medieval towns could certainly be viewed as death traps, so why did so many peasants move there?58 Part of the answer is that medieval people did not necessarily recognize the “urban graveyard effect”—or care. It is, after all, still true today that urbanites live shorter lives, but that does not keep many of us from gladly living in cities and valuing them. Paleopathologists can offer further insights into why peasants may have decided to leave their home villages. Food supply could be surprisingly precarious in rural locales, especially during periods, such as the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, when population growth was exceeding the capacity of agriculture to adequately feed everyone, a situation that reached crisis proportions during the Great Famine of c.1316–22. Foraging may have been more successful in the countryside than in towns during periods of famine, but some types of nutritional deficiencies seem to have been as, or even more, common in rural settlements. For example, cribra orbitalia, a condition thought to reflect anemia caused by gut infections (which led to diarrhea or chronic blood loss) was more common in the village cemetery population of Wharram Percy (33 percent) than in late medieval Britain as a whole (11 percent).59 For another example, stable isotopic analysis of the relative amounts of carbon and nitrogen in bone collagen has suggested that the villagers of Wharram Percy may have consumed less animal protein than urban residents in Hereford and Warrington.60 Documentary evidence also points to the greater varieties and higher quality of drink and foodstuffs available, even for humble wage earners, in towns compared to villages.61

Country life was also far more physically demanding than town life. We can see the effects of these physical demands in skeletal remains because bones react to habitual weight or force placed upon them by thickening, a phenomenon that allows osteoarchaeologists to link certain types of bone formation to particular activities.62 Several studies show that rural labor in villages like Wharram Percy was not only more rigorous and demanding than work done in towns, but that there was less sexual division of labor in the countryside. For instance, the upper arm bones (humeri) of rural and urban men both show signs of strenuous activity, but urban men exhibited more asymmetry (which means one arm was markedly more developed than another) which is thought to have arisen from the repetitive activity of one hand regularly wielding a tool, as in urban craft activities. The upper limbs of urban women did not exhibit this asymmetry, implying a sexual division of labor. Yet in the countryside, the upper arms of rural women showed patterns of development much like their male counterparts, suggesting that they were doing many of the same types of heavy physical work as male peasants.63 This osteoarchaeological evidence is reinforced by documentary evidence from court rolls and by artistic evidence, such as images from the Luttrell Psalter that illustrate the types of physical labor that rural women regularly did, including the backbreaking work of reaping, cutting up clods of earth, and carrying heavy jugs of water and milk.64 We know that peasant women could even be co-opted into ploughing and harrowing, which were more typically done by men. Other studies have found that rural populations had more long-bone fractures than town dwellers, an indication of the dangers of farming as an occupation.65 Peasants also tended to develop more osteoarthritis than town dwellers, likely indicating the heavy stress their more frequent physical labor placed on their bones. Some 47 percent of Wharram Percy adults, for instance, had osteoarthritis, compared to only 38 percent of the lay benefactors buried at Ipswich Blackfriars cemetery.66

Prolonged squatting—reflected in bone growth at the ankles, created when the ligaments become elongated—also speaks to the relative hardships of rural life. The condition can be work related, but it also speaks to the material deprivation of peasant households in which people more often sat or squatted on floors than used stools or chairs.67 Squatting facets are also most common among rural women; in Wharram Percy, they occur in 69 percent of women and only 45 percent of men.68 These skeletal markers likely reflect gender-specific labor. When not out in the fields or pastures, peasant women would have been grinding grain into flour with hand mills, weaving cloth using a horizontal loom hung on the wall, or tending the hearth and cooking, all tasks that required squatting. Squatting facets are much less common in urban populations.

Migration, Wealth, and Status

These osteological signs of nutritional deficiency and hard physical labor suggest something of the unpleasant conditions of rural life that may have prompted people to leave their home villages for towns. Historians have long debated the relative strength of the “push” and “pull” factors in this movement of peasants into towns.69 Some factors clearly changed over time. In the post-Black Death period, for example, migration to towns may have increased in response to towns’ high demand for labor, rising wages, and falling rents, especially as contrasted with rural England’s declining agrarian profits, shift towards pastoral farming, and consequent loss of employment. The rural dwellers who then tried their luck on an urban stage were overwhelmingly young and unmarried, the type of people willing to take on the entry-level, low-paid, and relatively unskilled positions of servant or laborer. It was this large pool of servant labor, much of it female, that was primarily responsible for the demographic profile of late medieval towns. Other factors prompting people to leave their home villages for towns might have remained steady over decades and even centuries, such as the physical drudgery and even deprivation of rural life that we can read on rural bones. Peasants could have also been discouraged by the restrictive inheritance customs in the countryside, or lured to towns by the possibilities of earning their own living, training in a craft, or improving their social prospects. It is likely that decisions to migrate were highly individual and varied, but it is also clear that in the competition for a better place to live, towns could hold their own. People risked more disease in towns and died earlier there, but as long as they lived, townspeople enjoyed more wide-ranging work opportunities, higher wages, a more varied diet, and less physically demanding work.70

Migration is the crucial demographic process that linked people in town and country, and a variety of skeletal analyses can tell us something about the origins of migrants to towns. The older method, which was sometimes misused in the past to formulate racial categories, compares cranial measurements from different cemeteries.71 The crania of Wharram Percy villagers, for example, most closely resembled those from cemeteries in nearby York, only twenty miles away, suggesting that York’s population was particularly bolstered by local migrants. None of the skeletal evidence at Wharram Percy suggests migration to the village by other ethnic groups, in contrast to early medieval York cemeteries, where crania bear a striking resemblance to those from Oslo, pointing to the Scandinavian migration to York in this period.72

Newer methods provide exciting prospects for tracking migration even more precisely. Stable isotopic analyses of the relative amounts of oxygen and strontium in teeth enamel can reveal what and where an individual ate when a child. Because diet varied so much by region, these methods allow us to track the regional origins of long-dead humans.73 They have been used to calculate that up to 12 percent of the York population during Roman times may have come from Africa,74 and they are being employed in an ongoing project to identify the age, sex, occupation, and health of young migrants to medieval London and Barton-on-Humber.75 DNA analysis has recently been employed to confirm that Yersinia pestis was the bacillus behind the plague pandemics in medieval Europe.76 Once its cost is reduced, DNA analysis might also help us understand the extent and timing of particular migratory patterns, as well as the kin relationships between skeletons found in the same burial ground.77 It can also address our current difficulties sexing young and very old skeletons.

