Political society and the growth of government in late medieval England

Political society and the growth of government in late medieval England

Gerald Harriss

In the development of the English state the late Middle Ages have seldom been thought to have particular significance. For the most Part it has been seen as a period of retreat and stagnation after the achievements of the Angevins and first Plantagenets, an ebb tide before the next forward surge under the Tudors. Some recent writing offer new explanations for what is perceived as its crisis of royal authority, while other historians have discerned elements of strength. I want first to summarize these views, and then to suggest that late medieval government had its own dynamic, an appreciation of which leads to a better understanding of developments in this period.

Richard Kaeuper, in War, Fustice and Public Order, has argued that in the Century after 1272 England changed from the “law state” created by the Angevins to the “war state” of the later Plantagenets.(1) Angevin creativity had furnished the state with central financial, secretarial and judicial agencies, while the crown had extended its authority into the localities by asserting royal rights, intervening through its justices to protect property, and offering redress against its Officials. It was from the crown that the drive for effective government came, through royal authority that the realm achieved a sense of unity, and on the king that mens’ expectations of justice centred. All this was jeopardized and ultimately negated by the wars of the three Edwards, for these imposed a crippling burden on a faltering economy and forced the crown to depend on the wealth and goodwill of its subjects. War overextended the crown’s capacity; it could not both wage war with all its resources and maintain the momentum of state-building. The impetus for the further extension of the crown’s authority was lost, and the image of the king as the dispenser of justice yielded to that of the warrior. The abandonment of the eyre of central justices opened the way for magnates and local gentry to assume responsibility for local peace-keeping, with the attendant evils of venality, intimidation and open lawlessness. The reputation of kingship suffered, and in society the chivalric ethos triumphed over the legal and bureaucratic: the “war state” replaced the “law state”.

Peter Coss has similarly argued that the growth of state power as an emanation of the crown’s public authority suffered a setback, though at a slightly earlier point, and from different causes.(2) He sees the Angevin judicial reforms, which offered the protection of the courts to all freemen, as posing a direct challenge to feudal lordship, undermining already fragile honorial structures, and threatening the magnate class as a whole with social extinction. It reacted with a series of reflexes to ensure its survival and preeminence. Its continued dominance over local society was secured by creating a web of clientage among the middling and lesser landowners, which eventually embraced not only the crown’s growing number of local officials, such as sheriffs and escheators, but the local courts and justices. Bastard feudalism was not just an alternative mode of social organization; it was the subversion and control of the public authority of the crown by private and privatized agents, and its effect was to deflect and pervert the development of the centralized state.(3) Though Coss sees this process as prior to, and independent of, the rise of the “war state”, and attributes it to a power struggle between crown and magnates, like Kaeuper he is in no doubt about the baleful consequences of the crown’s surrender of government to local powers.

That late medieval government was shaped by the demands of war is also the belief of J. R. Lander, writing from the perspective of its demise in the Wars of the Roses. In lectures on The Limitations of the English Monarchy, Lander defined two areas in which the crown’s authority had been “emasculated” by 1485.(4) The first was its capacity to raise money by taxation. Although war developed the practice of taxation, it also linked it specifically to military needs, made it conditional on consent, and fossilized its yield. Together these reduced the amount of taxation the crown could expect between the age of the Edwards and that of the Henries. As war became less popular the grants from subjects became fewer and more grudging, and the crown found that “it could not afford an aggressive foreign policy which involved anything like prolonged campaigning”.(5) The Hundred Years War petered out in the aborted expeditions of 1474-5 and 1492: the “war state” had exhausted itself. In consequence the monarchy was forced into the strait-jacket of its insufficient landed endowment, and perpetually threatened with insolvency. It could afford nothing like a standing army, a police force or an extended bureaucracy – all the basic equipment of the emergent absolutist regimes on the continent. The second major limitation of the late medieval monarchy followed from this, though it represented an independent development. This was its dependence on the land-owning class for administration and justice in the localities. In agreement with Kaeuper and Coss, Lander sees the delivery of these functions to the magnates and gentry as “a major and permanent capitulation by central government”. Government in the localities came to be a function of property. The monarchy had surrendered the initiative to its subjects, and lost the power to reform the country’s institutions or govern effectively. Its power was “limited, restricted and precarious”.(6)

Such consensus on the failure of late medieval English government is impressive, but it has not gone unchallenged. The argument that war made the crown the prisoner of its subjects, forcing it to bargain royal rights to win their support, has been rebutted by W. M. Ormrod with regard to Edward III, the archetypal warrior king.(7) He has argued that, on the contrary, the middle years of the reign – those of the great military victories – also saw “a planned and consistent attempt by the crown to preserve its rights” and “extend the king’s financial interests and political authority”. Edward’s success in obtaining taxation for his wars in fact owed more to his relentless pressure on the parliamentary Commons than to his concessions to them. Nor did the crown hand over its judicial responsibilities to local amateurs, for the J.P.s acted under the supervision of professional judges. Ormrod suggests that war provided the stimulus for strong monarchy, not its dissolvent – as the subsequent reign of Henry V confirmed.

In a stimulating survey of the ensuing period, from 1369 to 1422, frequently seen as one of acute political, social and spiritual crises, John Gillingham also denies that the crown’s authority was undermined or that its resources declined.(8) The high level of taxation, direct and indirect, which the monarchy still obtained, showed continued support from the political community for royal policy. The involvement of that community in government, both centrally in the development of parliament and locally in shire administration, gave strength and resilience to monarchical rule. It forged a tradition of co-operation which was a barrier to absolutism and removed the financial burden of a professional bureaucracy from the crown, and hence from its subjects. By the nature of political society the crown had to persuade and lead where it could not compel. Richard II failed because he swam against the tide of English politics, and the Lancastrian usurpation strengthened the monarchy in that it aimed to restore the tradition of Edward III. A similar assessment underlies the concluding remarks of Colin Richmond in an article on the significance of 1485.(9) Noting that both the Lancastrian and Yorkist dynasties foundered amid factious quarrels of the nobility, Richmond blames this on the failure of the monarchy to lead the nation in an effective war. Foreign war brought stability at home by absorbing the energies of the military class in honourable ventures and stimulating loyalty to the crown. When kings abandoned war, and with it the right to require taxation, they were forced back on piecemeal and unpopular exploitation of their prerogative rights. Under Edward III and Henry V the “war state” had enlarged and consolidated royal authority; it was still viable at the end of the fifteenth century given the right king to lead it. The limitations were those of the monarchs, not of the monarchy.

Two views of the development of late medieval government thus stand in opposition to each other. One sees the thrust towards centralized authority frustrated, either by feudal reaction or the strains of war, with the crown forced to surrender authority to the local interests of the aristocracy; the other sees the crown, partly under the pressures of war, mobilizing the resources of the realm in partnership with a political elite and enhancing its

reputation and authority by successful leadership. Each provides a plausible interpretation, recognizably related to events. The first sees the “war state” as a perversion, and fundamentally flawed; the second attributes its collapse to personal inadequacies and historical circumstances. The issues in debate are familiar and recurrent: was state-building advanced more by war or peace, and did war strengthen or weaken royal authority; is devolved or centralized government the more effective, and absolutist or limited monarchy strongest?

Yet such antitheses have limited validity within the medieval context. Neither conceptually nor in practice did war stand in opposition to law. The ruler’s sword symbolized his role as both warrior and justiciar, for ethically war was waged to enforce legal rights where justice had been denied, and its aim was a just peace. And while war itself was necessarily brutalizing and disruptive, the chivalric code sought to discipline the knightly class by its emphasis on service, honour and loyalty. War also removed troublemakers, while its cessation frequently brought crime waves or feudal disorder. In short war was a normal and integral element in the medieval polity, and to present it as a contrasting and alternative option to state-building is misleading.(10)

It is similarly artificial to set up a polarity between the crown as a central and public authority, and the landlord classes as private and local powers. Any late medieval government, however developed its central administration, was limited by local particularism, slow communications, and communal and family loyalties. It could not control society directly through its own agents, as does a modern government, but had to rely on local elites who exercised and often appropriated its authority.(11) Magnates and leading churchmen were a governing class, the king’s natural counsellors, with a residual responsibility for good governance should the monarch fail. Below them existed a magistracy whose position rested on a combination of wealth, communal tradition and delegated jurisdiction. They might indeed be corrupted by private interests, but so were royal bureaucrats, while it would be naive to believe that the “public authority” of the crown was consistently exercised for the common good. Subjects as often saw royal power as arbitrary and exploitative, and its officials as oppressive, as they believed it to be the remedy for disorders and a curb on local interests.

