Ceremony and Civility: Civic Culture in Late Medieval London

London’s civic ceremonies marked the relationships between the mayors and the crown, but also between denizens and their government, gild wardens and members, masters and apprentices, and parishioners and their church. London, like all premodern cities, was made up of immigrants. The number of people who were citizens (who enjoyed the “freedom of the city”) was a small proportion of the inhabitants. The newly arrived had to be taught the civic culture of the city so that the city could function peacefully. Ritual and ceremony played a key role in the acculturation process. In a society in which hierarchical authority was most commonly determined by the inheritance of title and office or sanctified by ordination, elected civic officials relied on rituals to cement their authority, power, and dominance. Since the term of office was a year, the election and inauguration of city officials had to be very public, and the robes of office had to distinguish the officers so that everyone would know who they were. Apprentices entering the city to take up a trade were educated in civic culture by their masters. Gilds also provided experience in leadership through gild governance. Again, rituals, oath swearing, and distinctive livery marked their belonging. Those who rebelled against authority and who broke the civic ordinances were made spectacles of through ritual humiliations so that others could learn from their example. At the parish level, and even at the level of the street, civic behavior was taught through example, proclamations, and ballads.

Hanawalt, Barbara A.
Oxford University Press