In addition to identifying the migratory patterns that linked town and country, skeletal analysis can further complicate the urban/rural divide by analyses tracing how wealth and status played out within both sorts of communities. Historians have spent far more time on this question than archaeologists, who have to deal with medieval cemeteries that indiscriminately mix together parishioners without regard to wealth, status, or occupation.78 But new methods are helping archaeologists contribute more to this question. Diet and standard of living, for example, can be traced through new techniques using stable isotopic analysis, but some types of skeletal markers also offer similar clues, including a condition called diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH for short), which is a bone formation in the thoracic spine associated with obesity and late-onset diabetes. It is common in men from the upper classes and mostly seen in older people; it is especially prevalent in monastic graveyards. The overall frequency of DISH in medieval cemetery populations is just over 2 percent, but at Eynsham Abbey in Oxford, 11 percent of the skeletons had the condition, and at Blackfriars Priory in Ipswich and five other male religious institutions, the frequency was just over 8 percent.79 This archaeological evidence reinforces what the documentary evidence suggests about the high-calorie diet consumed by the urban monks of Westminster Abbey.80

As the different rates of mortality within York indicate (Fig. 1), status, including religious and ethnic distinctions, could also account for demographic variations within towns. The age at death was highest for the poor parish of Saint Helen-on-the-Walls, where 72 percent of the adults had died by age forty, and lowest for the canons and wealthy benefactors buried at the Gilbertine priory at Fishergate (50 percent were dead by age forty) with the mortality figures for the Jewish population (56 percent of the adults had died by age forty) more closely resembling the well-off individuals at Fishergate. The skeletal evidence from Jewbury also points to how religious isolation (including a distinctive diet and prohibitions on intermarriage) could shape the lived experience of specific populations. The York Jews were on the average shorter than their Christian neighbors; they tended to live more often to the age of fifty or above; and they had fewer forearm injuries, fewer accidental injuries, and less chronic infection. These osteological markers suggest that York’s Jewish community attained both higher standards of health care and more effective forms of mutual aid.81

Looking Forward

Bioarchaeology and demography can speak to us in powerful ways about old debates that we have up until now pursued mostly by studying texts. They show us how the lives and decisions of hundreds of thousands of illiterate peasants and laborers operated—through the processes of mortality, fertility, and migration—to influence larger developments in economy and society. Written on the bones of this silent majority is evidence that we can mine to track the different life experiences of peasants and townspeople, men and women, rich and poor, and Christians and Jews. This scientific evidence should be making its way into our lectures and textbooks. As medievalists we are justly proud of our interdisciplinarity, but our research today is often so specialized and humanities based that we rarely draw on science. We can profit by looking to scientific fields more often, even though it means we must rely on disciplines and sources in which we are rarely trained. In North America, where the integration of historical and archaeological work has only recently become more common, Robin Fleming in particular has led the way by drawing on a wide variety of archaeological evidence to write a history of early medieval Britain that questions traditional chronologies, political structures, and social and ethnic divides.82 Michael McCormick is applying paleoclimatology and molecular archaeology to understand diet, disease, and migration in medieval populations, and Patrick Geary is using DNA analysis of Longobard cemeteries to study ancient migrations.83 More of this cross-disciplinary work would profit us all. We do not need or, indeed, want to bow before scientists—their findings can be every bit as subject to qualification and interpretation as our own—but their laboratories are offering us startling new ways to see and rethink the Middle Ages.

We also have much to learn—and to compare—about medieval populations in town and country across Europe. Tuscany offers, to date, the best comparative material, thanks to a 1427–30 tax, called the catasto, which was administered by Florence over its subject territories and listed over a quarter million people by name, age, and household. Analyses of the catasto reveal some striking similarities with late medieval England, such as the importance of rural/urban migration, the correlation between wealth and household size, the greater percentage of married couples in the countryside, the higher proportion of solitary households in towns, and the dominance of the conjugal household.84 But there are striking differences too. Urban streets in Tuscany were apparently nowhere near as crowded with women as English towns; Tuscan households were more likely to be shared by two married couples than English households; lifelong single women were hardly visible in Italy; the age at marriage hovered around sixteen for women and the late twenties for men; male servants considerably outnumbered female servants in towns; and there was a significant secondary migration of elderly women to towns that we do not see in England and other areas of northern Europe.85

Europe-wide comparisons such as these have great potential, especially when combined with osteological evidence, for sharpening our understanding of how demographic processes shaped the economic, social, and cultural lives of medieval Europeans, rich as well as middling and poor. In contrast to the many excellent surveys that have been published on medieval towns, peasants, the nobility, kings and queens, monasticism, piety, the economy, and numerous other aspects of medieval life, we have at this time no single-authored survey on the crucial demographic processes that governed most medieval people’s lives and made them agents in the large sweep of historical change (or continuity). David Herlihy’s 1985 book on Medieval Households offered us an accessible and chronologically sweeping start, but it too readily assumed that its core demographic evidence from the Florentine catasto could be applied to all of Europe.86 Thirty years ago, Richard Smith contrasted the Tuscan and English evidence, asking why northwestern European patterns of marriage (characterized by a late age at marriage—around 23 for women and 26 for men—and a large proportion—around 10–15 percent—of people who never married) looked so different from the “Mediterranean” model of near-universal marriage evident in Tuscany and many southern European regions.87 But this important question has since received little scholarly attention. Discerning where in Europe to draw the line dividing these two marriage systems should be a major research project, especially in light of the number of demographic studies on medieval continental European societies in recent years. Given the increasing emphasis by early and late modern historians on the key role played by the northwestern European marriage pattern—especially the way it linked female employment and a late age at marriage—in the origins of the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe, it is especially imperative that medievalists tackle our side of this chronology.88

