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The formation of the English gentry.

In his first foray into the question as to whether there had ever been a peasant society in England Alan Macfarlane distinguished between on the one hand the common-sense or dictionary definition of peasant ("countryman, rustic, worker on the land") and on the other the technical meaning of the term.(1) In order to facilitate comparative study and in particular to answer the question whether England was in fact a peasant society, Macfarlane attempted to construct an "ideal-type" model in the Weberian sense. In his defence of his methodology he repeats Weber's advice: "Hundreds of words in the historian's vocabulary are ambiguous constructs created to meet the unconsciously felt need for adequate expression and the meaning of which is only concretely felt but not clearly thought-out". And again:

If the historian . . . rejects an attempt to construct such ideal types as a

"theoretical construction", i.e. as useless or dispensable for his concrete

heuristic purposes, the inevitable consequence is either that he consciously or

unconsciously uses other similar concepts, without formulating them verbally

and elaborating them logically or that he remains stuck in the realm of the

vaguely "felt".(2)

Despite such warnings, historians are often suspicious of model-building, suspecting that it may fail to locate the dynamics of a specific society and that it may cause the observer to distort his or her analysis in order to remain within a given framework. Nevertheless there are great gains to be had from close definition, as long as any definition or model is reformulated, even abandoned, if it fails substantially against empirical research. Not only does historical study gain in rigour, and debate become more meaningful and comprehensible, but it also allows for more effective comparative study. The study of peasantries is a case in point.

There could hardly be a greater contrast with how the question of the "gentry" has been handled. Indeed the plain fact is that the study of the gentry has been conducted very largely within the realms of dictionary or common-sense study. As G. E. Mingay has written:

despite the lack of an agreed definition, "the gentry" remains an indispensable

term; it is one of those vastly convenient portmanteau expressions which

historians are obliged to employ in formulating the broad generalisations that

make up the main strands of the historical fabric. It is the more indispensable

since it was so widely used by statesmen and writers of the past. "The gentry"

was a convenient symbol for them, too, and was evidently meaningful to their


But, as he goes on to say, in its broad usage "the gentry" is a term more vague than helpful.(3) For no period is this truer than for the later middle ages.

One major reason for the continuance of common-sense usage of "gentry" is undoubtedly its persistence as a living social term. It came to be used, of course, to cover the lower strata of landed society once "nobility" became restricted to the peerage; and, in this sense, its usage continues to the present day. However, this happened only slowly. Later sixteenth- and seventeenth-century commentators preferred to write of the peerage as the nobilitas major and the knights, esquires and gentlemen (to be joined after 1611 by the baronets) as the nobilitas minor. In common parlance, however, gentry, once synonymous with nobility, came to be used of the lesser nobility. Once interchangeable, these terms became complementary: nobility and gentry.(4) As J. V. Beckett has written, "The dissolution of the seamless noble robe, and its replacement by a distinctive nobility . . . took place gradually, until the early nineteenth-century writers were able to emphasize the loss of position".(5) The nobility of the English gentry then became a matter of some debate. It is this narrow meaning of gentry which has been taken over into English historiography Perhaps we should see this as one more result of the elite's success in maintaining a stable social and political system, to which the Stones have recently drawn our attention.(6)

Historians have by no means confined their use of the term gentry to England or to the age when it was a living social term. On the contrary, it has been readily exported. We read of American, Russian and Chinese gentry; we read of medieval gentry, of Anglo-Saxon gentry, and even of the gentry of the ancient world. It is used transhistorically and transculturally in the assumption that it will be readily understood. But is this not an illusion? As far as later medieval England is concerned, to look no further, it was not in fact a living social term, at least not in any way which resembles modern usage. The word gentry stems from "gentrice" and its commonest usage was to indicate gentle birth and high rank or to describe the qualities shared by the gentle. For example:

He wole hen pris of his gentrye ffor he was boren of a gentil hous

(Chaucer, Wife of Bath's Tale)

For thy genterye, thus cowardly let me net dye (Sir Beves of Hamtoun)

And the gentry of wymmen thare es to hafe smal fete (Travels of Sir John


It was occasionally used, by extension, as a synonym for the nobility but this seems to have been comparatively rare, at least before the sixteenth century.(8)

One might have expected, therefore, that medievalists would have given some thought to definition, not least because questions of origin and questions of definition are intimately related. Their failure to do so stems partly from the factors already mentioned. But there may also be a historiographical explanation. The three great formative influences upon how medieval society has been perceived in England in recent times have been McFarlane, Postan and Hilton. Now all three, in their different ways, have advocated a broad approach to the subject and all of them have inspired studies of the gentry; but for none of the three was the gentry their central interest and the lack of rigour in matters of definition may well stem partly from this plain fact. There are no Ford lectures devoted to the origins of the gentry. Meanwhile there has been much conceptual leaning upon early modern studies, where the problem of definition appears to be somewhat less acute.

The common-sense approach implies that the meaning of gentry is obvious. In practice, however, this is not the case, as reading the introductory chapters to studies of the medieval gentry of specific counties at specific points in time immediately makes clear. Most often scholars begin with the disarmingly simple question: who were the gentry? One basic approach is simply to equate gentry with gentility; the gentry are all those who are accepted as, or who lay claim to being, gentle. Often this involves taking legislation or instances of recognition of the gentility of status groups at face value. After the sumptuary legislation of 1363 we can speak confidently of esquires as well as knights as gentle. The evolution of the esquire is a complex phenomenon which is as yet imperfectly understood. However, there can be little doubt that many of those so distinguished had been regarded as gentle for some time. Moreover the same legislative act makes it clear that gentility extended beyond the esquires for it speaks of "esquires and all manner of gentle men below the estate of knight". And, when we look closely at thirteenth-century evidence, we become aware that gentility was by no means confined to the knights. Texts relating to household or retinue make this clear enough. The Rules of Bishop Robert Grosseteste of 1240-2, for example, spoke not only of knights but also of gentle men (gentis hommes) who wore livery. Gentility is often associated with service, and most particularly with household service. But it also existed in society at large. In a famous instance in the Somerset county court in 1204 Richard Revel informed the sheriff that he and his male kin were natives and gentle men (naturales homines et gentiles) within their locality (patria).(9) The sheriff replied that so, too, was he within his. It seems certain that gentility was widely felt and articulated within society long before legislation is in place to tell us so. The notorious Statute of Additions of 1413, by which the mere gentleman appears to come of age, is equally problematic. This act offers a clear line of demarcation, between gentleman and yeoman. As an idea it was to prove enduring. As Shakespeare has Somerset say to Richard Plantagenet in Henry VI, Part One:

Was not thy father, Richard Earl of Cambridge,

For treason executed in our late king's days?

