The Catholic University of America Press


The Lives of an English Fenland Town

Anne Reiber DeWindt and Edwin Brezette DeWindt

Cloth 978-0-8132-1424-5 $79.95
January 2006 Out of Print
E-Book 978-0-8132-1603-4 $79.95
August 2012 In Print Add to Cart

In a vividly detailed study of the small English market town of Ramsey, the authors examine the inner life of this fascinating community from the twelfth century to the end of the sixteenth century. The book centers on the lives of medieval men and women and explores their social roles, activities, family relationships, and religion. It also considers the spatial and social boundaries that existed between the town's lord--the rich and powerful Benedictine monastery of Ramsey Abbey--and its tenants.

In consulting a rich and varied collection of archives from both the town and abbey, the authors have ably produced one of the most comprehensive and multi-layered portraits of everyday living in medieval and early modern England. The people of Ramsey included clerics, knights, and laborers, and their activities overlapped to the point that the infamous tripartite division of medieval society--into those who prayed, fought, and worked--becomes meaningless. Social roles were fluid, and even the boundaries that separated landlords and tenants were regularly breached. During the turbulent fourteenth century, Ramsey was a community where, despite real grievances and suspicions, lord and town managed to work together with grudging respect.

The book also crosses chronological boundaries, moving through decades of rebellion, plague, demographic turnover, violence, bloodshed, and war, and ending with religious upheaval that spelled the death of the 600-year-old abbey and the intrusion of an ambitious new lay landlord with courtly connections. This crossing of boundaries invites discussion of local politics and asks questions relating to the nature and process of state formation.

The story of this medieval town brings to light the names and activities of thousands of individuals who moved in and out of Ramsey, shaping its destiny, as the scribes provided them--however briefly--with their own brand of immortality.


Anne Reiber DeWindt is professor of history at Wayne County Community College in Detroit. Edwin Brezette DeWindt is professor of history at the University of Detroit Mercy and author of Land and People in Holywell-cum-Needingworth. The DeWindts are coauthors of Royal Justice and the Medieval English Countryside.

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"This is a wonderful accomplishment, based on prodigious research and written with humor and verve. The DeWindts have traced thousands of people who lived across hundreds of years, yet their history of Ramsey is enlivened by individual life-stories and telling moments. And although the DeWindts have quite properly placed Ramsey's history within a web of ongoing debates of interest to specialist historians, they tell a compelling tale that will also delight general readers and students."--Judith M. Bennett, Professor of History, University of Southern California

"The De Windts have produced a work of social history of the highest order. Sources of every kind have been hunted down and brilliantly analyzed. And it is all written in clear, crisp prose. This is history not from the top down but rather, from the bottom up. Ordinary men and women come to life and their town is seen in sun and shade with a wider context always in view. In short, Ramsey is a model of its kind and a triumph for its authors."--F. Donald Logan, Professor Emeritus of History, Emmanuel College, Boston

"The DeWindts bring this 'small and ordinary town' vividly to life. They paint a portrait of a frontier town on the edge of the fens, complete with transient population, unruly behavior, and vigorous self-government. We glimpse the trials and tribulations of its inhabitants, living cheek by jowl (and sometimes other body parts) with the monks of the great abbey in its midst. But it is more than an invocation of a lost world in which the 'chants of the monks wafted through the night air in counterpart with the revelries in the taverns'; it is also essential reading for all who study the urban history of medieval England."--A. J. Pollard, Professor of History, University of Teesside

"Anne and Edwin DeWindt are industrious, perceptive, painstaking scholars and excellent collaborators. This monumental study of Ramsey, based on extensive research from a variety of archives, will be welcomed by professors and students of many disciplines."--Sue Sheridan Walker, Professor Emerita of History, Northeastern Illinois University

"This is a gracefully--sometimes even lovingly--written work, obviously reflecting both the lifelong engagement of both its authors with the subject and the enormously rich sources that support its investigation. . . . Scholarly readers will no doubt find the book a rich trove of anecdotal examples and wonderful bits of evidence to enliven their own writing and teaching. . . . [T]his is a wonderfully written work of variable appeal." -- Robert Tittler, American Historical Review

"Ann and Edwin DeWindts' long-awaited study of the town of Ramsey and its neighboring villages of Hepmangrove and Bury is a very welcome addition to the study of late medieval English society. . . . The wealth of raw data available in [the] appendices make the book and the CD very useful for teaching. . . . Altogether, this is an engagingly written study by two scholars who know their records and their subject inside and out." -- Katherine L. French, Catholic Historical Review

"The book took Anne Reiber DeWindt . . . and Edwin Brezette DeWindt . . . a quarter of a century to research thoroughly and write with lucidity and wit. This was a monumental labor of love. . . . There are a useful glossary and an extensive bibliography as well as a wealth of notes and plenty of striking little lives of all sorts of folk." -- Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

"[T]his book is a valuable resource for students, teachers, and researchers alike. The chapters are well written and include a wealth of engaging anecdotes as well as statistical data. The appendixes allow the reader to examine the data on which the authors base their conclusions in greater detail than they would otherwise be able to do. . . . [T]his work is an important step in more fully documenting life in small towns in medieval and early modern England." -- Elizabeth Dachowski, Sixteenth Century Journal

"[T]he DeWindts . . . have delivered an engaging study of the fenland town of Ramsey. . . . [The book is] crammed full of historical, archeological, geographical, and ecological details, providing the reader with a working knowledge of what made the town unique while at the same time enhancing rather than destroying its utility as an example of other English small towns. . . . Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the study is the sheer variety of activity and information that the authors have extracted from the diverse array of records and the way in which they present that information. The authors successfully pair extensive quantitative analysis with well-chosen anecdotes, putting a human face on trends in the data and bringing Ramsey to life. . . . [A]n important book that will have a very broad appeal beyond specialists. . . . While of great importance for specialists in the field, this book will find its way onto the shelves of those working in many other disciplines as well. We can only hope that the DeWindts will publish more of the material cut from the original manuscript, of which they have provided tantalizing glimpses." -- Peter L. Larson, Speculum

"This book celebrates the importance of individual men and women in the life of a small fenland town over a period of some four centuries. . . . Readers can only be impressed by the scale of research undertaken. However, the book is also a celebration of an old-fashioned, anecdotal, way of writing urban history." -- English Historical Review

"The text is well annotated, and the amount of data on the accompanying CD means that the authors' observations are supported with exceptional thoroughness. There is a useful glossary of terms, an extensive bibliography, and an index. The book has nine black-and-white plates, and in addition the CD offers the exceptional luxury of a range of coloured photographs of Ramsey and its environment, which even hundreds of years later help to impress upon the imagination what it meant to be a medieval fenland town." -- Richard Britnell, The Ricardian

Product Details

Pages:xiii,455 pages

Dimensions:6.25x9.25 inches


CIP Information: 2005007733/ DA690.R1397D49 2005/ 942.6'53--dc22


1. Ramsey (England)--History

2. City and town life--England--History--To 1500

3. City and town life--England--History--16th century