Defining a community: Controlling nuisance in late-medieval London
Ciecieznski, Natalie J. (University of South Florida)
Scholar Commons: Thesis and Dissertations, University of South Florida, November 17 (2009)
Using municipal sources from late medieval London, this study examines nuisance as a sub-topic of social regulation. In addition to defining nuisance, it analyzes who controlled nuisance and how it was controlled from the late thirteenth through the early fifteenth centuries. During this period, nuisance comprised building and boundary disputes between neighbors, such as conveying rainwater onto a neighboring property instead of to the street; environmental issues, such as blocking passageways with rubbish and not properly disposing of waste; certain groups of people and places, such as vagrants and brothels; and certain forms of speech, such as insults and threats. Many nuisances might have been nothing more than something that caused irritation or inconvenience, while others were potentially harmful. An insult could have damaged someone‘s reputation and a poorly-constructed wall could have fallen onto passers-by. This study argues that the large population and crowded urban environment of London led to nuisances that the inhabitants of England’s smaller towns did not experience, such as the boundary disputes among closely-packed neighbors. Moreover, concerning reputation, certain nuisances only applied to one sex or the other; men who were perceived nuisances within the community were commonly labeled as vagrants,while women who acquired a bad reputation (as defined by the community) were labeled as sexual deviants.
Lastly, this study argues that nuisance was controlled primarily by the community of London, rather than the sovereign. Although the king was involved in controlling nuisance by issuing regulations, the community of London, including both the municipal authorities and city‘s dominant merchant class, experienced the nuisances of late medieval London on a daily basis. They defined nuisance; their complaints stimulated the creation of and were responsible for the enforcement of most of the regulations that focused on controlling nuisance.