And by his treason stand's" thou not attainted, Corrupted,

and exempt from ancient gentry? His trespass yet lives

guilty in thy blood; And till thou be restor'd thou art a


In reality, however, the line remained blurred and in the law courts, which the act was basically designed to cover, men could be variously described as gentlemen or yeomen.(10) Moreover the full social acceptance of the mere gentleman took some time yet to achieve, as the thorough study of esquires and gentlemen of fifteenth-century Warwickshire by Christine Carpenter makes clear.(11)

The problem of delineating the gentry, moreover, is not manifested only at the lower end of the social scale. Where is the line between gentry and higher nobility? Admittedly, we appear to be on relatively safe ground once we have a stable peerage from which to differentiate the gentry. However, the restricted peerage crystallized relatively slowly. Personal summons to parliament was a flexible instrument in the time of Edward I, and some flexibility remained throughout the greater part of the fourteenth century.(12) For earlier periods there is even more difficulty. If we are determined to stand on contemporary terminology, we have to negotiate the fluctuating and unclear concept of the baronage.(13) Some thirteenth-century barons were certainly rather insignificant figures, to mention only the least of the problems.

A second approach is to move from gentility to land. The gentry are the lesser landowners, or "the lesser landowners with a claim to gentility". Not only does the problem of demarcation with the higher nobility appear again -- even in the fifteenth century there were some knights, like Sir John Fastolf, who were richer than some of the peers(14)--but at the lower end severe difficulties emerge. Once again, fourteenth- and fifteenth-century legislation appears to come to our aid in offering various property qualifications for holding local office--most often 20 [pounds]--but in practice this is far from satisfactory.(15) It is quite restrictive, as no doubt it was intended to be. What, then, should be the cutoff point? One view, based on the income tax of 1436, defines the gentry "very loosely" as "all lay, non-baronial landowners with an income of 5 [pounds] per annum or more from freehold property".(16) There are advantages in adopting an all-inclusive approach; but there are also some problems. How inclusive should one be? Sources which give income levels are often unreliable, while the source of income may be as important in contemporary perceptions of status as its level. Is a rural estate the true prerequisite for gentry status? Not only do we come up against the problem of the upwardly mobile professionals, whose source of income is various, but there is also the problem of the towns. In a famous essay Rosemary Horrox argued eloquently for the existence of an urban gentry in fifteenth-century England and against the simple equation of land equals gentility. On the contrary, she points to a strong interconnection of urban and rural gentry at this time. Moreover she suggests that although the terminology to describe the situation may have been lacking, these basic facts had long existed.(17)

Over and above all of this we have the association of gentry with office-holding under the crown. But, naturally, the desire and capacity of men to hold office was extremely variable and some offices were more prestigious than others. Office-holding, too, has to be rejected as a sole criterion for gentry status.(18) In order to overcome these problems scholars examining particular localities have tended to go for an amalgam of factors. Susan Wright, for example, in her study of the gentry of fifteen-century Derbyshire includes:

all who in the period 1430-1509 provided a knight or were distrained,

served as knight of the shire, sheriff, justice of the peace, commissioner

of array, escheator or tax collector, together with those who were recorded

in inquisitions post mortem or in five tax returns from 1412 to 1524-7 as

having an income of 5 [pounds] or over or as a tenant-in-chief.(19)

In the matter of definition, medievalists have received no clear lead from their early modern counterparts. Some have looked for a property qualification (10 [pounds] of freehold land), but most have acknowledged the obvious pitfalls in this.(20) There has been much reliance on the tripartite structure of knight, esquire, gentleman, which by the sixteenth century was certainly more entrenched. Some scholars have emphasized the roll of heraldry: "The official badge of gentility was the coat of arms and for the purposes of this study the term `gentry' has been taken to cover all families beneath the peerage which had a specific right to bear such arms".(21) Of course, the heraldic visitations operated under the crown, from 1530 to 1688, as a means of regulating the gentry, and the kings of arms were empowered, under their commissions, to deface or remove bogus arms. In practice, however, possession of arms cannot be used quite so easily in this way. Heraldic visitations were intermittent, and not all gentry were armigerous.(22) Coats of arms may have expressed gentle status, but they did not define it. Sir Thomas Smith makes it clear in De Republica Anglorum (1583) that the reputation of being a gentleman came first, with the confirmation by a king of arms following, if necessary, thereafter. Moreover such reputation was achieved by various means, including prowess at the law or study in a university. Or, as the same author puts it most famously, "who can live idly and without manual labour and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman . . . shall be taken for a gentleman".(23) The same view was expressed by William Harrison.(24) Others spoke of the gentry as being those who were exempt from labour. In practice, the line between gentleman and yeoman remained blurred, and contemporaries confessed to difficulties in distinguishing between them.(25) It is possible, therefore, for a historian to speak of families who were "occasional gentry", acting only as gentry in intermittent contacts with the wider world.(26) Early modernists have difficulty, too, with professionals and with urban residents with claims to gentility.(27) In reality, neither heraldry nor the tripartite schema help the historian very much towards a definition. If the meaning of "gentry" is obvious, it is certainly not obvious from our sources.

Historians have subdivided the early modern gentry in other ways, differentiating county elite from parish gentry, for example, or distinguishing between upper, middling and inferior gentry.(28) Later medievalists have tended to follow suit. Wright, for example, sees an enormous gulf--in economic, political and social terms--between the knights and esquires on the one hand, the "gentry proper" as she calls them, and the ephemeral and ambiguous category of gentlemen on the other.(29) Acheson, too, speaks of the "economic chasm" separating esquires from gentlemen.(30) Recently Simon Payling has added a further dimension. He concentrates upon those he calls the "greater gentry", the dozen or so wealthy families which, as he shows, dominated in fifteenth-century Nottinghamshire.(31) These are similar, both in numbers and in activities, to the "county governors" whom Peter Clark sees operating in sixteenth-century Kent.(32) These approaches are perfectly valid in terms of analysis, of course, and they have paid great dividends. But what has to be stressed is that they are driven by external observation and not upon contemporary perception. And what is true of the parts is true of the whole. The plain truth is that "gentry" as employed by historians is a construct.

In this respect it may be compared with "aristocracy", which came to be widely used in England, it has been argued, precisely because of the confusion over the concept of nobility.(33) It is often used by historians as though it were synonymous with nobility, in the wider sense of the term. However, the terms are not strictly interchangeable, as aristocracy may contain stronger connotations of leadership and authority, betraying its classical origins when it referred to a system of government.(34) There are no absolutes in the use of such terms.

The gentry, then, is a construct. The way it is used, however, leaves us open to Weber's strictures about the "vaguely felt". Arguably, this does have its virtues. Despite the lack of definition, historians of the English gentry have a remarkably consistent view about the parameters of their studies. A recent book on the society of Angevin Yorkshire, by Hugh M. Thomas, shows this clearly.(35) The author asserts that his book is about the gentry, and in the same mould as studies in later periods. This is shown not by conceptualization, however, but by content. We find discussions of office-holding, of collective action, of relations with the crown and higher nobility, of crime, of manipulation of the law and arbitration, as well as of estates and improving landlords, of family, household and inheritance, and of religious sentiment. In other words, the common-sense approach to the study of the gentry is based upon a series of shared assumptions. It also allows historians to borrow fairly freely from one another in conveying a sense of, or a feel for, the society under scrutiny. When we look more closely, Thomas's recognition of gentry seems to be founded on his observation of increasing horizontal ties and of a sense of community among lesser landowners. Similarly, John Blair invokes "the English country gentry" to describe the late Anglo-Saxon thegnage as a means of comprehending the evolution of the manor and the rise of the local parish church.(36)

But, on the other hand, how can we be sure we are comparing like with like? Admittedly, there are many continuities; but, equally, there is hardly an area of life in which the fifteen-century world, for example, was not radically different in some respects from that of the eleventh or twelfth. There is another reason why, at the present time, medievalists should concern themselves with the question of definition. Alongside the recent burgeoning of studies in the medieval gentry, what we might call the second wave, there are the beginnings of a discernible tendency to take a more evolutionary approach.(37) This is a positive development, although there are dangers. One is that the history of the gentry may be conceived as wholly linear, a question even of progress. In seeking understanding across time we need to look for breaks as well as continuities. The history of knighthood, for example, ought not to be seen as a straightforward and gradual shift from military and chivalric values to civilian duty.38 Another is that we may be tempted to gloss over major differences in favour of superficial similarity, side-stepping serious shifts. More rigorous definition of the gentry is, therefore, long overdue.

