Between 1500 and 1700, London grew from the capital of England with a population of 50,000 to the seat of an emerging empire with a population nearing 500,000. At the beginning of this period, most of London’s population lived within the medieval walls. By the end, only a minority did. However, at no point did the boundaries of the incorporated city contain the vitality of the metropolitan area. Therefore, Open City takes an expansive view of London, with all of its overlapping and competing authorities, and its influx and exchange of ideas, products, habits, and beliefs that characterize city life. Open City looks to three everyday gathering places where people mixed for business, leisure, and worship.
The state religion of England switched from Catholicism to Protestantism (and back again). But the idea that there should be a state church remained, until eventually the religious controversies that disrupted parish communities made way for certain limited principles and practices of religious freedom in London and elsewhere.
Commercial theaters were a new phenomenon in late sixteenth-century London. The public playhouses brought together people from up and down the social scale. The plays also moved up and down the scale of forms of entertainment, from popular to elite. They brought to life scenes from the faraway world, the affairs of state, and London’s own teeming streets.
Diverging interests within trade companies were changing London’s markets. At the same time, international trade opened those markets to new competitions and products from around the world.
Examining the many and often contested activities within church, theater, and market, Open City: London 1500-1700 juxtaposes the changing ways in which Londoners formed communities, negotiated social relations, and understood their places in the world.
Explore selections from the exhibition, case by case, by clicking the links below: