The ample record of medieval and early modern sumptuary laws represents an extensive historical period and a broad geographical area. Though scholars have not completely ignored these laws, they deserve far more attention and should be explored from many critical approaches. Because of the physical distance separating the documentary evidence, rarely have comparisons been made between sumptuary laws from different geographical areas. This study offers just such a comparison of the laws enacted in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and England between the thirteenth and the eighteenth centuries, in order to show how these laws operated to reconcile the interests of the privileged few with the common good. Legislators and preachers aimed to redistribute resources by taking advantage of the wealthy's passion for ostentation. The moral rationale for regulating consumption stressed the need for the rich to reserve at least part of their resources for social measures in the form of charity. By regulating luxury through various forms of fines and penalties, sumptuary laws helped to benefit the less privileged and the city in general. Critiques of consumption, of disproportionate individual spending, and, simply put, of luxury, gained significant momentum as a result of sumptuary laws.
Reconciling the Privilege of a Few with the Common Good: Sumptuary Laws in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
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Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli; Reconciling the Privilege of a Few with the Common Good: Sumptuary Laws in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2009; 39 (3): 597–617. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-2009-006
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