Perhaps too much attention has been given to the problem of delineation of the gentry. Should we not ask, rather, what distinguishes a gentry as a social formation? What are its essential characteristics? When can we speak of the existence of a gentry, and when can we not?

Some characteristics are so obvious as to require little comment. Land was an important constituent. Members of the gentry are most often local seigneurs or landowners. However, as we have observed of both later medieval and early modern society, gentility was experienced more widely than this. Which observation brings us to the second characteristic. Gentry share with greater lords a nobility or gentility which is designed to express an essential social difference between them and the rest of the population. In other words, a fairly well-developed sense of social difference must exist; or, to put it another way, the gentry is predicated upon the existence of a nobility. Whether we think in terms of nobility or aristocracy does not seriously affect the issue.(39) Neither does the less developed sense of noble privilege in England compared to Continental nobilities.(40) Nor, indeed, the peculiar separation of nobility and gentry which was to develop in England. The existence, and the persistence, of gentility is sufficient. But, if preferred, we can use magnates or greater aristocracy in place of higher nobility.

The remaining characteristics of the gentry, it seems to me, can be encapsulated in a single word: territoriality. Immanent rather than declared in most studies in the subject, territoriality is crucial to the understanding of the gentry as a social formation. All landownership is, in the most basic sense, territorial; but what distinguishes the territoriality of the gentry is its collective nature. This territoriality has four essential components: collective identity, status gradation, local public office and authority over the populace.

Collective identity can be expressed in various ways. There is a natural tendency for landowners and other locally significant men to develop ties of association with others of similar station, notwithstanding any vertical relationship they may have with territorial magnates or with a distant authority. However, there is a qualitative difference between associations of this kind and the type of group identity which requires clear articulation of shared interests and concerns. Such interests can only be expressed through formal assemblies, whether of a local or national kind. This is undoubtedly why historians have been so concerned about the existence or not of county communities, and why there has been so much interest in factors working for and against cohesion within local societies. Despite disagreements over the level of coherence of county societies, there can be no doubt that a capacity for collective self-expression is a vital ingredient of the gentry.

The significance of status gradations is that they express status in terms of horizontal bands, rather than in terms of service or vertical association. They result, therefore, from a type of abstract thinking which equates individuals in status terms across a given area. The major determinant of these perceived differences in grade tends to be wealth. True, other derivations of status may coexist with the territorial one, but they are accommodated within its dominant framework.

The holding of local public office has to be understood in relation to the needs of the state or central authority. All such authority has to function by means of agents and agencies. In many cases, it works through salaried officials. In other cases, a bureaucratic solution is not feasible. It requires a high level of resource and a high degree of acceptance, especially given that revenue may have to be drawn from society in order to finance it. The alternative is to work through local society itself. This may be done, to some extent, via ties of dependency, such as vassalage. But, for the most part, it means drawing on the services of members of the local elite. From the point of view of the latter, the existence of an effective, but relatively distant, public authority is to be welcomed, as long as it remains within bounds. Between centre and locality, therefore, there is a mutual acceptance which is real but qualified. The centre may wish to define status in relation to government service; in some societies it succeeds in doing this. In others, however, it is forced to draw upon the services of men whose status and whose stake in society is anterior to the holding of office. This is the case with the gentry. Of course, there is status in unsalaried, public office; men would hardly seek it otherwise. But, to a great extent, the status acquired through office is incremental.(41)

And, finally, there is the matter of authority over the population as a whole. Naturally the exercise of justice is the key to this. There can be no doubt that collective responsibility for the administration of justice is an important facet of the gentry. The justice of the peace figures prominently in all studies of the English gentry from the fourteenth century on. Their numbers and their duties increased significantly under the Tudors.(42) None the less they were already a notable feature of English society during the later medieval period. It is easy to see why they should figure so prominently in gentry studies. They became the cornerstone of English local government. Their authority extended beyond the individual, private interests of the local seigneurial courts, and eventually it superseded them. Most significantly, it was authority over a defined area, whether one is talking of the county as a whole through quarter sessions or locally over the parishes where as individuals they resided. Although they were not formally elected by them, the justices represented the collective social power of the members of the gentry.

I would suggest, then, that the defining characteristics of the gentry, as a social formation, are as follows:

1. A gentry is a type of lesser nobility.

2. Although based on land and landownership, it is able to encompass other types of property, including urban property, and to accommodate a steady influx of professionals.

3. It is a territorial elite. It transcends status derived from service or personal association on the one hand, and the authority derived from mere landlordship on the other. Given that levels of wealth vary, there is a natural tendency towards the development of social gradation.

4. It relates to a public authority which is both active and relatively distant; that is to say, a public authority which requires the services of a local elite but which is unable to support a paid bureaucracy in the localities.

5. It seeks to exercise collective social control over the populace on a territorial basis, reinforcing individual status and power.

6. It has a collective identity and collective interests which necessitate the existence of some forum, or interlocking forums, for their articulation.

When, then, can we speak of the existence of a gentry and when can we not? The existence of nobility, of a sufficiently broad landowning class, of a central authority (in practice, kingship) and of public courts are all in the nature of preconditions. They were certainly present in tenth- to twelfth-century England, but they do not in themselves signal the presence of a gentry, except perhaps under the very broadest of definitions. Moreover the increasing feudalization of society, with its privatization of courts and its emphasis upon vertical links with great territorial lords, tended to preclude the emergence of a gentry, at least for a time. It was the Angevin polity, with its institutional growth, its substantially increased liaison between localities and central government and the sharp increase in its deployment of local men--the famous "self-government at the king's command"--which provided the seed-bed from which the gentry grew; or, as Jean Scammell has recently put it, Henry II was the "midwife" of the English gentry.(43)

Such were the beginnings. It was the period from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-fourteenth centuries, however, which witnessed, in an accelerating process, the formation of the English gentry. By the middle decades of the fourteenth century a recognizable gentry was in existence.

