The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages: The Fourteenth-Century Political Community

The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages: The Fourteenth-Century Political Community

The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages: The Fourteenth-Century Political Community

The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages: The Fourteenth-Century Political Community

Synopsis

Four things dominated the life of the medieval noble: warfare, politics, land and family. It is with these central themes that this book is concerned. The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages :* encompasses the whole of the upper segment of late medieval society* examines the relation of social status and political influence* describes the noble household and council* examines in detail the territorial and familial policies pursued by great landholders* emphasises the inter-relationship of local and national affairs* is arranged thematically, making it ideal for student use* has implications for the whole medieval periodGiven-Wilson combines comprehensive synthesis with lucid analysis in this vivid reconstruction of political society in late medieval England.

Excerpt

By the second half of the fourteenth century the English peerage, those sixty to seventy lords each of whom was entitled to an individual summons to parliament, had emerged as a distinct and privileged group at the top of English lay society. Their social and political pre-eminence stemmed firstly from their role as the chief military commanders and advisers of the king, and secondly from the lordship of land and men which they exercised in their localities—or, as they sometimes described them, their ‘countries’. In a sense, England was a federation of lordly spheres of influence. It was largely for their local authority that the king valued his peers. It was for the same local authority that the gentry, without whose consent and co-operation it could hardly be exercised, valued them.

A picture of England as a jigsaw of lordly spheres of influence is, however, prone to oversimplification, and it is advisable to begin with some caveats. What the peers enjoyed in their ‘countries’ was leadership and influence, it was not ‘control’. Dependent as it was on the consent of both the king and the local gentry, it could never be that. Nor were their spheres of influence clearly demarcated. Sometimes peers were entrusted with specific rights within quite clearly defined areas (a county, for example), but for the most part lordship was not so much a consolidated territorial power-block as a bundle of rights and a series of connections, overlapping and intermingling with a number of other sources of authority. Moreover, there was nothing immutable about them. They were continually expanding and contracting, and frequently changing hands. Local leadership was a question of degree, of individual ability, often of luck.

Lords and their ‘countries’ are discussed more fully in the later stages of this book. First, however, it is important to understand the

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