This suggests that to attribute the development of late medieval government solely to royal policy, and to measure it by the growth of central institutions or the enlargement of royal power, is to mistake its nature and miss its essential dynamic. This, I believe, is to be found in the development of the society which government had to serve. Government was moulded more by pressures from within political society than by the efforts of kings or officials to direct it from above. It was these pressures which shaped the institutions of government, the conventions of governing, and the capacity of kings to govern effectively.

Approached from this angle, the major development of the period from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century was the emergence of a political society containing the middling landowners. Free society had evolved into an elaborately structured Elite of earls, barons, knights, esquires and gentlemen, with yeomen and husbandmen below.(12) All ranks of this society came to be involved in the activity of governing. The county gentry monopolized the shire offices as sheriffs, parliamentary representatives, J.P.s, escheators and comissioners of many kinds, while parish gentry served as coroners, hundred bailiffs, tax collectors and purveyors, with husbandmen performing duties as constables and jurymen which brought social recognition and were stepping-stones to gentry status.(13) If we add to this landed society the gentlemen bureaucrats who serviced it with legal and administrative skills – local attorneys, solicitors and pleaders, land agents, stewards, bailiffs and household officers – and if we further add the richer clergy and their officials, and the urban merchants and substantial citizens, and even, in the capital, the small but influential group of royal bureaucrats and lawyers, we have an elite of greatly diversified interests and skills, many of whom were professionally articulate.(14) This was the political society which had to be governed, and these men were themselves the channels along which government had to flow. How did this affect its development and functioning? I want to examine three aspects of late medieval government on which debate has centred: first, the atrophy of central institutions and their failure to develop or adapt to changing pressures; secondly, the financial viability of the late medieval state; and thirdly the effectiveness of its judicial system and peace-keeping. In each respect the crown is commonly held to have demonstrated a loss of will and surrendered its rights. However, if we view these aspects of government not as emanations of royal authority, but as the product of those involved in them, we can better appreciate the nature of, and the impetus for, the changes that occurred.



If central government is seen in terms of the development of institutions, it is true that the main period of innovation was over by 1250, and was followed by one of professionalization and definition.(15) The existing offices of state – chancery, privy seal, exchequer and the courts of law – developed as an integrated governmental system, with normative routines and elaborate records, becoming permanently established at Westminster as the administrative capital of the realm.(16) Did this form an ossifying and unwieldy bureaucracy, or was it responsive to changing demands and developments in these late medieval centuries? To answer this question we must shift our standpoint from the crown to that of the political community.

By the mid-fourteenth century, on A. L. Brown’s estimate, the three writing offices of chancery, privy seal and signet were issuing some thirty to forty thousand letters a year, some open and formal, others closed and personal.(17) Many administrative orders were in standard forms, such as appointments to offices, commissions of different kinds and payments, an initiated by the king and council. But many others were grants, dispensations and licences which arose from requests and pressures from subjects, who were using the machinery of government to advance or protect their interests. Competition for favours was reflected in an increasing variety of clauses granting land or offices in anticipation, in reversion or in survivorship, and with a variety of benefits and safeguards. Officers of the chancery, privy seal and court could all assist a petitioner in his search for advantage and security, while a developing hierarchy of warrants – signet or sign manual, and privy seal – witnessed the personal authorization of the king or that of the council.(18) Probably the greater part of the work of the writing offices was thus devoted to coping with subjects’ concerns.

The same was true on a more restricted scale in the financial offices. The Hundred Years War transformed the operations of the medieval exchequer. Recurrent taxation, direct and indirect, demanded an elaborate machinery of collection in towns, vills and ports, matched by a distribution of revenue to military and naval forces and all who supplied them. The development of a system of promissory assignments spread tentacles throughout landed and mercantile society and involved myriads of subjects in competition for public revenues, and thus for the patronage and influence that gave access to them. It was at and through the exchequer that these demands were satisfied. Here too the wording of warrants for issue bears witness to the ingenuity of creditors and their advisors in formulating different modes of preference to secure payment. The exchequer, from being an office of account for royal revenues, became a changing house for payments to a wide sector of local officials and members of political society.19

The same pressures from below – from thousands of landowners seeking to defend or extend their property rights – led to the emergence of new legal procedures and new courts. It was the receipt of querelae, or plaints, which extended the crown’s criminal jurisdiction beyond felony to embrace many trespasses and which produced “the third and final phase of the judicial revolution which transformed the governance of England between 1150 and 1400”.(20) Similarly it was the insistent demand of plaintiffs for legal advantage that spawned the hordes of attorneys and private lawyers, and led to an explosion in the types of common-law writs available in legal process.(21) The sheer volume of litigation is a telling indication of the kind of society which the law served: it has been estimated that by the end of the Middle Ages the main central courts were handling three thousand new suits each year, involving many times that number of litigants.(22) The other major development in the legal system, the beginnings of an equitable jurisdiction, likewise flowed from the presentation of a vernacular bill of plaint to the council or chancellor, alleging that the plaintiff was unable to secure remedy at common law. Conciliar jurisdiction developed as much from pressures by suitors as from the summary authority delegated by the crown.(23)

In sum, then, many thousands of the king’s subjects had dealings each year with the central offices of government, either as agents of the crown or, more usually, for their own purposes. It is worth reflecting on the consequences of this. Familiarity with officials and official procedures, with their legal and financial formulae, must have been widespread. This produced a service industry of local lawyers, attorneys and petty officials through whom subjects often dealt with the centre, and it necessarily engendered much intrigue and petty corruption. Knowledge of who to approach – where, when and through whom – was part of the worldly wisdom needed to survive and progress.(24) Government thus ceased to be arcane or remote, something handed down by officials; it became something in which subjects were involved, something they learned to manipulate, criticize and even change. If we speak of “public authority” or “public administration” in the late Middle Ages, it cannot simply be equated with the interests of the crown; it was indeed public, but in the sense of operating in response to the needs of an informed and articulate political community alongside the crown. And if it was “subverted” in their interests, it was also refined and developed by them.(25)

While these old institutions were changing their character under pressure from an expanding political society, major new institutions of government were appearing. It is perhaps significant that these, council and parliament, were political rather than administrative in function; that is, not executive agencies of the king’s will, but meeting-points for the interests of the crown and realm. The council stood closer to the king, and, as an institution, was less defined.(26) Before 1300 kings habitually took counsel in two ways: informally in a domestic context, and formally in semi-public assembly. That remained true throughout the Middle Ages, for nothing could constrain the king’s right to take advice where and from whom he wished. But a more continuous body, known as “the council” or (later) “the continual council”, operated alongside these and gradually acquired an identity and an identifiable role. The volume and technicality of royal business meant that the council performed executive and administrative functions, instructing ambassadors, indenting troops for a campaign, issuing commissions and from the latter part of the fourteenth century developing its own jurisdiction: all habitual and necessary aspects of government. Although the king remitted to the council what and how much business he chose, an active and competent monarch would rely heavily on the experience and expertise of his councillors. By 1500 the first of its specialist committees, the “council learned”, had appeared, and it was set to become the prime institution of Tudor government.(27) Its potential for governing was fully revealed by the absence or incapacity of the monarch. In this situation the formal appointment of its members, the payment of wages, the regulation of procedures and the keeping of records convey an impression of institutional continuity.(28) Even if that is misleading, a council was commonly acknowledged to be a necessary adjunct to royal rule, and its function in the polity was to act as a bridge between the king and his subjects. For though councillors were answerable only to the king, they were answerable for the good governance of the realm, and in advising the king they were bidden to bear in mind the public good and not merely the interests of the monarch. At any crisis of confidence in royal government the Commons turned naturally to a council for remedy and reform.(29) The council was thus the nodal point for the three elements of late medieval government: the royal will, the administrative machine and the concern of subjects for good governance. It was adaptable to changes in the balance between these, and was a product both of the professionalization of government and of its increasingly public character.

