Urban Life

  • Janine Garrisson
Part of the European Studies Series book series (EUROSTUD)


In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the towns, whether walled or not, played a social role out of all proportion to their geographic or demographic extent. Governed by corporations of municipal magistrates (the names varied — consuls, jurats, or aldermen), they enjoyed a genuine autonomy. Magistrates were selected according to many different systems, but the assembly of heads of household rarely played an important part, although direct universal suffrage remained the rule in a few small towns. More commonly, the power of election rested with a council which appointed the various municipal officers. In the Midi a collegiate system prevailed, with social or professional groups each nominating one member to the town council — such groups included the nobles, the advocates, the scriveners, the merchants, and the craftsmen. Sometimes the suburbs might also nominate a representative. Lyon operated such a system, with a civic assembly, comprising one or two members from each craft guild, which each year elected six new councillors who, with the six appointed the previous year, constituted the consulate. However the civic magistrates were elected or selected, they always came from the urban aristocracy, the ‘senior pars’.1 Towards the end of the fifteenth century this gave rise to local conflicts, especially in the Midi, as demands were made for the broadening of electoral colleges. Riots broke out at Agen in 1481 and 1514 as the artisans called for a place on the town council, and Cahors experienced similar agitation in the same period. But peace was restored when the elite accepted a workers’ representative.


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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1995

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  • Janine Garrisson

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