England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225

By Robert Bartlett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Aristocracy

I. THE STRUCTURE OF THE ARISTOCRACY

In common with most of pre-industrial Europe, England in this period was an aristocratic society: great wealth and power were in the hands of a few. The evidence of Domesday Book suggests that about half the income generated in the country was held by less than 200 barons, the rest going to the king or the Church. These 200 men and their families thus formed a small dominant group whose patronage shaped the fortunes of lesser families and whose feuds and friendships constituted politics. The range of wealth even in this baronial group was large—Domesday Book records that the lands of the count of Mortain comprised 793 manors, worth altogether over £2, 500 per annum, while, at the other extreme, Robert of Aumale had 15, worth a total of £26.1


The Feudal Hierarchy

The count of Mortain did not expect to keep his 793 manors under his own direct control. Although some of them were required to generate food for consumption or sale and to yield cash rents, many were granted out to tenants in return for various services. If the tenants held by military service, then they would be required to serve their lord in war, to garrison his castles, and to provide counsel and, in certain circumstances, monetary assistance. They would be enfeoffed by the lord, i.e. granted their fief, or dependent tenure, and the bond between them would be publicly manifested in the ceremony of homage, whereby the tenant became the lord's vassal or 'man' (homme).

The English aristocracy was structured both by a feudal hierarchy and an economic hierarchy. On the one hand, there was the simple question of how much land one had. By this yardstick the count of Mortain was a hundred times wealthier than Robert of Aumale. On the other hand, becoming a man's vassal meant recognizing his superiority, albeit often in ceremonial or formal terms. It did not take long for the two hierarchies to become irreversibly

1 Sidney Painter, Studies in the History of the English Feudal Barony (Baltimore, 1943), pp. 17–18.

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England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • General Editor's Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Contents xi
  • Plates xiv
  • Figures xv
  • Maps xvi
  • Tables xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter I - Political Patterns 4
  • Chapter 2 - England and Beyond 68
  • Chapter 3 - Lordship and Government 121
  • Chapter 4 - The Aristocracy 202
  • Chapter 5 - Warfare 252
  • Chapter 6 - The Rural Foundations 287
  • Chapter 7 - Towns and Trade 331
  • Chapter 8 - The Institutional Church 377
  • Chapter 9 - Religious Life 450
  • Chapter 10 - Cultural Patterns 490
  • Chapter 11 - The Course of Life 543
  • Chapter 12 - Cosmologies 624
  • Chronology of Political Events 701
  • The Sources 703
  • Index of Persons and Places 715
  • Index of Subjects 773
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