This book is dedicated to Susan Reynolds and celebrates the work of a scholar whose views have been central to reappraisals of the position of the laity in the Middle Ages. The themes and concerns include a medieval world in which the activity and attitudes of the laity are not obscured by ideas expressed more systematically in theoretical treatises by ecclesiastics; a world in which lay collective action and thought take centre stage. Reynolds has written her own Middle Ages, especially in her innovative book Kingdoms and Communities whose influence can be seen in so many of the essays. Collectivities, solidarities and collective action are everywhere in these essays, as Reynolds has shown us to expect them to be. Collective action was carried out often in pursuit of social peace, but it existed precisely because there was discord. Of the narratives and interpretative frameworks with which Reynolds's work has been concerned, the book has least to say directly on the debate over feudalism. The book engages many of the themes of Reynolds's work and pursues some of the issues which are prominent in re-examinations of the medieval world and in studies of the medieval laity. It discusses secular aristocratic attitudes towards judicial combat within the broader setting of fictional 'treason trials' of the later twelfth century. Although kinship did not start out as an explicit and overt theme of the book, it emerges as a leitmotiv, perhaps in part because when feudalism is removed, kinship is thrown into sharper relief.
In this chapter, the author contrasts the recognition and concerns for the laity in Buddhism with the other major religion of early India, Hinduism, which tends either to leave it fluid or as in some sects, gives it no recognition. Votive inscriptions from Buddhist sites in the Deccan, the northern part of the Indian peninsula, during the period from the first century BC to about the third century AD provide the data. Lay collective activity in early India varied according to religion and among sects within the same religion. The author has tried to suggest that, although the concept of laity was a necessity in Buddhism, it was far more blurred if not absent in some of the Hindu sects. This was not merely due to religious formulations and requirements but also hinged on the interface between religious belief and practice and social forms.
Medieval kinship structures varied according to period and region. In the course of the Middle Ages, however, a unitary kinship system was increasingly imposed on the laity by the church. This chapter aims to answer some precise questions about the rationality of this kinship system. Like most good questions about rationality, these are ultimately derived from Max Weber. Firstly, the chapter talks about the surface rationale propagated by the church. The distinction between 'instrumental rationality' and 'value rationality' seems to me especially useful for the study of kinship rules. In Weber's conceptual scheme these two kinds of rationality were complementary. The 'four degrees' rule may have been irrelevant to England, but in Italy and in other areas, where clans were the norm, the kinship law regulated by the popes was a powerful force for lay solidarity.
This chapter is probably more empirical than Susan Reynolds would like, but the author hopes that its attempt to search for the less visible members of urban society will meet with her approval. Her belief in the essential reasonableness of medieval men and women, and in their ability to act in their own best interests, has been a constant corrective and inspiration. It is in the nature of the surviving records to reveal most about those who were most conspicuous: in the case of London those who became aldermen or held other civic office. Such men were almost always wealthy and it is their views and priorities which may be most easily discerned in the surviving records. The wards of medieval London may have been both political and affective units within the complex jigsaw of civic government.
One of the key aims of this book is to offer a synthesis of the main findings of current research on age. It is intended as an outline survey and consequently the scope of the book is deliberately broad: it covers two centuries, considers the large land mass of Western Europe with its diverse languages, customs and cultures, and ranges across the social spectrum. The book focuses solely on the Christian West, including consideration on the extent to which social rank influenced life expectancy, the methods and goals of upbringing, marriage patterns and funerary memorialisation. The book also demonstrates how extensive that range can be. Examples are drawn from manorial accounts, tax assessments, spiritual writings, didactic literature, romances, elegies, art and architecture. The main thrust is that age formed an essential part of a person's identity in late medieval Europe. During adolescence, men and women progressively took on their adult roles. Three chapters are devoted to educating girls. The book discusses young people's period of transition between childhood and adulthood. It draws attention to pious young women who fought against marriage and wanted a chaste life. Divergences between northern and southern Europe in terms of marriage patterns, family formation, opportunities for women and attitudes towards death and its rituals are discussed. The book shows that attitudes towards the undeveloped young meant that children had few legal responsibilities. Another aim of the book is to consider the changing opportunities and possibilities for people as they progressed through life.
Mindful of the need to avoid generalisations, and to approach the available evidence cautiously, this chapter draws on the surviving letter collections of the late medieval English gentry in an attempt to gain insight into the writers' literacy. It focuses on the gentry's command of the English language and deals predominantly with writing skills. Of all the late medieval social groups, evidence of the reading and writing skills of the gentry is the most accessible. The advantages of acquiring developed literacy skills grew throughout the late medieval period, as the gentry's involvement in local and national bureaucracy, as well as in commercial activities, increased. The concept of 'being literate' changed considerably throughout the Middle Ages, and to confuse matters modern scholars have defined literacy in many different ways. The late medieval gentry put their increasingly sophisticated literacy to use for the purpose of strengthening their group identity.
Since romances were read alongside other literary, historical, political and religious texts, and since their audience was both noble and gentle, this chapter aims to identify gentry concerns in the different texts available to them. Among the most well-known Middle English texts dealing with the topic of gentility are Chaucer's poem 'Gentilesse' and his 'Wife of Bath's Tale'. The portraits of the Knight and the Franklin in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales have also been used by literary critics and historians when discussing fourteenth-century society and its stratification in relation to Chaucer's own reflections on this topic. Instructional texts appear in miscellaneous manuscripts alongside romances, religious tracts and other items, including recipes and medical remedies. In the composite manuscripts many copies survive of the Brut chronicle, Thomas Hoccleve's Regiment, John Lydgate's Secrets, chronicles, genealogical chronicles and advice literature alongside romances.
Most legal historians would date the emergence of a recognizable English 'Common Law' to the last quarter of the twelfth century. It was during this period that King Henry II and his advisers created the first of a new type of royal court in England. The common law courts were clearly not invincibly hostile to the continuance of local custom. Indeed they were willing on occasion to accept and enforce it. The general effect of the 'professionalisation' and centralisation of the legal system was obviously a nationwide standardisation of norms, the development of a 'common law' for England as a whole. But the system evidently remained sufficiently flexible to allow the continuance and enforcement of some local custom both at the county level, and at a much more local level, as well.
This chapter explores the ways in which historians have engaged with the peasantry chiefly as tenants, and especially in terms of the relationship between lord and peasant-tenants. This concentration on lord-tenant relations has sometimes narrowed the historical focus to dwell upon sub-sets of the peasantry. An original intention of historical discussion of rent was to chart the development of serfdom, with a view to exploring the origins of servility in medieval England. Rodney Hilton suggests that evidence for class-consciousness amongst the medieval peasantry can be detected in their resistance and their claims against their lords. Hilton in particular, and Robert Brenner as a later contributor, were both engaged in what has been referred to as the 'transition debate', a longstanding discussion of the processes that explain change in the European economy and which sought to identify a primacy of causes for that change.
The palatinate of Lancaster provides a unique case in the study of 'bastard feudalism,' an opportunity to observe the operation of a lord's favor almost unrestrained by the exercise of royal power. This chapter examines the state of law and order in the palatinate of Lancaster under John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, in the light of the Commons' complaints. It seeks to assess the extent to which they were justified, and then use the conclusions derived from this local evidence to attempt a more general estimate of the nature and effects of 'bastard feudalism' in later medieval England. Intense competition and pressure for land, the ever-growing complexity of the law, the opportunities for manipulation and collusion, all seem more important causes of disorder than the deliberate lawlessness of the nobility. The palatinate should be ascribed to the endemic failure of medieval rulers to control their local agents.