The final stages of the life cycle witnessed the ageing of the individual to the point where he or she would be identified as 'old' or 'aged'. In twenty-first-century Britain, chronological age has a key role in defining the entry into senior citizenship. Sixty-five is the official age for retirement and pension entitlement. While medieval writers employed chronological age markers, they preferred identifying an old person in terms of appearance, or by mental and physical capabilities. With the introduction of state pensions in the twentieth-century Britain, old age became associated with retirement, and a clear distinction is drawn between the working, active young and the inactive old. There were no state pensions or universal work benefits in medieval Europe. The chapter also shows that the elderly in medieval society were stereotyped as physically weak, and exemptions from war and administrative responsibilities imply that some old people were given age-related assistance.
This part introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The part considers the ways in which the historical study of the medieval English peasantry has, after its first stirrings, tended to be confined within three broad themes. These main themes have become associated with a more all-encompassing discussion of change in the medieval economy. So, historians have tended to see the economy as driven by one of or a combination of the following 'supermodels': population movement and its determining factors, the demands and constraints of the seigneurial economy and of resistance to the same, and the development of commerce and the market. The part suggests that a population-driven model, associated especially with the writing of M.M. Postan, was highly influential in the third quarter of the twentieth century but lost significant ground to a more 'commercial model' during the 1980s.
This part introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The part identifies features of the relevant historiography that often relate to or respond to the major shifts in our understanding of the medieval peasantry. Some of these developments reflect an intensification or a deepening of research in relation to more general theories regarding the functioning of medieval rural society and economy. Much of the discussion of medieval peasant culture has emerged in relation to discussion of peasant agency, be that in terms of politics and the political engagement of the peasantry, in or beyond the manor, or in commercial exchanges involving peasants, as producers and consumers. Historical investigation of themes relevant to our understanding of the medieval peasantry has been conducted by historians working, for the greater part, in other areas and often responding to other agendas.
Royal jurisdiction through the common law increased exponentially during the
period 1215-1381. Participation in the royal courts was therefore an
important way in which people became increasingly familiar with the
processes of law. A mixture of royal policy, experience of litigation and
feedback from lawyers and litigants shaped the development of the royal
courts. The effects of changes are assessed by four criteria: availability,
actionability, accountability and accessibility. The chapter first considers
the availability of royal justice and provides the reader with a snapshot of
the judicial system. Accountability was an important feature of the
Crown's policy towards the administration of justice and one that had
political and financial implications as well as purely legal ones. The
Crown's role in the prosecution of individuals was not restricted to
the identification of offenders through the use of local juries.
This chapter reviews both traditional and revisionist interpretations of the 'peace of God' movement in order to have a better understanding of its connection with eleventh-century reform as well as its repercussions for eleventh-century society. The 'peace of God' has been seen as something of a 'war on war', in other words, as a reaction to the disorder that resulted from the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire during the later ninth and tenth centuries. Among the chief difficulties in assessing both the nature and the significance of the 'peace of God' is that of the documentary evidence. In many ways what is most striking about the 'peace of God' has little do with the promotion of 'peace' at all. Rather it is the fact that churchmen were able to begin to persuade the ruling classes to accept their dictates and thereby prove their fitness to exercise power.
Few historical problems have received so much attention among those studying the modern period and so little attention among medieval scholars as that of peacemaking. In the medieval period, peace was intrinsically linked to Christianity. As peace was seen as the perfect realisation of the laws of God, peace in the medieval period also became a standard justification for war. This book develops Professor Christopher Holdsworth's ideas and to put these, and other, common themes into a wider context by examining two case studies: peacemaking involving the kings of England and their neighbours in Britain and on the continent; and that involving the kings of Denmark and their neighbours. For England, the investigation looks at the reigns of Henry II and his sons, Richard I and John, encompassing the period between 1154 and 1216. For Denmark, the focus is on the reigns of Valdemar I and his sons, Cnut VI and Valdemar II, thereby covering most of the period between 1157 and 1241. In 1177, the treaty of Winchester satisfied what both kings wanted to achieve at that particular time. At the heart of the medieval peacemaking process stood the face-to-face meeting.
This chapter explores an element of the historiography of the medieval English peasantry, culture. There are two important strands in the historiography of the medieval peasantry which, in terms of their core assumptions, have supposed the presence of a peasant culture at least capable of being posited and, in part at least, examined. The first of these is the examination of peasant engagement with the market, especially in terms of peasants as consumers, and the second is that aimed at exploring peasant agency, especially as regards politics, be that at the level of the manor and estate or on a national scale. The chapter considers each of these in turn before turning to some other, related, features of peasant culture, including relatively new initiatives, typically issuing from beyond studies directed at the medieval peasantry per se, and examines aspects of culture related to and encompassing the medieval peasantry.
The study of the medieval English peasantry began in the nineteenth century as an adjunct to the study of other themes. Medievalists have tended to assume that modern working definitions of peasant, as proposed by Thorner et al., are sufficiently accommodating as to make room for a medieval English peasantry and conceive of a peasant society operating in medieval England. The book describes the ways in which historians have discussed change within the village community, notably in the pre- and post-Black Death village communities. It examines the ways in which debates or particular avenues of research have emerged from three main strands of research: population movement and its determining; the demands and constraints of the seigneurial economy and of resistance to the same; and the development of commerce and the market. The book analyzes 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. It suggests that the study of the medieval peasantry is not a plaything of historical fashion, subject only to the whims and musings of historians the views of whom are rooted only in the present; it reflects a nuancing and refining of questions that will lead to a fuller understanding of a topic and period of great and enduring interest.
The role of peasants as participants in markets and as distinctive players in the medieval English economy has been emphasised by a number of historians. Marxist historians writing either side of the Second World War argued for a peasant economy that was, in its development, principally influenced by lordship and which was certainly not determined in the greater part by the market or commerce. The chapter sets out the ways in which the market has often tended to be set aside in discussion of the medieval peasant. It examines the adoption of new approaches to the study of the medieval English economy. Central features of this approach are: an awareness of the potentially significant impact of peasant economic endeavour on medieval gross domestic product and a reconsideration of the role of commerce, including rural trade and peasant economic activity, in effecting and indeed driving change in the medieval English economy.
The earlier Middle Ages are generally thought of as a period when there was no such thing as equality. Nevertheless, parity, however circumscribed by particularity, is attested in enough contexts, and in sufficiently many terms, to demand serious attention as an aspect of social relations and political thinking in the earlier Middle Ages. This chapter focuses on the period before 900, though it is gazed occasionally. In Philippe Buc's L'Ambiguïté du livre, there is a striking insistence both on the role of the Bible as a source of legitimacy in the Middle Ages, and on the possibility of egalitarian readings of Holy Writ. Not that Buc means 'egalitarian' in the universalistic sense of the Enlightenment. But he notes that for some twelfth-century Bible commentators, ecclesiastical authority was legitimately and normally wielded by local clergy rather than the pope.