Much centres on the nature and functions of the county court, and the historian's attention is naturally drawn to the great extension of the role of that forum as a result of the Angevin legal reforms. The heightened role played by the county from the latter half of the twelfth to the mid-thirteenth century also had a political dimension. Counties communicated collectively from time to time with the central government, receiving charters and addressing petitions.(44) The effects of this, however, can be exaggerated, especially in terms of community. Local knights operated, in reality, at some remove from the county court, which was often poorly attended. Baronial agents played a major part in its operations and it was naturally prone to strong influence from local magnates.(45) The period of reform inaugurated in 1258, however, had long-standing effects. Now a central authority called upon county knights to act as agents channelling criticism and complaints to the government in parliament. One of the most crucial developments in 1258-9 was that the magnates' own agents were now put under scrutiny as well as royal ones.(46) The scene was set for the county to become a genuine forum to express the views of local elites. Equally crucial, however, was the linking of local complaint with parliament. One of the characteristic features of the English polity in the time of Edward I was precisely this integration. With the growth in regular petitioning the effect was bound to be a strengthening of the representative nature of the county, as the meeting of the Commons provided a regular channel for communication between government and local interests.(47)

It was in the reign of Edward II, and particularly during his last years, that the Commons emerged as a political force. Separated institutionally from the Lords, the Commons, dominated by county knights, became the mouthpiece, one might say, of an emergent gentry. Although continuous Parliament Rolls survive only from 1339, sufficient can be pieced together from the 1320s and 1330s to show continuous pressure on the government being applied by the Commons and a strong concern with the abuse of power by the great lords.(48) The scene was set for future years. It would be wrong, however, to concentrate solely upon events at the centre. Although we should be careful not to glamorize the county court nor to dismiss its shortcomings, local articulation of interests and grievances must have been greatly aided by the existence of a national body in which collective concerns could be voiced.

It was during this same period that the status gradations which were such a long-standing feature of the English gentry began to emerge. There are indications that status was already beginning to be understood territorially by the first half of the thirteenth century. As we have seen, men could be regarded as the gentiles of their native locality. More significantly, the word vavasour came to be employed to denote a substantial landholder below the level of baron but superior to the less well-endowed county knight.(49) In 1258 the demand that the sheriff be a vavasour of the county he administered is first heard. It may be that the Angevin legal procedure of the grand assize, whereby knights served as electors and jurors by virtue of their knightly status, but on a county basis, helped in particular to extend this way of thinking However, the development of a more restricted knighthood during the middle decades of the century rather altered the configuration. Ultimately the esquire emerged as a clear gradation below the more prestigious chivalric knight. But this development was long delayed, and when it finally occurred esquire was more than just a residual category for those families who had ceased to produce knights.(50) In the mean time, no doubt, there were real social distinctions and much consciousness of status below the level of the knight. Collaterals of knightly families were sealing their documents heraldically, for example, during the early decades of the fourteenth century. The sheriffs were selective in the non-knightly men-at-arms within their counties who were summoned to the Great Council at Westminster in 1324, and this presumably reflected local sensibilities. But although we can discern differences between families in terms of wealth, of longevity within the county or locality, of ancestry and connections, and so on, the precise determinants of status at this level of society tend to be elusive, and they were probably inconsistent across time and space.

It was during the middle third of the fourteenth century that the term esquire came to maturation as a social gradation. Notwithstanding its lingering service and military connotations, esquire now came to designate membership of a particular social rung. This was the time when esquire replaced valet as the term used to describe non-knightly retainers in indentures. It was also the time when the heads of families of local substance who had never been knightly joined the collaterals and the once-knightly in sealing heraldically. What was happening in the localities was reflected in legislation in 1363, in parliament's attempt to regulate apparel by statute. The rung of esquire, as it finally took shape, was in fact a fairly inclusive one, and was achieved, no doubt, at the expense of subtler, and more local, distinctions. The preamble to the graduated poll tax of 1379 distinguished between three types of esquire: "the esquire of lesser estate" -- the basic esquire as it were -- was located between the esquire "who by estate ought to be a knight" on the one hand, and the esquire without lands or rents who was in service on the other. The returns themselves reveal that the esquires "of lesser estate" included some men whose families had once been knight-bearing as well as many whose families had not.

The 1363 sumptuary legislation had not created the rung of esquire; nor had esquires been identified for all time. There was room for considerable future development. The esquire did not subsume all of the gentiles, and the arrival of the gentleman in the fifteenth century produced some realignment. Nevertheless the decades immediately prior to the sumptuary legislation were crucial. The gradual working-out of the territorial idea of status produced a nation-wide system of social gradation within the emergent gentry. It can hardly be coincidental that this occurred at the very time when the gentry was becoming increasingly conscious of itself politically.

The first half of the fourteenth century is equally crucial in the development of collective control over the populace. The complex history of the keepers of the peace and their transformation into justices of the peace has been elucidated by a number of scholars and only its most significant features, in terms of the formation of the gentry, need be discussed here.(51) The implications, however, are immense and they require particular attention.

The keepers had dual origins, in terms of police and military functions on the one hand, and in terms of their judicial functions on the other. The roots of the former go back to the very beginning of the thirteenth century, but the term keepers of the peace was first generally applied to the rival sets of captains appointed both by the king and the baronial partisans during the years 1263-7. Following the Statute of Winchester of 1285 keepers were given twice-yearly inspection of the arms of the populace and, effectively, control over the militia. This was a ant development in its own right in that it involved a supervisory role, exercised over the population as a whole. Meanwhile, however, they had begun to acquire judicial functions in peacetime, receiving presentments of trespasses and passing them on to more regular justices for trial. The year 1300 was crucial when the keepers were again established for each of the shires but also given powers to punish breaches of the Statute of Winchester and to determine certain categories of complaint. Keepers were employed on a more regular basis during the following reign. They were now given the power of arrest on suspicion and, occasionally, they were given gaol delivery: that is to say, they could determine the cases as well as receiving indictments. More often, however, this was reserved for regular justices or specially appointed supervisors.(52) The crown was clearly reluctant to concede full powers to the keepers of the peace.(53) In 1327 the Commons petitioned for the appointment of keepers with power to try those indicted before them. The latter was denied, and further years of experimentation followed before the final emergence of the justice of the peace. In 1344 the keepers were empowered by statute to determine cases when they were afforced by men of law, in practice establishing the quorum. By 1350, when justices of gaol delivery were included in the peace commissions, the transformation of keepers into justices was effectively achieved, although it was not sanctioned by statute until 1361. Their powers were periodically extended from then on.(54)

