Urban History

Research Article

Urban politics and material culture at the end of the Middle Ages: the Coventry tapestry in St Mary's Hall


a1 Department of History, University of Durham, 43 North Bailey, Durham, DH1 3EX, UK


This article uses the evidence of the internal decoration and spatial hierarchy of an English town hall to explore the construction of urban oligarchy in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Urban historians have regarded this period as one of fundamental importance in the political history of pre-modern English towns. It is associated with the emergence of the ‘close corporation’, an oligarchic form of government which remained largely in place until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. The article examines the iconography and historical context of a tapestry, custom-made for the town hall of Coventry around 1500, to present a different view of the character of urban political culture at the end of the Middle Ages.


* I would like to thank my colleague, Ben Dodds, and the two anonymous referees, whose comments have improved the article enormously. The photographs are reproduced with the kind permission of Marcus Lynch (Manager of St Mary's Hall) and Elise Naish (Museums Collection Manager, Wardown Park Museum, Luton). Thanks are also due to Rayanne Byatt, Senior Library Assistant at the Coventry History Centre, for archival assistance.