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Humphrey Newton (1466-1536): an early Tudor Gentleman

Humphrey Newton (1466-1536): an early Tudor Gentleman

Deborah Youngs
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 278
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81hmb
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  • Book Info
    Humphrey Newton (1466-1536): an early Tudor Gentleman
    Book Description:

    The public and political lives of the fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century gentry have been extensively studied, but comparatively little is known of their private lives and beliefs. Humphrey Newton of Pownall, Cheshire, offers a rare and fascinating opportunity to redress the balance, thanks to the fortunate survival of a commonplace book he compiled c.1498-1524. Drawing upon this unique manuscript, this interdisciplinary and multi-dimensional study of Newton explores his family life, landed estate, legal work, piety, and his literary skills [he composed nearly twenty courtly love lyrics]. It charts his social advancement and the self-fashioning of his gentle image, while placing him in the context of current discussions of gentry culture. What makes Newton even more noteworthy is that he was among the unsung and little known stratum of English society historians have labelled the 'lesser' gentry. As such, this book provides the first comprehensive biography of an early Tudor gentleman. Dr DEBORAH YOUNGS is lecturer in medieval history at Swansea University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-645-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Lists of illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xi)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    On 8 december 1499, Humphrey Newton walked around the grounds of his estate in Newton, Cheshire, accompanied by Thomas Cross, a local builder. Crosse was to construct the new fulling mill at Newton and had already supplied Humphrey with an estimate for the work. As Humphrey’s estate was to provide the raw materials, the two men spent some time pinpointing the trees suitable for the building project. Around a dozen were to be felled, and Humphrey made careful note of their location and their purpose. He appears to have been a man with a keen eye for trees and, in...

  7. 2 The Newton Family
    (pp. 10-40)

    Humphrey’s commonplace book opens with a list of his Newton ancestors and the growing number of his children. Past, present and future are represented, neatly demonstrating what Kate mertes has described as the ‘abstract devotion to the perpetuation of the name’ found among aristocratic families.¹ It is appropriate to introduce Humphrey through his kin because he saw himself as one link in a genealogical chain, stretching over centuries. Through his ancestors – his bloodline – Humphrey was able show his gentle origins. He fulfilled the criterion voiced by medieval writers like the fifteenth-century Burgundian olivier de la marche who wrote that ‘the...

  8. 3 Humphrey and the Law
    (pp. 41-68)

    In 1475 William Worcester may have lamented the numbers who had chosen ‘to lerne the practique of law or custom of lande’ to the neglect and ultimate detriment of arms,¹ but this was an increasingly old-fashioned view by the fifteenth century as the middling and upper echelons of society came to see law as an advantageous career path for the socially ambitious. The growing laicisation of government, important new developments in the law (such as the making of enfeoffments to use) and the growth of the commercial land market had all furthered opportunities for and increased the prominence of lawyers.²...

  9. 4 Land and Lordship
    (pp. 69-105)

    It is difficult to overestimate the importance of land to england’s elite. It was the basis of wealth and the tangible symbol of social and political dominance. Late medieval nobles held vast estates that stretched over several counties, yet it was the gentry, collectively, who held the larger percentage of property. In the North riding of yorkshire, the gentry owned forty-five per cent of the manors, while in Humphrey’s county of Cheshire the proportion was especially high: over three-quarters of manors were in gentry hands, and the smaller estate far outnumbered the larger.¹

    It was land that formed the basis...

  10. 5 Beliefs
    (pp. 106-142)

    We know much about the gentry’s personal responses to land disputes, prominent as they are in court records and family letters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Uncovering personal religious beliefs, however, proves more of a challenge.¹ Too often the evidence that survives is associated with the end of life, such as a will or a monument. These inevitably carry the heavy presence of death and can only obliquely reveal what might have been a person’s religion during his or her lifetime. Fortunately, while the most conspicuous relic of Humphrey Newton’s piety is his tomb, the survival of his commonplace...

  11. 6 Lifestyle
    (pp. 143-176)

    God would judge the soul, but medieval gentle society would judge by outward appearances. Gentility did not merely reside in the solidity of land and wealth, but in the often intangible qualities of presentation and display. Status was reflected in homes and material possessions, in personal appearance and modes of behaviour. while good birth could not be taken away, claims to gentility had to be continually demonstrated and justified: a gentleman was expected to lead a particular way of life.

    The dual purpose of a gentle lifestyle was to convey exclusivity and superiority. Peter Coss has argued that one definition...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 7 Writer
    (pp. 177-200)

    Humphrey was not only a reader but a writer, and a confident one at that. There can have been few aspects of his life that did not involve making a written record. As previous chapters have revealed, Humphrey placed a great deal of trust in written documents, while recognising the issues of forgery and mistakes. debt repayments, the selling of sheep, a new medical recipe or a snippet of local history were all reasons to take up the pen and make a note. while this was not a rare action in late medieval society, it was far from common among...

  14. 8 Humphrey: The Man and his World
    (pp. 201-212)

    Turning the pages of Humphrey’s commonplace book in the filtered light of Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room, Bodleian library, draws the reader into a small, intimate world. The fascinating first-person detail can overpower the already faint echoes of ‘outside’ events, of the major political, constitutional, religious and demographic changes occurring during the Early Tudor period. Humphrey’s life in general offers only limited information on this wider world. Whereas the more common problem in researching the late medieval gentry is the dominance of official documents over the personal, in Humphrey’s case, the rich material of his manuscript is not always matched by...

  15. APPENDIX 1 Timeline of key events during Humphrey Newton’s life 1466–1536
    (pp. 213-214)
  16. APPENDIX 2 Bodleian Library, MS Latin Miscellaneous c.66
    (pp. 215-218)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-248)
  18. Index
    (pp. 249-258)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)