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GEORGE HOLMES has been Fellow, Tutor, and Librarian at 
St. Catherine's College, Oxford since 1961, where he teaches and 
lectures on late medieval and early Renaissance history. He took 
his B.A. degree at Cambridge University in 1948 and from 19-49 
to 1954 was a Research Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. 
In 1952 he was awarded a Ph.D. from Cambridge for his thesis 
on the English nobility in the fourteenth century, published by 
Cambridge University Press in 1957 as The Estates of the Higher 
Nobility in Fourteenth Century England. He has also published 
in the English Historical Reiieu 1 . the Economic History Review. 
and Speculum. 


General Editors 


Professor of Mediaeval History 

University of Liverpool 


Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford 

Peter Hunter Blair 

Christopher Brooke 

George Holmes 

THE TUDOR AGE, 1485-1603 
Margaret Bowker 

Christopher Hill 

John B. Owen 

Derek Beales 

MODERN BRITAIN, 1885-1955 
Henry Felling 

The Later 
Middle Ages 



The Norton Library NEW YORK 


First published in the Norton Library 1966 by 
arrangement with Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd. 


The Norton imprint on a book means that in the publisher's 
estimation it is a book not for a single season but for the years. 


Printed in the United States of America 

General Editors' Preface 

KNOWLEDGE and understanding of English history change and 
develop so rapidly that a new series needs little apology. The 
present series was planned in the conviction that a fresh survey 
of English history was needed, and that the time was ripe for 
it. It will cover the whole span from Caesar's first invasion in 
55 B.C. to 1 955, and be completed in eight volumes. The precise 
scope and scale of each book will inevitably vary according to 
the special circumstances of its period ; but each will combine 
a clear narrative with an analysis of many aspects of history 
social, economic, religious, cultural and so forth such as is 
essential in any approach to English history today. 

The special aim of this series is to provide serious and yet 
challenging books, not buried under a mountain of detail. 
Each volume is intended to provide a picture and an apprecia- 
tion of its age, as well as a lucid outline, written by an expert 
who is keen to make available and alive the findings of modern 
research. They are intended to be reasonably short long 
enough that the reader may feel he has really been shown the 
ingredients of a period, not so long that he loses appetite for 
anything further. The series is intended to be a stimulus to 
wider reading rather than a substitute for it ; and yet to 
comprise a set of volumes, each, within its limits, complete 
in itself. Our hope is to provide an introduction to English 
history which is lively and illuminating, and which makes it 
at once exciting and more intelligible. 

G. N. L. B. 
D. M. S. 


Author's Preface 

MY aim has been to write an intelligible introduction to this 
period of history for those who are reading about it for the 
first time. I have not, therefore, tried to be original and I 
have drawn constantly on the works of other scholars. I hope 
that the authors whose writings I have plundered for this 
purpose, and perhaps misused, will forgive me. My debt to 
them is all the greater since our understanding of many aspects 
of the subject has been transformed by researches published in 
the last thirty years. 

I should like to thank the following for granting permission 
for extracts to be quoted : Dr Helen M. Cam (Liberties and 
Communities in Medieval England] ; the Chancellor of the 
Duchy of Lancaster (Public Record Office document D.L. 
5/1, f. 90 v.) ; Mr P. B. Chatwin and the Birmingham and 
Midland Archaeological Society ( c Documents of " Warwick the 
Kingmaker' 5 ' by P. B. Chatwin, published in Transactions of 
the Birmingham and Midland Archaeological Society, 1935) ; the 
Delegates of the Clarendon Press (A History of Antony Bek by 
C, M. Fraser, and The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 by F. 
M. Powicke) ; the Editors of Hie Economic History Review 
( c Labour Conditions in Essex in the Reign of Richard II ' 
by N. Kenyon, published in The Economic History Review, 
1934) ; the Librarian, Lambeth Palace Library (Register of 
Archbishop Whittlesey, f. 12.1) ; the Librarian, Louvain 
University Library ('Walter Burley's Commentary on the 
Politics of Aristotle ' by S. Harrison Thomson, contained in 
Melanges Auguste Peker] ; Lutterworth Press (The Lost Villages 
of England by M. W. Beresford) ; Manchester University 
Press (The Anonimalle Chronicle, 1333-1381, ed. V. H. 
Galbraith) ; and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 



(The Abbey and Bishopric of Ely by E. Miller, and Canterbury 
Cathedral Priory by R. A. L. Smith). 

I should also like to thank Miss Susan Flower and Dr 
R. L. Storey for their help in choosing illustrations ; and I 
am grateful to the following for permission to reproduce 
photographs : the Air Ministry and the Cambridge University 
Committee for Aerial Photography (photograph by Dr J. K. 
St Joseph, Cambridge University Curator of Aerial Photog- 
raphy ; Crown copyright reserved) ; the Bodleian Library, 
Oxford ; the British Museum ; the County Archivist, Essex 
Record Office (D/DGh M 14, mem. 2, from the records of 
Guy's Hospital; ; the Courtauld Institute of Art ; Mr A. F. 
Kersting ; the National Buildings Record ; the Pierpont 
Morgan Library, New York ; the Public Record Office 
(Crown copyright reserved) ; Mr Lawrence Stone ; and the 
Wool (and Allied) Textile Employers' Council, Bradford. 
The drawing of the village of Boarstall, Buckinghamshire, is 
reproduced by permission of Major Sir H. L. Aubrey-Fletcher 
and the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. 

I am particularly grateful to four people who have gener- 
ously spent a great deal of time, and shown much patience, 
in helping me to improve the book : to Professor C. N. L. 
Brooke and Mr Denis Mack Smith, to Mr James Campbell, 
and to my wife* 

G. A. H. 


1 Introduction i 

PART ONE 1272-1361 

2 Medieval Society 

(1) Village and Manor n 

(2) The Lords 19 

(3) Commerce and Towns 30 

3 The Church 

(1) The Church and the Clergy 41 

(2) Cathedrals and Universities 50 

4 Government 

(1) The King's Law 59 

(2) The King's Ministers 67 

(3) War and Finance 72 

(4) Parliament 79 

5 England and the Celtic Lands 

(1) The Conquest of Wales 89 

(2) The Scots War of Independence 94 

(3) England and her Neighbours after Edward I 98 

6 The Politics of England under the Three Edwards 

(1) Edward I and England to 1294 I02 

(2) Edward I and France 104 

(3) Edward I and England, 1294-1307 107 

(4) Edward II and the Minority of Edward III, 1307-30 1 10 

(5) Edward III and the Hundred Years' War to 1361 117 

(6) Edward III and England to 1361 123 


PART TWO 1361-1485 

7 Lay Society 

(1) Social Change 131 

(2) Plague and the Peasantry 136 

(3) Cloth and Commerce 148 

(4) Towns 156 

(5) The Nobility 160 

8 The Church 

(i) Heresy 168 

(a) Orthodoxy 176 

9 Richard II and Henry IV 

(1) The Age of John of Gaunt 182 

(2) Richard II 186 

(3) Henry IV 192 

10 The Hundred Years' War, 1361-1453 

(1) England and France, 1361-1413 196 

(2) The English Conquest of Normandy, 1413-22 200 

(3) English Power in France, 1422-53 204 

1 1 The Wars of the Roses 

(1) The Age of Beaufort and Gloucester 210 

(2) The Origins of the Wars of the Roses, 1447-61 213 

(3) Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick, 1461-75 220 

(4) The End of the Yorkists, 1475-85 223 

12 Government 

(1) The King's Finances 227 

(2) The Commons in Parliament 236 

(3) Government by Council 243 

(4) Yorkist Government 246 


A Table of Dates 255 

B Genealogical Tables 258 

Books for Further Reading 261 

Index 265 

List of Plates 

facing page 

1 The Village of Boarstall, Buckinghamshire 20 
A drawing of about 1444 

2 A Deserted Village 2 1 

3 Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey 36 

4 Stone Effigy of a Knight 37 

5 A Battle depicted in the c Holkham Bible Picture 

Book ' 52 

6 The Octagon at Ely Cathedral 53 

7 Cross Arches at Wells Cathedral 68 

8 The Choir of Gloucester Cathedral 69 

9 St George's Chapel, Windsor i r6 

10 The 6 Percy Tomb ' in Beverley Minster 1 1 7 

11 Proceedings of a Manorial Court 132 

Part of the court roll of the manor of Mose in Essex 

1 2 A Portrait of Richard II 1 33 

Head of the gilt copper effigy- in Westminster Abbey 

13 A Letter from Henry V 196 

14 Winchester College 197 

A drawing of about 1463 

1 5 Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex 2 1 2 

1 6 The Brass commemorating John Fortey 2 1 3 


Maps and Diagrams 


Construction of a cruck house : a pair of cracks 

with tie-beam 1 1 

Medieval dioceses, with some abbeys and towns 43 

Types of arch and window 52 

The Edwardian conquest of Wales 91 

The Scots War of Independence 95 

The wars of Edward III in France 1 18 

English possessions in France in 1428 205 

The Wars of the Roses 219 

List of Abbreviations 

C.H, J. Cambridge Historical Journal 

E.H.R. English Historical Review 

Econ.H.R. Economic History Review 

H.T. History Today 

P. and P. Past and Present 

TJLHJS. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 

1 Introduction 

THIS book is about the later c Middle Ages ' in England, so I 
must begin by saying what I mean by this famous and elusive 
phrase. It was invented by the historians of the seventeenth 
century to describe the long stretch of time in the c middle * 
between the ancient world, which ended with the fall of the 
Roman Empire in the fifth century, and the modern world 
which they thought was created by the Renaissance and 
Reformation in the sixteenth century. Nowadays we also use 
c Middle Ages * or ' medieval * in a slightly narrower sense, 
which I shall adopt here, to describe the European civilisation 
which appeared in the eleventh century after the turmoil of 
the invasions by Arabs and Norsemen, and which grew and 
flourished until the fourteenth century, chiefly in the lands 
which we now call Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and 
England. The * Middle Ages * did not of course have any 
clear beginning or end. The Renaissance and Reformation 
made fairly rapid changes in some branches of intellectual and 
religious life, but most aspects of life changed only gradually 
between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. It can be 
very misleading to think, as people tend to do, of a civilisation 
as an organic thing which blooms and decays. It is best to 
think of the * Middle Ages ' as an impressionistic description 
of a phase in the continuous process of historical change. It 
conjures up for us a picture of certain characteristic institu- 
tions which were prominent in the thirteenth century : a 
single Christian Church, crowned by the remote authority of 
the popes at Rome ; a countryside divided into thousands of 
small estates or c manors 5 , tilled by peasants, many of whom 
were unfree serfs, and owned by lords, who had authority 
over their tenants ; armies of knights fighting on horseback 
with armour and lance ; stone castles ; cathedrals and 


monasteries in Gothic architecture ; scholastic philosophy, 
friars, town gilds. The ways in which kings ruled their 
kingdoms and bishops their dioceses, knights fought, philoso- 
phers argued, and monks prayed were remarkably similar 
throughout Europe from Austria to Wales, from Sicily to 
Scotland, and also different from the institutions of the 
neighbouring civilisations of Byzantium and the Arab Near 
East. England in 1272, when this book opens, was part of 
this medieval world. 

In the chapters that follow I have two main purposes. 
The first is to describe medieval society and the way in which 
it was evolving into a society of a somewhat different kind by 
the late fifteenth century. In the first half of the book I shall 
attempt to describe England as it was at the end of the thir- 
teenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries. I shall 
start with the land and the way people tilled it, the division 
between freemen and unfree men, the lords, the towns, and 
the trades. Then we shall look at the Church, the clergy, 
bishops, monks and friars, cathedrals and universities ; finally 
the king's government his courts, officials, and taxes, the 
parliaments in which he consulted with his subjects. There is 
a point, which I hope will become clear, in this method of 
working from the bottom upwards. Though religion and 
government evolve to some extent by their own momentum, 
independently of the material conditions, they are also largely 
dependent on the society which supports and respects them. 
The medieval Church cannot be understood unless we realise 
that it lived on the revenues of its estates in a largely agri- 
cultural society, nor can the monarchy be understood unless 
we know how kings maintained courts and armies by taxing 
the incomes of landowners and the exports of merchants. In 
the second half of the book I shall argue that medieval society 
was fundamentally affected by the great fall in population 
which started with the Black Death of 1349, and show how 
village society was transformed, how serfdom disappeared, the 
great estates became less important, industry grew, the com- 
modities and directions of trade changed. We shall have to 
look at the heretical movement initiated by Wycliffe in the 
thirteen-seventies, and at the tendency for the Church to become 
less powerful as society was laicised. Finally, we shall see 


changes in the organisation of royal government : the growth 
of a parliamentary system at the end of the fourteenth 
century, the collapse of this system in the next century, and the 
emergence of a new kind of kingship. 

The second purpose of the book is to describe politics, the 
relations of the kings of England with neighbouring rulers and 
with their own subjects. A medieval king had to keep his 
authority intact in the face of powerful individuals, earls and 
bishops, and powerful classes of gentry and townsfolk, all 
jealous of their privileges. His kingdom included modern 
England, Wales (after the conquest by Edward I), a part of 
Ireland, and (until 1453) the Duchy of Aquitaine in France. 
The king of Scotland could be a troublesome neighbour ; the 
king of France could be very dangerous ; the land of France 
was a temptingly rich field of conquest. The king of England 
had to be constantly vigilant against attack and, if possible, a 
successful warrior himself. Success in battle against other 
kings was one of the best ways to keep the respect of his own 
subjects and no large army could be raised without their 
support, so that foreign and domestic politics, though they are 
separated for convenience in telling the story, are closely 
interdependent. This period includes the successful conquest 
of Wales by Edward I (1272-1307) and his unsuccessful 
conquest of Scotland. After the reign of Edward II (1307-27) 
the dominions of the king in the British Isles were roughly 
fixed until the sixteenth century. Because of the English 
king's position in Aquitaine, war with France was a recurrent 
feature of the whole period. There was a big invasion of 
France in 1297 by Edward I. The series of wars known as 
the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) began with Edward Ill's 
attempts to invade in the years 1337-40, followed by the forays 
into France which culminated in the victories of Crecy (1346) 
and Poitiers (1356), and the Treaty of Bretigny (1361), which 
gave Edward III control over all south-west France. After a 
long period of French recovery the English attack was revived 
by Henry V (1413-22), who conquered much of north-west 
France. These gains were gradually lost by his son, Henry VI, 
who finally abandoned all English possessions across the 
Channel, except Calais, in 1453. 

In home politics we shall have to take account of the 


characters of kings and of their circumstances. We shall see 
how the ambitious designs of so effective a king as Edward I 
brought him into conflict with his subjects in 1297 ; and how 
the tragedy of Edward IPs reign, ending in his murder, sprang 
from his failure to control his court and lead his magnates. 
We shall see a somewhat similar tragedy in the reign of 
Richard II ( 1377-99), leading to the revolution which brought 
the new dynasty of Lancaster to the throne. We shall see the 
complete collapse of royal authority in the long and ineffective 
reign of Henry VI (1422-61), leading to the Wars of the Roses, 
the overthrow of the Lancastrians, then of the usurping house 
of York, and the final victory of the first Tudor, Henry VII 

Many passages of medieval politics seem to the modern 
reader like mere feuds of bandit leaders, undignified even by 
the national or class interests which modern politicians 
commonly use to justify their plans. The repeated wars 
against France in this period were profitable to those who 
fought in them ; it is doubtful whether they did much good 
to anyone else except a few army contractors and exporting 
merchants. We shall certainly notice the influence of class 
interests on government, and attempt to understand changes 
in the constitutional basis of kingship -just as we might discuss 
class interest and taxation in a modern state. But the motives 
of medieval politicians are comprehensible only if we remem- 
ber that they belonged partly to a world of ideas quite 
different from ours, in which regal power and warlike prowess, 
tempered only by the c chivalry, truth and honour, freedom 
(i.e. liberality) and courtesy ' of Chaucer's Knight, were the 
proper ambitions of great men and needed no extra justifica- 
tion. This is one illustration of an important general truth : 
that the understanding of a distant society requires an effort 
of the imagination, exercised as far as possible without nos- 
talgia, sentimentality, or contempt. We must be both realistic 
and appreciative. We must remember that a high proportion 
of the wealth of the country was controlled by a nobility who 
spent it chiefly on personal splendour, entertainment, and 
fighting ; that war was a practically continuous scourge of 
border districts ; that many men were unfree serfs, liable to 
be oppressed at the caprice of their lords ; that spiritual and 


intellectual life were controlled by a Church which played a 
full and ruthless part in economic exploitation and imposed its 
system of belief on a largely illiterate population. We must 
remember also that those who thought at all thought within 
the framework of an elaborate, subtle, and deeply rooted 
religion ; that, though this was a poor society by our stan- 
dards, it devoted a higher proportion of its wealth than we do 
to aesthetic and religious purposes, building cathedrals and 
supporting scholars and monks ; that all those who survived 
the maladies of childhood lived in a world of much greater 
natural beauty than the modern city dweller. There is of 
course no reason whatever to suppose that medieval men 
differed in any essential human characteristics from us. They 
were, so far as we know, neither more nor less intelligent, 
grasping, or pious than people are today. But they had, and 
the distinction is important, some very different customs and 

How do we know what happened in medieval England ? 
The historian is like a man visiting a distant country, trying 
to understand a society vastly different from his own in which 
people speak a strange language and think and act in unfamiliar 
ways. His task is even more difficult than that of the traveller, 
for he cannot speak to the dead ; he can only interpret the 
remains which they have left. These remains are not always 
what he would like to have medieval England has left us no 
newspapers, few memoirs or eyewitness accounts, not many 
personal letters. The first book was printed in England in 
1477. Before that time all books were manuscripts, written 
laboriously by scribes, generally on sheepskin until paper 
began to be common towards the end of the fourteenth cen- 
tury. The most obvious sources of information are the 
chronicles, contemporary annals written up year by year, 
usually by monks as part of their intellectual vocation. 
Chronicles, such as those compiled by Bartholomew Cotton of 
Norwich Priory in the reign of Edward I, Henry Knighton of 
St Mary's, Leicester, in the reign of Richard II, and Thomas 
Walsingham of St Albans in the reign of Richard II and after, 
provide the main account of political events. Other chronicles 
were compiled outside the monasteries the most important 
are the chronicles of the wars between England and France 


compiled by a French secular clerk, Jean Froissart, who moved 
in high places among the laity in the later fourteenth century. 
In the early fifteenth century narrative accounts in English 
became commoner, but the great chronicle tradition of the 
monasteries petered out and this is the main reason why the 
political history of that century is difficult to write. Literary 
works, such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Langland's Piers 
Plowman, give an insight of a different kind into the conditions 
of society* Biographies are rare : the Life of Edward //, 
written by a contemporary cleric called John Walwayn, and 
the Book of Margery Kempe, which is the autobiography of an 
early fifteenth-century lady of Lynn, are two of the few 
examples. Personal letters are also rare, though the great 
collection of letters preserved by the Paston family give a 
wonderful insight into the life of Norfolk in the time of 
Henry VI and the Yorkists. 

Much of what we know about these centuries has to be 
pieced together laboriously, not from narrative accounts but 
from e records ', documents made by people in the normal 
course of their business lives and kept for reference : the title 
deeds of their lands, orders from the kings to their officials, 
receipts for money, financial accounts. Since England's his- 
tory has been relatively peaceful for the last four centuries, 
these have survived in enormous quantities. If we want to 
discover how the king's government worked, the best way to 
do this is to examine the records of his Chancery, Exchequer, 
and law-courts, which are still preserved in the Public Record 
Office in Chancery Lane. When the clerks of Chancery and 
Exchequer sent out letters in the king's name they kept copies 
for reference on long * rolls ' of sheepskin, and the rolls still 
survive for nearly every year from the thirteenth century 
onwards. Many of the doings of the archbishops of Canter- 
bury can be discovered from the registers of their letters which 
are kept at Lambeth Palace. To discover what a medieval 
village was like, we must read the records, which are also rolls, 
in which the officials of the manor kept accounts of crops 
sown and reaped, and the buying and selling of stock, and on 
which they entered the proceedings of the manorial courts. 
Because medieval people preserved their business records and 
not 'their private letters, and did not write autobiographies, we 


>ften know a great deal about their official lives and very 
ittle about their personalities. 

Besides the written records, there are the material remains 
>f medieval towns and villages. Everyone has seen a medieval 
:athedral. It is still, no less than when it was built, the most 
iplendid material creation of the medieval world. Perhaps 
;he easiest way to get a glimpse of the lost world is to stand in 
i cathedral and try to imagine the aims of its builders, or to 
itand in one of Edward Fs castles in North Wales and try to 
.magine how it was defended. In recent years archaeologists 
lave begun to apply to medieval history the techniques which 
:hey have developed for prehistoric ages. They have photo- 
graphed villages from the air to show the plans of buildings 
and fields hidden under the soil. They have shown us that 
the ridges in modern fields often correspond with the strips of 
medieval fields. It is partly thanks to aerial photography and 
archaeology that we now know that large numbers of medieval 
villages were abandoned at the end of the Middle Ages. 

Our knowledge will always be very imperfect and frag- 
mentary. Many of the explanations and even the facts of 
what happened in the Middle Ages are uncertain or disputed 
amongst scholars. What follows is one historian's attempt to 
summarise the present state of our understanding. It is for 
the reader to go behind it to the sources and histories on which 
it is based and to make up his own mind. 


2 Medieval Society 


IN THE thirteenth century most Englishmen lived in villages. 

The typical village, so far as one can speak of such a thing, 

was firstly a nucleus of houses with a church, a mill, and 

possibly a manor-house. Apart from the church, and perhaps 

the manor-house, there would be no buildings in stone. In 

some parts of the country it was usual to build cottages with 

walls of a mixture of mud and clay, hardened in the sun, and 

a thatched roof. Many peasant houses were made of timber, 

constructed by standingtogetherpairs 

of ' crucks " (curved wooden beams 

reaching from the ground to the apex 

of the roof to form an arch), joined 

by a pole at the top. The outside 

walls would be filled in with timber 

or mud. By adding to the number 

of pairs of crucks the house could be 

lengthened indefinitely ; but it was 

generally small, with one or at most 

two rooms, sometimes sheltering 

animals as well as people, and warmed 

by a single smoky fire. The cottages 

were ranged on either side of a 

village street or, in a more complicated plan, several streets and 

a green. Most of them would be set in small crofts or gardens 

running back from the street. Beyond the crofts were the open 

fields stretching to the borders of the next village. 

A typical modern farm commonly contains a single group 
of fenced fields adjoining each other ; the lands of a medieval 
peasant were generally arranged quite differently. The fields 
belonging to the whole village were split up into a large 
number of unfenced strips, of which each tenant, and the lord 

Construction of a cruck 

house : a pair of crucks 

with tie-beam 


of the manor and the parson, held several, often widely dis- 
persed in different fields (Plate i ) . This arrangement was deter- 
mined partly by the communal husbandry which was generally 
practised. So that the soil should not be exhausted, each field 
(containing a number of strips) was used for a c rotation * of 
crops. In a typical rotation spring grain would be sown in 
the first year, winter grain in the second, and in the third year 
the field would be left fallow so that the soil could recover 
before the cycle was repeated. Thus all the strips in one of 
the fields would be laid down to a single crop or left fallow 
for the animals to wander over, according to the year of the 
rotation. Each tenant had to have a strip in more than one 
field in order to take part in the sowing and harvesting of a 
selection of crops. The division of the land into a number of 
scattered strips also gave a fairer distribution of good and bad 
soil ; it was stated at Wakefield in Yorkshire in 1297, f r 
instance, that the holding of one peasant ought to include 
pieces of land of each of the different qualities found in the 
manor. 1 The strip system was also determined partly by the 
methods of ploughing. A long narrow strip is easier to plough 
with a team of oxen. Moreover, if it uses the lie of the land, 
it may have advantages for drainage since channels will be 
formed between the strips as the earth is thrown to each side 
by the plough. The characteristic holding of one peasant was 
a collection of strips making up a * virgate ', which varied in 
size from district to district but was commonly about thirty 
acres. Besides the arable fields he might have a share in the 
meadows (which could be in c common ', that is open to the 
beasts of all the villagers, or enclosed in hedged plots), common 
pasture (on which each tenant had the right to graze a certain 
number of animals), and woodland, which was valuable for 
firewood and for the pasturing of pigs. 

In describing this * typical village *, reservations must be 
made. It was not normal in the hilly country of the Pennines 
and the Lake District, Cornwall, and the Welsh Marches, 
where the population was frequently scattered in small hamlets 
rather than grouped in villages, though there were a number 
of open-field villages as well. The reasons for this are obviously 

1 G. C. Romans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (1941), p. 91. I 
am indebted to Professor Romans' book for much else in this section. 


largely geographical : hill country suits the isolated farm 
rather than the large village. For different reasons open fields 
were not normal in much of East Anglia and Kent, where the 
peasantry often followed the rotation of crops in enclosed fields. 
The explanation of this eastern divergence is probably to be 
found far back in the different customs of the original English 
settlers. The bulk of England, however, was open-field 

The arrangements of open-field agriculture naturally 
demanded a good deal of communal organisation in matters 
like the setting-up of temporary fences, the maintenance of 
boundaries and grazing rights. Some of these affairs were 
settled in the manorial court. At this court the tenants of the 
manor were the suitors, that is the people who were bound to 
attend and to take their disputes to it. They also contributed 
to the administration of justice by declaring the local c customs ', 
the ancient and remembered traditions of individual rights and 
communal arrangements, which were enforced in the court. 
Ancient custom was an important notion at all levels of this 
society, which had few written laws and many traditional 
conventions. Medieval institutions reinforced the natural 
bonds uniting isolated communities. In the first year of 
Edward II the suitors at King's Repton in Huntingdonshire, 
deciding who should inherit the land of one Thomas Arnold, 
said that c Ralph Arnold his brother is his nearest heir of blood, 
but by the custom of the manor Nicholas son of John in-the- 
Angle is the nearest, because John in-the-Angle, who was of 
the blood of the village, married Margaret, the sister of Thomas. 9 
In this case, however, the judgment of the lord overruled the 
suitors. For though the court existed partly for the villagers 
to manage their own affairs, it also belonged partly to a 
different element in rural life the c manor '. 

Like the medieval village community 3 the manor was very 
different from any modern institution. A modern farm or 
estate is a piece of land which somebody owns ; he may 
employ men to run it, but he owns only the land. A medieval 
manor was both a piece of land and a unit of jurisdiction over 
the men who lived upon it. The lord's tenant was also the 
lord's man and as such he performed an act of homage in the 
court on receiving his strips in the fields. He was bound to 


attend the manorial court, which was presided over by the 
lord or by a steward as the lord's representative. The custom 
of the manor was declared in the court by the suitors, but the 
lord also had jurisdiction in it over the buying and selling of 
land and over petty theft. The manor was a more universal 
institution than the open-field village. Most countrymen were 
subject to some kind of manorial jurisdiction. The variations 
in detail were endless and it would certainly be wrong to think 
of any part of England as neatly divided into villages each 
ruled over by a single manorial lord. In some cases one 
village contained several manors, each with its court ; else- 
where one manor included several villages ; and in the north 
and west it becomes difficult to draw the line between manors 
and large lordships, such as those of the Welsh Marches, 
which might cover half a modern county. There were areas 
where many of the peasantry had only a tenuous connection 
with the manor ; in some cases they were not even obliged to 
do suit of court. At Haslingfield in Cambridgeshire in 1279 
there were three manors and twenty-six freeholders outside 
them who held small pieces of land as tenants of other people ; 
at Filgrave in Buckinghamshire in the same year there was a 
manor with only half a virgate in the lord's hands, no villeins, 
and some freeholders who had no connection with the manor. 
Nevertheless the manor can properly be regarded as the 
normal unit of medieval rural life. Men thought of it as such 
themselves and had a clear enough idea of what it typically 
contained, as can be seen from the contemporary treatises on 
husbandry and from the set of instructions used by royal 
officials for describing estates called the * Extent of a manor 5 : 
this typical manor had a court, tenants both free and servile 
holding lands and paying rents and services for them, common 
lands, tenant lands, and land retained in the lord's personal 

The land which the lord kept in his own hands, the 
* demesne * to distinguish it from tenant holdings, was the core 
of the manor's economic function as the court was of its 
jurisdiction. In an open-field village the demesne, like other 
land, was divided into strips but it was exploited directly by 
and for the lord. The day-to-day organisation was commonly 
done by a reeve, who was elected annually from among the 


unfree tenants and was responsible to the lord during his term 
of office for the profitable working of the demesne and col- 
lection of rents. In addition to money rents some of the 
tenants owed unpaid labour services, perhaps a certain number 
of days' work each week throughout the year (* week work '), 
or annual services at the busy times of ploughing, mowing, 
and reaping. Usually some wage labour was employed, often 
a great deal, but the manor was sometimes a compact economic 
unit, consisting of demesne, with tenants who supplied the 
labour for it as well as working their own holdings. 

One basic distinction, dividing Englishmen into two very 
broad classes, was to be found everywhere. 6 All men are 
either freemen or serfs/ was a legal maxim. The serf or villein 
was subject to the lord not only in being his man and owing 
suit to his court but also in being his personal property. He 
could be bought and sold with his descendants, his 6 sequela ' 
as they were called ; he could not leave the manor or even 
marry without permission ; and his servile status was inherited 
by his children. Here again the historian must acknowledge 
wide regional variations, stemming from geographical differ- 
ences and distinctions of custom going back to the first English 
settlements, and perhaps beyond, when peoples with different 
social systems had settled in different areas. In Kent there 
were few villeins. In East Anglia there was a high proportion 
of freemen with extensive lands and little connection with 
manors, but also a number of large manors whose villeins 
owed heavy labour services. Moderately sized manors, with 
small demesnes and generally light services, were characteristic 
of the Midland counties. But the essential distinction of free 
and unfree and the institution of labour services are to be 
found in varying degrees almost everywhere. 

In the manor of Borley in Essex in 1308, to take a concrete 
example, there were 300 acres of arable in demesne plus 
meadow and pasture, 7 free tenants holding varying acreages 
and paying money rents, 6 molmen, probably the descendants 
of men who had been freed from villeinage, owing money 
rents and some services, and 28 custumarii holding villein land. 
The villeins nearly all held land in multiples of 5 acres 
(5, 10, or 20), and they owed standard services to be performed 
on the lord's demesne : three days 9 work each week from 


Michaelmas (agth September) to St Peter in Chains (ist August) 
except Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun weeks, the ploughing 
of 4 acres, earning manure, weeding corn, mowing the 
meadow, 24 reaping c works * between ist August and sgth 
September, and so on. It is evident that in origin these men 
and their holdings descended from servile tenants, settled on 
standard plots with obligations to provide a substantial amount 
of the work needed for the demesne. The lord's arrangements 
no doubt explain the origin of villein land and villein status. 
At Wilburton in Cambridgeshire in the late thirteenth century, 
to take another example, there were three groups of tenants : 
freeholders who held tenements varying in size between 6 and 
22 acres, owing moderate services and very small rents ; 15^ 
standard villein units paying a small rent and heavy labour 
services of 3 days* week work and 5 days in harvest time ; and 
io| small cottage units paying a small rent and moderate 
services. By no means all manors had such symmetrical 
arrangements, but many had, and the land shortage of the 
thirteenth century made it fairly easy for the lord to maintain 
the system if he wished. In the Hundred Rolls, the documents 
which contain the results of inquiries by Edward Fs officials 
into tenures in the home counties, East Anglia, and the eastern 
Midlands in 1279, about half the tenants mentioned had free 
or villein holdings of the standard ' virgate * (or * yardland ') 
or of half-virgates ; about one-third had very small holdings 
of less than a quarter of a virgate ; only about 3 per cent had 
more than a virgate. 1 

At the end of the thirteenth century both the geographical 
differences and the customary distinctions between classes in 
individual villages were being blurred by the effects of fairly 
rapid social change and economic progress. Tenements were 
sometimes divided between heirs who inherited jointly. Pieces 
of land were being bought and sold. Sometimes lords found 
it convenient to * commute ' the labour services of their 
tenants by changing them into money rents. Plots of villein 
land, originally held by serfs and still burdened with customary 
labour services, were sometimes held by free men who had to 
arrange for the labour to be done even though their own 

1 . A. Kosminsky, Studies in the Agrarian History of Medieval England in 
the Thirteenth Century, ed. R. H. Hilton, trans. R. Kisch (1956), pp. 2278! 


personal status was unchanged. Conversely it was possible for 
a villein, with all the personal disabilities of his class, to become 
a holder of free land as part of quite a large holding and to 
better himself by marriage and investment. Here is an example 
of such a man, as near as we shall ever get to the biography of 
a medieval villein : 

* His name was Stephen Puttock, and he lived on the prior 
of Ely's manor of Sutton at the end of the thirteenth and 
the beginning of the fourteenth century. There can be no 
doubt about his villeinage : he was described as nativus in 
a charter ; he paid a fine for the lord's licence to marry 
both his wives, as did his sister when she married (and 
leyrwite [the fine for immorality by a villein] as well) . There 
can be no doubt that he owed labour services, for he was 
amerced [i.e. fined] from time to time for carrying them 
out with less than proper care. Yet he was an important 
man in the village. Almost certainly he held a full land 
[i.e. full peasant holding] at least. ... He was . . . reeve 
in 1310, a chief pledge for a quarter of a century, ale-taster 
more than once, a frequent member of inquest juries. Like 
others of his kind he was a sheep farmer. . . . 

But above all he was a great buyer of land. In 1300 
he bought three-quarters of an acre without licence. A 
charter of 1303 recording the purchase of an unspecified 
parcel from another villein, is still extant. In 1304, he took 
up Northcroft (containing 8J acres) from the prior. In 
1305 he bought 2 acres from the prior's former bailiff and 
in 1307 a parcel of meadow from a free tenant. ... In 
1310 he bought 6 acres of arable for 20 silver marks. . . . 
Such a man was thriving into the yeomanry.' 1 

Thirteenth-century society included many people like Stephen 
Puttock. But, although the rigidity of social structure was 
mitigated in this way, the supremacy of the manorial lord and 
the essential distinction between free and unfree were 

Nearly everywhere the maintenance of the lords' supremacy 
was made easier by one basic fact of English life in 1272 and 

1 E. Miller, The Abbey and Bishopric of Ely (1951), pp. 150-1 


for half a century after : the scarcity of land. In the thirteenth 
and early fourteenth centuries a rapidly growing population 
living by simple forms of agriculture, was occupying the land 
of England to the limits of possibility. There are today few 
country villages, as the churches show, which did not exist in 
the Middle Ages ; some have disappeared since 1300. New 
townships were being established by English colonists in the 
Welsh Marches, sometimes still recognisable from their names 
such as New Radnor. The bishops of Winchester were 
attracting settlers to their new boroughs at Burghclere and 
Hindon and elsewhere in Hampshire and Wiltshire. 1 The 
monks of Christ Church, the cathedral priory at Canterbury, 
were draining Romney Marsh. Peasants were enclosing and 
cultivating for the first time the fenlands on the edge of the 
Wash in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. The denes were 
being cut out of the ancient forest of the Weald and in many 
other parts of England c assarts ' were being cleared in the 
woods to add to the village fields. It is unlikely that during 
the period there were revolutionary changes in technique to 
improve the yield of existing arable land, though landlords 
certainly brought seedcorn from other areas and paid attention 
to marling and loaming, and some villages were able to 
increase their turnover by the change from a two-field system 
(the land lying fallow every other year) to a three-field system 
(two crops in every three years), which gave more frequent 
crops from the same area. A fourteenth-century abbot of 
Fountains in Yorkshire, for instance, appointed a group of 
tenants with their consent * to ordain the best way that they 
can to lay out the field in three parts so that one part shall be 
fallow each year '. The tendency everywhere was to use more 
land, more intensively, in the old ways. Prices of grain rose 
throughout the thirteenth century to an unprecedented height 
in its last years. The great floods and famines of 1315-17 and 
the other calamities of Edward IPs reign brought to an end a 
period of expansion in which the extraordinary increase of 
population had driven men beyond the margins of good arable 
land and given some areas a settlement more dense than they 
were to see again until the eighteenth century. 

1 M. W. Beresford, ' The Six New Towns of the Bishops of Winchester, 
1200-55 *> Medieval Archaeology , m (1959) 



The common image of medieval society was a hierarchy of 
graded ranks. The notion is not peculiar to the Middle Ages 
and still has a tenuous survival in the nostalgic desire of some 
people to keep others * in their proper stations'. In the 
Middle Ages it was neither nostalgia nor ideal but a living 
assumption which corresponded with the facts of life. When 
the labour problems following the Black Death of 1349 threat- 
ened the position of the landed classes they responded not with 
economic theory but with a statement of the social order whose 
maintenance was necessary to preserve a healthy economy. 
To curb inflation in 1363, parliament laid down the clothing 
which was appropriate to knights with an income of more 
than 400 marks a year, knights with less, esquires and gentle- 
men with over 100 a year, merchants (those worth 1,000 
were reckoned to be level with landowners of 200 rent), 
artisans, down to labourers worth less than 40 shillings a year. 
Above these ranks were the nobility whom the Commons did 
not presume to regulate. There were later acts of a similar 
kind in 1463 and 1482, and the general social order which they 
describe is often to be seen in miniature in noble households 
with their ranks of followers from knights down through yeomen 
and varlets to grooms and boys. 

The most important people in thirteenth-century England 
were the * magnates 9 magnates regni, c great men of the king- 
dom '. On the lay side these included the earls, and the 
greater barons who were, roughly speaking, the wealthier 
nobility, below the earls in rank and power but important 
enough to carry weight as individuals in the politics of the 
kingdom. On the ecclesiastical side they included the bishops 
and the abbots of the greater abbeys. Below the magnates 
were the lesser nobility, many of whom were knights, that is 
to say men who had been trained in the art of warfare on 
horseback, who had received the ceremonial order of knight- 
hood and could equip themselves with fine horses, weapons, 
and armour, much superior to those used by common soldiers. 
Knighthood, however, was not by any means universal among 
well-to-do men and the title seigneur or dominus c sir * or c lord 9 
was commonly given to all men of superior wealth or status, 


including parish priests and country squires, without carrying 
any technical meaning as it does today. Broadly speaking, the 
upper classes of England were the * lords ' and the greatest of 
them the c magnates '. 

Wealthy people nowadays generally derive their money 
from shares in industrial and commercial enterprises, less often 
from land. Though there were, as we shall see, wealthy 
merchants in the Middle Ages, they were a fairly small minority. 
Most lords and all magnates derived the bulk of their income 
from property in land, either in the form of rents paid by 
tenants, or by farming land themselves so that they had at 
their disposal every year a large quantity of grain, meat, or 
wool which they could use in their own households or sell. 
The great concentrations of wealth which supported the power 
of lay or ecclesiastical magnates were in landed property, the 
estates of abbeys, of bishoprics, or of earls. Further down the 
social scale, small estates supported the country squire or 
rector. Most of the estates owned by the lords were manors 
of the kind described in the previous section, involving lordship 
over both men and land. The economic tendencies of the 
period with which we are concerned at present the scarcity 
of land and abundance of population were very favourable 
to landlords, especially manorial landlords, and powerfully 
reinforced their superiority over the smallholders, tenants, and 
landless men below them. Thirteenth-century England was a 
country dominated by great manorial estates and by castles, 
cathedrals, and abbeys reared on their profits. In this section 
we shall see how the lords organised their estates, then look 
at the distinctions within seignorial society and finally see how 
the lords organised their servants and followers. 

A small estate might consist of one manor, like that of 
Henry de Bray, the squire of Harleston in Northamptonshire 
in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, who had about 250 
acres of land which he worked himself, and 24 tenants. The 
largest might contain so many properties in different parts of 
the country that they had to be organised in geographical 
groups. Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, the greatest lay 
magnate of his day outside the royal family, who died at 
Bannockburn (1314), had one huge 'bailiwick* in South 
Wales, another in Dorset, a third in East Anglia, centring on 

A DRAWING OF THE VILLAGE OF BOARSTALL, Buckinghamshire, about 1444. (In 
the Boarstall Cartulary, in the possession of Major Sir H. L. Aubrey-Fletcher, Chilton, 
Aylesbury.) This early village plan gives the names of the fields around the village 
(Frithfild, Arnegrovefild, Cowhousfild, Goweclose), and of the woods beyond them 
(Frith, Lee, Stpneherst, Costowood, Paunsale, Derehid, Hullwood). There is some 
attempt to depict the strips in the fields. The plan shows the church and also the 
gatehouse tower, probably built about 1312 by the lord of the manor, John de Haudlo, 
and still standing. In the foreground of the plan is the king, handing a shield with the 
arms of the lords of Boarstall to a kneeling man who is presenting a boar's head on the 
end of a sword. The lord of Boarstall was also keeper of the Forest of Shotover. (See 
The Boarstall Cartulary, ed. H. E. Saher, Oxford Historical Society ( 1930) ; see also Plate 2.} 

Plate 2 A DESERTED VILLAGE : Middle Ditchford in Gloucestershire. This is one of 
the villages mentioned by John Rous of Warwick in 1491 as having decayed in his 
lifetime. The aerial photograph reveals, beneath the present landscape, the ancient 
plan of the village and fields. The strips within the fields can be clearly seen. (See 
M. W. Beresford and J. K. St Joseph, Medieval England : an Aerial Survey (i95 8 ) P- l6 5 
see also Plate i.) 


his castle at Clare, each including a number of manors. 
These groups of estates, producing rent, grain, and wool, were 
the units of medieval wealth and power. 

In some cases they were no more than areas occupied by 
rent-paying tenants. The estates of Edward I's cousin, 
Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, scattered all over southern England 
from Hertfordshire to Cornwall, were nearly all held by tenants 
paying rents. In the prevailing economic climate, however, 
there were powerful incentives for the manorial lord to exploit 
his lands more actively, to make the most of them by direct 
farming. The growing usefulness of estate management in the 
thirteenth century made it a highly regarded profession. 
There were textbooks the most famous of them was Walter 
of Henley's Stewardship which explained how to make up 
accounts and how to deal with rents, labour services, and 
reeves. The great problem of estate management was to make 
sure that the official on the spot, who might be a reeve filling 
the office for one year, and (like Chaucer's character) an 
expert at cheating his masters, did his work conscientiously. 
Most large estates made both estimates of the yield to be 
expected from each kind of produce in a year and careful 
arrangements to make sure that the reeve did not conceal or 
steal crops or animals that belonged to his lord. The Priory 
of St Swithun's, Winchester, for instance, had a system of 
quotas, called responsiones : of grain according to the amount 
of seed sown, of butter and cheese so much per cow, of wool a 
certain average weight of fleeces. If the reeve failed to pro- 
duce these quotas or to give an adequate excuse he was charged 
with the difference. 1 

This supervision involved an elaborate system of admini- 
stration. The senior official of the estate would be the steward, 
a man with some legal knowledge, whose duty would be to 
hold the courts and to formulate the general policy of the 
estate. It was a responsible position which could be part of a 
great career : Adam de Stratton, who later became a notori- 
ous judge under Edward I, had done the work of steward for 
the Countess of Aumale. 

Each group of estates also had its receiver to collect the 

1 J. S. Drew, * Manorial Accounts of St Swithun's Priory, Winchester % 
EJUL (194?) 


money. Finally there were auditors to go round each year 
checking the accounts of all officials. Their corrections and 
notes of items * disallowed ' can still be seen on many surviving 
reeves 5 account rolls. 

The agricultural work itself was done partly by unpaid 
labour sendees, partly by casual hired labour, partly by 
permanent farm servants, according to local manorial condi- 
tions. One Kentish manor in the reign of Edward I had a 
permanent staff including seventeen ploughmen and carters, 
but this \vas in an area where villeins owing labour services 
were scarce. Some of the manors near the lord's usual place 
of residence, the castle or abbey, might be home farms sup- 
plying food directly for the table. In most other cases the 
produce was sold locally for cash to be taken to the central 
treasury. * Know, sir,* wrote the Prior of Christ Church, 
Canterbury, in 1323, e that half our lands are so far from us, 
out of this county towards Oxford, Devonshire and elsewhere 
that we must sell the grain in those parts and buy grain in this 
country. And ... all the grain we have apart from the seed 
for our lands, between Sandwich and Rochester, never suffices 
for the sustenance of our convent and our house beyond 
Pentecost, so that we have to buy 1000 quarters and more in 
this country.' The Prior was probably not quite telling the 
truth ; he was trying to avoid contributing to the supplies for 
Dover Castle. But he described the general arrangement of 
his estates well enough. 

The writer of that letter, Henry of Eastry, was Prior of 
Christ Church from 1285 to 1331 and a most astute man of 
business. To understand the medieval seignorial estate at its 
height we cannot do better than to look at some aspects of his 
administration. 1 The first way in which an estate could be 
developed was by enlarging the amount of land under cultiva- 
tion by purchase or reclamation. The Canterbury monks at 
this period bought more land every year. They added to the 
reclaimed portions of their coastal lands in and around Romney 
Marsh and the Isle of Thanet. They could always lease out 
new land for one or two shillings an acre, which was higher 
than the rent paid by established customary tenants. Buying 
of land and enclosure from the waste were common features 
1 Described by R. A. L. Smith, Canterbury Cathedral Priory (1943) 


of estate policy in most places, and it could be said of many 
lords, as a monk of Peterborough wrote of Eastry's contem- 
porary, Godfrey of Crowland, Abbot of Peterborough (1299- 
1321), 'he began a manor where there had never been a 
manor before but it had lain as pasture '. 

A second marked characteristic of the Christ Church estates 
was the energetic pursuit of arable and pastoral farming. In 
the reign of Edward II, when the sales of grain were at their 
height, over 8,000 acres were sown in the Kentish estates alone. 
We do not know who bought the surplus. Some presumably 
went to feed the landless men and women of the local villages, 
including the very numerous labourers and domestic servants. 
Some was perhaps sent to the towns ; the English manors of 
the Norman Abbey of Bee at this period sold grain from 
Lessingham to Norwich and from Ruislip to London. The 
Abbey of Crowland in Lincolnshire had farms which specialised 
in rearing cattle for rnilk and meat. This was probably 
unusual, but a more common and very important type of 
specialisation was sheep-farming. In the reign of Edward II 
Christ Church Priory had 13,000 sheep on its Kentish estates, 
whose wool was generally sold directly to Italian merchants. 
Crowland had a centralised sheep farm which moved about 
the fen pastures round the Isle of Crowland, and the Countess 
of Aumale had about 7,000 sheep on her estates in Holderness. 
The greatest of all in this sphere were the Cistercian abbeys 
of Fountains and Rievaulx in Yorkshire, with great stretches 
of wild moorland. 

This evidence has come mostly from ecclesiastical estates, 
whose records have generally survived better than others. It 
may be also that the greater continuity of an ecclesiastical 
estate, whose owner could not die or split up his inheritance, 
made for elaborate and efficient management. The essential 
organisation of a lay nobleman's estate was, however, the same. 
Four hundred years later, in the early seventeenth century, 
John Smyth of Nibley described the estate management of 
Thomas Berkeley, who reigned over his family's lands from 
Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire during the reigns of Edward I 
and Edward II, in terms which recall clearly the monastic 
records of the same period. In the account rolls Smyth found 
f what kinds of grain he yearly sowed according to the quality 


of the ground as wheat, barley, peas, oats, rye. . . . And also 
how these kinds of grain each second or third year were 
exchanged, or brought from one manor to another, as the vale 
corn into an upland soil and, contrarily the upland and 
Cotswold corn sown in the vale and low ground . . . how 
this lord for his better profit exchanged . . . part of his cattle 
at certain seasons of the year from one manor to another 
according to the diversity and condition of the soil *. He 
noticed that Thomas Berkeley promoted the enclosure and 
consolidation of holdings and the planting of trees and hedges 
c in so much as from my house at Nibley ... I do behold 
them as groves or thickets through the nearness of the hedges 
in those small enclosures. And myself having at the felling of 
some of the fairest oaks in these places told their ages (a thing 
certainly and easily to be done by the grain made in a circle 
in every kind of tree by the yearly ascent and consolidation of 
the sap) I have constantly found their risings and plantings to 
answer this very time *. 1 A manorial steward himself, Smyth 
recognised and saluted the climax of demesne farming from 
the closer vantage-point of the seventeenth century. Never 
again in English history was the great estate to dominate 
society quite as it did in the lifetime of Henry of Eastry and 
Thomas Berkeley. 

A social survey of the villages of Warwickshire, based on 
the Hundred Rolls of 1279,* shows that about half of them had 
each a single lord of the manor. The others were divided 
between several lords. These lords were partly the layer 
of local seignorial gentry twenty or thirty laymen who held 
between one and three manors each partly the religious 
houseSj and some were really big magnates. The biggest 
landowners in the county were the Benedictine Abbey of 
Coventry and the Earl of Warwick, followed by the Augus- 
tinian Canonry of Kenilworth and the Cistercian Abbey of 
Combe. These landowners and their like in other counties 
were the upper classes of England. If Warwickshire was untypi- 
cal, it was as a county dominated less by the really big estate 

1 J. Smyth, The Lives of the Berkeley*, ed. J. Maclean (1883-5), r > 
pp. 155-6, 1 61 

8 K. H. Hilton, * The Social Structure of Rural Warwickshire in the 
Middle Ages ', Dugdale Society Occasional Papers, 9 (1950) 


and more by the gentry and small religious houses than the 

The clergy are left for another chapter. Lay society was 
crowned by a group of about a dozen or fifteen earls. Some 
were of the royal blood, like the earls of Lancaster, descending 
from Edward I's brother, Edmund Crouchback ; others mem- 
bers of ancient families descending from the Anglo-Norman 
aristocracy, like the de Vere earls of Oxford and the Bohuns 
of Hereford. Some of these families died out in the early 
fourteenth century and some new ones were added to them 
such as the Mortimers, who became earls of March through 
the efforts of Roger Mortimer, the rebel who overthrew 
Edward II in 1327, or the Montagues, who became earls of 
Salisbury through the efforts of William Montague who over- 
threw Mortimer in 1330. All of them held extensive territories 
in different parts of the country. Below them were other 
barons, twenty or thirty families, who were substantial enough 
to be included amongst the fi magnates of the realm '. These 
were usually families with somewhat smaller and more localised 
properties. The Berkeleys in Gloucestershire belonged to this 
class, as did the Mortimers in the Welsh March before they 
became great, the Percies in Yorkshire and Northumberland, 
the Cobhams of Kent, and many others. Below them again 
were the knights and gentry down to the lords of fractions of 
villages. The greatest of these families were related to the 
king and some of them were creations of the royal blood, 
younger sons of kings. The magnates were closely linked by 
blood, tenacious defenders of their common rights but also 
sometimes quarrelsomely divided into factions. 

This was the world of knighthood, chivalry, and heraldry. 
Most landowners were not knights, though some were wealthy 
enough for Henry III and Edward I to attempt to compel 
them to take on knighthood a device by which it was hoped 
to increase the resources of cavalry for the royal army. They 
were country gentlemen, sufficiently occupied with estate 
management and hunting. But there was a large number of 
men, probably somewhere between 500 and 1,000, who had 
actually been * girded with the sword ' and formed a military 
and social elite. They included of course the magnates and 
barons. At the end of the thirteenth century it was becoming 


common for the nobility and gentry to have coats of arms 
which would be blazoned on their seals and shields. We still 
have a number of rolls of arms, manuscripts giving lists of 
knights who were present at a particular tournament or mili- 
tary enterprise, with coloured paintings of the armorial bearings 
which they had carried into battle. Apart from the ability to 
fight on horseback with lance, sword, and heavy armour, 
knighthood also involved the code of chivalric adventure 
which plays so large a part in medieval literature. Most of 
the stories in medieval romances, stories of King Arthur's 
knights or of the Trojans, came originally from remote 
antiquity, but they were invested with the chivalrous attitudes 
of the knight-errant. Orpheus for instance was turned into a 
knightly king called e Sir Orfeo ' in an English poem of the 
early fourteenth century. One poem called Sir Gawayn and the 
Grew Knight (telling how one of Arthur's knights faced heroic 
and chivalric temptations), written down in the form we know 
in or near Cheshire about 1350, is generally regarded as 
outstanding for its literary qualities. A great many other 
romantic legends written in both French and English were 
current at the end of the thirteenth century and after, and 
must have been for the nobility an important constituent of 
their world of ideas. 

The nobility as a whole had in common their dependence 
on landed property and, to some extent, their initiation into 
the warlike arts of knighthood ; but there were obviously 
wide differences between the country knight, absorbed in the 
management of a small estate, hunting, and the politics of the 
shire, and the great earl who was a power in the court and 
the kingdom. Medieval society can be regarded as a hierarchy 
of concentric communities. At the bottom was the village 
world, presided over by the lord and peopled by the free and 
villein peasants. Above that was the community of the shire 
which had its central institution in the shire court, attended 
by the gentry and more prominent freemen, an ancient 
assembly, much less important injustice than it had once been 
but still frequently convened and now acquiring the important 
new power of electing knights for parliament. Embracing 
them all was the kingdom, in which, apart from the king and 
the court, only magnates and prelates had an acknowledged 


right to influence. It was a stable society in the sense that 
there was relatively little movement into the nobility from 
below. The bulk of an estate descended from father to eldest 
son and it was amongst the chief concerns of a nobleman's life 
to maintain and extend his inheritance. On the other hand 
there were always younger sons, who had to make their o\vn 
way in the world and therefore depended more on their 
prowess in war or in counselling kings and magnates to win 
them wealth. Success in war was always a way to rise and it 
was possible for a man who was favoured in this way to rise 
from the squirearchy to the nobility or from the lesser to the 
greater nobility. The Church and the law also offered careers 
where individual talent could overcome low birth and make a 
man into a bishop or into a judge with the opportunity to 
found a great family. 

From Beowulf to the Duke of Omnium, as long as lords 
were exalted above the men who served them, one hub of lay 
society was the hall in which the great man entertained his 
dependents. Every baron and gentleman in the Middle Ages 
had a house of which such a hall was the central feature. The 
manor-houses of the central Middle Ages which survive today 
are naturally often uncharacteristically elaborate examples, 
such as Stokesay Castle in Shropshire or Little Wenham Hall 
in Suffolk. They all show, however, the central importance 
of the hall, and most of those which existed in the reign of 
Edward I probably contained little more than a hall for the 
whole householdj with a kitchen at one end and the private 
rooms of the lord at the other. Often the hall was raised 
above ground-level to make it more defensible, and even the 
sumptuous palace built by Edward's Chancellor, Bishop 
Burnell, at Acton Burnell in Shropshire, was constructed partly 
for defence. Especially in the Marches of Wales and the north, 
resistance to a siege could still be a major consideration ; the 
seignorial residences of these areas were small castles rather 
than houses. The greater magnates all had castles of some 
magnificence : those of the Beauchamps at Warwick, of the 
earls of Arundel at Arundel in Sussex, and of the Veres at 
Hedingham in Essex are examples which still survive in part. 
Though the greatest castles built in this age were without 
question the work of Edward I (to be described in a later 


common for the nobility and gentry to have coats of arms 
which would be blazoned on their seals and shields. We still 
have a number of rolls of arms, manuscripts giving lists of 
knights who were present at a particular tournament or mili- 
tary enterprise, with coloured paintings of the armorial bearings 
which they had carried into battle. Apart from the ability to 
fight on horseback with lance, sword, and heavy armour, 
knighthood also involved the code of chivalric adventure 
which plays so large a part in medieval literature. Most of 
the stories in medieval romances, stories of King Arthur's 
knights or of the Trojans, came originally from remote 
antiquity, but they w r ere invested with the chivalrous attitudes 
of the knight-errant. Orpheus for instance was turned into a 
knightly king called 6 Sir Orfeo ' in an English poem of the 
early fourteenth century. One poem called Sir Gawayn and the 
Grene Knight (telling how one of Arthur's knights faced heroic 
and chivalric temptations), written down in the form we know 
in or near Cheshire about 1350, is generally regarded as 
outstanding for its literary qualities. A great many other 
romantic legends written in both French and English were 
current at the end of the thirteenth century and after, and 
must have been for the nobility an important constituent of 
their world of ideas. 

