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The English Aristocracy, 1070-1272

The English Aristocracy, 1070-1272: A Social Transformation

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The English Aristocracy, 1070-1272
    Book Description:

    William the Conqueror's victory in 1066 was the beginning of a period of major transformation for medieval English aristocrats. In this groundbreaking book, David Crouch examines for the first time the fate of the English aristocracy between the reigns of the Conqueror and Edward I. Offering an original explanation of medieval society-one that no longer employs traditional "feudal" or "bastard feudal" models-Crouch argues that society remade itself around the emerging principle of nobility in the generations on either side of 1200, marking the beginning of the ancien régime.

    The book describes the transformation in aristocrats' expectations, conduct, piety, and status; in expressions of social domination; and in the relationship with the monarchy. Synchronizing English social history with non-English scholarship, Crouch places England's experience of change within a broader European transformation and highlights England's important role in the process. With his accustomed skill, Crouch redefines a fascinating era and the noble class that emerged from it.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17212-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xviii)

    A great and still, for the most part, unrecognised process unrolled within the period covered by this book, a development that thoroughly transformed English society for centuries to come. My chosen period begins in 1070, so you may be sure that I am not referring to the Norman Conquest. I am talking of the time after the fuss caused by Hastings began to die down. This is not, of course, to suggest that Duke William’s invasion of England was an insignificant event without great consequences for English society, only that another major transformation of the English way of life began...

  8. Part One: Knights and their Consequences

      (pp. 3-19)

      Circumstances compel us to begin the story of English aristocracy with the knight, though not for the same reasons as nineteenth-century scholars. They believed knighthood defined a new feudal social order. By contrast, I believe that it lies at the root of the identification of self-conscious nobility and, from the late twelfth century onwards, provided a justification for the higher status of one class of men over another. If knighthood is indeed the mercury in the barometer of social pressure, then understanding its qualities and developments will help us understand how social change happened. Knighthood came to England as a...

      (pp. 20-36)

      Once we are clear about the rise of the knight in medieval English society, and the consequences of that rise, the culture that the knight orchivalerembraced becomes all the more important, for it helped define noble status. The knight, as has been said, appeared in the later tenth century as a necessary human adjunct to the new technology of castles. He was a novel manifestation of the post-Classical idea of society as being organised for war, and the warrior being its proper leader. By the second half of the eleventh century it was well established that a range...

      (pp. 37-62)

      If, as I suggest, the knight rose in the late twelfth century to be unmistakably noble just by being knighted, the consequences of that development spread in two directions. The first was that the very small but economically dominant aristocratic group here called ‘magnates’ had to accommodate the fact. All lay magnates were knights, but now they were obliged to share their high and noble status with the members of their retained military households. There are unmistakable symptoms in magnate behaviour as early as the 1180s that the rise of the knight was resented and defensive measures were taken to...

  9. Part Two: Finding a Voice

      (pp. 65-83)

      Perhaps the oldest and most obvious way of defining an aristocracy is making it party to a dialogue. Who would be the most influential section of a kingdom’s population? The answer is that it would be that to which it was worth the king’s while to talk. This simple definition raises a few problems. The first is that the lay aristocracy was not the only influential part of the population. The prelates of the Church were powerful men both in terms of the land, resources and followers they commanded, and also because of the moral, pastoral and spiritual authority inherent...

      (pp. 84-96)

      As has often been said, Magna Carta changed very little in 1215, but afterwards there was no doubt that the magnates of England had an agenda reached independently of the arena of the royal court and sometimes in opposition to it. Not only that, but Magna Carta established the baronial agenda in a written form to which there was continual recurrence and revision: a symptom, like chivalry, of the literacy of noble culture by the thirteenth century. It is evident in a number of ways that the world in general believed that the barons had a common agenda. Chroniclers talk...

  10. Part Three: Imposing Hegemony

      (pp. 99-116)

      The threat of violence has long been recognised as a significant, and unhealthy, part of the armoury of social domination of one group over another (not least men over women). Norbert Elias, for instance, saw the princes’ monopoly of violence as the fundamental cause of the appearance of restraint and civility as a characteristic of noble behaviour at court. To challenge the king openly was to call down vengeance. It was better to behave circumspectly around him (see below, p. 205). Medieval clerics saw unrestrained violence as a characteristic of the princes and knights of the eleventh century, and the...

