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Scenes from Provincial Life: History, Honor, and Meaning in the Tudor North [*].

The early Tudor North is often regarded as a lawless and disordered society where leading magnates depended upon violence and codes of honor to maintain order. These codes of honor compelled magnates to fight to maintain their reputations and also to assert their independence from central authority. Through an examination of several episodes in northern history, however, most of them brought to light by the most famous historian of the region, Mervyn James, it can he shown that northern magnates did not have a code of honor and usually shrank from violence as a way of settling disputes.

In December 1536, at the height of the uproar over the Pilgrimage of Grace, Richard Dacre, a member of the powerful Dacre family, met Henry, Lord Clifford, a bitter enemy of the Dacres, at the door of a church in Carlisle. Dacre fixed a steely glare on Clifford, looking "upon him with a haughty and proud countenance, not moving his bonnet." Leaving the churchyard Dacre spied another old opponent, Sir William Musgrave. Without speaking, Dacre "plucked out his dagger and took him by the shoulder, and would have slain him in case he [Musgrave] had not leaped back from him and plucked out his dagger, and that one of the sons of Lord Fetherstanhugh had not with his dagger drawn leaped between them." Dacre and Fetherstanhugh drew their swords, but were separated. Dacre then went to the market place, and exhorting townsmen with the cry of "A Dacre, a Dacre," assembled a company of followers. The mayor of Carlisle ordered him to leave, but Dacre indignantly refused, repairing to his lodgings for a leisurely meal. He departed briefly, but returned to Carlisle the next day with twenty men of Gilsiand, reportedly for some unlawful purpose. Lord Clifford was waiting for him, and with a body of men forced Dacre to leave. [1]

This famous episode seems to underscore a well-established view of the Tudor North. Tudor historians who study the workings of central government and encounter northern history primarily as it pertains to the study of central government, have tended to see the North as lawless and disorderly. These historians understand the region to be dominated by a rebellious and fractious nobility, who engaged in two major rebellions during the period of Tudor rule and remained for the most part seemingly outside the orbit of central authority, conducting their own feuds and making their own law. This view has been reinforced through the popular account of northern governance, G.M. Fraser's The Steel Bonnets.

Anthropological approaches have also given powerful credence to the interpretation of the sixteenth-century North as largely disordered. These approaches have taken two directions, both apparent in the work of the most distinguished historian of the Tudor North, Mervyn James, who devoted his scholarly life to its study and who made the field an area worthy of serious attention. James is one of the more intriguing figures in early modern historiography, and he was a true trailblazer in many regards. Early in his career, he published little, apparently expending his energy by immersing himself in the sources of the Tudor North and reading widely. By the mid-1960s, his labor and diligence began to pay off with three contributions of consequence to early modern English historiography. First, he made the Tudor North a subject of interest. Second, in a series of complex and innovative studies, supported by wide reading in several disciplines, James argued that between 1500 and 1640 the North was transformed from a traditional lineage society embracing aristocratic, localist values, where elites often promoted disorder to cement their own authority, to a more modern, civil society, upholding values associated with the rule of law and centralized authority. According to James, the lineage society emphasized a conception of aristocratic honor whereby men valued loyalty to their local lord or clan, guarded their reputations fiercely, and reserved the right to settle their differences by themselves through violence and self-assertion. "The rule of law and loyalty to such a remote authority as the crown," concluded James, "had no roots in the March society." And, he suggested, "the great lords were bound in a close mafia with upland thieves [who] patronized and protected border lawlessness." While not entirely satisfied with "the Tudor Revolution in Government" as described by Geoffrey Elton, James believed that there was a gradual Tudor revolution in the North by which popular loyalty to aristocratic society was broken and replaced by loyalty to central authority and the rule of law. [2]

James's third contribution to early modern historiography derived from his immersion in ideas and approaches from other disciplines, an immersion which was apparent in James's work before it became fashionable in the profession as a whole. In his characterization of the lineage state he was able to make telling use of anthropology, particularly the work of J. G. Peristiany and Julian Pitt-Rivers on the role of honor in Mediterranean cultures. Penstiany, Pitt-Rivers, and other anthropologists have suggested that concepts of honor and shame have thrived most often in cultures where society is rural, highly stratified, and lacking in central authority. Survival depends in large measure on the potency of a lord's reputation to deter assaults. Thus, reputations must be guarded fiercely, insults answered immediately, and vengeance and retribution become an essential part of everyday life. Moreover, as Penistiany himself observed, honorific societies are most likely to emerge in small-scale settings where disputes a re resolved through face to face negotiations rather than through an anonymous bureaucratic process. [3]

Mervyn James cited approvingly the anthropologists' definition of an honorific society, and it resembled closely his conception of a lineage state, fitting the Tudor North like a tailored suit. [4] Moreover, James's interpretation drew upon techniques appropriated from modern cultural anthropology. The detailed analysis by anthropologists of a few, critical, closely observed events, placed in their proper context to determine their meaning for a particular culture has been the place where history and anthropology have intersected the most successfully. Clifford Geertz's "thick description" of the Balinese cockfight has served as a model for many historians seeking to derive anthropological meaning from events (412-53). [5] The Dacre/Clifford confrontation described at the beginning of this paper can be seen as an episode whose meaning embodies many of the characteristics of the lineage state or honorific society: the attempt to resolve conflict through face to face confrontation rather than legal process, the notion that one must respond to enemies, and a seeming concern for reputation. And the North was a small-scale setting, largely lacking in central authority, characterized by feuds, personal vengeance and retribution. There are other episodes in the history of the Tudor North which seem to lend support to this view. One thinks of the earls of Westmorland and Northumberland striding with apparent sureness of purpose into the cathedral at Durham to announce their rebellion in 1569, the long and bitter feud between the Herons and the Carrs, and the many comments of observers to the effect that the people of the North knew "no prince but a Percy or a Dacre." [6]

But recent work on the North has called into question many aspects of the traditional picture of the Tudor North and of James's work in particular. In several articles R. W. Hoyle has challenged the idea, central to James's work, that the interests of the northern nobility and central government were all too often mutually exclusive and that their relationship was necessarily hostile. Michael Weiss has questioned the power of the Percies, supposedly one of the most powerful northern families, and S. J. Gunn has offered some searching criticisms of James's interpretation of the Lincolnshire Rebellion. More recently, George Bernard has attempted a broader critique of James's conception of the lineage state and the Tudor nobility as a whole. [7]

This paper will take an anthropological approach to the Tudor North through the examination of several episodes in sixteenth-century northern history as well as some other evidence to test from another angle the usefulness of the concept of the lineage state, James's ideas about the relationship between the crown and nobility and James's view of the concept of honor in general in early modern society. Space does not allow a full consideration of other aspects of James's work, nor of some other anthropological explorations in northern history, nor of some fresh dimensions to the concept of honor which several scholars have recently explored. [8] Moreover, the concept of honor in any form is an elusive quarry. The historian who wishes to advance a case about honor enters a Serbonian bog of interpretive difficulties.