Much in the same vein could also be said of parliament, though less needs to be, for its emergence is recognized as highly characteristic of the late medieval polity.(30) Again, it is better defined by its functions than by its institutional forms: its authority to legislate, tax and present grievances on behalf of the realm being constitutionally recognized, despite it having no autonomous existence and only a rudimentary organization. It developed out of a combination of royal initiative and pressure from subjects, and was notably influenced both by the demands of war and political disputes. As a vehicle for mobilizing the resources of the realm – financial, military and political – its support could add vastly to the crown’s authority. At the same time it directly reflected the wealth and influence of the political class for whom membership of it became part of the cursus honorum. Among the Commons were men who moved easily within the court and central government, and were leaders and governors of their communities.(31) Frequent assembly provided the opportunity for political discourse with the king and ministers and for a dialogue between centre and localities. Parliament thus knit together the interests of the crown, the political nation and the communities. The Commons, though subordinate in status to the Lords, were spokesmen for the community of the whole realm, embracing governors and governed. Parliament was not, like the council, part of royal government, but provided a critical judgement of government, changing from co-operation to opposition in response to the character of kingship. In either context parliament’s existence meant that government was necessarily consensual, needing the support of an articulate and informed propertied class.

Thus the central organs of the state in late medieval England, far from remaining static and fossilized, were changing in response to the needs of an increasingly wide body of users. As the reach of government extended, and familiarity with its machinery broadened, so new procedures and new institutions were developed under pressures from both above and below, from rulers and ruled.



The capacity of a state to finance the needs of internal government and external defence is rightly taken as a measure of its strength. The bankruptcy of Lancastrian government by 1450 undeniably contributed to its overthrow, and initiated a shift in the financial basis of government. How far this crisis reflected not merely royal incompetence but a structural failure of crown finance is one question to be faced; but it raises the still broader question of what changes occurred in the political assumptions on which the financial, and particularly the tax, structure of the state rested. Late medieval England was a highly developed tax state. Over the period from 1336 to 1453 more than three-quarters of revenue came from direct and indirect taxation.(32) This was the direct consequence of war. Taxation of personal property was developed in the thirteenth century as an obligation upon all subjects to contribute to the defence of the realm when war threatened the common safety. Kings quickly exploited this enhancement of their authority, introducing nationwide taxation on their subjects’ goods. Under Edward I these levies proved remarkably lucrative, each yielding on average over 59,000 [pounds] and, together with the maltolt on wool after 1294, gave the means to mount costly campaigns in Wales, Gascony, Flanders and Scotland.(33) Indirect taxation on the export of wool was even more lucrative, and in expectation of gigantic profits from a royal monopoly over wool exports Edward III created an expensive anti-French alliance with the Low Countries’ rulers in 1339-40. Such enterprises were vastly overambitious even on the basis of these new resources, and the resultant failures, debts and political reaction set limits to the level of future taxation. By 1334 the tax on movable property had been stabilized at almost 38,000 [pounds], and after 1353 the crown accepted a regular export tax on wool, fixed by parliament. This went hand in hand with a different pattern of warfare. Edward III stepped back from the leadership of large-scale armies, organized and financed through the wardrobe on a credit basis, in favour of smaller raiding expeditions which his captains contracted to lead for cash in hand. Direct taxation on property came to be granted specifically for these campaigns, the cost of which could be estimated on the basis of the contracts made.(34) Indirect taxation came to be assigned to the permanent charges of defence, the border garrisons and safeguard of the sea.

It has been shown that in the period 1368-81, when the war was actively resumed, the yield of these taxes was sufficient to meet the crown’s military commitments.(35) Forty years later they were still adequate for Henry V to launch, and for a short period sustain, the most ambitious military enterprise of the Middle Ages, the conquest of Normandy.(36) Up to this point, although taxation at wartime level could not be sustained indefinitely, war was sufficiently in balance with taxable capacity to make it a politically feasible option – one that did not either bankrupt the monarchy or provoke the opposition of the political classes. Taxation was, of course, at issue in most of the parliamentary crises of this period, both as a convenient charge against royal ministers and favourites, and as an index of the competence of royal government. But the need for taxation was broadly accepted by the political nation. More serious was the threat, and occasional eruption, of popular opposition. Yet here again, although taxation bore heavily in times of economic hardship,(37) its overall level must have been broadly consistent with the level of rural wealth. Even in the aftermath of the Black Death taxes were collected in full, and the only major tax revolt of the late Middle Ages, in 1381, was occasioned by a series of unprecedentedly onerous levies and the enforcement of a novel direct assessment.(38) Lacking a local bureaucracy of tax gatherers, the crown had in 1334 wisely abandoned direct assessment in favour of fixed quotas from each community, which became hallowed by tradition and were apportioned by local initiative. Further, agrarian society was cushioned against intolerable taxation by the productive tax on wool exports which underpinned the crown’s war finance. Thus while taxation produced complaint, it was very rarely met by refusal or revolt. Moreover in its own terms the late medieval tax system was remarkably efficient. At the cost of some elasticity, the crown was guaranteed speedy collection and full enjoyment of its taxes, with administrative costs under 3 per cent.(39) To have won acceptance of taxation for war on this normative basis was a major achievement of royal government and one which had far-reaching consequences.

Yet the system had inherent constraints which became apparent after Henry V’s death. It had always rested on a basic identity of purpose between the crown and the political class, but with royal authority in abeyance the commitment to war faded.(40) At the same time agrarian decline and a sharp fall in wool exports brought a reduction of the tax base. Yet even in its last phase the system still delivered regular if reluctant grants of taxation to underpin twenty-five years of gruelling defensive war in France. Even after the English had been expelled from their conquests in France (except Calais) and were developing a new insularity of outlook, parliament would grant adequate taxation for offensive campaigns provided these were occasional and short, as in 1475. Essentially, though, the tax system became the victim of its own success. Its very effectiveness in financing war, when money and political unity were vital, deterred the medieval monarchy from contentious attempts to extend direct taxation to peacetime or to make new assessments of taxable wealth. Similarly the ease and profitability of wool taxation removed any incentive to develop cumbersome sales taxes, or to exploit the monarchy’s landed and feudal revenues. Only as the “war state” faded in the mid-fifteenth century was the need for alternative revenues and modes of taxation acutely felt, and by then taxation was deeply rooted in political conventions which proved hard to change.

The early Tudor period, when war became both intermittent and more costly, brought the crisis of the medieval tax system into the open. The new and heavier forms of taxation required to meet the steeply rising costs of sixteenth-century warfare could only have been acceptable within a new national consensus for military expansion, which the monarchy never generated. Repeated attempts to remodel the tax system, by directly assessed subsidies and prerogative and non-consensual levies, encountered obstruction and opposition at all levels of the community which limited their effectiveness. But neither was the crown any more successful in securing acceptance of direct taxation for normal peacetime government. To adapt a tax system designed for the occasional demands of war to the recurrent needs of government in time of peace involved a conceptual and constitutional leap. The first was perhaps not insuperable, in that a king who ruled for the benefit of his subjects (peace being recognized as the greatest benefit he could bring) should evoke their love and assistance. But constitutionally direct taxation had always been granted in respect of a specific necessity, not a habitual need, and had become the occasion for reciprocal benefits from the king. The normalizing of taxation for the recurrent expenses of government threatened to undermine both the consenting and the bargaining power of parliament. Much as they would have liked, the Tudor monarchs were unable to change the medieval character of direct taxation as occasional and extraordinary, and establish it on a permanent, non-consensual basis.(42)

The problem of how the recurrent needs of government were to be met, when the crown’s hereditary resources could at best support its domestic expenses, had already presented itself to Sir John Fortescue in the late fifteenth century. Believing that the essence of the English constitution lay in the free assent of parliament to laws and taxes, he condemned taxation at will on the French model as tyrannical. Yet if the crown were denied taxation by its subjects to meet its needs, it would surely seek to enrich itself by “exquisite” (that is prerogative) measures. Fortescue’s solution was a landed re-endowment of the monarchy, mainly by resumption supplemented, if need be, by the once-for-all grant of a subsidy. In this way the king would govern from his own resources and subjects would live freely on theirs. He would not need to tax them except occasionally for war, nor entrench on their rights through prerogative.(43) The collegial quality of their relationship would be retained. Fortescue’s diagnosis was broadly vindicated in the century after 1460, when war became intermittent. The crown developed its landed and prerogative revenues, government becoming more “regal” and less consensual, with fewer parliaments, while grants of taxes were rarer if heavier and required justification in elaborate preambles. Only with the last decades of the sixteenth century was there something of a return to the medieval pattern of habitual if lighter levies, with parliament acknowledging its obligation to provide against a continuing threat of war. Essentially, therefore, the Tudor state perpetuated the late medieval basis of taxation, without changing its principles and assumptions, until the tax system collapsed along with the political consensus in the English Civil War.

Just as the tax system rested on a political dialogue between crown and subjects, so too did the expenditure of revenue. By the mid-fourteenth century the exchequer controlled the collection and disbursement of all crown revenues, and continued to do so until the rise of the chamber under the Yorkist and Tudor kings. Its financial administration has often been condemned by historians as cumbersome and hidebound, and its records (concerned with the charge and discharge of creditors) as ill suited to reveal the actual state of royal finance at any juncture. Yet as we have seen, it was the focal agency for the financial concerns of the crown and its creditors, an open and busy place. Already at the start of the fourteenth century the exchequer was being called on to provide statements of its income and expenditure, and following Treasurer Edington’s reorganization in the mid-century it was able to produce detailed statements of annual revenue and expenditure from the receipt and issue rolls, and use triennial averages to make credible estimates for future planning.(44) By the fifteenth century such evidence was being used by the council to draw up a financial strategy to meet the growing strains of insolvency, by allocating preferential assignments of revenue to domestic or military charges.(45) Policy and finance were thus coordinated at the highest level. Financial strains within an increasingly politicized society meant that individual creditors and payees of the exchequer would likewise press their claims for preferential payments. The treasurer had to be alert not only to the national needs of the crown, but to the political reaction of its creditors. If he were tempted to issue more tallies of assignment than the revenue would bear, he could precipitate a crisis in its credit; if he sanctioned preferential treatment for too many, his planning would collapse. Every fifteenth-century treasurer walked a tightrope fraught with financial, political and even military dangers if he got it wrong.(46) Financial planning could even become the subject of political controversy, as the parliamentary Commons expressed concern that the taxes they granted should be properly spent, and criticized the extravagance of the royal household and the administration. The appointment, in the late fourteenth century, of treasurers to manage the subsidy and render account, and of commissions to investigate and review crown revenue and expenditure, was followed in the fifteenth century by attempts to limit household expenditure and resume royal grants for its maintenance. Thus the strains of war finance and the shrinking of the tax base were accompanied by advances in budgeting techniques and by the diffusion of fiscal awareness within political society. State finance was no longer a matter only for the crown and its ministers, but a high political issue, the meeting-point of the interests of king and subjects, and the measure of royal policy and prestige.

The late medieval state needed an effective system for raising taxes and controlling expenditure in order to fight its wars. In England this became the concern not only of the crown, but of the political community. Grants of taxation expressed a consensus on military and commercial policies, and their expenditure provided the occasion for a critical review of royal government as a whole. Consensus, criticism and control became deeply ingrained in the relations of king and parliament. When the conditions on which the tax structure had been built began to change, with the decline of a tradition of aggressive war in the fifteenth century, the crown found its attempts to reshape the system limited by the political conventions on which it rested. We may take different views on whether that was desirable or not, but the fact that English public finance represented an amalgam of the interests and actions of both crown and subjects reveals much about the dynamic of political development in the late Middle Ages.



The most frequently cited evidence for the weakness of late medieval government is the chronic lawlessness and the corruption of the judicial system. Recent investigations into the nature of the social tensions behind law-breaking, and the rituals and conventions of dispute settlement, are modifying this picture. Even so it is evident that the early fourteenth century faced two interlocking problems. There was a short-term crisis of local criminal disorders, arising from war and economic dislocation; and there was the longer-term question of the effect of an expanding propertied class on the law and the legal profession. In dealing with these the crown is said to have surrendered its responsibilities for law-enforcement to magnates and gentry, as J.P.s, thereby reinforcing the power of local elites to use the law as a weapon of social control while flouting it in their own interests. How accurate is this picture?

The crown’s immediate response to the spate of robberies and armed gangs was to resort to its professional justices, appointing punitive commissions (of “trailbaston”) from 1305, attempting to revive the eyre in 1328-9, and making available to plaintiffs special commissions of oyer and terminer. Each of these was ultimately discredited by being exploited either by the crown, for money, or by powerful plaintiffs against their adversaries. Only the steadily enlarging criminal jurisdiction of the justices of assize, who were organized into six circuits in 1328-9 and given responsibility for gaol delivery, proved more acceptable and enduring. At the same time the crown invoked the older tradition of seigneurial law-keeping in manorial and franchisal courts. From the latter thirteenth century the gentry had been appointed as keepers of the peace, while early in Edward III’s reign lords were named as local justices or supervisors of counties. When Edward left England for Brabant in 1338 he included lords and gentry, along with royal justices, in commissions of the peace with power to try felonies. In the following decades the Commons, in granting taxation, pressed for this as a permanent solution.

Recent research has interpreted this less as a struggle to wrest control of local peace-keeping from the crown and its justices, and more as a long period of experimentation leading to an agreed solution. For the gentry, though better informed about local problems than royal justices, lacked the power and impartiality to enforce the law against members of their own class, and lacked the expertise to sit in judgment. Magnates were needed on peace commissions to deal with major disturbances, and royal justices were needed to maintain legal standards. It took another half-century of argument and experiment before these problems were resolved, by dovetailing the assize justices, with their power of gaol delivery, into the peace commissions where they were of the quorum for trying felonies. This met the concern of the professional judiciary for legal standards, and that of the landowning classes for rule in the shires. The solution expressed the consensual nature of the late medieval polity, and its permanence provides the clearest evidence of the political maturity of crown, lords and gentry.(48)

The peace commissions thus extended and legitimized, under royal authority, the traditional responsibility of the landowning class for social control. From 1388 the J.P.s were paid wages on a daily basis; in 1414 a statute regulated the times of quarter sessions; their jurisdiction in criminal offences came to supersede that of private courts, and eventually that of the sheriff’s tourn; while their investigative and policing role was developed with the extension of their jurisdiction to cover liveries, counterfeiting, Lollardy and riots.(49) At the same time they steadily lost ground as criminal judges to the justices of assize and gaol delivery to whom the more serious felonies were referred, and who increasingly exercised supervisory powers over J.P.s. Perhaps for this reason most of the routine work of quarter sessions was done not by the leading shire gentry but by a handful of assiduous J.P.s, mainly lesser gentry and local lawyers, who dealt almost wholly with petty crime, committed overwhelmingly by those of yeoman rank and below.(50) Yet even at this level justice involved political society at its widest, namely those whose property of 40 s. a year qualified them for jury service. Recent investigations have shown the capacity of juries in this period to mitigate verdicts and punishments to accord with social norms.(51) Thus, on the one hand, the crown’s responsibilities for public order were being extended, as the biannual assizes and the quarter sessions brought more regular and penetrating visitations into the shires; on the other, all degrees of political society were being caught up in the process and problems of law-keeping. By 1500 England had been equipped with a system of local justice compounded of local magistracy and central supervision which was to stand the test of time.(52)

But law not only functioned as a means of social control; within political society it was used to claim or defend property rights. In that society lordship, influence and status rested primarily on land, the, title to which was largely governed by common-law rules of inheritance. Competition for status and influence was expressed in challenges to landownership, while conversely disputes over legal title involved status and invoked lordship. Law and lordship were thus intimately linked, both in the substance of many disputes and in their modes of prosecution and settlement. Contemporaries were alive to the ill effects of this as also to the tension between law as justice and law as litigation for self-interest. In litigation lordship led to the retaining or bribery of justices and the maintenance of the suits of a lord’s clients. Both were fostered by a rapidly growing lay legal profession which made a living from the disputes of political society. But by 1400 criticism and complaint, together perhaps with the wider availability of legal counsel, had brought to an end the formal retaining of royal justices, and fifteenth-century evidence for direct bribery of judges is rare. The profession was beginning to regulate itself, and its senior members to emphasize their dignity and repute.(53) At a local level, where J.P.s would often belong to a lord’s affinity, the confusion of magistracy and lordship could lead to abuse, particularly in taking indictments for riot or forcible entry in magnate and gentry quarrels. Yet while this conferred an initial advantage, such cases would normally be removed from the local sphere by transference to King’s Bench, while any serious disturbance would bring the intervention of royal justices or the council.(54) Moreover not all J.p.s were retainers, and those who were might not be the most active, or subservient to their lord’s interests. Some can be identified as conscientious guardians of the peace and watchdogs of the crown in their localities, for whom in the fifteenth century manuals were written to instruct them in their professional responsibilities.(55)

Juries were the most vulnerable element in the legal system, both in their selection by the sheriff and through bribery, favour or intimidation by litigants. But in litigation over property and breaches of the peace – the two often went together – false verdicts were more likely to be a stage in the battle than the final settlement of the issue. Few verdicts were irreversible, for not merely did the law offer a variety of actions with which to counter an opponent, but all such tactics – legal, quasi-legal and corrupt – might be designed ultimately to secure an advantageous settlement out of court. Litigation was an elaborate and prolonged contest, with multiple opportunities for manoeuvre; it offered a resolution of property disputes in terms of law and lordship, but not necessarily justice.(56) It met some of the requirements for settling disputes over land, but it was only one of a range of options from violence, through social arbitration, to appeal to royal authority, which were available to political society.

Late medieval England’s reputation for violence is easy to understand, based as it is on some well-publicized instances. But historians have accepted the fruitlessness of any attempt to quantify violence in this period, and have begun to ask how it was regarded by contemporaries. Gentry violence occurred predominantly as an accompaniment to litigation, though much of the violence described in legal records could be legal fiction or ritual acts, even forcible entry being a technical means of asserting title or making an opponent declare his.(57) Actual violence to persons and property had two fundamental limitations. First, although in the short term it might intimidate, it could not establish title and might prejudice the case at law. Secondly, society viewed violence in terms akin to war, sanctioning its use by due authority for a rightful cause, but reprobating recourse to it which was unauthorized or in self-interest. To resort to unlawful violence was thus to put one’s reputation and status at risk. It was frequently the last resort of those deprived of lawful remedy, the losers and those outside the system. Those able to bend the law had less occasion to break it.(58) Significantly, men of standing like John of Gaunt, Ralph Lord Cromwell and Sir John Fastolf all consciously eschewed violence, preferring to manipulate the law to their own ends.(59) The lesser gentry were more prone to use violence, since their own status and influence was smaller while their need to protect and extend their inheritances was just as great. But even at this level the social constraints on violence in a propertied society were bound to be considerable, and in the main property interests were regulated through networks of neighbourhood, family, friends and lordship.

A principal device for dispute settlement was thus arbitration. This occurred at all levels of society under the auspices of an appropriate superior authority. In the case of gentry disputes this might be a local magnate or bishop, in the absence of whom the gentry elite might itself arrange and enforce a loveday. Lords settled the disputes of their retainers, as guilds did those of their members. The gentry, often as J.P.s, regulated the quarrels of freeholders and husbandmen. Clergy of all degrees were favoured as mediators, and professional lawyers were widely employed both in arbitration and in drawing up a legal settlement which flowed from it. To see arbitration as indicative of the failure of the common law is to misread its and the law’s function. The law was concerned with title and correct procedure, rather than with justice and social peace; arbitration offered an alternative and supplementary mode of dispute settlement, adjusted to social realities.(60)

Public order and dispute settlement were thus largely regulated by local hierarchies, but just as J.p.s came under the surveillance of the crown’s justices, so might gentry disputes need to be determined by the crown’s authority. The king was the symbol of justice which, by his coronation oath, he was bound to render to all subjects. It was his duty to ensure that his officers, notably his judicial officers, were incorrupt, and kings occasionally took exemplary action against guilty judges and others. Equally specific was his punishment of those who broke the peace, whether by fine and imprisonment of individuals, or by the dispatch of commissions of oyer and terminer or justices of the King’s Bench to disturbed regions.(61) But all such interventions into local society from above and outside were ad hoc responses to a perceived crisis, and were virtually always on appeal by one party to the crown. This was the seed of that jurisdiction dispensed by the chancellor’s Court of Conscience which, originating in the late fourteenth century, came to full flowering under Wolsey. Dealing alike with civil and criminal causes, and enforcing fiduciary agreements outside the common law, it provided a channel for speedy and equitable solutions which could be formalized by arbitration or even through common-law actions. The same attributes, of authority and informality, made conciliar jurisdiction suitable for dealing with gentry riot and forcible entry. A procedure for summoning before the council those arrested and indicted or certified by the J.P.s for committing a riot, was evolved from the end of the fourteenth century and formalized in the Statute of Riots of 1411. Yet even where the public peace had been broken, process had to be commenced by individual complaint either to the J.P. or to the council. Not until the Star Chamber Act of 1487 was there provision for prosecution by the crown on its own initiative, and even thereafter such cases were rare.(62)

Although the crown undoubtedly had a residuary responsibility for public order and the concept of justice, it mostly exercised this only when invoked by subjects. Society had in the main to regulate its own conflicts, and gradually it did so. For in a society which “went to law as part of everyday routine, [in which] litigation was commonplace, almost instinctive”, law-mindedness came imperceptibly to colour social relationships and ideals.(63) By the fifteenth century the legal mentality was already displacing the chivalric. Towards the end of his life Fastolf complained to his secretary, William Worcester, that the armigerous class was more habituated to office-holding and the courts of law than to the field of battle. Among his circle in East Anglia honour was indeed coming to reside not in military prowess but in a reputation for the integrity of behaviour befitting one’s social status.(64)

Did this huge expansion of law-keeping and law-seeking by the propertied class subvert the public authority of the crown? Did the decline of the eyre, with its policing and exploitative functions, allow lords to dominate local legal and administrative structures through their affinities? Whatever case can be made for this in the thirteenth century, after 1350 the operation of lordship within political society seems far more complex. Late medieval historians differ in the emphasis they place on bastard feudal ties, which undoubtedly varied according to locality and circumstances; but certain considerations underlie any general assessment of their extent and significance.

First, the collective income of the peerage was overshadowed by that of the gentry. The income-tax returns of 1436 show that the peerage was at the apex of a broad pyramid of landed wealth, and those that survive from nineteen shires in 1412 suggest that the peerage had on average no more than a quarter of the land held by the whole armigerous class.(65) Secondly, the peerage was not spread evenly if thinly across this multi-layered society. Though their lands usually extended across many shires, their political influence tended to be focused on their main residences. A few shires, like Cheshire and Nottinghamshire, had no resident nobility, and in others, like Kent, East Sussex, Derbyshire and Essex, their influence was rivalled by that of the leading gentry.(66) Again, the authority of super-magnates, like John of Gaunt and Warwick the Kingmaker, suffered from being overextended, while within any shire there could be areas without magnate estates, forming a vacuum to be filled by other forms of authority.(67) Indeed only the very greatest magnate could hope to encompass the whole shire within his influence and thereby control its officers and administration. And even where the identity of affinity and shire officers can be established, it is difficult to know whether this worked to the advantage of the magnate or to that of the elite in his retinue. What is certain is that any magnate was engulfed in a sea of gentry families whose support he needed to make his authority effective.(68) Thirdly, lordship had to be actively exercised, and was thus susceptible to personal accidents like minorities, long-lived dowagers, absences in war or simple personal inadequacy.(69) Fourthly, as Brymnor Pugh pointed out and particular studies have confirmed, most magnates spent no more than 10 per cent of their income on retaining fees, and at 10 [pounds] or 10 marks a head baronial retinues would have numbered less than two dozen and a comital retinue not more than twice that. Yet the class of potential retainers with incomes upward of 10 [pounds] per annum numbered four thousand or more.[70] In terms of their formal membership bastard feudal affinities only scraped the surface of political society.

