In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section London

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • The Reformation and Puritanism

Renaissance and Reformation London
Claire Schen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0193


The city of London began as a Roman settlement along the River Thames and grew into Europe’s first urban area of a million inhabitants. London was unique within Britain, and in many ways in Europe, yet it was deeply intertwined with the provinces and other cities. The city’s location on a great river meant that goods, people, and ideas flowed into and out of the city for centuries, to or from the countryside as well as far-flung areas of the globe. London has exerted enormous influence over the other towns and cities of England and Great Britain, and has similarly been shaped by in-migration from these places and from abroad. London began to rebound to its pre-plague population levels by 1500 and proceeded to grow rapidly. The works included here talk variously of London, including its suburbs, and a metropolis, to describe its inexorable expansion across former fields and to the borders of neighbors. As it grew, its significance in the economy of the world, in its connections to empire and trade, became predominant and its merchants and investors carved a new place for themselves in British society. The city was not just important in economic terms to England, Britain, and eventually a global empire—it attracted and nourished intellectuals and artists, playwrights and writers, scientists and natural historians, and provided the setting for the display of status, consumption of new goods, and the development of fresh tastes. Positioned next to the political center of Westminster, it housed and provided a public stage for parliamentarians, political protesters, members of court, and the monarchy. At the same time, London provided opportunity to poor and un- or underemployed men and women to work, even if in professions or criminal activities outside or on the edges of social and moral norms of the period. For those who struggled, there was charity and beneficence, and punishment and forced work or separation from families. The focus on social and economic history that shaped historical writing of the 1960s into the 1980s elevated local history but influenced the questions asked of the metropolitan center. The last several decades have brought a resurgence of interest in the history of London, in the important religious, cultural, economic, social, and political developments that marked its transformation over a few hundred years.

General Overviews

Most histories and literary studies of London focus on particular research themes and do not attempt a comprehensive overview. A few general works introduce readers to the city in many of its facets, often highlighting sensory perceptions and encouraging a sense of imagining being there. Bucholz and Ward 2012 focuses on two centuries in evoking sights and sounds of the city. Inwood 1998 presents a general history beginning with the Romans and ending in the late 20th century, with a foreword from the author of Porter 1998, which aims to bring urban history research to a wider audience in its social history of the city. Popular works include Ackroyd 2000, a work also not limited to the Early Modern period. A comparative overview of the city in Early Modern Europe is found in Friedrichs 1995.

  • Ackroyd, Peter. London: The Biography. London: Chatto and Windus, 2000.

    A “biography” of the city as living being, written with verve and illustrated with engravings, images, and photographs. Not focused on scholarly interests or themes but on the city and its neighborhoods; for a wide audience. Concluding essay on sources.

  • Bucholz, Robert O., and Joseph P. Ward. London: A Social and Cultural History, 1550–1750. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139030106

    Provides a history of London’s transformation from a smaller and less significant European city into a cultural and economic leader in Europe. Fictional and primary source accounts are interwoven into the narrative to evoke the clamor, excitement, danger, and opportunity present in the city.

  • Friedrichs, Christopher R. The Early Modern City, 1450–1750. London: Longman, 1995.

    Provides a comparative study of urban life and social groups in European cities and makes a case for the commonalities of life in these urban areas even as regional differences are noted.

  • Inwood, Stephen. A History of London. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1998.

    London from Roman origins through modern times in its unplanned glory; considers the importance of the city to national life. Significant for economic activity, as place of migration, and challenges in governing.

  • Porter, Roy. London: A Social History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

    Accessible to a wide audience, yet based on current (to 1998) urban and social history research. About half on the period prior to 1820.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.