He or she can do little more than examine the books and correspondence which establish ideals and standards of honorable behavior and then try to connect those ideas to actual practice. Obviously there will be exceptions and counterexamples to almost any attempt at generalization. But the existence of too many exceptions and counterexamples casts doubt on even the most confident generalization; and enough examples can be adduced to suggest that James's view of honor and his closely related picture of the North as a lineage society cannot be sustained. Nor can the image of a northern nobility hostile to central authority and resisting the encroachment of the modern civil state be sustained either.

It is probably no longer necessary to defend the use of anthropology to enhance our understanding of political history. Anthropological approaches have in many instances shed diffuse light on many otherwise dim historical episodes, and they are particularly useful in understanding societies where limited literacy, differing languages and dialects pose serious obstacles to understanding. [9] Since few of the northern potentates wrote political treatises or left memoirs justifying or explaining their behavior, their motives and aims must to a large extent be judged through their actions and the study of meaning in an anthropological sense assumes a higher priority than it might otherwise. We have "thick descriptions" of several intriguing episodes in the history of the Tudor North involving the northern nobility. In the remainder of this paper, I will explore in more depth several of these episodes, in effect retelling the stories. I will also suggest a context by which they are the most comprehensible. [10]

On 28 April 1489, Henry Percy, fourth earl of Northumberland, was murdered at Cocklodge in Yorkshire at a meeting convened to make public Henry VII's answer to local pleas for tax relief. In a nearly contemporary account, Polydore Vergil attributed Northumberland's death to popular resentment at excessive taxation. In 1964 this interpretation was challenged by Mervyn James, who suggested that Henry VII was responsible for the earl's demise. According to James, the earl's murder was part of a concerted effort on Henry VII's behalf to assert his authority in the North. An earlier attempt to govern the North through more reliable lieutenants had failed, and Henry did not trust any of the other northern lords, including Westmorland, Dacre, or Clifford. The murder of Northumberland paved the way for Henry to appoint the earl of Surrey to high office in the North. [11]

This argument seemed plausible enough until Michael Hicks examined the records of the oyer and terminer commission appointed to try the rebels. These records indicated that the insurgents were obscure commoners, yeomen, husbandsmen, and artisans. According to Hicks, the commons rebellion was an anti-tax protest. Northumberland fell when his retainers deserted him, mostly out of resentment at Northumberland's abandonment of Richard III at Bosworth and a rift between the earl and his retainers over the earl's attempt to disinherit Sir John Egremont, his closest adult male relative (1978, 78-80, and 1986). [12] Seen in light of Hicks's research, the murder of the fourth earl takes on a new light. Northumberland was not a defiant northern noble who needed to be disciplined; he was engaged in Henry VII's business. He was not a tried and true representative of lineage society, depending upon honor and face to face confrontations to resolve conflict. To resolve his conflict with Sir John Egremont he chose to use the legal process, not a violent, self-assertive confrontation.

Another example of noble willingness to avoid violence and confrontations may be seen in an episode involving the fifth earl of Northumberland, also named Henry Percy. On 24 May 1504 the earl was traveling south through Yorkshire heading toward the family castle at Wressle. Along the same road, but slightly ahead, the earl's bitter opponent, Thomas Savage, archbishop of York, and his considerably larger retinue, made their way slowly, occasionally coming into sight of the Northumberland party. An atmosphere of tension swirled around both parties. Near Greyfriar's Gate, one of the archbishop's servants, Hugh Manyfold, twice passed the earl by without speaking or doffing his hat. Whether this was due to Manyfold's failure to recognize the earl or a deliberate snub cannot be determined conclusively. The earl's parry was now closing rapidly on the archbishop's, so the earl's men reduced their pace. They eventually caught up to the archbishop's party when the archbishop's servants took up positions along the side of the road while still mounted on their horses. Some of the earl's party, including his brother, Josselin Percy, passed without incident, but soon several members of the archbishop's party entered the earl's column and disrupted its progress, at one point causing the earl's horse to fall to its knees. A scuffle ensued with swords and bows drawn. When a cry went up that one of the archbishop's servants had been killed, the archbishop cried out to "lay hands on him [the earl]." The latter was then roughed up by several of the archbishop's servants. Only the earl's reluctance to respond in kind kept the crisis from escalating. At the same time the archbishop moved quickly to discourage his retainers from further fighting.

The behavior of the fifth earl in this episode is instructive. He did his utmost to avoid the confrontation. When the archbishop's parry came into sight, he delayed, hoping to avoid them. When the fracas erupted, he pleaded for peace and called on the combatants to put down their weapons in the name of the king. Under assault, he managed to appeal to the archbishop for peace. The archbishop's behavior is similar although not without ambiguity Savage did little to provoke the incident; that appears to have been the work of his servants. But he did encourage the violence briefly, although he quickly changed his tune as the situation threatened to get out of hand.

The aftermath of the incident is similarly instructive. Rather than demanding vengeance from this challenge to his honor, the fifth earl immediately forbade his tenants and friends from attempting reprisals. The matter came before the king's council on 19 November 1504. This body reprimanded both men, required submissions, and demanded that they have their servants surrender their weapons. The council's actions were a severe blow to the archbishop, who nursed a much deeper grudge against the earl and had expected to be vindicated by the proceedings. Following the judgment, he largely retired from public life.

