Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Scenes from Provincial Life: History, Honor, and Meaning in the Tudor North [*]

Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Scenes from Provincial Life: History, Honor, and Meaning in the Tudor North [*]

Article excerpt

The early Tudor North is often regarded as a lawless and disordered society where leading magnates depended upon violence and codes of honor to maintain order. These codes of honor compelled magnates to fight to maintain their reputations and also to assert their independence from central authority. Through an examination of several episodes in northern history, however, most of them brought to light by the most famous historian of the region, Mervyn James, it can he shown that northern magnates did not have a code of honor and usually shrank from violence as a way of settling disputes.

In December 1536, at the height of the uproar over the Pilgrimage of Grace, Richard Dacre, a member of the powerful Dacre family, met Henry, Lord Clifford, a bitter enemy of the Dacres, at the door of a church in Carlisle. Dacre fixed a steely glare on Clifford, looking "upon him with a haughty and proud countenance, not moving his bonnet." Leaving the churchyard Dacre spied another old opponent, Sir William Musgrave. Without speaking, Dacre "plucked out his dagger and took him by the shoulder, and would have slain him in case he [Musgrave] had not leaped back from him and plucked out his dagger, and that one of the sons of Lord Fetherstanhugh had not with his dagger drawn leaped between them." Dacre and Fetherstanhugh drew their swords, but were separated. Dacre then went to the market place, and exhorting townsmen with the cry of "A Dacre, a Dacre," assembled a company of followers. The mayor of Carlisle ordered him to leave, but Dacre indignantly refused, repairing to his lodgings for a leisurely meal. He departed briefly, but returned to Carlisle the next day with twenty men of Gilsiand, reportedly for some unlawful purpose. Lord Clifford was waiting for him, and with a body of men forced Dacre to leave. [1]

This famous episode seems to underscore a well-established view of the Tudor North. Tudor historians who study the workings of central government and encounter northern history primarily as it pertains to the study of central government, have tended to see the North as lawless and disorderly. These historians understand the region to be dominated by a rebellious and fractious nobility, who engaged in two major rebellions during the period of Tudor rule and remained for the most part seemingly outside the orbit of central authority, conducting their own feuds and making their own law. This view has been reinforced through the popular account of northern governance, G.M. Fraser's The Steel Bonnets.

Anthropological approaches have also given powerful credence to the interpretation of the sixteenth-century North as largely disordered. These approaches have taken two directions, both apparent in the work of the most distinguished historian of the Tudor North, Mervyn James, who devoted his scholarly life to its study and who made the field an area worthy of serious attention. James is one of the more intriguing figures in early modern historiography, and he was a true trailblazer in many regards. Early in his career, he published little, apparently expending his energy by immersing himself in the sources of the Tudor North and reading widely. By the mid-1960s, his labor and diligence began to pay off with three contributions of consequence to early modern English historiography. First, he made the Tudor North a subject of interest. Second, in a series of complex and innovative studies, supported by wide reading in several disciplines, James argued that between 1500 and 1640 the North was transformed from a traditional lineage society embracing aristocratic, localist values, where elites often promoted disorder to cement their own authority, to a more modern, civil society, upholding values associated with the rule of law and centralized authority. According to James, the lineage society emphasized a conception of aristocratic honor whereby men valued loyalty to their local lord or clan, guarded their reputations fiercely, and reserved the right to settle their differences by themselves through violence and self-assertion. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.