All of this took place against a background of mounting crime and there were clearly several views as to how this should be handled. There was also the traditional matter of containing the crown's rapacity, a long-standing concomitant of royal justice and a source of grievance in the localities. There were other reasons, however, why the institution of local justices of the peace should be favoured by men of substance in the provinces; reasons which are of particular significance in the present context. Courts were vital to the survival of the lords, of whatever level. They were important in terms of income, of course, but they were also essential in terms of social control without which income and status, that is to say lordship, could not be assured. The development of the central courts, as is well known, proved detrimental to the functioning of honour courts. However, it is worth stopping to consider the effect upon seignorial courts as a whole. In general terms the growth in the civil side of the common law seems to have been in the interests of the local seigneur,(55) but the access it gave his free tenants to the royal courts was potentially hazardous. This is no doubt one of the reasons why manorial lords looked enviously at the sheriff's tourn through the hundreds, the twice-yearly great courts which inquired not only into the membership of adults in the compulsory mutual security system known as frankpledge, but also into breaches of the peace and offences which needed to be presented to the royal justices. These courts drained some of the resources of their peasants away from the local lords towards government coffers via the sheriffs. But money was never the sole issue. It was for reasons of control, as well as income, that a growing number of lords usurped the holding of these courts, the franchise of view of frankpledge, during the course of the thirteenth century.(56) One result was to bring new procedures into private courts, adding considerably to their effectiveness.(57) There was, moreover, a growing difficulty in containing crime within the increasingly mobile society of thirteenth-century England, a fact which brought increasing numbers of subjects into contact with royal justice. In general, the greater the growth in the jurisdiction of the central courts, the more the horizons of tenants widened. A particularly significant development was the growth in complaints (querelae) to royal justices of trespasses against the peace. Having their effective beginnings in the officially encouraged complaints against royal and other ministers from 1258 onwards, the use of querelae grew by leaps and bounds during the second half of the century. As a result the "petty injuries which for decades had been settled in the seignorial or old popular courts were being brought as `breaches of the peace', before any officer of the king who seemed likely to offer effective remedy".(58) These justices could be the itinerant justices from Westminster, special commissioners or, at least as regards receiving indictments, the keepers of the peace. It was far better, from the local landlord's point of view, that he, rather than commissioners of oyer and terminer or the notoriously rapacious justices of trailbaston, should handle the operation of royal courts.

As has been well said recently, the royal courts "cast a longer and longer shadow over private and local jurisdictions" across the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.(59) To be sure, private courts had a lot of mileage in them yet; and it is important not to exaggerate the speed of change. It is not a question, as yet, of a shift away from manorial control but, rather, of the emergence of an additional plane of authority. Royal jurisdiction had grown to such an extent that there was no going back, and everyone knew that. Since the landlord could not operate individually in this respect, as he could in his own court, the only recourse was for the landowners to operate collectively as justices of the peace, hearing and determining cases that came before them. Their status, collectively, would be ensured. Of course, representation was a difficult concept in such a context and there must have been some tension between the status and power accorded the individual justice and the collective interest; but there were informal ways in which local men could be contained. There was always the prospect of achieving more in this respect if only nomination of the justices by the gentry themselves could have been achieved.

What the government and the professional justices preferred, no doubt, was that local men should keep the peace by receiving indictments but that justice should be done by the professionals. While the crown was concerned with the question of its control, many professional justices probably sensed the consequences in terms of an increase in faction and associated corruption should the gentry fully achieve its objectives. Equally, the higher lords stood to lose a great deal if they failed to involve themselves in the commissions and if they failed to influence the choice of justices. The end result was a compromise, or rather a series of compromises. The government bowed before gentry aspirations, but the justices were appointed by the crown, and their appointment generally took account of the realities of both local and central power. The J.P.s themselves were drawn from three groups--from the gentry predominantly, but also from the magnates and from the professional lawyers.

In all these areas, then, the early to mid-fourteenth century saw the summation of developments. There were important changes in other areas too. Society was becoming increasingly professionalized, the most spectacular manifestation of which was the rise of a centrally organized legal profession.(60) Then there is the question of attitudes towards the towns. Rural and urban interests had been closely knit in late Saxon England.(61) This remained broadly true during the twelfth century. A shift has been detected, however, during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when many landlords retreated from their urban interests.(62) This retreat is clearly connected with the decline of the honour; but there were also economic factors at work making externally held urban interests less viable at a time when resources in general needed careful husbanding. The elites of town and country were drawing apart. The thirteenth century witnessed a stronger emphasis upon the rural setting of gentility. There are also signs, however, that by the mid-fourteenth century a shift back towards externally held urban interests was under way.(63) This is likely to have had much to do with the interests of lawyers and administrators whose prospects, financially and socially, were increasing. There are also various reasons of convenience for maintaining town houses, most notably at London and Westminster. Nevertheless renewed urban involvement may also have been symptomatic of a change in attitudes resulting from the increasing confidence of the lesser landowners; their social superiority was established and it became easier to accommodate professionals, even merchants, to the point of accepting their gentility.

The English gentry emerged, then, as a "part society",(64) although it was not a class, at least not in the strict sense of the term. It is necessary to ask how it related to the other parts. One of the current trends within later medieval English history stresses the community of interests which existed between crown, higher nobility and gentry, and which extended, even, to lesser freeholders. This approach has been exemplified recently in elegant and summary fashion by Gerald Harriss.(65) As a corrective to more conflictual models, the consensual approach has much to recommend it. This was, to be sure, a sophisticated society in which there was much to be consensual about. All property owners had a stake in preserving good order and ensuring that serious conflicts should be contained. There were also class interests to be considered. It is surely significant that the keepers of the peace finally secured their powers to determine at the very time that the need to assert control over the rural tenantry and workforce was particularly acute, i.e. in the aftermath of the Black Death.(66)

Nevertheless the interests of crown, higher nobility and gentry, however much they interlocked, by no means always coincided. The very fact that historians analyse the later medieval polity in these terms implies this. Christine Carpenter, for example, despite seeing an essentially symbiotic relationship between (higher) nobility and gentry, none the less shows their vantage points to have been different. The former, she writes, in order "to offer the right sort of protection to their clients, needed to control the whole county".(67) This is the blunt fact, and emphasizing good lordship or a magnate's "rule" rather than control of his "country" does not essentially alter it.(68) It is true, of course, that the later medieval gentry were not easily dominated and that to be effective a great lord needed to rule with and through local society.(69) One might even agree with Carpenter that the gentry were a naturally truculent lot who needed a strong, energetic and intelligent higher nobility to hold them in check, although it implies an optimistic viewpoint on the capacity of the latter. But when all caveats have been made, the fact remains that magnate rule was a particular type of rule with an accent upon vertical ties and personal subordination to a great lord.

Members of the gentry co-operated with great lords for a variety of reasons, including self-interest, and often, no doubt, because they had little choice in the matter. Whether they had an entrenched belief in the validity of magnate power may be open to doubt. The community of interests between higher nobility and gentry which Carpenter sees as characteristic of the later medieval polity was broken, she believes, by the excesses of the nobility and the onset of the Wars of the Roses: "the gentry may well have come to believe in the mid-to-late 1450s that they were better off without the nobility".(70) This loss of faith in magnate power may have happened elsewhere, she concedes, at a different pace and at a different time, but it happened generally during the latter part of the fifteenth century with momentous consequences for the future of the state. With the self-weakening of the nobility, it was in the nature of things that the gentry would align themselves with the crown, at least more than they had been able to do in the recent past. That they did so at this point may, arguably, have been a historical event of great significance, but it was surely not due to a sudden conversion or a great ideological shift, but rather to another turn in the complex relationship between crown, higher nobility and gentry which had been a feature of English society for some time and was to remain an important feature for some time to come.