In this episode, the fifth earl of Northumberland appears as a man eager to avoid confrontation, eschewing any clash with the archbishop. This may in part be explained by the fact that he and his parry were outnumbered by the archbishop's men; but that would not explain why he took no action after he had arrived safely at Wressle. His inertia seems to place him far from the honor culture described by Mervyn James and the anthropologists. As R. W. Hoyle, the historian who has brought this episode to light, concludes, "Neither of them [the earl nor the archbishop] sought a brawl between their servants at Fulford. Quite the contrary, both probably appreciated from the start the damage it would do their reputations with the king who could be guaranteed to take a rather humourless view of his servants brawling" (1995, 247). [13]

Much attention has also been focused on another episode involving the Percy family. On a frigid Sunday morning in January 1528, yet another Henry Percy, this one the sixth earl of Northumberland and recently appointed warden of the east and middle Marches, returned from Mass. Outside the gate of his castle at Alnwick, he was approached by a curious group of pilgrims clad only in white shirts with halters around their necks in an attitude of contrition. Kneeling as they shivered in an icy wind, the pilgrims offered unconditional submission to the king's most gracious mercy, agreeing to submit to even his "most difficult laws" and were immediately placed in prison. [14]

The pilgrims were not religious supplicants in a state of heightened iety about their souls. They were instead some of the most notorious bandits and reivers in the northern region, including Sir William Lisle who had recently escaped from jail and embarked on a reign of terror along the borders. Sir William Eure, the deputy, freely admitted his inability to control the Lisles. [15] Mervyn James believed that the activities of Lisle, combined with the failure of existing authority to bring him to justice, forced Henry VIII to realize the North could not be ruled without the earl of Northumberland. This realization, he believed, in fact compelled Northumberland's appointment, which Henry had previously resisted (1986, 62-66).

To complicate matters, having arrested Lisle, Northumberland defended him, pleading with Wolsey that, "William Lisle is kyned and allied of the borders amongst them that I must need put my life in trust with many times, if I am to serve the King's grace in this office." [16] Wolsey, however, while willing to spare Lisle's son Humphrey, was not impressed. He denounced Northumberland's softness, "You should not use such cautelous and colorable dealing with one [Wolsey] that thus both tenderly. .. set you forward and by whose only means the king hath put you in such authority. I know the whole discourse of your privy suits and dealing...." [17] A few days later, Lisle was hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Mervyn James suggested that the fifth earl used his dealings with the Lisles to convince Henry and Wolsey that a noble of Northumberland's power and resources was necessary to stand up to them and put an end to the lawlessness of the area.] The abject capitulation of the Lisles at Alnwick, argues James, suggests that there was cooperation between the Lisles and Northumberland. Northumberland needed the Lisles to show the need for magnate rule in the North, and the Lisles were willing to submit to Northumberland because they believed they could more easily negotiate a truce with Northumberland than with the crown. The surrender of the Lisles at Ainwick, then, was a staged event. The humiliating totality of their capitulation served to enhance Northumberland's standing in the eyes of the crown. In return, the Lisles expected Northumberland to protect their interests, which he tried to do. The scheme, however, backfired when Wolsey insisted upon William Lisle's execution. [18]

From one angle, James's interpretation of the surrender at Alnwick demonstrates one of the principal problems of magnate rule in the North: the weakness of individual nobles in coping with the immensity of border defense. Almost no one did it to the crown's satisfaction. If Northumberland was going to defend the northern borders during war with Scotland, something all too frequent during the reigns of the early Tudors, he would require the assistance of the gentry. He would be required by the nature of his job to tolerate a certain level of reiving and banditry among the gentry in return for their military service. This fact would most likely explain Northumberland's pleading letter to Wolsey on Lisle's behalf.

But several other matters are not explained by James's interpretation. First, there is no evidence, beyond a certain level of logic, to support the idea that the submission of Alnwick was a staged event. [19] But even the logic does not always ring true. Northumberland had already been appointed warden before the episode, so he did not have to win a dazzling victory to claim his place; and at the same time, he readily confessed to Wolsey his lack of "wit and experience" as warden. [20] Moreover, if Northumberland secretly encouraged the Lisles' violence, how could he have known that it would redound to his credit? In the crown's eyes the earl was already skating on the thinnest ice. James provides a litany of the slights that his family had suffered earlier at royal hands. And the sixth earl himself enjoyed a doubtful status with Henry. A sickly man, and a former suitor of Anne Boleyn, on whom Henry had already cast his eye, Northumberland was at risk. Indeed, if Northumberland encouraged the Lisle's reiving , he was more likely to encourage Henry to appoint a non-native lord, which Henry had already tried to do in the North with the duke of Richmond and earlier in Ireland, or to push Henry and Wolsey to consider expanding the power of William Dacre, who had carefully cultivated Wolsey's favor and whose father had been warden of all three marches for a lengthy period of time. There were other risks in cultivating disorder in the North. The lesson of the third Lord Dacre was likely to have weighed heavily on Northumberland's mind. Dacre was suspected of having encouraged border disorders between 1523-1525 during the Scottish war and was hauled before Star Chamber and stripped of his wardenries. [21]

James's belief that the northern nobility had to be curtailed by the crown leads him to problems with another famous northern event involving the sixth earl, who in early 1536 disinherited his brothers, Thomas and Ingram, in favor of Henry VIII. This episode caused Mervyn James considerable explanatory difficulty since it shows a supposedly proud noble in an act of utter submission to central authority. James's explanation stressed the need for the sixth earl to curry favor with Henry VIII, given, among other things, his previous liasion with Anne Boleyn and his poor performance during the Pilgrimage of Grace. By ceding his estates to the king, according to James, he removed one of the principal incentives which might have induced the king to seize the Percy lands. And, while his brothers were disinherited, the earl opened the way for his nephew, Thomas Percy, restored as the seventh earl of Northumberland in 1557, to be able to receive his lands. [22]

