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The Bishopric of Durham in the Late Middle Ages

The Bishopric of Durham in the Late Middle Ages: Lordship, Community and the Cult of St Cuthbert

Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Bishopric of Durham in the Late Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    North-East England contained some distinctive power structures during the late middle ages, notably the palatinate of Durham, where writs were issued in the name of the bishop of Durham rather than of the king and the bishop exercised secular authority as earl palatine. The core of the palatinate was the bishopric of Durham, an area bounded by the rivers Tyne and Tees and distinguished by an illustrious tradition, focusing upon Durham cathedral and the cult of St Cuthbert. Here resided the 'Haliwerfolc', the 'people of the saint'. This book, unlike previous interpretations which have tended to approach Durham primarily as a form of devolved royal power whose autonomy was gradually circumscribed by the crown, reviews the operation of palatine government in the light of more recent paradigms about the nature of power and identity in medieval England. In particular, it sees the concept of the county community as critical to a new understanding of the social and political history of the bishopric. In Durham this was a community built not upon patterns of landholding, social interaction or office-holding; it was in the concept of the 'Haliwerfolc' and in the cult of St Cuthbert that the inhabitants of the bishopric possessed their own distinctive culture of community and identity. CHRISTIAN D. LIDDY is Lecturer in History at the University of Durham.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-612-0
    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 Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    The historic city of Durham has long had its notable admirers, seduced by that familiar tendency: the veneration of the ancient. James Boswell, a guest in the ‘Old Castle’ in 1788, was inspired to comment about the majesty of the bishop of Durham who, in a previous age, had ruled as a ‘prince of an independent palatinate’.¹ Regrettably, Boswell did not reflect further upon the nature of the palatinate and treated his readers instead to a lengthy description of the plentiful food and drink he consumed at the bishop’s residence. It was left to the modern editors of his journal...

  7. 2 Land and Power
    (pp. 25-75)

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that land was the basis of social and political power in late medieval England. The power of the bishops of Durham was certainly founded upon the possession of land. The origins of the palatinate lay in the pre-Conquest piecemeal acquisitions of property by the church of Durham, principally but not exclusively between the rivers Tyne and Tees. Custody of this property was vested in the church and the quasi-monastic community of St Cuthbert over which the bishop of Durham presided. To this lordship was later added – in the local context of the Viking...

  8. 3 Lordship and Society
    (pp. 76-123)

    In his study of the changing character of northern society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Mervyn James captured the essence of this period of transition and evolution in his description of a shift from ‘lineage’ to ‘civil’ society. This lineage society was ‘essentially medieval … its associated culture centred on the great household, gregarious and hospitable, with its swarms of servants and dependants’, and the ‘emphasis in this society was on the cult of “lordship”, the exercise of which in the course of time had come to be thought the natural and inherent prerogative of the leading lineages’.¹ It...

  9. 4 Office-Holding
    (pp. 124-173)

    In recent years the study of local office-holding – and specifically, local office-holders – has acquired a particular currency among historians of the late medieval English gentry. Why does the identity of local office-holders matter? The subject has been seen as integral to the wider understanding of gentry society for a variety of reasons. First, and perhaps most pragmatically, historians seeking to identify the gentry within their particular shire have used participation in the administration of a county as one of the key qualifications for membership of the gentry along with other criteria such as wealth and landholding. In short,...

  10. 5 The Haliwerfolc and the Politics of Community
    (pp. 174-235)

    Historians interested in the political history of Durham and, in particular, in the question of what constituted local politics, have tended to approach the subject from opposite directions. One view of local politics in late medieval England is that the sources of conflict and tension within local society were indigenous and revolved around land, its acquisition, maintenance and consolidation. The language of this kind of politics drew upon the rhetoric of lordship, the family, neighbourliness, friendship, fidelity and service.¹ Mervyn James, in his characterisation of late medieval Durham as a ‘lineage’ society defined by the cult of lordship, argued that...

  11. 6 Epilogue
    (pp. 236-244)

    It is tempting to view the history of Durham in this period in terms of the growing influence and power of the Nevilles. The appointment of Robert Neville as bishop of Durham in 1438 could be seen not so much as a turning point or watershed, but as the natural conclusion to a more long-term process explored in chapter three, namely the increasing integration of the affinities of the Nevilles and bishops of Durham. This integration, it might be argued, produced a single lineage system in which the resources of the palatinate were placed firmly at the disposal of one...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-260)
  13. Index
    (pp. 261-278)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-281)