      (pp. 117-132)

      Aristocrats were apt to fly off the handle, even with the king their lord, though it was a very dangerous thing to do. Every king of England between William Rufus and Edward I (with the exception of Richard) was subject to at least one plot on his life by an aristocratic malcontent. They were even more likely to fall out with each other when in close proximity. This can best be seen when the aristocracy came together in its periodic assemblies, notably at the royal court. Lords were hedged around by armed attendants, so that they themselves could not easily...

      (pp. 133-160)

      Historical tradition assumes, usually correctly, that the ambition of a medieval magnate was to express his sense of his own power by exerting exclusive influence over a discrete area of the realm. That impulse did not just express his need to demonstrate his power and importance, it also gave the magnate some defence from his enemies. His self-defined patch of lordship gave borders to his own little political world. He could then easily tell if a rival was moving in on him, and indeed he could plot to extend his sphere beyond those borders himself, if he were aggressively inclined....

  11. Part Four: Delivering Justice

      (pp. 163-177)

      One of the more intriguing noble prerogatives during the period this book covers was that of doing justice. It was both a consequence of raw power, and an expression of it. Magnates did justice because lesser people went to them for it. They also benefited from it financially and in their personal authority. But there was an ideological dimension to private justice. Magnates, as much as kings and princes, justified their power by declaring it was righteous, rooted in an ethic derived from biblical Wisdom literature (as found in the Books of Ecclesiasticus and Psalms). They were men who were...

      (pp. 178-190)

      As we have seen, the barons of the reign of John, according to the Béthune chronicler, saw the ability to exercise ‘high justice’ as their right, which was not to be interfered with by the king. ‘High’ justice in this instance was the right to do capital and corporal justice, justice of ‘life and limbs’ as it was called throughout our period.¹ Historians talk broadly of the ‘liberties’ enjoyed by magnates and some knights in the thirteenth century, by which they generally mean the right of magnates to hold courts and do criminal justice unimpeded by the king’s officers. Sometimes...

  12. Part Five: Living Nobly

      (pp. 193-207)

      I subscribe to the view that the most sustainable definition of a medieval nobleman is of a man who acted in a noble manner and was not laughed at by his neighbours. Wealth and birth were not everything; looking the part counted for at least as much. Medieval aristocracy defined itself by its military culture, to embrace which by the end of the twelfth century was to embrace nobility. The medieval aristocracy did, of course, depend for its dominance on political and economic weight, as aristocracies always have done. The coalescing of a ‘noble’ rationale for such eminence made the...

      (pp. 208-223)

      Nobility made demands on its possessors. Some were open, mostly those relating to power and position. Noblemen and noblewomen both had to offer patronage and protection to their followers. They had to live and dress in a way recognised as noble. Noblemen had to embrace a military career and maintain or join a military household. Other demands were less open, and indeed were not necessarily even consciously articulated or appreciated by medieval nobles. Chief of these were the expectations that their gender and sexuality placed on individuals. Sometimes, however, they do surface into the conscious thought-world of the medieval person....

      (pp. 224-246)

      It may not be easy to reconstruct noble piety in the central middle ages, but it is important to try. Most studies in the past have taken the route of analysing religious patronage and burial practices. Since these aspects can be approached through surviving property deeds and some scattered material remains, the advantages of this approach are obvious.¹ But these are only facets of a much greater whole and, as far as medieval aristocrats were concerned, not necessarily the most important facets. Individual aristocrats doubtless reacted to the demands and enticements of faith individually: some were devout, others less so....

    (pp. 247-250)

    The end of the reign of Henry II in England and France in 1189 saw the forming of a new social world. When contemporaries were in a reflective mood, they recognised as much. The elder Marshal, reminiscing late in life on his younger days, startled his sons when he recalled how few servants and horses a knight of the 1160s needed. Richard de Lucy grew irascible in his court when a Sussex ‘petty knight’ boasted of a seal he possessed, for that had been a prerogative of rather greater men in Lucy’s youth in the 1130s. Other magnates of the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 251-305)
    (pp. 306-327)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 328-348)