Again, an array of interpretive problems arise. In 1537 Northumberland was certainly in dire straits. But it is hard to imagine that he really anticipated that his lands, if seized by the king, would be restored in the future. The idea that the sixth earl was compelled to give up his estates in order to preserve them for his family recalls the sinister logic of the American military during the Vietnam War when it claimed that it was necessary to destroy Vietnamese villages in order to save them. Moreover, there is a level of obsequiousness in the earl's correspondence which clashes with the idea of a proud, lineage nobility. "Sir, the debility of my blood..." he told the king, "is not the only occasion that forceth me thus to do, but assuredly the inward heart I have as ever I have borne, to your majesty as a true and most bounden subject...." In June 1537, he made over his entire inheritance to the crown, resigning even his own maintenance to the king's generosity. [23] Moreover, R. W. Hoyle has demonstrate d that the relationship between Henry VIII and the sixth earl was not entirely hostile (1991). In the early the 1530s the earl alienated many of his estates, with Henry VIII as one of the principal purchasers, and in 1531 Henry also received several estates in payment for the earl's debts. In the following year Henry forbade the earl from making further alienations. This suggests that Henry had an interest in maintaining the earl as a person of power, perhaps so he would be able to pay future debts. And it also further weakens James's suggestion that by the cession of the estates in 1536, the earl was scheming to maintain the patrimony of future generations. If he cared so deeply about the future, why was he selling off land at a rapid pace in the early 1530s?

James found the events surrounding the Rising of the Northern Earls in 1569 steeped in the culture of honor. The rebellion began with the dramatic entry of the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland into Durham. Accompanied by their closest associates and sixty armed horsemen, they proceeded immediately to the cathedral, where they defaced and mutilated Protestant books, dismantled the communion table, and in the Queen's name announced the curtailment of services until further notice. They then assembled local citizens and issued a defiant proclamation, denouncing those persons who had overthrown true religion, abusing the Queen and dishonoring the realm, and who were now seeking the destruction of the nobility. The earls resolved to redress these outrages by force if necessary James pointed also to another episode. In 1570 Thomas Percy, the seventh earl of Northumberland, was executed at York for his part in the rebellion. On the scaffold Northumberland made a defiant speech, asserting that he died a Catho lic, that the realm was in schism, and that "he accounted his offence nothing...he said there was neither pity nor mercy." [24]

James views this episode as another example of the honor-bound, proud defiance of a nobleman from a lineage society. [25] But recent research has cast the rebellion in a much different light. Northumberland and Westmorland were not proudly defiant rebels; they were instead, the most reluctant of insurrecrionists. Both had endured repeated humiliations from the crown. They were both Catholics, and the rise of the Protestant William Cecil to increasing influence as an advisor to Elizabeth indicated their sufferings were likely to persist. Additionally, while the earls had been considering rebellion for several months, they were driven to it when Elizabeth summoned them to court. When the earl of Westmorland was called, he refused to come, concluding, "I durst not come where my enemies are without bringing such force to protect me as might be misliked." [26] Elizabeth essentially handed the earls an ultimatum: turn yourselves in and be executed or rebel. S. E. Taylor, the most recent scholar to consider the reb ellion in detail, attributes its beginnings to court policies that made the rebels fear for their lives and describes the rebellion itself as a "hurried, ill-prepared, defensive affair." The earls rebelled, according to Christopher Haigh, "in sorrow as much as anger." [27]

Moreover, if predilections to settle disputes either through violence and self-assertive behavior (James's interpretation) or by rejection of bureaucratic adjudication (Pitt-Rivers/Peristiany's view) are signs of a lineage or honorific society, the Tudor North cannot be seen as one. As described at the earlier, there were occasional clashes between minor figures -- such as Dacre and Musgrave, and their retainers -- but these were exceptional. Outside of the Dacre/Musgrave episode, there is no known physical fight between the leading northern nobles nor one between the lords and their alleged opponents in the gentry. In fact, in 1551 the fourth Lord Dacre and Thomas Wharton answered a summons from the Privy Council, which forced them to shake hands and try to resolve their differences peaceably. [28] And in March 1558 Queen Mary scolded Henry Neville, the fifth earl of Westmorland, for his reluctance to confront Sir John Forster, with the stern admonition, "you must deliver our letters to Sir John Forster and see that he accomplishes our pleasure." [29]

Thus, even in the principal area in which James believed that he had identified a culture of honor, the case cannot be sustained. Even early in the sixteenth century the northern nobles and gentry rarely behaved in the manner James described. It seems more likely that survival, not honor, was the main goal of northern elites. Honor and reputation helped to a degree to insure survival by deterring assaults and challenges, but there was a point at which they became counterproductive, not only putting the lord and his family at risk but contributing to the disruption of society

Along the same line, contrary to the Pitt-Rivers definition of an honorific society, northern lords often submitted to legal settlement or used the courts themselves to gain redress or exoneration. In 1525 Thomas, the third Lord Dacre of the North, warden of all three northern marches, was summoned to Star Chamber for investigation. He confessed to several failings, was briefly detained, but released in September 1525. The crown soon discovered it required his services in the North and returned him to service, although he died shortly after. [30]

Thomas's son William, the fourth Lord Dacre of the North, was also subjected to legal proceedings by the crown. Following the Scottish war of 1532-1534, Dacre was charged with treason by Sir William Musgrave. Dacre was probably not guilty of treason, but given his limited resources, he had responded to the war by fighting defensively and trying to settle the situation through amelioration and negotiation with the Scottish clan leaders. This strategy made for a more protracted war. On 9 July 1534 Dacre was tried by a panel of lords on charges of treason and unanimously acquitted. Though he did a brief stint in the Tower, he was eventually pardoned upon payment to the king of a fine often thousand pounds. [31]

Even more telling was the case of Henry Percy, fifth earl of Northumberland. In 1516 Northumberland was already under some suspicion from Wolsey as a supporter of the duke of Buckingham. After a dispute between the earl and the crown over an abducted ward, Northumberland was examined before Star Chamber and imprisoned briefly. By the mid-1520s, however, Northumberland had returned at least partially to the good graces of Henry and Wolsey, and his behavior, according to James, was that of a model Henrician courtier, submissive and deferential in his approaches to both king and cardinal. Cavendish, for example, attributed to Northumberland an obsequious speech admonishing his son and heir for his dangerous liaison with Anne Boleyn, and emphasizing the importance of self-effacement and devotion and gratitude to the king (23-34). [32]