Despite these inherent limitations, magnate lordship was both attractive and influential. In a strongly hierarchical society the peerage were the acknowledged leaders by virtue both of their individual wealth and their titles of dignity. Lordship was sought by the ambitious for its benefits and by conformists for its protection. Service and good lordship was an open-ended relationship which embraced many beyond those formally retained.(71) Moreover good lordship, when it was widely and effectively deployed, as by Earl Richard Beauchamp or Richard, duke of Gloucester, could offer a focus for the political society of an area and absorb the networks of the gentry. It provided a vital link between the local and the national polity.(72) But what a great lord exercised through his affinity was not so much control or domination as (to use the contemporary term) the “rule” of his country. This was not unlike the king’s rule of his nobility and realm, being a feat of governance by personality and political skills, within established conventions. It had to run with the grain of political society and uphold the stability and fair-dealing which enabled political society to function.(73) Such exemplary rule by a magnate tended to be as rare as that by a king. Over all, bastard feudalism functioned in a sporadic and imperfect fashion, and perhaps to the increasing dissatisfaction of the gentry. Certainly over the course of these centuries the increasing independence of the gentry is a theme which emerges from different studies and is evident in their growing political power and sense of identity.

In tracing the growth of the medieval political order we have to set aside our preconception of a centralized state in which government is the action of executive authority on individuals and power structures. By contrast, the English state of the late Middle Ages developed not just as an emanation of royal authority, but in response to the pressures from a widening political society. The crown’s authority cannot be measured simply in terms of its ability to command and enforce, for it ruled through its capacity to invoke and mobilize the participation of the political eIite. We have as yet said little directly about the monarchy itself. That is too large a subject for discussion here; but it would be wrong to assume that the growth of a complex political society diminished the role of the king or eroded his power. Political authority was not a finite cake, to be divided between king, magnates and gentry. Far from entrenching on the power of the crown, the growth of the political nation enhanced it, adding new fiscal and military resources, extending its authority into the localities, and introducing new techniques into government. Correspondingly, as political society grew, so it needed the monarchy more, not less: to distribute patronage and power, to regulate and harmonize its tensions, and to provide a sense of direction and identity. This close integration of monarchy and society determined the politics of England in the late medieval period, perhaps the first age in which this was so, because the first in which political society was sufficiently large and varied, but also sufficiently close-knit, to form a commonwealth.

How this society dealt with its problems – of securing political agreement, financing war and keeping order – had lasting consequences for political attitudes and structures of government. Characteristically its solutions, achieved through an adjustment of the interests of crown and subjects, were pragmatic, economical and remarkably enduring. That is true of virtually all the agencies of government developed in late medieval England: parliament, council, the mechanism for taxation and expenditure, the J.p.s and assize justices, the jurisdiction of common law and equity, and arbitration. It was, indeed, a period of great creativity in government. Yet because government depended on a broad congruence of aim and method between monarch and subjects, and because subjects increasingly prescribed a role for monarchy as the guardian and symbol of the commonweal, any malfunction of the monarch, or any dissonance between crown and people, produced political crisis. As political society enlarged and government extended, such crises had ever widening repercussions, until in 1450 the conjuncture of Henry Vi’s disastrous failure to regulate political society, with its own collective abandonment of the tradition of war in France, produced a fundamental change in English government. The first led the polity into civil conflict, the second gave it a more insular, more legal and less chivalric character. Fortescue, writing at the height of the turmoil, from the perspective of exile, singled out the quality of collegiality of crown and subjects as the essence of the English political system, something that distinguished it from France, and something he hoped to ensure by restoring the endowment of the crown.(74) He would not have been disappointed, for what survived the Wars of the Roses, and the harsh legalism of the early Tudor state, was what had been shaping over the two preceding centuries: a political society deeply versed in government, and a system of government in which crown and subjects shared responsibility. This made England governable until the Civil War.

