Growing Up in Medieval London

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

With GROWING UP IN MEDIEVAL LONDON, Hanawalt makes a worthwhile contribution to the social history of the Middle Ages. After an introduction describing her sources, which include court, municipal, and guild records of London from 1300 to 1500, Hanawalt presents her thesis: Medieval people recognized childhood as a distinct stage of life and did not, as some social historians allege, neglect them or treat them merely as small adults. Instead, Hanawalt argues, medieval parents (and London’s municipal government) did their best to care for children despite the dismaying rate of infant and child mortality. Hanawalt then describes the stages of life that children went through, from infancy to youthful education to apprenticeship, domestic service, and, finally, adulthood and marriage. Some of her most detailed work is on the relationship between apprentices and their master.

Hanawalt’s book is splendidly written and accessible to a large audience. It is most informative about childhood in the merchant classes and has less to say about the very rich or the very poor. Some may object to her use of stories employing composite characters based on court and municipal records. While these stories add to the flavor and readability of the book, they detract from its otherwise high level of scholarship.