In each case northern nobles submitted to adjudication by the legal system. Each received and accepted under the circumstances minor punishments, suffering only a modest diminution of his power. And the sons of two of the accused lords, Henry Percy sixth earl of Northumberland, and William Lord Dacre, were given high office soon after their fathers' deaths. None of them gave any visible sign that they were outraged by a slight to their reputations or by having to submit to legal authority. In fact, in 1557 Thomas Wharton, after being dismissed from his position as warden of East Marches, asked if he could have a trial before the council, promising to submit to its authority: "If I have misbehaved, I require punishment, for example's sake. If otherwise, let me have my credit maintained by your gracious favor." [33]

In addition, the northern lords often conducted their personal feuds through legal channels. Despite the vivid episode at Carlisle described at the beginning of this paper, the Dacre/Clifford feud was conducted primarily through the court of Star Chamber. Following his treason trial in 1534, the fourth Lord Dacre repeatedly sued Musgrave, who had initiated the charges. [34] The earl of Northumberland also sued the Musgraves to oust them from a manor in Newburn. [35] Henry; earl of Cumberland, sued Thomas Wharton and others over an unlawful assembly. [36] The Dacres even sued each other. [37] Thus, it seems clear that the northern lords, with only a few exceptions, preferred the legal process to physical confrontations, perhaps because they often used it successfully.

Mervyn James stressed the importance of a lord's reputation as an essential part of the culture of honor. "Honor is not in his hand who is honored," James quotes James Cleland approvingly, "but in the hearts and opinions of other men (1986, 312)." It cannot be denied that reputation played a role in northern politics. We have just quoted Lord Wharton's concern for his "credit." [38] But claims for the importance of reputation have been exaggerated. As we have already seen, the northern nobles often were willing to go out of their way to avoid violent confrontations. And the performance of the leading northern lords and gentry during the Pilgrimage of Grace could not have enhanced in any way their reputations. Dacre hardly moved either way. Northumberland remained aloof, and surrendered Wressle Castle to the rebels. Cumberland refused to join the rebels or surrender Skipton Castle, but did little else. The earl of Westmorland not only did not do much to suppress the rising, but may have even given clandestine support to the rebels. Even that supposedly aggressive gentleman on the rise, Sir Thomas Wharton, disappeared for several months at the height of the crisis. [39] Another gentryman, Sir Robert Bowes, even joined the Pilgrimage and became one of its leaders, but later served as a warden, a member of the Council of the North, and a member of the Privy Council. [40]

Several office holders also made what would appear to be frank admissions of their own impotence which must have been damaging to their reputations. In 1528 William Eure confessed his inability to maintain order on the borders. But he was returned to office in 1537. [41] In 1528 the sixth earl of Northumberland, "upon his knees," pleaded with Wolsey to forgive an error, on the grounds that he had "little wit and experience" and did not expect his service to be of "long continuance." [42] The fourth earl of Westmorland freely admitted his own inability to serve as warden, but was none the less offered office in 1537. [43] Others seemed to take little care about their standing in the region. Robert Holgare spoke of the general "disdain" in which Thomas Wharton was held along the borders. [44] Sir John Forster had a terrible reputation as warden, described by one historian as "grasping and unscrupulous in his prime, slack and inefficient in his later years. ..." [45] Few northern magnates, noble or gentry, were held in much esteem as landlords. Wharton and Henry Clifford, first earl of Cumberland, were regarded as especially rapacious. [46]

In addition, the crown regularly humiliated even its servants in the North who had performed competent service, by conferring and removing them from office in almost scattergun fashion. [47] Wharton, a hero of the Scottish wars in the early 1540s, was made a scapegoat for Somerset's failure in Scotland in 1549 and removed from his position as warden of the West Marches. He was returned to power as general deputy warden of all the marches in 1552, and his fortunes improved again in 1555 when he was made warden of the East and Middle Marches, but he was deprived of the wardenry of the East Marches in 1557 with the restoration of the Percies. [48] William, the fourth Lord Dacre of the North, was made Warden of the West March in 1527, deprived in 1534, restored in 1549 after Wharton's failure, deprived again in 1552 when John Dudley, duke of Northumberland was made warden of all the marches, and returned as warden of the West March in 1553. [49] Despite their repeated humiliations, both Wharton and Dacre remaine d powerful figures in the North even when they were not in office.

Not only did the northern lords rarely react as if their honor had been challenged, they were capable of truly obsequious behavior. Almost all of them proclaimed their loyalty to the crown at regular intervals and in the most fulsome terms. We have already noted Cavendish's description of the fifth earl of Northumberland's demeanor as a model courtier, his admonitions to his son concerning the need for self-effacing loyalty to the crown, and his son's cession of land to the crown. [50] The Percies were not alone in their courting of royal favor. In the 1520s the Dacres curried Wolsey's favor, and the fourth Lord, after his father's death, requested help "as shall be necessary for the finding of such office... [if] it shall be affirmed to find me ready and willing." [51] The Cliffords followed suit. The first earl of Cumberland, dismissed from the wardenship of the West Marches in 1527, and threatened with dismissal in 1537 despite his steadfast loyalty during the Pilgrimage, remained fiercely obedient, promising to obey the king "with all his heart." [52] No family, however, could rival the Nevilles for toadyism. In 1536 Ralph Neville, fourth earl of Westmorland, wrote Cromwell that he could "never recompense Cromwell for his goodness." [53] In March 1540 Westmorland told Cromwell that "except the King and prin ce there is no man living I would do as much for as for you, and I beg you to make no displeasure with me in certifying the truth.. .." [54] In 1557, the fifth earl, proclaimed to the Queen that "I am as ready to serve as any subject you have," adding later that he intended "to spend his life in the King and Queen's service, even to the death." [55]

At this point, it is hard to support either Mervyn James's characterization of the Tudor North as a lineage society evolving toward a civil society, or his conception of the meaning of aristocratic honor. [56] In contrast to James, who saw a civil society emerging after 1570, the leading northern lords had largely embraced many of its elements decades before: they were already generally deferential to state authority; they only occasionally employed violence and self-assertive behavior in the settlement of disputes; and they endured many affronts to their honor without protest. Moreover, despite the North's status as a small-scale, rural society, northern nobles rarely resolved disputes through face-to-face confrontation and most often chose to resolve them through bureaucratic adjudication.