Such demographic comparisons also have great potential for understanding the urban/rural dichotomy that has served as the organizing theme of this essay. They, along with the bioarchaeological evidence discussed here, suggest new perspectives that do not conceptualize towns as active commercialized sites in an otherwise uncommercial countryside or as islands of freedom within an otherwise feudal sea. Towns were distinct from the countryside, but they were of the countryside, too. Let us think less about town walls that separated streets and marketplaces from field and forest, and more about the people, goods, and ideas that steadily flowed from and to peasant villages through town gates. Many townspeople were in origin peasants, and given the essential role of migration in sustaining urban life in the Middle Ages, we might not be too far off in thinking that the quintessential town person was not someone born, bred, and dead within town walls, but instead a risk-taking migrant, perhaps a Richard Whittington, but more likely a peasant girl who, along with many like her, migrated to medieval towns and shaped medieval histories.


  1. Maryanne Kowaleski, “Occupy the Middle Ages,” Medieval Academy Newsletter (April 2013): In what follows, “town” and “urban” refer to settlements where the majority of the population was engaged in nonagricultural occupations; in England, towns also usually had the legal status of “borough.”
  2. Henri Pirenne, Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade, trans. Frank D. Halsey (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1927).
  3. M. M. Postan, The Medieval Economy and Society: An Economic History of Britain in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975), 239.
  4. Maryanne Kowaleski, Local Markets and Regional Trade in Medieval Exeter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). For fuller discussions of historians’ views on the rural/urban dichotomy, see Philip Abrams, “Towns and Economic Growth: Some Theories and Problems,” in Towns in Societies: Essays in Economic History and Historical Sociology, ed. Philip Abrams and E. A. Wrigley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 9–34 ; S. R. Epstein, “Introduction: Town and Country in Europe, 1300–1800,” in Town and Countryside in Europe, 1300–1800, ed. S. R. Epstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1–29 . For an archaeological point of view, see Dominic Perring, Town and Country in England: Frameworks for Archaeological Research, Council for British Archaeology Research Report 134 (York: Council for British Archaeology, 2002).
  5. E.g., Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); John V. Scattergood, “Misrepresenting the City: Genre, Intertextuality and William FitzStephen’s ‘Description of London’ (c. 1173),” in Reading the Past: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Dublin: Four Courts, 1996), 15–36 ; Helen Fulton, “The Encomium Urbis in Medieval Welsh Poetry,” Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium 26/27, (2006/2007): 54–72 ; C. David Benson, “Some Poets’ Tours of Medieval London: Varieties of Literary Urban Experience,” Essays in Medieval Studies 24 (2007): 1–20 ; Dinah Hazell, Poverty in Late Middle English Literature: The Meene and the Riche (Dublin: Four Courts, 2009), especially 65–67, 82–86 ; Ardis Butterfield, “Introduction: Chaucer and the Detritus of the City,” in Chaucer and the City, ed. Ardis Butterfield (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), 3–22 , at 20–21, and the other essays in this volume; Jean-Guy Gouttebroze, “L’image de la ville dans l’oeuvre romanesque de Chrétien de Troyes,” Razo: Cahiers du Centre d’études médiévales de Nice 1 (1979): 38–46 ; Jacques LeGoff, “Warriors and Conquering Bourgeois: The Image of the City in Twelfth-Century Literature,” in The Medieval Imagination, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 151–76.
  6. E.g., Kate Giles and Christopher Dyer, eds., Town and Country in the Middle Ages: Contrasts, Contacts, and Interconnections, 1100–1500, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph (London: Maney, 2005); Jane Grenville, “Urban and Rural Households in the Late Middle Ages: A Case Study from Yorkshire,” in Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing, and Household in Medieval England, ed. Maryanne Kowaleski and P. J. P. Goldberg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 92–123 ; Jean-Michel Poisson, “En guise de conclusion: Habiter la ville ou la campagne au Moyen Âge,” in Cadre de vie et manières d’habiter (XIIe–XVIe siècle), ed. Danièle Alexandre-Bidon, Françoise Piponnier, and Jean-Michel Poisson (Caen: Publications du CRAHM, Centre des recherches archéologiques et historiques anciennes et médiévales, 2006), 325–28; Areli Marina, The Italian Piazza Transformed: Parma in the Communal Age (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012).
  7. Robert A. Maxwell, The Art of Medieval Urbanism: Parthenay in Romanesque Architecture (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007), 6–13.
  8. The British and other Europeans generally use the term “osteoarchaeology” to describe the study of skeletal remains, but North Americans, and increasingly the British, favor the term “bioarchaeology.” I sometimes use the wider term “paleodemography” because it draws attention to the aims the field shares with historical demography, including an understanding of age, gender, and wealth structures, and because this wider term includes analyses of mitochondrial DNA and stable isotopes. “Paleopathology” refers to the study of ancient diseases and relies heavily but not wholly on analyses of human bone. For a recent discussion of developments in the field of medieval British bioarchaeology, see Charlotte Roberts, “Health and Welfare in Medieval England: The Human Skeletal Remains Contextualized,” in Reflections: 50 Years of Medieval Archaeology, 1957–2007, ed. Roberta Gilchrist and Andrew Reynolds, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph 30 (Leeds: Maney, 2009), 307–25.
  9. Robin Fleming, “Bones for Historians: Putting the Body Back into Biography,” in Writing Medieval Biography 750–1250: Essays in Honour of Frank Barlow, ed. David Bates, Julia Crick, and Sarah Hamilton (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2006), 29–48 ; idem, “Writing Biography at the Edge of History,” American Historical Review 114/3 (2009): 606–14; Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2012), 38–67.
  10. For an introduction to osteoarchaeological techniques, such as ageing and sexing skeletons, with an emphasis on medieval material, see Simon Mays, The Archaeology of Human Bones, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2010). For specific problems related to assessing the skeletons of children, see Mary E. Lewis, The Bioarchaeology of Children: Perspectives from Biological and Forensic Archaeology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), including 54–55 on the difficulties of sexing child skeletons even using DNA.
