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
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 best-explored sphere of gentry religion is charitable donations. The pattern of donations closely mirrored the position of a family within the hierarchy of gentility, for the greater gentry, having more widespread lands, generally distributed their generosity over a wider geographical area. Very minor gentry would have to accept lesser, and less permanent, means of commemoration, like a finite number of masses, obits, or the donation of an altar light, vestment or furnishing. An exploration of the language used in the fifteenth-century gentry correspondences would offer valuable evidence of the true meaning of religion to the mass of the gentry, not just on their deathbeds but in the course of their daily lives. All gentry men and women were well enough educated in the faith to express their own personal preferences in religion and develop their own favourite saints and rituals.
The emergence of parliament as an important forum for legal and political
matters was a significant feature of the period 1215-1381. Parliament
provided a focal point where views were expressed on issues of
constitutional import connected to the Crown's jurisdiction and the
nature of royal governance, on problems of law and order and on issues
within a judicial context. This chapter considers the judicial importance of
parliament, which lay in its role as a forum for petitions, as a court of
appeal, as a tribunal for the resolution of difficult cases and as a venue
for state trials. Assessing the extent and impact of the legal expertise
among parliament's constituent members, it is argued that those with
legal knowhow and parliamentary experience played an important part in
consultative exercises and in the passage of statute legislation at every
juncture. The chapter looks at the interaction between local and national
Law is seen to be a vehicle for royal jurisdiction and royal propaganda as
well as providing the catalyst and underlying reason for civil disobedience
and popular complaint. This chapter shows the necessity of examining the
workings of the mind and the psychological elements of law as a means of
identifying the dynamic role of legal consciousness in the prevailing
political culture. By emphasising the contexts in which law operated and the
ways in which it was represented and understood, it is possible to gain an
insight into how law had the capacity to form, affect and direct political
attitudes during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The complexity of
the medieval experience of law should be seen as a key component in the
growth of legal consciousness. The chapter also presents an overview of the
key concepts discussed in this book.
This chapter considers the ways in which discussion of certain important aspects of peasant society in medieval England, for instance the transfer of land, are sometimes examined by historians as explicable in terms of their significance for society and community. It identifies four main historical approaches which, with differing motives, have explored the nature, and changing nature, of the medieval village community and the durability of the bonds which sustained it. These are institutionalists, social structuralists, Marxists, and individualists. Institutionalists are those historians, such as Helen M. Cam, who have emphasised the importance of legal and quasi-legal structures in defining the village community. Social structuralists have tended to define the village community according to the activities of its constituents, and especially in terms of co-operation. Individualists, an approach associated with Alan Macfarlane but one that also admits a nuanced discussion of individual enterprise and entrepreneurship.
The visual arts played a part in providing the gentry with an identity. In England, unlike in some Continental countries, there existed strong suspicions of the value of visual creativity, which arguably inhibited the development of a system of artistic patronage based on mutual respect between artist and patron. Since Dominicans frequently acted as spiritual advisers to prominent gentry the philosophy played a part in interpreting their visual experiences as well. The concern gentry showed with positioning their tombs is as informative in assessing their visual alertness as their instructions for design and materials. As the more prosperous merchants were permitted to adopt the trappings of the gentry, it may be argued that a change took place in attitudes to visual culture. From the survey of late medieval visual culture it should be clear that issues of identity and appearance were fundamental for the English gentry.
This chapter presents the results of a survey of United Kingdom museums and archaeological establishments, and introduces the current facts and theories about these artefacts. The artefacts concerned provide physical evidence of the continuation and survival of counter-witchcraft practices before, during and after the witch trials. The archaeological record illuminates historical understanding of witchcraft and the popular fear of misfortune by providing primary physical evidence of individual actions, and therefore requires more consideration from those researching the cultural history of witchcraft and magic. Objects such as witch-bottles, dried cats, horse skulls, shoes, written charms and numerous other items have been discovered concealed inside houses in significant quantities from the early modern period until well into the twentieth century. All these archaeological finds provide material evidence for the continued preoccupation with witchcraft and evil influences from the early modern period through to the early twentieth century.
This book looks at aspects of the continuation of witchcraft and magic in Europe from the last of the secular and ecclesiastical trials during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, through to the nineteenth century. It provides a brief outline of witch trials in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Finland. By the second half of the seventeenth century, as the witch trials reached their climax in Sweden, belief in the interventionist powers of the Devil had become a major preoccupation of the educated classes. Having acknowledged the slight possibility of real possession by the Devil, Benito Feijoo threw himself wholeheartedly into his real objective: to expose the falseness of the majority of the possessed. The book is concerned with accusations of magic, which were formalised as denunciations heard by the Inquisition of the Archdiocese of Capua, a city twelve miles north of Naples, during the first half of the eighteenth century. One aspect of the study of witchcraft and magic, which has not yet been absorbed into the main stream of literature on the subject, is the archaeological record of the subject. As a part of the increasing interest in 'popular' culture, historians have become more conscious of the presence of witchcraft after the witch trials. The aftermath of the major witch trials in Dalarna, Sweden, demonstrates how the authorities began the awkward process of divorcing themselves from popular concerns and beliefs regarding witchcraft.