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Example text

Most middle-class people entered the world of writing directly through creating letters, either using these scribes or, eventually, writing them with their own hands. This chapter thus traces the history of the middle-class epistle, which began in earnest in the fifteenth century. The impetus for the increase use of letters was the acceptance of the vernacular as an authorized medium of written communication, an authorization believed by the citizens to have come directly from Henry V about 1417–18.

More precisely, citizen groups competing for economic power in the capital were likewise competing for a discrete set of civic genres through which public life was organized. They did not compete to seize and change the basic genres but to deploy them for their own use. Generic innovation was not a question. Since the winners in this competition deployed the major genres to consolidate power, genres like the custumal tended to reflect change only indirectly, while the rhetoric evoked plodding continuity and stability.

London developed its most original and influential custumals in the fifty years between 1275 and 1325. By the end of the fifteenth century, when some London citizens created their private custumals, such documentation of privileges formed the basis of what they wanted in their homes for reference. 49 Most surviving custumals from towns other than London seem to have their origins, however dimly, in the fourteenth century also. 50 Before leaving the subject of records-maintenance, however, two other influences require mention.

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