  11. For discussions of this and the following problems, see Mays, Archaeology of Human Bones, esp. 15–29; Lewis, Bioarchaeology of Children, esp. 20–25; Tony Waldron, Paleoepidemiology: The Measure of Disease in the Human Past (Walnut Creek: Left Coast, 2007), 25–37 ; Andrew T. Chamberlain, Demography in Archaeology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 81–126 ; Charlotte Roberts and Keith Manchester, The Archaeology of Disease, 3rd ed. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), 12–14, 22–43. For the problem of the imbalanced sex ratios in most excavated cemeteries, see below, p. 579.
  12. It is for this reason that this discussion includes data from some early medieval rural cemeteries, particularly the well-studied cemetery at Raunds Furnell, whose skeletons date largely from the late tenth through eleventh centuries (below, Table 1).
  13. There is no satisfactory introduction to medieval demography, but for reviews of interpretations and surveys of the chief sources for the demography of medieval England, see Andrew Hinde, England’s Population: A History since the Domesday Survey (Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2003), 11–75 ; and works by Richard M. Smith, especially “Demographic Developments in Rural England, 1300–48,” in Before the Black Death: Studies in the “Crisis” of the Early Fourteenth Century, ed. Bruce M. Campbell (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 25–77 , and “Plagues and Peoples: The Long Demographic Cycle 1250–1670,” in The Peopling of Britain: The Shaping of a Human Landscape, ed. Paul Slack and Ryk Ward (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 177–209. An older but still useful discussion of the types of sources and methods employed to analyze premodern populations is T. H. Hollingsworth, Historical Demography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969). Medieval demography has been better covered for the continent; see, for example, Jacques Dupâquier et al., eds., Histoire de la population française, vol. 1: Des origines à la Renaissance (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1988); Olivier Guyotjeannin, ed., Population et démographie au Moyen Âge (Paris: Éditions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1993); Ole Jørgen Benedictow, The Medieval Demographic System of the Nordic Countries (Oslo: Middelalderforlaget, 1993). And see below, nn. 16, 23, 85, 86.
  14. E.g., Richard M. Smith, “Measuring Adult Mortality in an Age of Plague: England, 1349–1540,” in Town and Countryside in the Age of the Black Death: Essays in Honour of John Hatcher, ed. Mark Bailey and Stephen Rigby (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), 43–86 ; John Hatcher, A. J. Piper, and David Stone, “Monastic Mortality: Durham Priory, 1395–1529,” Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 59 (2006): 667–87.
  15. E.g., Robert S. Gottfried, Bury St. Edmunds and the Urban Crisis: 1290–1539 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).
  16. E.g., Arlette Higounet-Nadal, “La croissance urbaine,” in Histoire de la population française, vol. 1, Des origines à la Renaissance, ed. Jacques Dupâquier et al. (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1988), 267–311 , at 297–303; Henri Dubois, “La dépression (XIVe et XVe siècles),” in Histoire de la population française, 313–66, at 347–60; Charles Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City: Coventry and the Urban Crisis of the Late Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 291–322 ; Kowaleski, Local Markets and Regional Trade, 371–95.
  17. E.g., L. R. Poos, A Rural Society after the Black Death: Essex 1350–1525 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 91–110, 115–17.
  18. E.g., L. R. Poos, Zvi Razi, and Richard Smith, “Population History of Medieval English Villages: A Debate on the Use of Manor Court Records,” in Medieval Society and the Manor Court, ed. Zvi Razi and Richard Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 298–368 . Others have tried to calculate life expectancies based on how long men held particular properties, but these figures rely on assumptions about the age that men typically began to lease land and when they died, and provide only small pockets of data about wealthier tenants; see Christopher Dyer, Lords and Peasants in a Changing Society: The Estates of the Bishopric of Worcester, 680–1540 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 229–30; Zvi Razi, Life, Marriage and Death in a Medieval Parish: Economy, Society and Demography in Halesowen, 1270–1400 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 43–45.
  19. Previous taxes in England were largely subsidies assessed on the value of personal property, which recorded probably only the wealthiest one-third of all households and thus are not suitable for demographic analysis. The poll-tax returns are printed in Carolyn C. Fenwick, ed., The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379, and 1381, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1998–2005). Changes in assessment and greater evasion make the use of the poll taxes of 1379 and 1381 for demographic data highly suspect.
  20. Scholars focus on two problems with the 1377 poll tax: determining the proportion of the population not taxed because they were under 14 and the extent of evasion. These issues mainly affect overall population size, which is not of great concern for comparing town and country unless it can be shown that one of these locales had considerably more under-14s or more evasion. Single women, especially if young and poor, appear to have been the group most likely to escape the tax, which would actually heighten the findings in Tables 13, below. For discussions of these problems, see Hinde, England’s Population, 68–73; Carolyn Fenwick, “The English Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379, 1381: A Critical Examination of the Returns” (PhD diss., London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, 1983), 167–96, and below, n.24.
  21. The sex ratio at birth is about 105, but the greater mortality of male babies evens it out by adolescence. See also the poll-tax figures for English towns calculated by P. J. P. Goldberg, Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire c.1300–1520 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 368–75, and the detailed discussion of the poll-tax and cemetery evidence by Sandy Bardsley, “Missing Women: Sex Ratios in England, 1000–1500,” Journal of British Studies 53 (2014): 273–309.
  22. E.g., below, nn. 30, 32, 34. See also the discussion in Bardsley, “Missing Women,” who provides the most thorough review available of sex ratios in both the 1377 poll taxes and in fifteen English cemeteries. She finds an average cemetery sex ratio of 113.5 (rising to c.117–18 when weighted for rural/urban distribution); she considers that these burials reflect a real shortage of women in the population, caused by a combination of cultural and biological factors. Without denying the importance of such factors in sex ratios, I find it difficult to accept these cemetery data at face value. For example, the sex ratio today in China, whose vast problems with surplus men are well documented, is a mere 106 (“The World Factbook,” at, accessed 19 January 2014). It is difficult to believe that a medieval sex ratio of 117—which reflects a much larger imbalance of men and women—would have passed without commentary and left so little mark on medieval society. Even more skewed sex ratios that could not have reflected the living population are found in Romano-British cemeteries, where the sex ratio was 166; see Waldron, Palaeoepidemiology, 36. We need to consider more fully how the greater poverty and lower social status of medieval girls and women may have affected their chance of affording a burial in a parish churchyard; for the costs involved in burial, see Christopher Daniell, Death and Burial in Medieval England 1066–1550 (New York: Routledge, 1997), 58–60 . We also need to account for difficulties and bias in sexing skeletons, particularly those of children and those of adults over age 50; the problems in sexing older skeletons would be especially relevant; see above, nn. 10, 11. The poll-tax data on sex ratios are also skewed by undercounting of women in tax records, especially poor women; see below, n. 24.
  23. The trend for towns to have proportionately more women and single people than the countryside has also been well documented on the continent and in the early modern period; see Roger Mols, Introduction à la démographie historique des villes d’Europe du XIVe au XVIIIe siècle, 3 vols. (Gembloux: J. Duculot and Louvain: Bibliothèque de l’université, Publications universitaires de Louvain, 1954–56), 2:180–204 , 218–22; 3:123–26, 128–29; Maryanne Kowaleski, “Singlewomen in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: The Demographic Perspective,” in Singlewomen in the European Past, 1250–1800, ed. Judith M. Bennett and Amy Froide (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 38–81, 325–44, at 57–58, 326–27, 336–39.
  24. Fenwick, “The English Poll Taxes,” 175–76, 179–84, 193–95; Charles Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), 28–29 (for the 1381 tax in particular); R. H. Hilton, The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages: The Ford Lectures for 1973 and Related Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 27–28, 32–34.
  25. Note that a “household” was a fiscal category—think in terms of those living under the same roof rather than a nuclear family. Phythian-Adams, Desolation of a City, 298, 306–7. Medieval continental towns also had higher proportions of single people and solitary households than rural settlements; see Pierre Desportes, “La population de Reims au XVe siècle d’après un dénombrement de 1422,” Le Moyen Âge 72 (1966): 463–509 , at 482, 486–87; David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families: A Study of the Florentine Catasto of 1427 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 292, 297–301; Mols, Introduction à la démographie historique des villes d’Europe, 2:222; 3:129–30.
  26. E.g., E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England 1541–1871 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981; reprint 1993), 165–70, 668; Katherine A. Lynch, Individuals, Families, and Communities in Europe, 1200–1800: The Urban Foundations of Western Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 39–44.
  27. E.g., Robert S. Gottfried, Epidemic Disease in Fifteenth-Century England: The Medical Response and the Demographic Consequences (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1978), 187–204.
  28. Hatcher, Piper, and Stone, “Monastic Mortality,” 674.
  29. The results are summarized in David Loschky and Ben D. Childers, “Early English Mortality,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 24 (1993): 85–97.
  30. Dental wear is the chief technique used to age adult skeletons in Britain; for a discussion of the different methods employed to age skeletons, see Mays, Archaeology of Human Bones, 51–76.
  31. Calculated from data in Charlotte A. Roberts, Mary E. Lewis, and Philip Boocock, “Infectious Disease, Sex, and Gender: The Complexity of It All,” in Sex and Gender in Paleopathological Perspective, ed. Anne L. Grauer and Patricia Stuart-Macadam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 93–147 , at 100. See also Don Brothwell, “On the Possibility of Urban-Rural Contrasts in Human Population Palaeobiology,” in Urban-Rural Connexions: Perspectives from Environmental Archaeology, Symposia of the Association for Environmental Archaeology no. 12, ed. A. R. Hall and H. K. Kenward (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1994), 129–36, at 132.
  32. Anne L. Grauer, “Where Were the Women?,” in Human Biologists in the Archives: Demography, Health, Nutrition and Genetics in Human Populations, ed. D. Ann Herring and Alan C. Swedlund (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 266–88, at 273–74; Gillian Stroud, “Discussion,” in Cemeteries of the Church and Priory of St Andrew, Fishergate, ed. G. Stroud and R. L. Kemp, The Archaeology of York, vol. 12, The Medieval Cemeteries, fasc. 2 (York: Council for British Archaeology for the York Archaeological Trust, 1993), 251–60, at 251–52.
  33. J. M. Lilley, G. Stroud, D. R. Brothwell, and M. H. Williamson, The Jewish Burial Ground at Jewbury, The Archaeology of York, vol. 12, The Medieval Cemeteries, fasc. 3 (York: Council for British Archaeology for the York Archaeological Trust, 1994).
  34. Amy Sullivan, “Reconstructing Relationships among Mortality, Status, and Gender at the Medieval Gilbertine Priory of St. Andrew, Fishergate, York,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 124 (2004): 330–45.
  35. Like most cemeteries of male religious groups, the sex ratios of the (healthier) adults buried at the priory cemetery were skewed in favor of men (four men to every one woman); see Gillian Stroud, “The Human Bones,” in Cemeteries of the Church and Priory of St Andrew, Fishergate, 160–241, at 171; the sex ratio of the premonastic cemetery of the late tenth to late twelfth century was lower, at 138; it was 318 after the priory was established. The cemetery of the Jewish population had an adult sex ratio of 108; Gillian Stroud, “Demography and Variation,” in The Jewish Burial Ground, 427–49, at 431–32.