The nobility as a whole had in common their dependence 
on landed property and, to some extent, their initiation into 
the warlike arts of knighthood ; but there were obviously 
wide differences between the country knight, absorbed in the 
management of a small estate, hunting, and the politics of the 
shire, and the great earl who was a power in the court and 
the kingdom. Medieval society can be regarded as a hierarchy 
of concentric communities. At the bottom was the village 
world, presided over by the lord and peopled by the free and 
villein peasants. Above that was the community of the shire 
which had its central institution in the shire court, attended 
by the gentry and more prominent freemen, an ancient 
assembly, much less important injustice than it had once been 
but still frequently convened and now acquiring the important 
new power of electing knights for parliament. Embracing 
them all was the kingdom, in which, apart from the king and 
the court, only magnates and prelates had an acknowledged 


right to influence. It was a stable society in the sense that 
there was relatively little movement into the nobility from 
below. The bulk of an estate descended from father to eldest 
son and it was amongst the chief concerns of a nobleman's life 
to maintain and extend his inheritance. On the other hand 
there were always younger sons, who had to make their own 
way in the world and therefore depended more on their 
prowess in war or in counselling kings and magnates to win 
them wealth. Success in war was always a way to rise and it 
was possible for a man who was favoured in this way to rise 
from the squirearchy to the nobility or from the lesser to the 
greater nobility. The Church and the law also offered careers 
where individual talent could overcome low birth and make a 
man into a bishop or into a judge with the opportunity to 
found a great family. 

From Beowulf to the Duke of Omnium, as long as lords 
were exalted above the men who served them, one hub of lay 
society was the hall in which the great man entertained his 
dependents. Every baron and gentleman in the Middle Ages 
had a house of which such a hall was the central feature. The 
manor-houses of the central Middle Ages which survive today 
are naturally often uncharacteristically elaborate examples, 
such as Stokesay Castle in Shropshire or Little Wenham Hall 
in Suffolk. They all show, however, the central importance 
of the hall, and most of those which existed in the reign of 
Edward I probably contained little more than a hall for the 
whole household, with a kitchen at one end and the private 
rooms of the lord at the other. Often the hall was raised 
above ground-level to make it more defensible, and even the 
sumptuous palace built by Edward's Chancellor, Bishop 
Burnell, at Acton Burnell in Shropshire, was constructed partly 
for defence. Especially in the Marches of Wales and the north, 
resistance to a siege could still be a major consideration ; the 
seignorial residences of these areas were small castles rather 
than houses. The greater magnates all had castles of some 
magnificence : those of the Beauchamps at Warwick, of the 
earls of Arundel at Arundel in Sussex, and of the Veres at 
Hedingham in Essex are examples which still survive in part. 
Though the greatest castles built in this age were without 
question the work of Edward I (to be described in a later 


chapter), this period saw the building of two great structures 
which approached them in grandeur : Caerphilly Castle in 
Glamorgan, built for the Clares in the reign of Edward I, 
and Dunstanburgh in Northumberland, begun for Thomas 
of Lancaster in 1313. Significantly they were both in the 
Marches (the borderlands between England and Wales, and 
England and Scotland respectively) and supported by the two 
largest magnate inheritances. 

All landed property was held ultimately of the king by 
feudal tenure, so called because the commonest unit of tenure 
was the knight's fee (feudum in Latin), the holder of which was 
obliged to do the service of fighting for his lord as a knight for 
forty days in each year. Knights' fees varied considerably in 
the areas of land which they contained, but they were fairly 
uniform in the duties to which they obliged their holders. 
* Tenants-in-chief ' held their fees directly from the king, and 
did homage to him for them, after which they owed him a 
special allegiance, and made a general promise to perform 
service in his feudal army, to give him financial help ( c aids ') 
when his eldest son was knighted or his eldest daughter 
married, and to give him counsel. If the tenant died without 
heirs his land c escheated ' into the king's hands. If he died 
leaving a son under age, the king held the land in c wardship * 
until the heir came of age. Other men held knights' fees from 
the tenants-in-chief, with similar obligations, and these held 
them in turn from the king. The magnates were mostly 
tenants-in-chief, holding their estates directly from the king, 
who thus had some control over the movements of their 
property. Lesser men might hold either from the king or from 
another lord, and the greater magnates had large numbers of 
feudal tenants, some of them organised in c honors ' with 
central courts for the settlement of disputes relating to feudal 

By the reign of Edward I, however, the feudal system 
below the rank of the tenants-in-chief had become largely a 
form of land tenure which did not usually involve any close 
personal tie between lord and man. The honorial courts were 
falling into decay and the whole of feudalism was becoming 
something of an anachronism. In practice the organisation of 
a lord's power and influence depended on relationships in 


which feudalism played little part. Each great estate, as we 
have seen, had an administrative organisation of officials. At 
its centre was the household, for which it supplied the food 
and money. In 1287, f r instance, the household of Lord 
Willoughby d'Eresby, a baron but not a great magnate, 
included a steward of the household, a c wardrober ~ who 
managed the accounts, a chaplain, and a staff of more than 
twenty-five other servants, such as butlers, cooks, ushers, and 
porters. A great earl would have a much larger staff. Every 
magnate and prelate had a council of substantial people, 
officials, lawyers, and friends, retained to advise on matters of 
business. The Countess of Aumale counted among her council 
at the beginning of Edward Fs reign, for instance, a royal 
judge, a prominent London merchant, and the Constable of 
Carisbrooke Castle. 1 Officials and councillors were commonly 
granted annual fees and robes which were the accepted marks 
of their relationship to the lord. 

If a magnate wished to extend his influence and following 
beyond his household and estates he could do so by retaining 
other men to give advice or military service in time of need. 
The kind of arrangement by which a manor in Yorkshire in 
1323 was c charged to Sir Thomas de Bolton knight for life by 
the deed of Ralph baron of Greystoke in 20 marks, two robes, 
one with fur and the other with linen and a saddle fitting the 
status of a knight 5 2 was common in this society. Some wealthy 
and ambitious magnates employed the device of retainder on 
a very large scale. The most notable perhaps was Earl 
Thomas of Lancaster in the reign of Edward II who had a 
large number of men, including some important knights, 
retained for lifelong service in peace and war in return for 
grants of land or annual rents : Sir William Latimer, retained 
to come when requested with forty men-at-arms, and Sir 
Robert Holand who treacherously failed his lord at the critical 
moment before the battle of Boroughbridge, though he had 
been c preferred to a yearly living of 2,000 marks'. This 
contract system has been called by historians c bastard 
feudalism ' because it has seemed like a debased version of the 
older feudalism, based on annuities instead of grants of land in 

1 N. H. Denholm- Young, Seignorial Administration in England (1937), 
pp. 7, 29 2 Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vi, p. 304 


knights' fees. In fact there was probably nothing very new 
about it. Since the days of Beowulf lords had attracted and 
retained followers by the promise of rich rewards ; and the 
exercise of * patronage ' by which lords gave advancement and 
help to faithful dependents was not essentially different in the 
fourteenth century from what it was to be in the eighteenth, 
though it was less peaceful and more ostentatious. 

The contract system was important in two ways. Firstly, 
it enabled the magnate to raise an army quickly in time of war, 
(as Lancaster and the Despensers did in the reign of Edward II), 
though he would have to add temporary mercenaries to his 
permanent retinue. Secondly, it gave form to the lord's wide 
influence in politics and in society below him, made it easier 
for him to build up an c affinity ' of men who owed some 
special allegiance to him, and expected his help and protection 
in return. Royal authority and justice were limited and 
corruptible. * Notwithstanding the many appointments by the 
king of keepers of the peace,' says a complaint in 1334, c felons 
and transgressors escape due punishment because they are 
maintained by magnates and others who retain them in their 
households and in their pay and livery, because gaol deliveries 
of such felons take place sometimes before they have been 
indicted, sometimes by surreptitious means or by dishonest 
and cowardly juries. . . .' x Retinues and lordly influence 
were not necessarily as vicious as this but, for good or ill, they 
were as essential as the open fields to medieval society ; 
neither the magnate nor the commoner could imagine a world 
without them. 


One of the earliest handbooks of commerce, compiled by a 
Florentine merchant in the early fourteenth century, includes 
a list of over 180 English religious houses which produced 
wool, with estimates of the qualities and quantities which were 
to be expected of them, and of the costs of transport to Italy 
by way of Gascony and Provence. This document from 
distant Tuscany illustrates two important things about the 

1 Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1331-349 p. 573 


commerce of the central Middle Ages. Firstly, England was 
involved in regular large-scale trade over long distances ; 
secondly, trade was conducted in basic commodities at least 
as much as in dispensable luxuries. Though fairs held annually 
and markets held weekly or monthly were an essential part of 
the life of the countryside and the country towns, in inter- 
national trade the days of the occasional peddling merchant 
were long past. The international fairs, such as St Giles's Fair 
at Winchester, or even Stourbridge Fair near Cambridge which 
was by far the most important in the later Middle Ages, were 
less prominent than they had been in the twelfth and early 
thirteenth centuries compared with the regular business done 
by merchants settled in the commercial towns. 

The biggest import trade was probably in wine from 
Gascony, paid for with English cloth, fish, and grain. The 
two economies were so complementary that a Bordeaux mer- 
chant could ask, c How could our poor people subsist when 
they could not sell their wines or procure English merchan- 
dise ? * The chief English exports were tin from the stannaries 
of Cornwall, corn, and fish, sent especially to Gascony, cloth, 
which was beginning in the thirteenth century to find a market 
in Italy, and, above all, wool. Kings, magnates, merchants, 
and all Englishmen whose way of life was assisted by overseas 
commerce could agree with the thanksgiving of a later 
Nottinghamshire stapler : 

I thank God and ever shall, 
It is the sheep hath paid for all. 

Wool, either as raw material or, later, as cloth, was the chief 
basis of large-scale commerce. Most peasants had a few sheep 
to be sheared, and the great estates, especially those of the 
Cistercian abbeys, had developed huge flocks, whose fleeces 
they supplemented by acting as collecting agents for the wool 
of smaller growers. The biggest producers were the monasteries 
of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, such as Fountains, Rievaulx, 
Kirkstead, Revesby, and Spalding, but there were sheep of 
different kinds everywhere, producing a variety of recognised 
qualities from the finer grades of the Welsh border, the 
Cotswolds, and Lindsey to the rough, short wool of Yorkshire. 
The annual export at the beginning of Edward Fs reign was 


over 32,000 sacks (or about 5,800 tons) and that level was 
roughly maintained until the middle of the fourteenth century. 
The chief exporting places were the main east-coast ports, 
conveniently placed for the areas of large production : Hull, 
where the greatest of medieval English merchants, William de 
la Pole, started his career, Boston, and London. 

Like many countries in other centuries which have been 
dominated by large and prosperous estates, medieval England 
had some of the characteristics of a colonial economy. Industry- 
was rudimentary compared with that of Flanders and Tuscany ; 
more cloth was imported than exported. The high develop- 
ment of commerce, which had an importance out of pro- 
portion to the percentage of national production involved, was 
due largely to the penetration of foreign merchants with wider 
horizons and more capital than the natives. About two-thirds 
of the wool exported at the beginning of Edward I's reign was 
taken by aliens and most of it was carried in foreign ships. 
The chief groups of foreign merchants were the Hansards, the 
Flemings, and the Italians. 

The merchants of the Hanseatic towns, particularly Cologne 
and Hamburg, had long been active in this country and 
enjoyed very wide privileges by royal charter, extending, in 
the reign of Edward III, even to the payment of lower customs 
duties on some articles than native merchants paid. They had 
a Gildhall and the c Steelyard ' (the name is derived from a 
German word meaning a courtyard in which wares were set 
out for sale) in London, and colonies in other east-coast towns. 
(In 1270 one Gottschalk of Almain called himself a burgess of 
Lynn.) They exported wool, cloth, and tin, and brought cloth 
from Flanders and timber and furs from the Baltic. Some of 
them did a large trade (Tidman of Limburg was one of the 
chief lenders of money to Edward III) and they remained an 
important element in English life throughout the Middle Ages 
and after. The Flemings, on the other hand, were already 
declining from their earlier importance. Their position was 
based on the export of wool for the textile towns of Flanders 
and the import of cloth, but their native industry was already 
starting on its long decay. It was hard hit by the -wool famines, 
deliberately created as instruments of policy by Edward I and 
Edward III, when they temporarily banned export in 1297 


and 1337 ; on the latter occasion a number of Flemish weavers 
were induced to emigrate to England. 

The Italians were the most wealthy,, influential, and expert 
of the aliens. Industry, commerce, and banking were all more 
highly developed in the cities of Tuscany and Lombardy than 
anywhere else and much of Europe was entangled in their 
economic imperialism. Firms like the Riccardi of Lucca and 
the Frescobaldi of Florence, which were the most active in 
England in the reign of Edward I, were far more elaborate 
and wealthy than any contemporaries in northern Europe. 
Lombard Street in London had already taken its name from 
the Italians living there in the fourteenth century. Their 
entry into England had been assisted by their work as agents 
for the collection of papal taxes, which gave them large 
balances of cash in this country and connections with the 
religious houses. At the end of the thirteenth century most 
abbeys sold their wool in bulk to visiting Italians, often years 
in advance. Fountains contracted in 1282 to supply an Italian 
firm with twenty-six sacks a year for five years. The Italians 
exported from Hull, Boston, London, and Southampton. Most 
of the wool went overland, but, in the reign of Edward I, 
Genoese galleys began regularly to make the direct voyage 
from the Mediterranean to the Channel. The Italians domi- 
nated finance as well as trade. Many abbeys were in debt to 
them, the king found them indispensable as lenders of money 
for his wars, and Archbishop Pecham paid for his installation 
with a loan from the Lucchese. 

These aliens, like the Jews who were expelled in 1290, 
depended on royal protection. However essential they may 
have been to the economic growth of the country, they were 
not loved by competing English merchants. To kings they 
were an unrivalled source of profit in customs and loans, 
which amply repaid the generous and unpopular patronage 
given them in return. Edward I was happy to overrule the 
privileges of London in their favour and, throughout the 
Middle Ages, kings checked the desire of English merchants to 
impose restrictive conditions upon aliens. But the natives were 
growing in strength and during this period one organisation 
of English merchants was evolved the Company of the Staple 
which was powerful enough to compete with the foreigners 


for royal favour and to gain an unassailable position in Euro- 
pean trade. A ' staple ' was a place designated by royal 
ordinance as a special centre of commerce with privileges or 
monopolies. The word became particularly attached to the 
centre of trade in the main English export wool. The idea 
of a staple of wool originated in the mutual interests of the 
king to have an organisation which would be easy to manipu- 
late, and of the greater merchants to consolidate their position 
by monopoly. The first staples were set up at Dordrecht and 
Antwerp in the years 1294 to 1297, to k^P Edward I's plan 
for loans of wool and high customs duties on it to finance his 
invasion of France. The first compulsory staple, which all 
wool exporters were bound to use, was set up at St Omer in 
1314. At the beginning of the Hundred Years 9 War, in and 
after 1336, the staple was again established at various times at 
Antwerp and Bruges for the same reason as had moved 
Edward I, the easing of war finance. The arrangement suited 
the bigger English exporters, some of whom were very sub- 
stantial men, like Lawrence of Ludlow, who helped Edward I 
to set up the first staple and built Stokesay Castle, and William 
de la Pole, the financial genius of Edward III, whose son 
became Earl of Suffolk. A single foreign staple under their 
control was a disadvantage to the foreign merchant, who 
would rather buy wool from a grower or local dealer in 
England and take it directly to his market. The foreign staple 
also seems to have been disliked by the Commons in parlia- 
ment, probably because it gave a single group of exporters an 
easier control over the prices paid to growers. The Commons 
several times pressed for staples at home and, in the years 
immediately after the Black Death, when the trade was very 
hard hit, their wishes were temporarily enforced by the 
Ordinance of the Staple (1353), which named staple towns in 
this country and gave the maximum advantage to growers and 
aliens by forbidding natives to export. The arrangement 
quickly broke down. English exporters were becoming too 
important and too indispensable to the king. The Florentine 
firms of Bardi and Peruzzi, which had been prominent under 
Edward II and in the early years of Edward III, had collapsed 
in the thirteen-forties, and the Italian empire in the wool trade 
and in royal finance went with them. In 1363 a group of 


twenty-six English merchants was established as the Company 
of the Staple at Calais (close to Flanders but a possession of 
the king of England) with complete monopoly of wool export 
except for the trade directly to Italy by sea. 

The Company of the Staple is the supreme example of the 
common tendency of medieval merchants, industrialists, and 
craftsmen to form themselves into exclusive organisations to 
regulate and monopolise particular trades. This tendency was 
very prevalent in the towns, where the shopkeepers and crafts- 
men following a distinguishable c craft * or * mistery * commonly 
organised themselves into a gild say of bakers or weavers 
to promote their common interests and keep business in their 
own hands. The members of the gild would be the men 
established in the craft 3 who had the sole right to practise it 
and to train apprentices who might eventually become masters 
themselves, or might remain for ever wage-earners. Many 
towns also had a c gild merchant * including all the traders, 
and this, as can be imagined, might be a powerful organisation. 
The character of this economic organisation may be illustrated 
by the ordinances made for the Cordwainers (shoemakers) of 
London in 1271. They were distinguished from the workers 
in cowhide and inferior sheepskin, who were forbidden to 
meddle with their trade ; the selling of shoes was confined to 
one market in Cheapside, near Cordwainer Street ; a premium 
of forty shillings was fixed for the entry of apprentices, who 
could rise to be masters ; each master was allowed to have 
eight servants, but no servant might employ an apprentice. 
Like the towns themselves, the crafts were exclusive organisa- 
tions which did their best to preserve a monopoly and exclude 
outsiders. Business was carried on by relatively well-to-do 
men who employed wage-earners (the entrance fee of forty 
shillings was the wage of a skilled worker for several months). 
London naturally had an unusually large number of organised 
crafts in were listed in 1422. They were divided in the 
fourteenth century into the greater c misteries 9 * including 
most of the wealthier merchants and aldermen, and the lesser 
gilds, which were made up more predominantly of small shop- 

1 Grocers, Mercers, Fishmongers, Drapers, Goldsmiths, Woolmongers, 
Vintners, Saddlers, Tailors, Cordwainers, Butchers and Ironmongers were 
listed as the greater gilds in 1351. 


keepers and craftsmen. Similar craft gilds existed, however, 
on a smaller scale elsewhere. There were organised Cobblers, 
Saddlers, and Fullers at Norwich at the end of the thirteenth 
century, and apparently Tanners, Weavers, and Tailors at 
Oxford about the same time. Apart from the municipal 
constitution itself, they provided the framework of town life, 
organising business and fighting the batdes of their members 
against their employees and other trades. They were frequently 
also charitable associations which looked after members in 
distress, and religious fraternities attached to particular saints 
or churches, such as the gild of Weavers of Lincoln * consti- 
tuted in the name of the Holy Cross '. Primarily, however, 
the gilds were monopolies. The town was the world of 
communal monopoly, as the countryside was the world of 
lordship ; all medieval traders, from the Staplers of Calais to 
the cobblers of a small town, aspired to the highest degree of 
exclusive independence which they could extract from the king 
or impose upon their neighbours. 

By no means all the activities which we should call 
* industries J were carried on in towns. Mining was already 
important in most of the English coalfields : coal from the 
estates of the Bishop of Durham was carried by sea through 
the port of Newcastle and there were quite elaborate pits in 
some places. Iron-mining and iron-making were important in 
the Forest of Dean and the Weald of Kent. Tin from Cornwall 
was an important English export. Mining was sometimes 
valuable as a manorial right, exercised by lords or leased out 
by them, but in both the Forest of Dean and in Cornwall there 
were 'free miners 5 outside the usual manorial system with 
special privileges enabling them to prospect and extract freely 
within a certain area. Cloth-making was another trade widely 
practised in the countryside, often as a sideline by peasants. 
It involved a number of different skills, already carefully dis- 
tinguished. The wool had to be dyed (alum and woad were 
imported for this) and combed before it was spun into thread 
and woven into cloth. Then the cloth had to be fulled, by 
being beaten in water, to make it clean and thick this was 
already being done in the thirteenth century with mechanical 
fulling-mills driven by water-power before being stretched on 
' tenters ' and c sheared ' to give it an even texture. 

Plate 3 BEAUMARIS CASTLE in Anglesey, begun for Edward I in 1295. The aerial 
photograph shows the Edwardian castle plan fully developed : a curtain wall with 
regular towers and a massive gatehouse (see pp. 93-4). 

Plate 4 STONE EFFIGY OF A KNIRIIT at Dorchester, Oxfordshire, carved about 1295- 
1305. He is depicted wearing chain mail and surcoat and drawing his sword. 
Besides exhibiting the knightly dress of the period, the effigy is a fine example of 
expressive sculpture. (See L.* Stone, Sculpture in Britain: the Middle Ages (1955), 
p. 150.) 


The only industries which were developed to any magni- 
tude in medieval England were the primary crafts of building 
and cloth-making. Great enterprises like the building of 
cathedrals or of Edward Fs castles required hordes of workmen 
in addition to the master masons. More than 500 men were 
employed at a time in the rebuilding of Windsor Castle, in the 
middle of the fourteenth century. Some English towns were 
famous for their cloth, notably York, Lincoln, Stamford, 
Beverley, Colchester, Oxford, and Winchester, and it appears 
from the records of substantial Leicester burgesses, who were 
employing weavers, fullers, and dyers at the end of the reign 
of Henry III, that the industry could grow into relatively big 
business. But already the movements were afoot, assisted by 
the increasing use of fulling-mills situated on country streams, 
which made clothing chiefly a rural industry. The greater 
English towns were predominantly commercial rather than 
industrial centres. The most notable were seaports, London, 
Newcastle with its coal trade, the wool ports of Boston, Lynn, 
and Hull, granted its first charter by Edward I, Bristol, with 
its Gascon and Iberian connections, and Southampton ; or 
the market centres of rich agricultural regions like York, 
Lincoln, or Winchester. 

A society in which agriculture and commerce flourished 
rather than manufacture, in which foreign merchants were as 
important as natives, in which the traditions of the Mediter- 
ranean cities had not taken root, and in which the kings 
exerted an unusually comprehensive judicial control, was a 
poor soil for the vigorous growth of urban independence. 
With the sole exception of London, there was no city in 
England comparable in size and independence with the bigger 
cities of Italy, Flanders, or the Rhineland, and no possibility 
of urban institutions achieving a comparable importance. 
Most towns were small and struggling communities, pockets 
of unusual customs in a world dominated by barons and 
bishops. There was much hostility between towns and their 
neighbours and overlords, shown perhaps most vividly during 
the political revolution of 1327, when the townsmen of Bury 
St Edmunds and Abingdon attacked the abbeys which ruled 
them and restricted their privileges. So important a place as 
Coventry did not achieve independence of the jurisdiction of 


the earls of Chester and the priors of Coventry though it was 
unusual in this until the townsmen obtained a royal charter 
in 1345. Most of the trading communities, which gave towns 
their social peculiarity, were also relatively smalL Although 
they were sometimes enclosed in defensive walls, most towns 
were also closely connected with the surrounding countryside 
and a proportion of the inhabitants were engaged partially or 
entirely in rural pursuits, so that the town lands which stretched 
far beyond the walls were important to them as well as the 
streets and shops \vithin. Oxford, for instance, had its own 
fields and meadows stretching up the Thames and Cherwell 
to about two miles north of the town. 

By the end of the thirteenth century, however, there were 
well over 100 places, large and small, which had acquired 
privileges as boroughs, marking them off from the feudal and 
manorial \vorld outside. The simplest characteristic of a 
borough was that its inhabitants held their land by * burgage 
tenure 5 , paying rents in money and exempt from the customs 
and services usual in a manor. This right was granted by 
lords to many places which were little more than villages, such 
as Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire, but were sufficiently 
distinguished as market towns to claim and receive some urban 
privileges. There was a vast difference both in economic 
importance and in legal status between these and the bigger 
urban communities with larger liberties, such as York, Bristol, 
or Norwich. Urban independence was based on charters 
granted by local lords, or, in the case of most of the more 
important towns and many of the lesser ones, by the king, and 
the extent of their privileges depended on their bargaining 
powers. The charter granted to the city of Lincoln in 1327, 
confirming the privileges which it had built up in the past, 
gives an idea of the independence which might be enjoyed by 
a larger town. The mayor and citizens paid the king a * fee 
farm ' of 180 as an annual lump sum to cover their dues in 
rents and the profits of their courts. They also had the right 
of receiving and executing the king's writs (the judicial orders 
sent out from his Chancery). They were thus largely exempt 
from the jurisdiction of the king's sheriff of the county. Legal 
disputes within the city were heard by its own court, the 
4 burghmanmot *, held by the mayor and bailiffs every Monday. 


They had the right to impose a tax on merchandise sold in 
the city and to hold markets three times a week and an annual 
fair from ijth to sgth June. It would be impossible to con- 
struct a list of privileges which was absolutely typical of the 
greater English towns, for the variations were considerable. 
But privileges of this kind were characteristic of many towns 
which had trading communities, and therefore both needed to 
organise their life in freedom from the restrictions of the manor, 
and were wealthy enough to buy the right to control their 
own affairs and to maintain the monopoly of their trade in 
the hands of their own citizens. Lincoln itself was the centre 
of the Lincolnshire wool trade and a weaving town of some 

Walter Hervey, the mayor of London who held office when 
Edward I came to the throne, had been elected by a tumult 
of people crying, * We are the Commune. We ought to elect 
the Mayor.* Again in 1312 and 1346 there were serious 
attempts to alter the city's constitution to make aldermen more 
responsible, by imposing upon them councils chosen by the 
gilds. For the most part these efforts failed. London was 
ruled by a mayor and twenty-four aldermen, who were elected 
by the city wards and mostly from the greater merchant class 
and were largely unrestricted by the mass of their fellow- 
citizens. The aldermen tended to hold office for long periods 
and thus to constitute a persistent oligarchy. A royal charter 
of 1319, which forbade immediate re-election after a year of 
office, was disregarded. The same provision was temporarily 
reintroduced in 1376 with little effect. The only serious 
attempt to democratise the constitution of London was the 
imposition in 1376 of a Common Council, elected by all the 
gilds and bound to meet every quarter as a check on the 
aldermen. But this experiment, which took place in a period 
of social unrest in the city (see below, p. 157), ended in 1384, 
and for much the greater part of the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries aldermanic control was unquestioned. 

Urban constitutions, like urban privileges, varied con- 
siderably. In many cases the government of the town was 
inextricably bound up with that of the gild merchant of 
traders, which was sometimes identical with the body of 
burgesses. Some towns were ruled by councils of varying 


kinds, such as the twenty-four who were elected at Exeter 
towards the end of the thirteenth century and whose existence 
may suggest a democratic element. It is difficult to discern 
the balance of power which lay behind the formal constitutional 
arrangements. But the signs of popular restiveness were 
common enough : in 1290, for instance, complaints that the 
richer citizens of Lincoln had sold the city tolls and exacted 
money from the poor seem to have given the excuse for a 
temporary suspension of liberties by the king, and in 1304 the 

* poor men of the commonalty of Lynn ' complained of the 
exactions of their rulers. The burgesses, who had some say in 
government, were not the whole population of the town, and 
even the burgesses generally had only a remote control over 
the officials. At Oxford, for instance, the only freemen were 
the members of the gild merchant, but the government of the 
borough was carried on by the mayor and a council of twelve, 
including four aldermen, elected for life, and eight others 
probably co-opted, over whom even the freemen had little 
control. It is probable that most larger towns were governed 
in practice by oligarchies of their more prosperous citizens, 

* the better people ' rather than * the whole commonalty '. 

3 The Church 


IN thirteenth-century England about one man in fifty was a 
cleric of some sort and the Church owned a huge proportion 
of the country's landed wealth, in estates varying from the 
' liberties * of abbeys and bishoprics, carrying jurisdiction over 
large areas, 1 to the ' glebes ', land set aside in each parish to 
support its local church. Many of the clergy, it is true, were 
men in minor orders, deacons and sub-deacons, with no more 
knowledge than was necessary to conduct services, and a high 
proportion disobeyed the rule of celibacy. A visitation of 
nineteen parishes around Romney Marsh in the twelve-nineties 
discovered six rectors absent, four * doing no good in the parish ', 
most of the inferior clergy living with women, and several 
churches with ornaments and books inadequate to carry out 
the services. But the Church also contained examples of 
great piety and learning. Both the gap between the best 
and worst in the Church and the gap between the piety of a 
few and the brutality of lay life were greater than they are 
today. Thousands of men and women had taken vows to 
abandon themselves entirely to the communal religious life as 
monks and friars. Independent hermits, living in solitude, and 
anchorites, permanently enclosed in small houses for the pur- 
pose of constant devotion, were revered and supported in 
many places. Every village was dominated by its parish 
church, where the wall paintings of Doom and other religious 
subjects were the most vivid works of art ever seen by common 
folk. Sophisticated learning, the monopoly of the clergy, was 
crowned by a school of philosophers remarkable for the breadth 
and subtlety of their thought ; and the cathedrals towered 
with equal magnificence over the houses of the cities. Religion 
was a greater power in the minds of men and in their material 

1 For the definition of ' liberty ' see below, p. 59 


society than 5: has ever been before or since. At the climax 
of its struggle to control the world by the spirit, the Church 
had succeeded astonishingly in embodying in massive institu- 
tions the elusive impulses of devoutness. 

The basic units of ecclesiastical life were the parishes, with 
an average population of three or four hundred people. In 
the towns they were closely packed, often covering only a few 
streets, so that the large number of churches in the middle of 
an ancient city, like York or Norwich, is today very surprising. 
In the countryside the parish would cover a village, or some- 
times a group of hamlets, with subsidiary chapels in the 
outlying centres. The parish church and its clergy were sup- 
ported partly by glebe land, annexed permanently to the 
church, partly by the tithes of parishioners, a proportion of 
their agricultural produce which they were legally obliged to 
pay annually to the rector. In theory and origin this income 
was intended to maintain the church in the parish itself. In 
practice much of it went elsewhere. A benefice in the Middle 
Ages was a piece of property as well as a cure of souls. The 
owner, having the right to appoint the rector, might be the 
local manorial lord, or an abbey or bishop, or the king. The 
rights of the patron were jealously valued and guarded, as 
were the rights of the incumbent. Some parishes had resident 
rectors in full command of their resources, but it was also 
possible for a rector to live elsewhere by permission, as a 
university scholar, or as an ecclesiastical official, supported by 
the income of his parish. In many cases parishes were 
* appropriated ' to abbeys, cathedrals, or colleges, so that their 
proceeds went to the support of a distant religious institution. 
These arrangements were part of normal ecclesiastical organisa- 
tion. They might lead to scandalous absenteeism and plural- 
ism, like the famous case of Bogo de Clare in the reign of 
Edward I ? who drew income from a number of neglected 
parishes whilst he lived the life of a wealthy courtier, but in 
most cases they were probably necessary for the maintenance 
of the normal hierarchy. Many parishes were therefore in the 
care of a vicar, who performed the necessary duties for a 
stipend from the rector. The Church had its own social 
divisions, and the masses of salaried and often unlettered 
priests (who, according to the philosopher and intellectual 




/-" ^ 


r" ? 


JLT^*^ tMm 



V j s -!<"'* * . * . t 

T/v< rountoinf^^ , ? 
Cathedral fowns x ^Lcncostcr Bo 2vT 
. "Boundaries of dioceses 


Medieval dioceses, with some abbeys and towns 

snob, Roger Bacon, c recite the words of others without know- 
ing in the least what they mean, like parrots and magpies ') 
lived in a very different way from the cultivated and wealthy 
monks and prelates. 

The parishes were grouped in archdeaconries, about the 
size of counties, and then in dioceses, each with its bishop and 
cathedral, of which three York, Carlisle, and Durham were 
in the Province of York and the others in the Province of 
Canterbury (see map). In their own dioceses it was the 
bishops' business to ordain clergy and to maintain ecclesiastical 
discipline. They did this partly by occasional visitations, in 


which they perambulated the diocese, inquiring into the state 
of each parish. The visitations carried out by Archbishop 
Pecham (1279-92) were extremely searching and revealing 
and so, no doubt, were those of many other bishops who have 
left less record. The bishop had a court, usually presided over 
by his archdeacon, for ecclesiastical cases. He held regular 
synods of the diocesan clergy, in which constitutions were 
issued to be obeyed by them, and the two archbishops held 
councils of their provinces for the same purpose. 

Some of the dioceses, Winchester for instance, were very 
richly endowed with episcopal lands, and Durham was notable 
for its palatinate (see below, p. 60), which made the bishop 
almost an independent ruler. The road to a bishopric was not 
by success as a parish priest but by distinction in the more 
aristocratic world of the monasteries, the universities, and the 
bureaucracies of bishops, popes, and kings. The Church 
certainly did offer a way of advancement to the man of humble 
origins, who could not conceivably rise to a comparable posi- 
tion in lay society. Robert of Holy Island, Bishop of Durham 
(1274-83), was a poor man's son who had been a monk in 
Durham Priory ; and John Pecham, the only Franciscan 
Archbishop of Canterbury (1278-92), was the son of a Sussex 
farmer, who had distinguished himself at Paris and Rome as 
a theologian. But Antony Bek, the gentleman and king's 
clerk who succeeded Robert of Holy Island as Bishop of 
Durham, was more typical in his social origins. Royal influence 
in episcopal appointments was considerable and bishoprics 
were often rewards for service to the king : Robert Burnell, 
Edward Fs Chancellor and Bishop of Wells (1275-92), and 
William Airmyn, Keeper of Edward IPs Privy Seal and Bishop 
of Norwich (1325-36), are examples. But kings might fail to 
get their nominees appointed. Edward I failed to secure a 
further promotion for Burnell to the archbishopric of Canter- 
bury. Edward III failed to get York for his former Keeper 
of the Privy Seal, William Kilsby. Probably most bishops rose 
to the position through some sort of ecclesiastical distinction 
and some of them were considerable scholars, Pecham and 
Robert Winchelsey, Archbishop of Canterbury (1294-1313), 
were striking examples of ecclesiastical careers ending in 
episcopates of great distinction. 


Parish priests and vicars were the secular clergy. Standing 
apart from them were the regulars, who might also become 
priests or bishops but whose vocation was to live the religious 
life for its own sake rather than to minister to the needs of 
laymen. The most prominent were the Black Monks who 
followed the Rule of St Benedict. Most of the abbeys were by 
this time ancient houses and they included some very great 
foundations like St Albans, Bury St Edmunds, Glastonbury, 
and St Mary's, York, not to speak of the cathedral priories. A 
later wave of foundations in the first half of the twelfth century 
had established the Cistercian Order. Their houses were also 
mostly old-established by 1272 and included such great abbeys 
as Fountains and Jervaulx in Yorkshire. On entering the 
abbey a monk abandoned his freedom of movement and his 
right to private property, to become part of a communal life 
with a prescribed routine of liturgy, work, and diet. Monks 
were no longer in the forefront of religious, intellectual, or 
artistic life, as they had been at some earlier periods, but they 
were still important in national life apart from the weight 
carried by their prestige and wealth. We should, for instance, 
know very much less about the history of this period if they 
had not written chronicles. Since the early thirteenth century 
the Benedictine houses had been subjected to regular inspec- 
tions or c visitations ' by their own Order as well as by the 
bishops. They also held regular assemblies called c chapters ', 
attended by representatives of many houses, which had powers 
of government over the whole Order. They received new 
constitutions in 1277 which attempted to reduce the hours 
devoted to liturgy in favour of more study which the intellectual 
movements of the previous century had made fashionable. 
Though the eating of meat was forbidden by the Rule, it had 
become common in practice and the constitutions attempted 
only to restrict it within reasonable limits. This monastic 
legislation suggests that the difficulty at this period was less to 
curb excessive zeal than to retain the spirit of the Rule in 
institutions whose wealth and immemorial security could 
encourage their members to live like prosperous laymen, at 
worst devoting themselves to hunting and hawking, like the 
Prior of Leominster in 1286, at best more interested in their 
estates than in the religious life. It is of course impossible, 


however many stories of piety and scandal survive, to measure 
how far the monks lived up to the main purpose of their life. 
All that can be said is that at this period they seem to have been 
a stable and traditional element in society rather than a leaven. 
In contrast to the monks, the Mendicant Orders of friars, 
Franciscan and Dominican, had been in this country for only 
half a century when Edward I came to the throne and were 
still obviously fired by the ideals of their founders. The fame 
of St Francis (1181-1226) and St Dominic (1170-1221), the 
originality of their aims, and the position which their followers 
soon acquired as leaders of intellectual life gave the friars an 
enormous attraction for the spiritually minded of the thirteenth 
century and a great influence. They were joined by many of 
the greatest thinkers and eagerly patronised by the laity. 
St Francis had intended his followers to live an exemplary life 
of apostolic poverty and simplicity ; St Dominic aimed to 
found an Order of men also living in poverty, but devoted 
particularly to preaching and instruction against heresy. 
Hence the distinction between the titles of Friars Minor and 
Friars Preachers. In practice they had come to live an 
increasingly similar life, owning no personal and relatively 
little communal property and concerned particularly with the 
evangelical work which the parochial clergy were ill-fitted to 
perform. Their own ardour and the admiration of their 
contemporaries quickly made them outstanding bodies within 
the Church. They were exempted by papal bulls from the 
ordinary jurisdiction of bishops. One evidence of their rapid 
penetration into everyday ecclesiastical life is a bull of 1281, 
allowing them to carry out all the functions of priests without 
permission of either bishops or rectors, which met with much 
opposition and was later modified. They were much suspected 
by many of the secular clergy but eagerly sought by many of 
the laity to preach, confess, and bury. They were ruled by 
their own chapters and their own provincial c ministers ' and 
e priors ', linked into a European organisation. In the reign 
of Edward I they had about a hundred houses, chiefly in the 
bigger towns. In both the universities, where they quickly 
penetrated and took the lead, and the ordinary urban parishes, 
they were easily the most vital force in the thirteenth-century 


For two centuries before the time when this history begins 
priests in England and abroad had been pressing their claim 
to be a separate order of men, set apart from the laity by their 
sacramental powers, independent of the temporal jurisdiction 
of kings and magnates, and owing a spiritual allegiance to the 
popes at Rome, successors of the apostle Peter. The heroic 
age of this movement was long past and the largely accepted 
division between the two swords of Church and State had 
introduced a fundamental cleavage, unparalleled in the homo- 
geneous societies of antiquity and modern times, which is the 
most remarkable peculiarity of the medieval world. No king, 
however powerful, could be entirely master in his own house 
when a numerous, wealthy, and indispensable body of his 
subjects belonged to a European organisation, which allowed 
him only a limited authority ; while the Church acquired an 
independence and a power for good or ill impossible in a 
society where it is regarded merely as a department of the 
State or a spiritual adjunct to everyday life. In important 
respects the clergy not only claimed to be but actually were 
independent of 'the authority of laymen. 

In the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries the papacy 
was at the height of its power, combining, as never before or 
since, the temporal independence of the Papal States in central 
Italy with a world-wide spiritual jurisdiction over the whole 
of western Europe. The transference of the popes to Avignon, 
which took place in 1308 because of political difficulties in 
Italy and lasted until 1377, reduced their political independ- 
ence later popes played a less ambitious part on the diplo- 
matic chess-board than Innocent III (1198-1216), Innocent IV 
(1243-54), or Boniface VIII (1294-1303) but it did not 
diminish their position as the heads of the ecclesiastical 
hierarchy. Natural administrative growth and the mounting 
financial needs of the papal Chamber prolonged the movement 
of centralisation until the difficulties and divisions of the late 
fourteenth century undermined it. Direct political inter- 
vention by the pope was often of some importance even to a 
monarch as remote as the king of England. Cases of this are 
Boniface VIII's mediation between Edward and Philip the 
Fair in 1298, his support of Scots independence in the next 
few years, and Benedict XII's efforts to prevent the early 


developments of the Hundred Years' War. In this sphere, 
however, the papal court could generally act as little more 
than a benevolent United Nations, encouraging the warring 
parties to come to terms by respecting each other's rights. 
More tangible results flowed from the pope's exercise of his 
direct headship over the clergy in England. This was mani- 
fested in three important ways. Firstly there was the papal 
right of * provision ' nomination to benefices. The number 
of circumstances in which the pope might exercise the right to 
nominate the next incumbent of a parish or a canonry, when 
the last holder had died or been promoted, was much increased 
by the popes of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. 
The power was used frequently in the case of bishoprics. 
Pecham and Winchelsey, for instance, were papal nominees, 
and a large number of bishops were appointed by the pope, 
sometimes in opposition to the wishes of both cathedral chap- 
ters and kings. Cathedral chapters themselves included a 
proportion of canons appointed by the pope, and to a lesser 
extent he interfered also in the selection of the ordinary 
parochial clergy. The right of provision had become recog- 
nised in the thirteenth century and was extended by Pope 
John XXII (1316-34). It was criticised on several occasions 
by the English laity, notably in the making of the Statute of 
Provisors in 1351, but throughout this period and after it was 
a normal and, in practice, accepted method both of supporting 
papal administration by giving sinecures to its officials, and of 
improving the personnel of the higher clergy. Secondly there 
was papal judicial authority, exercised in the acceptance of 
appeals in spiritual matters to the courts at Rome or Avignon. 
This again was criticised and slightly limited by the Statute 
of Praemunire in 1353, but generally accepted. Thirdly there 
was the papal right to tax the incomes of the clergy. Tenths 
were levied between 1274 and 1291 for a Crusade which 
never took place. From 1291 to 1329 frequent tenths were 
levied on the basis of the new assessment of ecclesiastical 
income made by Pope Nicholas IV ; thereafter they were 

The English clergy themselves were poised between the 
papal supremacy, which was acknowledged though often irk- 
some, and the royal power, which consorted uneasily with a 


body of men claiming exemption from lay interference. In 
the last resort a king might use brute force to coerce churchmen, 
in a way which was difficult for a spiritual organisation to 
resist. Edward I imprisoned the Archbishop of York in 1292 
for excommunicating his favourite, Bishop Antony Bek of 
Durham. This sort of occurrence was rarer, however, than in 
previous centuries. The conflicts arose mostly because of the 
uncertain boundaries between the lay and temporal worlds, 
without calling into question their separateness. Like the 
pope, the king was interested in the appointment of church- 
men, in jurisdiction and in taxation. Taxation of such a 
wealthy part of the community was irresistibly attractive. It 
produced one complete breach between Church and State in 
1297, but in general it was reluctantly accepted by the clergy 
and formed an important part of royal financial resources. 
The greater part of the money levied by the pope in the reigns 
of Edward I and Edward II went in fact to the king to recon- 
cile him to the export of the remainder. Nomination to 
bishoprics and benefices was an important part of royal 
patronage, essential for the rewarding of clerical administra- 
tors, and caused constant friction between king, pope, and 

The conflict between lay and ecclesiastical jurisdiction 
flared up into a serious controversy in the episcopate of John 
Pecham. Pecham was determined to assert the rights of the 
Church. In a provincial council at Reading in 1279 he 
pronounced a general excommunication against those who 
impeded the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts by procuring 
the withdrawal of cases into lay courts and against royal 
officials who refused to execute ecclesiastical punishments. 
Ecclesiastical law claimed to deal both with crimes committed 
by clergymen and with moral offences of laymen. It was set 
out in the great corpus of canon law, evolved in the previous 
century and quite distinct from the common law of England, 
and it could be enforced by excommunication, cutting off the 
victim from the sacraments, which was a serious, if not always 
an effective deterrent. The boundary between lay and 
spiritual law was difficult to define, not only because the cleric 
might claim immunity from lay courts in ordinary, temporal 
crimes but also because questions of marriage, contract, and 


the ownership of benefices, which vitally affected lay society, 
also came partly under ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Edward I 
was not prepared to yield to Pecham's claims. He retorted 
with the Statute of Mortmain, which limited the power of the 
Church to acquire property from laymen, and by requiring 
Pecham to withdraw his general excommunication. Further 
quarrels led to the issue of the royal writ, Circumspecte Agatis, 
which defined some of the legal cases about moral offences, 
such as disputes over tithes and offences against the clergy, 
which even the king acknowledged to be the proper business 
of Church courts. Thereafter the lay and spiritual powers 
lived in an uneasy harmony which was often disturbed by 
recrimination from one side or the other but never broke down 
into a wholesale conflict. 


The centre of each diocese was a cathedral, which was also 
the church of a community of secular canons or monks. 
Several of the English cathedrals, like Canterbury and 
Durham, were the churches of great Benedictine abbeys. 
This meant that the monks formed the cathedral chapter, 
their abbey buildings were adjacent to the cathedral, and, in 
theory though generally not in practice, they elected the 
bishop. Elsewhere the chapter was made up of secular canons 
who lived in the close. The administration of the cathedral 
was maintained by the dean, the precentor, the chancellor 
who was sometimes also the master of the cathedral school, the 
treasurer, the resident canons, and the vicars choral who per- 
formed the duties of non-resident canons. Secular cathedrals 
whose canonries carried prebends (i.e. incomes without 
parochial duties) were the special field of pluralism and non- 
residence. A large and growing proportion of canonries was 
held by clerics who were really in the royal service, or papal 
nominees who never visited England. The main work of the 
chapter, monastic or secular, was to maintain a complicated 
programme of liturgy which went on throughout the day 
every day in the cathedral. It was the great wealth of these 
landowning corporations and also their prestige, which enabled 


them to attract special gifts from the people of the diocese, that 
made possible the erection of such huge buildings. 

Though the cathedral was, in the thirteenth century even 
more obviously than today, the chief expression of the majesty 
of the Church, it is not easy for us to imagine just what it 
meant to a medieval man. It was certainly not a large parish 
church, for the streets around were generally well supplied 
with their own churches. The nave of a medieval cathedral, 
encumbered with a large number of small altars and chapels, 
would be less suited to receive a large congregation than it is 
today, but it was often a normal meeting-place of laymen, 
even a centre for the transaction of business ; it would be 
attended by crowds at certain festivals and it was an object of 
pride to the inhabitants of the diocese. Many cathedrals 
contain masterpieces of architecture but, though the medieval 
masons worked by strict and elaborate rules of geometrical 
proportion, they rarely had the opportunity to construct a 
whole building to a single plan Exeter and Salisbury are the 
only cases approaching this amongst the English cathedrals. 
Many have substantial portions in widely different styles from 
each of the medieval centuries ; they seem to have grown like 
a landscape rather than to have been built. Their great size, 
their rich painting and glass, and the height of their vaults 
made them incomparably the most splendid buildings that 
the medieval man ever entered. 

When Henry III died most of the English cathedrals were 
ancient and some of them (Durham, Salisbury, and Lincoln, 
for instance) already contained the chief architectural features 
which make them outstanding today. The late thirteenth and 
early fourteenth centuries, however, witnessed a remarkably 
lively development of architecture, in which the cathedrals 
shared with the greater monastic churches. In the major 
rebuilding of Westminster Abbey Henry III himself had 
carried out the enterprise which was perhaps nearest to his 
heart and which introduced new and influential motifs into 
England from the cathedrals of France. The period from 
1250 to 1350 is the time when building in this country reached 
the heights of elaborateness and sophistication, developing 
from earlier medieval styles in something like the way that 
the baroque of the seventeenth century grew out of the simpler 


Renaissance classicism before it. The cathedral of the early 
thirteenth century was by comparison a severe and simple 
building, sharply divided into nave, aisles, transepts, and 
presbytery, with fairly narrow windows between the massive 
pointed arches necessary to hold up the roof. The character- 
istic features of the building of the period covered by this book 
are firstly a greater richness of sculptured decoration, and 
secondly a freer and subtler conception of the spatial relation- 
ship between the parts of the church. It would be difficult 

in ted Gothic 

Geometrical tracery Curvilinear tracery Perpendicular tracery 

Types of arch and window 

to distinguish the influences of wealth, technical advance, and 
aesthetic sensibility in producing this change. They combined 
to make possible the outstanding artistic achievements of 
medieval England. 

Perhaps the most striking of the decorative inventions was 
the ogival arch, with its double curve inwards and upwards to 
a point, for purely decorative effect- It was used in the 
Eleanor crosses, which Edward I set up about 1300 in memory 
of his queen (one still stands at Geddington in Northampton- 
shire), and more elaborately in the tracery above the tomb of 
Edward II in Gloucester Cathedral. The stone canopies 
above the sedilia of the Lady Chapel at Ely (about 1340), in 
which the arches bend in a complicated manner outwards as 
well as vertically, exhibit this decoration at its richest. The 

ft 9 A , 3F*P* tA ' m ** HoMm m Pictm M ( B nt& Museum, 
Additional MS. 47680, f. 40.) The whole of the book has been reproduced with a 
valuable commentary by W. 0. Hassall : Tk HoMm BM Pictot M ( m ) 
Probably drawn about 1326-31. The inscription at the top reads: 'How toe 
great people battled against the day of judgment by pride, envy and covetous- 
lejrait poiple iatefotf tminlewili i 



ttpar cwtyttst.) The drawing is an example of the luxuriant detail of early fourteenth- 
century manuscript illumination and also a contemporary impression of knightly 
warfare. The wyvern shown on the shield at the left-hand side was the crest of 


spaces between the lines of the arches are filled with small 
effigies and luxuriant sculptured foliage, which are also charac- 
teristic of this period. The most remarkable foliage sculpture 
is to be seen in the leaves of identifiable trees carved in the 
late thirteenth century around the capitals of the pillars of 
Southwell Minster. Less naturalistic leaves and other decora- 
tive additions to arches and pinnacles are common. Windows 
were also growing both in size and in elaborateness. The 
simpler c geometrical ' tracery of the thirteenth century, in 
which windows were broken up by stone shafts into arches, 
circles, and trefoils, evolved into * curvilinear * or e flamboyant ' 
tracery with more complicated and flowing lines. The great 
east window at Lincoln, with its narrow shafts to allow wide 
expanses of glass, capped by a rose, was built about 1275-80. 
The east window at Carlisle was made about 1320 and the 
development in this period reached its climax in the windows 
of the choir of Gloucester Cathedral (then the church of 
St Peter's Abbey), built in the mid-fourteenth century, where 
the stone shafts are reduced to thin divisions in a wide expanse 
of glass. The ribs of stone in the roof cease to be merely 
structural devices to hold it up, and flower into complicated 
patterns running over the ceiling for decorative effect. These 
can be seen in the choirs of Tewkesbury Abbey and Gloucester, 
built early in the reign of Edward III. 

The way in which advanced engineering skill could con- 
tribute to architectural effect is seen about 1338 in the cross 
arches set, like massive Gothic girders, between the piers at 
the centre of Wells Cathedral to support the tower above. 
Most remarkable perhaps is the octagonal lantern built at the 
end of the reign of Edward II to replace the fallen tower at 
Ely Cathedral. It is supported by a framework of wooden 
beams behind the walls and creates an open, windowed space, 
of impressive .height between the transepts. The main archi- 
tectural advance, however, was the breaking of the sharp 
divisions between the parts of the church. At Ely the eye of 
the spectator is carried upwards by mounting arches from the 
choir to the octagon. The east end of Wells Cathedral was 
rebuilt about 1300 with the addition of a Lady-chapel, whose 
space appears to flow out of the choir to the west of it. In 
the new work in the choir of St Augustine's, Bristol, in the 


reigns of Edward I and Edward II, the arches dividing the 
choir from the aisles were raised to the roof to give the effect 
of a single space, lit by the windows of the aisle walls instead 
of by the clerestory windows above the aisles, as in earlier 
churches. (See Plates 6 and 7.) 

The early part of the reign of Edward III saw the invention 
of the perpendicular style which was to dominate the rest of 
the Middle Ages. It is uncertain how much this owed to the 
examples of west-country building at Bristol and elsewhere, 
how much to the London school of architecture, patronised by 
the court, whose work was to be seen in two important build- 
ings destroyed by fire in modern times, old St Paul's and 
St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster. The new style reached an 
early consummation in the rebuilding of the choir at Gloucester. 
Here the effect of a single broad space was achieved by cutting 
off the side aisles more completely from the choir. Broad 
windows were placed in the upper part of the walls with panels 
of stone and open arches below them, carrying the flat plane 
down to the floor, and thin piers up the walls topped with ribs 
opening into an elaborate tracery on the roof. The arches 
are flattened by comparison with thirteenth-century work and 
the whole effect is of a great hall, not narrowly pointed and 
dimly lit, as in buildings of the early Gothic, but wide and 
open. This style, evolved before the middle of the fourteenth 
century, set the fashion for the architecture of the rest of the 
Middle Ages. Gloucester clearly belongs to the same manner 
of building as much later examples like King's College 
Chapel, Cambridge, or St George's Chapel, Windsor, and it 
closes the period of daring architectural invention on either 
side of 1300 (Plates 8 and 9). 

Sculpture and painting were, in the Middle Ages, also 
largely subservient to religious purposes. The most developed 
forms of sculpture were those employed in effigies on the tombs 
of prominent people and in the details of church architecture ; 
most of the paintings which survive are miniature illustrations 
to religious books, stained-glass windows, or paintings on the 
walls of churches, These arts also were progressive and 
inventive in the early fourteenth century. Sculpture in stone 
was inseparable from architecture : we have already men- 
tioned some of the most remarkable examples the leaves of 


Southwell, the Eleanor crosses, the sedilia at Ely, and the 
tomb of Edward II (Plate 10). The richness of this decoration 
and the profusion of sculptured foliage and small figure- 
sculpture which is found in so much building of this period 
shows, however, that sculpture was increasingly being devel- 
oped for its own sake. The effigy of Queen Eleanor at 
Westminster was the first known attempt in this country to 
accomplish the technically difficult feat of casting a life-size 
figure in bronze. The effigy of Edward II, placed beneath 
the elaborate canopy of his tomb at Gloucester, is a magnifi- 
cent work in alabaster, which was quarried in the northern 
Midlands and became an increasingly characteristic material 
of English sculpture. There is also some similarity in feeling 
between the sculpture of this period and the miniature illumina- 
tion of the East Anglian school so-called because many of the 
finest examples were produced in monasteries of that region 
such as Ramsey and Bury St Edmunds, though the best-known 
work is perhaps the Luttrell Psalter, written for a Lincolnshire 
gentleman about 1340. The pages of these books are illus- 
trated with a rich profusion of human figures, birds, animals, 
and battle scenes (Plate 5). Most medieval art is anonymous. 
We know a little about some of the patrons, for instance the 
royal court and the monasteries, and we know some of the 
names of the masons who designed buildings and of the 
6 imagers ' who carved effigies ; but their biographies are 
almost completely lost. Their works, however, suggest that 
they were just as ambitious and subtle as the artists of later 
ages whose personalities have become famous. 

The artistry of the cathedrals was paralleled by the equally 
remarkable if less attractive development of the intellectual 
side of religion. By the end of the thirteenth century the 
universities at Oxford and Cambridge had been in existence 
for some time and, though Cambridge remained a smaller and 
more local university, at least until the fifteenth century, 
Oxford was already one of the leading centres of European 
thought and learning, estimated to contain 1,500 masters and 
students in the early fourteenth century, and the home of 
several thinkers of the first rank. Most of the students were 
aspirants to the ecclesiastical preferment which degrees would 
help them to obtain, living in lodging-houses in the town or 


with their masters. A few colleges had been founded in the 
thirteenth century to provide homes for poor advanced scholars 
(University, Balliol and Merton at Oxford, Peterhouse at 
Cambridge) and there were convents of student friars and a 
house for Benedictine monks at Oxford. The basic subject of 
study was the curriculum for the degree of Master of Arts, the 
seven liberal arts of Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, 
Music, Geometry, and Astronomy, studied in the books of 
ancient authors, such as Boethius and Aristotle. Beyond these 
the persistent student could proceed to Theology, Medicine, or 
Law. The full courses were lengthy : six years for the master- 
ship in Arts, another eight for Theology. Most of the intel- 
lectual discipline consisted in reading prescribed texts and 
lecturing and disputing on them. Every aspirant to the 
mastership in Theology had to lecture on the theological and 
philosophical texts assembled in Peter Lombard's twelfth- 
century compilation, the * Sentences '. Thus philosophical 
and theological writings even of the leading philosophers 
tended to be in the unpalatable form of question and answer, 
which removed most of the literary graces from the master- 
pieces of medieval thought. Oxford trained the intelligentsia 
of medieval England, but it was, of course, essentially an 
ecclesiastical institution, its scholars mostly clerics, its privi- 
leges subject to the visitation of the archbishop. 

Thirteenth-century thought had been to a large extent 
dominated by the problem of incorporating the newly dis- 
covered and intellectually compelling works of Aristotle into a 
Christian philosophy. When Edward I came to the throne the 
Dominican St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) was composing in 
Paris his Summa Theologica. This carried the reception of 
Aristotle to the furthest tolerable point, but provoked an 
episcopal condemnation, in 1277, which was repeated at 
Oxford by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Kilwardby 
(1272-8), also a Dominican and a distinguished philosopher. 
Thomism, however, had its supporters at Oxford and else- 
where and it was reinstated in the next year when Kilwardby 
was recalled from England to become a cardinal. The new 
Archbishop, the Franciscan John Pecham, was also a dis- 
tinguished theologian, who had been in conflict with Kilwardby 
at Paris over the question of apostolic poverty as practised by 


the two Mendicant Orders. He visited Oxford in 1284 to 
condemn Thomist propositions which were being taught, and 
to assert the superiority of the intellectual tradition contained 
in the writings of earlier Franciscans, notably St Bonaventure. 

These quarrels illustrate two important general points. 
Firstly, the philosophical ferment of the thirteenth and four- 
teenth centuries, though clothed in abstruse academic terms, 
had as much importance for the Church as a whole as the 
eucharistic and Biblical controversies of the sixteenth century 
for the Reformers, or the niceties of Marxist dogma for the 
modern Communist hierarchies. Aristotelianism tended to 
exalt the power of the individual intellect to acquire under- 
standing of the universe by reason independent of revelation. 
It bound the soul more closely to the body than had been 
customary in Christian thinking this was in fact one of the 
particular points which Kilwardby condemned in 1277 and 
could, if carried too far, restrict the sphere of operation of God 
and faith. The thirteenth-century thinkers debated at great 
length and with complicated subtlety the abstract problems of 
the nature of Being, Essence, and Ideas, which are perennial 
problems of philosophy, but with particular reference to the 
nature of God and His connection with the world, and in the 
hope of constructing a metaphysic which would be true both 
to the logic of the human mind and to Christian beliefs. The 
questions at issue therefore affected the whole dogmatic basis 
of the Church. 

Secondly, scholastic philosophy in the thirteenth and early 
fourteenth centuries was largely dominated by a series of 
remarkable thinkers in the Mendicant Orders, whose ideals 
tended to attract the best speculative minds. The second 
point is particularly true of Oxford. Ever since Bishop 
Grosseteste, himself one of the originators of Oxford's tradition 
of speculation, had sponsored the foundation of the Franciscans 
at Oxford early in the reign of Henry III they had attracted 
and nurtured its leading philosophers. Roger Bacon, who 
died at Oxford in 1292, was a Franciscan and one of the 
boldest and most learned thinkers of his age, remembered 
particularly for his advocacy of the study of Greek, for the 
better understanding of ancient philosophers, and of mathe- 
matics. The most notable Oxford thinker of our period was 


another Franciscan, John Duns Scotus (died 1308), who con- 
structed a theory of Being and Form which sharply reduced 
from its Thomist level the power of the human intellect to 
understand God and religion rationally, and tended to restrict 
the operation of sense and reason more to the comprehension 
of the natural world. 

4 Government 


MEDIEVAL men were divided into the free and the unfree. 
The bondman was his lord's property, to some extent at the 
lord's mercy and subject to his manorial court in matters of 
tenure and petty theft. It is impossible to know just what 
proportion of Englishmen had this status in 1272, but it 
was certainly a very large number, possibly a quarter of the 
population. Villeinage, however, was not slavery. Though 
the villein's rights against his lord were restricted, in his 
relations, civil and criminal, with all other men, he was in 
exactly the same position as a freeman. All men were there- 
fore potentially subject to the king's law. But this law was 
not valid in the same way in all places or over all men. While 
the serf, at the bottom of the social scale, was distinguished by 
his subjection to a lord, other men in the higher ranks of 
society had judicial powers much greater than those of the 
ordinary freeman. c Liberty ' in the Middle Ages does not 
mean the equal right of all subjects to manage their own affairs 
without interference from above. A { liberty ' was a special 
right held by one man or group of men and not by others. 
Thus when kings acknowledged the ; liberties * of the Church 
they were admitting that churchmen had special judicial 
privileges. If a lord had special judicial powers over 'the men 
in his lordship, these powers, or the area in which they were 
exercised, would be described as a e liberty ' or e franchise ' or 
an c immunity ' from royal jurisdiction. 

Apart from the king's justice the main kinds of jurisdiction 
were these : 

(i) The Church claimed the authority of the bishops' 
courts, not only over the behaviour of priests in their ecclesiasti- 
cal duties, but also over crimes committed by them and over 



some spiritual affairs of laymen, particularly marriages and 

(ii) Jurisdiction over petty offences by tenants and also 
over disputes about their holding of land were settled in the 
courts of lords of the manor all over England. 

(iii) There were several wide e franchises ', notably the 
lordships of the Welsh March (including parts of the modern 
counties of Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, and Shropshire), 
the county of Chester, the palatinate of the Bishop of Durham, 
the liberty of Ely, and the liberty of the Abbot of Bury St 
Edmunds. The Bishop of Durham's steward claimed in 1302 
that c there are two kings in England, namely, the lord King 
of England wearing a crown as symbol of his regality, and the 
lord Bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown 
as symbol of his regality in the diocese of Durham V The 
Bishop of Durham, with his own justices, sheriffs, and chancery, 
claimed and exercised all the rights of justice pertaining to the 
king in other places. This was the extreme case. Even the 
lords of the franchises in East Anglia, however, received the 
fines and confiscations from criminals, which went elsewhere 
to the king, and had the powers of distraining and presenting 
criminals which were exercised by the king's sheriff elsewhere, 
though the actual judgments were given by the king's justices. 

(iv) Many lords of manors also had the right of court leet, 
that is to say the right of exercising privately the sheriff's power 
of summoning the community regularly to the c tourn ' to see 
if there were any criminals to be presented for trial and of 
fining for small offences. Many also exercised these rights over 
the wide area of a * hundred * (usually including many villages), 
which was the basic ancient unit of criminal jurisdiction, now 
falling into disuse. 

(v) By the time of Edward I there was a large number of 
boroughs holding charters of liberties from the king. A few 
of them had the franchise of * return of writs * like the lords of 
Ely or Peterborough that is the right of executing the king's 
judicial orders, which would in other places be exercised by 
the sheriff. All had the right to hold courts for civil pleas and 
petty crimes. 

These were all in a sense acknowledged limitations to the 
1 C. M. Frascr, A History of Antony Bek (1957), p. 98 


power of the crown. Bishops, monasteries, lay lords, and towns 
therefore had judicial rights, ' liberties * embodied in customs 
and charters, which even the king would hesitate to infringe. 
They might have to defend themselves but their independence 
was likely to continue from generation to generation. There 
is a famous story that, when the Earl of Surrey was challenged 
by Edward I's judges to say by what warrant he held his lands, 
* he produced an old and rusty sword and said, " Here, my 
lords, is my warrant. My ancestors, who came with William 
the Bastard, conquered their lands with the sword and I will 
defend them with the sword against whoever tries to occupy 
them." * Although this is probably a legend and rather 
anachronistic in tone, it expresses a real attitude. For more 
than a century kings with growing resources and growing 
pretensions had been extending the authority of the judges 
whom they appointed, and of the c common law 9 which those 
judges created, making more effective the king's claim to be 
the supreme fount of justice for the whole of England. By 
Edward I's day this process had been carried a long way. 
Most of the rights in temporal justice exercised by the holders 
of immunities, except in the far north and west, were either 
concerned with fairly trivial matters or had become subsidiary 
parts of a judicial system controlled from Westminster. The 
bailiffs of franchises, for instance, often executed judgments 
which were made by royal justices. But it was still true that 
many Englishmen, not only those in the remote Marcher 
lordships, were as much affected by the jurisdiction of their 
local lords as by that exercised directly by the king's officials. 
A man who lived in the area covered by the * liberty * of the 
Church of Ely might be subject in some judicial matters to his 
manorial lord, a tenant of Ely, in others to the bishop or prior, 
as holders of the liberty, in others to the king. Royal justice 
was dominant and had to a large extent made the franchises 
its servants, but it was not all-pervading. 

The supreme tribunal of the justice which emanated from 
the Crown was the king and his council (including his chief 
ministers and clerks), which might meet alone or in the solemn 
publicity of a parliament. Important or doubtful cases might 
be referred by the judges to the council and some notable 
trials were held in parliament, with the magnates participating 


as judges. An example is the famous case of Nicholas de 
Segrave, who was condemned to death in parliament in 1305 
for committing treason while fighting on the Scots border, and 
then pardoned by the king. Much judicial business was done 
as a result of petitions to the king and council, in or out of 
parliament, by subjects who had failed to get justice elsewhere. 
The main legal business, however, was concentrated by this 
time in three royal courts at Westminster : Exchequer, which 
dealt with matters affecting the king's finances ; Common 
Pleas (the c Bench *, as contemporaries called it) ; and King's 
Bench, which was then called Cor am rege (* In the king's 
presence *), because of its close relationship to the king and its 
special concern with matters affecting him. The judges of 
King's Bench and Common Pleas were sometimes clerics with 
an academic training, and often expert professional lawyers. 
During the fourteenth century the Chancery, whose main 
business was to write royal letters, also developed into an 
important court, exercising equitable jurisdiction in cases 
which could not be decided by the ordinary rules of common 

Much royal justice was also done outside the courts at 
Westminster, for the king had power to issue commissions to 
hold trials anywhere in the kingdom, within the limitations 
imposed by private franchises. Commissions were frequently 
issued for judges to hear the c assizes ' concerning property 
disputes in particular counties and also commissions of nisi 
prius, to hear on the spot cases begun in the local court; of 
* gaol delivery ', to try prisoners in gaols; and of oyer and 
terminer, to * hear ' and * determine * whatever cases might be 
named. The judges empowered by these commissions were 
by no means always professionals, but they were the forerunners 
of the assize judges on circuit of later times. Sometimes a 
comprehensive commission was issued to a group of judges and 
local notables to hear all pleas in a county. This was the 
general c eyre 9 , the most impressive demonstration of royal 
justice. The men of Cornwall had been known to flee to the 
woods on the coming of the eyre and in 1301 it was said that 
Edward I ' amassed great treasure * by it, which reminds us 
that justice in these days was also a way of imposing power on 
unruly subjects and of making a profit out of them. The eyre 


was so hated that it became traditional never to hold it in a 
county more than once in seven years and, though eyres were 
characteristic of the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, they 
were practically abandoned after 1330. 

The executive side of royal justice was mainly the business 
of the king's sheriff in each county. Besides being responsible 
for the Crown lands, it was his duty to execute the writs 
from Westminster, to produce criminals for the royal courts, 
and to distrain their property if necessary, to empanel the 
juries, and to hold his tourn (see above, p. 60) regularly in 
the hundreds- The sheriff might or might not be a local 
gentleman ; in any case he was, as far as his office went, 
essentially the king's servant. Another important custom of 
this period was the entrusting of royal justice to the local 
gentry, to act temporarily for the king in the way that Justices 
of the Peace do in modern times. For many years kings had 
appointed coroners in the shires to inquire particularly into 
cases of sudden death and felony. It was also common at this 
time to find local gentry appointed as Keepers of the Peace in 
their counties, with the duty of keeping order, apprehending 
criminals and presenting them to the royal justices. In the 
reign of Edward III their powers were considerably increased, 
partly, perhaps, as an alternative to sending out justices in eyre 
from Westminster and probably partly because the Commons 
in parliament pressed for judicial responsibility to be given to the 
local gentry of the shires rather than to the king's servants. A 
statute of 1368 gave them full power to hear and try felonies. 

Medieval justice was always a compromise between the 
king's will to rule with his bureaucracy centred on West- 
minster, and the jealous resistance of those who were important 
in their own localities and resented intrusion. The king's 
acceptance of local franchises was part of this compromise. 
The existence of Keepers of the Peace, who acted in virtue of 
the king's commission but were chosen for their local promi- 
nence, was another pan of the balance of power between the 
king and his more important subjects. The balance was main- 
tained for centuries. In medieval times royal judicial power 
never extended much beyond the limits reached by Edward I, 
and there were times of weakness in the fifteenth century when 
it appears to have receded considerably. 


By 1272 the conception of all-embracing royal justice had 
already received its classic expression in the book The Laws and 
Customs of England by the greatest medieval English jurist, 
Henry Bracton (died 1268). Bracton was both an experienced 
royal judge and a scholar learned in Roman and canon law. 
His treatise is a systematic statement of royal justice as it 
actually happened, illuminated by general principles which 
would occur to someone influenced by the theories of law 
descending from antiquity ; the combination of the two marks 
impressively the emergence of a developed, civilised system of 
royal law in England. The common law had grown mainly 
out of the precedents established by innumerable disputes 
about property and criminal offences decided by the king's 
judges. Most of the book is a guide to the elaborate growth of 
precedents which had taken place by this time. It also pre- 
sents a point of view. Bracton sees the king as the fount of 
justice, who should rule according to the accepted law of the 
land, not as a capricious despot. Further, he thinks that all 
jurisdiction in the land emanates in principle from the king 
and that no man has a right to hold a court, with the kind of 
superior jurisdiction which the king normally exercises, unless 
he can show royal authority for it. c Those things which are 
matters of jurisdiction and peace . . . pertain to no-one except 
the crown and the royal dignity. Nor can they be separated 
from the crown, since they make the crown. . . . Juris- 
dictions of this kind cannot be transferred to persons or tene- 
ments or possessed by a private person . . . unless it was 
granted to him from above as delegated jurisdiction/ 

Bracton had several literary imitators under Edward I, 
when the views of the king's judges were in the main those 
which he had propounded. His principle of royal judicial 
supremacy was in conflict with the facts of English history, for 
many of the judicial immunities owed little to royal consent ; 
they had been won by the sword or descended by ancient 
prescription from times long before there were kings of England 
with even the pretension to jurisdiction over the whole country. 
Nevertheless the Crown had grown so strong by the thirteenth 
century that kings could make a serious effort to wrest the 
whole complex of jurisdictions into a system conformable with 
Bracton's theory that all court-holders acted by leave of the 


king. The principle which came to be accepted was that an 
immunity could be allowed only if it had either been granted 
by a royal charter or had been used before the reign of 
Richard I (1189-99). The process of enforcing this had been 
carried far by the writs of quo wananto (' by what warrant ? ') 
issued to start inquiries into titles to liberties in the reign of 
Henry III. It was completed by the investigations and 
statutes of Edward I. The general inquiry into local rights, 
ordered in 1274, produced a mass of evidence about liberties, 
which is entered on the Hundred Rolls, and led to insistence 
on the proper execution of royal writs in those liberties which 
had c return of writs ' in the Statute of Westminster I (1275). 
Then the principles of the quo wananto writ, hitherto applied 
to particular cases, were generalised into the Statute of 
Gloucester (1278), which said that no liberty was to be exer- 
cised until its holder had justified it before the king's judges. 
After years of litigation, following from this bold statement, the 
Statute of Quo Wananto (1290) maintained that a franchise, 
which was claimed simply on the basis of long use, must be 
confirmed by a royal charter. In fact, of course, most of the 
franchises remained Edward had tried not to destroy them 
but to limit them as far as was possible without offending 
against established custom but the assertion of judicial 
supremacy had been carried as far as it could be in medieval 

The statutes of Gloucester and Quo Wananto were part of a 
series of acts, which made Edward I's reign a very notable 
period in the history of English law. Most of medieval law 
was not statute but custom or precedent, and, before Edward's 
time, there had been very little of what we should call legisla- 
tion. Kings and judges frequently changed the law in detail 
in the course of administering it, and medieval men did not 
distinguish clearly between legislation and the growth of 
precedent. It is clear enough to us, however, that Edward 
made some serious attempts to define not only royal juris- 
diction but also the important part of the law relating to feudal 

As we have seen earlier, most of the land of the gentry and 
nobility was held by feudal tenure, and it is from the custom 
governing this that modern English property law descends. 


Feudal tenure had originated in the grants of land made two 
centuries earlier after the Norman Conquest and, like any 
property arrangements, it had become extremely complicated 
by the passage of more than six generations, during which 
lands had been repeatedly divided between heirs and granted 
out by temporary agreements which became permanent. This 
would not matter in a modern regime of freehold property. 
It mattered in the thirteenth century because feudal property 
was never freehold but always held of a lord with reciprocal 
rights and duties between lord and tenant. Ultimately, all 
land was held of the king, but there might be a long chain of 
intermediate lords between the king and the man who actually 
lived on a piece of land. * In Edward I's day Roger of 
St German holds land at Paxton in Huntingdonshire of Robert 
of Bedford, who holds of Richard of Ilchester, who holds of 
Alan of Chartres, who holds of William le Boteler, who holds 
of Gilbert Neville, who holds of Devorguil Balliol, who holds 
of the King of Scotland, who holds of the King of England.' x 
All these tenants and lords had rights and duties to each other. 
The tenant owed military service, or alternatively the money 
payment called scutage, and, if his heir inherited while still 
under age, the holding reverted to the lord in wardship until 
he grew up. The difficulties of enforcing these rights and 
duties were important both to the king and to many of his 
subjects. In the Statute of Westminster II (1285) Edward 
tried to settle the legal rights of both sides in a case where the 
lord distrained on the property of a tenant for failing to per- 
form his services. In the same statute he tried to settle the 
rights of people who granted away their land conditionally, 
for instance to a younger son with the proviso that it should 
revert to the main line of the family if he had no children. 
In the Statute of Mortmain (1279) he forbade property to be 
granted to the Church (because such a grant meant that it 
forever escaped the lord's hands, since abbeys and churches 
never died), unless the lord licensed it. Finally, in the Statute 
of Quia Emptores (1290), he altogether forbade his subjects to 
create new feudal tenures. In future, if a tenant B held of A, 
he could grant his land to C only if he dropped out of the 

1 F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, History of English Law before the Time 
of Edward /, i, 2nd ed. (1898), p. 233 


chain himself, so that G held of A. All land was still held of 
the king by feudal tenure down to the seventeenth century, 
but after Quia Emptores it was impossible for anyone except the 
king to reward a follower by making him a feudal tenant. 
Thus in practice, though the king's feudal relations with 
tenants-in-chief were still important, further down the scale 
the ties of feudal tenure became less significant and land was 
commonly conveyed by outright grants or leases. These are 
some of the prominent points in a complicated series of statutes. 
They did not settle the law of property, which went on 
evolving and proliferating throughout the Middle Ages, and 
we can see from the records of the courts that it was often a 
long and difficult business to establish ownership, but they 
provided important points of reference. 


The modern State, with its supreme powers and huge staffs 
of officials, has grown very gradually out of medieval govern- 
ment. The continuity is more obvious in England than in 
most countries because we still have institutions like Parlia- 
ment and Chancery which retain medieval names and some 
vestiges of medieval organisation. It is important, however, 
not to be misled by this continuity into thinking that medieval 
government, or indeed the government of the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries, was just a smaller version of the modern 
State. The medieval State, like ours, existed to keep order, to 
raise taxes, and to defend national interests; but in some 
essential respects it had a different character and purpose 
which were only gradually abandoned between the sixteenth 
and the nineteenth centuries. Firstly, the powers of the king 
were not so sharply different from those of other great men as 
the powers of a modern government are from all organisations 
within the State. The king was one lord among many. Though 
he was far above the others and had attributes of regality, 
which he shared with none, his government was in many ways 
similar to the organisations maintained by the greater lords. 
The Duke of Lancaster and the Bishop of Durham had 
chanceries and substantial judicial powers, and every earl and 
bishop kept high state in his household as far as he could afford 


it, had a council to advise him, and a treasury to manage his 
money. Secondly, government was less concerned with 
national welfare than it is today and more with the glorification 
of the king. Medieval men, as we shall see later, did not think 
a king was without duties to his subjects they had a con- 
ception of political co-operation and no doubt many of them 
benefited by the more impartial justice administered by the 
king's judges but neither did they think of government as 
being primarily utilitarian. Royal magnificence, exhibited in 
a splendid court, in the wearing of jewels, the maintenance 
of a large retinue, the building of lavish castles such as 
Edward Ill's at Windsor, and the waging of expensive wars 
in support of the claim to France, might sometimes be resented 
by those who were squeezed to pay for it, but it was generally 
accepted as a proper object of policy. We shall understand 
royal administration better if we think of it in terms of the 
ministri regis, the king's ministers, rather than as the State. 

Outside Westminster most of the men who were responsible 
for the king's business were part-time officials. We should 
add to the coroners and Keepers of the Peace on the judicial 
side the assessors and collectors of taxes on property, who were 
usually local men appointed temporarily, and the merchants, 
who collected the king's customs in the ports as a sideline to 
their main business. The escheators, who administered lands 
which fell into the king's hands as feudal c escheats ', were 
sometimes more professional. The sheriff had been, from time 
immemorial, the king's chief representative in the shire, col- 
lecting the dues from his lands and the profits of justice and 
executing the judicial writs. He was still important, but his 
isolation had gone with the appointment of hundreds of 
other men to do pieces of royal business as collectors and 
justices. Though there was no full-time bureaucracy outside 
Westminster, except for the few clerks employed by sheriffs 
and collectors, a great many men of the middle ranks had 
some occasional responsibility for enforcing the king's rights 
up and down the country. 

A considerable staff of clerks, working permanently for the 
king, was partly established at Westminster and partly followed 
the court on its travels. Some of these, like William Airmyn, 
Keeper of the Privy Seal to Edward II and then Bishop of 

7 GROSS ARCHES AT WELLS CATHEDRAL, inserted to support the newly built 
central tower in 1338. One of the more spectacular examples of Gothic engineering 

(see p. 53). 

Cathedral, then St Peter's Abbey, reconstructed about 1340-57 (see p. 53 ; and 


Norwich, or the great William of Wykeham, rose through the 
king's service to become prelates ; most of them were obscure 
functionaries for life, lucky if they could collect a benefice to 
add to their income, literate but connected with the church 
only by Minor Orders, if at all. These were the forerunners 
of the civil service. The central government can be divided 
into four main parts : council, household, Chancery, and 
Exchequer. The Chancery is the easiest of these to describe. 
It was the royal writing office, with a staff of clerks, who wrote 
the letters and charters issued by the king and kept copies of 
them for reference on long, narrow rolls of sheepskin. It was 
presided over by the Chancellor (usually a prelate, sometimes 
the Archbishop of Canterbury), who was given authority by 
his custody of the Great Seal, which was appended to royal 
charters. Like the Chancery, the Exchequer was an ancient 
and revered institution, usually presided over by a great 
prelate, the Treasurer. The chief business of the barons of 
the Exchequer and the lesser clerks was to account for the 
king's money as it came in from all over the country. The 
Exchequer had originated out of the ancient custom by which 
sheriffs came to Westminster twice a year with the money due 
to the king from their shires. After handing it in at the Lower 
Exchequer and receiving tallies (pieces of wood with notches 
to show the exact sums they had paid) as receipts, they pro- 
ceeded to the Upper Exchequer, where their accounts were 
solemnly investigated and entered on the Pipe Roll for the 
year. By this time the Exchequer's business had grown more 
continuous and complicated, for it received money from many 
other collectors, besides the sheriffs, and there was much 
clerical work involved in reckoning not only the sums received 
but also the payments made locally or to other officials by 
royal warrant, and setting them against the totals due from 
the accountants. In 1323 the Treasurer, Bishop Stapledon of 
Exeter, found that the confusion made it necessary to separate 
all accounts except the sheriffs' from the main Pipe Roll (the 
Cowick Ordinance). But the methods of the Exchequer 
remained essentially the same in spite of the elaboration of 
government and taxation with which it had to deal. 

The apex of the royal administration, as of that of other 
great lords, was the council, the body of superior officials, 


king's friends, courtiers, and clerks, which stayed about the 
monarch and advised him on his actions. Because of the way 
medieval archives have survived (generally the official files of 
Chancery and Exchequer, not the important letters and 
memoranda containing policy), we know much less, unfortun- 
ately, about the council than about the minute details of tax 
collection, but, from the little that we know, we can infer that 
it was the most important of royal institutions. Rebellious 
subjects several times tried to control the government by con- 
trolling the membership of the council. The most striking 
case was in 1318, when the baronial factions meeting at the 
Treaty of Leek nominated eight bishops, four earls, four 
barons, and a banneret of the Earl of Lancaster, the most 
powerful magnate, ' to stay by the king and counsel him ' ; 
but neither these imposed councils nor the regency council 
appointed for the minority of Edward III were characteristic 
of the body as it normally existed. Its function was not to be 
representative but simply to include those men whose advice 
and loyalty the king most valued. Probably its most constant 
members were the king's leading clerks and judges, ministers 
like the Chancellor and the Keeper of the Privy Seal, and 
occasional magnates in the king's confidence. In 1304, for 
instance, it was said to consist of Bishop Langton of Lichfield 
(the Treasurer), Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln (a close associate 
of Edward I), Roger de Brabazon, and other judges. Some 
of the members at least took an elaborate oath of loyalty to 
the Crown and much important business was entrusted to 

Like other great lords, the king lived in a large household. 
Edward I's Household Ordinance of 1279 lists over fifty 
established domestic officials, including important people like 
the stewards and marshals who organised the court, and less 
important like the cooks, the ushers of the Chamber and clergy 
of the chapel, all of whom were entitled to receive robes from 
the King. It laid down rules about matters like weighing the 
candles every day to see that they were not wasted and making 
sure that courtier knights did not bring too many followers to 
eat freely at the king's table. The household had its own 
administrative offices, the Chamber and the Wardrobe, which 
also had considerable importance beyond purely domestic 


matters. Unlike Chancery and Exchequer, the clerks of the 
Chamber and Wardrobe travelled about with the court and 
they were concerned less with the general supervision of the 
royal finances than with the spending of the money. It was 
therefore natural that, when Edward I fought in France in 
1297-8 and Edward III in 1338-40, the Wardrobe should 
control most of the payment of troops and other war expenses. 
This was a matter of convenience, but it was not confined to 
war time, and it also meant that large quantities of money 
raised by taxation were never seen, sometimes not even 
accounted for, by the Exchequer. The Exchequer was a more 
public, accessible institution than the household offices, and 
the tendency for it to lose its grip on the whole royal financial 
system sometimes seemed sinister to opponents of the court. 
One of the points on which the ordainers tried to insist when 
they were restricting Edward IFs power in 1311 (see below, 
p. in) was that all money used by the Wardrobe should be 
properly accounted for at the Exchequer. They regarded 
financial control by the Wardrobe as part of a dangerous 
conspiracy by the king's domestid at court to run the govern- 
ment without consulting the magnates. The king also had in 
the household a Privy Seal (distinguished from tHe Chancellor's 
Great Seal) to authenticate letters sent out directly from the 
court instead of going through the office of Chancery to receive 
the Great Seal, and the Keeper of the Privy Seal became an 
important official. In 1338, when Edward III temporarily 
reorganised his administration, before taking his household 
abroad at the beginning of the Hundred Years 5 War, the 
Keeper, William Kilsby, became in effect the King's chief 
clerical officer, and, in the political crisis which followed in 
1340-1, he was the bitterest opponent of Archbishop Stratford, 
who had been Chancellor. In general, however, the dis- 
tinction between the household and the great offices c out of 
court ' was not a matter of political importance. Nobody 
denied the king's right to organise his officials as he wished, 
unless there were strong motives of personal jealousy for 
attacking him or them. 



It is now time to turn from the ways in which the king 
exercised his authority to the ways in which he negotiated 
with his subjects. Unless the king was a tyrant there was a 
constant process of intercourse and compromise between him 
and lesser men. This is the parliamentary side of medieval 
government. Before proceeding to parliament itself we must 
understand taxation, which was the chief practical reason for 
parliament's existence in the form it took, and taxation is 
comprehensible only in the light of war. In a previous chapter 
we have seen something of the wealth of England, which was 
partly mobilised in taxation ; the other side of the picture is 
the fighting for which it was used. There were few years in 
the Middle Ages when the king or his soldiers were not fighting 
on one front or other. War was not, as it is today, a plague 
which civilised society aspires to eradicate. Its visitations 
could be terrible enough for the plundered and mutilated 
defenceless ; there is evidence for instance that Northumber- 
land, Westmorland, and Cumberland were seriously wasted by 
the Scots invasions of the reign of Edward II, and the ravages 
of the English companies in France in the reign of Edward III 
became a byword for horror. For the nobility and the 
knightly classes, however, war was a normal and almost 
essential part of life. * Prowess,' as Froissart, their chronicler, 
said in the later fourteenth century, c is so noble a virtue and 
of so great recommendation that one must never pass over it 
too briefly, for it is the mother stuff and the light of noble men 
and, as the log cannot spring to life without fire, so the noble 
man cannot come to perfect honour or to the glory of the world 
without prowess.' Prowess was in fact by no means the sole 
temptation to war, for many made large profits out of ransoms 
and plunder, but Froissart's words reflect the truth that war 
was essential to the noble society of his contemporaries. 

War was in one sense a more serious version of the tourna- 
ment, which was fought for entertainment and practice, and 
tournaments were held a number of times in the reigns of all 
three Edwards. Retainers were sometimes obliged to do 
service for their lords in both war and tournaments. Edward I 
held a Round Table, which was a kind of tournament, at 


Nefyn in 1284 to celebrate his victory in Wales. Later on he 
prohibited tournaments, because they so easily became con- 
nected with serious fighting, but they were allowed early in 
Edward IFs reign, when they seem to have been one of 
Gaveston's delights, and again in the early chivalrous days of 
Edward III. During this period the tournament was changed 
from the murderous mttie of two bodies of armed knights, 
which it had been in the early Middle Ages, into the courtly 
ceremonial of the Round Table, within the * lists ' before 
spectators, which kings could regard as less of a danger to 
public order. But it was still a dangerous sport and its 
existence shows the blend of serious intent to kill and ransom 
with the pursuit of sporting adventure, which made up 
medieval war. At any rate, many noblemen, like the Black 
Prince, were * never weary nor full satisfied of war '. 

The royal army in the field at this time normally consisted 
of a mixture of cavalry, armed with sword and lance, mounted 
archers, and foot-archers. Edward I*s army in Flanders in 
1297 consisted of 7,810 infantry, three-quarters of them Welsh, 
and 895 cavalry, of whom 140 were knights. Edward Ill's 
armies contained a higher proportion of mounted men (the 
Black Prince in the Poitiers campaign probably had about 
1,000 horse-archers in a force of about 2,600) but the core of 
knights remained small. The mixture was essential to con- 
temporary tactics, for the infantry and archers were needed 
to break the attack of the enemy's cavalry and cavalry was 
needed for pursuit. The disaster of Bannockburn was caused 
by the cavalry's muddled attempt to go it alone without proper 
support, and the victories of Maes Moydog (1295), Falkirk 
(1298), Halidon Hill (1333), Crecy (1346), and Poitiers (1356) 
were all won by a judicious mixture of the two arms. The 
graded ranks of the army were a microcosm of English rural 
society. The bulk of the numbers were archers and foot- 
soldiers, and the half-naked Welshmen whom a Flemish 
observer described with surprise in 1297. The core of the 
army was a relatively small group of noblemen and gentlemen, 
who had received the order of knighthood, were skilled in 
knightly fighting, and could afford the mail armour and fine 
horses essential to N the knight. The knight carried shield, 
lance, and sword. His basic armour was a suit of chain mail, 


reinforced with steel plates at crucial places such as knees and 
shoulders (Plates 4 and 5). During the fourteenth century the 
proportions of plating to mail were being increased until eventu- 
ally the plate armour of the fifteenth century, covering nearly 
the whole body and replacing the shield, was developed. This 
heavy equipment tended to make rapid movement and fighting 
on foot difficult. One of the main developments in warfare at 
this period was the greater use of archers on horseback, neces- 
sary for mobility in border warfare with the Scots. Yet more 
decisive was the introduction of the longbow in the reign of 
Edward I, giving greater range and firing power to the infantry 
which showed to such good effect against the French knights 
at Crecy. 

The king had the right to call on the military service of his 
subjects in two acknowledged ways. The first was the feudal 
host. The unit of feudal land tenure was the knight's fee 
(feudum), whose holder was theoretically obliged to perform 
military service as a knight for forty days in the year and to 
do the service by deputies if he held more than one fee. The 
magnates between them held thousands of knights' fees of the 
king and, though the numbers were largely fictitious when it 
came to actual service (since there were only a few hundred 
knights in the whole of England), the king could still call out 
a large body of cavalry in this way, and the feudal army was 
used a number of times, chiefly for fighting against the Welsh 
and Scots, by Edward I and Edward II. Thereafter it fell 
into disuse. The second traditional source of fighting men was 
the ancient right of the king to summon his able-bodied sub- 
jects to service on foot. This right was restated in the Statute 
of Winchester (1285) and exercised many times in the suc- 
ceeding century by commissions of Array which were issued 
to local gentry (like Shakespeare's Justice Shallow) so that 
they might levy soldiers in their shires. These rights, however, 
were not, in themselves, nearly enough to provide an army. 
The feudal host generally had to be paid at least for that part 
of its service which extended beyond the forty days' limit ; 
and, as Edward I had discovered to his cost in 1297, though 
feudal tenants were useful for war in Scotland it was very 
difficult to persuade them to fight overseas. Edward I tried 
to expand his resources of cavalry by making all prosperous 


landowners, owning land worth more than twenty pounds a 
year, liable for service on horseback, but this too was stoutly 
resisted and was one of the factors in the crisis of 1297. 
Edward II met with resistance in his efforts to make local 
communities pay for their own contingents to the levy. In 
practice they too had to be supported by the king's food and 

The three Edwards therefore increasingly developed a 
purely mercenary army of contingents, engaged by contracts 
to fight for the king during a stipulated period with fixed 
wages. This system was used for the army in France in 1297 
and perfected in the French wars of Edward III, when the 
army, although it still contained levies, consisted entirely of 
paid troops. To call this a mercenary army is not to imply it 
was regarded as less honourable and chivalrous than the feudal 
host. Edward Ill's army, though it included contingents 
of famous captains well below baronial rank, like Sir Walter 
Manny and Sir John Chandos, who were in a sense pro- 
fessional soldiers, also included leading magnates of the realm, 
fighting for pleasure and honour as well as profit. The 
mercenary army was, however, enormously expensive. All its 
members were paid wages, graded from sd a day to 2s for 
a knight and 8s od for an earl, and the total cost of a big 
expedition, including transport overseas, replacement of horses, 
and extra rewards, might be of the order of 50,000. This 
was a very large sum in the Middle Ages, over half the king's 
annual revenue, and a permanent expansion of taxation was 
needed to support the grandiose military ambitions of the 
Edwardian period. 

The king's financial resources could be divided into two 
kinds : accepted rights of his prerogative, which required no 
consent, and taxation, which had to be granted by those who 
paid it. In the first of these categories the first source of money, 
to which the king had an undoubted right, was the income 
from his estates, collected by sheriffs and escheators. The 
king was the greatest landowner in England and his estate 
could be swelled considerably by the lands of tenants-in-chief 
forfeited in time of civil war, or those which were held in 
wardship while their heirs were under age, or fell to the king 
through the extinction of the families which held them. But, 


except possibly in the later, rapacious years of Edward I, there 
does not seem to have been any serious attempt to accumulate 
a larger estate by these means ; most of the lands which fell 
to the Crown were quickly granted away to other magnates. 
Next there were the profits of justice, which again were capable 
of expansion, but not without causing discontent, as when the 
magnates in 1300 objected to Edward Fs exercise of his rights 
of holding courts to punish trespassers in the royal forests. 
The king's right of buying up supplies for his household at 
cheap rates, purveyance, was extensively used in time of war, 
but it also was liable to abuse, which caused bitterness, notably 
in the financial crises of Edward I's later years and the early 
French campaigns of Edward III. Finally there was the right, 
which the king shared with other lords, of imposing levies of 
* tallages ' on his estates and royal boroughs. This right was 
resisted during the reigns of Edward I and Edward II and 
transformed into taxation for which he had to obtain the 
consent of representatives of the boroughs. 

The principle of 6 no taxation without consent * was accepted 
before 1272, but it was left to Edward I and Edward III to 
develop an efficient system of taxation by consent to exploit 
the surpluses of their more prosperous subjects. Three main 
kinds of taxation were developed concurrently : taxation of 
the clergy, property taxes on laymen, duties on imports and 

Regular taxation of the clergy went far back into the 
thirteenth century, to the decades after King John had become 
a vassal of the Pope. Most of the money which -Edward I got 
from the Church in the earlier part of his reign had been 
intended for a Crusade and was diverted by the Pope to the 
King. After this most clerical taxes were directly granted by 
the clergy to the king, usually in the form of a tenth of their 
property. That is to say that all cathedrals, abbeys, and 
rectors paid a tenth of the assessed value of their annual 
incomes, the assessment used for most of the period covered 
by this book being the * Taxation of Pope Nicholas ', made in 
1290. Like all medieval assessments it was a gross underesti- 
mate ; the king was not really getting anything like a tenth. 
Still it was a large sum. Well before 1272 the clergy had 
developed a right to consent to their taxation in representative 


assemblies, and they were also protected by the papal rule that 
kings were not to tax their clergy without papal consent, which 
was an important element in the political crisis of 1297 ( see 
below, p. 1 08), when it was made temporarily stricter by Boni- 
face VIII's Clericis Laicos. The attitude of Rome became less 
important with declining papal prestige in the fourteenth 
century, when the question of clerical taxation was largely a 
duel between the king and the Church of England. All the 
Edwards raised a great deal of money from the Church ; 
more, in the early part of the Hundred Years 9 War, than they 
raised by the property taxes on the laity. 

The form taken by general taxation of the laity was simi- 
lar : a fraction of their movable property and income. 
Throughout the thirteenth century the Crown intermittently 
taxed the shire communities in this way. At the same time 
kings levied tallages on the royal demesne and boroughs. 
During the reign of Edward I, arbitrary tallages gave way 
to property taxes granted by representatives of the boroughs, 
and from 1294 these were amalgamated with joint grants 
from the shires. The fractions varied from time to time, 
but from the early years of Edward III they were normally 
a fifteenth of movable property in the shires and a tenth in 
the towns. This remained the standard e lay subsidy ' for the 
rest of the Middle Ages. The bulk came from the shires, 
where it was levied according to assessments of property made 
by local men in each village. Great feudatories were to 
some extent exempt and poor men with little property entirely 
exempt. Most of the money was paid by the middling land- 
owners : gentry and peasants. From 1334 the assessments for 
boroughs and villages were standardised so that a lay subsidy 
could be reckoned to yield always about the same amount, 
36,000. This was not a regular annual tax each subsidy 
had to be separately voted by a parliament, and the king could 
never rely on getting it. 

It was the particular good fortune of the kings of England 
that their kingdom was an island with a foreign trade, which 
could be easily controlled and taxed at the ports. From 
Edward I*s time they made full use of this asset, and for the rest 
of the Middle Ages duties on imports and exports were easily 
their largest single source of income. In 1275 parliament 


granted Edward a tax on exported wool, which remained 
basic and unquestioned thereafter and came to be called the 
Ancient Custom. It was 6s 8d on a sack. Wool could bear 
far heavier taxation than this. In the twelve-nineties Edward I 
made agreements with the exporting merchants for 2 a sack. 
This imposition was abolished as a result of the outcry in 1297, 
but in 1303 Edward made a comprehensive agreement with 
foreign merchants to permit the New Custom, not only on 
wool but on almost every other commodity going in and out 
of the country. The New Custom was abolished by the 
Ordinances of 131 1 but revived in 1322, and thereafter, though 
often resisted, it remained. Under Edward III the customs 
system was extended to cover native as well as alien merchants 
and brought under parliamentary control. By about 1350 all 
goods imported and exported were taxed, but by far the most 
important and profitable was the tax on wool : a bulky, 
standardised commodity, exported in huge quantities and so 
much in demand abroad that it could stand a tax of 25 per 
cen t c Albion's chief richesse ' from the king's point of view 
as well as the merchants'. 

In spite of these powers the king's income remained pre- 
carious and uncertain. Each grant of taxation had to be 
separately squeezed out of the consenting body and there were 
often long delays in collecting it. The royal treasury was 
sometimes nearly empty. To keep up a regular supply of 
money, and, even more, to raise large sums quickly for 
emergencies, the king's ability to borrow in advance on the 
proceeds of future taxation was extremely important. The 
usual way of raising loans was to promise the lender repayment 
out of future taxes (the customs were the most useful for this, 
since they were the most stable form of taxation and one in 
which the merchants themselves had a large interest), either 
by assigning the proceeds to them or by allowing them to 
c farm ' the whole tax and collect it themselves. In the late 
thirteenth century the chief lenders were merchants, especially 
Italian merchants. This was one of the main reasons why 
alien merchants were protected by the Crown. Up to 1294 
Edward depended largely on the Riccardi, a firm of merchants 
from Lucca, who controlled the customs entirely for most of 
this period and at one time and another loaned him nearly 


400,000. The Riccardi withdrew at the time of crisis when 
Edward most needed their help. They were replaced in 1299 
by the Frescobaldi of Florence, who were expelled by the 
Ordinances of 1311 because of their close ties with the court. 
When Edward II recovered control in 1322 he used the Bardi 
and Peruzzi firms, also of Florence, who lasted until they were 
bankrupted, partly by Edward Ill's failure to repay them, 
amongst other calamities, in the thirteen-forties. Thus for 
most of the central Middle Ages the king was vitally dependent 
on Italian financiers, who had a large share of the wool trade 
and put their enormous resources at his disposal, partly for 
profit and partly to secure privileges, rather like English oil 
companies in the Middle Eastern kingdoms in the twentieth 
century. Edward Ill's need for unprecedented sums at the 
opening of the Hundred Years' War, plus the collapse of the 
Italians, led him to make more use of English wool exporters. 
The Dordrecht Scheme of 1337 (see below, p. 119) was to be 
run by Englishmen and in 1339 William de la Pole raised 
about 100,000 for the king. Between 1343 and the Black 
Death of 1349 the wool customs were regularly farmed to 
syndicates of English merchants. Thereafter the manipulation 
of royal finance was generally in the hands of Englishmen, 
particularly those connected with the Company of the Staple, 
but, as we shall see, the great days of the medieval wool trade 
and of royal finance based on it were passing ; later kings 
never raised money in this way on the same scale as Edward I 
and Edward III. 


In the Middle Ages disputes in lay politics were rarely 
caused by the kind of ideological differences to which we are 
accustomed. It is nearly always a mistake, for instance, to 
interpret medieval political disputes as conflicts between those 
who believed in parliamentary government and those who did 
not. At different levels of explicitness, however, medieval 
men held important principles of government, which we must 
attempt to grasp. Well before 1300 the ideas and inspiration 
provided by ancient writers, particularly Aristotle, had led to 
the formation of sophisticated political theories, of which the 


most famous was probably that contained in the Government of 
Princes, written, partly by St Thomas Aquinas, about 1270. 
Ideas of this kind were familiar to many English scholars and 
churchmen. William of Ockham wrote several political 
treatises in the thirteen-thirties and thirteen-forties, and Walter 
Burley wrote a commentary on Aristotle's Politics about the 
same time. The scholastics believed that political society was 
a natural good ; not just a convenience or an unfortunate 
necessity, to be endured by Christians looking to the other 
world, but something divinely ordained and essential for the 
proper development of man's powers. They believed that 
kings ought to rule for their subjects' as well as their own 
benefit. ' When government is unjustly exercised by one man 
who seeks personal profit from his position instead of the good 
of the community subject to him, such a ruler is called a 
tyrant, 5 said Aquinas, and he went so far as to think that 
subjects were right to depose tyrannical kings. The theorists 
believed that kings ought to rule according to law and in 
co-operation with the other great men of the land. c Even in 
a kingdom,' writes the Oxford philosopher, Walter Burley, 
about 1340, c a plurality of men, including the king and the 
great and wise men of the kingdom, take some part in the 
government. They do as much as or even more than the king 
alone and therefore the king summons a parliament to deal 
with difficult affairs.' 

Ideas of this kind were echoed at a different level by the 
lawyers. Bracton had said in a famous passage, e The king 
himself should be under no man, but under God and under 
the law, wherefore the law makes the king. . . . There is no 
king where will dominates and not law.' And in another 
place, * The king has a superior, namely God ; secondly the 
law by which he is made king ; thirdly his court, that is the 
earls and barons, for the earls are said to be the king's com- 
panions and whoever has a companion has a master. 9 Prob- 
ably these were common sentiments of educated opinion. 
Both the philosophers and the lawyers were writing to some 
extent under the influence of classical authors and it was not 
very easy to fit the ideas of political commonwealth, evolved 
more than a millenium before on the shores of the Mediter- 
ranean, with the existing facts of lordship. The quotation of 


Aristotle has a certain strangeness in the world of Edward III. 
Nevertheless there was a conception of a political society. The 
idea of a community organised for the common good, which 
stemmed from antiquity, obtained some support from the 
deep-rooted northern ideas of a king's duty to guard his 
followers and to act justly to them. It finds expression, for 
instance, in the coronation oath of Edward II : c Sire, will you 
act in all your judgments with justice and discretion, in mercy 
and truth, according to your power ? . . . Sire, do you grant 
to hold and keep the laws and the right customs which the 
community of your realm shall have chosen and to defend and 
enforce them to the honour of God, according to your power ? * 
' I grant and promise.' 

We often associate political ideas today with revolutions, 
the conflict of ideologies, the will to change society. Medieval 
Englishmen had no theory of revolution, except the deposition 
of an out-and-out tyrant and the defence of their ancient rights. 
Their disputes were about conflicts of interest and personalities, 
for in general they subscribed to one theory of government : 
harmony and the preservation of existing rights. The ideal 
which governed political thinking, as it appears in political 
life, was the harmonious co-operation of king and people. 
This was often difficult to realise. If it was accepted that the 
king was a supreme lord, answerable only to God and the law, 
of which he was also the exponent, and yet ought to rule for 
his subjects' good, who was to decide between him and his 
people when they disagreed? The Commons could say to 
the king in 1341, * as to the Chancellor and Treasurer, the 
king can make his ministers as it shall please him and as his 
ancestors have done in all time past. But may it please him 
to make such ministers as are good and sufficient for him and 
his people.' They could not say explicitly that they would 
forte him to make good ministers, because that did not agree 
with their theory. But in practice subjects sometimes imposed 
their will on the king, even by outright rebellion. It was this 
difficulty that inspired some magnates in the troublous times 
of Edward II to take refuge in the idea that the person of the 
king was separate from the abstract Crown, so that the former 
could be coerced to preserve the interests of the latter ; but 
it was not a theory which found general acceptance. Though 


they attacked and deposed kings in practice, medieval poli- 
ticians generally stuck to the view that government should be 
a harmonious concord of parts in which no one part should 
overrule the others. To express this they frequently used the 
metaphor of the * body politic 3 . In 1337 the Bishop of Exeter 
wrote to the king in a letter defending his rights : c The 
substance of the nature of the Grown is principally in the king, 
as head, and in the peers of the land as members, who hold 
of him by certain homage, and in particular the prelates ; 
and this is so attached to the Crown that it cannot be severed 
without division of the realm. . . .' Most commonly the idea 
was expressed in political documents as the co-operation of 
the king and the community of the realm, notably, for instance, 
in the Statute of York which revoked the Ordinances in 1322 : 
6 The things which are to be established for the estate of our 
lord the king, and his heirs, and for the estate of the realm 
and the people, are to be treated in parliaments, by our lord 
the king, and by the assent of the prelates, earls, and barons 
and the community of the realm.' It is instructive that this 
statement of the importance of parliamentary co-operation 
came from the king in a moment of strength, asserting that 
his right to be a party to political decisions had been 
trampled on while he was weak, and not from his opponents ; 
for it suggests that what he was saying was common doctrine 
and not the policy of a faction. We cannot define precisely 
what the c community of the realm ' included, nor indeed 
several other words in that famous passage, but its essential 
meaning is clear enough. Good government was a concord of 
king and magnates, not the domination of one by the other ; 
in particular it involved the meeting of king and people in 

The history of parliament goes back before 1272 and is 
connected in its origins with the Great Councils, where earlier 
kings consulted and judged together with their magnates and 
prelates. After the magnates had insisted on it in the Pro- 
visions of Oxford (1258), parliament met fairly regularly, 
generally about twice a year in the earlier part of Edward Fs 
reign. Its composition varied but it generally included the 
king and his council and great individuals, such as earls and 
bishops, and its functions were political discussion and the 


giving of judgment. Parliament was partly what we should 
call a political assembly. Edward I wrote to the Pope in 1275 
that he would take counsel with his magnates in parliament 
and that he could not do anything affecting the rights of the 
realm without such counsel. Edward's chief statutes were 
promulgated in parliaments. Parliament was also a supreme 
court of justice, an assembly where grievances were aired and 
wrongs righted. In 1285 *he Bishop of Winchester wrote to 
another bishop, asking him to suspend action in a dispute 
relating to the ownership of the goods of a suicide priest e until 
the next parliament where we may be more fully informed of 
the law or custom '. The famous quarrel between the Earls 
of Hereford and Gloucester was settled in a parliament in 1292, 
and innumerable petitions were heard about lesser cases. 
Sometimes the assembly was enlarged by the presence of 
knights of the shire and burgesses. Knights attended to grant 
the Ancient Custom in 1275 and to hear the judgment on 
David ap Gruffydd in 1282. 

Scholars have argued over the problem whether parliament 
was essentially a court or a political assembly to discuss action 
and grant taxes. It is to some extent an unreal question, for 
medieval men did not distinguish clearly between judicial and 
political affairs, but the truth is probably that it became in 
course of time rather less a court and rather more a taxing and 
debating assembly than it had been in 1272. The legal book 
called Fleta, written about 1300, says, ' The king has his court 
in his council in his parliaments J , and most of the documents 
which have survived from Edwardian parliaments, written on 
the c parliament rolls 5 by the clerks of the parliaments as a 
record of the business transacted, are petitions. There was a 
regular procedure as early as 1278 by which the less important 
petitions were handed to receivers, who sorted them into 
categories to be dealt with by the Chancellor, Treasurer, and 
justices. A parliament was also clearly an occasion for debate. 
The writs from Chancery, which summoned magnates, knights, 
and burgesses, regularly stated that they were to treat with the 
king and Council of the business of the king and his realm. 
Finally, it became the occasion for the granting of taxes and, 
while a great many people continued to use parliament as a 
supreme court, there is no doubt that the king's need to 


summon it for taxation was the chief historical cause for the 
form and importance which it assumed from the last decade 
of the thirteenth century. The power of holding the purse- 
strings was as effective then as now. This factor caused the 
change in the character of parliament during the most impor- 
tant phase of its development at the end of the reign of 
Edward I. 

To explain this, we must again refer to the crisis in Edward's 
affairs caused by his military expeditions and huge expenditure 
in the years around 1297, when he was forced to demand money 
from his subjects with unusual frequency. In 1294 the mer- 
chants granted him the maltote on wool in addition to the 
Ancient Custom, an assembly of clergy very reluctantly granted 
him a half of clerical revenues for a year, assemblies of knights 
and towns granted a tenth and a sixth. In a parliament in 
1295 the knights, towns, and clergy granted, respectively, an. 
eleventh, a seventh, and a tenth. In a parliament in 1296 the 
laity granted a twelfth and an eighth, while the clergy, taking 
their stand on Clericis Laicos, and already well mulcted, refused 
money. In 1297 the King took a forced loan from the mer- 
chants and persuaded a thinly attended lay assembly to grant 
him an eighth and a fifth, which the insurgent barons tried to 
prevent the Exchequer from collecting. This tax was replaced 
in a parliament in the autumn of that year by a ninth, amid 
discussions which led to the Confirmation of the Charters. 
We shall see in the political history that there was bitter 
division in the realm. The constitutional results were far- 
reaching. Firstly, the Confirmation of the Charters accepted 
for the first time that all taxation should be granted by the 
whole community of the realm, not just the merchants or shires 
which paid particular taxes. There is no mention of parlia- 
ment in it and the decision was in any case quickly ignored by 
the King, but it was the principle which later grew into 
parliamentary control of finance. Secondly, parliaments 
ceased from this period to be summoned with the regularity 
of the earlier years. They met at haphazard intervals, gener- 
ally whenever the king needed them for money. Thirdly, the 
Commons first emerged as normal members of parliament. 
There were two kinds of Commons. All cities and some 
boroughs were each ordered to send two burgesses. In each 


shire the sheriff was ordered to arrange the election of two 
knights in the county court to represent the whole community 
of the shire. The county court was one of the ancient com- 
munal courts of the early Middle Ages. It had now lost many 
of its judicial powers and was not very important in the 
judicial structure, but it still met occasionally, attended by 
many of the leading gentry and freemen. It was the growing 
connection of the gentry and the city burgesses with the 
powerful political assembly of parliament which produced the 
change from the aristocratic meeting envisaged in the Pro- 
visions of Oxford (the constitution which had been imposed 
on Henry III by the magnates in 1258) to the fourteenth- 
century parliaments, in which knights and merchants dared 
to stand up and criticise the king's ministers. The * Model ' 
parliament of 1295 included all those whom Edward ever 
summoned to his parliaments : councillors, magnates, bishops, 
proctors elected to represent the lesser clergy, knights, and 
burgesses. To the parliament of 1305 were summoned 95 
bishops and abbots, 145 representatives of the lesser clergy, 9 
earls, 95 barons, 74 knights, 200 burgesses, and 33 councillors.' 
This parliament granted no taxation but dealt with Scots 
affairs and some more important judicial matters, and all but 
the council were allowed to go home before it ended. The 
composition of a parliament was not yet fixed and its main 
business was not always taxation, but it came increasingly to 
include both lords and commons. 

The parliaments of Edward IPs reign still had varying 
membership and functions. Though it was not a period of 
extravagant royal demands for money and there was therefore 
no marked growth in the importance of the Commons, two 
striking expressions of the wider constitutional importance of 
parliaments come from this reign. The first is the unique 
document called the Modus Tenendi Parliamentum ( e the way of 
holding a parliament '), which was probably written in the 
middle years of the reign. The Modus is not a description of 
parliament but the theory of a well-informed person about 
how it ought to be organised. It says that parliaments should 
include prelates, magnates, knights, and burgesses, that knights 
should have a greater voice than earls in the granting of taxes, 
and that parliaments ought to be used for settling difficult 


matters of war and peace, both outside the realm and within. 
The second is the activity of the parliament which deposed 
Edward II in 1327. Though it was not summoned by the 
King, it included magnates, prelates, and Commons. The 
deposition was announced to the King by a deputation of two 
earls, three bishops, four barons, four friars, four knights, and 
perhaps representatives of the towns. In one sense this was 
merely a revolutionary assembly, but it regarded itself as 
representing the c community of the realm ' and called itself a 

In the reign of Edward III parliament finally assumed a 
form which was to endure into the Tudor age, and powers 
which were to make it of outstanding political importance at 
the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth 
century, before they receded in the changing conditions of the 
Lancastrian period. First of all it became, unlike some of the 
Continental parliaments, definitely a lay body. Although 
Edward I had successfully initiated the summoning of the 
clergy and later kings followed suit, the clergy had from the 
first intermittently questioned the King's right to summon 
them to a predominantly lay assembly. Archbishop Winchelsey 
insisted in 1311 that they were not bound to obey the King's 
summons unless it was reinforced by the Archbishop's order. 
In the reign of Edward II they sometimes joined parliaments 
and sometimes met separately in their convocations. There 
was also the difficulty that they resisted attendance at assem- 
blies outside their provinces and, since there were two provinces 
in England, it was impossible for all to meet at the same place. 
From about 1337 the King gave way to clerical resistance. 
From that time onwards bishops and abbots attended parlia- 
ment as barons of the king, but the lesser clergy were allowed 
to meet separately in their convocations. This did not much 
affect the granting of subsidies, and convocation often met at 
the same time as parliament for the same purpose, but it meant 
that parliament now represented largely the interests of laymen. 

While it lost control of clerical taxes, parliament gained 
control of the customs. This had been foreshadowed by the 
Confirmation of the Charters in 1297 but was not enforced for 
half a century after. All three Edwards found that it was 
easier to make bargains with the more important of the 


merchants, who actually exported wool, than to seek consent in 
a large and critical parliament. Edward II held at least two 
assemblies of merchants, one of which consented to the 
reimposition of the New Custom in 1322. Edward III held 
several merchant assemblies to arrange his financial schemes 
at the beginning of the Hundred Years' War. In the years 
1336-41, as in 1294-7, heavy financial burdens stimulated 
opposition and parliamentary growth. Three lay subsidies 
were granted in 1336. A parliament in 1338 allowed Edward 
to purvey half the wool of England for his schemes. When 
parliament was asked to give another lay subsidy, the Commons 
eventually responded with the * ninth sheaf, fleece and lamb ', 
on condition that the extra customs allowed by the merchants 
should cease after a year and be renewed only with parlia- 
mentary consent. This was the first definite application of the 
Confirmation of the Charters to parliament and, like the 
Confirmation, it was accepted by the King and then ignored. 
In the next decade the Commons returned several times to the 
attack. In 1351 they petitioned that * as the tax of 403. on the 
sack of wool which the merchants have granted the king falls 
in no wise on the merchants but on the people, that it may 
please the king for the relief of his people that the said 403. be 
not henceforth demanded or levied, and that commission be 
not made for such special grants except in full parliament and 
that if any such grant be made outside parliament it may be 
held of no effect.' Though it is doubtful whether the 
Commons were as hard hit as they said, the King eventually 
acquiesced. From this time customs were granted in parlia- 
ment and there were no more assemblies of merchants. 

After 1327 the Commons' right to be present in every 
parliament was recognised. In return for grants of money 
they expected their grievances to be listened to and they 
presented them in the form of the Commons Petition. The 
early parliaments had received a mass of petitions from indi- 
vidual persons and communities. c Singular petitions ' of this 
kind were still accepted and dealt with by receivers and triers, 
but there was a falling off in their number and importance, 
partly because of the growing jurisdiction of Chancery in cases 
which could not be dealt with by the courts of King's Bench 
and Common Pleas. Parliament was no longer the high court 


for all and sundry that it had been in the days of Edward I. 
A typical Commons petition (1373) began with a formal 
request for the maintenance of Magna Carta, then proceeded 
to some requests of general interest, such as that regulations 
should be made about the size of cloths sold and that bad 
Scots money should not be allowed to depreciate the value of 
English currency ; then included some desires of less general 
interest, such as that the fishing on the river Brent should not 
be spoilt for the men of Middlesex. The Commons petition 
included those things which the Commons desired for the 
general good and some more particular requests which they 
were prepared to sponsor. The successful petitions became 
statutes and this is the origin of parliamentary legislation by 
Bill of the Commons, converted into Act. 

A parliament still resembled a tribal council in some 
respects, rather than a modern House of Commons. Thomas 
of Lancaster in the reign of Edward II had retainers, whose 
duty it was to support him with armed men when he attended, 
and several parliaments in the fourteenth century were over- 
awed or interrupted by armed force. But the characteristic 
procedure was now in being. It began with a solemn address, 
often from the Chancellor, explaining the king's needs. Then 
the whole body split up into two houses. One house consisted 
of the lords who had been individually summoned because of 
their personal importance the earls, the barons, bishops, and 
the abbots of greater abbeys. The Commons deliberated 
separately and negotiated with king and lords until agreement 
was reached over the grant of money to be made. It was 
generally over in a few weeks and the knights went back to 
their shires, many of them never to attend a parliament again. 

5 England and the Celtic Lands 


THE nearest neighbours of England are the Celtic lands of 
Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. In the thirteenth century each 
of these had a population, a language, and native institutions 
entirely its own and separate from England, but each of them 
had been in different ways affected since the Norman Conquest 
by the expansion of the Norman aristocracy beyond England. 
Much of eastern Wales had been conquered by English lords 
who now ruled great Marcher lordships and had imported 
English colonists. Much of Ireland had been conquered and 
colonised in the same way. Southern Scotland, though inde- 
pendent, was ruled by a Norman aristocracy, many of whom, 
like Bruce and Balliol, had ties and lands south of the border. 
The English penetration into Wales at least was connected 
with the prevalent expansion of population and land hunger 
of the thirteenth century. And, like the colonisation of the 
land at home, this expansion into the remoter parts of the 
British Isles was carried to its furthest limits at the end of that 
century. Edward I conquered Wales, made a bold attempt to 
subdue Scotland and wielded more power in Ireland than his 
predecessors and successors. 

At the beginning of his reign in 1272, Edward's most 
dangerous rival (and an old enemy) was Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, 
Prince of Wales, who had profited from the disorders of the 
Barons' Wars of Henry Ill's reign to build up a great princi- 
pality, recognised by the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267. The 
east and south of what is now Wales were held by English 
Marcher lords like the Clare earls of Gloucester, who held the 
lordship of Glamorgan ; the Bohun earls of Hereford, who 
held Brecon ; and Roger Mortimer, who had a lordship 
around Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire and lands farther 
west in Radnorshire. The modern counties of Caernarvon, 


Merioneth, Flint, and much of Denbigh, Montgomery, and 
Radnor, however, formed a united bloc, held of the king of 
England by feudal homage but virtually independent. It 
might have continued so if Llywelyn had not been ambitious 
and offensively undiplomatic. His new enmity with Edward 
flowed from several sources of discord. Firstly he would not 
do homage to the new King, because he suspected or affected 
to suspect that Edward was supporting his brother David who 
was plotting against him whilst in exile in England. Summonses 
from Edward and conditions from Llywelyn were exchanged 
throughout the years 1273-6, the Prince of Wales becoming 
more and more clearly in Edward's eyes a rebellious vassal. 
Then in 1275 Edward's ships intercepted Eleanor de Montfort, 
the daughter of another old enemy, on her way from France 
to marry Llywelyn. The result was war in 1277. 

In this, his first major aggressive campaign, Edward revealed 
immediately the quality of efficient determination which made 
him a great soldier. One historian has thought that his army 
was c the best controlled, as it was the best led, that had been 
gathered in Britain since the Norman Conquest '* Certainly 
it put all the many previous assaults on Wales into the shade. 
The enemy was restricted and softened in advance by a three- 
pronged attack directed partly by Marcher lords : by Roger 
Mortimer and the Earl of Lincoln into the upper Severn 
valley, by the Earl of Hereford into Brecon, and the Earl of 
Lancaster into Cardiganshire. By the time Edward's main 
army moved west from the Dee in the summer, prepared to 
overthrow Llywelyn and replace him by his brothers, David 
and Owen, the Marches had been cleared of the Welsh. The 
army of about 5,000 foot, partly feudal and partly paid, 
advanced into Gwynedd along the north coast, accompanied 
by labourers to cut roads and with a fleet of ships from the 
Cinque Ports, standing off the coast. Llywelyn was overawed 
rather than defeated and, in November 1277, made the Treaty 
of Conway, by which he gave up his acquisitions in the 
Marches and the four c cantrefs ' (ancient Welsh divisions) of 
Perfeddwlad, to the east of Snowdonia, and was restricted 
more narrowly to the north-west of Wales. He bound himself 
to Edward by a large fine and did the homage which he had 

1 F. M. Po\vicke, The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 (1953), p. 4" 


'* Extent of Uywlyrfe Principality, 1267 
zzr Edward /'$ Principality 
4- C/zttf'/ 1 ' Edwardian castles 

The Edwardian conquest of Wales 

previously refused. In return he was allowed to keep the title 
of Prince of Wales as a feudatory of the King and to marry 
Eleanor de Montfort. The Treaty held for over four years. 

Welsh independence was in any case doomed in the long 
run by Edward's insistence on his rights as overlord, backed 
by an England more united, wealthy, and powerful than ever 
before. One clause in the Treaty, however, was the source of 
bitter discord, which led to a rapid and decisive climax. 
The many property disputes in the lands between the princi- 
pality and the Marches were to be decided by English judges 


according to Marcher or Welsh law, as was appropriate in 
each particular area. There were many cases and the diffi- 
culty was often to decide which law was appropriate, for these 
were lands where English and Welsh lordship had flowed back 
and forth during more than a century. One case in particular 
concerned Llywelyn's own claim to the large district of 
Arwystli on the upper Severn. He accused Edward and the 
judges of bad faith and the judicial question increasingly 
poisoned the air. The final outbreak was started once again 
by David. Edward had given him land in the four cantrefs 
but he had a discontented and troublesome spirit. In March 
1282 he captured the Justiciar of north Wales, Roger Clifford, 
in Hawarden Castle. His brother Llywelyn and all free Wales 
rose with him. The Earl of Gloucester was defeated at 
Llandeilo but the last act in the loss of Welsh independence 
had begun. 

Edward collected a large mercenary army and, in the 
summer of 1282, began again the invasion of north Wales 
from Rhuddlan, He quickly occupied the four cantrefs. 
Llywelyn does not seem to have been conscious of the danger. 
He refused the offer, made through Archbishop Pecham, of an 
English earldom in return for his submission and had an 
encouraging success in November against an English force 
which tried to cross from Anglesey into Snowdonia. But he 
was killed in December by the Marchers, while invading the 
lordship of Builth. North Wales was then occupied fairly 
quickly. The last stronghold, at Bere Castle, in the wilds 
near Cader Idris, was taken in April 1283. David was cap- 
tured in June and executed at the Shrewsbury Parliament in 
October, and the new order of a Wales without an independent 
principality was proclaimed in the Statute of Rhuddlan in 
1284. This was not quite the end of Edward's troubles in 
Wales. There were two more substantial revolts before the 
end of his reign. While he was abroad in 1287, the last of the 
descendants of the great twelfth-century lords of south Wales, 
Rhys ap Maredudd, the holder of a big lordship in modern 
Carmarthenshire, rebelled because of judicial grievances and 
had to be put down with a large army. It was quickly done. 
At the end of 1294, when Edward's attention was again turned 
towards France, and Wales was denuded of troops for the 


biggest overseas effort of the reign, there was another revolt. 
This time it was more general and serious and demanded a 
temporary abandonment of Edward's Continental plans. After 
a serious invasion the chief rebel, Madog ap Llywelyn, was 
defeated at Maes Moydog in March 1295. The essential 
conquest of Wales had been achieved, however, in the years 
1277-84 ; and it is notable that this aim, which had eluded 
so many English kings, was reached so quickly. 

In a sense it was Edward's most solid and lasting achieve- 
ment. The settlement of 1284 laid down the shape of Wales 
as it was to be until Henry VIII's Act of Union of 1536. 
Wales remained a land of big lordships, unlike the manors of 
England. The north and west were held directly by the King 
and administered for him by the Justices of north Wales 
(Caernarvonshire, Merionethshire, and Anglesey) and south 
Wales (Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire). English crimi- 
nal law was introduced into the new shires and hundreds, but 
the Welsh tenants continued to hold their land in the old 
Welsh fashion. The rest of Wales was divided as before between 
Marcher lordships, each generally consisting of a large area of 
country held by Welsh tenants and centring on a nucleus of 
a castle with an English manor or borough. Many of them 
were very extensive territories and their holders great magnates. 
The Principality was surrounded with a line of fortresses, 
which gave the Crown an enduring grip on the country. In 
the castles which Edward built at Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth, 
Aberystwyth, Conway, Harlech, Caernarvon, and Beaumaris, 
during and after his campaigns of conquest, medieval military 
architecture reached its summit. The great mason who 
designed them, Master James of St George, summed up all the 
long experience of past development and, since they were built 
towards the end of the age of siege warfare, they were never 
surpassed. The Edwardian castle was at the furthest remove 
from the old, simple plan of a single, impregnable keep. A 
large central space was surrounded with a very thick stone 
curtain wall. Built into the wall at intervals there were 
massive towers, from which the approaching enemy could be 
swept with fire. The main rooms were generally incorporated 
into a particularly huge gatehouse tower, defended against 
entry by a complicated series of drawbridges, gates, and 


arrow-slits. The system can still be seen, in almost its original 
magnificence, at Conway and Harlech, rising sheer from steep 
cliffs ; at Rhuddlan and Beaumaris (Plate 3), which are on 
lower ground, with outer moats and walls ; and at Caernarvon, 
with its splendid gatehouse. At most of these places Edward 
also established new boroughs, sheltering under the castle walls 
and themselves defended by walls. In this way he further 
consolidated his hold on the conquered country. 


Most of Edward's wars were fought ostensibly about the 
principles of feudal overlordship. This is not to say that he 
was fighting only to assert principles, but that the disputes of 
his age took this form, as today they might take the form of 
quarrels about national boundaries. In the thirteenth century 
kings, with growing powers, were everywhere in Europe turn- 
ing their vague rights of suzerainty into clearly defined king- 
doms. The political boundaries of modern Europe emerged 
out of this process. In Wales Edward fought to assert his own 
overlordship ; in France as a feudatory against the overlord. 
In Scotland he also fought on these terms, in one of the classic 
cases of feudal principle, and here he stretched both his rights 
and his material resources further than they would go. 

Scotland began to be important to Edward in 1289. In 
that year an agreement was made for the marriage of the Bang's 
son, Prince Edward, to Margaret, c the Maid of Norway *, 
heiress to the throne of Scotland, vacant since the death of 
Alexander III in 1286. Such a marriage would have brought 
the two kingdoms close together ; Edward II would have 
ruled, like James I, in both countries. But the Scots nobles, 
naturally jealous of their independence, were anxious to insist 
on the maintenance of a complete separateness and this was 
embodied in the Treaty of Brigham (1290), which settled the 
marriage with the proviso that no Scots parliamentary or 
judicial business was to be done in England- The situation 
was unexpectedly altered in the same year by the death of the 
Maid of Norway, the only descendant of Alexander III. All 
the claims to the throne depended on relationships going far 
back into the past. Two claimants, both Anglo-Scots noble- 



men, stood out from the others : John Balliol and Robert 
Bruce. The problem was to decide between them and it 
was this that first made Edward's overlordship in Scotland 
important. That overlordship had always been vague, 
depending on an undefined homage which had been made 
customarily by the kings of Scotland to the kings of England, 

MerHvcn * 

Stirling Bridge S^ 


t Andrews 

Linurh 5 ow 'Edinburgh 
* Glasgow Hahdon Hill 

"Roxburgh. \* HomildonHill 

X OtterburnX 

Carlisle .'''*'' Purhorr 

of Durham 

/Isle of Man 

The Scots War of Independence 

as by Alexander III to Edward I. Now it had to be defined 
and this provided the occasion for bitter war. 

The Scots nobility in general turned to Edward as arbitrator 
and he met them in May 1291 at Norham on the English side 
of the border, where he was clearly accepted as c Supreme 
Lord *, who should both settle the succession dispute and take 
charge of the country during the interval before a new king 
was chosen, Edward took the kingdom into his own hands, 
progressed through part of it to accept the more important 
castles and announced that his writ would run in Scotland as 
in England. He also set up a court of arbitration to deal with 


the c Great Cause ' between Bruce and Balliol. Eventually, 
in November 1292, the verdict was given in BallioFs favour, 
after recourse to English law to settle the principles of suc- 
cession, and the kingdom was surrendered to him. But now 
the lasting effects of the interregnum were seen. Not all 
Scotsmen loved Balliol ; it was difficult for some of them to 
give up the advantage of looking to Edward as king, and 
tempting for Edward to keep some of the direct power which 
he had temporarily exercised. Most of the Scots nobility 
wished to keep to the principle of separateness enunciated in 
the Treaty of Brigham, but not all. People went on carrying 
their judicial claims to Westminster, and it happened in 
October 1293 that Balliol found himself, the King of Scotland, 
summoned to parliament at Westminster to answer a plea 
by one of his own subjects, Macduff of Fife. Edward 
insisted on the acceptance of his own superior jurisdiction as 

The case was never settled, for Edward's great war with 
France, starting in 1294, gave Balliol and the Scots the oppor- 
tunity to treat him as an enemy and to ally with the French. 
They did this in October 1295. Just as he had to sacrifice the 
French plans of 1295 to the necessity of subduing Wales, 
Edward had to give up the year 1296 to the conquest of 
9 Scotland. Like the earlier conquest of Wales, this operation 
was carried out with great speed and efficiency. The English 
army assembled at Newcastle in March 1296 and marched up 
the east coast, through Berwick, supported by a fleet standing 
off-shore. In April the Scots were decisively defeated at 
Dunbar and the way was open. Edward marched through 
the Lowlands, received Balliol's abdication, and rapidly jour- 
neyed round the Highlands before bringing back to England 
as a trophy the stone of Scone on which the kings of Scotland 
were traditionally crowned. In August he held a parliament 
at Berwick, at which he received the homage of the Scots and 
named the Earl of Surrey as guardian of the kingdom in his 

For the first time one man was direct ruler of all Britain ; 
but the Scottish settlement, unlike the conquest of Wales, was 
not to endure. Scotland was much too big and distant to be 
subdued by such a rapid and superficial invasion, and the rest 


of the reign was in fact to be occupied with repeated and 
unsuccessful attempts to subject the Scots. 

The first revolt came out of the blue in the autumn of 1297, 
while Edward was preoccupied with the crisis in England and 
preparations for the invasion of France, and while Surrey and 
some of the chief noble supporters of the English regime were 
out of Scotland. It was led by a gentleman, not one of the 
great magnates, called William Wallace, with a good deal of 
miscellaneous support, including the adherence of Robert 
Bruce, grandson of the Bruce who had claimed the throne in 
the Great Cause, and the inheritor of his claim. A small 
English expedition in the summer persuaded Bruce and his 
friends to abandon the rebellion and seemed to have restored 
order, but Wallace's leadership was seriously underestimated. 
In September Surrey himself was defeated at Stirling Bridge 
and by the end of the year Wallace was harrying the north of 

From 1297 to I 34 t* 16 situation in Scotland remained 
confused. Some English garrisons and administrators remained 
and some Scots leaders were loyal to Edward, but the English 
hold on the country was in reality very slight and the fortunes 
of war fluctuated. In the year after Wallace's rising, 1298, 
Edward himself led a serious invasion, defeated the Scots at 
Falkirk and destroyed Wallace's leadership of the country, but 
captured neither Wallace nor Bruce. Substantial English 
invasions were necessary again in 1300, 1301, and 1303. At 
the beginning of 1304 Edward was able to come to terms with 
the bulk of the Scots nobility, including the powerful John 
Comyn the Red of Badenoch, and to hold a parliament at 
St Andrews, in which he received their homage and took up 
the reins of government again. The capture of Wallace in 
1305 ended this period of Scots resistance. In that year a new 
administration was set up, to be headed by John of Brittany, 
Earl of Richmond, Edward's nephew, and a Scots council. 
Edward seemed to have restored the situation of 1296 : direct 
rule of Scotland with a largely separate administration but not 
complete independence of the English parliament and council. 

However, the work was destroyed again equally suddenly 
and unexpectedly. In February 1306 took place the sudden 
quarrel of Comyn and Bruce at Dumfries and Comyn's murder. 


Bruce, who had hesitated for years to take an extreme position, 
appeared at the head of a powerful movement of independence 
and was crowned King of Scotland in March. His decision 
was ultimately to be decisive. He was defeated by Prince 
Edward and William de Valence at Methven in the first year 
of his reign, but escaped to rise again and turn the tables on 
Valence in 1307. King Edward was about to cross the border 
in yet another attempt to restore his power when he died in 
July 1307. Scotland was his greatest blunder. Its vast areas 
of wild country made it impossible to quell all the centres of 
resistance and the hopeless enterprise prevented Edward from 
concentrating his energies, like his most illustrious descendants, 
on the richer opportunities of glory in France. 


It was probably to the ultimate advantage of both England 
and Scotland that Edward II was not man enough to continue 
wholeheartedly with the struggle begun by his father. If he 
had been it might well have resulted in a partial conquest, 
like Henry IPs invasion of Ireland, which would have bred 
centuries of strife. As it was, the strength of Bruce, opposed 
to the weakness of Edward II, produced a decisive defeat for 
England. During the years 1307-14 the English remained in 
partial control of southern Scotland, holding important castles, 
like Perth, Stirling, Edinburgh, and Berwick, which gave them 
a commanding position even in a hostile countryside, and 
several expeditions were sent to keep the Scots in order. But 
Bruce's strength gradually grew. He was able to defeat some 
of the invaders and, when their backs were turned, to advance 
to the border and harry Northumberland and Durham. The 
English strongholds fell one by one from 1312 to 1314 Perth, 
Linlithgow, Roxburgh, Edinburgh. In 1313 Bruce captured 
the Isle of Man. The last major English effort was made in 
the summer of 1314. Advancing through the Lowlands 
towards Stirling, the English army met the Scots at Bannock- 
burn and there the English nobility, blundering bravely but 
foolishly up the hill against the Scots, met one of their worst 
defeats. Amongst the many knights that were killed was the 
greatest English earl, Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. 


The restoration of English power in Scotland was not a 
serious possibility after this. Fighting continued, however, 
intermittently until 1323, with the Scots on the whole on the 
offensive. In 1318 they captured the castle of Berwick, which 
controlled the border, and were able to raid easily far down 
into Yorkshire. The border squabbles of these years were 
indecisive in the growth of relations between England and 
Scotland. But it is vital to remember that Edward IPs reign 
at home was accompanied by a constant background of 
humiliation in the north. Edward was not even able to keep 
his own nobles united against the Scots menace. The Earl of 
Lancaster, his chief critic amongst the magnates and now the 
most powerful earl, was several times in alliance with the 
Scots and did much to frustrate Edward's attempts to deal 
with them. Lancaster's last rising in 1322, which ended in his 
defeat at Boroughbridge, was backed by the Scots. Finally in 
1323 Edward was able to make the Truce of Newcastle, which 
put an end to the fighting in his reign. During the minority 
of Edward III a last unsuccessful attempt was made to invade 
Scotland before the Treaty of Northampton in 1328, in which 
Bruce was finally recognised as independent King of Scotland. 

King Robert's son, David II (1329-71), was faced by a 
more formidable opponent in Edward III and his long reign 
was clouded by the contest. Edward's victory at Halidon Hill 
in 1334 resulted in the exile of David, his replacement for a 
few years by Edward Balliol, and the recovery by the English 
of some territory north of the border. In 1346 David was 
defeated and captured by an army of northern English mag- 
nates at Neville's Cross and kept in captivity until 1357. But 
after Halidon Hill Edward turned his attention almost com- 
pletely from Scotland *to France. There was a general 
diversion from the Celtic lands, which had accounted for the 
greater art of the serious fighting by kings and nobles in the 
years 1272-1334, to the attractions of war on the Continent. 

This did not end the enmity between the two kingdoms. 
The constant friction on the border sometimes flared into 
conflicts of national importance. Richard II took an abortive 
expedition as far as Edinburgh in 1385. An invading Scots 
army defeated the English forces led by the Percies at the 
battle of Otterburn in 1388 and the Percies got their revenge 


at Homildon Hill in 1402. For much of the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries substantial forces, paid for by the royal 
Exchequer, were maintained on the Scots border under the 
command of Wardens of the Marches, usually leading nobles 
of that area like the Percies or the Nevilles. But the issue of 
Scots independence had been decisively settled under Edward II 
and the settlement was accepted in practice by Edward III 
and his successors. No later medieval king took up the 
struggle in earnest. There was scarcely a year without border 
fighting and many English expeditions were sent into the 
Lowlands, but much of the fighting after 1334 belongs essen- 
tially to the annals of border warfare in the spirit of the ballad : 

England and us have been lang at feud ; 
Ablins we'll light on some bootie. 1 

Wales was entirely conquered and remained so, with the 
exception of the revolt of Glyndwr at the beginning of the 
fifteenth century. Ireland, like Scotland, saw a decline of 
English power in the fourteenth century, but there a more 
confused situation was created by the mixture of stubbornness 
on the part of the settlers and half-heartedness on the part of 
the English kings. In Edward I's reign Ireland, like Wales, 
was a country half subdued by English invaders. The eastern 
half of the country was partially conquered and ruled by 
English lords, some of them great men, such as Richard de 
Burgh, the c Red Earl 5 of Ulster. These men owed allegiance 
to the king of England, who was represented by a Justiciar 
with a Chancery and Exchequer at Dublin. The western half 
was still in the hands of Irish chieftains and the boundary 
between English and Irish was uncertain and fluctuating. 
Edward initiated the system of holding Irish parliaments on 
the English model with representatives of the shires and made 
some attempt to expand the area in which English law was 
recognised, as in Wales, but he never set foot in the country. 
His reign was the high- water mark of English expansion and 
of control by the king's representatives, and was followed by 
decline. In 1315, the year after Bannockburn, Edward Bruce, 
brother of the King of Scotland, took an army to Ireland and 
roused many of the Irish and some of the English lords to an 
1 See E. Miller, War in the North (1960) 


insurrection which at one time threatened Dublin itself. After 
the death of Edward Bruce in 1318, English power was 
partially restored under the leadership of Roger Mortimer (a 
great landowner in Ireland as well as in the Welsh Marches) 
as Lieutenant of Edward II, but never to its old extent. Irish 
pressure on English colonists continued in the reign of 
Edward III. A more serious attempt to strengthen English 
power was made by Lionel, Duke of Clarence (Edward IIPs 
son and also Earl of Ulster by inheritance from the extinct 
de Burghs) as Lieutenant in the years 1361-7. He issued the 
Statutes of Kilkenny, which attempted to confirm English 
customs and exclude the Irish from the counties of the east and 
thus to stabilise the boundaries of a reduced colony. 

The only king in the later Middle Ages to take a serious 
personal interest in Ireland was Richard II. During an 
expedition which he led himself in the years 1394-5 he per- 
suaded the independent Irish chiefs to do homage to him, and 
seems to have contemplated a new order in which English and 
Irish would acknowledge the peaceful division of the land and 
would all accept his overlordship. But Richard's second 
expedition in 1399 was cut short by the rebellion at home 
which cost him his throne and his plan had no substantial 
result. It was the last attempt until Tudor times to restore 
English power. The Irish chieftains continued to hold a great 
part of the country. Lieutenants representing the English 
king were regularly appointed but little effective power was 
exercised from Westminster, and the Anglo-Irish nobility, 
headed by the great families of Fitzgerald, earls of Kildare, 
and Butler, earls of Ormond, increasingly managed their own 

6 The Politics of England under 
the Three Edwards 


WE HAVE seen something of Edward I's struggles with 
Wales and Scotland. It is now time to turn to the internal 
politics of the kingdom of England and to the wars with 
France, which imposed a much greater strain on royal resources 
than fighting in Britain and had therefore a more critical effect 
on the relations of the monarchy with its subjects at home. 
When Henry III died in November 1272 his son, Edward I, 
was in Sicily on his way back from Syria. The last English 
king to go on Crusade was thirty-three years old and already 
a famous man in the European world. His early manhood 
had been passed in a time of adventurous politics which had 
given him the opportunity to establish a reputation as a suc- 
cessful soldier. He had saved his father's kingdom from the 
rebellion of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, in 1265. 
Then he had taken the Cross and led an army to Acre. 
Crusading projects remained alive and, after his conquest of 
Wales, Edward intended to lead an army again to the Holy 
Land. But enterprises nearer home claimed his attention. 
He never went to the East again but spent his long reign in 
Britain and France. Edward I did not repeat his more 
romantic father's mistake of allowing distant possibilities in the 
Mediterranean to divert his attention from the problems and 
opportunities of his own dominions. The persistent effort at 
expansion and defence on his own borders in Wales, in 
Scotland, and in Gascony is the first thing for which his 
reign is important. 

Its second great importance lies in the remarkable develop- 
ment of institutions, and this, too, undoubtedly owed much to 
Edward's character. Medieval writings do not give us much 
insight in depth into the characters of kings, for they were 



represented as far as possible as embodiments of traditional 
virtues. In Edward Fs case this may have been less mis- 
leading than usual. He was, outwardly at least, a magnifi- 
cently successful conventional man. He was a great and 
active fighter from youth to death, fi erect as a palm, he main- 
tained the lightness of youth in mounting a horse or running. 9 
In politics he lived as expected of a king of his time, but much 
more effectively than most, for the utmost exaction of his 
rights. The man who expelled the Jews from England and 
Gascony to pay for the ransom of his ally, Charles of Salerno, 
by the forfeiture of their property, 1 was neither merciful nor 
particularly scrupulous in exacting his pound of flesh when 
he thought he had legal right on his side as he did in his 
Welsh and Scots policies. { By God's blood Syon shall not 
silence me nor shall Jerusalem keep me from defending my 
right as long as I have strength of body and the breath of life/ 
he is reported to have said to Archbishop Winchelsey, who had 
brought him the Pope's unwelcome reproaches for his 
aggressions in Scotland ; and this on the whole seems to have 
been his attitude throughout. At home, in the institutions of 
England, this led to two things. Firstly, a process of legal 
definition. Edward's quo warranto proceedings (inquiries to 
discover c by what warrant ' people other than the king held 
judicial powers) completed the long struggle in which the 
Grown claimed judicial supremacy. Because of this, among 
other reasons, no medieval king before or after him was more 
powerful in his kingdom. His statutes are the most remarkable 
body of legislation between Magna Carta and the time of 
Henry VIII. Secondly, as we have seen, Edward's reign was 
a decisive period in the development of taxation and parlia- 
ment, settling some important features of the political constitu- 
tion for a century. 

Edward's reign before 1294 is divided sharply in character 
from the later years. In foreign affairs the first period saw 
successful war and diplomacy in Wales, France, and Scotland, 
when the king achieved his objects without overstraining his 
resources and therefore without arousing any violent opposition 
from his subjects. This part of his reign was also one of 
tranquil relations with the great magnates. Like his grandson, 
1 H. G. Richardson, The English Jewry under Angevin Kings (1960), pp. 2138". 


Edward III, eighty years later, Edward I had about him a 
group of young nobles who respected and shared his qualities. 
Besides those of the royal blood, his brother Edmund, Earl of 
Lancaster, and his cousin Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, were 
other young noblemen such as Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, 
who took part enthusiastically in the King's wars. At home 
he was able to proceed without serious check in the consolida- 
tion of royal power, with the aid of his great Chancellor, 
Robert Burnell, Bishop of Wells. 

Soon after Edward returned to England in 11*74, com- 
missions were issued for a widespread inquiry into the lands 
and judicial rights of the Crown all over England. This led 
to the Statute of Gloucester (1278) and other acts which laid 
down the procedures for claiming franchises, to other inquests, 
to many cases of quo warranto, and finally to the Statute of 
Quo Warranto in 1290. The most striking exercise of judicial 
supremacy, perhaps, occurred in 1291, when the judges con- 
demned the Earls of Gloucester and Hereford for fighting 
about a castle at Abergavenny and asserted that the King's 
prerogative could overrule even the custom of the March. 
At the same time Edward was asserting his rights in the 
dispute with Archbishop Pecham, which revived in a milder 
form the great quarrel with Becket over a century before. 
Apart from this firm and persistent emphasis on the royal 
authority, however, the first two decades of Edward's reign 
were quiet at home. The fighting was abroad. 


Apart from Wales and Scotland, Edward's main field of 
conflict was in France. For centuries people have spoken of 
the Hundred Years' War between England and France, 
meaning the series of wars which lasted, with long intervals, 
from 1337 to 1453, in which the kings of England claimed, 
also intermittently, that they were the rightful kings of France. 
We shall see later that these wars really had little unity apart 
from the repeated claim to the throne. Nor were they a very 
new phenomenon. The Hundred Years 3 War was a phase in 
the long struggle between the kings of France and England 
which lasted for most of the Middle Ages from the time when 


the Duke of Normandy, a vassal of the King of France, became 
King of England in 1066. From that time until 1453 the 
kings of England always had a substantial foothold in France, 
which was a potential source of friction. An important stage 
in this struggle was passed in the Treaty of Paris in 1259 : 
Henry III renounced his claims to the Duchy of Normandy 
and in return was confirmed, as Duke of Aquitaine, in his 
extensive possessions in the south-west of France, around the 
towns of Bordeaux, Bayonne, Limoges, and Cahors, but as a 
vassal of the King of France. The legacy of this status and 
relationship, descending to Edward I, caused his bitter quarrels 
with France. 

In the first half of his reign Edward spent two periods in 
Gascony. The first was in 1273 and 1274, when he lingered 
there on his way home to be crowned, established himself, and 
dealt with some unruly vassals. The second was from 1286 
to 1289, when he crossed the Channel to do homage to Philip 
the Fair of France (Philip IV, 1285-1314) and stayed three 
years, mostly in Gascony, dealing with his own rights there, 
with the quarrel between France and Aragon, and with the 
plans for a new Crusade which he always kept alive until the 
problem of Scotland absorbed all his energies. 

Until 1293 Edward's relations with Philip the Fair were 
good. Up to this time the story of his reign had been one of 
solid success ; consolidation of his place in England and 
Gascony, conquest of Wales, acceptance of the overlordship of 
Scotland. The next few years saw a widening of his ambitions 
beyond his powers and a consequent nemesis. France played 
a most important part in this change. The immediate cause 
of the trouble that flared up in 1293 was a dispute between 
English and Gascon pirates ; behind it was the determination 
of Philip the Fair to make good his overlordship in Gascony, 
ironically parallel to Edward's claims over Scotland. Edward 
refused to answer a summons to appear in court at Paris and 
Philip used this as an excuse to take over Gascony at the 
beginning of 1294. A war with France was, of course, a very 
different matter from a war in Wales or Scotland. It involved 
an enemy equal or greater in wealth, expensive invasions 
overseas, and, as Edward's plans developed, European alliances, 
not unlike a smaller version of England's efforts in later 


centuries against Louis XIV and Napoleon. For some years 
after 1294 this effort absorbed the greater part of Edward's 
resources, but was always fatally hindered by frustrations 
nearer home. The large expeditions which were quickly 
planned in 1294 came mostly to nothing because the Welsh 
rising of the next year demanded instant action. In 1296 it 
was the rising in Scotland that stopped Edward crossing the 
Channel. In 1297 he was greatly hindered, as we shall see, 
by opposition in England itself, and it was not until August 
of that year that he actually left the country. 

Although there were modest and unsuccessful expeditions 
to Gascony in 1294 and 1296, the main attack was put off 
repeatedly for three years. In the meantime great efforts had 
been made to build up a big English army and a ring of allies. 
Wool exports were heavily taxed and wool sometimes seized 
between 1294 and 1297. The clergy and the laity were taxed 
directly. Alliances were made with Philip's enemies on the 
Continent, the Count of Flanders, the Duke of Brabant, and 
Adolf of Nassau, King of Germany. Edward planned a great 
assault on France through Gascony, through Flanders, and 
through the Rhineland at the same time. Without the long 
delays in Wales and Scotland something might have come of 
the great design, but, as it turned out, the whole plan mis- 
carried. By 1297 Adolf of Nassau had come to terms with 
Philip the Fair and Philip was successfully invading Flanders 
as well as Gascony. The English nobility refused to go to 
Gascony, the country was resisting taxation more and more 
strongly, and the money which had been collected was largely 
frittered away before its main purpose was reached. Edward 
eventually took an army to Flanders in August 1297 but its 
career ended ingloriously in a truce with Philip in October. 
At the beginning of the next year, 1298, Edward was com- 
pelled by the dangers of opposition in England and Scotland 
to return home. There followed five years of negotiation, 
partly through the Pope, which ended in peace in 1303, 
with a return to the status quo in Gascony, a marriage 
between Edward and Philip's sister Margaret, and another 
between the Prince of Wales and Philip's daughter, Isabella, 
which was to provide a new reason for war in the reign of 
Edward III. 

(3) EDWARD I AND ENGLAND, 1294-1307 

The immense efforts and frustrations of Edward's cam- 
paigns in Scotland and France are the essential background 
to the troubled politics of his last years at home. Several times 
during the Middle Ages the strain of a great war in France 
produced a crisis in politics at home. As King John's duel 
with Philip Augustus had been in part the explanation of the 
events leading to Magna Carta in 1215, so Edward's duel with 
Philip the Fair went far towards humbling him before his 
subjects in 1297. The war and diplomacy carried on simul- 
taneously in Scotland and on the Continent were on a scale 
greater than anything attempted by his predecessors. The 
pressure of war acted like a hothouse in developing the new 
kinds of taxation and the institution of parliament very quickly 
in a few years. It also became clear that the King was 
attempting too much for his resources, and his demands pro- 
voked an opposition which endeavoured to set some limits to his 
power. The later part of the reign is therefore a dramatic 
and important period in the domestic history of England. 

During the years 1294-7 Edward used every method avail- 
able to him to raise money, and used them all more extensively 
than ever before. Merchants were subjected to the maltote, a 
heavy duty on the export of wool, which seems to have been 
resented more by other people than by the merchants them- 
selves, because it reduced the prices paid for wool to the 
owners of sheep. The knights and burgesses granted taxes in 
parliament in 1294, 1295, and 1296. The great parliament of 
1295 included also the clergy, who eventually granted a tenth, 
though already in 1294 they had been forced to pay a tax of 
unprecedented heaviness, a half of spiritual revenues, in addi- 
tion to the sums collected for Crusade in previous years, which 
had mostly passed into the King's hands. At the beginning 
of 1297 the opposition stiffened on two fronts : the Church, 
with papal support, took a more definite stand, and the good- 
will of the magnates, broken by the King's assertive demands, 
turned for the first time in the reign to positive rebellion. The 
new Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Winchelsey, who 
arrived in England from Italy in 1295, was an unyielding 
upholder of the independence of the Church. When Pope 


Boniface VIII issued, in 1296, the bull Clericis Laicos, for- 
bidding kings to tax the clergy without papal consent, 
Winchelsey refused to yield to Edward by sanctioning taxation 
until the Pope modified his prohibition in the middle of 1297. 
The assembly of the army to invade France at the beginning 
of 1297 provoked resistance, partly because the King was 
trying to extend the duty of military service to all men with 
more than 20 annual income from land, partly because of 
objections by two leading magnates, Roger Bigod, Earl of 
Norfolk, and Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, who led 
an opposition which refused to go to Gascony if the King 
himself was going to Flanders. In the summer Edward tried 
to raise another tax from the laity without proper consent 
from a full assembly of knights and burgesses. The earls 
forbade its collection. When Edward did at last sail in August, 
it was with the country half in revolt behind him. Then to 
crown it all came Wallace's dangerous rising in Scotland. 

The King's opponents had a traditional weapon to hand 
in the two Charters Magna Carta and the Charter of the 
Forest originally extracted from King John and Henry III in 
1215 and 1217 and acknowledged thereafter as expressing the 
fundamental limitations on royal power. In the political 
crisis these documents came to the fore again and for several 
years became the centre of political debate. In the King's 
absence the Regent was driven in October 1297 to grant the 
* Confirmation of the Charters ' (Conftrmatio Cartarum), which 
added an important statement of principle to the original 
documents : no taxation should be levied by the king without 
the consent of the whole * community of the realm 9 . This 
appeased the opposition but the crisis of 1297 did not end in 
real agreement. The political atmosphere of the remaining 
ten years of the reign is one of suspicion on the part of the 
magnates and repeated attempts to curb the royal prerogative, 
which had seemed more oppressive since 1294. On the 
King's side there was an equally stubborn insistence on his 
prerogative as he interpreted it. The criticism of taxation was 
extended to the administration of royal forests (areas originally 
of hunting country, subject to special forest courts, which 
could be oppressive to the local inhabitants). After a further 
ceremonial confirmation of Magna Carta and the Charter of 


the Forest in 1299, the parliament of 1300 extracted from 
Edward twenty new Articles on the Charters ' (Articuli super 
Cartas). These laid down restrictions on the rights of pur- 
veyance by royal officials, insisted that actions at common law 
should be initiated by letters under the great seal and not the 
king's privy seal, and ordered an investigation into forest 
rights. Though the magnates loyally upheld Edward's claims 
in Scotland, against papal intervention, at the Parliament of 
Lincoln in 1301, they once again insisted anxiously on the 
Charters, the basis of their liberties, and unsuccessfully 
demanded the removal of his extortionate Treasurer, Walter 
Langton, Bishop of Lichfield. 

Their fears were justified for, as Edward recovered his hold 
on affairs in his last years, he became more grasping. In 1302 
the Earl of Norfolk surrendered his lands to the King to 
receive them back only for life, and the Earl of Hereford's heir 
was married to one of Edward's daughters with the stipulation 
that his lands too should revert to the King if he had no 
children. In 1303 Edward made the Carta Mercatoria, a new 
agreement on heavy wool taxation with the foreign merchants, 
which was a clear violation of the Confirmation of the Charters. 
In 1306 he revenged himself on his most inflexible opponent, 
Archbishop Winchelsey, who had resisted him over the taxation 
of 1297, over the claims to Scotland, and over the Confirmation 
of the Charters in 1301. Winchelsey was a man of the firmest 
principle and a man of the European Church, one who refused 
to compromise with his conscience in matters of the Church's 
independence and the pope's authority, the last in the tradi- 
tion of Becket, Langton, and Pecham, and very different from 
some of the accommodating primates from the royal household 
in later years. The ground was cut from under his feet when 
a Gascon bishop willing to be pliable to Edward was elected 
as Pope Clement V in 1305, and in the next year was per- 
suaded to release the King from his confirmation of the 
Charters and to suspend the Archbishop. His exile, however, 
did not last long. Edward died little more than a year later. 
In some ways he was the greatest of medieval English kings, 
a commanding character at the time when the medieval 
monarchy reached the height of its power in Britain both in 
territorial conquest and in the comprehensiveness of its 


government. But though his grim abilities coincided with an 
auspicious age in the history of monarchy, Edward's ambitions 
in Scotland and France, surpassing even his capacities, made 
him ultimately an overreacher. 


With the death of the old king the political atmosphere 
changed. The years from 1307 to 1330 stand apart in the 
history of medieval England as a period of civil strife, cul- 
minating in intermittent civil war as vicious and violent as the 
Wars of the Roses (1455-85) and longer than the Barons' Wars 
(1258-65). To read Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, which 
is based on the English chronicle tradition and preserves the 
sense of bitter personal hatreds often missed by modern his- 
torians, is still perhaps the easiest way to recover the atmo- 
sphere of this age. The key to the period is the bitterness of 
individual rivalries in the absence of effective kingly rule. 
The cause of this and of the passions which it unleashed was 
the strange character of Edward II, who was like his father in 
being a powerful, athletic man, but unlike him in almost 
everything else : weak in political intelligence, ambition, and 
self-respect. He was very likely a homosexual and he was 
fatally liable to fall under the influence of ingratiating and 
unscrupulous young men. In the eyes of the nobility his 
character opened the door to the worst of political ills, the rule 
of * evil counsellors * and of those who c accroached ' the royal 
power to themselves. 

Many kings made enemies of the magnates during their 
reigns, but Edward II was suspected and thwarted from the 
first. This has often been seen as evidence that the magnates 
were guarding against a continuation of the harshness of his 
father, but it is as likely that they knew enough of Edward as 
Prince of Wales to expect him to be weak and unreliable as 
king. The oath, which he took at his coronation, contained a 
new clause pledging him to accept in future the laws which 
should be chosen by the c community of the realm '. One of 
Edward's first actions as king had been to recall from exile a 
Gascon knight, Peter de Gaveston, who had been exiled for 
his influence on the Prince in 1306, to raise him immediately 


to the high and valuable title of Earl of Cornwall and to give 
him the place of honour at the coronation. Gaveston was 
disliked by most of the magnates and nearly all united in the 
attempt to check the King's independence. One of the 
greatest, the Earl of Gloucester, remained friendly, but he was 
killed at Bannockburn (1314) and had no son. The Earls of 
Lincoln, Surrey, Hereford, Warwick, and Arundel, and Arch- 
bishop Winchelsey were all critical. So, after a short time, 
was Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who became, after inheriting 
the earldom of Lincoln in 1311, and after the death of 
Gloucester, easily the wealthiest of the magnates and the 
regular ringleader of their opposition. 

This opposition grew against the background of continual, 
dismally unsuccessful war with Scotland, which made the King 
dependent on magnates and parliament for money, without 
making any more popular the court which he gathered about 
him or the policy which he followed. A magnate league, 
ostensibly to protect the Crown against its enemies, forced 
Edward to banish Gaveston as early as May 1308, but the 
favourite came back in the next year. There were petitions 
for changes in the methods of government at the Stamford 
parliament in July 1309. In March 1310 the King was forced 
to agree to the appointment of a committee of bishops, earls, 
and barons, which would take the administration into its own 
hands until Michaelmas 1311 and draw up Ordinances for the 
future government of the realm. These Ordinances form a 
long, comprehensive, and important document, embodying 
and expanding the various grievances voiced in the first four 
years of the reign. Amongst the main provisions are the 
following : (i) Gaveston and Amerigo dei Frescobaldi, the 
King's Florentine banker, were to be banished, (ii) The 
chief officials of the kingdom and of the royal household, such 
as the Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Controller of the Ward- 
robe (the chief department of the household), and the Keeper 
of the Privy Seal (which was used to authenticate letters and 
orders sent out in the King's name), were to be appointed 
with the consent of the magnates in parliaments, which were 
to meet twice a year, (iii) The same consent was to be 
required for the King to go to war. (iv) The c New Custom ', 
the extra duty on imports and exports by foreigners, was to 


be abolished (see p. 78). (v) The Wardrobe officials were to 
receive money only through the Exchequer, which was con- 
trolled by the Treasurer, and not directly from the collectors 
of taxes. In^this way the magnates hoped to end Gaveston's 
supremacy, depending as it did on control of the court and 
illegal taxes, and also to limit the King's independence for the 
rest of his reign. They produced a document which was a 
bone of political contention for a decade and which, like 
Magna Carta (1215) and the Provisions of Oxford (1258), was 
remembered long after as a classical statement of baronial 

But the Ordinances were only an expression of a point of 
view. They settled nothing and, in the years that followed, 
one baronial faction after another climbed to power, while the 
country was humiliated by the inability to deal with the Scots 
and torn by repeated private wars (the most notable was the 
war in 1317 between the Earl of Lancaster and the Earl of 
Surrey, who carried off Lancaster's heiress wife, Alice de Lacy). 
Edward, unrepentant, had Gaveston back with him in time 
for Christmas 1311. By the spring of 1312 the magnates were 
openly in arms. The King's troops in the north were threat- 
ened by the Earls of Lancaster, Pembroke, and Surrey ; 
Gaveston was handed over for trial in parliament, then seized 
from his jailers by one of his most bitter enemies, Guy, Earl 
of Warwick, and hanged under the authority of the Ordinances 
at Blacklow Hill, near Lancaster's castle at Kenilworth. This 
semi-judicial murder won Edward some supporters, especially 
Pembroke and Surrey, who did not love Thomas of Lancaster, 
and for a time in 1312, when both sides were collecting armies, 
it looked as though there would be full civil war. They came 
to terms, however, and in 1313 the King was reconciled again 
with his nobles without submitting to the Ordinances. 

Thomas, with his five earldoms of Lancaster, Leicester, 
Derby, Lincoln, and Salisbury, his vast estates in Yorkshire, 
Lancashire, and the Midlands, and his private army perhaps 
the largest permanent retinue ever seen in medieval England- 
can be compared only with the greatest of baronial politicians, 
with John of Gaunt, Richard of York, and Warwick the 
Kingmaker. He had the same sort of independent power 
based on enormous landed wealth. His period of greatest 


influence in politics began after Edward had been further 
humbled by the defeat at Bannockburn (June 1314). 
Lancaster had taken no part in this battle and his relative 
power was much increased by it. In the parliaments of 
September 1314 and January 1315 he was able to insist once 
again on the enforcement of the Ordinances and the limitation 
of the King's power. In the Lincoln parliament of 1316 he 
reached the summit of his power, gaining the position of 
chief councillor with a right, jointly with the King, to remove 
any other councillor. For a time he had indeed virtually a 
veto on the King's actions and, in the later part of 1317, was 
able to overawe the royal army in the north by the superiority 
of his own power, based on his castle at Pontefract, and 
frustrate Edward's wish to make a truce with the Scots through 
the mediation of two cardinals sent by the Pope. 

Lancaster's influence, all the same, had one decisive 
weakness, compared with the other men who dominated the 
kingdom before and after him : it was exercised from outside 
the court. Lancaster never had the King's friendship, which 
was the easiest, and indeed the essential, way to power over 
government- He is sometimes criticised by historians for being 
a capricious and unconstructive opponent. It is true that he 
made little attempt to play a regular part in court or council, 
but Edward was also at fault in making no serious effort at 
compromise and readily giving his ear only to Lancaster's 
enemies. He was supplanted in 1318 by a group of men who 
had acquired the King's confidence since 1314, the Earls of 
Pembroke and Hereford and the knights, Bartholomew de 
Badlesmere, Roger d'Amory, Hugh d'Audley, and Hugh 
Despenser the younger. These men have been called the 
* Middle Party ', and the phrase is just in so far as it emphasises 
that they aimed neither at the rule of a single, all-powerful 
courtier, like Gaveston, nor at destroying the King's inde- 
pendence from outside, like Lancaster. Lancaster's power was 
weakened both by the rise of this confederacy and also by his 
private war with Surrey. By 1318 he was much more isolated 
in his insistence on the Ordinances and parliamentary control 
of the King, and a new distribution of power was eventually 
recognised by the Treaty of Leek (August 1318) and the 
Parliament of York (October-December 1318). The Treaty 


of Leek was a private agreement between Thomas of Lancaster 
and a number of other magnates. Lancaster agreed to the 
setting-up of a permanent council to control the King, con- 
sisting of seventeen bishops, earls, and barons, as long as the 
Ordinances were enforced. This would give him some influ- 
ence in government but not his old power of veto. The 
parliament at York confirmed the power of the knights of the 
Middle Party in the royal household. 

The next period of the reign saw the astonishing rise of 
one of these knights to supreme power. The younger Despenser 
was the son of a trusted courtier of Edward I and was himself 
essentially a creature of the court. The York parliament gave 
him his great opportunity, or at least helped him on his way, 
by making him Chamberlain, that is, administrator of the 
King's Chamber and therefore an official in constant and 
intimate contact with the King. Gradually and ruthlessly 
during the years 1318-21 he climbed into a position of absolute 
ascendancy at the court. The chroniclers tell us that he 
eventually refused to let the King give audience to anyone 
unless he was present ; and we know from some of his own 
letters that he was able to order judges to give verdicts in his 
favour. But his use of these powers raised up a powerful 
opposition to him from two quarters. The first was in the 
Welsh Marches. The inheritance of the last Earl of Gloucester, 
including a great part of modern Glamorganshire and 
Monmouthshire, was divided between his three sisters, who 
were married, with royal approval, to Audley, Amory, and 
Despenser. Despenser was not content with his own share and 
attacked the lands of the others. When he added to this 
offence by trying to acquire the nearby lordship of Gower with 
royal influence, he aroused the violent opposition of the other 
Marcher lords, including the Earl of Hereford and the 
Mortimers. The King stood by Despenser and finally, in the 
summer of 1321, the Marcher lords advanced on London. 
Meanwhile, in the north, Thomas of Lancaster was roused to 
opposition by his concern about the danger of such a power 
over the King. He and his many followers in the north held 
a meeting at Pontefract in May, and in June sealed the so-called 
* Sherburn Indentures ', pledging to support the Marchers 
and oust the evil counsellors. In July 1321 Despenser was 


condemned in a parliament at London, dominated by 
the armed force of his enemies, and he and his father were 

The story of Gaveston, however, was repeated and this 
time with a more lasting success. By the end of the year the 
Despensers were back again and Edward had raised a large 
army, with the help of some of the earls, to confront the rebels. 
He advanced towards Wales, forcing the Marcher lords to 
submit in January 1322. Lancaster was defeated in his own 
country at Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire, by royal supporters 
in March. Boroughbridge was one of the great civil battles 
of English history ; immediately after it Lancaster and 
Badlesmere were executed. Hereford and Amory died. Many 
other lords perished or, like Mortimer, were imprisoned. The 
estates of many c contrariants ' were taken into the King's 
hands and a parliament at York soon after the battle finally 
revoked the Ordinances. Edward was vindicated as never 

The supremacy acquired in those days lasted for four years. 
It ended in terrible disaster, partly because the fighting itself 
engendered bitter hatreds (Thomas of Lancaster, in spite of 
his treacherous and turbulent political career, became a popu- 
lar saint and Roger Mortimer was made into a very dangerous 
enemy of the Crown), partly because the King's supremacy 
was carelessly and cruelly used. The real victor had been not 
Edward but Despenser, who now continued with more assur- 
ance and freedom on the course he had started before his 
exile. His ambitions were greater and more offensive than 
Gaveston's. By a mixture of force and legal trickery he soon 
obtained his empire in south Wales and a large number of 
estates elsewhere. Perhaps no man in medieval England ever 
had so many personal enemies as he had by 1326. His only 
decided supporter among the great magnates was the Earl of 
Arundel. Two positive achievements can be reckoned to the 
credit of the Despenser regime : the peace with Scotland in 
1323 and the careful reorganisation of Crown finances carried 
out by the Treasurer, Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter. 
But the first was humiliating to the English Crown, and the 
increased efficiency of the King's administration, which resulted 
from the second, gave no joy to his plundered subjects. 


Edward and Despenser seem, moreover, to have been extraordi- 
narily short-sighted in allowing effective opposition to build 
up against them. The first main actor in the conspiracy was 
Roger Mortimer, who escaped from the Tower to France in 
1323. The second was Queen Isabella. She was ousted from 
favour by the Bang's friendship with Despenser to the point of 
confiscation of her estates, and then sent in 1325 to France to 
negotiate with her brother, King Charles, after the English 
had been defeated in a war in Gascony in 1323-4. Finally 
the twelve-year-old heir to the throne, Edward, was sent across 
the Channel to do homage for Gascony in place of his father. 
The Queen did not return when she was expected. In Paris 
she became the lover of Mortimer and they landed in Suffolk 
in September 1326 with the Prince and an army from the 
Low Countries. They were quickly joined by other magnates 
and bishops, including the King's half-brothers, the Earls of 
Kent and Norfolk, and Thomas of Lancaster's brother and 
heir, Henry. The royalists were driven into the Welsh 
Marches, the King captured and imprisoned, and Despenser 
and Arundel quickly executed in November. 

The parliament which met in January 1327 carried through 
the first deposition of a king since the Conquest. It was 
completed by a deputation representing the various estates of 
the realm, which went from parliament to the King's prison 
at Kenilworth to extort an abdication from him. The brutal 
murder of the King at Berkeley Castle in September (Thomas 
Berkeley was a relation of Mortimer by marriage) was the last 
revenge of his queen and his enemies, the clearest demonstra- 
tion of the passions which his rule had aroused and a dramati- 
cally fitting end to the tragedy which had started in the palmy 
days with Gaveston. 

The political effect of the revolution was only to replace 
one tyranny by another not much better. Edward III was a 
minor and had therefore to be represented by a regency 
council, which was naturally dominated by the partisans of 
Mortimer and Lancaster. By the end of 1328, however, this 
alliance had split. Lancaster was excluded from influence at 
court, while Mortimer, created Earl of March, had acquired 
grants of lands from the confiscations of the rebellion which 
made him into a leading magnate. At the beginning of 1329 

Plate Q LATE PERPENDICULAR ARCHITECTURE. St George's Chapel, Windsor, begun 
for Edward IV in 1481. The piers were built in his reign and the ~-^--?~ 
earned out in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. (Comp 

Plate 10 THE SO-CALLED PERCY TOMB in Bevcrley Minster, Yorkshire ; probably, in 
fact, an Easter Sepulchre erected at the expense of Lady Idoine Percy about the 
middle of the reign of Edward III. An example of elaborate curvilinear decoration 

(see pp. 52-3). 


the two sides were in arms against each other, but Lancaster 
submitted. The Earl of Kent was executed for an alleged 
conspiracy in the same year. The horrors of Despenser's day 
were being repeated. They were ended dramatically by the 
young King himself. Unsuspected by Mortimer or his mother, 
he had hatched a plot with a young courtier, William 
Montague, and even corresponded secretly about it with the 
Pope. On the night of igth October 1330 at Nottingham 
Castle, Montague and his friends seized Mortimer in the room 
next the King's. He was condemned to death by a parliament 
and Edward III began to reign in fact as well as in 
name. This palace revolution immediately changed the face 
of English politics, much more fundamentally than the 
deposition of Edward II, by giving England once again a real 


In Edward III the Plantagenet line found its happiest king. 
Not perhaps the greatest and certainly not the most interesting 
personality, but the one whose designs coincided best with the 
temper and opportunities of his time. Edward III did not 
make great constitutional innovations, like Edward I 5 and in 
home affairs he was rather a passive inheritor of the legacy of 
his grandfather. But, unlike grandfather and father, he was 
essentially a successful warrior, who loved fighting and was 
good at it, achieved more than he could reasonably have 
expected, and surrounded himself with a comradely galaxy of 
warrior magnates and warrior sons. 

Edward's first campaigns were in Scotland. The claims of 
the * disinherited * nobles, who had lost their lands through 
loyalty to England, had not been satisfied after the Treaty of 
Northampton (1328), and a renewal of the quarrel between 
the Bruce and Balliol families allowed Edward to intervene. 
His first victory was the defeat of the Scots at Halidon Hill in 
1333. He campaigned in Scotland again in the summers of 
1335 and 1336, but there is no reason to suppose that he was 
engaged with the Scots very earnestly. French support for 
Scotland against England became more and more open, so 
that the campaigns on the border led easily into the great 


English possessions 827 
-I-:-!- Engtisti.possessions added in 1361 

The wars of Edward III in France 

business of Edward's life, the war across the Channel. It is 
probably futile to look for a simple diplomatic or political 
< cause ' of this great struggle. Certainly causes and reasons 
enough were alleged by chroniclers and by Edward.^ He was 
thought to have been encouraged by an attractive noble 
refugee from the French court, Robert of Artois. The French 
took Bruce's side in Scotland. Philip VI of France (1328-50) 
had refused to consider Edward's claim to the Agenais, which 
adjoined his Duchy of Gascony, and practically declared war 
by announcing the confiscation of Gascony in May 1337. 
Finally Edward, by right of his mother, Isabella, the daughter 


of Philip the Fair, claimed the throne of France itself. But 
these reasons are not convincing in the historical situation. It 
looks much more as though Edward and his young friends 
were attracted by the glorious prospects of an invasion of 
France and took any excuse that came to hand. 

The preparation for the first invasion, planned most care- 
fully on a magnificent scale and on a pattern which improved 
on Edward Ps design of 1294 to 1297, took shape in 1336. 
There were three important elements in the scheme : firstly, 
direct invasion by Edward through the Low Countries ; 
secondly, massive support from a line of allies in the Low 
Countries (where his betrothal to Philippa before the invasion 
of 1326 had given him a father-in-law in the Count of 
Hainault) ; thirdly, the use of the wool export trade to 
finance the army and the allies and also to force Count Louis 
of Flanders over to the English side. In 1336 parliament and 
the merchants agreed to wool taxes and to heavy loans, the 
staple was moved from Bruges in Flanders to Antwerp in 
Brabant, and export of wool was forbidden. This had the 
double object of creating a wool famine in the textile towns 
of Flanders which depended on English supplies and would 
thus be made more pliable to English policy, and of creating 
an artificial shortage of wool abroad which would allow a 
large profit to be made out of the renewed sales when export 
was resumed. Meanwhile arrangements were made with 
English merchants for them to use the king's powers of pre- 
emption and prohibition of export to create a huge corner 
in wool, which would be profitable both to them and to him. 1 
By the spring of 1338 this c Dordrecht Scheme ' as it has 
generally been called, because the wool was to be collected 
and sold at Dordrecht in Holland had broken down through 
resistance from the sheep-farmers in England and difficulties 
about sale on the Continent, but the King made a large profit 
by confiscating what had been collected. At the same time, 
however, Edward's ambassadors had very expensively built up 
a great alliance in the Rhineland, involving the German king, 
Lewis the Bavarian ; and the economic pressure on Flanders 

1 The financial schemes of these years are described by E. B. Fryde in 
8 Edward Ill's Wool Monopoly of 1337 ', History (1952), and * The English 
Farmers of the Customs 1343-51 % T.R.H.S. (1958). 


had produced a revolt in the textile towns which forced the 
Count to renounce alliance with France. 

By the summer of 1338 Edward himself was able to cross 
over with an army and make impressive progresses between 
his allies in Brabant and western Germany, where, as a French 
chronicler said, c it rained money '. But even the wealth of 
the wool trade was not really equal to this largesse. Already 
in 1338, before he had made any direct attack on France, 
Edward was borrowing very heavily from the Italian banking 
houses of Bardi and Peruzzi and from William de la Pole. 
The winter of 1338 to 1339 was spent in Antwerp. In 1339 
Edward was ready to move, but his expensive allies were not 
anxious to help and he got no further than a small campaign 
on the French border in the area of GambraL After returning 
to England in February 1340 to bargain with parliament for 
more money, he went back to take advantage of the strongly 
pro-English feeling in Flanders, where power had been seized 
by the clothing towns, led by James van Artevelde of Ghent. 
On the way back he won his only great victory in this period 
of the war, the shattering defeat of the French fleet, which 
had sought to prevent his return, in the battle of Sluys off the 
coast of Flanders. Once he was back on the Continent he 
could still get no further than trivial operations on the French 
border. He returned to England finally in November after 
concluding the Truce of Esplechin that autumn. 

The immediate reason for the King's return was lack of 
money. After the original Dordrecht scheme Edward had 
persuaded parliament to agree to other plans for making a 
great profit out of wool. In 1338 he was to buy half the wool 
in the kingdom, in 1340 to take * the ninth sheaf, fleece and 
lamb '. But these monopolies did not work out as was hoped 
and meanwhile the King's debts (estimated in 1 339 at 300,000, 
several times his annual income) grew worse and worse. In 
1340 several earls had to be left behind as hostages for debts 
contracted in the Low Countries. Edward came back frus- 
trated and angry and we shall see later how he worked off his 
anger in England. The cause of this failure had been a too 
grandiose strategy. The attempt to build up a grand alliance 
of unwilling allies was expensive and inefficient the money 
ran out before anything was done. The Truce of Esplechin 


marks the end of this strategy and the successes of later years 
were the result of turning to plans of quite a different kind. 

The new pattern of direct raiding into France from the 
coast, which was typical of the rest of Edward's reign, began 
in Brittany. The opportunity was given by a dispute about 
the succession to the Duchy, one claimant being supported by 
the overlord, the King of France, and the other, John de 
Montfort, turning for help to Edward III. In 1341 Edward 
was quick to give theoretical support to Montfort ; in the 
summer of 1342 he sent a force under the command of Sir 
Walter Manny and in the autumn crossed over himself, 
defeated the French at Morlaix, overran much of Brittany, 
and concluded a truce early in the next year. Thereafter 
Brittany was an important English foothold in France for 
about forty years. In 1345 more elaborate plans were laid. 
Montfort again went over with an English army to Brittany 
and was successful The Earl of Derby went to Bordeaux to 
start several years of harrying the French on the borders of 
Gascony- The King himself crossed to Flanders but arrived 
at the very time when the pro-English party was finally 
collapsing, and, recognising again the impossibility of success 
in that direction, he returned quickly to England. 

Then came the great year. In July 1346 Edward crossed 
over to Normandy with a large army of about 7,000 archers, 
1,000 lances, and 1,700 horse, while the main French forces 
were occupied in dealing with the Earl of Derby in Gascony. 
In July and August he sacked the city of Caen, marched 
through Normandy, crossed the Seine at Poissy, and then went 
north to the Somme, where the French king, who had been 
watching warily from a distance while the English plundered 
through the countryside, at last came to grips with him. After 
the crossing of the Somme, not far from the Channel, the two 
armies met at Crecy on 26th August, and the uncertain and 
divided French nobility were defeated by the English fighting 
on foot in one of the classic medieval victories of infantry over 
cavalry and the greatest of Edward's battles. Two months 
later the Scots, invading England in the King's absence, were 
decisively defeated by the northern lords and bishops at 
Neville's Cross, where King David II of Scotland was captured. 
The next year held yet more victories. In June the French 


were defeated in Brittany and the English position there con- 
solidated. In August, after a year-long siege, the town of 
Calais fell to Edward, to remain for over two centuries a vital 
English foothold on the Continent. 

The successes against France in the thirteen-forties and 
after were chiefly made by raids, chevauchees as they were called, 
by English armies into the French countryside. The armies 
were mobile, they plundered as they went and they had no 
need of allies. The proceeds of wool customs and of lay 
subsidies were adequate for this kind of war as they had not 
been for the grand strategy of the thirteen-thirties. On the 
eve of the Black Death of 1349 Edward's prestige and power 
stood high. The truce, which followed the decisive French 
defeat, and the economic effects of the Black Death, which 
temporarily reduced the yield of royal taxation, brought about 
a long lull in the war. The next burst of activity started in 

1355 against a less formidable adversary, the new French king, 
the chivalrous but ineffective John the Good (1350-64). Two 
major expeditions set out for France in the autumn of 1355. 
One, commanded by the King, crossed to Calais, but, after 
foraging about in the surrounding countryside for a short 
time, returned early to England because of new Scots raids. 
More important was the first expedition of the King's eldest 
son, Edward the Black Prince, a young man of twenty-five 
who had fought at Crecy and was quickly to make himself a 
reputation as one of the greatest captains of his time. His 
army went first to Bordeaux. From there he took it in the 
autumn right across Gascony and Toulouse to Narbonne on 
the Mediterranean and back again to winter at Bordeaux. In 

1356 France was again harried in the north and south. The 
Duke of Lancaster took an army to Normandy and Brittany. 
In the late summer the Black Prince's force again sallied forth 
from Bordeaux, this time northwards into the district of Berry, 
in the loop of the Loire, and westward to Tours. On the way 
back the English were pursued by a huge French army under 
King John himself. They met at Poitiers on i6th September 
and the smaller English force, against expectation, completely 
routed the French army, capturing many of its leaders, 
including King John, who was brought in triumph to England 


Edward now had two kings in captivity and the kingdom 
of France at his feet. The disorder and desolation there in the 
years following 1356 were extreme. In addition to the troubles 
resulting from the Black Death there was the political disunity 
caused by the absence of the King, the peasant revolt of the 
Jacquerie in 1358, and the bands of English soldiers, the 
6 free companies ', who plundered and fought for themselves 
or for some faction of the French nobility. In 1359 the Black 
Prince was able to take an army from Calais in a great circle 
round Paris and into Burgundy without much opposition. 
Finally in May 1360 a treaty was made as a result of negotia- 
tions between the Duke of Lancaster and the French regent 
at Bretigny, near Chartres. It made the King of England's 
influence in France greater than it had been since the days of 
the Angevin Empire, a century and a half before. His pos- 
sessions were extended beyond Gascony almost up to the Loire 
in the north, by the addition of Poitou and the Limousin, and 
at the other extremity to the east and south of Toulouse. King 
John was to be ransomed for the enormous sum of 3,000,000 
crowns (about 500,000, or the equivalent of the English 
king's income for over five years). In return Edward under- 
took to renounce his claim to the throne of France. The 
French fulfilled their promises. The new territories were 
ceded and the Black Prince, who had the greatest share in 
their winning, went to Bordeaux in 1362 as Duke of Aquitaine, 
to reign in a substantial Duchy. A large part of the ransom 
was actually paid over in the next few years. But Edward in 
fact never made a full renunciation of his claims and the way 
was kept open for future kings to revive them. 


The most striking feature of politics at home during the 
reign of Edward III was the King's good relations with the 
nobility. Until he lost his grip on affairs in his later years, 
they were perhaps better than in any other medieval reign. 
This was clearly the result of his building up around him 
a circle of devoted magnates and keeping them engaged in 
generally successful foreign wars. One of the symbolic acts 
at the beginning of the war with France in 1337 was the 


creation of six new earls, including some young noblemen 
with whom the King was already very friendly and who were 
to be among his leading commanders : William Montague, 
Earl of Salisbury, his accomplice in 1330 ; Henry of Grosmont, 
Earl of Derby, later Duke of Lancaster ; and William de 
Bohun, Earl of Northampton. The unhappy memories of 
civil war were as far as possible effaced by the restoration of 
Mortimer's grandson to the earldom of March in 1354 and 
the reversal of the judgment against the Earl of Arundel, who 
had been executed as Despenser's supporter. The Statute of 
Treasons of 1352 attempted to restrict the meaning of the 
word which had been used so freely to condemn political 
enemies in the previous reign. Later, as Edward's sons grew 
to manhood, and they too included several active soldiers, 
they were given great estates which supported the royal dignity, 
though they were to be the source of discord in the future : 
the Black Prince was Duke of Cornwall and Prince of Wales ; 
Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, inherited the Clare 
estates ; and John of Gaunt inherited the estates of 
Lancaster, when that family died out with Henry of Grosmont. 
In his earlier years Edward was a great lover of tournaments ; 
and another symbol of his devotion to the ideals of the nobility 
was his foundation, probably in 1348, of the Order of the 
Garter, an exclusive chivalric fraternity, including the King 
himself and his greatest warriors, both earls and knights. 
The extravagant praise of Edward III by the contemporary 
philosopher Walter Burley is not without foundation, at least 
as far as his relations with the magnates and barons are con- 
cerned : ' A profound love of subjects and king makes for a 
deep concord between the citizens and a very strong kingdom ; 
as appears today in the case of the King of the English, on 
account of whose excellent virtue there is the greatest harmony 
in the English people because each one is content with his 
rank under the king. 9 i 

Thus a true sphere of concord with the nobility made the 
reign as a whole remarkably free of serious political crises such 
as had occurred intermittently from 1297 to 1330. There 
was, however, one major upheaval following on Edward's 

1 S. Harrison Thomson, * Walter Burley's Commentary on the Politics 
of Aristotle ', Melanges Auguste Pebyr (1947), pp. 577-8 


return from Flanders after the Treaty of Esplechin in November 
1340. During the King's absence on the Continent the 
administration had been divided by the Walton Ordinances 
( X 337) between the chief ministers and departments, remaining 
in Westminster, and the household, which was to go with the 
King. The object was to speed collection of money and to 
keep ultimate control in the household, but there had been 
much criticism of the arrangements and the bishops at home 
had been both slower and more dubious about the rightfulness 
of the war than the King wished. He came home, burning 
with shame and anger, convinced that he had been betrayed 
by those who had remained in charge of the government at 
home, and his first actions were to dismiss the Chancellor and 
Treasurer, the Bishops of Chichester and Lichfield, and give 
those offices to laymen the first time there was ever a lay 
Chancellor. He then attacked Archbishop Stratford of 
Canterbury, who had previously been Chancellor and had 
taken the largest share in the home government, for mal- 
administration, issued a pamphlet denouncing him as the 
cause of all the misfortunes abroad, and ordered him to 
Flanders as hostage for a debt. Stratford took this as a general 
attack on the liberties of the Church and the rights of peers 
of the realm, and began to defend both. In the spring of 1341 
the affair developed into a serious constitutional quarrel. As 
the Archbishop won support from both magnates and commons 
by his rational and fearless defence and his dramatic appear- 
ance at the parliament from which he was to be excluded, 
Edward was compelled to allow him to clear himself of the 
charges and to return to favour. For many years after this 
the Crown remained on good terms with the prelates, notably 
with Stratford himself and with William Edington, Bishop of 
Winchester, Chancellor from 1356 to 1363. 

The most constant political opposition to Edward in 
England came neither from the nobility nor from the Church 
but from the gentry and burgesses in parliament. This reign 
was the period when the Commons 9 right to consent to all lay 
taxation became complete and the division into Lords and 
Commons emerged. This process was connected with the 
constant war taxation, which gave the Commons unusual 
importance and carried further the evolution of parliament 


which is discernible in the later years of Edward I's reign. 
Resistant to repeated demands for money and often unenthusi- 
astic about the war, the Commons acted as a constant brake 
and exerted special political influence at two periods when 
circumstances gave them more power than usual. The first 
was the initial phase of the French War with its unsuccessful 
campaigns and huge expenses. When, at the end of 1339, the 
King asked for yet more money and confessed his debts to 
amount to 300,000, the magnates readily offered new taxes, 
but the Commons would grant nothing further without con- 
sulting their constituents ; they demanded and got another 
parliament at the beginning of 1340. The large grants of that 
year were made in return for substantial concessions, including 
agreement that no lay taxation should be levied without the 
consent of parliament. 

Edward was still more at the mercy of the Commons in the 
early thirteen-fifties. Apart from its long-term effects on 
society, the Black Death of 1349 had important immediate 
political consequences. In the first place it weakened the 
King by spoiling the wool export trade for a time and so 
destroying, temporarily, the system of finance, based on loans, 
from merchants to whom the king farmed the duties on imports 
and exports, which had sustained him for much of the previous 
decade. Secondly, the labour shortage, which made new 
difficulties for propertied people, seems to have added to the 
truculence of the gentry and burgesses. One result was that 
Edward was forced in 1353 to agree to the Ordinance of the 
Staple, temporarily abolishing the foreign staple and satisfying 
the interests of the wool-growing landowners (see p. 34). In 
1351 they secured the Statute of Labourers, which imposed 
severe penalties on workers taking high wages. The Statute of 
Provisors, made in the same parliament, was, in its intention, 
an extreme attempt to limit the pope's right to provide clergy- 
men to churches in England and so to strengthen the position 
of the local patrons. None of these measures was very effective 
in the long run but, taken together, they expressed a mood of 
aggression on the part of the Commons. There is no doubt 
that the power and importance of the Commons, who from 
this time onwards genuinely controlled taxation, was much 
increased in the reign of Edward III. The most brilliant days 


of English chivalry were, however, only slightly clouded by 
the reluctance of those who paid the price in taxation. The 
age of the greatest political power of the medieval Commons 
was still in the future and the social conflicts resulting from the 
Black Death had only begun. 


7 Lay Society 


SOCIAL change is generally gradual and scarcely perceptible. 
Sharp breaks, like the Soviet Revolution of 1917 or, on a 
smaller scale, the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, 
are rare and even they sometimes turn out on investigation to 
be less decisive than they appeared. But most of us are aware 
that the distribution of power and wealth and the common 
opinions of people are different from what they were in the 
time of our fathers, and the cumulative effect of this con- 
tinuous change over the centuries makes one age very different 
from another. One of the purposes of history is to define and 
explain these long changes, and this is partly what we shall 
be attempting in this chapter and in Chapters 8 and 12. 

Before embarking on this attempt there are some prelimi- 
nary observations to be made. Firstly we must distinguish the 
natural processes of economics and social evolution from 
revolutionary designs to change society in accordance with an 
ideal. The ideas which gained a brief fame in the days of the 
Peasants' Revolt of 1381 confronted the traditional view that 
society ought to be a hierarchy of graded ranks with the 
opposite belief in equality. John Ball told the rebels that John 
Miller and John Carter and John Nameless had been created 
equal with other men. The subversive ideas, encouraged by 
Wycliffe's theory of lordship depending on grace, * that ser- 
vants or tenants may lawfully withhold rents and service from 
their lords when lords be openly wicked in their living ' may 
also have been widely held by the c Lollards ' who followed 
this English heretic. 1 The ideas of the Revolt and Lollardy 
are striking examples of the belief in equality and perfectibility 
which has threatened normal society at intervals in history. 
They are rare in England before the later fourteenth century, 
i See M. E. Aston, ' Lollardy and Sedition , P. and P. (1960) 



when they erupted for a time with a sudden explosive force. 
They did not, however, gain a firm hold. To some extent 
they corresponded with natural changes which were going on 
at the same time : the powers of landlords, as we shall see, 
were seriously threatened by economic changes in the time of 
Ball and Wycliffe, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, again partly 
for economic reasons, was losing some of its grip on laymen. 
But revolutionary ideology had little effect because its sup- 
porters had very little political power. 

Secondly, when we come to the natural processes of social 
change, which move in directions largely unintended and 
unforeseen by the countless people whose struggles and ambi- 
tions contribute to them, we find that there are serious limita- 
tions to our powers of generalisation. Looking back through 
the long perspective of five centuries, it appears to us that the 
England of Henry VII (1485-1509) was substantially different 
in its distribution of wealth and power and also in some of its 
ideas from the England of Edward I. Magnates and bishops 
were somewhat less exalted compared with both kings and 
other men than they had been in 1300 ; parish churches were 
being built rather than cathedrals or abbeys ; the world of 
ideas owed more to the writings of laymen, and the philosophy 
of the scholastics had long been in decay. The decline of the 
great seignorial estate, which had been so much the centre of 
medieval power, coming at the same time as the general 
standard of living was rising, meant that gradations of wealth 
between the freeman and the earl became somewhat less steep. 
In using these impressions we must remember that it is 
perilously difficult to generalise about the state of society in a 
distant period. Impressions may be wrong. There are many 
gaps in our knowledge. We have no figures of population or 
of production. The only major commodity for which we can 
guess at the scale of production is cloth, and even here we are 
almost entirely dependent on the figures of exports with very 
little information about production for the home market. We 
know^ something about wages and prices on which we can base 
theories of economic movements. But we know little about 
the incomes of people who did not live entirely on wages. We 
know even less about agricultural methods in 1500 than in 
1300 because less agriculture was in the hands of lords who 

.'-#; . .,' - _ , -.- ,-v 

^jars^ !ft *r~ ^f 6 t^l 

PROCEEDINGS OP A MANORIAL COURT after the Peasants' Revolt (see pp. 143-4). 
This is the top part of the court roll of the manor of Mose in Essex, recording a court 
held in October 1381 (Essex Record Office, D/DGh Mi 4, mem. 2}. The tenants had 
rebelled and burnt the court rolls, which contained the records of their holdings and 
dues. The heading reads : ' First Court held after the Revolt and the Burning of the 
Rolls . . .* (Curia prima post rumorem et combustionem rotukrvm . . .) The roll then 
goes on to explain that the lady of the manor has taken all the lands of the villein 
tenants into her own hands but now returns them on payment of fines. The third 
section reads : * Fine, twenty shillings. The lady granted out of her hands to William 
atte Mershe and his heirs one villein tenement . . . called Mershtenement. . . .' 
(Finis xx s Domina concessit extra mama suas Wilhlmo atte Mershe et heredibus suis mum 
tenementum natiwm . . . vocation Mershtenement. . . .) Many other fines follow. The 
whole roll is several feet long 

Waters A PORTRAIT OF RICHARD u. The head of the gilt copper effigy in Westminster 
Abbey, made at the King's order by Nicholas Broker and Godfrey Prest, * Copper- 
smiths of London', after the death of Queen Anne in IQCU. (See L Stone 
Sculpture in Britain: the Middle Ages (1955), P- i) (See also p 3 .il 86 ff.) ' 


kept accounts and more in the hands of small farmers who did 
not. We know a great deal about the details of some depart- 
ments of royal administration and justice, because their records 
have survived, comparatively little about the ordinary lives of 
ordinary people. 

These warnings must be borne in mind as we go on to pick 
out the social changes of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. 
Changes of two broad kinds appear to have taken place. In 
the first place there are the economic changes which tended 
to level some classes and to elevate others. The growth of the 
cloth industry and the prosperity of commerce, compared with 
the relative stagnation of incomes from land, and especially 
from manors, in the fifteenth century, tended to make the 
merchant more important economically and socially. Of 
course there had always been wealthy traders, and William de 
la Pole (whom Edward III elevated to the rank of banneret in 
1339 because he had c made and procured to be made such a 
supply of money that by his means our honour and the honour 
of our followers, thanks be to God, has been preserved '). was 
perhaps outstanding in the whole Middle Ages. In the fif- 
teenth century, however, the gap -was very gradually closing. 
The merchant who called himself a ' gentleman \ and was 
often a landowner as well, was common. In 1523 Thomas 
Spring, the clothier of Lavenham, was reckoned the richest 
man in Suffolk after the Duke of Norfolk : an exaltation of 
industrial wealth hardly imaginable two centuries earlier. No 
merchant entered the peerage in this period but it was not 
uncommon for fifteenth-century merchants to take knighthood, 
or for their daughters to marry into the landed gentry. The 
decline of demesne cultivation (to be described later) gave 
opportunities for the more prosperous peasantry to acquire 
more landed property. Chaucer's Franklin (i.e. a wealthy * free- 
man ", neither gentle nor serf) was evidently a type of farmer 
who was common in the fourteenth century. The economics 
of agriculture gave greater opportunities to men of this type 
and those below them and perhaps tended eventually to blur 
the distinctions between gentry and peasantry. There must 
always have been a large stratum of landless men living at a 
low material level, but the economic situation was certainly 
more in their favour in 1500 than in 1300. 


Secondly, there is the relative decline in the importance of 
the clergy. Medieval men assumed the distinction between 
the laity, whose business was to work and fight, and the clergy, 
who enjoyed the monopoly of religious wisdom and of learning. 
This idea was challenged by Lollardy and imperceptibly 
dissolved by social change. In the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries the Church had commanded enough landed wealth 
and international prestige to divide the world with kings and 
magnates. It probably suffered more, however, than any 
other part of society from the relative decline in landed income 
in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and its international 
loyalties decayed beyond recall. It was inconceivable that an 
archbishop of the late fifteenth century, a Bourgchier or a 
Morton, should stand up to the king like Pecham or Winchelsey. 

By this time also the Church had long lost the monopoly 
of education which had once been so naturally assumed. That 
monopoly had not been complete. No judge of King's Bench 
was a cleric after the reign of Edward II. Cathedrals, abbeys, 
and colleges maintained grammar schools which might be 
attended by the laity, and there were parish schools at a lower 
level- But 'in the fifteenth century the supply of education for 
laymen seems to have been expanding. The first of many 
schools founded by citizens of London seems to have been that 
endowed by the will of the grocer, William Sevenoaks, in 1432 
to provide 6 a Bachelor of Arts but by no means in holy orders 
to keep a grammar school in Sevenoaks to teach and instruct 
all boys whatsoever coming there for learning *. The intro- 
duction of printing at the end of the fifteenth century satisfied 
an increasing demand for books. William Caxton, the first 
English printer, who had been a merchant in the Low 
Countries, learned the art at Cologne. In 1477 he printed at 
Westminster c The Diets or Sayengs of the Philosophres ', 
translated by a layman, Earl Rivers. His printing of c Tullius 
of Old Age ' (a translation of Cicero's De Senectute) in 1481 
was designed c for noble wyse and grete lordes, gentilmen and 
marchauntes that have ben and dayly ben occupyed in maters 
towchyng the publyque weal *. In the fifteenth century there 
were flourishing Inns of Court at London (Lincoln's Inn and 
Gray's Inn and the Inner Temple and Middle Temple), which 
provided a lay education in the common law for those who 


intended to practise in the royal courts, quite independently 
of the universities. Estate administrators and royal officials in 
the reign of Edward IV were commonly laymen, and laymen 
took an increasing part in the administration of Church estates. 
Even religion, in the days of the Lollards and Margery Kempe, 
and after, was less a preserve of the clergy. 

Another considerable and rather mysterious change was 
the replacement of French by English as the language of the 
nobility and of the law-courts in the fourteenth century. Not 
until then can we regard English as the language of all 
Englishmen. In the fifteenth century many official documents 
were still written in Latin but it was much diminished in 
importance and French was nearly ousted. Chaucer and his 
successors produced a cultivated courtly literature in English, 
the Lollards a Bible and popular religious writings. In 
England, as in some other European countries at the same 
time, the vernacular had become supreme, and this no doubt 
helped to break some of the barriers between classes. 

The outstanding figure in the literary side of this develop- 
ment was of course Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400). Chaucer 
was an esquire in the household of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, 
and then of the King in the later part of the reign of Edward III 
and the reign of Richard II. He was rewarded with the post 
of Controller of Customs in the port of London and went on 
several diplomatic missions abroad. On this business he 
visited Italy at least twice (probably for the first time in 1372-3) 
and possibly found some literary inspiration there. His long 
poem Troilus and Criseyde retells an old story partly in imitation 
of Italian authors and with a courtly sophistication of style 
that was new in English literature. The Canterbury Tales 
obviously owe much to a long and acute observation of manners 
by one who had done business with Englishmen of many 
different classes. Their Prologue is the most famous of all 
descriptions of English society and, since it was written in the 
middle of our period, it is worth recalling for a moment the 
individuals whom Chaucer assembled at Southwark on an 
April morning in the reign of Richard II. Gentle society was 
represented by the Knight, a chivalrous man of war who had 
fought against the heathen Slav, like Henry Bolingbroke before 
he became King Henry IV, and against the Turk in the East. 


His son was a Squire who had been in a chevauchee in Flanders. 
They had a servant Yeoman who was a Forester. In Chaucer's 
cruelly realistic picture of the Church, the good side was 
represented by the conscientious and devout Poor Parson, a 
village priest who did not press his parishioners for their tithes 
or run off to work in a chantry saying prayers for payment, 
and the Clerk of Oxford, completely absorbed in his Aristotle ; 
the bad side by the Prioress, a cheerful lady of accomplished 
manners, the hunting Monk, the worldly Friar, the lecherous 
and corrupt Summoner an official of the bishop's court and 
the Pardoner, selling indulgences from Rome which promised 
pardon for sins. Rural society was present in the Franklin, a 
prosperous landowner who had been knight of the shire and 
sheriff, the Wife of Bath who knew about cloth-making, the 
wily Reeve, the Miller, and the Ploughman. From commerce 
came the rich Merchant, who traded with the Low Countries, 
and the Shipman, who knew all the harbours from Denmark 
to Spain. There was also a Serjeant of the Law and a 
Manciple, who was a household official. This is a good cross- 
section of society. We have to investigate the fortunes of these 
classes in the century after the Black Death. 


A few single events in English history have been both 
sudden and enormously important. English history without 
the battle of Hastings and the consequent imposition of a new 
Norman aristocracy, or without the battle of Saratoga, and 
the consequent loss of the American colonies, would be 
unimaginably different. The Black Death of 1349 is a turning- 
point of a different but equally decisive kind. It initiated a 
long period in which the basic material forces working on 
society were different from what they had been in the central 
Middle Ages, and this change had profound effects on almost 
every aspect of history in the century after. The first plague 
of 1349 was unmatched in its ferocity but it began a long 
period, ending only with the Great Plague of London in 1665, 
in which pestilence frequently recurred ; during the centuries 
of the Renaissance and Reformation men lived in terror of 
this common scourge. The age of plague began quite 


suddenly with the Black Death and it quickly altered the 
climate and tendencies of English history. 

The bubonic plague, which was carried by black rats and 
had already ravaged much of the continent of Europe, probably 
appeared at Melcombe Regis in the summer of 1348. In that 
year and the next it spread through England like a forest fire, 
killing large numbers of people in every part of the country. 
Though we are suspicious of the hysterical entries of chroniclers, 
in this case they were justified ; monasteries were sometimes 
nearly wiped out. In the diocese of Lincoln, which stretched 
from the Humber to the Thames, just over 40 per cent of the 
beneficed clergy died. In 1361 the scourge returned in the 
c Second Pestilence 9 , or e Pestilence of the Children ', as it was 
sometimes called, because it particularly attacked the young 
rather than those who had perhaps acquired an immunity in 
surviving the earlier plague ; and it recurred in 1368 and 
1375. After this it became increasingly frequent and also less 
severe, until in 1454 William Paston could write fairly calmly 
that he was retiring into the country to avoid an outbreak in 
London : plague had become one of the accepted hazards. 

Apart from the catastrophic mortality of 1349 itself, the 
plagues caused a long decline in population. England in the 
reign of Edward II, we have seen, was a heavily populated 
country in which cultivable land was scarce. In the fifteenth 
century it was quite different. We do not know exactly how 
much of this change was due to the plague ; the great floods 
and famines of the years 1315-17 had perhaps been the turning- 
point which ended the medieval expansion of population. In 
the over-populated England of 1315 many people must have 
lived on plots of land which could barely support them, or on 
barely adequate wages, so that they were very vulnerable to 
any natural calamity. Population growth may have been 
halted by the natural limits of subsistence. But there is little 
doubt that plague was the main factor in causing a steep fall 
in population. No one compiled population statistics in the 
Middle Ages, but we can tell from the changes in wages and 
prices that men must have been scarcer in the fifteenth century. 1 
And there are also the tangible evidences of abandoned villages. 

1 M. M. Postan, ' Economic Evidence of Declining Population *, 
Econ.H.R. (1950) 


It is quite likely that a population of about 3^ millions in the 
early fourteenth century had been reduced to 2% millions by 
the sudden and then gradual fall lasting into the mid-fifteenth 
century. After that the population probably began to grow 
again, but only slowly; soon after 1500 a Venetian visitor 
was struck by the fact that 6 the population of this island does 
not appear to bear any proportion to her fertility and riches \ 
and it was probably not before the reign of Elizabeth I that as 
many people lived in England again as had done in the reign 
of Edward II. 

It would be a great mistake to suppose that English society 
was quickly crushed by this series of disasters. On the contrary 
there arc many reasons for thinking that in the reign of 
Richard II (1377-99) it blossomed in a profusion of original 
activity such as it had never known before. Chaucer and 
Langland were writing the masterpieces, the Canterbury Tales, 
Troilus and Criseyde, and Piers Plowman, which made English a 
great literary language after its centuries of obscurity. The 
naves of Winchester and Canterbury, the choir of York, and 
Westminster Hall were being built. The Wilton Diptych, 
perhaps the most beautiful medieval English painting, was 
made for Richard II. WyclifFe and the Lollards were attempt- 
ing to resurrect apostolic religion. The cloth industry was 
growing and English merchants, masters of their own trade as 
never before, were thrusting into the Baltic. In almost every- 
thing from perpendicular architecture to cloth export the 
civilisation of this country was more distinctively English, less 
bound to the common hierarchy and heritage of Christendom, 
than it had been for centuries. 

But, while the break-up of Christendom continued, the 
artistic and cultural blossoming of English civilisation did not. 
The wider diffusion of wealth and education in fifteenth- 
century England probably meant that a higher proportion of 
the population could read books and buy works of painting 
and sculpture than in 1300. The music of John Dunstable, 
who served in the household of John, Duke of Bedford, in the 
minority of Henry VI, the beautiful bronze effigy of Richard, 
Earl of Warwick, set in his memorial chapel at Warwick later 
in the same reign, or the chapel of King's College, Cambridge, 
begun by Henry VI, would be outstanding in any period. 


But these are almost the only aesthetic peaks and they do not 
equal the achievements of the age which saw the rebuilding 
of the octagon at Ely and the choir at Gloucester, or those of 
the reign of Richard II. Fifteenth-century art was more 
widely spread but also less impressive in individual examples. 
The churches of Somerset and other flourishing wool and cloth 
areas reached a new level of general excellence and lavishness 
in parochial architecture. The commonest sculptural remains 
are the alabaster reliefs of religious subjects and the funeral 
brasses which were produced in large quantities and tended 
to become monotonously standardised. Most English painting 
after the Wilton Diptych is both derivative and unexciting. 
Social explanations of art history are full of pitfalls, but it is 
worth while speculating about these changes. The old centres 
of patronage and inspiration, the court, the cathedrals, the 
monasteries, and the noble households, were all weakened 
in their relative economic power, and there were thus fewer 
incentives of the kind which produced the really aspiring 
enterprises of the central Middle Ages. The wider diffu- 
sion of wealth meant probably more art but also less art of 
superlative quality. Great things of course were being 
accomplished on the Continent, some of them not far from 
England, in the age of Donatello and the Van Eycks, con- 
temporaries of Henry VI. But English social change reduced 
the old sources of patronage without replacing them by new 
ones comparable with the Florentine merchants of the Medici 
period, the contemporary Flemish merchants, or the court of 
the Dukes of Burgundy. If Florentine humanism and the 
Florentine and Flemish art of this period had so remarkably 
little impact on England it cannot have been because they 
were inaccessible : the two worlds existed side by side with 
much political, ecclesiastical, and commercial intercourse. It 
must have been because there were few people with the 
initiative or the power to take a serious interest in them. It is 
impossible to escape the feeling that England in the fifteenth 
century was culturally dull, flat, and unenterprising and had 
less to compare with the inventiveness of the Italian cities than 
in the lifetime of Edward I. 

The interest of this later period consists, then, less in its 
few immediate cultural achievements than in the profound 


and gradual evolution of society and politics which was turning 
medieval into Tudor England. In most aspects of society we 
shall notice these two phases, both of which are intimately 
connected with the changes brought about by the plague : 
firstly, the atmosphere of crisis, social conflict, and lively self- 
consciousness which characterises the end of the fourteenth 
century ; secondly, the stability and sleepiness of a society 
which had quenched the fires of upheaval but was gradually 
changing in its essential character. 

In many parts of England today there are deserted villages, 
places which we know from the records to have been villages 
in the Middle Ages and where the outlines of the houses and 
streets can sometimes still be seen (Plate 2). They are 
not rare ; in Lincolnshire, which was one of the counties 
where medieval rural expansion most overreached itself, there 
are over a hundred discovered sites. Probably there were two 
different periods in which this depopulation took place and 
two different reasons for it. In the decades following the Black 
Death many villages, especially those where the land was less 
suited for agriculture, must simply have died out. At 
Woodeaton near Oxford, for instance, soon after the Black 
Death, the Abbot of Eynsham could persuade the few remain- 
ing tenants to stay only by reducing their rents. Later, some 
time in the fifteenth century, a new kind of depopulation 
started. Landlords, affected by the scarcity of labour and the 
demand for wool and meat, began to destroy villages deliber- 
ately by putting an end to arable cultivation and turning the 
land over to grazing for sheep or to parks for deer. In the 
reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII this was regarded as a 
scandal and legislated against, but most of the damage had 
probably been done before 1485. In 1506 it was said that 
* about eighty years before, Pendley [in Hertfordshire] was a 
great town [the word means " village " in medieval English], 
. . . There were in the town above 13 ploughs beside divers 
handicraftsmen, as tailors, shoemakers and cardmakers with 
divers other. The town was afterwards cast down and laid to 
pasture by Sir Robert Whittingham who built (Pendley Manor) 
at the west end there as the town sometime stood. . . .* z As 
early as 1459 a chantry priest of Warwick called John Rous 

1 M. W. Beresford, The Lost Villages of England (1954), PP* 


was agitating against the destruction of villages that he had 
observed in the country around* c The sons not of God but 
of Mammon ', who caused it, found wool and meat more 
profitable to produce than grain. The basic cause behind it 
was that there were many fewer people in the English country- 
side than there had been in the thirteenth century, and many 
places which had once been busy villages either naturally 
became, or could profitably be turned into, fields or wastes. 
Much of England had relapsed into economic decay, but the 
same factors gave new opportunities to the grazier and the 
enclosing landlord. 

These were the long-term material results of the fall in 
population. The plagues also had important effects on the 
structure of rural society because they altered the relationship 
between land and labour. The seignorial society of the central 
Middle Ages had thrived on an abundance of men and a 
shortage of land which kept people bound to their plots and 
subjected to their landlords. It was now undermined. The 
most immediate effect of the Black Death, as it appeared to 
the seignorial lord, was to make labour scarce and wages high. 
In parliament the Commons, representing people of the gentry 
and c franklin 9 classes, complained bitterly of the hardships 
resulting from this and sought measures to counteract them. 
Their main weapons were the Statutes of Labourers, which 
from 1351 onwards prescribed maximum wages and insisted 
that all able-bodied landless men must work. For some years 
the legislation was enforced by special Justices of Labourers in 
whom the Commons took a particular interest, as they did in 
urging increased severity in the penalties. Some of the cases 
show that there was competition between lords for labour and, 
though wages were kept lower by these statutes than they 
would otherwise have been, they still rose. 

At Theydon Garnon in Essex about 1390 e Simon Jakeboy 
withdrew John Pretylwell from the service of Thomas Mason 
into his own service in the occupation of maltmonger giving 
him 26 shillings and eightpence and food and clothing every 
year excessively contrary to the statute, which John Pretylwell 
formerly was a ploughman'. 1 The period of panic and 

1 N. Kenyon, * Labour Conditions in Essex in the Reign of Richard II ', 
Econ.H.R., 4 (1934), P- 433 


desperate measures, marked particularly by the statutes of 
1351 and 1388, was succeeded by a long period in the fifteenth 
century when most wages were substantially higher than they 
had been in the early fourteenth century and the fact was 

The changed conditions were manifested more seriously in 
a shortage of tenants. The pressure on land had been so great 
that many landlords found it easy to fill up the vacant holdings 
after the plague of 1349. By the end of Edward Ill's reign, 
however, the continued shortage was beginning to have its 
effects. Most manors had some houses and plots which were 
empty c by reason of the pestilence '. This made things 
difficult all round for the manorial landlord. His tenants 
could now find alternative accommodation or employment and 
therefore he could not keep up his rents. At the same time 
he now had fewer villeins to perform labour services and so 
became even more dependent on the expensive wage labour. 
On top of this the tendency at this period was for agricultural 
prices to keep low (because fewer people were buying food), 
while the prices of imported things and manufactures went up. 
Landlords, and especially manorial landlords, were hard hit. 
The reaction of many of them was to make the most of their 
ancient rights of manorial jurisdiction. Villeins, at least, 
could legally be compelled to stay on the manor and even to 
pay rent for holdings they did not want. The steward of the 
Earl of March wrote to a reeve of a manor in 1391 ordering 
him to look after the villeins lest the lord should be ' disin- 
herited of their blood '. The Abbot of St Albans on his 
extensive estates insisted that no land should pass between his 
tenants by their simply making charters granting it to each 
other outside his manorial courts, lest he should lose control of 
it. The manorial system became more resented as the tenants 
became more conscious of their scarcity value. In the first 
parliament of Richard IPs reign (1377) the Commons com- 
plained at length of villeins conspiring together to withdraw 
their services. This evident conflict of interests was lifted 
directly into the political sphere by the poll taxes 5 of 1377-81. 
These were levied on everybody by head, instead of falling 
more heavily on the wealthy and hardly at all on the mass of 
the population, as did the traditional lay subsidies. The last 


and most obnoxious of them provoked the first social revolution 
in English history. 

The Peasants' Revolt began at the end of May 1381 with 
risings on each side of the Thames at Brentford in Essex and 
Gravesend in Kent. The two bands of rebels converged on 
London and entered the city on I3th June 1381. For two 
days the aldermen were cowed, the court besieged in the 
Tower, and the city given over to the mobs. Many houses 
were plundered and burned ; they destroyed John of Gaunt's 
manor of the Savoy (he wisely slipped across the border into 
Scotland when the revolt started) ; Simon Sudbury, Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, was captured in the 
Tower and killed. For the time being the court could survive 
only by negotiating, and so there took place the two extraordi- 
nary interviews between the fourteen-year-old King Richard II 
and the rebels. The meeting at Mile End, at which he con- 
ceded the abolition of villeinage, probably took place while the 
rebels were entering and sacking the Tower. The next day 
he went to Smithfield to meet another gathering headed by 
the Kentish leader Wat Tyler, who presented the most extreme 
of the proposals. When these demands had, with what seems 
now a pathetic irony, been granted, the Mayor of London, 
William Walworth, who was riding with the King, pulled 
Tyler from his horse and the rebel captain was immediately 
slain. Miraculously Tyler's followers accepted the King's 
order to disperse. Whether they believed they had really won 
their dream, whether the death of Tyler took the heart out of 
them, or whether they were tired of the rebellion, at any rate 
the crisis at London was virtually at an end. 

In both Kent and Essex the original risings were directed 
at least partly against the hated poll tax, but it soon appeared 
that the aims of the rebels were more fundamental. The 
charter which they extorted from the King at Mile End 
abolished villeinage and laid down that the annual rent of 
land should be no more than fourpence an acre. This 
probably represented in an abbreviated form the hopes of the 
mass of the rebels. It does not appear to have been essentially 
a revolt of landless men but rather of tenants wishing to be rid 
of the irksome burdens of villeinage and the manor. William 
atte Marsh of Mose in Essex, who was fined along with the 


other tenants of the manor for his part in the revolt and had 
to pay twenty shillings to get back his villein holding plus his 
other twenty acres, was typical of thousands of men of sub- 
stance in the village communities of south-east England who 
took part in the great * Rumor' (Plate 11). Another set of 
demands, which are said to have been presented to the King 
by the rebels at Smithfield, are quite different. 

c And then . . . Wat [Tyler] rehearsed the points which 
were to be requested and asked that there should hence- 
forward be no law except the law of Winchester [probably 
the police regulations of Edward Fs Statute of Winchester] 
and that there should be no outlawry in any process of law 
henceforward, that no lord should have lordship but that 
there should be proportion between all people, saving only 
the lordship of the king ; that the goods of holy church 
ought not to be in the hands of men of religion, or parsons 
or vicars, or others of holy church, but these should have 
their sustenance easily and the rest of the goods be divided 
between the parishioners ; and there should be no bishop 
in England but one, no prelate but one and all the lands 
... of the possessioners should be taken from them and 
divided between the commons, saving their reasonable 
sustenance to them ; and that there should be no villein 
in England or any serfdom or villeinage, but all to be free 
and of one condition.' x 

This proposed a total subversion of the hierarchy of society, 
not the ordinary villein's demand for release from the disabili- 
ties of his condition. It is clearly connected with the famous 
couplet of John Ball, the preacher who was condemned after 
the revolt. 

When Adam delved and Eve span 

Who was then a gentleman ? 

Each of these social aspirations had a long ancestry. The 
desire to abolish villeinage had been foreshadowed in many 
village disputes between lords and tenants trying to establish 
* ancient demesne ' (that the estate in question had been held 
directly by the king at the time of Domesday Book), which 
1 The Anonimalle Ckronick, 1333-1381, ed. V. H. Galbraith (1927), p. 147 


was commonly held to free a manor of some of the burdens 
of unfreedom. The egalitarianism of Ball is foreshadowed in 
earlier sermons. The combination of the two made a particu- 
larly explosive mixture, the fight for material advantage fired 
with religious enthusiasm. The social circumstances intensi- 
fied conflict of interest between lords and tenants were ideal ; 
so was the political situation of a boy king hedged about by 
suspected counsellors, an unsuccessful war, a tax thought to be 
monstrously unjust. 

The original movements in Kent, Essex, and London 
inspired others. In Hertfordshire, where the great abbey of 
St Albans covered much of the county with its manors and 
judicial liberties, a conscientious abbot, Thomas de la Mare, 
had caused much resentment by his careful guarding of the 
abbey's rights. On the day of the meeting at Smithfield a 
body of his tenants marched to London, secured from the King 
a charter of their rights, and marched back the same day to 
present it to the abbot. For some days the abbey was in a 
state of siege. The tenants believed there was a lost charter 
of King Henry I which granted them all they wished. Since 
it could not be found and indeed did not exist they insisted 
instead on rights of way and of hunting the woods, fishing the 
river, the right to grind their own corn at home instead of in 
the abbot's mill, the right to buy and sell land amongst 
themselves and, of course, the abolition of villeinage. For a 
few days they lived in the delusion that their new liberty was 

From Essex the revolt spread over the border into Suffolk 
and developed into a number of dispersed risings and plunder- 
ings which were loosely controlled by a priest called John 
Wrawe. The most serious episode in this area was another 
quarrel with a great abbey, Bury St Edmunds. Here again 
the tenants of the town and the surrounding manors had old 
grievances against their powerful landlord, and the approach 
of the rebels was the sign for them to rise in sympathy. They 
broke into the abbey and for a time extorted liberties from the 
abbot. Another wing of the revolt at the other end of Suffolk 
reached its climax in the plundering of the town of Ipswich. 
Apart from the movement of Wat Tyler and John Ball, the 
most idealistic or ambitious of the risings was in Norfolk, where 


a rebel army, led by a dyer, Geoffrey Lister, and a knight, Sir 
Roger Bacon, advanced on Norwich, plundered it, and killed 
a judge. Bacon then led part of the rebels off to commit 
atrocities at Yarmouth, but Lister's followers remained in force 
in the north of the county and tried to legitimise themselves 
by seeking the recognition of local magnates. Several knights 
were persuaded or compelled to join them. Lister assumed 
the tide of ' King of the Commons * and accepted petitions of 
grievances from all over the county. The records of the 
manorial lords were systematically destroyed until the rebels 
were defeated by the warlike Bishop Henry Despenser of 
Norwich in a battle at North Walsham. 

By the end of June the revolts were everywhere suppressed. 
Concessions granted to buy off the rebels were withdrawn and 
society had returned to its previous stable hierarchy. The 
rebels achieved practically nothing. Their deeds are interest- 
ing mainly for their drama and for their revelation of the acute 
tensions in society. The social crisis of the early part of 
Richard IFs reign died down and was succeeded by the 
gradual changes of the fifteenth century. 

The problems of manorial and village society remained 
after the revolt and continued to be intensified by the growing 
shortage of men. The villein who flees from his native village 
to throw off the shackles of serfdom and live in freedom and 
prosperity in a distant town is a familiar legendary figure in 
English history. In the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV 
he was no legend but a real and common type. It was possible 
for some villeins to live legally outside their manors by paying 
' chevage * annually to the lords. Others simply disappeared, 
for the shortage of men was so great that they could easily find 
employment in a town or a free holding in another village, and 
rural society was so fragmented that it was generally impossible 
to recapture them. In 1387 at Wilburton in Cambridgeshire 
the court roll of the manor tells us that no tenant can be found 
for the lands which a certain villein * abandoned in flight '. 
This was a common occurrence and its effects on the organisa- 
tion of the manor were serious. Holdings had to be let to new 
tenants for smaller rents and often without the old labour 
services. The total value of the rents of most manors declined 
somewhat and the combined effect of high wages, disappearing 


labour services, and low prices of grain was to make the working 
of the demesne lands relatively unprofitable except to provide 
food for home consumption. 

Most of the great seignorial landlords reacted to these 
circumstances by giving up the direct cultivation of the demesne 
and leasing it to farmers. It was the accepted remedy for the 
difficulties of the times. The auditors of John of Gaunt said 
of two of his manors in 1388 : c The husbandry of Higham 
Ferrers and Raunds is of no value beyond the costs there which 
are so great each year that the said husbandry is a great loss 
to my lord, wherefore the demesne lands ought to and can be 
leased at farm as in other places.' In the reigns of Richard II, 
Henry IV, and Henry V (1377-1422) this was happening all 
over England. John of Gaunt's manors, which made up the 
great Duchy of Lancaster, had practically no land in demesne 
by 1399 when his son conquered the throne. The estates of 
the Bishop of Winchester were all farmed out in the early 
fifteenth century. By 1422 the old regime of the manorial 
lords was practically dead. 

It is more difficult to say what replaced it. The elaborate 
organisation of the great estates of the thirteenth and four- 
teenth centuries produced a mass of written records, especially 
accounts and court rolls, which tell us much about the manors 
and about the countryside in general. In the fifteenth century 
when lords were no longer cultivating the demesnes themselves, 
their manorial accounts commonly became brief lists of rents 
paid by tenants, and this is an obstacle to our understanding 
of the countryside. There are, however, a few things which 
we can say about it with a fair degree of certainty. Firstly 
the class of substantial peasants or farmers flourished greatly 
and to a large extent the control of most villages was given 
over to them. At Forncett in Norfolk there were eighteen 
villein families in the manor in 1400. Six of them were still 
there in the early sixteenth century, of whom three continued 
to hold moderately sized lands while three others became big 
farmers : the villein family of Bolitout included one individual 
farming seventy-eight acres, a member of the Dosy family held 
two houses and a hundred and ten acres in 1500, and a Bole 
in 1477 farmed the whole of a neighbouring manor. Similar 
changes happened in most parts of England. The big farmers 


inherited the position of the manorial lords. This happened 
partly because of the leasing-out of the demesne, which put 
much more land at the disposal of tenants, partly also because 
of the shortage of tenants which enabled the more energetic of 
those who remained to take over vacant holdings. The 
typical farmer of the fifteenth century held a patchwork of 
pieces of land ; the symmetrical villein tenements, all of the 
same size and owing the same services, which had been 
common still in the fourteenth century, became rare. The 
extremes of wealth and poverty in the peasantry were stretched. 
At Frisby in Lincolnshire in 1381 there were sixteen families, 
all tenants, of whom the richest were reckoned to be two or 
three times as wealthy as the poorest. In 1524 there were 
only ten families of whom three had no land and two were 
wealthier than all the rest together. 

The second thing which certainly happened was the 
gradual disappearance of villeinage. The reason for this was 
generally not deliberate manumission of individuals (Henry VII 
manumitted all villeins on Crown estates in 1485 partly 
because villeinage was by then becoming an anomaly) or 
commutation of services. It was firstly because many villein 
families died out and could not be replaced ; secondly, 
because many fled and their villeinage was forgotten ; thirdly, 
because the splitting-up of demesnes made labour services out 
of date. In this way both personal villeinage and villein tenure 
gradually died. The mass of descendants of the villeins were 
coming to hold their lands not by the old customary tenures 
but by copyhold, that is to say by an agreement with the lord 
of the manor, made in the manor court, to which the title deed 
was * copy of court roll '. In the reign of Edward IV the 
common law-courts were beginning to hear cases about copy- 
hold and the importance of the manorial court was evapora- 
ting with the rest of the manor. 


The changes in the character and direction of commerce 
were as remarkable as those in agricultural society. In this 
period there took place the fundamental change from England 
as an exporter merely of raw material, to England as an 


exporter of cloth which was to be the basis of her commercial 
and imperial power for several centuries after. 

In 1437 the fashionable poet Lydgate could still write c Of 
Brutus' Albion his wool is chief richesse *. The export of raw 
wool remained an essential part of the English economy. But 
there were changes. Wool-growing was not now concentrated 
so much in the great Cistercian and Benedictine estates or in 
the north-eastern pans of England. By the end of the four- 
teenth century Hull and Boston had lost their predominance 
as exporting ports to London and Southampton, because the 
chief centre of sheep-farming was now the Cotswolds. We do 
not really know why this change happened. One factor may 
have been the improvement in the quality of Cotswold as 
compared with Lincolnshire wool. Another may have been 
the decline of demesne farming by the great religious houses 
and the greater importance of small estates, which were 
common in the Cotswolds, Some of these Cotswold woolmen 
are still portrayed in the brasses over their tombs in churches 
which they built with the proceeds of their trade in Northleach, 
Chipping Camden, and Stow-on-the-Wold (Plate 16). We 
are given an unusual insight into the organisation of the trade 
in the fourteen-seventies and eighties by the surviving letters of 
a London family, the Celys. They rode out to the Cotswolds 
to buy their wool, mainly from dealers in the towns and 
villages like William Midwinter of Northleach. The wool 
was then carried to London and packed by professional 
woolpackers for the crossing to Calais. Once it got to Calais 
it came under the jurisdiction of the Company of the Staple 
of which the Celys, like most English wool exporters, were 
members. Since its establishment at Calais in 1363 the 
Company of the Staple had continued with only brief intervals 
to dominate the export of English wool. Although the trade 
was now in decline from the great days of de la Pole, this had 
perhaps served only to strengthen the Staplers' monopoly and 
it was still active enough to be an important national institu- 
tion. It was a rigid monopoly controlled probably by the 
larger exporters. The Celys, who were not big businessmen, 
found its regulations irksome and attempted to evade them by 
surreptitiously changing the marks on their bales when they 
were being graded by the Company's officers. English wool 


seems to have been as indispensable as ever to the clothiers of 
Flanders and now to the growing cloth towns of Holland, like 
Leiden which regularly sent representatives to Calais to buy 
the year's supply for the town. So the monopoly of the 
Staple was effective. In the early part of the reign of Henry VI 
the Staplers even tried for a time to make foreign merchants 
pay for their wool in gold and silver on the spot, and to compel 
all native exporters to take part in an organised partition of 
profits. In the days of the Celys, however, the usual system 
seems to have been for the foreign buyer to fetch his wool from 
Calais and then pay the representatives of the exporter at a 
later time at one of the great fairs held in the towns of the 
Low Countries, probably Bruges or Antwerp. 

The Staple was for several reasons an important political 
institution. Except during the period when much of northern 
France was controlled by the English, from 1417 to 1435, 
Calais was an outpost between France and the Duke of 
Burgundy's dominions in Flanders. It was heavily fortified 
and guarded by a permanent garrison. Wool itself was a 
source of great profit to the king through the customs, and the 
staplers were a source of loans. By the Act of Retainer in 1466 
the Company took over the farming of the wool custom in 
return for paying the wages of the garrison, which was by that 
time the only English force on the Continent. 

But the Staplers controlled a declining trade. In the 
middle of the fourteenth century England exported over 
30,000 sacks of wool a year. This figure sank gradually to 
about 15,000 by 1400 and about 10,000 by 1485. It was not 
the lack of a market that caused the decline. c I have not 
bought this year a lock of wool,' Richard Cely wrote in 1480, 
' for the wool of Cotswold is bought by the Lombards. 5 Not 
only the Flemings hungered for English wool ; Venetians and 
Florentines still came to ride about the Cotswolds, seeking it 
for the industry of Italy. Italians who exported directly to the 
Mediterranean by sea had the privilege of exemption from the 
Staple and they carried quantities in their galleys from London 
and Southampton. For the explanation of the decline we 
must turn to the other most notable feature of English 
commerce, the rise of the cloth industry. 

In the second half of the fourteenth century the export of 


English cloth rose from small beginnings to a yearly average 
of over 30,000 cloths (each twenty-four yards by two yards), 
while the import of cloth practically disappeared. In the 
fourteen-forties the average rose to over 50,000 and, after a 
fall for two or three decades, this was roughly the level again 
in 1485. We do not know why the cloth industry made such 
strides just at this period and perhaps the lack of direct evidence 
will prevent us from ever knowing, but we can guess some of 
the probable factors. Firstly, a high level of customs, generally 
about 2 a sack or a quarter of the price, was levied on wool 
exports throughout this period, while cloth paid only a small 
duty. This must have given enormous advantages to the 
English manufacturer over his Flemish counterparts, who 
indeed complained at one time that the cost of the English 
finished product was no more than Continental clothiers paid 
for their raw material. Secondly, it is probable that the 
English industry, which, as a relative newcomer, did not suffer 
so much from old-established monopolies and gilds, had 
advantages over the industry of such old city centres as Ghent 
or Florence. Thirdly, it is possible that the declining profita- 
bility of agriculture encouraged more peasants, and even lords, 
to take an interest in cloth-making. 

The most striking development of cloth-making in the 
fourteenth century took place in a group of towns, notably 
Coventry, Norwich, York, and Salisbury ; but already in the 
first half of the fifteenth century they were losing their pre- 
dominance to the country districts in which the industry was 
to have its future. Because water power was necessary for 
fulling-mills, cloth-making tended to be concentrated in three 
areas which were well supplied with suitable streams : the 
hilly country of the southern Cotswolds, the Mendips, and 
western Wiltshire ; the Stour valley in Suffolk and Essex; and the 
West Riding of Yorkshire. Why the industry moved out of 
the towns at this period is again in part a mysterious matter, 
but it may be that the decay of tillage made weaving an 
attractive alternative, and that the small man had advantages 
over the large employer. In its early stages the country cloth 
industry seems to have been very much the business of small 
men. The clothing village which we know most about in its 
early stages is Castle Combe in Wiltshire where the lord of 


the manor, the soldier Sir John Fastolf, encouraged the industry 
to supply cloth for his soldiers in France. In 1435 a villein 
died there whose chattels were worth the large sum of over 
200, who contributed 20 to building a church tower, and 
who had a stock of cloths and dye-stuffs and a fulling-mill of 
his own. At least fifty new houses were built in the village in 
the first half of the fifteenth century. Castle Combe is in the 
heart of the Wiltshire cloth area. Near by at Trowbridge and 
Bradford on Avon lived James Terumber who died in 1488, 
one of the first magnates of the country cloth industry, who 
must have organised the work of many weavers and spinners. 1 
The most famous of them were perhaps the Spring family of 
Lavenham in Suffolk, where the church which they endowed, 
like other cloth churches in Suffolk, remains witness to the 
wealth of the industry at the end of the fifteenth century. In 
the West Riding the clothing industry spread up the valleys 
along the streams away from the old town centres of York and 
Beverley, and this is the only area where it has survived into 
recent times. In the others only a few lavish churches remain 
to remind us that England was the Japan of the later Middle 
Ages, exporting all over the Western world certain standard 
types of cheap, serviceable cloth, mostly plain, undyed stuff. 
In the fifteenth century, English cloth was being sold by the 
Hansards to the Russians at Novgorod, and by the Italians at 

Certain main arteries of commerce became particularly 
important. In the first place there was the trade with northern 
Europe and especially with the Baltic, traditionally the pre- 
serve of the Hanseatic towns of the North Sea and Baltic 
coasts. In the reign of Richard II, Englishmen from London 
and from the east coast ports, Lynn, Boston, and Hull, began 
to push into German territory. By the end of that reign they 
had organised themselves, elected a governor, and had ware- 
houses at Danzig. The Hansards bitterly resented the intrusion 
and there was a long series of disputes lasting throughout the 
fifteenth century and beyond. The English regularly demanded 
the same generous privileges in the Hanse towns as the 

1 E. M. Carus-Wilson, * Evidences of Industrial Growth on some 
Fifteenth-century Manors *, Econ. H. R. (1059) ; Idem in Victoria History of 
Wiltshire, iv, ed. E. Crittall (1959) 


Hansards enjoyed in London ; the Hanse demanded their 
exclusion from the Baltic. Fifty years of bickering and piracy 
preceded the treaty of 1437 in which the Hanse largely gave 
way and allowed English trade at Danzig. For a time English 
trade in the Baltic expanded greatly. Then came renewed 
conflicts culminating in 1449 when a great fleet of 1 10 Hansard 
ships, coming through the Channel from western France, was 
captured by an English pirate holding a royal commission. 
After another long period of bickering a regular war broke out 
in 1468, to be ended by a treaty in 1474 by which the Hansards 
retained their extensive privileges in this country and the 
English were largely excluded from the Baltic. These quarrels 
illustrate the conditions of medieval trade and its relation with 
politics. They were struggles between would-be monopolists. 
Piracy was close to trade. The victory of the Hanse, remark- 
able in view of the large privileges which it had in London, 
was presumably ensured in the long run by the fact that its 
merchants were useful, as importers of pitch and furs and 
exporters of cloth, to almost everyone except the exporters 
with whom they competed directly. 

The second, and the most important, branch of English 
trade was with the Netherlands. Earlier it had been mainly 
the export of wool for Flemish textiles. Now it was increasingly 
the export of English cloth to be finished in the Netherlands 
or passed on unchanged into central Europe. In the trade 
with Middelburg, Antwerp, and Bergen-op-Zoom there began 
to develop the groups of English merchants who came to be 
known as the Merchant Adventurers. Organised groups of 
English traders with the towns of the Low Countries appear 
in the reign of Richard II, about the same time as in the 
Baltic. They received their first royal charter, the ancestor of 
all the privileges of the Merchant Adventurers, from Henry IV 
in 1407. From 1446, when they received an important grant 
of privileges from the Duke of Burgundy, they were particu- 
larly associated with Antwerp which became the main port of 
entry for English cloth into the Continent. It was a former 
Governor of the Merchant Adventurers, William Caxton, who 
introduced printing into England in the reign of Edward IV. 
Merchant Adventurers were also generally members of the 
Mercers' Company of London, that is to say dealers in cloth 


and * mercery *, miscellaneous luxury imports. They became 
increasingly the wealthiest groups of English traders overseas, 
as the artery connecting Rhine and Thames grew still more 

The third big overseas connection was with Gascony, an 
old link which grew weaker through the interference of the 
Hundred Years' War with the wine trade, and the ending in 
1453 of English political control. 

Lastly there was the trade with the Mediterranean, especi- 
ally the Italian cities, which remained important but acquired 
a new character. In the reign of Edward III the large-scale 
export of wool both declined and passed out of Italian hands 
with the withdrawal of the big Florentine firms and the 
growing dominance of the Staple. In the early fourteenth 
century regular voyages to England by Italian galleys were 
only beginning. In the early fifteenth century the Italians 
revived their trade and developed the galley system, Venetian 
galleys and Genoese carracks, much larger than the ships of 
northern Europe, visiting England in regular convoys of huge 
capacity. The Florentines did not begin to send galleys until 
the reign of Henry VI but they remained important in banking. 
They dominated the international exchanges of the north from 
their banks at Bruges and a subsidiary company of the Medici 
was bankrupted by lending money to Edward IV. The main 
articles exported to Italy were now cloth and tin. Tin for 
bronze statues was one small contribution from England to the 
art of the Renaissance. In the reign of Henry VI English 
merchants also made their' first tentative efforts to break into 
the Mediterranean. In 1456 William Sturmy, who had been 
Mayor of Bristol, took a ship with cloth and tin as well as 
pilgrims and tried to bring back a cargo of spices. He was 
waylaid near Malta by the Genoese, who feared this new 
rivalry, and his ship was sunk. Native English enterprise in 
the Mediterranean made little progress in this period, but 
Bristol merchants traded extensively with Spain and Portugal 
and sometimes ventured farther. The two ships which left 
Bristol in 1480 * to seek and discover a certain island called 
the He of Brasile * foreshadowed the expeditions of the Cabots 
who sailed to America from the same port only a few decades 


The total volume of English foreign trade seems to have 
declined during the period when the European economy was 
lengthily depressed by the fall in population after the Black 
Death ; and it is probable that in the Lancastrian period 
(1399-1461) the quantity of trade was somewhat smaller than 
it had been in the early fourteenth century. It was also a 
period of great bitterness between English and foreign mer- 
chants struggling for the same business, of which the quarrels 
with the Hanse are an example. The Italians, who had con- 
siderable colonies in London, were particularly hated in the 
reign of Henry VI by rival Englishmen, and strenuous attempts 
were made to restrict their activities by imposing hosting laws 
which forbade them to trade except through English e hosts '. 
Commercial jingoism was picturesquely expressed in a long 
doggerel poem called * The Libel [little book] of English 
Policy ', written about 1437 when English trade was tempo- 
rarily handicapped by a war with the Duke of Burgundy who 
had just made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Calais. The 
* Libel * took the view that foreigners, especially those of the 
Low Countries, could not do without our wool and cloth and 
would have to bend the knee or starve, and also that England 
should exploit her command of the Channel to strangle the 
trade of the Hansards or the Italians or any other merchants 
who were not amenable. 

Cherish, merchandise, keep th* admiralty, 
That we be masters of the narrow sea. 

On the whole English merchants agreed. They were aggressive 
and frequently successful in pushing their trade into new 

The age of depression was also an age of very great activity 
in which the general character of English overseas trade was 
fundamentally altered. Cloth replaced wool. The variety of 
luxury imports seems to have increased to meet a higher 
standard of living. The Merchant Adventurers not only took 
out cloth but also brought back more and more linen and silk 
and haberdashery. The Italians brought more spices, sugar, 
and silks than they had ever done before. Pepper, ginger, 
cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, black velvet, satin velvet, crimson 
velvet, a gold brooch, and eighty-four pieces of silk were listed 


as the imports of one Venetian merchant in 1438. The 
* libel " called them * nifles and trifles ' but they were bought 
in increasing quantities by the English public. Far more of 
the silks and satins of Florence and Venice were seen here than 
ever before, and when Henry VFs queen, Margaret of Anjou, 
visited Coventry, she was given oranges by the mayor. When 
the renewed expansion of commerce began in the reign of 
Edward IV, one of the biggest changes in the pattern of 
English economic history had taken place and trade was 
already in general character, if not in quantity, what it was 
to be in the reign of Henry VIII. 

(4) TOWNS 

The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 was not an exclusively rural 
affair. At a few places, notably Beverley in Yorkshire, it 
inspired riots by mobs against the rulers of the town which 
remind us that the third quarter of the fourteenth century was 
also a period of crisis in urban society. In the towns as in the 
countryside the labourer was strengthened and the employer 
weakened by the shortage of manpower. This conflict of 
interest appeared very clearly in the attempts of the masters 
of crafts to prevent the formation of gilds by the journeymen, 
who were essentially their employees, and of the bigger mer- 
chants in the towns to safeguard their position against the 
mass of the people and against the industrial gilds. The ruling 
oligarchies were in general wholly successful, but not without 
some struggles which have left their marks in history. The 
Cambridge parliament of 1388, which renewed the Statute of 
Labourers, also empowered sheriffs to inquire into all gilds 
within their counties ; and in 1437 a statute was passed by 
which the officers of gilds were required to register their royal 
licences with the Justices of the Peace or e the chief governors 
of the cities, boroughs and towns where such gilds be '. These 
measures were no doubt taken because many gilds were 
thought to be dangerous and subversive institutions, as indeed 
they were. In the thirteen-nineties, for instance, the servants 
of the saddlers in London had an ostensibly religious gild in 
honour of the Virgin which the masters alleged to be in fact a 
conspiracy to raise wages and to have succeeded in raising 


them in thirty years to two or three times the old rates. There 
were many such unions in other towns. 

The conflicts existed on a larger scale within the town as a 
whole. In the growing cloth city of Coventry the merchants 
united in 1364 into an all-powerful Trinity Gild. It owned 
the Drapery where cloth was sold, and a regular ladder of 
offices was established whereby the Master of Corpus Christi 
Gild regularly became mayor of the city two years after his 
mastership, and Master of the Trinity Gild two years after 
that. The members of the Trinity Gild were the mercers and 
drapers, the controllers of the cloth trade. The virtual identity 
between the merchants and the government of the city led in 
the fifteenth century to a series of quarrels between the 
corporation and the crafts of industries subsidiary to the cloth 
trade, especially the dyers, who several times tried to increase 
the price of dyeing against the opposition of the city, and 
eventually produced a leader of a real revolt against the 
oligarchy in 1494. The fullers and ironworkers were similarly 
repressed. In 1384 the city procured a royal inquiry into a 
gild of the Nativity on the ground that its real purpose was to 
resist the mayor and bailiffs. In the same year two journey- 
men tailors were accused of making a covenant to maintain 
their craft, and several times in the next few decades attempts 
to found a journeymen's gild of tailors were suppressed. 

The most famous of these conflicts took place in London. 
There the leading aldermen and mayors, who governed the 
city, were nearly always substantial merchants who were also 
prominent in the export of cloth or wool ; William Walworth 
(who dragged Wat Tyler from his horse) and Richard 
Whittington in the reign of Henry IV are good examples. For 
two years, from 1381 to 1383, a man from outside this group, 
a skinner called John of Northampton, was elected mayor as a 
leader of the crafts against the merchants. For two years he 
pursued an explicit policy of keeping the merchants out of 
power and keeping down the price of food. His success was 
temporary. As in rural society, the intense conflicts of the 
reign of Richard II subsided in the fifteenth century into a 
more peaceful divergence of interests in which the ruling 
classes held their own. 

The fear of craft gilds and mobs is probably the reason why 


many town oligarchies in the course of the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries gave a precise constitutional form to their 
government. At Norwich it was laid down in 1369 that the 
election of the governing four bailiffs should be made annually 
* by the advice of the bons gens and the better of the crafts ' 
and the same were to elect the council of twenty-four which 
was to meet regularly. In 1404 they secured a charter which 
made Norwich a county with a mayor and two sheriffs. After 
prolonged conflicts within the city, a charter of 1452 finally 
vindicated the oligarchy by giving complete power to the 
mayor and recorder and those aldermen who had held the 
office of mayor. Similar constitutional developments took 
place in many other towns. The select groups empowered to 
rule by royal charter were the ancestors of the modern 

The general contraction of agriculture was not paralleled 
in the towns. Some contracted and others expanded accord- 
ing to the change in the whole economic structure of England. 
In general the towns which declined were the agricultural 
centres and the centres of the diminishing wool trade. Parts 
of medieval Oxford became so unoccupied that William of 
Wykeham could found his New College at the end of the 
fourteenth century on waste land where there had once been 
houses. It was said in 1450 that eleven streets c be fallen down 
in the city of Winchester within eighty years past * and no 
services were held in seventeen of the parish churches of that 
city. Lincoln, the centre of a much decayed county and also 
a former commercial hub of the north-eastern wool trade, was 
another town whose economic basis was removed. A distinct 
class of towns now suffered the first stage of decline into the 
oblivion of the cathedral close and the weekly market which 
made them the Barchesters of modern England. 

For other towns the economic changes of the later Middle 
Ages produced a great increase in wealth, activity, and impor- 
tance. There were two main groups. Firstly, the cloth towns : 
Coventry, Salisbury, York, and Norwich. Secondly, the sea- 
ports of southern England which benefited from the reorienta- 
tion of trade : Ipswich, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton, and, 
above all, London. London was, of course, a great city both 
as a capital and as a commercial centre. It was very small in 

area by modern standards. Its population was concentrated 
within the walls on the north side of the Thames from the 
Tower in the east, a royal fortress which also contained the Mint, 
to Temple Bar in the west. There were suburbs at 
Stepney ; along the Strand, where John of Gaunt's manor of 
the Savoy stood ; and at Southwark, from which Chaucer's 
pilgrims set out for Canterbury ; but nearly all of modern 
London was country. A mile away at Westminster was the 
King's palace, where Edward II rebuilt St Stephen's Chapel 
and Richard II the hall with its remarkable new timber roof, 
where parliaments met and where the business of Chancery, 
Exchequer, and law-courts was done. Along the Thames were 
the wharves frequented by shipping from Italy, the Baltic, the 
Netherlands, and France. Inside the walls were the narrow 
streets with their hundreds of trades, shops, merchants' houses, 
churches, and, crowning all, the spire of old St Paul's. The 
hall of the Guildhall, the home of city government, was rebuilt 
on a grand scale in the early fifteenth century. Dick Whitting- 
ton, the legendary embodiment of commercial success, was the 
mercer Richard Whittington who died in 1423 and, though he 
probably started with more capital than a cat, he certainly 
became a wealthy man supplier of cloth of gold to the royal 
wardrobe, Mayor of the Staple of Calais, alderman of London, 
and lender of money to King Henry IV. In the fifteenth 
century London was drawing to itself an increasing share of 
national trade. It was as always ideally situated for contact 
with the Low Countries and it was nearer to the expanding 
cloth industries than it had been to the earlier centres of 
wool-production. All the Italian bankers and traders had 
their offices in London which, in the fifteenth century, was 
unquestionably the chief port for the export of wool and cloth 
and the import of luxuries. 

The tower of St Michael's, Coventry, built in the reign of 
Richard II by two local merchants who were said to have 
spent 100 a year on it for twenty-one years, and the mystery 
plays, dating from around 1400, are witnesses of the blossoming 
of die most spectacularly rising town of this period. In 1345 
it had achieved real independence for the first time with a 
royal charter. In the course of the fourteenth century the 
wool merchants in the town were superseded by the clothiers. 


In 1397 about 75,000 yards of cloth were exposed for sale in 
the town and a single Coventry merchant is reported to have 
had 200 worth of cloth in a ship in the Baltic. York and 
Norwich reached their height as cloth towns about the same 

There is a story that in the reign of Richard II a trader 
from Genoa offered to make Southampton into a great port 
with royal assistance, but was prevented by the jealousy of 
English merchants. Whether or not it is true, that town 
flourished in the fifteenth century as the normal last port of 
call for Italian galleys visiting England and Flanders and, next 
to London, their chief exporting place for cloth, wool, and tin. 
After London the biggest port in England was Bristol and, 
being remote from the routes of the Italians and Hansards, it 
was more than any other controlled by native merchants. 
Towards the end of the fourteenth century there developed 
out of the drapers of Bristol a class of merchants who dealt 
entirely in foreign trade and shipping. The most famous of 
these merchants were the Canynges dynasty. The last and 
greatest of them, William Canynges, who retired from business 
in 1467, had owned, amongst others, a ship of 900 tons. He 
rebuilt the church of St Mary Redcliffe in that town after the 
fall of the spire in 1446. 


The nobility and gentry of England weathered the storm 
of the Peasants' Revolt without yielding their place in society. 
The social and political movements of the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries caused changes in the distribution of wealth 
and power between the elements of lay society, king, magnates, 
gentry, townsmen, and peasants. We shall see in a later 
chapter how greatly the economic position of the Crown 
changed ; the wealthier towns seem to have acquired a greater 
importance in the fifteenth-century kingdom, and the wealthier 
peasants in the village. At the end of it all, however, England 
was a country only slightly less dominated than it had been in 
the central Middle Ages by its families of magnates. 

In the higher ranges of noble society the rise and fall of 
families continued to follow much the same pattern, or lack 


of pattern, as before. Some great houses survived throughout 
the ravages of plague and civil war, such as the Courtenays, 
earls of Devon, the Staffords, who became dukes of Bucking- 
ham, the de Veres, earls of Oxford. Some died out like the 
Mortimers, earls of March, of whom the last died in 1425, the 
Beauchamps, earls of Warwick for nearly two centuries, who 
rose to the pinnacle of their fortunes with the last earl, Richard 
(died 1439), an d ^ e Mowbrays, dukes of Norfolk, of whom 
the last died in 1475. New families rose to take their place, 
like the brood of John of Gaunt, the Beauforts, prominent 
throughout the Lancastrian period (see Table II, p. 259) ; the 
Percies, made earls of Northumberland by Richard II and 
surviving several revolutions in the fifteenth century ; the 
Nevilles, who became great with the old Beauchamp and 
Montague lands in the mid-fifteenth century. Broadly speak- 
ing, each reign saw the extinction of some old families and the 
exaltation of new ones. The new might be the king's relations, 
like the dukes of York, descended from Edward III, or the 
Beauforts, the Woodvilles (see below, p. 222), and the Tudors, 
or the king's favourites and men who made their- position by 
successful careers, like the Talbot earls of Shrewsbury, 
descendants of a soldier of Henry VI, or the Herberts, 
descended from a soldier of Edward IV. Some new creations 
lasted only a single generation, like the successive dukes of 
Gloucester (Thomas of Woodstock, son of Edward III, 
Henry IV's son, Humphrey, and then Edward IV's brother, 
Richard III) . So far as we know a similar pattern of extinction 
and replacement, elevation by good marriage, successful 
soldiering or prudent business, existed throughout gentle 

The economic movements of the period radically altered 
the relationship of seignorial landowners with their estates and 
probably made most estates less profitable than they had been 
in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Economic 
changes also offered opportunities. The Hungerfbrds, who 
became great as stewards of John of Gaunt and Lancastrian 
supporters, were also great sheep-farmers in fifteenth-century 
Wiltshire. Probably many gentry, like the Verney family in 
the Midlands, made profits out of enclosure for sheep. Other 
families rose by political association, like the Pelhams of 


Sussex, descended from Henry IV's councillor, or by law and 
estate management, like the Pastons of Norfolk. 

The most splendid opportunities for established families to 
increase their wealth or for new ones to rise quickly to fame 
and fortune were offered by war, and this was an important 
factor, not only in the moral code but also in the economics of 
the nobility. Most of the fighting in the Hundred Years* War 
was done by companies serving under contracts made by their 
captains with the king. The expenses of transport and the 
wages of the troops were met by the Exchequer and, though 
it was often dilatory in payment (Sir Walter Manny claimed 
in his will that Edward III still owed him ;i,ooo, * which he 
will pay me if it pleases him and if it does not please him let 
it be between God and him * a ), it provided the essential 
investment necessary to fit out an expedition, leaving the 
commanders to make what extra profit they could. The 
profit could be very substantial. In the first place there were 
ransoms. Noble captives might be well treated, but they were 
expected to pay large sums for their freedom. War contracts 
commonly laid down how the profits of ransom were to be 
divided between employer and employee, and prisoners were 
sometimes traded from hand to hand like property or deben- 
tures at prices varying according to the size of the expected 
return. The Black Prince raised 20,000 by selling prisoners 
from Poitiers to his father. In the second place there was 
plunder. We know little of this in detail, for it did not 
generally enter into official records ; but there is every reason 
to suppose that the opportunities were attractive. There was 
obviously a large element of risk in the business of war. The 
soldier might be killed or he might be ruined financially, like 
Lord Fitzwalter, who mortgaged a castle to Edward Ill's 
mistress, Alice Ferrers, to pay his ransom. But, apart from 
the minority who suffered in these ways, the soldiering classes 
as a whole could hardly fail to gain considerably at the expense 
both of their fellow countrymen and of the enemy. A large 
part of the proceeds of taxation was available to meet their 
basic expenses and, since the wars were almost entirely fought 
outside England, the French losses by plunder were balanced 
by very little loss on the English side. Among the great 

1 Lambeth Palace Library, Register of Archbishop Whittlesey, f. 121 


magnates made wealthier by foreign war can be counted John 
of Gaunt, who returned from Spain with a large pension in 
return for the undertaking not to press his claim to the throne 
of Castile, and Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, com- 
mander in France under Henry V and Henry VI, who left the 
Warwick Chapel as his memorial and was credited by his 
biographer with the ambitious project of deepening the Avon 
for large vessels between Tewkesbury and Warwick. For 
many lesser men war was the sole source of fortune. The 
words attributed to Sir John Hawkwood, the Essex knight who 
commanded the armies of the city of Florence in the late 
fourteenth century, * Do you not know that I live by war and 
that peace would be my undoing ? ' might have been echoed 
by many an English captain in France. Typical of them was 
William of Windsor, Alice Perrers's husband, who had com- 
manded in France and Ireland and was described by a 
chronicler as an c active and valorous knight rich with great 
wealth which he had acquired by his martial prowess '. The 
most famous, because of the records left by him and his 
executors, was Sir John Fastolf, hero of many battles, in 
Henry V's conquest of France and after, who started his career 
as a humble squire and came home rich enough to build 
Caister Castle, buy manors all over England, and lend money 
to merchants. 

Besides the long-term economic changes in the countryside 
the position of the magnates was affected, and perhaps more 
deeply, by the political changes of the later fifteenth century. 
The first of these was the changed attitude of the Crown to 
land. By uniting the Duchies of York and Lancaster and 
acquiring other great estates, notably those of the Nevilles, the 
king became already in the Yorkist period a greater landowner 
than before. Magnates were not so easily able to build up 
their lands by getting grants of estates which had escheated to 
the Crown or beneficial leases of royal property. Some new 
houses, notably the Hastings family, were endowed by the 
Crown, but on the whole the balance of landed wealth shifted 
perceptibly from nobility to king. 

The second change was the ending of the Hundred Years* 
War. Throughout the Middle Ages, and perhaps never so 
much as in the reigns of Edward III, Henry V, and Henry VI, 


the nobility had drawn both profit and prestige from their 
leadership in war. After 1453 no major foreign war was 
fought by the king of England for over half a century and, 
apart from Calais and the Scots' Marches, no large garrisons 
were maintained. It was the longest period of external peace 
in English history. The nobility were thus deprived for a long 
period of the opportunity both to captain great armies paid 
for by royal taxes and to plunder the French. In the Boke of 
the h'oblesse, written in 1475, when the renewal of war in France 
seemed for a moment to be a real possibility, Sir John Fastolfs 
former secretary, William of Worcester, bewailed the sad 
decline of English arms since the days of his master's exploits : 

* But now of late days, the greater pity is, many one that 
be descended of noble blood and born to arms, as knights' 
sons, esquires and of other gentle blood, set themselves to 
singular practise, ... as to learn the practise of law or 
custom of land, or of civil matter, and so waste greatly 
their time in such needless business, as to occupy court 
holding, to keep and bear out a round countenance at 
sessions and shire holding, also there to embrace and rule 
among your poor and simple commons of bestial counte- 
nance that lust to live in rest.' x 

Even more than Worcester knew, the future lay with those 
who had been to the Inns of Court, were learned in the law, 
and could turn such skill to their own estates or the service of 
the king. The popular medieval stories of the adventures of 
King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table received 
their last and perhaps finest expression in the grave and simple 
prose of Sir Thomas Malory, an obscure knight, who had 
served as a young man with the Earl of Warwick at Calais in 
14363 in his later life fought on both sides in the Wars of 
the Roses, and died, possibly in prison, in 147 1 . Although exer- 
cises in the tilting yard were just as popular and more elaborate 
in the later fifteenth century and remained part of aristocratic 
life down to the reign of Charles I, the real pursuit of chivalric 
glory and profit on the battlefield never offered the same 
opportunities after the end of the Hundred Years' War. 

1 The Boke of the Noblesse, ed. J. G. Nichols (1860), p. 77 


Caister Castle was one of many c partly builded by spoils 
gotten in France', as the Tudor antiquary Leland said of 
Sudeley in Gloucestershire, built by Ralph Boteler in the reign 
of Henry VI. The later Middle Ages were a great period of 
castle-building to house the barons, sometimes nouveaux riches, 
in the comfort of a higher standard of living, to serve as the 
headquarters of their wealth and influence, and to be defensible 
in time of trouble. The huge fortresses of the Edwardian age 
were not copied, for the idea of an impregnable castle to 
dominate a large territory around it was undermined by 
changes in warfare. Some of the new castles, especially those 
near the coast such as Bodiam in Kent (1386) and Caister, 
had gunports in the walls for the artillery which was coming 
into use at the end of the fourteenth century. Additions were 
made to the old castles, like John of Gaunt's great hall at 
Kenilworth and the towers added at Warwick by Earl Thomas 
Beauchamp in the reign of Richard II, but the characteristic 
new castle was somewhat different. Tattershall in Lincoln- 
shire, built by Ralph Cromwell, Henry VTs Treasurer, might 
be taken as a pattern of the baronial ideal. It consisted of a 
great tower, gaunt but windowed on the outside, with battle- 
ments, several fine rooms with elaborate fireplaces within, a 
hall beside the tower, and a moat around. Beyond the moat 
were the church, a college of priests to serve it, the stables, the 
fishponds, and the village. Sir Edward Dallingridge's Bodiam 
and the Earl of Northumberland's Warkworth in Northumber- 
land are fine examples of castle-building at the end of the 
fourteenth century, and Roger Fiennes's Herstmonceux in 
Sussex (Plate 15) followed the courtyard plan of Bodiam in the 
reign of Henry VI. One of the last great baronial castles was 
Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire built by William Hastings in 
the reign of Edward IV. On a lower social level the timber 
and brick house at Ockwells in Berkshire, built in the reign of 
Henry VI, with a hall, fine windows, living-rooms, a chapel, 
and farm buildings, represents the aspirations of the richer 

It was said that Lord Cromwell had a hundred persons in 
his household at TattershalL The magnificence of the house- 
hold and the prestige of the lord were maintained by wealth 
and influence. Beyond the castle the nobleman had his estates 


which might be scattered over several counties. Though 
medieval demesne farming largely disappeared in the fifteenth 
century the estates still required a staff of receivers and 
stewards, and English society was enmeshed no less than before 
in the complicated networks of bastard feudalism. Some time 
after Sir William Oldhall, the Yorkist speaker in the parliament 
of 1450, had escaped from the attainder which his political 
activities brought upon him, the Earl of Warwick recalled in 
a letter * how that of long time past for the good services that 
Sir William Oldhall knight had done unto us and shall do 
hereafter we gave him the office of steward of our lordship of 
Soham and restored him to it that he may rejoice it peaceably 
and have payment of such fee as other afore him have had and 
taken. . . .* l Great magnates like the Earl of Warwick 
maintained huge followings by their fees, some in permanent 
service as household officials, some in more tenuous con- 
nections retained as lawyers, as councillors, or as soldiers to 
come when they were required. In the Wars of the Roses 
armed retinues went into battle wearing the badges and crying 
the names of the nobility, but the permanent affinities which 
they maintained in peace time were yet more important. They 
assured to the nobleman a wide support in politics and law 
from below and they riddled the society of lesser men with 
connections which were influential in practical affairs. c Good 
lordship * was one of the important needs of the yeoman or 
the gentleman to make his way in the world : it helped him 
at law and in business. From the standpoint of a healthy- 
minded modern society it seems a mass of wasteful bribery 
and corruption ; and the ideal of a supreme impartial royal 
justice was sufficiently developed even at that time for its 
excesses to be denounced occasionally by aggrieved con- 
temporaries. * That is the guise of your countrymen, 5 said a 
complaining lawyer in Norfolk in 1454, c to spend all the good 
they have on men and livery gowns and horses and harness 
and so bear it out for a while and at the last they are but 
beggars. 9 About the same time the Earl of Northumberland 
was spending more on his retainers than his estates could bear. 

1 P. B. Chatwin, * Documents of " Warwick the Kingmaker " in pos- 
session of St Mary's Church, Warwick ', Transactions of the Birmingliam and 
Midland Archaeological Society, 59 (1935), p. 3 


The parliaments of the period heard several petitions against 
the misuse of liveries and indentures and made Acts against 
them and against the practice of corruptly supporting friends 
by c maintenance ' in suits at law. On the whole, however, 
the affinity, whether in the formal relationships of councils, 
stewardships, fees, and liveries or in the less definite manner 
of influence, was part of the normal fabric of society. It was 
not the cause of the Wars of the Roses, nor was it cured by the 
new despotism which followed. William Hastings, a new 
magnate under Edward IV, quickly built up a large following 
of indentured retainers, and English society continued to 
respect the household and following of the nobleman long 
after Henry VII had endeavoured in the spirit of the early 
parliamentary petitions to restrain its abuses with his Statute 
of Livery and Maintenance. 

8 The Church 


THE thirteenth century had been one of those periods, like the 
later ages of Renaissance and Romanticism, when a <new 
intellectual impulse gave rise to bold and original speculation 
and the construction of dazzling systems of thought. England 
had participated fully in this European movement, and in the 
early fourteenth century Oxford was still the centre of an 
active and original school of philosophers with an influence 
throughout Christendom. Apart from their theological and 
logical works, the scholars at Merton College, in that period 
for instance, are important in the history of science for the 
advances which they made in the theory of motion. But the 
later Middle Ages after this was a period of philosophical decay 
in England. Thinkers quarrelled over the difficulties of the 
old systems and did more to destroy than to create. The new 
ideas which excited the humanists of the Italian cities in the 
fifteenth century gained no more than an occasional foothold 
in a country which could only be described at that time as 
intellectually backward. A few visiting humanists were 
patronised by Cardinal Beaufort and Humphrey, Duke of 
Gloucester in the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI. Hum- 
phrey should perhaps rank as the greatest patron of literary 
art and scholarship in the fifteenth century. The ' pleasaunce ' 
which he built at his castle at Greenwich was in the fourteen- 
thirties a haven for Italian classicists and English poets after 
the fashion of Italian princes and merchants. He founded 
Duke Humphrey's Library, still the core of the university 
library at Oxford, encouraged the study of the classics there, 
and presented many manuscripts. A number of later church- 
men imported humanistic manuscripts and ideas from Italy, 
and before 1485 the master of Magdalen College School had 
produced a new kind of Latin grammar which was to be 



influential in the schools. But on the whole, in scholarship as 
in art, England was very much on the margin of the 

For the germination of religious heresy and reformation, 
however, the English thinkers of the fourteenth century were 
of the first importance. The generation which died about the 
time of the Black Death had turned philosophy into different 
channels. The most outstanding of them was William of 
Ockham (died 1349), who had developed his metaphysical ideas 
before he left Oxford in 1324, and his importance was that he 
criticised radically the Thomist synthesis of faith and reason. 
He argued that religious belief was entirely based on faith, 
which could not be supported by reason because it was con- 
cerned with matters which were beyond the scope of rational 
argument. Neither the existence of God, nor His attributes 
could be proved by reason, which could deal only with abstract 
concepts. Man's only knowledge was an intuitive knowledge 
of individual things, which did not depend upon reason. 
Ockham was not attempting to modernise theology, rather to 
withdraw God and the whole of theological belief from the 
structure of rational proof and explanation which had been 
developed to support it in the thirteenth century ; but his 
views had important theological implications. He played 
down the rational, comprehensible aspect of God's actions and 
emphasised the irrational, incomprehensible omnipotence of 
God's Absolute Power, which lay behind them. In the 
relationship between God and man he emphasised the free 
will of both. Neither was predetermined and God accepted 
man into grace on the strength of his meritorious acts of free 
will. The ideas of Ockham and his followers smacked of 
* Pelagianism ' the belief that men can perfect themselves by 
their unaided free will. They were answered by an Oxford 
contemporary, Thomas Bradwardine, later Archbishop of 
Canterbury (died 1349), who also paid little attention to the 
philosophical basis of theology but emphasised that the whole 
of creation was an emanation of divine will, and reinstated 
grace by insisting on the priority of God's help rather than 
man's free will in every human action. A later writer, Richard 
Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh .(died 1360), developed the 
theory that the lawful exercise of all lordship depended on grace. 


It was in the intellectual climate engendered by these 
debates that John Wycliffe grew to be the leading Oxford 
philosopher of his generation. By 1372 he was a Doctor of 
Divinity and had already written most of the philosophical 
works in which he defended the importance of c universal ' 
and showed some sympathy with Bradwardine's views on grace 
and predestination. The later development of his thought is 
inseparable from his involvement in politics. Whether this was 
due to an early reputation for anti-clericalism we cannot say ; 
probably it was, but in any case it was not unusual for scholars 
to be employed by kings on diplomatic and ecclesiastical 
business. In 1374 he was a member of a diplomatic mission 
to Bruges to negotiate with papal envoys about ecclesiastical 
taxation. In 1 3 76 he sprang into prominence as John of Gaunt's 
agent in his quarrel with the bishops, and in February 1377 
was summoned to answer charges, resulting from that activity, 
in St Paul's, where Gaunt accompanied him with armed men 
and broke up the trial. In 1378 he was summoned again and 
again saved from condemnation, this time by the King's 
mother, Joan of Kent. In the same year he appeared in the 
Gloucester parliament to defend the violation of the sanctuary 
at Westminster Abbey. Then, his usefulness to the politicians 
at an end, he disappeared from the world of affairs. He was 
already regarded as a very dangerous thinker. Propositions 
drawn from his books on Civil and Divine Dominion, in which 
he developed Fitzralph's idea of the necessity of grace to 
justify lordship, had been condemned by the Pope in 1377 and 
they were indeed subversive of ecclesiastical authority. It was 
in 1378, and after, that he produced the books which were to 
stamp him as the great heresiarch of later medieval England 
and Europe, and it is difficult not to believe that the excite- 
ments and disappointments of politics helped to inspire them. 
His book On the Church, written in 1378, developed a view of 
the Church as the community of believers rather than the 
ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1379, in the book On the Eucharist, 
he touched the very heart of the medieval Church by denying 
the doctrine of transubstantiation. He left Oxford in 1381, 
but continued from the rectory at Lutterworth, where he was 
probably protected, though no longer employed, by John of 
Gaunt, to pour forth a stream of increasingly virulent heretical 


literature until he died in 1384. Wycliffe's earlier ideas on the 
nature of universals and the importance of grace, derived from 
Oxford learningj probably supplied some of the preconditions 
of his later heresy. By the end of his life, however, they had 
been lost in a mass of heretical doctrine, which denied authority 
to the pope and the hierarchy, and overthrew the accepted 
notions of monasticism, excommunication, the mass, and the 
priesthood in short, of the whole structure of the medieval 
Church. In place of the authorities of tradition, reason, and 
the hierarchy, Wycliffe placed an extreme reliance on the 
dictates of Scripture and of the individual conscience. There 
may have been little in Wycliffe, as in most reformers, that 
was entirely original, but his doctrine was as a whole impres- 
sively destructive and his ideas were to be the touchstone of 
heresy not only in England for some decades. 

Heresy of one kind and another was common enough in 
many places in the Middle Ages and anti-clericalism was 
fashionable in many more. But there had never been an 
important heretical movement in England, and the hierarchy 
had slumbered in easy indulgence, allowing Oxford philoso- 
phers to treat fundamental dogmas as debating-points and 
popular preachers to lampoon clerical vices. The events 
between 1377 and 1382 were a rough awakening, which threw 
the Church briefly into an uproar and changed the atmosphere 
of ecclesiastical thinking. The essence of the new situation 
was, firstly, that the most eminent living philosopher had put 
his weight behind completely subversive doctrines, hitherto 
confined to ignorant eccentrics ; secondly, that he had done 
this in a time of mounting anti-clerical feeling at several levels 
of society, which had had some prospect of serious political 
support. The abuses of clerical wealth and absenteeism, which 
critics attacked, were not new at this period. It is true that 
the Church, especially the papacy, was making more use of 
indulgences (remissions of sins in return for the penance of a 
payment in money) to supplement its falling income, and that 
the Pope had invented the device of exacting annates (the first 
year's revenue of a benefice) from bishops when they were 
appointed. But these were minor alterations in the structure 
of ecclesiastical finance, and there is no reason to suppose that 
there was more to condemn in the reign of Richard II than 


there had been a century before. Still, the fact that the three 
classical scathing criticisms of the clergy, from the different 
standpoints of Wycliffe's scholarly analysis, Chaucer's worldly 
wisdom, and Langland's offended piety, were all written about 
the same period, is probably not an accident. There was a 
crisis of anti-clerical feeling. 

Later commentators, either revelling in the literary abuse 
or mesmerised by the continuity of the Church's imposing 
organisation, have not explained why this was so. We 
can only offer a few guesses. In the first place, some weight 
must be given to the simple decline of enthusiasm. There 
must have been a great many honest and even saintly men 
in the Church in 1377 as at all periods, but there had not 
been for a century an innovation like Citeaux or the Franciscan 
Order or an intellectual awakening like that of the age of 
Grosseteste to canalise religious impulses. It was easier to see 
the Church as a rich, self-satisfied organisation, for ever 
guarding its property without offering new religious inspiration 
and even anti-spiritual in its effects. Secondly, there are the 
complex effects of the fall in population. Though one might 
think from the anti-clerical literature that the Church was 
growing richer, it was in fact poorer by the fall in landed 
income. In clerical as in lay society the Black Death caused 
friction between employer and employed. It was necessary to 
fix maximum rates of pay for the scarcer unbeneficed clergy, 
vicars, and chaplains. The very strong feeling in Wycliffe's 
age against the c possessioners ', the abbeys and cathedrals 
supported by great landed property, was no doubt given 
weight by the mass of priests who lived on stipends which they 
were struggling to increase. John Ball, the ideologist of the 
Peasants* Revolt, is the obvious example of the common priest 
who would have liked to overturn the organisation of the 
Church ; and a number of priests took part in the attack on 
the abbey of Bury St Edmunds in the same year. It is possible 
too that the common hardships of landowners in this period 
stimulated that jealousy of propertied laymen for the Church, 
which found expression in the Statutes of Provisors (1351) and 
Praemunire (1353) and the suggestions of confiscation of 
Church lands made in parliaments. Thirdly, there was the 
new friction in relations between king and Church, which 


came to a head in the thirteen-seventies. It is clearly visible 
in the parliament of 137X5 which tried to impose a tax of 
.50,000 on the Church, where the Bishops of Winchester and 
Exeter were removed from Chancery and Exchequer to be 
replaced by laymen, and someone invented the fable of the 
ecclesiastical owl whose feathers had been given to him by lay 
birds who could properly demand them again in time of need. 
A few years later the collector of one of the infrequent papal 
subsidies in England was hampered by royal regulations, and 
the amount to be collected was restricted in the negotiations 
at Bruges, in which Wycliife took part. Resentment was 
voiced in the Good Parliament (1376) and shortly afterwards 
friction reached its climax when John of Gaunt instigated the 
seizure of Wykeham's temporalities for the Crown and defended 
Wycliffe at St Paul's. King and Pope were in fact competitors 
in their urgent need to tax the clergy (Edward III for his 
war in France, and Gregory XI for his war in Italy), and 
the lay commons were wholeheartedly on the side of the 
King. In 1380 they demanded that the clergy should pay 
one-third of the taxes because they owned one-third of the 
land, and in 1388 they rejected a new papal request for a 

Reformation, however strongly backed by anti-clerical 
sentiment and theological justification, was impossible without 
political support. For a brief period around 1377 all these 
motives worked together and the threat to the Church was 
more serious than at any other time before 1529. It was 
removed by the abandonment of John of Gaunt's anti-clerical 
policy ; and this turn in affairs was probably assisted by the 
beginning of the Great Schism the division of authority 
between two rival popes in 1378. The Schism, though it did 
great injury to the prestige of the Church in the eyes of many 
people, made political relations easier by giving the English 
government the assurance of an ally in one of the two popes. 
By the time the hierarchy in England began its serious rooting- 
out of Wycliffite heresy, the real danger had passed. There 
remained the problem of widespread doctrinal error, encour- 
aged by Wycliffe's teaching and other recent events, which 
was to exercise the Church for many a year. Both the origins 
and the personnel of Lollardy, as the heretical movement was 


called from this time, are obscure. Wycliffe himself had 
contributed in two ways. Firstly, he gathered about him at 
Oxford a substantial group of scholars in agreement with his 
views (they included some of the abler intellects of the time, 
for instance Philip Repton, later Bishop of Lincoln), and 
started a tradition of thought which, in spite of attempts to 
stamp it out, survived in the university into the early fifteenth 
century. Another and much more influential movement of 
Reformation was started in Bohemia by John Hus, who was 
burned at the Council of Constance in 1415. One of the most 
prominent theologians of the Hussite movement was an English 
Wycliffite, Peter Payne, who had been Principal of St Edmund's 
Hall before he fled from Oxford. Even apart from Payne, the 
doctrines of the Hussites would have been very different if they 
had not swallowed much of Wycliffe's teaching and been 
influenced by contacts with Oxford. Secondly, WyclifFe 
assisted the wider dissemination of his views by his encourage- 
ment of the religious use of English. He wrote some of his 
works in English and sponsored the translation of the Bible, 
which was begun by his disciples in his lifetime. Apart from 
the scholars a certain amount of Lollard sympathy was to be 
found in fairly high places in lay society. Several eminent 
knights, including some in the royal household, were suspected 
of Lollardy under Richard II. Sir Thomas Latimer was 
summoned to the king's council for possessing heretical books 
in 1388, and Sir John Oldcastie, the leader of a revolt in 1414, 
was a successful career soldier. Though the movement owed 
something to the dispersion of heretic scholars from Oxford, 
most of the Lollards, however, both priests and laymen, were 
humble men, and it is impossible to distinguish the ancient 
tradition of puritanical criticism from the new influence of 
serious heretical doctrine. The most famous of the humble 
men, William Swinderby, had been a censorious hermit at 
Leicester long before he was touched by the doctrines of the 
heresiarch. Lollardy was in part the continuation of an 
old stream of religious feeling, which was only enriched by 
WyclifFe and revealed to history by the new persecution 
which the anxiety of the bishops unleashed. However 
that may be, Lollards were common in the decades of the 
late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries in several parts of 


England, notably the Midlands, the Welsh border, and the 

The counter-attack began with the condemnation of 
Wycliffe's teachings on the Eucharist at Oxford in 1381. In 
1382 William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom 
more than any other man the Church owed its strength in this 
time of crisis, convened a council at Blackfriars in London, 
which condemned twenty-four propositions from Wycliffe's 
writings. The leading Oxford heretics recanted, though not 
all permanently. The status of Wycliffe's teaching was now 
clear and it needed only to be stamped out. The machinery 
for bringing heretics to justice was tightened up in Richard IPs 
reign and the period of active persecution by the bishops 
began, soon reinforced by the Statute on the Burning of 
Heretics in 1401. The need for severe measures was shown in 
1395 by a Lollard manifesto nailed to the doors of Westminster 
Hall during parliament, and again in 1410, when the Commons 
seriously considered the possibility of confiscating ecclesiastical 
property. By this time Courtenay's role had been taken over 
by Archbishop Thomas Arundel, who had the weight of royal 
sympathy on his side. In 1411 he carried out a visitation at 
Oxford to ensure that the University fully accepted the official 
condemnation of Wycliffe's views. This was virtually the end 
of learned heresy in England until the Reformation. Two 
years later, however, Arundel faced another serious challenge. 
In 1413 Sir John Oldcastle escaped from prison, after being 
convicted of Wycliffite opinions. In January 1414 a small 
army of his followers from various parts of the country were 
rounded up by the King's men when they were on the point 
of assaulting London. This was not the end of Lollardy. 
Many heretics, with opinions varying from * the pope of Rome 
is a great beast and a devil of hell ' to c it is no better for a 
layman to say pater nosier in Latin than bibble babble ' were 
investigated by fifteenth-century bishops. In 1431 there was 
a substantial, though abortive, conspiracy led by one who 
called himself c jack Sharp of Wigmoreland ', and Bishop 
Reginald Peacock's elaborate argument against Lollard 
theories, * The Represser of Overmuch Blaming of the Clergy ' 
was written towards the end of Henry VPs reign. Lollard 
ideas, obscurely handed down in various parts of England, 


came to the surface again at the time of Henry VIII's Reforma- 
tion. Courtenay and Arundel, however, had broken the 
force of the movement and for a century orthodoxy was 


In the same generation as Wycliffe and Chaucer, another 
Englishman, William Langland, set down a vision of human 
life, in which the weaknesses of contemporary religion were 
exposed with no less cruelty, but Holy Church was accepted 
still as the only hope of salvation. As a poor London cleric 
in Minor Orders, who made a living by saying prayers for 
money, but also a man of some learning with the insight of 
genius, Langland was fully aware of the corruption of his 
superiors, and a great part of Piers Plowman is taken up with 
satire of clerical vices and with the disillusionments experienced 
by the honest seeker after truth in the company of the scholarly 
theologians. The friars were particularly singled out for attack 
as money-grubbers and easy confessors. The bad influence of 
Rome and the uselessness of pilgrimages were emphasised. 
Learning was presented as a gluttonous and fastidious scholar, 
who could not stand the plain fare of sound ordinary doctrine 
and was deeply suspicious of those who sought to rely on the 
simple power of love. At the same time, however, it was Holy 
Church that first revealed the truth about the world to the 
dreamer and, at the end of the book, the honest and conscien- 
tious Hers Plowman, representing the best in humanity, was 
identified with St Peter, the founder of the Church, which had 
received the power from Christ, in spite of the clerical vices 
which assailed it from every side, to continue the work of 
salvation. Langland was a moralist ; the sacraments, the 
hierarchy, and the contemplative life play relatively little part 
in his vision of the Church as it should be, and there was an 
apocalyptic element in his last picture of the Church's struggle 
with the power of Antichrist. He was certainly no admirer of 
the Church as it was, and he probably set much less value 
than the ordinary churchman on the orthodox establishment. 
Still, he was a moralist who wished to purify rather than 
subvert, and his book is the most splendid example of a tra- 


dition of spirituality, expressed in the English tongue, within 
the Church. 

It is by no means alone. The anonymous Cloud of Unknowing 
and Scale of Perfection, and the Revelations of Divine Love, by the 
anchoress, Juliana of Norwich, were all written in the late 
fourteenth century. These are works of unusual power dealing 
with the individual religious life and, together with the writings 
of the earlier Richard Rolle (died 1349), form an important 
group of mystical treatises in the orthodox tradition. Perhaps 
the most extraordinary literary production of the later Middle 
Ages, both for the light it sheds on common religious beliefs 
and for the revelation which it gives of the self-consciousness 
of ordinary people, is the Book of Margery Kempe. This is the 
autobiography, written in the early part of the reign of 
Henry VI, of the wife of a burgess of Lynn, who abandoned 
her married life to devote herself to religion. She knew some 
of the English mystical writings, indeed she once visited Dame 
Juliana at Norwich, and she travelled on pilgpmage to Jerusa- 
lem, to Rome, and to Wilsnack in Poland. She had visions, 
and her life was dominated by an intense spiritual awareness 
and an outspokenness, which made her several times suspect 
of Lollardy and got her into trouble with the Archbishop of 
York. She was orthodox but completely unawed by the 
hierarchy. * Almighty God,' she once said to no less a person 
than Archbishop Arundel, * has not given you your benefice 
and great worldly wealth to keep His traitors and them that 
slay Him every day by great oaths swearing.' 

The diocesan organisation, the monasteries, and the friars 
continued to control religious life as before. It is noticeable, 
however, that the outstanding examples of spirituality in this 
period were less intimately connected with ecclesiastical insti- 
tutions than their predecessors of the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries. There is no one to compare with Abbot Ailred or 
Bishop Grosseteste, and it is impossible to avoid the conclusion 
that the institutional Church, for all its continuing magnifi- 
cence, had lost its spiritual leadership and was in slow material 
decline. The notable abbots tend to be great managers in the 
tradition of Henry of Eastry : Thomas de la Mare, Abbot of 
St Albans from 1349 to 1396 and a powerful defender of his 
house, is perhaps the most famous example. The religious 


Orders did not attract their old share of pious endowment. 
With the exception of two religious houses set up by Henry V 
at Sheen and at Syon, there were few new foundations at the 
end of the Middle Ages, and a certain amount of property, 
taken from e alien priories * (daughter houses of French 
monasteries) during the Hundred Years' War, was transferred 
by Henry VI to the colleges at Windsor and elsewhere. 
Monasticism tended to remain static in a world where new 
sources of wealth and new religious interests were growing, 
and so to become relatively less important. 

The European Church was split at the centre by the Schism 
in 1378, which left one pope at Rome, accepted by England, 
and another at Avignon, dividing Christendom between them. 
The council at Pisa in 1409 introduced a third pope. Unity 
was restored by the great council which was held at Constance 
from 1414 to 1418, but the papacy was never the same again. 
The Roman court had bowed, however unwillingly, to the 
authority of an assembly representing the whole Church, and 
it was to be harassed again by the long council which sat at 
Basle intermittently from 1431 to 1449. The popes of the 
fifteenth century withdrew into the cultivation of their Italian 
patrimony much more than their predecessors had done, and 
were less influential in both the politics and the ecclesiastical 
administration of northern Europe. In England the second 
Statute of Provisors in 1390 and the third Statute of Praemunire 
in 1393 reinforced anti-papal legislation. The attempts of 
Martin V to persuade first Henry V and then the lords of the 
council, during the minority of Henry VI, to repeal the 
Statute of Provisors failed. An agreement between Richard II 
and Pope Boniface IX in 1398 formally reserved control over 
appointments of bishops jointly to king and pope. In practice 
the king's candidate generally won and papal intervention, 
though sometimes important, was less successful than it had 
been in the past. The system of papal provisions continued 
but the nomination of foreigners to English benefices was again 
less frequent than it had been in the central Middle Ages. 
Papal taxation of the clergy was bitterly resisted by the laity 
in 1375 and 1376, refused by Richard in 1388 and 1391, and 
by Henry VI in 14127 and 1446, though it was partially replaced 
by the custom that newly appointed prelates should pay the 


first-fruits the first year's revenue of their benefices to Rome. 
In the fifteenth century Englishmen looked altogether less to 
Rome than they had done at the height of the Middle Ages 
and, although a bishop would have to pay considerable sums 
to the papacy for his provision, he nearly always came into 
office as a nominee of the king. The famous prelates of the 
fifteenth century were therefore strikingly more conformist and 
more involved in English politics than those of the thirteenth. 
Archbishop Arundel of Canterbury (1396-7 and 1399-1414)? 
the scion of a great noble house, and Cardinal Beaufort, the 
King's half-brother, will be seen in a later chapter on the 
political stage. Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, 
1414-43, the son of a London grocer, was a conscientious 
administrator of his province concerned to keep up reasonable 
relations with the secular arm, and more reluctant than helpful 
to Pope Martin V 5 s desire to maintain provisions and tax the 
English clergy for war against the Hussites. John Kemp, 
Archbishop of York from 1426 to 1452 and of Canterbury from 
1452 to 1454, was an old friend of Beaufort and another 
ecclesiastical statesman deeply involved in the politics of the 
king's council, and he paid little attention to his faraway 
diocese during his long tenure of it. Thomas Bourgchier, 
Archbishop of Canterbury from 1454 to 1486, is again more 
remarkable for his long connection with lay politics through 
many twists of fortune than for his ecclesiastical career. 

The great age of medieval cathedral-building continued 
into the late fourteenth century with undiminished splendour. 
The rebuilt naves of Winchester, begun about 1360, and 
Canterbury, begun in 1379 by the mason Henry Yevele who 
also collaborated in Richard IPs new hall at Westminster, 
continue on a larger scale the tradition established at 
Gloucester. The rebuilding of York began in 1361, with the 
east window introduced at the very beginning of the fifteenth 
century. But, with the exception of the towers, notably those 
of Canterbury and Gloucester, the fifteenth century, after its 
first decades, is not a great age of cathedral building. The 
impulses and money were directed elsewhere. 

The commonest types of ecclesiastical buildings at the end 
of the Middle Ages were chantries, colleges, and parish 
churches. Chantries and colleges were built by wealthy men 


partly to perpetuate their own memories and to ensure that 
prayers should be said for their souls for ever. To do this a 
patron had only to build a chantry chapel in an existing 
church and bequeath enough money to pay priests to say the 
masses in perpetuity. The will of Richard Beauchamp, Earl 
of Warwick, made in 1435, directed that * when it liketh to 
God, that my soule depart out of this world, my body be 
enterred within the Church Collegiate of Our Lady in Warwick, 
where I will that in such place as I have devised ther be 
made a Chappell of Our Lady, well, faire and goodly built, 
within the middle of which Chappell I will that my Tombe 
be made. . . . Also I will that there be said every day, during 
the Worlde, in the aforesaid Chappell . . . three masses.' 
The result was the chapel at St Mary's, Warwick, which still 
contains the superb bronze effigy of the founder. An earlier 
example is the chapel built in Tewkesbury Abbey, in accor- 
dance with the will of Edward Lord Despenser (1375), with a 
kneeling effigy of a knight above it. 

Colleges were more elaborate foundations, including build- 
ings to house a group of clerics who would maintain the 
services in the chapel and also perhaps do educational work. 
Lord Cromwell's new castle at Tattershall was embellished 
with a nearby college of seven priests and six choristers. 
Arundel College, founded by the Earl of Arundel in 1406, and 
Fotheringay College, founded by Edmund, Duke of York, in 
14112, are other examples of a common type. Some of the 
finest were intended especially as learned foundations. They 
greatly enriched the resources of English education and estab- 
lished a new pattern in schools and universities. New College, 
Oxford, founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of 
Winchester, and designed by the mason William of Wynford 
who also did the new work at Wykeham's cathedral, was a 
new departure, lavish both in buildings and in maintenance 
for scholars. It was imitated by Archbishop Chichele's All 
Souls in 1438 and Bishop Waynflete of Winchester's Magdalen 
in 1448. Magdalen has one of the finest of English towers. 
In 1446 Henry VI began the building of King's College, 
Cambridge, whose huge chapel is in some ways the fullest 
expression of the late perpendicular style. Wykeham also 
founded a new kind of school, Winchester College, on a 


collegiate basis, with provision for seventy scholars (Plate 14). 
This again was imitated in Henry VI's Eton and in other 

Finally the end of the Middle Ages saw the building and 
rebuilding of parish churches on a more lavish scale than ever 
before. These depended less on the beneficence of individual 
magnates and bishops and more on the common wealth of 
parish communities. Church wardens' accounts occasionally 
survive to show how the money was raised from parishioners' 
contributions. There are many fifteenth-century churches up 
and down the country. Some of the finest are concentrated 
in two rich cloth and wool areas : Suffolk in the east and 
Gloucestershire and Somerset in the west. St Michael's in the 
cloth town of Coventry, St Mary Redcliffe in the port of 
Bristol, the churches at Northleach, in the heart of the Cotswold 
wool country, and Lavenham, the centre of the Suffolk cloth 
industry, are all examples of building on a grand scale sup- 
ported by rich communities, which had benefited, as the 
cathedrals and abbeys had not, from the economic changes of 
the later Middle Ages. 

9 Richard II and Henry IV 


THE thirteen-sixties were an unusually peaceful time in English 
politics. Edward III, rich with the spoils of war and with the 
ransom of John of France flowing into his treasury, was 
undemanding and the new danger that was to come at the 
end of his reign from France had not yet made itself felt. In 
1362 the King's sons, Lionel of Antwerp, John of Gaunt, and 
Edmund Langley, were made Duke of Clarence, Duke of 
Lancaster, and Earl of Cambridge, and liberally endowed, like 
the Black Prince, with grants of land to maintain the lustre of 
the royal family. Relations with parliaments were on the 
whole peaceful. The King was enjoying the rewards of prowess. 
But the thirteen-seventies were quite different. The revived 
French monarchy under Charles V recovered most of the 
territory ceded to Edward at Bretigny, and England was on 
the defensive for most of the rest of the century (see ch. 10). 
The death of Queen Philippa in 1369 was also an important 
factor in the collapse of morale at the court. Soon Edward 
was not only too old to fight or lead but also dominated by 
Alice Perrers, the most ambitious and unscrupulous of royal 
mistresses. The group which scandalously controlled the court 
in the last years of the reign was led by Alice and by William 
Latimer, an old soldier who had become Chamberlain after 
making his reputation and his fortune in Brittany. They were 
befriended by John of Gaunt, now the chief prince of the blood 
after the early death of Clarence in 1366 and the sickness of 
both Edward, and the Black Prince who died in 1376, a year 
before his father. 

As the military and financial situation deteriorated, the 
court made strenuous efforts to get more money out of the 
Church. It is difficult to know how far the distinctly anti- 
clerical policy of these years (see above, p. 173) was designed 



to win favour with the Commons in parliament ; how far it 
reflected enmity resulting from heavy taxation of the clergy 
and financial jealousy ; how far it was a matter of personali- 
ties. It first appeared clearly in the attitude of Lords and 
Commons in the parliament of 1371, when William of 
Wykeham was dismissed from the Chancellorship. Wykeham, 
later to be the founder of New College and Winchester, was 
the greatest of royal clerks, the most successful of all those in 
medieval England who followed the road from the office desk 
to high prelacy. Rising through his judicious administration 
of the rebuilding of Edward Ill's much-loved Windsor Castle, 
he had eventually become Bishop in 1366, Chancellor in 1367, 
and the most trusted of advisers. His fall was a break with the 
old order of things. In 1374 and after, the court was negotia- 
ting hotly with the Pope about their respective rights to tax 
the English clergy, and it was at this time that John Wycliffe 
entered the service of John of Gaunt as an anti-clerical 

Apart from the great men of the land it is probable that 
many others resented the scandal and waste at court in the 
context of military failure. The materials of political crisis 
were at hand. The scandal blew up in what was known as 
the 6 Good ' Parliament of 1376. The Commons, led by the 
Speaker, Sir Peter de la Mare, attacked the court party openly, 
though without mentioning Lancaster, on the two counts of 
conspiring to lend the King money at high interest rates and 
criminally losing English territory in Brittany. It seems 
probable that the courtiers had in fact borrowed money on 
behalf of the King for high premiums which they shared 
themselves, that they had sold licences for evasion of the 
Staple, and that they had negotiated with the French behind 
the backs of English soldiers fighting in Brittany. There was 
also a mass of general and personal resentment. It was a 
dramatic moment when the mere knight, Peter de la Mare, 
stepped up before the magnates, including John of Gaunt, in 
Westminster Hall, to accuse the King's evil councillors, but it 
seems probable that he was securely backed by many of the 
magnates, some bishops, and London merchants who had been 
offended by the court's manipulation of the wool trade and 
their association with the financier, Richard Lyons. Latimer 


and Lyons were condemned by impeachment indicted by 
the whole Commons before the Lords as judges and Alice 
Ferrers was driven from the court. 

The Good Parliament initiated a period, from 1376 to 1381, 
in which, more clearly than at any other time in the Middle 
Ages, social conflicts found expression in high politics, against 
a background of military failure and divided leadership. 
Conflicts of interest, intensified by the social upheavals follow- 
ing the Black Death, were strong enough for a time to break 
into the world traditionally dominated by courtiers, bishops, 
and magnates. Several factors conspired to keep the country 
on the brink of radical divisions. The landed gentry, now 
feeling the full force of the population decline, were less willing 
than ever to pay taxes and more anxious to shift the burden 
on to the clergy or the peasantry. The war was consistently 
dangerous and seemed badly handled. During the minority 
of Richard II there was no adult king to give a lead and no 
one statesman who commanded enough respect to take the 
place of a king, so politics were a matter of conflicting factions. 
John of Gaunt, orthodox as he was in doctrine, flirted danger- 
ously with Wycliffe and might have caused a Protestant 
reformation if he had not ceased to use WyclifFe after 1378. 
Lollardy and the Peasants 5 Revolt had little lasting effect, but 
they must be seen in part as products of a general ferment 
which deeply affected politics and was not far from causing a 
total upheaval of the kind that occurred later in Hus's Bohemia 
or Luther's Germany. The English magnates, disputing for 
influence at court and command of military expeditions, were 
playing on top of a minor volcano and they were lucky to 
escape an eruption. 

The purge effected by the Good Parliament lasted only a 
few months, for as in the reign of Edward II it proved impos- 
sible to control the court from without. By the end of the 
year the scoundrels were all back, Wykeham's lands were 
confiscated, and Alice Ferrers was at the King's bedside to 
slip the rings from his fingers when he died in June 1377. 
John of Gaunt dominated a parliament at the beginning of 
1377 in which the first poll tax was granted. At the same time 
a clerical convocation was being held, in which Wykeham was 
defended and WyclifFe attacked, and, when the latter came to 


answer charges against him in St Paul's, supported by John of 
Gaunt's armed men, the London mob were incited to march 
on Gaunt's manor at the Savoy. It is difficult to disentangle 
the confused passions of anti-clericalism and hatred of the 
court in these proceedings. 

The King's death affected the pattern of influence at court 
more radically than a parliament could. Most of those 
courtiers whose positions had depended on his friendship now 
disappeared. John of Gaunt remained the most powerful 
individual, because of his rank, as the new king's eldest uncle, 
claimant to the throne of Castile, and the possessor of the huge 
Lancastrian inheritance, Richard II, the Black Prince's son, 
was a boy ; and the most influential person in his court, until 
her death in 1385, was probably his mother, Joan of Kent. 
Court offices were filled by knights from the Black Prince's 
household, such as the King's tutor, Sir Simon Burley. 
Gaunt found his position somewhat weakened. A council 
representing various parties and not dominated by Gaunt was 
set up for the King's minority. Gaunt had to contend with 
the opposition of bishops, especially Wykeham and William 
Courtenay (Bishop of London 1375-81, Archbishop of Canter- 
bury 1381-96), who emerged as a formidable defender of the 
Church, and effectively prevented WyclifEsm from gaining a 
serious foothold. There were powerful magnates who were 
jealous of Gaunt's desire to control military policy, especially 
his brother, Thomas of Woodstock (Earl of Buckingham, 
created Duke of Gloucester in 1385) and the wealthy Earl of 
Arundel. Finally the leading merchants of London took more 
than their usual interest in politics during this period of naval 
threats, and their control of customs and loans enabled them 
to exert some influence. The first parliament of the new reign 
in 1377 took the unusual step of insisting that the taxes it 
granted should be put into the hands of two merchants as 
treasurers of war (William Walworth and John Philpot, both 
prominent in the politics of this period), to ensure that the 
money was spent for the proper purposes. In 1378 a parlia- 
ment was held at Gloucester, probably, as at other times when 
it met outside Westminster, to keep clear of the influence of 
the Londoners. A body of men from the court had broken 
sanctuary at Westminster Abbey to recover a prisoner, and 


Wycliffe appeared in parliament to defend the lay power 
against the argument of the bishops that sacrilege had been 
committed by the violation of sanctuary and the shedding of 
blood in the abbey. The conflicting aims of various groups, 
without a clear lead, made the politics of the early years of 
the reign particularly confused. Two themes, however, stand 
out. Firstly, there was the overriding necessity of defence 
against France ; secondly, the need to extract money for the 
expeditions from a series of unwilling parliaments. In 1377, 
1379, and 1380 the Commons, instead of the usual lay subsidies 
and customs, which were being fully exploited, voted poll 
taxes at a fixed rate on individuals instead of on their property. 
The last of these provoked the Revolt of June 1381. 

After the Revolt, magnates and parliaments returned to 
the old intractable problems of war. The dispute between 
those who wished to attack France directly and those who 
wished to go with Gaunt to Castile ( c The way of Flanders ' 
and e The way of Portugal ') was acute before and after the 
Bishop of Norwich's crusade. But now the King was growing 
up. In 1382 he was married to Anne of Bohemia, a happy 
marriage though it was made to cement an alliance. Soon 
Richard's personality began to dominate the political scene. 

(2) RICHARD ii 

Richard II made no formal announcement of his majority 
until 1389 but, long before that, his personality had become 
the most important factor in English politics. This much is 
clear. Just what his personality was is much more difficult to 
determine. Richard is the most enigmatic of the kings of 
England. He was certainly one of the many kings unfitted to 
rule ; he was hated and unsuccessful. But he was not pre- 
dominantly either a capricious tyrant, like John, or an 
unrealistic aesthete, like Henry III, or a lover of unworthy 
favourites, like Edward II, though he had streaks of all these 
in his character. It is possible, and perhaps right, to discern 
a constant policy in his actions, a policy of abandoning the 
endless war with France and exalting the independent power 
of the king at home above his magnates, and he has sometimes 
been regarded as a benevolent despot before his time. It is 


also true that he was sometimes impulsively violent, as in his 
quarrels with John of Gaunt in 1384 and 1385, his murder of 
Thomas of Woodstock in 1397, or his bitter anger in striking 
Arundel in the face at Queen Anne's funeral ; and what must 
impress the historian most of all is the extraordinary lack of 
political realism in a man otherwise so intelligent and sensitive. 
A love of peace, a disdain for the crude and brutal magnates, 
though they were his natural counsellors by all accepted tra- 
dition., and a tenacious preference for his own circle of friends 
whom the nobles despised, might seem amiable enough 
characteristics in a man ; but in a king, unless he was 
supremely powerful and. efficient, which Richard was not, they 
necessarily led to strife, and, if he was vindictive into the 
bargain, to political suicide. 

The most important and offensive of the King's friends in 
the early years were Michael de la Pole and Robert de Vere, 
Earl of Oxford. Pole, the son of the great merchant, became 
Chancellor in 1383. He may have climbed to this position as 
the associate of Lancaster, but later his connection with the 
King was closer, and he was made Earl of Suffolk with a large 
estate in 1385. De Vere was a young man, a close personal 
friend of the King who showed his love by giving him the 
novel title of Marquess in 1385, then by making him Duke of 
Ireland in the next year. As Richard grew towards manhood 
he kept increasingly to the circle of the court and made enemies 
outside. At the beginning of 1385 we hear rumours of a plot 
by the King and his friends to do away with John of Gaunt. 
About the same time Richard was rebuked by the Earl of 
Arundel for his bad advisers, and by Archbishop Courtenay 
for his high-handed ways. He had been exhorted to lead an 
army in war, but his only venture of this kind for many a year 
was the expedition which he led with Gaunt to Scotland in 
1385, the last summoning of the feudal host. When the army 
reached a deserted Edinburgh, Richard turned on Gaunt for 
wishing to lead them on into starvation, and took them back. 
In 1386 Gaunt at last went off on his long-awaited expedition 
to Spain. The King was left alone with his courtiers and 
magnates and the first reckoning came in the Wonderful * 
Parliament of October that year. Since 1383 little or nothing 
had been done to counter the threatening power of Philip the 


Bold of Burgundy and the parliament met under the shadow 
of a recent invasion scare. A French fleet had massed at 
Sluys and only bad luck and dissension had prevented it from 
sailing, and the English defences had been bungled. Soon 
after the opening of parliament, Lords and Commons, with 
menacing references to Edward II, demanded the removal of 
Pole, and eventually he was replaced as Chancellor by Thomas 
of Arundel, Bishop of Ely and brother of the Earl of Arundel. 
Then the Commons proceeded to an impeachment of Pole, 
chiefly on the grounds of corruptly using his office for profit 
and neglecting defence against France. He was imprisoned 
and a continual council, including Thomas of Woodstock, the 
Earl of Arundel, and several bishops, imposed upon the King. 
Richard had no intention of submitting for long to this 
indignity. Soon after the parliament Pole was restored to 
favour. The King set off on a long perambulation of the 
Midlands, which occupied most of 1387, and at Nottingham 
in August he questioned his judges about the validity of the 
parliamentary proceedings. He got from them the reply that 
the imposition of the council and the impeachment of Pole 
without his permission were contrary to his prerogative, and 
that the authors of such actions or of any other interference 
with his prerogative were criminals. In the political context 
these opinions seemed near to an assertion of absolute royal 
power. By November Richard had collected an army in 
Cheshire with the intention of proceeding against his enemies, 
while Thomas of Woodstock and the Earls of Arundel and 
Warwick had also assembled retinues near London to defend 
themselves. But they met the King in Westminster Hall to 
demand the impeachment of the offensive favourites and 
Richard had to agree to the summoning of a parliament for 
February 1388. In the interval before the parliament de Vere 
raised an army in the royal earldom of Cheshire (attempts to 
raise support in many other shires had met with the sheriffs' 
reply that the Commons stood with the Lords) and marched 
towards London. He was intercepted by the rebels, now 
joined by the Earl of Nottingham and Henry Bolingbroke, 
Earl of Derby (John of Gaunt's son, called c Bolingbroke * 
after his father's castle in Lincolnshire, where he was born), 
and defeated in battle at Radcot Bridge in Oxfordshire. The 


rebels then returned to London and demanded satisfaction 
from the King. Frightened by threats of deposition, he was 
forced to imprison or banish a number of his favourite courtiers 
and replace them with officials appointed by the rebels. When 
the c Merciless' Parliament met in February 1388 the King 
found himself defenceless and the rebels were able to proceed 
to their main purpose. This time they abandoned the method 
of impeachment by the Commons and used the more direct 
procedure of c appealing * the accused in parliament of treason* 
The * appellants ' were Thomas of Woodstock, Bolingbroke, 
Arundel, Warwick, and Nottingham. Their victims included, 
besides Pole and de Vere, the Archbishop of York, several of 
the King's justices, Nicholas Brembre, a leading London 
merchant who had been in league with the court, and the 
King's old tutor, Simon Burley. Brembre and Burley were 
executed, Pole and de Vere died in exile. Richard's circle of 
friends was finally shattered. 

The nine years from 1388 to 1397 were relatively peaceful. 
The appellants had done their worst and Richard was for the 
time being cowed. He allowed them a place in government 
and Thomas of Woodstock in particular took a large place! 
For many years there was no sign of serious strife. Richard 
seems gradually to have built up a circle of supporters wider 
and more moderate than the court faction of earlier years. 
The return of John of Gaunt from Spain in 1389 brought back 
a stabilising factor in politics. Richard remained on good 
terms with him and with Bolingbroke. Gaunt's rights as 
Duke of Lancaster were even enlarged and in 1396 his bastard 
children by Katherine Swynford, the Beauforts, destined to 
play a momentous part in history in the fifteenth century, 
were legitimised. The King was also on good terms with 
Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, and with his half- 
brothers, John and Thomas Holand. But, though no deep 
divisions were apparent, there were some incidents which 
suggested Richard's restive discontent breaking through the 
calm. In 1389 he suddenly declared himself of full age and 
free to exercise his kingly rights without restraint. In 1392 a 
quarrel with London over the refusal of the city to lend him 
money ended in his annulling its liberties, to restore them for 
a large fine. The death of Queen Anne in 1394 contributed 


greatly to his melancholy and introspection and, when Arundel, 
his most implacable enemy, arrived late at the funeral at 
Westminster, Richard struck him down for the insult. 

It is impossible to know exactly what dreams of grandeur 
and revenge the King had in these years, but some of the 
evidence suggests that he was moved by unusual fantasies. 
He appealed to the Pope for the canonisation of Edward II, 
whom he must have imagined as a king similarly wronged. 
The invasion of Ireland, the plans to help his new ally, the 
King of France, in an invasion of Italy, the plans for his own 
election as King of Germany, which led him to spend con- 
siderable sums in bribing the electors all these were outside 
the usual policies of the kings of England at this period. The 
desire for complete revenge is clearer, because the King's 
actions in 1397 and 1398 seem like the execution of a plan to 
reverse completely and artistically the wrongs which had been 
done him in the * Merciless' Parliament. He began quite 
unexpectedly in July 1397 with the arrest of the three chief 
appellants, Woodstock, Arundel, and Warwick. In a parlia- 
ment in September they were 6 appealed ' and condemned in 
the same way as they had treated the King's friends in 1388. 
Woodstock had already been murdered at Calais, Arundel was 
executed, Warwick banished, Thomas of Arundel, now Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury, likewise banished. It is important not 
to underestimate the enormity of this sudden outburst. Wood- 
stock and Arundel were among the very greatest men and the 
banishment of the Primate was a rare offence. Many estates 
fell into the King's hands and were largely redistributed 
amongst new earls, whose creation greatly altered the English 
peerage : Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester, Ralph 
Neville of Westmorland, Thomas Percy of Worcester, and 
William Scrope of Wiltshire. Others, whom he regarded as 
his best friends amongst his relations, became new dukes : 
Bolingbroke, the Holands, and Edmund Langley's son, Edward, 
while John Beaufort was made Marquis of Dorset. 

The next stage was carried through at a parliament at 
Shrewsbury in January 1398. Richard had been impatient of 
parliamentary criticism a year earlier, when he had imprisoned 
Thomas Haxey, who was acting as proctor for the Abbot of 
Selby, for criticising the expenditure of the royal household. 


Now he seemed to be aiming to free himself entirely from par- 
liament. The definition of treason was extended, customs were 
granted for life instead of the usual period of one or two years, 
and a committee appointed to continue the business of the 
parliament after its dissolution. In September 1398 a quarrel 
between Bolingbroke and the Duke of Norfolk (Nottingham 
in 1388) gave the King an excuse to banish both of the 
remaining appellants. Lately they had been honoured as his 
friends, but now Bolingbroke accused Nottingham of plotting 
to avoid the fate of the other appellants. For whatever reason, 
Richard chose to be rid of them both. The revenge was 

In the last two years of his life Richard moved rapidly 
towards political madness. He strengthened his permanent 
army of Cheshire archers. He tried to wreak revenge on the 
commons of the shires by fining them, since they had failed 
to support him in 1387. He went further in his assault on the 
nobility, and it was this last step which cost him the throne. 
When John of Gaunt died in February 1399, Bolingbroke, his 
eldest son, was his rightful heir, but the whole of the vast 
Lancastrian inheritance was taken into the King's hands. In 
the same summer, while Richard was making his second 
expedition to Ireland, Bolingbroke landed in Yorkshire with 
the avowed intention of recovering his inheritance by force. 
He was quickly joined in the north by Henry Percy, Earl of 
Northumberland, and Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, 
and, as he came south, the Duke of York, uncle to the King 
and keeper of the realm in Richard's absence, came over to 
the rebels. At what stage Bolingbroke revealed his full inten- 
tion we do not know, but it must have been clear in August 
when Richard, who had come back from Ireland, only to find 
himself deserted, surrendered at Gonway. The King's abdica- 
tion was presented to a parliament at Westminster on agth 
September. It is hard to say how enthusiastic the Commons 
were, for they had little choice in the presence of Bolingbroke's 
armed men. The next day the King was deposed on the 
strength of a long list of his misdeeds. Bolingbroke then stood 
up and claimed the crown by right of descent as Henry IV. 
Richard died in prison early the following year, though legends 
of his survival encouraged rebels for some years after. 



So began the sixty-one years of the Lancastrian dynasty. 
The glories of that line, as contemporaries saw them, were 
chiefly concentrated in the reign of Henry V. Bolingbroke 
was never again so successful as in the audacious stroke which 
won him the kingdom, and his reign, though we tend to forget 
this because of his son's unchallenged leadership, was troubled 
and insecure. His own character was a complete contrast 
with the high-handed unconventionality of Richard, but he 
inherited some of Richard's difficulties, particularly in rela- 
tions with France, and acquired several new ones. Few people 
wanted to restore Richard II and the proceedings of the 
parliaments suggest that Lords and Commons were mostly 
content to have Henry IV as king. The only serious plot in 
favour of Richard, hatched by four of his favourites among 
the nobility, who had benefited from his seizures of other 
magnates' lands in the last years of the reign, was quickly 
suppressed and the leaders killed in January 1400. Richard 
had no children, but the fact that Henry was a usurper and 
that there were living representatives of the Mortimer family, 
whom Richard had declared heirs to the throne, gave a 
plausible excuse to rebels. 

Serious trouble began, however, in an unexpected quarter. 
Some of the gentry of the Welsh Marches had suffered for 
following Richard II in his last years. One of these was Owen 
Glyndwr, a landowner in the valley of the Dee, descended 
from the ancient Welsh nobility, who turned his personal 
grievances into a revolt against English rule in the autumn of 
1400, and assumed the title of Prince of Wales. The rebellion 
was astonishingly successful. The reasons for its success are 
probably to be found in widespread resentment against the 
English exploitation of Welsh tenants, carried on by the 
Marcher lords in their various lordships and similarly by the 
Grown in the Principality. In this sense it was perhaps partly 
the Welsh counterpart to the Peasants' Revolt. At any rate 
it spread rapidly to the greater part of Wales, Principality and 
lordships, and English control was either removed or reduced 
to the holding of isolated castles for much of the first decade 
of the century. The Glyndwr revolt was not in itself a serious 


threat to England, nor did it involve great military enterprises, 
but it was a running sore and an encouragement to other 
enemies for much of Henry IV's reign. 

It began to have wider implications in 1402. An invasion 
by Henry himself, with the young Prince Henry and the Earl of 
Arundel, failed to put down the rebellion, and in the same 
year Glyndwr captured Sir Edmund Mortimer, the uncle of 
the Earl of March. Disgruntled by Henry's failure to ransom 
him, Mortimer joined the rebels. The worst trouble began in 
1403. Henry's chief assistant in his own rebellion had been 
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. Since 1399 Northum- 
berland had become a great man in the kingdom, especially 
in the north, and added to his fame, and to that of his son 
Henry Hotspur, also a famous soldier, by defeating a Scots 
army at Homildon Hill in 1402. The King, however, had 
annoyed them by his refusal to ransom Mortimer, who was 
Hotspur's brother-in-law, by his demand that they should give 
up the Scots prisoners captured at Homildon Hill, and by his 
unwillingness or inability to pay all the money due to them as 
Wardens of the Scots Marches. They must also have hoped 
to repeat the success which they had had in the revolution of 
I 399* 1 I* 1 I 43 tb e Percies suddenly joined Glyndwr and 
Mortimer, agreeing with them on a fantastic scheme to 
partition England, and alleging Henry's usurpation as the 
justification for rising. The rebellion spread to south Wales 
and Cheshire. The King quickly took an army westwards and 
defeated them and killed Hotspur at the battle of Shrewsbury, 
a setback from which the fortunes of the Percy family did not 
fully recover until the Tudor period. This was not the end of 
the business, however. The war continued to go badly in 
Wales. In 1404 Glyndwr received encouragement and even a 
little military assistance from a French landing at Milford 
Haven. In 1405 Northumberland revived his treaty with 
Glyndwr and Mortimer. This time he was joined by a rising 
of some other northern magnates. They were defeated quickly 
at Shipton Moor, but Northumberland was still at large, 
though out of England, and it was not until 1408, when he was 
defeated and killed at Bramham Moor, that the danger in the 
north was really ended. 

1 J. M. W. Bean, * Henry IV and the Percies *, History (1959) 


These rebellions occurred against a background of per- 
sistent strife -with France, which loomed larger in the frequent 
parliaments of the reign than the troubles at home. In the 
years 1403-6 the safety of English trade in the Channel and 
at Calais was threatened (see p. 200). This was really a much 
more important matter than the French league with Glyndwr. 
In most of the parliaments from 1401 to 1406 Henry was 
subjected to outspoken criticism on the two matters of naval 
defence and administration of money. The Commons, per- 
haps more active than ever before, were extremely insistent on 
their control of taxation and went to unusual lengths. They 
urged the king to restrict the expenses of his household, and 
to recover royal lands which had been granted away, and 
Insisted on nominated councils with defined powers. This 
criticism was not based on any sympathy with Percy or 
Glyndwr, and the councillors appointed in parliament were 
mostly drawn from the King's own supporters, some of them 
administrators in the Duchy of Lancaster. There was no 
parallel with the opposition to Richard II. But it did mean 
that the Crown was harried on yet another front. 

In the last years of the reign, from about 1408, the character 
of politics was affected by different factors. By this time the 
most urgent military dangers from France, Glyndwr, and the 
Percies had subsided. But Bolingbroke, now a broken man in 
health and spirit, declining towards his early death, was beset 
by the quarrels and opposition of his own relations. The most 
prominent was his son, Henry, Prince of Wales, already 
showing himself masterful and ambitious. Also becoming 
prominent were the Beaufort family, the legitimised progeny 
of John of Gaunt, represented in this reign by the King's three 
half-brothers, Henry Beaufort (Bishop of Lincoln, then of 
Winchester, and later Cardinal), John, Earl of Somerset 
(died 1410), and Thomas, Earl of Dorset. Apart from the 
Prince's ambition to take his father's place, the grounds of 
these quarrels are not clear. In 1409 the Prince assisted Oxford 
University to resist the inquisition into Lollardy proposed by 
the Bang's Chancellor and most substantial supporter, Arch- 
bishop Arundel. At a parliament in 1410 Arundel was 
replaced as Chancellor by Thomas Beaufort and a new council, 
headed by the Prince, was nominated. In 1411, while the 


Prince was trying to seize the opportunity offered by divisions 
in France to intervene there, his father was trying to preserve 
peace. Henry IV seems, in that year, to have recovered 
control of his own government, but twice in 1412 the Prince 
came to London with a retinue, apparently aiming to assert 
himself by force. The power which Bolingbroke had usurped 
in 1399 was slipping from his hands before he died in March 

10 The Hundred Years' War 

(l) ENGLAND AND FRANCE, 1361-1413 

ENGLISH soldiers enjoyed two periods of overwhelming 
success in France under the warrior kings Edward III and 
Henry V in the years 1343-61 and 1415-22. The victories of 
these periods were separated by an even longer stretch of time 
in which the French kings recovered control of their country, 
forced England into a defensive attitude, and occasionally 
threatened invasion. The reason for these changes of fortune 
lies clearly enough in the characters of the kings. Henry V, 
like Edward III in his prime, had the gift of leadership which 
gave military strength and unity. Edward III in his senility 
and his grandsons Richard II and Henry IV had not. In 
Charles V of France (1364-80) and his brother Philip the Bold 
(Duke of Burgundy 1364-1404, and the effective military 
leader in France after Charles's death) they faced leaders with 
just the qualities of strength which they lacked. Military 
failure itself bred disunity in the world of jealous soldier 
magnates and, throughout this period of the Hundred Years' 
War, English politics at home were deeply affected by the 
continual sense of military inadequacy which the continual 
kings were powerless to remove. 

The gains of Bretigny melted like snow before the recovery 
of the French monarchy under Charles V. The process 
started seriously with revolts of Gascon nobles against the rule 
of the Black Prince as Duke of Aquitaine. When the Prince 
had refused to appear in Paris to answer charges brought 
against him, Charles V was free to invade Gascony in 1369. 
The Black Prince was entering on the decline in health which 
ended in his premature death. Edward III was declining into 
old age. Neither was competent any longer to lead a military 
expedition and the English attempts to reply were all failures. 


Plate 14 WINCHESTER COLLEGE. A drawing of the buildings with the warden, masters 
and scholars, about 1463 (New College, Oxford, MS. 288, f. 3). The view is distorted, 
for not all the buildings shown could be seen from the same point, but it demonstrates 
all the better the conventional scheme of the late-medieval college, including chapel, 
hall and auadranerles enclosed bv rooms to house the masters and srhnlars fcrr n rftn^ 

THE HUNDRED YEARS* WAR, 1361-1453 197 

There was an abortive expedition from Calais into northern 
France under the great captain, Sir Robert Knollys, in 1370. 
In 1373 John of Gaunt led his army in an enormous march 
through France from one English foothold at Calais to another 
at Bordeaux, which did much damage but yielded no permanent 
political advantage. Worst of all, a fleet carrying reinforcements 
to Gascony, under the Earl of Pembroke, was defeated by 
Castilian ships off La Rochelle in 1372 and the Earl himself 
captured. By 1 375, when a truce was made at Bruges, the French 
reconquest was largely completed ; the English hold on France 
was reduced once more to Calais, a strip around Bordeaux, and 
some footholds in the harbours of Brittany which were held 
grimly for many years. 

An important shift in English foreign affairs resulted from 
the Black Prince's last great expedition, his invasion of Castile 
in 1367 in support of Pedro the Cruel, who had been ousted 
from the throne by the French-supported Henry of Trastamara. 
Though the Prince won his last important battle at Najera, he 
did not succeed in restoring Pedro permanently. The expedi- 
tion had two important results. Firstly, England faced for 
some years an alliance of France and Castile, which brought 
the formidable Castilian navy into the Channel, gave the 
French and Spaniards control of the seas, and made possible 
raids on the south coast, spreading fears of invasion which 
filled the period 1377-80 with alarm. Secondly, the Black 
Prince's brother, John of Gaunt, married Pedro's daughter, 
Constance, in 1371, styled himself King of Castile, and, for 
some part of the minority of Richard II, when he was the 
most important single individual in English politics, hankered 
after a great invasion of Castile to make good his claim. 
The plan was not much supported by other Englishmen 
but he eventually carried it out with some modest success 
in 1386-9. 

These circumstances are important for our understanding 
of the gloom and division in the country which contributed to 
the crises of the Good Parliament (1376) and the Peasants' 
Revolt (1381). Paying for war was even more unpopular 
when war seemed to be mishandled. The activity of these 
years centred largely on the Channel and on Brittany, where 
the English still had some territory but the Castilian ships 


were based on harbours in French hands. The war was 
brought home to Englishmen 3 accustomed to view it with 
detachment across the Channel, when the French burnt Rye 
and Gravesend in 1377. In 1378 John of Gaunt retaliated by 
trying to capture St Malo. In 1379 another expedition to 
Brittany was shipwrecked before it arrived. The most ambi- 
tious of these efforts was a lengthy march, led by Thomas of 
Woodstock, Earl of Buckingham, in a great circle round Paris 
and back to Brittany at the end of 1380. This was the 
immediate military background to the Poll Tax and the 
Peasants' Revolt. 

Charles V died in 1380, and with him the active Franco- 
Castilian alliance, but the situation in France did not develop 
to England's advantage. Charles V was succeeded as England's 
main enemy by Philip the Bold, the leading figure at the 
French court for more than two decades and the creator of 
the Duchy of Burgundy, embracing the Low Countries and 
eastern France, which was to last until 1477. The beginning 
of the Great Schism in 1378 gave the opportunity for an 
alliance against the French-supported Clement VII, in which 
England played a leading part. The marriage of Richard II 
to Anne of Bohemia in 1382 was a part of this design. Ecclesi- 
astical and secular politics were mixed, with scandalous and, 
as it turned out, disastrous indifference, in the Bishop of 
Norwich's crusade in 1383. The Flemish towns had risen 
again, as in the days of Artevelde, to resist French influence, 
this time in the person of Philip the Bold, claiming the suc- 
cession to the last independent Count of Flanders. The 
English merchants, as in the thirteen-forties, were anxious to 
preserve their commercial link by keeping Flanders as far as 
possible an English rather than a French sphere of influence. 
A plan was evolved to send a crusade, paid for by ecclesiastical 
money and commanded by the warlike Henry Despenser, 
Bishop of Norwich, to defend Flanders against the supporters 
of the Avignon Pope. Commercial, political, and ecclesiastical 
aims could all be furthered at once. It was done, but the 
expedition broke up ignominiously owing to its divided aims 
and inefficiency. The crusade was the last serious effort 
against France on land for many years. Flanders capitulated 
to Philip the Bold. 

THE HUNDRED YEARS* WAR, 1361-1453 199 

Thereafter the war with France gradually petered out. 
There were fears of French invasion from Flanders in 1385 
and 1386, which came to nothing. There was piracy in the 
Channel, in particular an expedition by the Earl of Arundel 
in 1387 which acquired fame because he captured a wine fleet. 
There were no substantial expeditions on land. In 1386 John 
of Gaunt set off at last on his much-planned journey to Spain 
with royal blessings and royal money. He returned in 1389 
without the crown, but bought off with pensions which enabled 
him to spend the last decade of his life in England, rich, 
honoured, and old. The English footholds in France con- 
tinued to be precariously held, without much loss or gain of 
territory, for nearly thirty years. Relations with France were 
immediately and constantly important to two groups of 
people : to the merchants, who wanted to keep open the vital 
sea-links with Bordeaux and Flanders and were therefore 
anxious for naval defence and protection of Bordeaux and 
Calais, and to the magnates and soldiers, who hankered for 
profitable expeditions on the French mainland. Richard II 
and Henry IV, the former from choice and the second from 
necessity, failed on the whole to satisfy these groups. Richard, 
from 1385 effective ruler of England, seems to have adopted a 
deliberate policy of conciliating the dangerous power of France, 
preferring to be friendly with a court which dazzled him and 
attracted him more than his own circle of warlike nobility. 
Though there were expeditions at sea and constant haggling 
for the rest of his reign, the truces were in the main respected 
on land and in 1396, after the death of Queen Anne, Richard 
sealed a long-term peace and a contract to marry Isabella, the 
child daughter of Charles VI. He visited France in that year 
to indulge his tastes in an elaborate ceremonial meeting with 
Charles VI and to take home his new queen. Rightly or 
wrongly Richard preferred to fight in Ireland rather than in 
France. His expedition there in 1394-5, *f not ^ e most 
ambitious military enterprise of his reign, was the one in which 
he took the most interest, and he was in Ireland again when the 
fateful landing of Bolingbroke took place in 1399. 

Bolingbroke's accession upset the entente with France, for it 
involved the deposition of the French King's daughter. As a 
somewhat insecure usurper Henry IV was anxious not to add 


to his enemies and it was the French who took the initiative 
in threats, even after Isabella had been honourably returned 
to her family. As Henry's troubles at home grew in 1403 and 
1404, with the rebellions of Glyndwr and the Percies, the 
French harried him in the Channel. In 1403 Plymouth was 
burned. Next year the French landed on the Isle of Wight 
and made a formal alliance with Glyndwr, and in the winter 
of 1405-6 a small French force was landed at Milford Haven 
to give direct assistance to the Welsh rising. In 1406 an 
attack on Calais was expected. This phase of the Hundred 
Years' War which recalled the situation of the early years of 
Richard II, with its sense of national emergency created by 
the threats in the Channel and at Calais, ended in 1407 as the 
rift in France between the parties of Burgundy and Orleans 
grew. Towards the end of Henry's reign the forty years of 
French revival and ascendancy were closing and political 
fortune smiled on the newly established House of Lancaster. 


In the peaceful latter end of the fifteenth century English- 
men looked back with wonder at the great feats of their fathers 
in the reign of Henry V, which followed with sudden glory 
the humiliations of Bolingbroke, and they regretted the decay 
of English arms. The achievements were indeed remarkable, 
but the circumstances were also very lucky. The English 
victory was won against a France which was split by a feud 
within its nobility, and the victor was a young, toughly 
ambitious soldier king, who happened to appear at just the 
right moment to take advantage of French weakness. France 
was ruled by an old, mad king, Charles VI (1380-1422). The 
leading personality in his reign until 1404 had been Philip the 
Bold, Duke of Burgundy, his uncle. The divisions at the end 
of Charles VPs reign resulted from a quarrel between the 
followers of Philip the Bold's son, John the Fearless (who was 
also the ruler of a large and wealthy state, including Burgundy, 
Flanders, and Brabant) and the followers of another royal 
prince, the Duke of Orleans (called Orleanists or Armagnacs). 
In 1407 Orleans was murdered by agents of Burgundy and 
thus began a ruinous feud in French politics, which crippled 

THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR, 1361-1453 201 

the leadership of the country for a whole generation, leaving 
it exposed to English invasion as it had not been since 1365. 

At this time the English possessions in France were Calais 
and a reduced Gascony, all that had been retained through 
the misfortunes of the last forty years. By 1411 both sides in 
France were trying to get help from England. Henry IV was 
not anxious to interfere but Prince Henry, on his own initiative, 
sent a small force to help Burgundy, and this assisted in the 
capture of Paris. It was the beginning of the Prince's life- 
work of humiliating France. In 1412 his father was once 
again in control of affairs and responded to the overtures of 
the Armagnacs, who offered England restoration of losses in 
Gascony, by sending an army to their help under his second 
son, Thomas, Duke of Clarence. In 1413 Henry V succeeded 
to the throne and there was now no obstacle to the policy 
which he seems to have conceived several years earlier. He 
quickly revived the most extreme claims of his ancestors, 
demanding both the French throne and the English possessions 
as they had been laid down at Bretigny in 1361. France in 
that year was in such an upheaval, with revolution in Paris, 
that it might well have seemed suitable for a rapid attack. 
By the next year the rift was patched up somewhat, but there 
was in fact bitter hostility between the two factions. Henry 
was negotiating with both sides, secretly with Burgundy, openly 
with the Orleanist regime in Paris, for he proposed marriage 
to Charles's daughter, Catherine, even though he seems to 
have intended all the time to invade the country. 

In April 1415 the intention was formally announced. 
French envoys came over in the summer in a last effort to 
hold him off, willing to grant the Princess's hand with a large 
dower and extensions of territory in Gascony, but not, of 
course, to come anywhere near satisfying Henry's demands for 
the throne or the frontiers laid down at Bretigny. While 
the negotiations were going on he was already at Southampton, 
preparing to take the army across the Channel. The crossing 
was put off for a time by the discovery of a plot amongst the 
most eminent rivals of the Lancastrian house to overthrow the 
King. The ringleader was the Earl of Cambridge, brother of 
the Duke of York, brother-in-law of the Earl of March, and 
the plan was to put March, the representative of the Mortimer 


claim, on the throne. This foreshadowed the serious Yorkist 
claim to the throne, which was to come to fruition forty years 
later, when the son of the ringleader of 1415, uniting in him- 
self the claims of York and Mortimer, began his bid for the 
throne. Luckily for the King, March quickly betrayed the 
conspiracy ; it was nipped in the bud and the Earl of Cam- 
bridge was executed. Apart from the abortive revolt of 
Oldcastle in 1413, this was the only serious threat which 
Henry V had to meet in England. Nearly all the dukes and 
earls sailed with the King on his expedition, not only his 
brothers, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Thomas, Duke 
of Clarence (killed in 1421), but also such potential opponents 
as the Duke of York, the Earl of March, on the second occasion 
Northumberland (restored to his grandfather's title in 1416), 
and other great magnates, like Richard Beauchamp, Earl of 
Warwick., and Thomas Montague, Earl of Salisbury. The 
promise and fulfilment of the two great enterprises of 1415 
and 1417 made the English nobility united as it had not been 
since the early days of the Garter. 

In August 1415 the army sailed. It landed near Harfleur 
in Normandy, at the mouth of the Seine, and immediately 
settled down to a month-long siege of the town. After this 
bitter business, which cost the English a very large number of 
casualties by sickness, Henry set off, early in the autumn, to 
march, as Edward III had done seventy years previously, 
through Normandy to Calais. Meanwhile the French nobility 
were mustering their forces and gathered a very substantial 
army (not including the Duke of Burgundy, however) to pursue 
the invader. Henry was compelled to make a long detour to 
cross the Somme, and it was a depleted and exhausted English 
army which eventually met the French on 25th October at 
Agincourt, less than thirty miles from Crecy. In spite of the 
great disparity in numbers, the well-commanded English army, 
fighting on foot, with very few losses, inflicted a terrible and 
most damaging defeat on the disunited French nobility. 
Henry returned home in November, the greatest hero since 
the Black Prince after Poitiers, bringing the Duke of Orleans 
into a captivity which lasted twenty-five years. 

The year 1416 saw a lull in the war. Henry was visited 
by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, who was trying to 

THE HUNDRED YEARS* WAR, 1361-1453 203 

unite the powers of Europe in support of the Council of the 
Church, now being held at Constance, and for defence against 
the Turks. In August there were negotiations with him and 
with France and Burgundy at Calais, which produced a short 
truce. In 1417, however, circumstances in France became 
again very favourable to England. The Duke of Burgundy 
was advancing against his enemies in Paris. This diverted 
French attention from Normandy and left it almost completely 
open to English attack. At the beginning of August Henry 
landed once more on the coast of Normandy. The system 
which he followed in this campaign, unlike the wide-ranging, 
mobile raids of his predecessors, was to reduce the chief forti- 
fied towns one by one and so to get a complete grip on certain 
areas of French territory. In eighteen months the capture 
of Caen, Falaise, Cherbourg, and Rouen gave him a fair hold 
on Normandy. Probably this would not have been possible if 
the Duke of Burgundy had not been simultaneously attacking 
the French capital on his own account. In 1418 the Duke cap- 
tured Paris and with it the old King Charles VI. There were 
now virtually three powers controlling different parts of 
France : Burgundy in the north-east ; Charles's heir, the 
Dauphin, later to be Charles VII, with the Armagnac party 
in the south ; Henry V in Normandy. 

Henry remained in France during 1419, carrying his 
attack in the direction of Paris, while there was a temporary 
reconciliation of the two native factions. The fate of France 
was sealed, however, in September 1419, when the Duke of 
Burgundy was murdered at Montereau by the Dauphin's 
people, in revenge for the' murder of Orleans in 1407. 
Montereau greatly deepened the feud. It led to a rapid 
agreement between Henry V and the new Duke of Burgundy, 
Philip the Good, and was the basis of the English position in 
France for the next fifteen years. Having all the French royal 
family, except the Dauphin, under his control, Burgundy was 
able to give effect to the Treaty of Troy es, sealed in May 1420, 
by which Henry was to marry Princess Catherine and to 
succeed to the French throne on the death of her father, 
Charles VI. Henry V and Burgundy, now firm allies, spent 
the rest of the year in capturing Sens and Melun before 
entering Paris itself in December. Henry made a brief visit 


to England in 1421. He was back in France again in the 
summer of that year, determined to make his title to 
the French throne complete and effective by crushing the 
Dauphin's party, and he had begun that task successfully 
when he died of sickness in August 1422 at the early age of 


At the time of his death Henry V had not succeeded to 
the throne of France, but his son did so a few months later, on 
the death of Charles VI, and for some years an English king 
ruled at Paris as well as London. The Duke of Bedford went 
into battle at Verneuil in 1424 with a c banner quartered with 
France and England to signify the two conjoint realms *. His 
rule was effective over large parts of France, north of the Loire, 
and especially in Normandy, where the normal machinery of 
government was maintained, with the provincial c estates ' 
(the Norman parliament) meeting to vote taxes for the upkeep 
of the English forces. In the first years of the reign of 
Henry VI these extraordinary conquests were kept intact and 
expanded. With the revival of French power, the eventual 
French reconciliation with Burgundy and also the growing 
weakness of English leadership at home, Henry VFs inheritance 
was gradually wasted. The long and, from the point of view 
of the English nobility, dismal story of the decline of the 
English in France is a most essential part of the reign of 
Henry VI. It may be divided into four phases : firstly up 
to the relief of Orleans in 1429, secondly to the death of 
Bedford and the Treaty of Arras in 1435, thirdly to the marriage 
treaty of Henry VI with Margaret of Anjou in 1444, and 
fourthly to the final expulsion of the English in 1453. 

The English government in France was entrusted to 
Henry V's brother, John, Duke of Bedford, who acted as 
regent and ruled from his castle Joyeux Repos at Rouen. He 
began in 1423 by securing the Treaty of Amiens with Burgundy, 
which confirmed Henry VFs position in France, and by him- 
self marrying Burgundy's sister. The alliance with Burgundy 
was severely strained by the independent action of the other 
surviving brother of Henry V, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, 




Lands held 
dy English in 1428 

I-L-I-- Lands of Duke of Burgundy 

English possessions in France in 1428 

who accepted in marriage the heiress to the county of Hainault, 
Jacqueline, although she had been married to a member of 
the Burgundian family whom she had abandoned. Gloucester 
even carried out a brief invasion of Hainault on his own 
account in 1424-5. But the personal enmity between Burgundy 
and Gloucester, which these events produced, did not extend 
to the rest of the House of Lancaster, and the alliance was the 
cornerstone of the English position for some time. The years 
1422-8 were on the whole a period of English success, of 


maintenance and extension of control in northern France. 
The victories were won by great nobles like Bedford, Thomas 
Montague, Earl of Salisbury, the most successful of the com- 
manders, William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, Richard 
Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who was named Captain and 
Lieu tenant-General in 1425 ; and by less exalted captains like 
Sir John Fastolf and John Talbot, later Earl of Shrewsbury. 
It was a time of great triumph and profit for the English 
nobility and of miserable disorder and depredation for many 
of the people of northern France. The English possessions 
were expanded in a series of campaigns culminating in Bed- 
ford's victory at Verneuil in 1424. In 1426 the advance was 
renewed. English and Burgundian government extended over 
nearly the whole of northern France above the Loire when 
Salisbury began in 1428 his fatal siege of Orleans, which 
might have opened the way to the south. 

The turning-point was the appearance of Joan of Arc to 
relieve Orleans. The saintly peasant girl, who revived French 
morale and began the expulsion of the English, was only 
sixteen. For several years she had seen visions and heard 
voices which told her that she was destined to save France. 
At the beginning of 1429 she presented herself before the 
Dauphin and her incredible powers of persuasion convinced 
him that he was indeed the true son of Charles VI (doubts 
had been cast on his legitimacy), that he could recover his 
kingdom, and that she was the appointed instrument of his 
victory. When an army had been placed in her hands she 
quickly succeeded in relieving Orleans. Thereafter success 
was with the French. Fastolf had won his famous battle of 
the Herrings, defending a convoy of food for the besiegers of 
Orleans, but after the relief the English were driven north- 
wards. In June the French triumphed at Patay, capturing 
Talbot himself. In July Charles VII was consecrated king in 
the cathedral at Rheims. 

In the next year, 1430, Joan was captured by Burgundians 
at Compifegne ; she was sold to the English and burned after 
trial for heresy, to which her visions and unwomanly pre- 
tensions gave some colour. But neither this outrage nor the 
coronation of Henry VI at Paris, also in 1431, helped to 
prevent the English position from gradually crumbling. 

THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR, 1361-1453 2O7 

Money became harder to raise in Normandy. The English 
parliaments were unsympathetic and ungenerous. Worst of 
all the alliance with Burgundy broke down. Bedford's wife, 
the chief personal link, died in 1432 and Bedford himself in 

1435. The Duke of Burgundy, feeling the change in the 
political climate, began to make friends with Charles VII. 
In 1435 a diplomatic congress of England, Burgundy, and 
France was held at Arras under the auspices of the Pope. The 
English delegates, after holding out for the extreme claim to 
the French throne, which was now becoming obviously 
unrealistic, walked out. In September the Duke of Burgundy 
made peace with France and recognised Charles VII. In 
1436 the English had to leave Paris and in 1437 Charles VII 
made his ceremonial entry into the capital. 

The dual monarchy was ended and the balance of power 
had changed. England was now fighting France and 
Burgundy, though Burgundy's Duke took little action against 
England after his unsuccessful attempt to capture Calais in 

1436. In the next few years a number of expeditions went out 
from England to hold the remaining territory, and much 
fighting was done by these armies under Richard, Duke of 
York, who succeeded Bedford as Regent and then Lieutenant- 
General, under Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Edmund 
Beaufort, Earl of Dorset, later Duke of Somerset, and under 
John Talbot. But they could not stop the gradual infiltra- 
tion of the French into the country between Paris and the 
coast. From 1438 onwards the French were also attacking 
English territory in Gascony. Meanwhile at home the feeling 
began to grow amongst the group which controlled the council 
that peace must be made. This movement was especially 
associated with the Earl of Suffolk, who had been instrumental 
in procuring the release of the Duke of Orleans in 1440 to 
return to France and act as a mediator. Finally Suffolk was 
able to lead an embassy to France in 1444, which made a truce 
and arranged the marriage of Henry VI with Margaret of 
Anjou, niece by marriage of Charles VII. They were married 
in 1445. 

From 1445 to 1449 there was an uneasy truce, marred by 
the agreement to cede Maine to the French, which was for a 
long time resisted by the English forces in that area under 


Dorset. In 1449 an attack by mercenaries under English 
command from Normandy on the town of Foug&res in Brittany 
gave Charles VII what was probably a welcome excuse to 
start the war again, and this last phase began on French 
initiative. Rouen, the capital of Normandy, was quickly taken 
and Somerset's command there destroyed. The last English 
relief force, sent out under Sir Thomas Kyriel in 1450, was 
defeated with enormous losses at Formigny, Somerset himself 
was captured at Caen, and the last vestiges of English 
occupation of Normandy disappeared. Then Charles VII 
turned his attention to Gascony. Bordeaux itself fell in 1451 
and, after reoccupation with the help of the veteran Talbot's 
last expedition which ended in his death at the battle of 
Castillon in 1452, fell finally to the French in 1453. The 
centuries of government by the kings of England in France 
the Duchy of Normandy, the Angevin Empire, the Duchy of 
Aquitaine, the claim to the French Crown were at an end. 
Henceforth, except for the one town of Calais, which was 
retained for another century, kings of England ruled only on 
this side of the Channel. 

The destruction of English power in France was in part a 
matter of military efficiency. The victories of Agincourt and 
Verneuil had been won by the superiority of English archers 
meeting the oncoming French knights and men-at-arms in the 
open field, in a manner not very different from that used at 
Crecy and Poitiers. In the later stages of the war the French 
did not allow that situation to arise again and the English 
were less effective in close fighting around a town as at 
Formigny. Artillery was beginning to be important and, 
though Henry V had used guns to good effect in the siege of 
Harfleur, the French seem to have been far superior in that 
arm by the middle of the century. But the main reasons for 
English failure were political and moral. Charles VII not 
only had a new spirit in himself after Orleans ; he was also 
creating a more centralised and powerful monarchy which 
contrasted with the divisions and the crippling jealousy of 
noble factions under the weak Charles VI. This happened 
just at the time when the English monarchy in its turn was 
declining to its lowest ebb. England was ruled by magnates 
and bishops who gave no clear lead in policy, and parliaments 

THE HUNDRED YEARS 5 WAR, 1361-1453 20Q 

refused to pay as they had paid for the victories of Henry V. 
Henry VI of England was the grandson of Charles VI of 
France. Perhaps his intellectual and physical weakness, which 
lost the inheritance in France, owed something to that other 

11 The Wars of the Roses 


WHEN Henry V died his only son was a baby of nine months. 
The longest minority in English history was then followed by 
one of the most tragic reigns. During the minority it was 
natural that the kingdom should be ruled by the leading 
magnates, but it was most unnatural that the ending of the 
minority in 1437 should make no difference to this state of 
affairs, Henry proved to be the exact opposite of his father, 
a pious well-intentioned recluse and, later in life, weak-minded. 
His best memorial is King's College Chapel at Cambridge. 
He hated war and had no capacity for politics, and he was 
managed from beginning to end, first by his uncles and then 
by his domineering and clever wife. He reigned negatively 
for nearly forty years and spent another decade in exile and 
imprisonment, seeing the complete ruin of the dynasty which 
had been the mightiest in Europe at his birth. We shall have 
little to say of his own actions, but his complete nonentity as 
a king was the leading factor in English politics in the mid- 
fifteenth century. 

The later part of his reign was an age of revolution, but 
the greater part of it was relatively free from violent internal 
upheavals. Perhaps the most important reason for this was 
that the best energies of many of the most able and powerful 
of the English magnates, such men as Richard Beauchamp 
and Richard Neville, Earls of Warwick, and Richard, Duke 
of York, who might otherwise have taken a disruptive part in 
politics at home, were absorbed by the war in France. Politi- 
cal conflicts were relatively peaceful and circumscribed. The 
first part of the reign was dominated by three forceful noble- 
men of the royal blood. John, Duke of Bedford, the King's 
uncle, was the most respected, an efficient soldier and admini- 
strator, who maintained English power in France for most of 



the minority. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, his other uncle, 
on the contrary, was an adventurous soldier and a great patron 
of literature, lacking in political finesse and no match in this 
respect for his more solid relations, but a powerfully turbulent 
figure in English politics for a quarter of a century. Henry 
Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, the King's great-uncle and a 
son of John of Gaunt, is a more baffling character. Henry V 
prevented him from becoming cardinal but he achieved that 
ambition later. He showed great interest in the ecclesiastical 
diplomacy of Europe in the wars against the Hussites for 
which he tried to raise an English army in 1428, and in the 
Council of Basle. Perhaps he would have preferred to spend 
his life in the ecclesiastical councils or at the papal court. But, 
though it is doubtful whether the lay politics of England were 
his chosen career, he had an unrivalled experience in them 
dating at least from 1404, when he had first been Chancellor, 
to his death in 1447. His enigmatic figure broods over English 
history for a great part of the reign of Henry VI. He exercised 
a laborious and skilful devotion in the duty which was thrust 
upon him by his eminence in the royal family. The great 
wealth placed in his hands by his long tenure of the see of 
Winchester enabled him to make indispensable loans to the 
Crown over a longer period than any other medieval financier. 
It is difficult to know whether he stayed in power because it 
allowed him to arrange his loans so profitably for himself, or 
whether he lent money because there was no other way to keep 
the ship of state afloat. Perhaps both explanations are true. 