The fact that magnate rule, when it was effective, needed to accommodate the gentry's own network of associations and alliances indicates that it was not the only way to order the localities. Running counter to the higher nobility's traditional practice of vertical territorial control based on personal dependence was the principle of local office dominated by local men looking to the crown. The triumph of this principle was potentially injurious to the higher nobility unless they could effectively control it.(71) But, in fact, it is also the case that the position adopted by the crown and the position occupied by the gentry on this issue were by no means always the same. The crown's version of self-government at the king's command contained the capacity to call upon whomsoever it wished (and wished to favour) as individuals and for them to answer the call. As Richard Fitz Nigel wrote in the Dialogue of the Exchequer (completed 1179):

It is the king's prerogative as chief of the executive that any man in the

kingdom, if the king need him, may be freely taken and assigned to the

king's service, whose man soever he be, and whomsoever he serves in war or in peace.(72)

Despite concessions where necessary to the principle of representation--when knights were asked to Westminster to discuss taxation, as in 1254 for example, or later when it came to the election of members of parliament--there is no reason to doubt that this long remained the crown's essential position.

The gentry tended to feel differently. Central were the issues of appointment and accountability. The case of the sheriff is well known. The crown demanded of sheriffs that they should be, as individuals, personally (and quite literally) accountable; the gentry, by contrast, wished to see them accountable, in the broader sense, to their community.(73) As regards justices of the peace, the Commons first sought their nomination in the counties but then shifted their ground to seek parliamentary appointment, most probably because the former system left open the likelihood of magnate intervention.(74)

Their failure here is symptomatic. Full gentry power in the localities was not to be realized. Indeed it could not be realized without a tamed crown and a higher nobility whose social distance was sufficiently reduced that they constituted, in effect, the highest gradations of the gentry. For a long time to come English political life, and much else besides, was to be dominated by the interplay of these three forces. This is not to say that there was incessant conflict between three mutually exclusive interests; such a proposition would be patently absurd. When open clashes occurred or clear programmes were articulated they came as a result of specific conjunctures. Nor should it be suggested that individuals held predetermined views in accordance with their position in the social structure. The relationships struck by members of the gentry, magnates and the crown were many and complex, and they naturally influenced attitudes. It would be extremely hazardous to attempt to construct an exclusive gentry mentality. What can be said is that the interests of crown, higher nobility and gentry are at the very least analytically distinct, and were often distinct in practice, and that the views that were held were related to the way in which society was structured.

All of this can be put in another way. The gentry can be understood as an ideal type. However, ideal types, although based upon observation of actual phenomena, are unlikely to be present in reality in a pure, uncontaminated, form. The actual configuration is the result of historical circumstance. The English gentry came into being as a social formation in a world dominated by higher social powers, and its form was modified accordingly. Thus, for example, the term esquire was utilized to fulfil a need --to designate a social grade below the knight--but it needed in practice to retain its service connotations to both crown and higher nobility and to encompass the special status of sons of the latter.(75) And, again, the institution of the justice of the peace yielded collective power to the gentry but in a manner which gave the crown overall control and left the magnates with an important stake. Part of the utility of the model approach is precisely that it serves to highlight actual historical limitations.