Mervyn James believed that the English conception of honor changed as England moved from a lineage society to a civil society Because the culture of aristocratic honor legitimated violence, it had to be crushed as the modern state advanced. Loyalty to the state had to be substituted for loyalty to clan or noble. James thus interpreted changing conceptions of honor to be the product of changing social and political conditions. But this argument raises some fresh difficulties. In the first place, there is little historical consensus about the nature of societal change during the sixteenth century and what effect it might have had on the nobility. Mervyn James, rather like the northern potentates about whom he wrote, tended to work in relative isolation and often paid only scant attention to existing historiographical traditions. It is an oddity of his work that it appeared, asserting the idea of a violent and rebellious nobility, just as his former tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford, K. B. McFarlane, in posthum ously published papers, argued that the nobility had already been tamed in the fifteenth century and were experiencing a failure of nerve, an argument quite incompatible with James's. By contrast, James's work is fairly compatible with Geoffrey Elton's The Tudor Revolution in Government and with Lawrence Stone's The Crisis of the Aristocracy, both of which described a beleaguered aristocracy fighting a losing battle to maintain its position against the ever-encroaching spectre of the modern state. Even here there is only a tenuous consensus. Stone's book on the aristocracy seems to have survived criticism, but the idea of the Tudor revolution in government was moribund even before Geoffrey Elton's untimely death. But, more seriously for James, if McFarlane is correct that the English nobility had already been intimidated by the sword of royal authority and was already experiencing a failure of nerve at the beginning of the Tudor period (120-21), it renders incomprehensible James's explanation of aristocratic honor and noble behavior. [57]

The debate over the relationship between the early modern English monarchy and its aristocracy will probably never be solved. But a partial, if imperfect, synthesis has emerged, largely from research undertaken by scholars of later medieval England. They stress the overwhelmingly local nature of politics, centered on land, family, and patronage. Society prospered and order was maintained primarily through local jurisdiction. Even when royal courts intruded into local societies, local interests influenced outcomes and enforcement usually remained a local responsibility. [58]

Yet the crown did not easily concede its local responsiblities, and retained a certain level of power by its authority over appointments and in the way it could offer access to greater power to those who had delivered exemplary service. Moreover, as the crown depended upon local elites to administer government throughout the realm, local elites in turn depended upon the crown to validate their authority as local governors. While local rivalries occasionally erupted, the relationship between the crown and its local elites appears to have been one of balance and reciprocal need, as R.W. Hoyle indicated.

One should also distinguish between the local nobles entrusted with rule in the far North and the court nobility. The goal of local nobles, particularly in the North, was survival, and they had little contact with the court. By contrast, the court nobility was often, though not exclusively, from southern England and had its own ethos emphasizing honor, lineage, fidelity, and service with the consequent expectation of material and social rewards. Working with the court nobility, James did identify a distinctive ethos. The court nobility often embraced -- or tried to give the appearance of embracing -- a behavorial code of honor and fidelity to which they were supposed to aspire. [59]

But James tried to go much further, and the historian who wishes, as James did, to connect honor to social change must also give consideration [tau] some odd regional variations. The Tudor North was by no means a homogenous region. One could make a good case for Northumberland as a disordered county where a culture of honor might have been expected to thrive, but it would be difficult to sustain that case for the more tranquil Westmorland or Yorkshire. [60] The case of Ireland reveals a curious paradox. If Mervyn James's approach is correct, Ireland, as another rural, highly stratified borderland, should have been, like the English North, one of the last strongholds of a culture of honor and its nobles should have been guarding their reputations zealously. Unfortunately the opposite is true. Irish lords consistently infuriated English authorities by their refusal to behave in accordance with English norms of honorable behavior.

To cite but one example, in the early 1570s after years of frustration with the guerrilla tactics of James Fitzmaurice during Fitzmaurice's rebellion, the English official Sir John Perrot challenged Fitzmaurice to settle the rebellion by means of a duel to the death. In his youth Perrot had acquired a formidable reputation as a jouster. But even though he was now old and fat, he was convinced he could settle Munster for the Queen in this fashion. Even when Fitzmaurice claimed the right of the challenged to select the terms of the combat and chose conditions less than congenial to Perrot, Perrot remained undaunted.

On the appointed day Perrot rode out to meet Fitzmaurice with a small supporting force to witness the contest. But Fitzmaurice did not appear. Perrot and his men waited in the rain through morning and for most of the afternoon for Fitzmaurice to appear. Perrot only agreed to retire from the field when a messenger appeared with a note from Fitzmaurice saying that "if I do kill the great Sir John Perrot, the Queen of England will but send another president into his province, but if he does kill me, there is none to succeed me or command as I do now." Perrot finally withdrew, grumbling that he would have to hunt the fox out of his hole.

In this episode all the components of the Mervyn James conception of early modern honor appear: the prospect of face-to-face confrontation and combat to resolve disputes, as well as concern for reputation. There is of course one problem. The wrong side has embraced them. If Mervyn James is correct, the Irish lords should have been the ones clinging to the culture of honor. In this episode and in several others, it was the English who display almost obsessive concern for honor and reputation. [61]

By contrast honor in the construction described by Mervyn James does seem to have some validity for France. The sixteenth century French nobility clearly believed in and acted upon a conception of honor which legitimated private violence, even against the crown. But, paradoxically, France in the sixteenth century was a more powerful centralized state than England in terms of its tax base, ability to raise a military force, and in its opportunities to dispense patronage; and it had more difficulty controlling the violence of its nobility than did England. [62]

Another troubling paradox can be discerned in the American South. In this case almost everyone agrees that a distinctive culture of honor and violence prevailed in the American South before the Civil War. Unlike men in the northern states, southern white men were quick to settle disputes by violence and guarded their reputations carefully as a means to deter assaults. Insults appear to strike directly at the core of a southern man's sense of himself with an intensity not replicated elsewhere, and those insults cannot be left unanswered. And the South before the Civil War was a small-scale, less centralized region than the North. [63]