  36. Grauer, “Where Were the Women?” The cemetery at Saint Mark’s church in Lincoln and at York Minster showed a similar peak in women’s deaths at these ages, but female deaths at the Pennell Street, Lincoln, cemetery were highest later, at ages 35–44 (ibid., 277). Such findings contradict evidence that by the late Middle Ages women outlived men, as they do today. Women from Saint Helen’s lived another 18.3 years, but the life expectation of their male counterparts was 20.6 years. See also idem, “Life Patterns of Women from Medieval York,” in The Archaeology of Gender: Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Annual Conference of the Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary, ed. Dale Walde and Noreen D. Willows (Calgary: University of Calgary Archaeological Association, 1991), 407–13. Grauer (“Patterns of Life and Death: The Paleodemography of Medieval York,” in Health in Past Societies: Biocultural Interpretations of Human Skeletal Remains in Archaeological Contexts, ed. Helen Bush and Marek Zvelebil, British Archaeological Reports, International Series, 567 [Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1991], 67–80, at 73) also used paleodemographic measures to calculate life expectancy at birth, which was 29.2 years; this rather high rate, however, was probably skewed by the exclusion of unbaptized infants from the cemetery, by an overenumeration of adults who migrated into the community, and by a delayed age at marriage that reduced the fertility rate.
  37. Grauer, “Where Were the Women?,” 278; idem, “Life Patterns,” 409; idem, “Patterns of Life and Death,” 71–73. For historians’ discussion of the links between female-led migration, work, and late age of marriage, see Goldberg, Women, Work and Life Cycle, esp. 324–33, 345–61; Kowaleski, “Singlewomen,” 44–49, 57–60.
  38. Female migrants married later than native-born urban women because they needed to work for a period to save for marriage and because they were more distant from kin who might be eager to facilitate the young woman’s marriage; see, for example, Vivian Brodsky Elliott, “Single Women in the London Marriage Market: Age, Status and Mobility, 1598–1619,” in Marriage and Society: Studies in the Social History of Marriage, ed. R. B. Outhwaite (London: Europa, 1981), 81–100 ; Jan de Vries, European Urbanization 1500–1800 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 189–96.
  39. Although scholars often suggest that mortality trends for women aged c.17 to 40 were heavily dependent on the dangers associated with pregnancy and childbirth, there is actually no direct osteological evidence proving this link; for further discussion, see Maryanne Kowaleski, “Gendering Demographic Change,” in Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in the Middle Ages, ed. Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 181–96, at 184.
  40. Grauer, “Life Patterns,” 410–12, tested whether the Saint Helen’s women were more susceptible to urban pathogens than men, but she found no such statistically significant correlation. Note that most recent osteological studies show that men had less resistance to infectious disease than women.
  41. See also Faye Powell, “The Human Remains,” in Raunds Furnell, The Anglo-Saxon Church and Churchyard, ed. Andy Boddington, Engish Heritage Archaeological Report 7 (London: English Heritage, 1996), 30 , who uses a slightly different age grouping and found that 44% of women died by age 17–25, 27% by ages 25–35, 9% by age 35–45, and 20% when over age 45; these figures also provide evidence that the peasant women of Raunds Furnell were marrying at a young age—if maternal mortality was a crucial cause of death.
  42. Sue Anderson, “The Human Skeletal Remains,” in A Medieval Cemetery at Mill Lane, Ormesby St Margaret, Norfolk, ed. Heather Willis, East Anglian Archaeology Report No. 130 (Norwich: Historic Environment, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, 2009), 11–27 , at 14. The calculation of fertility rates from archaeological populations is fraught with problems; see Chamberlain, Demography in Archaeology, 35–38, 62–68. For one of the few attempts to calculate fertility rates from medieval skeletal evidence, see Grauer, “Patterns of Life and Death: The Paleodemography of Medieval York,” and comments above at n. 36.
  43. David Herlihy, “Life Expectancies for Women in Medieval Society,” in The Role of Woman in the Middle Ages, ed. Rosmarie Thee Morewedge (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975), 14–15, 22; Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families, 188–90.
  44. M. E. Lewis, C. A. Roberts, and K. Manchester, “Comparative Study of the Prevalence of Maxillary Sinusitis in Later Medieval Urban and Rural Populations in Northern England,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 98/4 (1995): 497–506 ; Roberts, Lewis, and Boocock, “Infectious Disease, Sex, and Gender,” 93–113. Wharram Percy and Raunds peasants did suffer a higher incidence of sinusitis induced by dental disease, but this ailment is not indicative of air pollution.
  45. Peter Brimblecombe, “Early Urban Climate and Atmosphere,” in Environmental Archaeology in the Urban Context, ed. A. R. Hall and H. K. Kenward, Research Report no. 43 (London: Council of British Archaeology, 1982), 19–24 ; idem, The Big Smoke: A History of Air Pollution in London since Medieval Times (London: Methuen, 1987), 1–21.
  46. Derek Keene, “Rubbish in Medieval Towns,” in Environmental Archaeology in the Urban Context, ed. Hall and Kenward, 26–30; Charlotte Roberts and Margaret Cox, Health and Disease in Britain: From Prehistory to the Present Day (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2003), 228–35 For an excellent recent survey of the health risks in medieval urban environments, see Brian Connell, Amy Gray Jones, Rebecca Redfern and Don Walker, A Bioarchaeological Study of Medieval Burials on the Site of St Mary Spital: Excavations at Spitalfields Market, London E1, 1991–2007, Museum of London Monograph 60 (London: Museum of London Archaelogy, 2012), 152–68.
  47. The condition can be caused by several different factors, but mainly reflects bone infection. See Mays, Archaeology of Human Bones, 179–81; Roberts and Manchester, Archaeology of Disease, 172–74; Brothwell, “On the Possibility of Urban-Rural Contrasts,” 126–27; A. L. Grauer, “Patterns of Anaemia and Infection from Medieval York, England,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 91 (1993): 203–13. The higher rate of these lesions in the York cemeteries may also reflect York residents’ resistance to disease; Simon Mays, “The Human Remains,” in The Churchyard, Wharram: Study of Settlement on the Wolds, XI, ed. S. Mays, C. Harding, and C. Heighway (York: York University Archaeological Publications 13, 2007), 166–70.
  48. Mays, Archaeology of Human Bones, 228–34; Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 264–65.
  49. Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 275. See also Veronica Fiorato, Anthea Boylston, and Christopher Knüsel, Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxbow, 2007).