But whether one thinks in terms of a fully fledged "ideal type" or only of more exact definition, the results are open to refinement by means of comparative study. Some of the characteristics of the gentry--the relatively easy accommodation of rising professionals, for example -- may turn out in consequence to be secondary rather than primary. Beyond such refinements, however, lies the deeper question of the peculiarity, even the uniqueness, of the English gentry among lesser nobilities. How different was the English experience, and how is this difference to be explained?(76) It is easy enough to point to the precocious strength of the English state. But it would be a restricted view which envisaged the gentry as the creation of the crown, in any unilateral sense. Clearly it is the relationship between lesser nobility and central government which is significant. Arguably this relationship allowed the English gentry to develop in a relatively ordered fashion. A comparative treatment, however, is beyond the scope of the present essay. In the mean time close definition and attention to the process of formation are vital matters in their own right. (*) I am grateful to Paul Brand and Chris Wickham for their valuable comments on a draft of this essay. (1) Alan Macfarlane, The Culture of Capitalism (Oxford, 1987), p. 3 [repr. from David Green et al., Social Organisation and Settlement (Brit. Archaeological Reports, Internat. Ser. (Supplementary), 47 (ii), London, 1978)]. (2) Ibid., Postscript, p. 207. (3) G. E. Mingay, The Gentry: The Rise and Fall of a Ruling Class (London, 1976), p. 1. (4) See, in particular, M. J. Sayer, English Nobility: The Gentry, the Heralds and the Continental Context (Norwich, 1979), pp. 3-5; and J. V. Beckett, The Aristocracy in England, 1660-1914 (Oxford, 1986), pp. 18-20. (5) Beckett, Aristocracy in England, p. 19. (6) Lawrence Stone and Jeanne C. Fawtier Stone, An Open Elite?: England, 1540-1880 (Oxford, 1984), pp. 303-6 (7) N.E.D., vol. vi (1901), pp. 121-2; O.E.D., 2nd edn., vol. vi (1989), p. 455. (8) The author of Cleanness, for example, refers to the gentryse of the Jews and of Jerusalem: M.E.D., vol. iv (1963), pp. 77-8. (9) Curia Regis Rolls, iii, p. 129; for a recent discussion of this case and its implications, see my Lordship, Knighthood and Locality (Cambridge, 1991), p. 10. (10) See, for example, Susan M. Wright, The Derbyshire Gentry in the Fifteenth Century (Chesterfield, 1983), p. 6; and Eric Acheson, A Gentry Community: Leicestershire in the Fifteenth Century, c. 1422-c.1485 (Cambridge, 1992), p. 34. Acheson writes: "`gentleman' was adopted haltingly and with some confusion, as the omission of status and the procession of aliaes in the Pardon Rolls reveal". (11) Christine Carpenter, Lordship and Polity: A Study of Warwickshire Landed Society, 1401-1499 (Cambridge, 1992), ch. 3, "Who Were the Gentry?". For a wide-ranging discussion of gentility in the fifteenth century, see D. A. L. Morgan, "The Individual Style of the English Gentleman", in Michael Jones (ed.), Gentry and Lesser Nobility in Late Medieval Europe (Gloucester, 1986), pp. 15-35. (12) For a recent discussion of the issues, see C. Given-Wilson, The English Nobility in the Later Middk Ages (London and New York, 1987), ch. 2. (13) See, for example, David Crouch, The Image of Aristocracy in Britain, 1000-1300 (London, 1992), pp. 106-19. (14) See T. B. Pugh, "The Magnates, Knights and Gentry", in S. B. Chrimes, C. D. Ross and R. A. Griffiths (eds.), Fifteenth-Century England (Manchester, 1972), pp. 99-100. (15) J. M. W. Bean employs the 20 [pounds] unit of assessment in the income tax of 1412 as a means of structural analysis, while, however, stressing its limitations: J. M. W. Bean, "Landlords", in E. Miller (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iii: 1348-1500 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 526-42. (16) See S. J. Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England: The Greater Gentry of Nottinghamshire (Oxford, 1991), p. 3. (17) Rosemary Horrox, "The Urban Gentry in the Fifteenth Century", in J. A. F. Thomson (ed.), Tows and Townspeople in the Fifteenth Century (Gloucester, 1988), pp. 22-44. See also R. L. Storey, "Gentlemen-Bureaucrats", in C. H. Clough (ed.), Profession, Vocation and Culture in Later Medieval England (Liverpool, 1982), pp. 90-114. (18) And see below, n. 41. (19) Wright, Derbyshire Gentry, p. 4. A similar analysis opens Eric Acheson's study of the Leicestershire gentry in the fifteenth century: "the family names gleaned from the 1428 and the 1436 subsidies, along with those who accepted the burdens of local government, provide us with our starting point of 249 families of either gentry or potential gentry status": Acheson, Gentry Community, p. 38. (20) For a summary of views on this, see Acheson, Gentry Community, pp. 29-30. (21) J. T. Cliffe, The Yorkshire Gentry from the Reformation to the Civil War (London, 1969), pp. 2-3. (22) For criticism of this approach, see Beckett, Aristocracy in England, pp. 34-5, and works cited there. (23) Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum: A Discourse on the Commonwealth of England, ed. L. Alston (Cambridge, 1906), pp. 39-40. See also Sayer, English Nobility, pp. 3-7. (24) See Mingay, Gentry, p. 2; and Acheson, Gentry Community, p. 35. (25) David Cressy, "Describing the Social Order of Elizabethan and Stuart England", Literature and Hist., no. 3 (1976), pp. 29-44. (26) p, Clark, English Provincial Society from the Reformation to the Revolution: Religion, Politics and Society in Kent, 1500-1640 (Hassocks, 1977), p. 126. (27) See Cressy, "Describing the Social Order", for example, for debate around these issues. For the content of gentility in this period, see, in particular, J. P. Cooper, "Ideas of Gentility in Early Modern England", in G. E. Aylmer and J. S. Morrill (eds.), Land, Men and Beliefs: Studies in Early Modern History (London, 1983), pp. 43-77. (28) See, for example, Lawrence Stone, "Social Mobility in England", Past and Present, no. 33 (Apr. 1966), p. 18; Cliffe, Yorkshire Gentry, p. 29. (29) Wright, Derbyshire Gentry, p. 6. (30) Acheson, Gentry Community, p. 43. (31) Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England, ch. 1, and passim. (32) Clark, English Provincial Society, pt. 2. (33) Beckett, Aristocracy in England, pp. 20-2. (34) See Jonathan Powys, Aristocracy (Oxford, 1984), esp. ch. 1. (35) Hugh M. Thomas, Vassals, Heiresses, Crusaders and Thugs: The Gentry of Angevin Yorkshire, 1154-1216 (Philadelphia, Pa., 1993). (36) John Blair, Early Medieval Surrey: Landholding, Church and Settlement before 1300 (Stroud, 1991), pp. 160-1: "the appearance of a broad, locally-based class of minor aristocracy: the proliferation between 900 and 1066 of the English country gentry". (37) See, for example, Colin Richmond, "The Rise of the English Gentry 1150-1350" The Historian, no. 26 (Spring 1990), pp. 14-18; and also Carpenter, Lordship and Polity, pp. 39-49. (38) As implied in Carpenter, Lordship and Polity, pp. 55-65. The comparative strength of fifteenth-century studies in this area carries the danger of contrasting a fifteen-century present with a relatively undifferentiated pre-fifteenth-century past. (39) European scholars have been much exercised as to when it becomes legitimate to talk in terms of a nobility and as to whether or not it is better to envisage a vaguer, less clearly defined, aristocracy giving way to a more sharply perceived and increasingly juridically defined nobility. The best introduction to these problems is probably still L. Genicot, "Recent Research on the Medieval Nobility", in T. Reuter (ea. and trans.), The Medieval Nobility: Studies on the Ruling Class of France and Germany from the Sixth to the Twelfth Century (Amsterdam, 1979), pp. 17-35. Because of the difficulties in perception stemming from the use of nobility in the middle ages, David Crouch has recently argued for the adoption of aristocracy in its place: Image of Aristocracy in Britain, pp. 2-9. (40) On this point see, in particular, M. L. Bush, Noble Privilege (Manchester, 1983), and his precis of the English situation in The English Aristocracy: A Comparative Synthesis (Manchester, 1984), ch. 2. (41) It is important not to be beguiled, in this respect, by the aspirations of the crown. For an exaggerated sense of service to the crown in defining status within the emerging gentry, see Carpenter, Lordship and Polity, ch. 3, section 2. (42) Among other studies, see M. L. Zell, "Early Tudor JPs at Work", Archaeologia Cantiana, xcii (1977), pp. 125-43; A. Hassell Smith, County and Court: Government and Politics in Norfolk, 1558-1603 (Oxford, 1974), pt. 2, "Office-Holding: Its Significance in County Politics, 1572-1603"; Clark, English Provincial Society, esp. ch. 4, "The Structure of Politics: The Growth of Stability"; Cliffe, Yorkshire Gentry, ch. 11, "The Government of the County". (43) Jean Scammell, "The Formation of the English Social Structure: Freedom, Knights and Gentry, 1066-1300", Speculum, lxviii (1993), p. 618. (44) J. C. Holt, "The Prehistory of Parliament", in R. G. Davies and J. H. Denton (eds.), The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester, 1981), pp. 1-28; and J. R. Maddicott, "Magna