This chapter aims to survey and assess the studies on what might be called literary or reading networks. It focuses on a highly literate group of book owners and writers connected with the household of Sir John Fastolf at Caister Castle, Norfolk. The richness of the information on the Fastolf household and East Anglian culture is well known and may lead to doubts that such an approach to literary and regional networks can be adopted for other lesser known groups and areas. When Raymond Williams stated that 'culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language', he probably did not have 'gentry' and 'networks' in his mind as the other two. The chapter highlights the problematic nature of those three words, separately and in combination.
In the spring of 1061, Burgheard son of Earl Æfgar of Mercia died returning from a journey to Rome, and his body was taken for burial in the basilica of the abbey of Saint-Rémi, Reims. Shortly afterward, his grieving parents gave the abbey an estate in Staffordshire, together with a beautifully illustrated gospel book, for the sake of their son's soul. The most recent study of this material established that, although its cover has been lost, the gospel book is almost certainly an extant manuscript, now Reims, Bibliothèque Municipale Carnegie, MS 9. This chapter examines two questions which illuminate this matter further: can Burgheard be identified in Domesday Book? and why did Burgheard go to Rome? In doing so, it addresses some of the methodological problems which have arisen in connection with recent work on Anglo-Saxon prosopography, in which Janet Nelson has played a leading role.
After c.1970 few medieval economic and social historians approaching the topic of the medieval peasantry could do so without including some discussion of the demography of their object of investigation. The introduction of subtle and involved demographic technique into the research of medievalists was dependent upon the development of the subject of demography and of an overlap between historians and demographers. J.C. Russell, one of the most important exponents of historical demography in the middle decades of the twentieth century, had begun to consider the sources and approaches to the population history of the middle ages in the 1920s and 1930s while teaching relevant university courses in New Mexico. Russell's own discussion of medieval demography, while certainly not confined to the sources of the social elites in this period, offers little comment on the rural population per se or the demography of the medieval English peasantry in particular.
This chapter examines the earliest attempts, in terms of a modern historiography dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, to discuss the medieval English peasantry. It begins with one of the most resilient of the themes in the historiography of the medieval English peasantry: lordship. The chapter explores the following main themes from this early period: economy, population and demography, and the village community. One of the more vibrant themes in later nineteenth-century historiography of the medieval peasantry was the nature and development of the village community. Political theorists and historians in the middle decades of the nineteenth century sought to identify long-term continuums and the interconnectedness of village communities over time. Studies of the village community by H. S. Maine, F. Seebohm and G. L. Gomme identified the organisation of the farming landscape as a major factor in the regulation and nature of the village community.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book begins by exploring the origins of, and influences on, the culture of the late medieval gentry, thus contributing to the debate on defining the membership of this group. It considers the gentry's emergence as a group distinct from the nobility and looks at the various available routes to gentility. Through surveys of the gentry's military background, administrative and political roles, social behaviour, and education, the book provides an overview of how the group's culture evolved, and how it was disseminated. It offers a broad view of late medieval gentry culture, which explores, reassesses and indeed sometimes even challenges the idea that members of the gentry cultivated their own distinctive cultural identity.
The medieval gentry read about education in didactic literature, meaning literature whose purpose was to instruct. The home is the place where all education begins, and this was so for the English gentry in the fifteenth century. They grew up in households consisting of parents, nurses and servants, all of whom might play a part in raising and educating the children. The culture of the fifteenth-century gentry was ambivalent socially. The gentry of the fifteenth century took education seriously. It figured as a topic in much of the material that they heard in sermons or read in literature, even in recreational reading such as romances. Hunting was important for the gentry both recreationally and socially. Socially it provided the gentry with a common activity in which they could meet and entertain one another.
Death naturally marks the end of life. In late medieval descriptions of the ages of man, death followed decrepitude, the final stage of old age. It is easy to assume that death cast a long shadow over life in late medieval Europe. This chapter discusses the types of arrangements and rituals surrounding a person's last moments on earth, and the planning needed by those wishing to perpetuate the memory of her or his life. The funeral rites marked the stage of transition as the dead person was taken on a one-way journey from the place of the living (usually domestic) to that of the dead (a sacred setting). Like the death-bed rituals, funerals assisted the healing processes associated with loss. Burial physically removed the dead and the process of decay from the eyes of the living.
This chapter explains the relationship between the Historia of the influential but resolutely static Bede and a set of scholars whose physical movement defined them as peregrini, the ninth-century Irish expatriate scholars who made their careers in the Carolingian world. Within that community, it focuses on one in particular, Sedulius Scottus. The lives of such men - 'scotti who die in foreign lands' in the self-conscious words of a marginal comment found in the ninth-century manuscript Bern 363 - are a reminder that Bede's monastic stabilitas was not the only mode of early medieval scholarly life. Experienced as a continuous piece of prose, the Bern Bede offers a compressed account of British history from Caesar to Augustine's mission, with a noticeable slackening of interest in late imperial history and a sustained moment of collapse in interest when dealing with the life and career of St Germanus.
Face-to-face encounters between rulers stood at the heart of the medieval peacemaking process, yet considerable effort also went into negotiations in the lead up to, during and after such meetings. Much work has been done by historians on envoys and negotiators in the later medieval period. Most notably, Pierre Chaplais has worked on the English diplomatic personnel, and Donald E. Queller has published several studies on the nature of the ambassadorial office in Europe, fore-mostly in Venice. According to Chaplais and Queller, the diplomatic personnel of the later Middle Ages generally fell into two categories: nuncii and procuratores. Both Chaplais and Queller have noted that in letters of procuration the essential clause was that of the de rato, whereby the ruler confirmed that he would ratify everything that his envoys had negotiated and concluded.
Alongside investigation of the demographic study of peasant populations there has been closely related work on social and familial structure. This chapter discusses historical work on gender and the condition and role of women in peasant society. It begins by examining the peasant family and household in demographic terms and by looking at household formation, age at marriage and the size and structure of the peasant household, as well as the evolution of the peasant household in the high and late middle ages. Historical interest in household formation owes a great deal to work on post-medieval populations. Clearly, discussion of age at marriage and the process of family and household formation are closely associated with discussion of the size and structure of the peasant household as well as any regional and temporal differences.