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Bridges, Law and Power in Medieval England, 700-1400

Bridges, Law and Power in Medieval England, 700-1400

Alan Cooper
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Bridges, Law and Power in Medieval England, 700-1400
    Book Description:

    From the time of Alfred the Great until beyond the end of the Middle Ages, bridges were vital to the rulers and people of England, but they were expensive and difficult to maintain. Who then was responsible for their upkeep? The answer to this question changes over the centuries, and the way in which it changes reveals much about law and power in medieval England. The development of law concerning the maintenance of bridges did not follow a straightforward line: legal ideas developed by the Anglo-Saxons, which had made the first age of bridge building possible, were rejected by the Normans, and royal lawyers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had to find new solutions to the problem. The fate of famous bridges, especially London Bridge, shows the way in which the spiritual, historical and entrepreneurial imagination was pressed into service to find solutions; the fate of humbler bridges shows the urgency with which this problem was debated across the country. By concentrating on this aspect of practical governance and tracing it through the course of the Middle Ages, much is shown about the limitations of royal power and the creativity of the medieval legal mind. ALAN COOPER is Assistant Professor of History at Colgate University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-450-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    In 1362, the bridge over the Trent at Nottingham collapsed. In response, Edward III commissioned four men to inquire as to who was liable to repair the bridge ‘whereby there used to be safe transit for men and carts over the river to the said town and to the North’.¹ The answer returned was simple: no-one was obliged to repair the bridge. It had been repaired only by alms and through the proceeds from temporary pontage tolls granted by kings over the previous half century. The king had no power to compel anyone to rebuild the bridge, so instead he...

  7. Chapter 1 Bridge-work, but No Bridges: St Boniface and the Origins of the Common Burdens
    (pp. 8-38)

    The obligation to build bridges has a familiar place in the history of Anglo-Saxon governance because of its status as one third of the misnamed trinoda necessitas. Because the obligation has seemed to be such a matter of common sense, however, its purpose has by and large been taken for granted. In fact, bridge-work was not a straightforward phenomenon. A re-examination of the first appearance of bridge-work in the charters of the early Anglo-Saxon period reveals that there were very few bridges and that the obligation appears sporadically in the charters rather than universally. It seems strange that kings insist...

  8. Chapter 2 Viking Wars, Public Peace: The Evolution of Bridge-work
    (pp. 39-65)

    The definition of the common burdens was part of the growth in power and sophistication of royal government; as kings’ demands on their people grew, so they began to grant immunities from secular burdens to churches and favoured individuals, reserving the military obligations necessary for all. To the ancient army-service were added fortress- and bridge-work, the insistence on which gained increasing urgency under the pressure of Viking attacks.¹ Indeed, as Nicholas Brooks concludes, ‘the development of royal authority in England was directly connected with the successful enforcement of public works and general military obligations so that an adequate defence against...

  9. Chapter 3 ‘As Free as the King Could Grant’: The End of Communal Bridge-work
    (pp. 66-79)

    Bridge-work was one element of the Anglo-Saxon public order. It was a communal obligation which was theoretically inescapable; most other duties might be remitted by the king, but not bridge-work. This theory was either not understood or not respected by the Conqueror and his sons. On the one hand, we see them exploiting the common burdens to their fullest extent. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle complains of the grievous burdens imposed in 1097 on the counties whose work was due at London, caused by the building of the Tower of London and Westminster Hall and the repair of London Bridge, so that...

  10. Chapter 4 Three Solutions
    (pp. 80-148)

    By the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, bridges were a common feature of the English landscape. They were vital to the life of the country. But they were expensive to maintain and, since the general principle of universal land-based obligations had disappeared, there was no one system of financing maintenance. Three solutions evolved.¹

    The first was the enforcement of obligations: this seems to have been going on quietly, almost behind our sources. Where obligations do enter the record it is usually the challenging of them. Obligations there were in the late Middle Ages, but they were not common to all;...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 149-152)

    What does the history of the financing of bridges tell us about the history of the English Middle Ages? The seven centuries from c. 700 to c. 1400 can be divided into four shorter periods.

    The period between c. 700 and 871 is obviously the most difficult about which to say anything definite. The obligation to build bridges first appeared in the charters, not as a vital part of governance, but as a symbolic borrowing from Roman and Continental law. There were few bridges and the duty was not important. The archaeological and environmental evidence suggests that most rivers could...

  12. Appendix 1 The Gumley Charter of 749
    (pp. 153-154)
  13. Appendix 2 Grants of Pontage up to 1400
    (pp. 155-168)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-182)
  15. Index
    (pp. 183-185)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 186-186)