Carta and the Local Community, 1215-1259", Past and Present, no. 102 (Feb. 1984), pp. 25-65. (45) J. C. Holt, The Northerners, revised edn. (Oxford, 1992), pp. xxvii-xxxii. See also P. R. Coss, "Knighthood and the Early Thirteenth-Century County Court", in P. R. Coss and S. D. Lloyd (eds.), Thirteenth-Century England, 11 (Woodbridge, 1988), pp. 45-57; and Thomas, Vassals, Heiresses, Crusaders and Thugs, pp. 31-2. (46) For the most recent discussion of this, see Andrew H. Hershey, "Success or Failure?: Hugh Bigod and Judicial Reform during the Baronial Movement, June 1258-February 1259", in P. R. Coss and S. D. Lloyd (eds.), Thirteenth-Century England, V (Woodbridge, forthcoming 1995). (47) The seminal work here is by J. R. Maddicott: "The County Community and the Making of Public Opinion in Fourteenth-Century England", Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser., xxvii (1978), pp. 27-43; "Edward I and the Lessons of Baronial Reform: Local Government, 1258-80", in P. R. Coss and S. D. Lloyd (eds.), Thirteen-Century England, I (Woodbridge, 1986), pp. 1-30; and "Parliament and the Constituencies, 1272-1377", in Davies and Denton (eds.), English Parliament in the Middle Ages, p. 62. (48) For a recent review of the evidence here, see W. M. Ormrod, "Agenda for Legislation, 1322-c.1340", Eng. Hist. Rev., cv (1990), pp. 1-33. (49) On the changing meaning of the term vavasour and its significance, see my "Literature and Social Terminology: The Vavasour in England in T. H. Aston et al. (eds.), Social Relations and Ideas: Essays in Honour of R. H. Hilton (Cambridge, 1983), pp 109-50. (50) For what follows, see my forthcoming essay, "Knights, Esquires and the Origins of Social Gradation in England", Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 6th ser., v (1995). (51) Principally, the pioneer studies of B. H. Putnam: "The Transformation of the Keepers of the Peace into the Justices of the Peace, 1327-1380", Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 4th ser., xii (1929), pp. 19-48; and B. H. Putnam, Proceedings before the Justices of the Peace in the 14th and 15th Centuries (Cambridge, Mass., 1938), which lists her other works on the subject; and the extension of this work by Alan Harding, "The Origins and Early History of the Keeper of the Peace", Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser., x (1960), pp. 85-109; and Alan Harding, The Law Courts of Medieval England (London, 1973), ch. 3. (52) For these years, see also Rolls of the Northamptonshire Sessions of the Peace, ed. M. Gollancz (Northants Record Soc., xi, Kettering, 1940); and Kent Keepers of the Peace, 1316-17, ed. B. H. Putnam (Kent Archaeological Soc., Records Branch, xiii, Ashford, 1933). (53) As Alan Harding has pointed out, the judicial side of the keeping of the peace seems to have arisen from pressure from below rather than from any conscious decision on the part of the crown, "Origins and Early History", pp. 108-9. (54) Their jurisdiction over the implementation of the 1349 Ordinance and the 1351 Statute of Labourers was given intermittently but finally conceded in 1368 together with other "economic" matters. When justices of labourers operated under separate commissions, from 1352 to 1359 for example, they tended to be largely the same personnel as the justices of the peace, minus the assize judges. On this and on the early history of the quorum and its significance, see Edward Powell, "The Administration of Criminal Justice in Late-Medieval England: Peace Sessions and Assizes", in R. Eales and D. Sullivan (eds.), The Political Context of Law (London, 1987), pp. 49-59. For later commissions, see R. Sillem, "Commissions of the Peace, 1380-1485", Bun Inst. Hist. Research, x (1933), pp. 81-104; and J. R. Lander, English Justices of the Peace, 1461-1509 (Gloucester, 1989). For recent work on the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, and indeed later, see also the citations in Simon Walker, "Yorkshire Justices of the Peace, 1389-1413", Eng. Hist. Rev., cvii (1993), pp. 281-313. (55) See John Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship in Anglo-Norman England (Oxford, 1994), pp. 270-1, and references given there. (56) That the governments of Henry III and Edward I were much concerned about the exercise of franchises without warrant does not in itself prove widespread recent usurpation of view of frankpledge. However, the anxiety shown in the articles of the eyre over withdrawal of suit from public courts and the evidence of the jurors in the Hundred Rolls of 1274-5 points strongly in that direction. (57) On this point, see John S. Beckerman, "Procedural Innovation and Institutional Change in Medieval English Manorial Courts", Law and History Rev., x (1992), pp. 197-252. I have also profited from discussion with Zvi Razi on this matter. (58) Harding, "Origins and Early History", p. 106. (59) Beckerman, "Procedural Innovation and Institutional Change in Medieval English Manorial Courts", p. 197. (60) On this point, see, in particular, P. A. Brand, The Origins of the English Legal Profession (London, 1992). (61) See Robin Fleming, "Rural Elites and Urban Communities in Late Saxon England", Past and Present, no. 141 (Nov. 1993), pp. 3-37. (62) See, for example, Coss, Lordship, Knighthood and Locality, ch. 3; and Thomas, Vassals, Heiresses, Crusaders and Thugs, pp. 37, 101, 200-1. It may not have been universally true, however. At Winchester the situation seems to have remained fairly steady. See D. Keene, Survey of Medieval Winchester, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1985), ii, pp. 227-31. (63) For an example, see N. W. Alcock, "The Catesbys in Coventry: A Medieval Estate and its Archives", Midland Hist., xv (1990), pp. 1-36. This is a subject which cries out for more systematic investigation. (64) The analogy is with peasant society as seen by Kroeber and Redfield. For a summary of this position, see T. Shanin (ed.), Peasants and Peasant Societies (Harmondsworth and New York, 1971), p. 14. (65) Gerald Harriss, "Political Society and the Growth of Government in Late Medieval England", Past and Present, no. 138 (Feb. 1993), pp. 28-57. (66) Indeed Robert Palmer has recently argued that the gentry was, in effect, brought into existence by the state's need to implement labour legislation: R. C. Palmer, English Law in the Age of the Black Death, 1348-1381 (Chapel Hill, N.C., and London, 1993), pp. 14-27. (67) Carpenter, Locality and Polity, p. 10. (68) Harriss, "Political Society and the Growth of Government", pp. 53-6. (69) See, for example, Simon WaLker, The Lancastrian Affinity, 1361-1399 (Oxford, 1990), esp. ch. 7. Apart from any other consideration, the gentry were considerably wealthier collectively than the higher nobility. On this point, see Harriss, "Political Society and the Growth of Government", pp. 53-5 and the works cited there. It is important, however, not to draw the wrong conclusions from this. It heightens rather than lessens the significance of the means great lords needed to take in order to secure their rule. (70) Carpenter, Locality and Polity, p. 479. (71) On this point see my "Bastard Feudalism Revised", Past and Present , no. 125 (Nov. 1989), pp. 27-64, and the ensuing debate m no. 131 (May 1991). (72) Dialogus de Scaccario by Richard Fitz Nigel, ed. Charles Johnson (Oxford, 1983), p. 84. (73) On the sheriff, see Nigel Saul, Knights and Esquires (Oxford, 1981), pp. 107-19, and works cited there. (74) For the protracted debate on these issues between the 1330s and the 1360s and its implications, see, in addition to the basic works by B. H. Putnam given above: Gerald Harriss, King, Parliament and Public Finance in Medieval England (Oxford, 1975), pp. 401-10; Edward Powell, Kingship, Law and Society: Criminal Justice in the Reign of Henry V (Oxford, 1989), pp. 15-19; Saul, Knights and Esquires, pp. 128-35; Nigel Saul, "Conflict and Consensus m English Local Society", in John Taylor and Wendy Childs (eds.), Politics and Crisis in Fourteenth-Century England (Gloucester, 1990), pp. 38-58. It has recently been argued that there was, in fact, no consistent pattern of Commons petitioning in favour of justices of the peace during the 1320s and 1330s: Anthony Verduyn, "The Politics of Law and Order during the Early Years of Edward m, Eng. Hist. Rev., cvii (1993), pp. 842-67. However, the evidence from these years is comparatively thin and this undoubtedly was the policy of the 1340s. While it may be going too far to say that "the advocacy of local justice may have been the first conscious policy the Commons had" (Harding, Law Courts of Medieval England, p. 95), it certainly corresponded closely to the gentry's interests. (75) On this point, see Sayer, English Nobility, pp. 7-11. (76) The potentiality of this line of enquiry is amply demonstrated by the series of thought-provoking essays in Jones (ed.), Gentry and Lesser Nobility in Late Medieval Europe. Their findings argue strongly against the replication of the English situation elsewhere. The focus, however, is rather different from the one adopted here.
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Author:Coss, P.R.
Publication:Past & Present
Date:May 1, 1995
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