Simon Walker studied modern history at Magdelen College, Oxford, graduating with first-class honours in 1979. When Walker began researching the retinue of John of Gaunt in 1980, 'bastard feudalism' had been the subject of debate for thirty-five years. A study of John of Gaunt's retinue could be expected to throw important, if not decisive, light on these problems. For not only was his the largest retinue in late medieval England, but for thirty years the duke himself had a dominant role in the domestic, military and diplomatic policy of England. In 1994, Michael Jones and Walker published for the Camden Society an edition of all the surviving private life indentures for peace and war apart from those of John of Gaunt and William, Lord Hastings. Walker's introduction to the volume reviewed the evolution of life indentures, the range of services they embraced, the regulation of obligations for service and reward, and the changing role of such indentures over the period 1278-1476. From these broad investigations into the balance of power between magnates and gentry, Walker returned to examine how, in individual cases, two men from different backgrounds built their careers on noble and royal patronage. Walker then turned to examine the retrospective view of the 1399 revolution in literate culture. He used case studies to build up a picture of collective mentalities among different social grades and vocational worlds, hoping ultimately to construct a new approach to the tensions and strength of the late medieval polity.
The charters of the 990s not only give readers a rare insight into the terms of early medieval English political debate, and into the tensions and contradictions within and between them, but also into their successful deployment within a specific historical context. This chapter begins with the 'youthful ignorance' charters. Returning to them now suggests how far the ideals of the 990s, albeit recorded in clerically drafted documents, should be seen as shared values, or ones which at least had strong resonance for the laity. In the context of debates which utilised the values of kinship and family, and in which the king was made to place himself and his actions within a dynastic past, a metaphor of the king's reign drawn from his human life-cycle was a very apposite way of presenting what was claimed as a shift in direction and a king's change of mind.
This chapter is an investigation of the nature of political society in later medieval England, though the angle from which it approaches it is notably oblique. Its starting point is an attempt to investigate the nature and significance of the religious sanction enjoyed by the political order through an examination of the changes in the definitions of sanctity that occurred within this period. Later medieval England was unusually rich in one further group of candidates for sanctity, the 'political' saints. The chapter discusses principal representatives of this group, who will receive more detailed attention in this paper, are well known: Simon de Montfort, Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II, Richard Scrope, archbishop of York, Henry VI. Political saints were no different from the other saints venerated in later medieval England in being valued 'not primarily as exemplars or soulfriends, but as powerful helpers and healers in time of need'.
This chapter maintains that the key concerns and political debates during the
period 1215-1381 invariably rested on issues of legal import, among them
ways of defining the legitimate exercise of royal power, matters of
jurisdiction, law and order, and the functioning of the judicial system. It
examines some of the contexts in which law entered the political arena and
the processes by which royal authority was transmitted to, and received by,
subjects. The chapter focuses on kingship and particularly the use of image
and rhetoric in upholding public order and maintaining confidence in the
law. It considers the attempts on the part of successive monarchs to
legitimise their actions on the national and international stage by applying
legal concepts and processes. The chapter looks at 'popular'
attitudes towards the law and the assimilation of legal concepts as
manifested in the Peasants' Revolt.
The politics of later medieval England have acquired an unsavoury reputation: this was an age of king-killers, after all. Sir John Scott and Sir John Fogge dominated Kentish politics during their time as, respectively, controller and treasurer of Edward IV's household. Each of these local leaders had his own gentry networks. Service in the king's wars, either on campaign or as part of a castle garrison, gave many of the gentry experience of England's Celtic neighbours and, of course, France. Office-holding provided the framework within which the greater gentry led their public lives. The Church held vast estates, and the major religious houses needed servants, estate officials, lawyers and well-wishers, creating their own 'affinities' within which the gentry found employment. In many cases, the greater gentry were perfectly capable of maintaining their autonomy.
Since the mid-twentieth century, much of the discussion of the medieval English peasantry has been determined by consideration of the overarching theme of population and the availability of resources relative to the peasant's capacity to cope in his or her world. It was the work of M.M. Postan which effected a crucial shift in the study of the medieval peasant by introducing a broad thesis of economic change based upon the relationship between population and resources. This chapter begins with a discussion of Postan's thesis of population movement before exploring it both in relation to his own views on the medieval English peasantry and, further, the application of that thesis by a generation of historians writing subsequent to Postan. This overview of Postan's work and its response summarises what can, with some justification, be described as the predominant explanatory model for the historiography of the medieval English peasantry.
The acquisition and development of legal consciousness among those who were
not themselves lawyers or judges are significant features of the political
history of the period 1215-1381. An individual's obligations within a
particular community and his or her awareness of those obligations
contributed further to the level of consciousness of the law. Attendance at
public courts was an important way of acquiring legal knowledge. Attendance
at church, required by the 1215 Lateran Council, provided various
opportunities for the acquisition of legal knowledge. At all levels of the
court system, legal knowledge was a concomitant of experience gained from,
and in many cases a necessary requirement for, employment as a court
official and service as a juror. Finally, an understanding of the law could
be acquired either directly or indirectly from the growing documentary
culture, from book learning and/or from exposure to literature relating to
In c. 1150 the author of Le roman de Thèbes supplemented a retelling of Statius's Thebaid with an original episode in which King Eteocles' appeal of treason against his man Daire le Roux is debated in the king's court. A fuller study of imaginary treason trials yields different conclusions partly because it reveals noteworthy continuities throughout this period not just in the motifs and stock characters found in trial scenes but in the manner of representing the bilateral ordeal (that is, a judicial duel or trial by battle) as an effective means of disproving false accusations of treason. In addition, the study of trial scenes shows significant continuities in the representation of treason against a lord, not as a clearly definable offence against so-called 'feudal law', but rather as a politically and legally problematic category of wrongdoing.
The emergence of a distinct legal profession was one of the defining features
of the development of law in the period 1215-1381. This chapter examines the
extent to which the professionalisation of the law inculcated and encouraged
ways of thinking about the law and legal practice. It looks, first, at the
provision of legal education and the growth of an intellectual domain and,
secondly, at avenues of promotion or advancement within the profession and
its sense of identity and collegiality. The chapter then investigates the
relationship between the legal profession and the wider population,
especially the position of judges and lawyers within society. The ethical
behaviour and general conduct of members of the legal profession was the
subject of deliberation and official scrutiny in the profession's early
years. The chapter considers how 'popular' perceptions of judges
and lawyers affected the development of the legal profession.
The attempt to both define and understand reform in the later tenth and eleventh centuries is the chief ambition of this book. The book explores ecclesiastical reform as a religious idea and a movement against the backdrop of social and religious change in later tenth- and eleventh-century Europe. In so doing, it seeks, on the one hand, to place the relationship between reform and the papacy in the context of the debate about 'transformation' in its many and varied forms. At the same time, although recognizing that the reform movement had its origins as much in individuals and events far away from Rome and royal courts, it has looked to act as something of a corrective to the recent tendency among historians of emphasizing reform developments in other localities at the expense of those being undertaken in Rome. The book addresses 'the religious revolution of the eleventh century' by exploring how reform and the papacy developed in the eleventh century, and how these changes affected the rules by which medieval society functioned. Particular attention is paid to the question of whether the 'peace of God' movement was a social revolution that progressively blurred into and merged with the papal-sponsored movement for reform, which was gathering pace from the middle of the century, or whether these forces were deliberately compacted by the reformers in their efforts to promote their vision for Christian society.