  50. Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 274–75; Roberts and Manchester, Archaeology of Disease, 108–16; Simon Mays, “Wharram Percy: The Skeletons,” Current Archaeology 193 (2004): 45–49 , at 49. For urban crime, see Frank Rexroth, Deviance and Power in Late Medieval London, trans. Pamela E. Selwyn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Derek Keene, Survey of Medieval Winchester, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 1:395–97.
  51. Regional patterns may be responsible for differing views regarding where plague was more virulent; most scholars see higher plague mortality in towns, e.g., Richard Britnell, “The Black Death in English Towns,” Urban History 21/2 (1994): 195–210 , while others, such as Øle Benedictow, “The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever,” History Today 55/3 (2005): 42–49 ; idem, The Black Death 1346–1353: The Complete History (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2004), 260–61, claim that rural areas experienced higher plague mortality.
  52. Bruno Barber and Christopher Thomas, The London Charterhouse, Museum of London Monograph Series 10 (London: Museum of London Archaeology Service, 2002).
  53. Ian Grainger, Duncan Hawkins, Lynne Cowal, and Richard Mikulski, The Black Death Cemetery, East Smithfield, London, Museum of London Monograph Series 43 (London: Museum of London Archaeology Service, 2008).
  54. Lynne Cowal, Richard Mikulski, and William White, “The Human Bone,” in The Black Death Cemetery, East Smithfield, 44–55; Sharon N. DeWitte and James W. Wood, “Selectivity of Black Death Mortality with Respect to Pre-Existing Health,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105 (2008): 1436–41.
  55. Derek Keene, Cheapside before the Great Fire (London: Economic and Social Research Council, 1985), 19–20 ; idem, Survey of Medieval Winchester, 1:370–71.
  56. Above, n. 50. See also Ann Stirland, Criminals and Paupers: The Graveyard of St Margaret Fyebriggate in combusto, Norwich, East Anglian Archaeology Report No. 129 (Norwich: Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, 2009), for the high percentage of young male adults in this poor parish’s cemetery, some of whom were probably the executed criminals the city buried here. Many had weapons injuries and stress markers on their bones indicating poor nutrition and chronic disease.
  57. Grainger, Hawkins, Cowal, and Mikulski, Black Death Cemetery, 28–29.
  58. For discussions of such migration, see, for example, Poos, A Rural Society, 159–79; Jane Whittle, “Population Mobility in Rural Norfolk among Landholders and Others c.1440–c.1600,” in The Self-Contained Village? The Social History of Rural Communities 1250–1900, ed. Christopher Dyer (Hatfield, Hertfordshire: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2007), 28–45 , and below, n. 69.
  59. Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 234–35; Mays, “The Human Remains,” 172–74; Brothwell, “On the Possibility of Urban-Rural Contrasts,” 134–35. The condition shows up as pitting or lesions of spongy bone in the orbits of the eyes and occurs when the body attempts to compensate for the lack of iron by producing more red blood cells. It is primarily a childhood condition, since only 19% of the adults but 30% of the juveniles in Wharram Percy manifested these lesions. For further discussion, including debates on interpreting this condition, see Mays, Archaeology of Bones, 209–13.
  60. Gunilda Müldner and Michael P. Richards, “Diet in Medieval England: The Evidence from Stable Isotopes,” in Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition, ed. C. M. Woolgar, D. Serjeantson, and T. Waldron (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 235–36.
  61. Christopher Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England c.1200–1520 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 109–202.
  62. For an overview, see Mays, Archaeology of Human Bones, 137–52.
  63. Simon Mays, “A Biomechanical Study of Activity Patterns in a Medieval Human Skeletal Asemblage,” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 9 (1999): 68–73 ; idem, “The Human Remains,” 122–23. See also James Steele, “Skeletal Indicators of Handedness,” in Human Osteology in Archaeology and Forensic Science, ed. Margaret Cox and Simon Mays (London: Greenwich Medical Media, 2000), 307–24, at 310.
  64. P. J. P. Goldberg, ed. and trans., Women in England c.1275–1525: Documentary Sources (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 167–80; Janet Backhouse, Medieval Rural Life in the Luttrell Psalter (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 19, 22, 23, 29, 30.
  65. Margaret A. Judd and Charlotte A. Roberts, “Fracture Trauma in a Medieval British Farming Village,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 109/2 (1999): 229–43, found that 19.4% of individuals in the cemetery of the village of Raunds had long-bone fractures, compared to only about 5% from three medieval urban sites. The prevalence of long-bone fractures among the adult population at Saint Helen’s was 4.4%; see Anne L. Grauer and Charlotte A. Roberts, “Paleoepidemiology, Healing, and Possible Treatment of Trauma in the Medieval Cemetery Population of St. Helen-on-the-Walls, York, England,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 100 (1996): 531–44. But only 2.4% of the cemetery population from the village of Wharram Percy had this type of fracture; see Mays, “The Human Remains,” 149–50.
  66. Mays, “The Human Remains,” 157–58.
  67. R. K. Faith, “Worcestershire Peasant Buildings, Household Goods and Farming Equipment in the Later Middle Ages,” Medieval Archaeology 9 (1965): 105–45. For the types of work done by peasant women, see Barbara Hanawalt, “Peasant Women’s Contribution to the Home Economy in Late Medieval England,” in Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, ed. Barbara Hanawalt (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1986), 3–19.
  68. Mays, “The Human Remains,” 125–27.
  69. E.g., n. 58, above, and Christopher Dyer, “Were Late Medieval English Villages ‘Self-Contained’?,” in The Self-Contained Village?, ed. Dyer, 6–27; P. J. P Goldberg, “Migration, Youth and Gender in Later Medieval England,” in Youth in the Middle Ages, ed. P. J. P. Goldberg and Felicity Riddy (York: York Medieval Press, 2004), 85–99 ; David Postles, “Migration and Mobility in a Less Mature Economy: English Internal Migration, c.1200–1350,” Social History 25/3 (2000): 285–99; Peter McClure, “Patterns of Migration in the Late Middle Ages: The Evidence of English Surnames,” Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 32/2 (1979): 167–82.
  70. For a useful discussion of the varying lifestyles and diets of rural and urban residents, see Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, 109–210.
