The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta

The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta

The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta

The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta

Excerpt

The form and content of this book may seem to require an explanation. Its aim is both critical and constructive. While seeking to clear from the path of the historian much that seems to us worthless and misleading, a mere clog upon learning, we also endeavour to put in its place teaching founded upon a scrupulous examination of the sources and, to our utmost endeavour, free from bias and preconception. Why, then, it may be asked, does the name of William Stubbs come so persistently into the book? We have been assured that his magnum opus is not read now or, if read at all, not by the rising generation of historians. But how much was the Constitutional History ever read by undergraduates? Maybe it was on their shelves, but what does that tell us? Could it not be said of Stubbs, as it has been said of his contemporaries of equal authority, 'the happiest hours of my life were those I ought to have spent with you'? Yet, even if undergraduates were deaf to all advice--and the Constitutional History has never ceased to be commended to history students --they could not escape Stubbs's teaching. It has come to them in ever repeated lectures; it is to be found in every textbook.

For all that concerns the constitutional history of mediaeval England, the teaching of William Stubbs has been inexpugnably dominant in English and American universities for more than eighty years. As a very recent American commentator has said, 'revision of the political and constitutional history of the later Middle Ages has meant, in the main, revision of Stubbs Constitutional History'. If his teaching has been questioned in this field or that, the questionings have not greatly disturbed historians. They may concede that, here and there, Stubbs's views need to be revised, but they still feel able to commend the body of his work as authentic and reliable history. The Constitutional History, says Mr A. L. Poole, 'remains, in spite of its date, the best and most authoritative starting point for a detailed study of mediaeval institutions'. And it has, it would appear, the quality of a prophylactic. It is described by the late Director of the Institute of Historical Research 'as a sovereign antidote' against the tendency which young historians have (so it is alleged) to proceed 'from one novelty to another, from the latest periodical to the latest . . .

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