But for James's model to have meaningful application outside England, as the South became more advanced, its culture of honor should have diminished. A new book, however, indicates that while southern society has changed greatly since the end of the Civil War, little has changed in the American South regarding the culture of honor. Southern white men still adhere to a culture of honor in which threats to one's reputation remain likely to draw a violent response. The authors suggest that the persistence of a culture of honor is primarily the result of the transmission from generation to generation of the South's frontier heritage. Before the Civil War the various groups that settled the South tried to build reputations for toughness to preserve their hard-won lands and farms because they could not depend on the legal system to do it for them. Thus, even though society has changed in this instance, the culture of honor survives. [64]

All of this leads one to suspect that honor is only marginally a cultural construct, shaped by changing conditions in society. [65] Some human instincts, such as survival and toadying to more powerful individuals, are constant factors in human behavior. In this paper, examples from several regions and time periods have been adduced to show how nobles often behaved in ways opposite to what Mervyn James suggested and also that their behavior cannot be confined to a particular context of societal change. In light of this evidence, it would be more helpful to regard honor as one of many discourses and tools which certain groups and individuals select to justify their behavior or strengthen their authority, even if they do not always act upon it. It is, for example, undoubtedly useful for men and women of power in many societies to guard carefully their reputations in order to deter assaults, and to use honor to justify violent behavior under a variety of conditions.

There can be no question that there was violence and feuding in the Tudor North. But it was usually concentrated in the perpetual trouble spots of Tynedale and Redesdale, compounded by tumultuous relations with the Scots, and violence and feuding were in any case not confined to the North or to the sixteenth century. [66] But it can be argued that not only was there no lineage culture in the Tudor North, the demands of lordship in the North were at variance with a culture of honor and at variance with basic human needs for survival. The honorable lord was to perform his civic obligation to defend the borders and maintain order, and his personal tasks to maintain his lands, manraed, and tenantry. At the same time he was to take immediate and violent umbrage to insults and fight to maintain his reputation. But, given the nature of the threats to good lordship -- including the Scots, bandits, aggressive gentry, and contentious neighboring nobles -- a lord who confronted every threat to his authority and reputat ion was likely to wind up a dead lord. Honor had its cost. [67]

(*.) My debt to Richard Hoyle in the writing of this paper will be readily apparent in the footnotes. Less obvious, but equally important, is the help and encouragement I have received from Steven Ellis, Maureen Meikie, Steven Gunn, and David Duke. The errors and solecisms which remain are mine alone.

(1.) Public Record Office, London, State Papers (hereafter, PRO SP) 1/112/220-21; Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII (hereafter LP), 11:535-6 (1331). Hoyle, 1992b, 60-63. For additional context and another slant to the episode see Ellis, 1995, 242.

(2.) James, 1986, 3, 93-103, 122, 274-78, 308-415, esp. 308-16, 375-83; James, 1974. See also the summary of James's work and criticism of it in Bernard, 2-6. For the "Tudor Revolution" see Elton, 1953.

(3.) Pitt-Rivers's contribution, "Honour and Social Status," maybe found on 19-77. For an interesting attempt to incorporate some of the themes developed by Peristiany and Pitt-Rivers, see Gorn. For another work addressing the theme of honor, see Wyatt-Brown. For James's use of the work of the Peristiany and Pitt-Rivers, see James, 1986, 274, 276, 277, 288, 312, 314, 340, and 341. Most recently see Gust. For two other interesting approaches, see Phythian-Adams and Kelly.

(4.) If James recognized differences between his conception of the lineage state and the honorific society, he did not discuss them and cited Perisriany and Pitt-Rivers with approval. But there are two differences apparent to me, one clear-cur, the other semantic. First, Penstiany and Pitt-Rivers stressed the importance of the settlement of disputes through face-to-face conflict and the avoidance of bureaucratic processes. James did not include the avoidance of bureaucratic processes as part of his definition, although he clearly implied in. Second, Peristiany and Pitt-Rivers speak of face-to-face conflicts; James uses the terms "violence," "self-assertive" behavior, "competitiveness of honour," and "thirst for esteem," which seems to me to be saying much the same thing (1986, 310-14).

(5.) For a criticism of Geernz from a literary perspective, see Greenblatt.

(6.) Meikle, 1992; Calendar of State Papers, Foreign... (hereafter CSPF), 1569-71, 159.

(7.) Hoyle, 1986, 1992a. This volume also contains a stimulating introduction by Bernard on the Tudor aristocracy as a whole and on Mervyn James in particular, see 1-47, esp. 2-6, for his comments on James. See also Weiss, Gunn, 1989; and Bush. For another point of view, more sympathetic to James, see Ellis, 1992, 1995.

(8.) Some interesting work has been done on the funerals of northern lords. See James, 1986, 176-87; and Broce and Wunderli, 1990. But see the criticsm of the Broce and Wunderli article in Hoyle, 1992a. Historians have also taken a particular interest in sexual slander as an aspect of honor. See especially Gowing and Cust. See also the articles in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.

(9.) The number of works in which historians have used anthropological approaches is now vast. For some classics of the genre, see Davis, Darnton, Isaac, and Gorn. For some attempts to apply anthropology to politics and to early modern elites, see Kertzner, Wilentz, Neuschel, and Palmer.

(10.) On the importance of story telling as a historical technique, see Maza.

(11.) James, 1965-1966.

(12.) See also Bennett, 1990.

(13.) Hoyle, 1995, quotation on p. 247.

(14.) James, 1986, 56-64. See also PRO SP 1/46/145-146; LB 4ii: 1718 (3850). The original manuscript has some additional information not included in the calendar, which makes it clear the submission is to the king.

(15.) James, 1986, 59; LB 4ii: 1600 (3552).

(16.) James, 1986, 61.

(17.) Ibid., 62.

(18.) Ibid., 62-68.

(19.) See the criticism in Bernard, 5.

(20.) LP, 4ii: 1810 (40.93).