  71. See, for example, Brenda N. Stoessiger and G. M. Morant, “A Study of the Crania in the Vaulted Ambulatory of Saint Leonard’s Church, Hythe,” Biometrika 24/1–2 (1932): 135–202 , esp. their discussion of past theories at 158–62, although they too make constant reference to “racial” characteristics.
  72. Jean D. Dawes, “The Human Bones,” in The Cemetery of St Helen-on-the-Walls, Aldwark, ed. Jean D. Dawes and J. R. Magilton, The Archaeology of York: The Medieval Cemeteries, vol. 12, fasc. 1 (York: Council for British Archaeology for the York Archaeological Trust, 1980), 19–82 , at 70–81; Mays, “The Human Remains,” 111–13.
  73. For a description of these methods, see Mays, Archaeology of Human Bones, 277–88.
  74. Stephany Leach, Mary Lewis, Carolyn Chenery, Gundula Müldner, and Hella Eckardt, “Migration and Diversity in Roman Britain: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Identification of Immigrants in Roman York, England,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140/3 (2009): 546–61.
  75. “Adolescence, Migration and Health in Medieval England: The Osteological Evidence,” Lever-hulme Trust grant received by Mary Lewis, Janet Montgomery, and Fiona Shapland,, accessed 13 March 2013.
  76. Verena J. Schuenemann et al., “Targeted Enrichment of Ancient Pathogens Yielding the pPCP1 Plasmid of Yersinia pestis from Victims of the Black Death,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108 (2011): E746–E752 ; Kirsten I. Bos et al., “A Draft Genome of Yersinia pestis from Victims of the Black Death,” Nature 478 (2011): 506–10.
  77. For an overview of the different ways that DNA in skeletal remains can be analyzed, see Mays, Archaeology of Human Bones, 290–310.
  78. Archaeologists can sometimes identify chronological phases or socially restricted areas of graveyards or estimate social rank based on burial practices, but little cross-referencing between these characteristics and paleodemographic data has been done, in part because the sample size is small and in part because this work has been done for more urban than rural cemeteries. For an urban example, see Sullivan, “Reconstructing Relationships among Mortality, Status, and Gender at the Medieval Gilbertine Priory of St. Andrew, Fishergate, York.”
  79. Roberts and Cox, Health and Disease in Britain, 245–46; Roberta Gilchrist and Barney Sloane, Requiem: The Medieval Monastic Cemetery in Britain (London: Museum of London Archaeology Service, 2005), 212.
  80. Barbara Harvey, Living and Dying in England 1100–1540: The Monastic Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 34–71.
  81. Jane McComish, “The Medieval Jewish Cemetery at Jewbury, York,” Jewish Culture and History 3/2 (2000): 21–30 ; Gillian Stroud, “The Distinctiveness of the Jewbury Population,” in Lilley, Stroud, Brothwell, and Williamson, The Jewish Burial Ground at Jewbury, 523–35; Brothwell, “On the Possibility of Urban-Rural Contrasts,” 133–36.
  82. E.g., Robin Fleming, Britain after Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400–1070, Penguin History of Britain 2 (New York: Allen Lane, 2010), and above, n. 9.
  83. Michael McCormick, “Molecular Middle Ages: Early Medieval Economic History in the 21st Century,” in The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: New Directions in Early Medieval Studies, ed. Jennifer R. Davis and Michael McCormick (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2008), 83–97 ; idem, with Paul Dutton, Paul Mayewski, and Nick Patterson, “Volcanoes and the Climate Forcing of Carolingian Europe, A.D. 750 to 950,” Speculum 82/4 (2007): 865–95; Patrick Geary, “Using Genetic Data to Revolutionalize Understanding of Migration History,” Institute for Advanced Studies Newsletter (Spring 2013), at, accessed 10 March 2013. See also the DNA and History Seminar program at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2008, at, accessed 10 March 2013.
  84. Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families, 112–15 (rural/urban migration), 210 (more married couples in countryside), 286–89 (wealth and household size), 290–92 (conjugal household), 334 (solitary households). They also consistently compare town and country throughout.
  85. Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families, 155–58 (lower rural sex ratios), 292–98 (multiple households), 212–16 (few lifelong single women), 202–18 (age at marriage), 136, 198 (more male than female servants in towns), 113, 157 (secondary migration of elderly women to towns). Some of these differences could be exaggerated by the authors’ focus on the urban wealthy in calculating age at marriage; by the undercounting of women in the catasto, especially girls who were in urban service; and by the catasto’s favoritism towards patrilineal kin; see Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families, 10, 12–13, 136–44, 290–91, for discussion, though they underplay the impact on their data. For recent reconsiderations of some of these issues, see Tovah Bender, “The Case of the Missing Girls: Sex Ratios in Fifteenth-Century Tuscany,” Journal of Women’s History 23/4 (2011): 155–75; Samuel Kline Cohen, Women in the Streets: Essays on Sex and Power in Renaissance Italy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 137–65.
  86. 86 David Herlihy, Medieval Households (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985).
  87. Richard M. Smith, “Hypothèses sur la nuptialité en Angleterre aux XIIIe–XIVe siècles,” Annales: Économies, sociétés, civilisations 38 (1983): 107–36. One of the few other historians of medieval England to offer a comparative analysis is Larry R. Poos, “The Pre-History of Demographic Regions in Traditional Europe,” Sociologia Ruralis 26 (1986): 228–48 and idem, “The Historical Demography of Northern Europe 1400–1650,” in New Approaches to the History of Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Selected Proceedings of Two International Conferences at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in Copenhagen in 1997 and 1999, ed. Troels Dahlerup and Per Ingesman (Copenhagen: Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters, 2009), 365–96.
  88. Some examples of this perspective—which stretch back to the Middle Ages but are written mainly by early modernists—are Jan Luiten van Zanden, The Long Road to the Industrial Revolution: The European Economy in a Global Perspective, 1000–1800 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009); Mary S. Hartman, The Household and the Making of History: A Subversive View of the Western Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Lynch, Individuals, Families, and Communities in Europe, 1200–1800.

Originally published by Speculum 89:3 (July 2014), republished by The University of Chicago Press Journals, free and open access, republished for educational, non-commercial purposes.



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