(1) Richard W. Kaeuper, War, Justice and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 1988). For this discussion I have treated Kaeuper’s analysis of English development in isolation without, I hope, misrepresenting his argument. (2) P. R. Coss, “Bastard Feudalism Revised”, Past and Present, no. 125 (Nov. 1989), pp. 27-64; P. R. Coss, “Bastard Feudalism Revised: Reply”, Past and Present, no. 131 (May 1991), pp. 190-203. (3) Coss, “Bastard Feudalism Revised: Reply”, pp. 192-3: “the invasion and subversion of law courts and offices of administration . . . lies at the heart of bastard feudalism”. (4) J. R. Lander, The Limitations of English Monarchy in the Later Middle Ages (Toronto, 1989). (5) Ibid., p. 11. (6) Ibid., pp. 30, 55. (7) W. M. Ormrod, “Edward III and the Recovery of Royal Authority in England, 1340-1360”, History, lxxii (1987), pp. 4-19. For the following quotations, see ibid., p. 8. See also his more extended discussion in W. M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III (Yale, 1990), pt. 2. (8) John B. Gillingham, “Crisis or Continuity? The Structure of Royal Authority in England, 1369-1422″, in Reinhard Schneider (ed.), Das spatmittelalterliche Konigtum im europdischen Vergleich (Sigmaringen, 1987), pp. 59-80. (9) C. F. Richmond, ” 1485 and All That, or, What was Going on at the Battle of Bosworth?”, in P. W. Hammond (ed.), Richard III, Loyalty, Lordship and Law (London, 1986), pp. 172-206. (10) A similar point was made by A. R. Bridbury, “The Hundred Years War: Costs and Profits”, in D. Coleman and A. H. John (eds.), Trade, Government and Economy in Pre-Industrial England (London, 1976), pp. 80-95. (11) Cf. Scott L. Waugh, England in the Reign of Edward III (Cambridge, 1991), p. 154. For a similar observation in respect of absolutist regimes, see Geoffrey Parker’s review of R. Bonney, The European Dynastic States, 1494-1600, in Times Lit. Suppl., 28 Feb. 1992, p. 14. (12) The subject was first explored by H. L. Gray, “Incomes from Land in England in 1436”, Eng. Hist. Rev., xlix (1934), pp. 607-39. For the structure of landowning society, 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. 86-128; C. Given-Wilson, The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages (London, 1987), ch. 3, esp. pp. 69-72. The relation between nomenclature and social mobility and the degree of openness of the elite is explored by Christine Carpenter, Locality and Polity (Cambridge, 1992), ch. 4. (13) Waugh, England in the Reign of Edward III, p. 155; Ormrod, Reign of Edward III, p. 155; R. B. Goheen, “Peasant Politics? Village Community and the Crown in Fifteenth-Century England”, Amer. Hist. Rev., xcvi (1991), pp. 46-62, esp. p. 52. (14) See the various articles in C. H. Clough (ed.), Profession, Vocation, and Culture in Later Medieval England (Liverpool, 1982); R. A. Griffiths, “Public and Private Bureaucracies in England and Wales in the Fifteenth Century”, Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser., xxx (1980), pp. 109-30; Rosemary Horrox, “Urban Patronage and Patrons in the Fifteenth Century”, in R. A. Griffiths (ed.), Patronage, the Crown and the Provinces (Gloucester, 1981), pp. 145-66. (15) Waugh, England in the Reign of Edward III, p. 170. (16) A. L. Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England, 1272-1461 (London, 1989), p. 43. (17) Ibid., pp. 44-52. (18) A. L. Brown, “The Authorization of Letters under the Great Seal”, Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, xxxvii (1964), pp. 125-56; Brown, Governance of Late Medieval England, pp. 19-20. For late fifteenth-century practice, and the origins of a register of signet letters, see British Library Harleian Ms 433, ed. R. Horrox, 4 vols. (Gloucester, 1979-83), i, pp. xiii-xx. (19) G. L. Harriss, “Preference at the Medieval Exchequer”, Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, xxx (1957), pp. 17-40; G. L. Harriss, King, Parliament and Public Finance in Medieval England (Oxford, 1975), pp. 220-1, 228. (20) Edward Powell, Kingship, Law and Society (Oxford, 1989), pp. 9, 11-13, drawing on articles by A. Harding. (21) A. Harding, The Law Courts of Medieval England (London, 1973), p. 111. (22) Brown, Governance of Late Medieval England, p. 131; W. E. Ives, The Common Lawyers of Pre-Reformation England (Cambridge, 1983), p. 7. (23) M. E. Avery, “The History of the Equitable Jurisdiction of the Chancery before 1460”, Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, xlii (1969), pp. 129-44; N. Pronay, “The Chancellor, the Chancery, and the Council at the End of the Fifteenth Century”, in H. Hearder and H. R. Loyn (eds.), British Government and Administration (Cardiff, 1974); J. A. Guy, “The Development of Equitable Jurisdictions, 1450-1550”, in W. E. Ives and A. H. Manchester (eds.), Law, Litigants and the Legal Profession (London, 1985), pp. 81-3; G. L. Harriss, Cardinal Beaufort (Oxford, 1989), pp. 74-6. (24) As vividly brought out by C. F. Richmond, “Hand and Mouth: Information Gathering and Use in England in the Later Middle Ages”, Jl. Hist. Sociol., i (1988), pp. 235-54. (25) See the concluding remarks in Harriss, Parliament and Public Finance, p. 517, regarding the public character of royal finance. (26) For good summaries of the work of the council, see Brown, Governance of Late Medieval England, ch. 2; Ormrod, Reign of Edward III, pp. 74-7. (27) Brown, Governance of Late Medieval England, p. 37, speaks of the council’s “close but unequal relationship with the king” under Henry IV. Sir John Fortescue, The Governance of England, ed. C. Plummer (Oxford, 1885), pp. 147-9, gives a good contemporary account of the work of the council. See also J. R. Lander, Crown and Nobility, 1450-1509 (London, 1976), pp. 191-219. (28) J. F. Baldwin, The King’s Council in England during the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1913), pp. 169-77, ch. 14; A. L. Brown, The Early History of the Clerkship of the Council (Glasgow, 1969). (29) A. L. Brown, “The Commons and the Council in the Reign of Henry IV”, Eng. Hist. Rev., lxxix (1964), pp. 1-30; J. L. Watts, “The Counsels of King Henry VI, c. 1435-41”, Eng. Hist. Rev., cvi (1991), pp. 279-98; R. A. Griffiths, “The King’s Council and the First Protectorate of the Duke of York, 1453-4”, Eng. Hist. Rev., xcix (1984), pp. 67-82. (30) The literature on parliament is vast, but R. G. Davies and J. H. Denton (eds.), The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester, 1981), covers the whole period. (31) The forthcoming volumes of The History of Parliament, 1386-1422 will illustrate this, as do the biographical studies of the Commons’ Speakers by J. S. Roskell, Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England, 3 vols. (London, 1981-3), ii-iii. (32) A very approximate estimate, made on the basis of the calculation of the yield of direct and indirect taxation in K. B. Macfarlane, England in the Fifteenth Century (London, 1981), pp. 142-3, and assuming an average of 15,000 [pounds] p.a. for crown revenues excluding the royal patrimony: for which see Harriss, Parliament and Public Finance, pp. 525-6; B. P. Wolffe, The Royal Demesne in English History (London, 1971), p. 92. (33) M. C. Prestwich, War, Politics, and Finance under Edward I (London, 1972), p. 179. (34) An early example of this is the memorandum of the cost of the projected expedition in 1341 printed by M. C. Prestwich, “English Armies in the Early Stages of the Hundred Years War: A Scheme in 1341”, Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, cxxxiii (1983), pp. 102-13. (35) J. W. Sherborne, “The Cost of English Warfare with France in the Later Fourteenth Century”, Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, 1 (1977), pp. 135-50. (36) A. Tuck, “Richard II and the Hundred Years War”, in John Taylor and Wendy Childs (eds.), Politics and Crisis in Fourteenth-Century England (Gloucester, 1990), pp. 117-31; for parliamentary reaction to the burden of Henry V’s war, see G. L. Harriss, “The Management of Parliament”, in G. L. Harriss (ed.), Henry V: The Practice of Kingship (Oxford, 1985), pp. 145-51. On average two-thirds of a subsidy was granted each year over the period 1389-1413, more than one subsidy a year in 1414-21, half a subsidy a year in 1422-50, and more than one a year in 1472-5. (37) J. R. Maddicott, “The English Peasantry and the Demands of the Crown, 1294-1341”, Past and Present, supplement no. 1 (1975), pp. 6-15. (38) W. M. Ormrod, “The English Government and the Black Death of 1348-9”, in W. M. Ormrod (ed.), England in the Fourteenth Century (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 175-88; E. B. Fryde, “Introduction”, in C. Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381 (Oxford, 1969 edn.), pp. xi-xxxii. (39) For the reform of the customs system in the 1350s, see W. M. Ormrod, “The English Crown and the Customs, 1349-63”, Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xl (1987), pp. 27-40. For an evaluation of its efficiency, see S. Jenks, “Die Effizienz des englischen Exchequers zur Zeit des Hundertjahrigen Krieges”, Archiv fur Diplomatik, xxxiii (1987), pp. 337-427, esp. p. 383 for collection costs. For the yield of the lay subsidy, see I. R. Abbott, “Taxation of Personal Property and of Clerical Incomes”, Speculum, xvii (1942), pp. 471-98, esp. p. 479. (40) M. H. Keen, “The End of the Hundred Years War: Lancastrian France and Lancastrian England”, in M. Jones and M. Vale (eds.), England and her Neighbours, 1066-1453 (London, 1989), pp. 297-311. (41) Michael Bush, “Tax Reform and Rebellion in Early Tudor England”, History, lxxvi (1991), pp. 379-400. (42) For the debate on this, see G. L. Harriss, “Thomas Cromwell’s New Principle of Taxation”, Eng. Hist. Rev., xciii (1978), pp. 721-38; J. D. Alsop, “The Theory and Practice of Tudor Taxation”, Eng. Hist. Rev., xcvii (1982), pp. 1-30; G. L. Harriss, “Theory and Practice in Royal Taxation: Some Observations”, ibid., pp. 811-19; J. D. Alsop, “Innovation in Tudor Taxation”, Eng. Hist. Rev., xcix (1984), pp. 83-93. I have benefited from reading an unpublished paper by R. W. Hoyle on “The Record of Parliamentary Taxation in the Sixteenth Century”. (43) Fortescue, Governance of England, pp. 177, 119, 137, 155. (44) Harriss, Parliament and Public Finance, pp. 214-20, 471, 523-30; Prestwich, “English Armies in the Early Stages of the Hundred Years War”; W. M. Ormrod, “The Protecolia Rolls