(21.) Ellis, 1992; see also Miller, 188-91.

(22.) James, 1986, 172-74.

(23.) Ibid. 173, n. 124. James explains the sixth earl's letter to Henry as an example of "good lordship," the need of a powerful magnate to display loyalty and good will toward the sovereign. Powerful magnates certainly did need to show good will toward their sovereigns, but the concept of "good lordship," if widely applied, is surely at variance with James's larger theme of a lineage culture.

(24.) James, 1986, 373.

(25.) Ibid. 308-39; James, 1974.

(26.) MacCaffrey, 1968, 335.

(27.) Taylor, 191; Haigh, 55.

(28.) Acts of the Privy Council (hereafter APC), 3:499.

(29.) PRO SP 15/8/160.

(30.) Ellis, 1992, 266-69.

(31.) Ibid., 270-74.

(32.) See also James, 1986, 75-76.

(33.) PRO SP 15/8/10.

(34.) Public Record Office, London, Star Chamber (hereafter PRO STAG), 2/18/269; 2/19/127; 2/20/52.

(35.) PRO STAC 2/27/181.

(36.) Ibid., 3/6/46.

(37.) Ibid., 5/d.20/29 and 5/35/21.

(38.) PRO SP 15/8/10.

(39.) For descriptions of noble and gentry behavior during the Pilgrimage, see Hoyle, 1992a, 197-99; James, 1986, 111-20, 351-54; Elton, 1980, 47.

(40.) James, 1974, 204.

(41.) LP, 4ii: 1600 (3552).

(42.) Ibid., 4ii: 1810 (4093).

(43.) Ibid., 12i: 294 (667).

(44.) Ibid., 14i: 23 (50), cited in James, 1986, 134.

(45.) Hodgkin, cited in Meikle, 1992.

(46.) "For the harsh reputation of Sir Thomas Wharton as a landlord, see LP l2ii: 205 (548); LR, 10: 310 (733). For the bad reputation of Henry Clifford, first earl of Cumberland, see James, 1986, 148-75. For another view, see Hoyle, 1986. Hoyle succeeded in showing that the earl's policies were not atypical or particularly harsh, but the earl's reputation, as James indicated, was nevertheless poor.

(47.) For some suggestions regarding patterns to changes in northern officeholding, see Palmer, 1998.

(48.) "Calendar of Patent Rolls (hereafter CPR), 2:401; 4:258; APC, 6:137-38; James, 1986, 126-27.

(49.) CPR, 2:401; APC, 4:55, 382.

(50.) James, 1986, 75-76.

(51.) Harrison, 32; BL, Lansdowne Ms. 6/fol. 40.

(52.) James, 1986, 174. This passage contains several obsequious remarks by the first earl.

(53.) LP, l2ii: 330 (942).

(54.) Ibid., 15: 149 (382).

(55.) PR0 SP 15/8/5-8; Here the wording of the original is slightly different and more obsequious than that in the calendar.

(56.) Similar doubts have already been expressed about the existence of a culture of honor in sixteenth century Ireland, another borderland with many similarities with the North. See Palmer. James's insistence on the importance of the loyalty to a lord of his family members, tenants, and retainers, probably holds up, but even there, some cautions ought to be expressed. There are some significant cases of lesser border figures abandoning their overlords. The fourth earl of Northumberland's retainers turned on him in 1489. The Pilgrimage of Grace certainly undermined tenurial loyalties. William Musgrave, whose father had once been a Dacre retainer, became the Dacres' bitter enemy. Thomas Wharton and John Forster, once Percy retainers, became opponents after the seventh earl was restored in 1557. Christopher Dacre switched sides during the Pilgrimage of Grace. James himself gives other examples of the weakness of tenurial ties in 1986, 100-03, 112-15.

(57.) To explore this question of the relationship between the state and the nobility further, see Gunn, 1995, 2-8. See also Elton, 1953; and Stone. Criticism of Elton can be found in Coleman and Starkey, and Fox and Guy. For an interesting comment on the historiographical confusion which the different positions assumed in these works engendered, see C. S. L. Davies's appreciation of Lawrence Stone in Beier, et al, 12-13. Jonathan Dewald has attempted a broader, European perspective on the issue of modernness. See Dewald, especially xv-xvi.

(58.) For example of how McFarlane's ides have survived and for some of the recent findings of the medievalists, see Britnell and Pollard, especially the essay by Harriss, 1-20, and the works by Carpenter and Payling.

(59.) See the essay on the earl of Essex in James, 1986. I am grateful to Steven Gunn for this point.

(60.) On the subject of Northumberland, see the unpublished paper by Dr. Steven Ellis, "Centre and Periphery: The Case of Early Tudor Northumberland," I am grateful to Dr. Ellis for allowing me to see his paper in advance of its publication and for reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this article.

(61.)For other examples of Irsh failure to adhere to English norms of honor, see Palmer. The same piece marshals evidence to suggest that both the English and Irish believed their behavior was honorable, even though that behavior was usually different and it was based on generally different assumptions about what constituted honorable behavior.

(62.) For France, see the innovative work of Neuschel, especially 16-21. But see also Salmon, Major, and Kettering.

(63.) See especially the work of Wyatt-Brown.

(64.) Nisbet and Cohen.

(65.) A similar problem emerges from the growing body of literature on sexual insult. For this literature see Sharpe, Gowing, and Gust. In his article Cust connects the behavior of a Leicestershire gentleman Sir Thomas Beaumont, subjected to sexual insults by his former servant, John Coleman, to the same societal changes to which Mervyn James connected his concept of aristocratic honor. Cust unravels the subtleties of the case with admirable skill and points to a wealth of complexities about honor, but it is hard to see Beaumont's behavior as culturally driven. Sexual insult remains (and probably was during the medieval ages) a potent (no pun intended) means of arousing the anger of certain males in any age.

(66.) Elton, 1972; Wall. The career of Sir James Croft in Elizabethan Herefordshire resembles in many ways, the career of a northern marcher lord. See Tighe. See also the debate on "interpersonal violence," in early modern England, and the most recent contribution to it, Amussen.

(67.) For a brilliant exploration of a similar problem, see Clendinnen.


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Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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