and English Government Finance, 1353-64”, Eng. Hist. Rev., cii (1987), pp. 622-3; T. F. Tout and D. Broome, “A National Balance Sheet for 1362-3”, Eng. Hist. Rev., xxxix (1924), pp. 404-19. (45) T. E. F. Wright, “Royal Finance in the Latter Part of the Reign of Henry IV of England, 1406-13” (Univ. of Oxford D.phil. thesis, 1984); Harriss, Cardinal Beaufort, pp. 46-56; for the end of the century, see J. D. Alsop, “The Exchequer in Late Medieval Government”, in J. G. Rowe (ed.), Aspects of Late Medieval Government and Society (Toronto, 1986), pp. 179-212. (46) Harriss, “Preference at the Medieval Exchequer”, p. 39; G. L. Harriss, “Marmaduke Lumley and the Exchequer Crisis of 1446-9″, in Rowe (ed.), Aspects of Late Medieval Government and Society, pp. 143-78; R. L. Friedrichs, Ralph, Lord Cromwell and the Politics of Fifteenth-Century England”, Nottingham Medieval Studies, xxxii (1989), pp. 1-28. (47) Harriss, Parliament and Public Finance, pp. 401-5, relying largely on 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. For a recent revision, see A. J. Verduyn, “The Attitude of the Parliamentary Commons to Law and Order under Edward III” (Oxford Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1991). (48) For a succinct outline, see Powell, Kingship, Law, and Society, pp. 12-20; E. Powell, “The Administration of Criminal justice in Late Medieval England: Peace Sessions and Assizes”, in Richard Eales and David Sullivan (eds.), The Political Context of Law (London, 1987), pp. 49-59. The interlocking of peace commissions and gaol delivery is well illustrated in Philippa C. Maddern, Violence and Social Order in East Anglia, 1422-1442 (Oxford, 1992), pp. 54-61. (49) Carpenter, Locality and Polity, pp. 42-3; J. R. Lander, English Justices of the Peace, 1461-1509 (Gloucester, 1989), pp. 6-12. (50) Lander, English Justices of the Peace, pp. 58-74; S. J. B. Endelman, “Patronage and Power: A Social Study of the justices of the Peace in Late Medieval Essex” (Brown Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1977), pp. 41-6; Maddern, Violence and Social Order, pp. 49, 61-4; Simon Walker, The Lancastrian Affinity, 1361-1399 (Oxford, 1990), p. 243. (51) T. A. Green, Verdict According to Conscience (Chicago, 1985), pt. 1, pp. 3-102; Maddern, Violence and Social Order, pp. 114-34. (52) Powell, “Administration of Criminal Justice”, p. 57; Powell, Kingship, Law, and Society, pp. 19-20; Maddern, Violence and Social Order, pp. 116, 132-3. (53) R. W. Kaeuper, “Law and Order in the Fourteenth Century: The Evidence of the Special Commissions of Oyer and Terminer”, Speculum, liv (1979), pp. 734-84; J. R. Maddicott, “Law and Lordship: Royal Justices as Retainers in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century England”, Past and Present, supplement no. 4 (1978), esp. pp. 64-70; Nigel Ramsay, “Retained Legal Counsel, 1275-1415”, Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser., xxxv (1985), pp. 95-112; Ives, Common Lawyers, ch. 14; J. H. Baker, “The English Legal Profession, 1450-1550”, in his The Legal Profession and the Common Law (London, 1986), pp. 74-98. Sm also the very pertinent comments in Nigel Saul, “Conflict and Consensus in English Local Society”, in Taylor and Childs (eds.), Politics and Crisis, pp. 38-45. (54) Carpenter, Locality and Polity, p. 264; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, p. 243; Maddern, Violence and Social Order, pp. 206-24, for a study of the Bedford riots. (55) Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, pp. 244-5; B. H. Putnam, Early Treatises on the Practice of the Justices of the Peace in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries (Oxford Studies in Social and Legal Hist., vii, Oxford, 1924); Lander, English Justices of the Peace, pp. 129-44. For an example of a J.P. warning the council of impending disorder in Norfolk in 1420, see Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. N. H. Nicolas, 7 vols. (Record Comm., London, 1834-7), ii, pp. 272-3. (56) For examples, see C. Carpenter, “Law, Justice and Landowners in Late Medieval England”, Law and Hist. Rev., ii (1983), pp. 205-37; S. J. Payling, “Inheritance and Local Politics in the Later Middle Ages: The Case of Ralph, Lord Cromwell and the Heriz Inheritance”, Nottingham Medieval Studies, xxx (1986), pp. 67-96. (57) Maddern, Violence and Social Order, chs. 1, 2, esp. pp. 27-9, 33-4, 47, 69; Saul, “Conflict and Consensus”, pp. 53-4. (58) J. G. Bellamy, Bastard Feudalism and the Law (London, 1989), ch. 2; K. B. McFarlane, The Nobility of Late Medieval England (Oxford, 1973), pp. 115-19; Maddern, Violence and Social Order, p. 98, ch. 5, esp. the cases of the Batemans and Belsham. (59) Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, pp. 118, 258-60; S. Payling, “Law and Arbitration in Nottinghamshire, 1399-1461”, in J. Rosenthal and C. Richmond (eds.), People, Politics, and Community in the Later Middle Ages (Gloucester, 1987), p. 154; A. Smith, “Litigation and Politics: Sir John Fastolf’s Defence of his English Property”, in A. J. Pollard (ed.), Property and Politics (Gloucester, 1984), pp. 59-75. How the earl of Devon’s violent career discredited him with the local gentry is shown by M. Cherry, “The Struggle for Power in Fifteenth-Century Devonshire”, in Griffiths (ed.), Patronage, the Crown and the Provinces, pp. 123-44, esp. pp. 137-40. (60) There is a growing literature on arbitration, but see, principally, E. Powell, “Arbitration and the Law in England in the Late Middle Ages”, Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser., xxxiii (1983), pp. 49-68; E. Powell, “The Settlement of Disputes by Arbitration in Fifteenth-Century England”, Law and Hist. Rev., ii (1984), pp. 21-43; S. J. Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England (Oxford, 1991), ch. 7; C. Rawcliffe, “The Great Lord as Peacekeeper: Arbitration by English Noblemen and their Councils in the Later Middle Ages”, in J. A. Guy and H. G. Beales (eds.), Law and Social Change in British History (London, 1984), pp. 34-54; C. Rawcliffe, “Parliament and the Settlement of Disputes by Arbitration”, Parliamentary Hist., ix 1990), pp. 316-42; I. Rowney, Arbitration in Gentry Disputes in the Later Middle Ages”, History, lxvii (1982); Saul, “Conflict and Consensus”, pp. 41-3. (61) Powell, Kingship, Law and Society, pt. 3; Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England, ch. 7. (62) Select Cases before the King’s Council, ed. Leadam and Baldwin, pp. xv-xlvi; Select Cases in the Council of Henry VII, ed. C. C. Bayne (Selden Soc., lxxv, London, 1958), pp. xliii-clxxiv, esp. p. lx. (63) Ives, Common Lawyers, p. 10; Maddern, Violence and Social Order, p. 68. (64) The Boke of Noblesse, ed. J. G. Nichols (London, 1860), p. 78; P. C. Maddern, “Honour among the Pastons: Gender and Integrity in English Provincial Society”, Fl. Medieval Hist., xiv (1988), pp. 357-72: Maddern, Violence and Social Order, p. 219; Carpenter, Locality and Polity, pp. 47-9. (65) Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England, ch. 1; Carpenter, Locality and Polity, p. 36; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, pp. 251-2. The analysis of the 1412 tax returns by J. M. W. Bean, “Landlords: The Structure of Landed Society”, in Edward Miller (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iii, 1348-1500 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 526-36, appears to omit some baronial lands temporarily in other hands. (66) Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England, esp. pp. 87-8; M. J. Bennett, Community, Class, and Careerism (Cambridge, 1983), chs. 2, 5, 10; D. J. Clayton, The Administration of the County Palatine of Chester, 1442-85 (Chetham Soc., 3rd ser., xxxv, Manchester, 1990), esp. pt. 2; Susan M. Wright, The Derbyshire Gentry in the Fifteenth Century (Derby Rec. Soc., viii, Chesterfield, 1983), esp. chs. 1, 5, 6; Endelman, “Patronage and Power”, ch. 3; P. W. Fleming, “The Character and Private Concerns of the Gentry of Kent, 1422-1509” (Univ. of Swansea Ph.D. thesis, 1985); N. E. Saul, Scenes from Provincial Life: Knightly Families in Sussex, 1280-1400 (Oxford, 1986), p. 56. (67) For the difficulties of both Gaunt and Warwick, see Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, chs. 5-7; Carpenter, Locality and Polity, pp. 437-516. Carpenter identifies areas in Warwickshire lacking resident magnates or estates: ibid., pp. 299, 301, 313, 324. (68) For the ability of a magnate to encompass the shire adniinistration, see Carpenter, Locality and Polity, pp. 275-7; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, pp. 241-3; R. Virgoe, “The Crown, Magnates, and Local Government in Fifteenth-century East Anglia”, in J. R. L. Highfield and R. Jeffs (eds.), The Crown and Local Communities Gioucester, 1981), pp. 72-87. (69) Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England, p. 10; Carpenter, Locality and Polity, pp. 387-8, 399-430, for the effects of Richard Beauchamp’s absence in France and Henry Beauchamp’s inadequacy; M. Cherry, “The Courtenay Earls of Devon: The Formation and Disintegration of a Late Medieval Aristocratic Affinity”, Southern Hist., i (1979), pp. 71-89; R. E. Archer, “The Mowbrays, Earls of Nottingham and Dukes of Norfolk to 1432” (Oxford Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1984), chs. 3, 6. (70) Pugh, “Magnates, Knights, and Gentry”, p. 101; Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England, pp. 105-8; Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, pp. 251-2. (71) R. Horrox, Richard III: A Study of Service (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 1-12, has valuable comments on lordship and service. (72) Carpenter, Locality and Polity, ch. 9; Horrox, Richard III, ch. 1. (73) Although both Carpenter and Horrox speak of magnates’ “control” and “dominance” of a region, it is clear from Carpenter’s very penetrating analysis of Warwickshire political society that the relationship was one of mutual co-operation: Carpenter, Locality and Polity, pp. 30, 288, 291, 318; Horrox, Richard III, pp. 57-61, 65. As Walker has observed of Gaunt, a lord did not wield “unfettered” or “totalitarian” power over local society: see the perceptive comments in Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, pp. 1-7, 235, 261. (74) Fortescue, Governance of England, p. 155.

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