The constitution, within which the government was to be 
carried on during the minority, was settled in the November 
parliament of 1422. The title of Regent was refused to 
Gloucester, whom nearly everyone mistrusted; he was to 
govern under a nominated council of lords, bishops, and 
ministers and was to be Protector of the realm only when 
Bedford was out of England. Bedford was the most acceptable 
ruler, but his continual absence in France left English politics 
to the other councillors and to the long duel between Beaufort 
and Gloucester. Beaufort had been Bishop of the rich see of 
Winchester since 1405 ; he was also one of the trustees of the 
Duchy of Lancaster. He was therefore in command of vast 
sums of money which were urgently needed for the carrying-on 


of the government in a period which saw a sharp decline in 
the willingness of parliament to make grants. Gloucester was 
poorly endowed with lands and always short of money himself, 
and in the long run the combination of Beaufort's financial 
indispensability with his superior political skill always won. 
Gloucester's violent actions, however, caused him to be a 
repeated source of trouble to the council between 1422 and 
1440 and there were several major crises in relations between 
him and Beaufort. While Beaufort consistently supported the 
war with France with his money and diplomacy, Gloucester's 
personal hatred of the Cardinal was supported by a difference 
of policy based on his desire to pursue his own feud with the 
Duke of Burgundy. It is probable that the anti-Flemish 
feelings of many English merchants gained him some popular 
support. The first serious crisis began in October 1425 when 
Gloucester, fresh from his expedition to Hainault, challenged 
the council's financial arrangements and, when refused 
admission to the Tower on Beaufort's orders, enlisted the 
armed support of the Londoners, who were annoyed by the 
council's protection of foreign merchants. Bedford hastened 
to England to restore order. At the so-called c Parliament of 
Bats 9 at Leicester in 1426 the two enemies were reconciled 
with difficulty, and at last, in January 1427, Gloucester was 
persuaded to follow Bedford's example in promising to act 
only with the guidance of the council. Another crisis developed 
at the end of 1431, when Beaufort was away in France with 
the King. Gloucester brought a charge against him, under 
the Statute of Praemunire, relating to the Cardinal's dealings 
with the Pope, and followed this up at the beginning of 1432 
by making a wholesale replacement of ministers by his own 
supporters. Beaufort came back to England and cleared 
himself of the charge against him in parliament, but he was 
not able to regain his position in the council until Bedford 
came over again in 1433 and restored the status quo. Once 
again in 1436 Gloucester came temporarily to the fore. The 
Burgundian siege of Calais in that year gave him the oppor- 
tunity to lead a royal army into Flanders and to become briefly 
a national hero, championing the anti-Burgundian policy of 
the mercantile interest against Beaufort* 

After these episodes Gloucester was no more than a thorn 

Plate 16 THE BRASS COMMEMORATING JOHN FORTEY, wool merchant, in Northleach 
Church, Gloucestershire, in the heart of the Cotswolds. Fortey, who died in 1458, 
was a prominent and wealthy merchant. He is depicted with feet resting on a sheep 
and a wool sack ; his merchant's mark, with which he distinguished his sacks, is in 
the medallions on either side of him ; above is a canopy, perhaps symbolising his 
contribution to the reconstruction of the church. (See p. 149.) 


in the flesh of the Beaufort faction. After Bedford died in 1435 
and the King came of age in 1437 control by the faction became 
more complete ; the real power slipped more and more from 
the formal council into the hands of the clique which domi- 
nated it and, more important from this time, dominated the 
adult King and his court. Apart from Beaufort himself the 
notable members of the faction included William de la Pole, 
Earl of Suffolk ; Adam Moleyns, Bishop of Chichester ; John 
Kemp, Archbishop of York ; and the other members of the 
Beaufort family, the Earls of Somerset and Dorset. In 1440 
Gloucester attacked the peace policy of direct negotiation with 
Burgundy and negotiation with Charles VII through the Duke 
of Orleans. He accused the council of wholesale corruption 
in finance and betrayal of English interests. But he was 
powerless, and his impotence was fully demonstrated in 1441 
when the bishops revenged themselves by convicting his wife 
of witchcraft and condemning her to an humiliating public 
penance in London. 

As Beaufort aged and gradually withdrew from his long 
involvement in politics, the controlling power was inherited 
by his henchmen. The chief amongst these was Suffolk, 
Steward of the Household since 1433, Chamberlain in 1447, 
Marquis in 1444, and Duke in 1448, who rose finally to 
pre-eminence by carrying through the King's marriage with 
Margaret of Anjou, making himself all-powerful at court, and 
acquiring a great array of lands and offices. When Gloucester's 
objection to the cession of Maine, which was part of the 
marriage agreement, threatened to be dangerous, Suffolk 
decided to silence him finally by impeachment in a parliament 
at Bury St Edmunds at the beginning of 1447. Gloucester 
died under arrest before the trial had begun. Beaufort died 
in his bed only a few weeks later. 


The first part of Shakespeare's Henry VI contains a famous 
scene, set in the lifetime of Joan of Arc, in which the Duke of 
York and the Earl of Somerset pluck red and white roses in 
the Temple Garden to signify their implacable opposition to 
each other. The traditional name 6 Wars of the Roses ' for 


the revolutions and battles between 1455 and 1485 is, like 
' The Hundred Years' War ', rather misleading. The white 
rose was indeed the badge of the House of York, but the red 
rose of the Tudors did not appear until the Tudor claim to 
the throne came to the fore at the very end of the period. 
Another invention of the sixteenth century was the idea that 
England declined in the late fifteenth century into a state of 
disorder, from which it was only rescued by the Tudors. 
Writers of the Tudor period thought that the victory of 
Henry VII in 1485 had ended a series of disasters produced 
by the evils of usurpation which had begun with Bolingbroke 
in 1399. The usurpation of Henry VII himself as shameless 
as any had to be glossed over by the argument that he united 
all claims to the throne by his marriage with the Yorkist 
heiress and that he was descended through his Welsh forebears 
from the ancient kings of Britain. Much of this propaganda 
is familiar to us nowadays because it was an important part of 
the material out of which Shakespeare constructed his history 
plays. In these plays Richard II appears as a weak king, who 
failed in his duty to maintain the ancient monarchy, but also 
a king wrongly deposed. Henry IV's was an unhappy reign 
because he was a usurper. The dissipated and cheerful Prince 
Hal, the bane of his father, who turned into the splendid 
Henry V, could be presented by Shakespeare as a happy 
warrior and a fine king because he was not himself a usurper. 
The modern historian would wish to modify the Tudor 
picture in many ways, both in detail and in general. 
Richard III was presented as a hideous tyrant, and the story 
that the e Princes in the Tower *, Edward V and his brother, 
were murdered at his command was eagerly elaborated by 
Tudor historians from Thomas More onwards. Though it is 
very likely true, since there is no contemporary evidence that 
they died in any other way, and it would certainly have been 
in Richard's interest to dispose of better claimants to the 
throne, there is also no conclusive evidence in its favour and, 
as has often been pointed out, it would also have been in 
Henry VIFs interest to have them out of the way. 1 The 
period from 1455 to 1485, moreover, was not outstandingly 

1 The evidence is judiciously presented by A. R. Myers, ' The Character 
of Richard III ', H.T. (1954) 


turbulent in comparison with earlier medieval history. As a 
whole it was perhaps less packed with bloodshed than the 
anarchy of King Stephen's reign or the reign of Edward II. 
The ' wars * really amounted to a small number of battles 
separated by long intervals of peace. The prudent measures 
by which the first Tudor, Henry VII, consolidated the 
monarchy after 1485 had nearly all been initiated by the 
policy of Edward IV, in re-establishing effective central con- 
trol by Crown and Council and restoring the government's 
financial solvency. If there is a break in the history of kingship 
it comes in 1461 rather than in 1485. What is true, however, 
about the idea of the Wars of the Roses is that in this period 
there was more uncertainty about the rightful succession to 
the throne than there had been since the twelfth century, and 
that this uncertainty gave good excuses for a series of rebellions 
aimed at usurpation, of a kind which had been absent in the 
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Though Shakespeare was 
already remote from the period he was writing about, he could 
feel the importance of personal kingship and of inherited 
legitimacy better than we can. 

One of the roots of the Wars of the Roses was therefore 
Bolingbroke's usurpation in 1399. After 1399 it was always 
arguable that the Lancastrian claim to the throne was no 
better than the claim of the descendants of the Earl of March, 
whom Richard II had chosen as his heirs, the claim which was 
inherited in the mid-fifteenth century by the powerful Richard, 
Duke of York. When the Lancastrians showed themselves 
unfit to rule in the fourteen-fifties there was an alternative 
claimant to the throne, with a plausible claim, ready to hand. 
This uncertainty, however, would not have mattered much to 
a strong king. The cause of the Wars is to be found in the 
personal rivalries within the magnate class, which the with- 
drawal of Henry VI allowed to fill the political stage, and in 
the circumstances of the English expulsion from France, 
which embittered feelings and transferred warlike energies 
from the old outlets on the Continent to new ones at home. 
The factions which fought in the battles from 1457 to 1461 
first appeared in, and partly sprang from, the events of the 
years 1443-5. The French advance in Gascony was thought 
by the council to require a special defensive effort in that area, 


which would necessarily divert men, money, and command 
from Richard, Duke of York. York was actually operating in 
Normandy but held the position of Lieutenant of the whole of 
France. With full realisation of the affront which was being 
offered to York, John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was sent 
out as Captain-General of France and Gascony, with an 
independent command in the south. He had little success and 
died in 1444. By this time Suffolk was replacing Beaufort as 
the active leader of the council, and it had become clear that 
the English, apparently unable to stem the tide of French 
reconquest, had to seek peace. Suffolk was particularly fitted 
for the peace embassy, with which he was entrusted, by his 
friendship with both the Beauforts and the Duke of Orleans, 
and he arranged the betrothal of King Henry to Margaret of 
Anjou. He accepted as part of the bargain the French demand 
for the cession of Maine, which was still in English hands. 
Henry and Margaret were married in April 1445. York was 
superseded as Lieutenant of France by Edmund Beaufort, 
Marquis of Dorset, brother of the dead Duke of Somerset and 
soon to succeed to that title. In spite of much resistance from 
the soldiers on the spot, Maine was actually ceded to the French. 
The results of these manoeuvres were important. Margaret 
of Anjou, a new force in English politics, proved to be masterful 
and ambitious, accumulating property and favours for herself 
and her friends, providing the centre of a real court party 
for the first time in the reign and well able to lead it if neces- 
sary. Naturally she allied herself with the Beauforts and 
Suffolk who had brought her to England. Secondly, though 
the most obvious opponent of peace and the cession of Maine, 
Gloucester, was removed by his death in 1447, there was 
plenty of feeling against the humiliating settlement both in 
the country and among the commanders in France, and the 
effect was to realise the latent division between the great royal 
houses of York and Beaufort. For the time being the Beaufort 
interest and Suffolk (by 1448 not only elevated to a dukedom 
but also the King's Chamberlain and Captain of Calais) were 
supreme at court, while York was removed out of danger as 
Lieutenant of the King in Ireland. The theme of the politics 
of the rest of the reign is the deepening cleavage between the 
two parties, leading through military disaster in France, grow- 


ing poverty of the Crown, and increasing disorder in England, 
to revolution and the overthrow of the Lancastrians. For 
most of the period the Lancastrians retained control of the 
machinery of government and the support of the majority of 
the magnates, but they were very much hampered by the 
weakness and failure of their government at home and abroad. 
On the other side, Richard, Duke of York, was the greatest 
individual landowner in the kingdom, a man of experience, 
descended from Edward Ill's sons through both his father and 
his mother and therefore in a good position eventually to claim 
the throne (see Table III). He was supported by two great 
magnates of the Neville family, which had risen greatly by 
good marriages in the last half-century : Richard, Earl of 
Salisbury, inheritor of the Montague estates, and his son, 
Richard, Earl of Warwick, who inherited the Beauchamp 
estates in 1449 and began the career which was to win him 
the nickname of Kingmaker. Both sides included experienced 
soldiers and the families were closely connected by marriage. 
Nor was there any clear division of policy to explain their 
enmity. The conflict was in essence a return to the situation 
which had been seen before in the reigns of Edward II and 
Richard II, the response of powerful and disgruntled magnates 
to their exclusion from a weak and corrupt court. 

Down to 1454 the Lancastrians retained control of the 
government and avoided open war with York, but not without 
bitter opposition and violent crises. The worst of these began 
at the end of 1449 as a result of the court's failure in the new 
war in Normandy and its need to plead again for financial 
help from parliament. At the beginning of 1450 Bishop 
Moleyns was assassinated and Suffolk impeached in parlia- 
ment, chiefly on the grounds of his responsibility for the 
disasters overseas. Suffolk had been protected by the King 
from parliamentary attack in previous years, but this time the 
outcry was too strong to be resisted. He was banished and 
mysteriously murdered while crossing the Channel. 

Close upon this came one of the rare outbreaks of popular 
revolt. Jack Cade's Rebellion in June and July 1450 was a 
rising of the men of Kent. Its avowed aims included the 
overthrow of the court party, the ending of the financial cor- 
ruption and oppression of the King's officials, resumption into 


royal hands of Crown lands which had been granted away, 
and the abolition of the Statute of Labourers. Its social aims 
and origins are much less clear than those of the Revolt of 
1381, and it appears to have been inspired by the desire to 
reform politics and administration rather than by dreams of 
social upheaval. The rebels included substantial landowners 
and were Yorkist in sympathy. For several days they terrorised 
London and some courtiers were executed, but the rising did 
not develop into a civil war between magnates. Soon after 
the rebellion had been put down, the hostility between York 
and Somerset became more bitter and open. In the parlia- 
ment of 1450-1, York, newly returned from Ireland, was 
outspoken and dominant, while the Commons called for the 
banishment of Somerset and his supporters from the court, 
and one member dared to petition that York be recognised as 
heir to the throne. In 1452 York was arrested for a time after 
denouncing Somerset and raising troops. 

Events in the second half of 1453 somewhat changed the 
situation. Several subsidiary quarrels between magnates con- 
tributed to the main conflict between York and Lancaster, and 
one of these, between the Percies and the Nevilles, led to a 
pitched battle at Stamford Bridge in August. In the same 
month Henry VI had his first attack of madness, which lasted 
sixteen months. This rather weakened Margaret's control of 
the court, but the birth of her only son in October, securing 
the future descent of the Crown in the Lancastrian line, both 
strengthened her position and probably increased the jealousy 
of her rivals. In the parliament of 1453-4 Somerset was again 
violently attacked, and in spite of the reluctance of the court 
York was declared Protector of the Realm during the King's 
madness. In the period from 1454 to 1456 Yorkists and 
Lancastrians alternately controlled the court. While York was 
Protector, Somerset and the Duke of Exeter were imprisoned. 
After Henry VI recovered his wits in December 1454 York 
had to lay down his protectorship and Somerset recovered 
power, but the manoeuvring of the two parties after this 
led in May 1455 to the first battle of St Albans (usually 
regarded as the beginning of the Wars of the Roses) 
in which the Yorkists were victorious and Somerset and 
Northumberland were killed. At the end of the year York 




The Wars of the Roses 

was again given the protectorship, apparently through the 
urgent pressure of his supporters in another parliament, and 
this lasted until the beginning of I456. 1 

The years 1456-9 were a period of relative quiet. Margaret 
had recovered control of the court and the government with 
the exception of Calais. At Calais the Earl of Warwick could 
not be dislodged from the captaincy, which he had secured in 
1455 and which gave him command of the only royal standing 

1 J. R. Lander, * Henry VI and the Duke of York's Second Protectorate, 
1455-6 ', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (1960) 


army and the best possible refuge to prepare for a future 
attack. 1 York returned to Ireland. In 1459 each side was 
arming again and apparently preparing for a final enforcement 
of its will. In October, York's army was defeated at Ludford 
and he and his followers condemned in their absence at a 
parliament shortly after. They were still at large ; York 
returned to Ireland and Warwick remained poised at Calais. 
It was from Calais that the decisive attack came. In June 1460 
Warwick crossed the Channel with his father, Salisbury, and 
the Duke of York's young son, Edward, Earl of March, the 
future Edward IV. They occupied London and then advanced 
to Northampton, where they defeated the courtier army in 
July and captured the King himself. York's party now con- 
trolled the government, and in the autumn the Duke came 
over to a parliament in which he for the first time claimed the 
throne instead of Henry VI. The claim met with much resis- 
tance and in the end he agreed to accept the protectorship 
during Henry's lifetime, with the succession after. At the end 
of the year he marched out to destroy the Lancastrian forces 
in the north but was himself killed at the battle of Wakefield. 
The country was now hopelessly divided between the two 
warring parties. After the new Duke of York had defeated 
one Lancastrian army at Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire, 
Margaret brought her main forces down from the north and 
released Henry VI from Warwick in the course of the second 
battle of St Albans. In March, however, Edward IV assumed 
the Crown and confirmed himself in possession of it by leading 
an army northwards to win a bloody victory at Towton. 
Margaret and Henry fled into Scotland leaving the new King 
in control. 


The politics of the first decade of Edward IV's reign were 
unusually confused. Independent and effective man of action 
as he was, the new King never during this period won the full 
leadership or confidence of the nobility or even of his own 
brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of 

1 G. R. Harris, * The Struggle for Calais : an Aspect of the Rivalry 
between Lancaster and York % EJfJ?. (1960) 


Gloucester. The backbone of Edward's support amongst the 
nobility was provided by his own creations, such as his father- 
in-law, Earl Rivers, his brother-in-law, Lord Scales, William 
Herbert, and Humphrey Stafford, whom he made Earls of 
Pembroke and Devon, the Percies, whom he restored to the 
earldom of Northumberland, and William Lord Hastings who 
was made into a substantial magnate. Many of his opponents 
were at large and there were frequent rumours of treachery, 
with or without foundation. Moreover the prevalence of 
disorder in the country, the outbreaks of private warfare, on 
the fringes of the main political conflict or unconnected with 
it, continued as in the later years of Henry VI. Edward was 
faced by the avowed Lancastrians, and later by a new body 
of opponents led by Warwick the Kingmaker. This triangle 
in the English nobility complicated the triangle of relations 
between the three powers of western Europe, England, France, 
and Burgundy, for the rivalry of the Hundred Years' War still 
smouldered and the parties at home competed for support 
abroad. For the first few years the King and Warwick were 
in agreement in their efforts to stamp out the remaining 
Lancastrian opposition in this country. Pembroke and Exeter 
remained at large in Wales. The Earl of Oxford was executed 
in 1462 for an attempted landing on the east coast. The most 
substantial forces retired with Margaret and Henry VI to the 
Scots border, attempting to hold on to such border castles as 
Alnwick and Bamborough, and to get what support they could 
in their rear in Scotland itself. This entailed several Yorkist 
expeditions to the north country and it was not until 1464 
that the border castles were firmly in Yorkist hands. In the 
same year the Duke of Somerset, after changing sides twice, 
was captured and executed. Meanwhile, from her base in the 
north, Margaret had begun her policy of trying to enlist the 
help of her relations at the French court. Starting in 1462 
she made several perilous journeys' to seek the help of the new 
French King, Louis XI, who had succeeded to the throne in 
1461 ; though Louis was far too cunning to put his weight 
behind such a hopeless enterprise for the present, the con- 
nection was dangerous. 

The moderate pacification achieved by 1464 might have 
endured, however, if it had not been for the deep rift in the 


Yorkist camp itself which began that year. The first clear 
manifestation of it was Edward's secret marriage to Elizabeth 
Woodville, without the consent and against the wishes of the 
Kingmaker. The Queen's relations, not hitherto of the first 
rank of nobility, quickly became a new and important element 
in the royal circle, and the estrangement between Edward and 
Warwick grew into enmity. For the next five years the King 
and the Earl were both seeking helpful alliances abroad, but 
in different camps. Edward maintained the Yorkist friendship 
with Burgundy. In 1468 he married his sister Margaret to 
Charles the Bold who had become Duke of Burgundy in the 
previous year. The friendship had been celebrated in 1467 by 
a ceremonial deed of arms at London, famous in the annals of 
chivalry, between Antony the Bastard of Burgundy and Lord 
Scales, from which the Nevilles were absent. Warwick was in 
fact negotiating on his own account with Louis XI, perhaps 
to turn the friendship of England in that direction, perhaps 
simply to forward his own personal plans. In spite of the 
mediation of another great Neville, George, Archbishop of 
York, the rift grew. 

In July 1469 a marriage alliance, which the King had 
earlier tried to prevent, was made between Warwick and the 
King's brother, Clarence. In the security of Calais they 
declared themselves against Edward for his oppressions, though 
not as yet for any alternative king. About tie same time 
another Neville rising began in the north with the obscure 
rebellion of Robin of Redesdale. The Yorkist forces were 
quickly defeated at Edgecote in Northamptonshire, Rivers and 
Devon executed and the King captured. In the next few 
months an apparent reconciliation took place between the two 
sides, but both Warwick and Clarence were in fact planning 
to continue their efforts. The fire of war was started again in 
1470 with another local dispute in Lincolnshire, which turned 
into a rising against the King. Warwick finally completed his 
change of sides by allying with Margaret in France, and in 
the autumn he and Clarence landed in Devon to proclaim 
Henry VI king. Edward, without sufficient troops to meet 
the invaders, fled to the Netherlands. The old King Henry 
was brought out of the Tower, where he had been kept since 
Edward's men had had the luck to capture him in 1465, and 


for a few months a Lancastrian reigned again in London. 
However, the war which began at this time between France 
and Burgundy made it easier for Edward to raise troops and 
money from his brother-in-law, the Duke, against the Lan- 
castrian allies of Louis XL In the spring of 1471 he was able 
to land on the Humber. Clarence changed sides again to join 
him on the way to London, and in April and May he defeated 
both his main enemies in two battles which ended this phase of 
the Wars of the Roses. Warwick was defeated and killed at 
Barnet. Henry VI was also captured there and survived only 
a few weeks in his second captivity. Margaret was defeated 
and captured, and her son killed at the battle of Tewkesbury. 
After he had weathered, by good luck and good general- 
ship, the revolutions of the years 1469-71, Edward's possession 
of the throne was not seriously threatened again. The 
Nevilles' power was destroyed for ever, even the Archbishop 
of York taken into captivity, the Lancastrian king dead, and 
the Lancastrians scattered. A few years later Edward was 
able to settle his international position in an extraordinarily 
satisfactory way. Having several times proclaimed his intention 
to invade France like his predecessors, Edward at last made a 
firm agreement with Charles the Bold in 1474 for a joint 
invasion in the following year. The money was raised, a great 
army collected, and the King crossed to Calais. But before a 
blow had been struck Edward met Louis XI and, at the 
Treaty of Picquigny in August 1475, agreed to withdraw his 
army for a large payment and a pension. Charles the Bold 
and his Duchy were destroyed in 1477, but Edward IV was 
able to spend his last years on the throne, tolerably secure at 
home and abroad, at peace, and increasingly rich. 


Apart from the irreconcilable Lancastrians in exile, the 
only danger in Edward IV's later years came from the rivalry 
of his own brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, 
Duke of Gloucester, and the treacherous ambition of the former. 
One of the chief results of the King's victory had been to put 
at his disposal the immense landed inheritance of the Neville 
family. His two younger brothers were rivals for the larger 


share of it, and Edward's determination, recorded by Paston 
e to be as big as they both and to be a stifler atween them \ 
was exercised until the final partition of 1474 when, roughly, 
the old Beauchamp and Despenser properties went to Clarence, 
and the Salisbury and Neville estates to Gloucester. Clarence's 
unrest, which had been so useful to Edward's enemies in the 
crises of the reign, continued. It seems to have been stimu- 
lated by Edward's refusal to support his bid for marriage to 
the heiress of Burgundy. In 1477 the court took action against 
him* After the condemnation of some of his followers for 
practising necromancy against the King, he was arrested. In 
1478 he was impeached in parliament and died mysteriously, 
whether or not in the traditional butt of malmsey is unknown. 

When Edward IV died in April 1483, his successor, 
Edward V, was only twelve. The disastrous train of events, 
which was to end in two years in the final ruin of the Yorkists, 
stemmed essentially from the difficulties of a minority. The 
boy King and the court were controlled by the Queen Mother, 
her relations, Earl Rivers and the Marquis of Dorset, and 
other close associates of the dead King, notably William Lord 
Hastings and Thomas Lord Stanley. They doubtless intended 
to maintain their position with the Queen as Regent. The 
most powerful man in the kingdom and the person whom 
Edward IV had intended to control the regency was, however, 
Richard, Duke of Gloucester. In recent years he had spent 
most of his time in the north, where he had wide estates and 
had been granted large regalian powers in return for his 
successful warfare against the Scots. He acted quickly to 
assert himself against the court. Moving south, he joined 
forces with another substantial Yorkist magnate, Henry 
Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, encountered Rivers bringing 
Edward V to London at Stony Stratford, and seized them 
both. Dorset fled the country, the Queen retired to sanctuary 
at Westminster, and, within a month of Edward IV's death, 
Richard was in control at London and able to assume the 

It was not long before he went much further than this in 
revealing a determination to make his rule absolute by remov- 
ing all possible opposition. In June, Hastings, the most 
prominent laymaa of Edward IV's intimates still in power, 


was suddenly arrested at a council meeting and executed. 
Less than a fortnight after this and less than three months 
after the old King's death, Richard set forth in parliament the 
novel argument that Edward IV's marriage had been invalid, 
Edward V was therefore a bastard and he himself was the 
rightful successor. He immediately took the crown as 
Richard III. Rivers was executed and Edward V and his 
younger brother placed in the Tower, where they were 
probably murdered soon after. 

Richard's seizure of the throne was the most sudden and 
ruthless of all the revolutions of the Wars of the Roses, but 
his reign lasted only two years. He was threatened almost 
immediately in the autumn of 1483 by a revolt in the west, 
led, for reasons which are not at all clear, by the nobleman 
whom he had most trusted, Buckingham, with the support of 
the Woodvilles and the Lancastrian Courtenays. This col- 
lapsed and Buckingham was executed. If it had been suc- 
cessful this rebellion would have installed as king Henry Tudor, 
Earl of Richmond, and it was he who finally was going to 
succeed on his own account. Henry's dubious claim to the 
throne was based on his close kinship with the Lancastrians. 
His father, Edmund, had been the son of Henry V's widow by 
a Welsh gentleman, Owen Tudor, and had been made Earl 
by Henry VI. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of 
Richmond, who was still living, was the heiress of the Duke of 
Somerset who died in 1444. Henry had fought at Tewkesbury 
and then fled to Brittany and France to await his chance. In 
1484 he wisely withdrew quickly, when the rebellion collapsed, 
but in the next year he tried again. Landing with an army in 
Pembrokeshire, of which his uncle Jasper was Earl, he advanced 
quickly through Wales and the Marches to meet Richard in 
battle at Bosworth in Leicestershire on 22nd August 1485. 
And there, partly by the help of Margaret Beaufort's third 
husband, Thomas Lord Stanley, who betrayed the Yorkist 
cause at the last moment, Richard III was slain and the 
Tudor dynasty founded. 

* Oh God ! what security are our kings to have henceforth, 
that in the day of battle they may not be deserted by their 
subjects ? ' wrote the Prior of Crowland, soon after Bosworth. 
In fact the storms of the age of York and Neville and 


Woodville, released by the infirmity of Henry VI and 
carried on by the momentum of ambition, uncertainty, and 
disloyalty, were to be ended completely by a king who was 
luckier and cleverer than his predecessors ; but no one could 
be sure in 1485 that the Wars of the Roses were over. Two 
nephews of Richard III, not to speak of pretenders, survived 
to trouble Henry Tudor for many a year. The treachery and 
division within the nobility, the shameless proclamation of one 
rightful tide after another by the usurpers of the past thirty 
years, might seem to have undermined kingship for ever. 

12 Government 


IT IS doubtful if any century in the varied history of English 
monarchy has seen changes more remarkable than those which 
took place between 1400 and 1500. At the beginning of the 
fifteenth century royal power was deeply influenced by, and 
in important respects dependent on, the parliamentary 
system which had grown up during the thirteenth and four- 
teenth centuries ; by the end of the century the king had 
become to a large extent independent and free of obligations 
to consult systematically the will of his subjects. Henry VII 
has been called a despot and there is much to recommend the 
description, not of course in the oriental sense, but certainly 
in the sense that he was much less trammelled by parliaments 
and councils than Edward III or Henry IV. Our main 
business in this chapter is to discover how much of this develop- 
ment had happened by 1485 and to explain the paradoxical 
emergence of stronger and more self-sufficient monarchy from 
the nadir of kingship in the Wars of the Roses. 

The taxation system which had been set up by the mid- 
fourteenth century, consisting of lay subsidies and customs 
duties voted in parliament, and clerical subsidies voted in 
convocations, continued into the early fifteenth century. 
There were ups and downs according to the demands of wars 
and the popularity of kings, but the general character of. 
taxation and its potentialities remained much the same up to 
the end of the reign of Henry V. Like the last great soldier 
king, Edward III, Henry V was able to persuade his subjects 
to grant him an average of over 100,000 a year at a period 
of extensive and successful campaigns in France; and 
the money came, broadly speaking, from the same kinds of 

Some changes had taken place in detail and there had also 


been some serious conflicts. The first group to make a suc- 
cessful resistance to royal taxation was the clergy. It is very 
likely that they had suffered worse than anyone else from the 
effects of the Black Death, for their incomes came mainly from 
rents and tithes, which would be immediately affected by a 
fall in the value of land. When war broke out again in 1369, 
the King's lay councillors and the parliaments tried to keep the 
taxation of the clergy up to the high levels of the first phase of 
the Hundred Years' War, but this was bitterly opposed. The 
antagonism between the court and the clergy in the great 
decade of official anti-clericalism, the thirteen-seventies, seems 
to have sprung at least partly from this resistance to taxation, 
though in fact the clergy went on paying heavily. From about 
1383, under Archbishop Courtenay's leadership, the Church 
was more successful in opposing the principle that lay grants 
should be regularly paralleled by grants in convocation, and 
thereafter clerical subsidies, though still levied, were less 

The years from 1377 to 1381 saw also the disastrous aberra- 
tion of the poll taxes. They were voted by the Commons in 
parliaments. The first, in 1377, was at a flat rate of 4d 
charged on all laymen and clerics over the age of fourteen ; 
the second, in 1379, graduated from 4d for ordinary people to 
6 135 4d for a duke or archbishop ; the third, which inspired 
the Peasants 3 Revolt of 1381, at the rate of is a head on the 
average for all persons over fifteen except beggars. These 
taxes abandoned the principles of taxation according to 
property and taxation only of the more prosperous, which 
governed the lay subsidy. It is probable that they were a 
deliberate attempt by the Commons and their constituents to 
shift the burden from themselves to the population as a whole, 
but the Revolt frightened them out of making the attempt 
again. In 1404 (a tax of is in the pound on the rentals of 
lands), in 1411 (6s 8d on 20 annual rent), and in a few other 
years, there were feeble efforts to introduce new kinds of land 
taxes, which may have been aimed partly at the nobility, but 
there was no further revival of the poll tax and the large sums 
which the Commons contributed towards the wars of Henry V 
were in the old form of the lay subsidies. In fact, because the 
dergy were paying less, the lay subsidies formed a larger 


proportion of the royal income than they had in the early part 
of the Hundred Years' War. Also the gradual decline of the 
wool trade, which had gone a long way by this time, meant 
that the produce of the customs duties was smaller than under 
Edward III. The Commons were financially more important 
to the king than ever before. They were perhaps still more 
important because the great borrowing schemes, based on the 
wool trade, which had been essential to the finances of 
Edward I and Edward III came to an end. Wool was no 
longer exported on the same scale, the Italians had lost their 
position in the trade, the Staple was dominant. Borrowing 
from merchants still went on. The scandal which broke in 
the Good Parliament of 1376 was partly about the loans 
arranged by Richard Lyons, for which it was said that 50 per 
cent interest had been charged. London and the merchants 
lent money to the King in the naval crisis of 1377, when the 
coasts were threatened. Richard Whittington and other 
merchants lent money to Henry IV when the French were 
attacking again. But there was nothing like the borrowing of 
the twelve-nineties and thirteen-thirties. The scale of royal 
finance had contracted with the wool trade. 

Though the Commons complained of the drain of money 
to France and withheld a grant in 1420, Henry V kept up the 
pressure of taxation to the end of his reign. His successor was 
never able to imitate him ; in the reign of Henry VI the 
medieval system of taxation collapsed. For the first seven 
years the King was a minor and the English were at the 
height of their power in France, controlling so much of the 
country that plunder and taxation of the natives sufficed for 
much of the cost of fighting. After the tide had turned at the 
siege of Orleans in 1429, though money was often urgently 
needed, it was not granted on the old scale. The double 
subsidy which the Commons granted after the relief of Orleans 
was not equalled until the sixteenth century. In 1433 the 
Commons cut the conventional value of a lay subsidy by 
4,000 to 32,000. In the same year the Treasurer, Lord 
Cromwell, produced a balance sheet of Exchequer finances to 
prove his difficulties, showing that the normal receipts, exclud- 
ing subsidies, totalled about 65,000 annually, enough for 
regular expenses, but that the extra cost of campaigning in 


France had to be met entirely by parliamentary grants. 
Moreover the Exchequer was i 64,000 in debt. 1 Unimpressed 
by these arguments, however, the Commons gave little and 
rarely for the rest of the reign, although the decline of English 
power in France might have been thought to call for heroic 
measures. In the crisis of 1437, when Calais was threatened 
and the English had lately been driven from Paris, the 
Commons temporarily abolished the petty custom on exports 
by natives, induced e by corruption of the merchants 9 5 as the 
Archbishop of York said. There were some attempts at new 
kinds of land or income taxes in 1428, 1431, 1435, and 1450, 
and some taxes on alien merchants, but on the whole the 
Commons were unsympathetic and ungenerous throughout 
the reign of Henry VI. Grants of lay subsidies over the whole 
reign averaged only about 1,000 a year. The subsidies voted 
by the clergy had sunk to almost negligible proportions. The 
only substantial source of taxation was the wool customs, which 
still brought in large amounts, though much less than in the 
fourteenth century. Apart from the decline in wool export, 
it is not clear why these changes took place at this particular 
time. The relation between the decline in clerical subsidies 
and the decline in the income of the Church is a possible 
hypothesis but no more. The collapse of lay subsidies is the 
most important and the most unexplained part of the process. 
Presumably it happened partly because the small landowners, 
who had been the chief payers, were fewer, though it is hard 
to believe that they were all poorer. The remissions intro- 
duced in 1433 were to be applied to c every town, city and 
borough desolate, wasted, destroyed or to the said tax over 
greatly charged ', and there is little doubt that the recession 
of population must have made some areas much less able and 
willing to pay the quotas which had been established early in 
the reign of Edward III. The government of the age of 
Beaufort and after, also had less power of persuasion and it is 
difficult to evaluate the respective importance of political and 
social factors. All that is certain is that the great collapse of 
the taxation system took place in the reign of Henry VI. 

1 J. L. Kirby, ' The Issues of the Lancastrian Exchequer and Lord 
Cromwell's Estimates of 1433 ', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 


In these circumstances the other sources of royal income 
became more important, in particular the king's landed estates, 
which had been less exploited than they might have been 
because of the possibilities of parliamentary income in the 
fourteenth century. The revolution of 1399 added to the royal 
lands the biggest magnate inheritance of that time, the Duchy 
of Lancaster, with its many manors and lordships scattered 
over England. This made somewhat more plausible the cry, 
which grew as taxation fell, that the king should live e of his 
own ', that is from those revenues which were his by acknow- 
ledged right without special grant. During the fourteenth 
century royal lands had been commonly regarded as the 
natural spoil of courtiers. No sooner had estates fallen by 
escheat into the king's hands than they had been granted out 
again to friends and favourites, and the amount of property 
that remained in royal hands was relatively small. In the 
reign of Henry IV the Commons began to be more restive about 
the constant granting-away to noblemen of property whose 
yield could potentially have been used to reduce the need for 
taxation. 1 In 1404 a wild attempt by the Commons, in their 
most aggressive mood, to reduce their liabilities (including a 
suggestion, which Archbishop Arundel had to fight down, that 
the property of the Church should be sequestrated for a year) 
persuaded the King to appoint a commission to look into 
grants of Crown lands since 1366. This was one of the first 
signs of a policy which was to become important later in the 
century. The difficulty, now as later, was that the c resump- 
tion * of Crown lands, as it came to be called, would injure 
most severely those who were most influential at the court and 
therefore best able to resist it. To take back all their lands 
was an almost impossibly agonising operation. The call for it, 
however, became strong in the last decade of Lancastrian rule. 
Probably the regime of Margaret of Anjou and Somerset made 
the dissipation of royal property particularly glaring. It was 
one of the grievances of Jack Cade's Rebellion ; and the 
parliaments of 1450 and 1453 were so insistent (and the court 
so weakened) that they did actually force the government to 
withdraw some of the holdings of royal lands from prominent 

1 B. P. Wolffe, c The Acts of Resumption of the Lancastrian Parlia- 
ments ', E.H.R. (1958) 


Lancastrians and induce the Exchequer to lease lands at rents 
nearer to their real values. 

The economic weakness and corruption, which undermined 
the monarchy in the reign of Henry VI, appear most clearly 
in the history of the Duchy of Lancaster x and in the activities 
of the man who was both England's most influential statesman 
and the chief lender to the King for over twenty years. Cardinal 
Beaufort. After 1399 the Duchy of Lancaster, though owned 
by the king, was kept separate, as it still is today, from the 
rest of Crown lands. In practice, however, much of it did not 
remain under the direct control of the king or the council. 
After Henry V's death some was set aside to provide for his 
widow and then, in 1446, for the jointure of Margaret of Anjou. 
Much of the rest was put into the hands of a group of trustees 
(the c feoffees * as they were legally called) so that the income 
could be devoted to the execution of Henry V's will. They 
retained their holding until 1443, after which a large slice of 
the Duchy was again transferred to feoffees for the execution 
of Henry VFs will. The feoffees included influential council- 
lors like Beaufort, and, though the Commons agitated at 
various times for the return of the lands into royal hands, they 
were not very successful in hastening the mysteriously lengthy 
execution of Henry V's will. The feoffees had enough money 
in hand to lend large sums to the King at various times, but 
this was always done under arrangements for repayment out 
of other income, so that Henry VI was in the peculiar position 
of depending on loans made out of the income of the hereditary- 
lands of his own family. A similar mystery surrounds the large 
loans made to the King over a long period by Beaufort in 
person. In the twenty years before his death he loaned to 
Henry V and Henry VI at one time and another more than 
200,000. For much of this time he was in a political position 
to dictate the terms on which his own loans were made, and 
it is certain that for long periods up to his death he had Crown 
jewels of great value as pledges, and that for some time he had 
complete control of the customs of the port of Southampton. 
Owing to the ecclesiastical prohibition of usury, loans were 
often made in the Middle Ages in forms which concealed the 
interest payments. This among other things makes it difficult 
1 See R. Somerville, History of the Duchy of Lancaster, i, (1953) 


to discover what profit Beaufort made out of his transactions, 
but at least he died a very wealthy man. 1 It is curious that a 
bishop and cardinal should have been the nearest equivalent 
in the Lancastrian period to the Italian and English financiers 
who had oiled the financial machinery of Edward III. The 
fact emphasised both the reduced importance of large-scale 
commerce as a source of loans for the king and the 
extent to which the whole business of government in Henry VTs 
time became a great spoils system. Before the Wars of the 
Roses began, the royal financial system had reached a state of 
chronic and paralysing inadequacy. An income smaller than 
ever before was unequal to any serious military enterprise and 
the accumulated debt was said to be 372,000. 

Fifty years later the King of England was not only a 
powerful but also a wealthy monarch, who could afford to 
lend money to other people. Though his wealth was based on 
a financial system significantly different from that of the 
medieval kings, this had not been created by any sudden 
reforms or new taxes. It was built up gradually, and sub- 
stantial progress had already been made by 1485. The two 
chief ingredients of the new state of affairs were, firstly, peace 
abroad and, secondly, the accumulation of land. The absence 
of war in France is perhaps an even more striking feature of 
the Yorkist period than the revolution and violence at home. 
Edward IV's abandonment of traditional foreign policy, his 
failure to fight a single battle in France, was enough in itself 
to relieve him of a great part of the financial embarrassment 
of his predecessors, for war had been the main, almost the sole, 
cause of the need for parliamentary taxation. Edward was 
able to make his international diplomacy profitable without 
fighting. Nearly all the grants made by the Commons in his 
reign were intended to carry out the plan of an invasion of 
France, mooted in 1468 and revived after the restoration in 
1471 : a double subsidy in 1468, an income tax in 1472, a 
subsidy in 1473, and an extra large subsidy in 1474. When 
this expedition actually took place in 1475 it ended, as we 

1 K. B. McFarlane, * At the Deathbed of Cardinal Beaufort ', Essays in 
Medieval History presented to F. M. Powicke, ed. R.W. Hunt, W. A. Pantin 
and R. W. Southern (1948); idem, 'Loans to the Lancastrian Kings: 
the Problem of Inducement ', C.H.J-. (1947) 


have seen, at the Treaty of Picquigny, by which Edward 
accepted large grants from the French King, including a 
pension of 10,000 a year for six years. No parliamentary 
subsidies were raised under Edward V or Richard III. 

While parliamentary grants remained relatively unimpor- 
tant, the Yorkists began to revive interest in the Crown lands. 1 
The important changes were not so much deliberate resump- 
tion, which remained a politically difficult manoeuvre. The 
escheats and forfeitures which followed the usurpation of 
power and the crushing of rebellion were, however, retained, 
to a larger extent than in previous reigns, in royal hands. In 
addition to old Crown lands, Edward IV was himself the 
inheritor of the Yorkist estates and the conqueror of the Duchy 
of Lancaster, which was not allowed again to pass out of direct 
royal control ; he thus held the two largest magnate inheri- 
tances of the later Middle Ages. Another major inheritance 
was that of Warwick the Kingmaker, which came into Edward's 
hands in 1471, was then granted to Clarence, but returned 
permanently to royal hands in 1478. Edward thus made a 
serious start with the accumulation of Crown lands which 
reached such heights under the early Tudors. 

Yet more important was the changed attitude to the King's 
estates. The medieval Exchequer was ill-adapted for estate 
management. Its officials sat in Westminster and received the 
money brought from the shires by sheriffs and escheators, 
keeping very exact accounts but not venturing into the counties 
themselves to make sure that the largest possible profits were 
being extracted from the estates. Seignorial landlords, on the 
other hand, employed stafis of stewards, receivers, and auditors, 
not simply to collect profits but to maximise them. Though 
estate management may have been an unrewarding business 
in the long agricultural depression of the Lancastrian period, 
in the later fifteenth century land began to recover its value 
and the Yorkists began to extend to all the Crown estates the 
active administration which already existed in the Duchy of 
Lancaster. Officials perambulated the estates, investigating 
how they could be made to yield more. In 1476, for instance, 
the councillors of the Duchy visited Pickering and decided that 

1 B. P. Wolffe, * The Management of the Fnglfch Royal Estates under 
tlie Yorkist Kings % E.H.R. (1956) 


certain pastures c which Thomas Gower now occupyeth paying 
for them 10 by the year ... be much more worth. Where- 
fore it is advised that the treasurer of the King's house shall 
have them and stuff them with the King's cattle V This sort 
of investigation was made all over England. After 1478 the 
old estates of Warwick were placed under a special commission 
to act like the councillors of the Duchy. Furthermore the 
administrators and receivers accounted directly to the King's 
Chamber, and in this way the whole administration of Grown 
lands was being separated from the cumbersome and passive 
control of the medieval Exchequer. 

In the middle of Edward IV's reign, Sir John Fortescue, 
an experienced lawyer and a turncoat Lancastrian, well versed 
in the political misfortunes of his age, wrote a book called 
The Governance of England, which is one of the first practical 
political treatises in the English language. * We hold it for 
undoubted,' he said, < that there may no realm prosper or be 
worshipful under a poor king.' His recipe was that the king 
should build up a large royal demesne : * If the king might 
have his livelihood for the sustenance of his estate in great 
lordships, manors, fee farms and such other demesnes, his 
people not charged, he should keep to him wholly their hearts, 
exceed in lordship all the lords of his realm and there should 
none of them grow to be like unto him, which thing is most 
to be feared of all the world.' Edward IV took important 
steps in this direction. His boast to the Commons in 1467 
c that I purpose to live upon mine own, and not to charge my 
subjects but in great and urgent causes ', was on the whole 
maintained. Firstly, he sedulously avoided * great and urgent 
causes 9 . Secondly, he possessed, in addition to his growing 
estates and to the relatively small grants of the Commons, a 
substantial and unquestioned income from the customs in 
trade, ignored by Fortescue's analysis, and trade was beginning 
by the end of his reign to recover from the depression of the 
fifteenth century and to expand in total quantity. 

1 Public Record Office, DL 5/1, f. 90 v. 



* Then came there a King with knighthood before him. 
The might of the commons made him to reign.' 

So wrote Langland in the third quarter of the fourteenth 
century, when the evolution of the medieval parliament was 
largely complete and the Commons had assumed their place 
as an essential part of it. For more than half a century after 
this the parliamentary element in the English constitution was 
especially prominent, partly because parliament had become 
the acknowledged forum for consultation between the king and 
his realm, partly because of its comprehensive control of royal 
finance, partly because the recurrence of war and of royal 
weakness repeatedly placed the kings at the mercy of their 
subjects. Their financial responsibilities enabled the elected 
representatives of the communities to play a part in national 
politics larger than ever before. 

Who were the Commons and whom did they represent? 
The first parliament of Henry VI in 1422, for instance, included 
1 88 representatives of cities and boroughs and 74 knights of 
the shires. 1 During the fifteenth century there was a growing 
tendency for towns to be represented not by their own promi- 
nent citizens but by lawyers, gentlemen, and politicians, who 
wished for some reason to be in parliament. During the great 
period of parliamentary government this process 1 had made 
some headway but was not nearly complete. A few of the 
town representatives were lawyers, acting for the boroughs 
though with little personal connection. Most of them were 
burgesses and probably actual members of the oligarchies 
which governed the towns ; many were merchants or engaged 
in characteristic town pursuits. The knights of the shires were 
supposed to be resident members of the shires for which they 
sat. They were elected in the shire court by the c county *, 
that is by the more prominent freeholders. After the act of 
1429, which governed county franchise until 1832, the electors 
had to be freemen with income from freehold land within the 
county of not less than 405 a year and, sometimes at least, 
quite a large proportion of the people of this class actually took 
1 For details see J. S. Roskell, The Commons in the Parliament of 1433 (1954) 


part in the election. In 1454, 494 freeholders took part in the 
election for Huntingdonshire. Of the members elected for the 
shires many were not, strictly speaking, knights. All, however, 
were men of substance of the squire class. Some were essentially 
landowners, often of prominent families, some were lawyers, 
many were the retainers or estate managers of great lords, 
many had been sheriffs, some had been prominent in the royal 
service, even as councillors. There was not the continuity 
from one parliament to the next given by the preponderance 
of career politicians in a modern parliament but there was a 
weighty representation of powerful interests. 

Legally the Commons were elected by the more prosperous 
freemen of towns and shires to represent their interests. It is 
more difficult to decide whether they actually did this or 
whether they were frequently retained men who paid more 
attention to the interests of some great lord who had secured 
their election. The easiest way to influence an election was 
through the sheriff, who was the returning officer and some- 
times certainly returned a man who was not the one chosen 
by the shire. Since the sheriff was a royal official, whoever 
controlled the royal administration would be in a good position 
to secure his help. It is possible that John of Gaunt tried to 
influence the membership of the Commons in this way in 1377, 
and likely that Richard II did so in 1397, Henry IV in 1399, 
and Henry VI in 1459. They were sometimes successful, 
though the sheriffs were said to have reported to Richard II 
in 1387 that at that moment of crisis opinion in the shires was 
too strongly against the King for this manoeuvre. The 
frequent resistance which the Commons made to the Crown 
shows that they were often free of this influence. More 
insidious was the power of a great lord to use the weight of his 
influence in a county, by bribery and pressure, to bring about 
the election of a man favourable to him. The extreme was 
John of Gaunt's palatinate of Lancaster, where he returned 
the knights himself. In Yorkshire the elections seem to have 
been dominated by great local lords like Neville, Roos, and 
Percy. In most shires the influence of one lord was not 
sufficiently dominant for him to manipulate elections freely. 
When the Duke of Norfolk was trying to ensure the election 
of two supporters in Norfolk in 1450, his agent wrote to John 


Paston, * I told my lord of Norfolk at London that I laboured 
divers men for Sir Roger Chamberlain and they said to me 
they would have him ; but not Howard, in as much as he had 
no livelihood in the shire s no conversement, and I asked them 
whom they would have and they said they would have you. 5 
In other words, the local magnate had influence, which must 
often have been considerable, but not an overriding influence, 
and the feelings of the shire freemen were of great importance. 1 
Each election must have been a tangle of conflicting views. 
It is even less clear how the members behaved when they got 
to parliament. A poem written at the end of Richard IPs 
reign describes the debates in the Commons like this : 

c ... to save appearances, and in accordance with custom, 
some of them falsely argued at some length, and said : 
" We are servants and we draw a salary, we are sent from 
the shires to make known their grievances, to discuss 
matters on their behalf and to stick to that, and only 
make grants of their money to the great men in a regular 
way, unless there is war. . . ." 

* Some members sat there like a nought in arithmetic, that 
marks a place but has no value in itself. Some had taken 
bribes, so that the shires they represented had no advantage 
from their presence. Some were tattlers, who went to the 
king and warned him against men who were really good 
friends of his. . . . Some members slumbered and slept 
and said little. Some stammered and mumbled and did not 
know what they meant to say. Some were paid dependents' 
and were afraid to take any step without their masters 9 
orders.' 2 [Translated into modern English] 

Allowing for the satire, it is probably a fair enough descrip- 
tion of the types in the Commons ; the bumpkins who were 
at sea in great affairs, the wily politicians, the retainers under 
orders, but also the common awareness that they were sup- 
posed to be doing the shires' business. The Speakers, who 
presented the Commons* decisions to the king, were invariably 
knights, generally experienced men of affairs. Sir Thomas 
Hungerford in 1377 was J olm of Gaunt's steward; Thomas 

1 K. B. McFarlane, * Parliament and Bastard Feudalism % T.R.H.S. (1944) 
* H. M. Cam, Liberties and Communities in Medieval England (1944), pp. 230-1 


Chaucer, thrice Speaker under Henry IV, was a prominent 
Lancastrian courtier ; Sir Arnold Savage, who annoyed 
Henry IV by his outspokenness in 1401 and demanded redress 
of grievances before grant of supply, sounds a more independent 

The role of parliament in constitution and politics was 
determined by the complex of influences at work on it and by 
the different issues which came before it. At times the genuine 
financial interest of the Commons was dominant and they 
were also willing to use their pressure in foreign affairs, labour 
legislation, or anti-clericalism. Other parliaments were caught 
up in the conflicts of great magnates and the Commons 
might be too frightened or indifferent to be more than the 
instruments of the mighty. Others were dominated by the 
king. All these possibilities are illustrated in the reigns of 
Richard II and Henry IV, when the Commons reached the 
height of their importance in medieval English politics. For a 
period in each reign the Commons exercised the most extreme 
control over royal finances and the most critical interference 
in politics. In the early years of Richard II, 1377-83, the 
Commons were incited to activity by a variety of factors : the 
instability at court during the minority, the dangers to English 
trade resulting at first from the French control of the Channel 
and then the French invasion of Flanders, the constant 
demands for money for war, and the hope of relieving them- 
selves of taxation by placing greater burdens on the clergy and 
peasantry. We have already seen the effects of their anti- 
clericalism and the poll taxes. When they granted money for 
war in 1377, the Commons went beyond their accustomed 
right to control the grant of money and demanded control of 
its use too. The merchants Walworth and Philpot were 
appointed treasurers of war. In 1378 the Commons com- 
plained of the use of the money for purposes unspecified in the 
grant. In 1380 they again criticised official extravagance and 
demanded a new committee of fifteen bishops, magnates, and 
commoners to ensure proper use of their money. The agita- 
tion died down somewhat after the shock of the Revolt and 
the decline of French naval activity but they were still critical. 
In 13812 they took a positive line in foreign policy, successfully 
supporting the project for a crusade in Flandere and opposing 


John of Gaunt's plan to intervene in Spain. In 1383 and 1385 
they were still agitating for effective action in Flanders after 
the crusade had failed and insisting on the uses to which their 
money was to be put. The first part of Henry IV's reign from 
1401 to 1406 found the Crown similarly at the mercy of the 
Commons, through the weakness of the usurper and the 
pressure of war both at home and abroad. It was in 1401 
that Sir Arnold Savage spoke up. In 1404, after emphasising 
the French danger to Calais, the Commons told the King that 
his revenues from wool taxation and his lands should be ade- 
quate in themselves, insisted on a continual council appointed 
in parliament and a fixed annual allowance to the royal 
household to prevent waste, reluctantly granted a land tax, 
with the stipulation that all record of it should be destroyed so 
that it could not be used as a precedent, and appointed four 
treasurers of war to administer it. In 1406 the Commons 
again put forward their own plan for conducting the war at 
sea, demanded the expulsion of foreigners from the household, 
appointed a continual council, asked for the resumption of 
royal lands, and appointed their own auditors of the money 
for the war. 

The members of the Commons who enjoyed the highest 
social standing and the best connections were knights, and, as 
representative of the shires, the knights also had the larger 
share of lay subsidies to consent to. Burgesses were more 
numerous but, though a few of them, especially the members 
for London (merchants such as John Philpot and Richard 
Whittington sat at one time and another for the city), were 
men of great wealth and influence, they could not be speakers 
and most of their fellows would be small men from small 
boroughs. It is a striking fact, however, that in the periods of 
the Commons 5 greatest aggressiveness in 1376-83 and 1404-6 
mercantile issues played a very large part in their demands* 
One might even guess from a reading of the political issues 
involved alone that the mercantile issues were dominant. 
Either the mercantile interest could mobilise a great deal of 
support in the Commons or it had a more coherent and urgent 
objective than any group of knights. 

Attempts to place restraints on the right of lords to have 
liveried retainers also showed that the Commons were not 


afraid, on occasion, of attacking powerful interests besides the 
king. But the fearlessness of Sir Peter de la Mare in 1376 and 
Sir Arnold Savage in 1401 contrasts strangely with the 
Commons cowering before Richard II in 1397 (' Where are 
the true Commons? 9 asked Arundel). Parliament was also 
attended by bishops and earls as well as Commons and it was 
also a tribunal for quarrels of great men, which were to some 
extent above the heads of the knights. Knights and burgesses 
were closely associated with some of these quarrels by the 
procedure of impeachment, fully evolved in the Good Parlia- 
ment of 1376, which in a sense began the great period of the 
Commons. Impeachment was trial by the judgment of the 
Lords with the Commons acting as joint accusers. It was 
used against Larimer and his associates in 1376, against 
Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, in 1386, and against his 
grandson, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, in 1450. Since 
the lords were the judges the Commons could not have used 
this procedure successfully unless they had powerful sympa- 
thisers amongst the lords, and probably on all these occasions 
they managed to overthrow the king's favourite partly because 
they really hated him and partly because they had help and 
incitement from the magnates. The procedure used by the 
appellants in 1388 and against them in 1397 was Appeal, 
straightforward denunciation of the accused for treason, in 
which the Commons needed to take no active part. The 
deposition of Richard II was carried through by an assembly 
of c estates of the realm ', which, if not a parliament in strict 
theory since the King had already abdicated and could not 
take part, was composed of the people normally summoned to 
a parliament. Its procedure was in many ways similar to the 
deposition of Edward II and expressed a like constitutional 
theory but, though the Commons were associated with the 
action, there is no reason to suppose that they took any more 
initiative in it than they had done in 1327. 

The powers and prestige of a parliament were never 
negligible in the fifteenth century. It was there that the 
councillors of Henry VI were appointed, that Richard of York 
acquired the protectorship and that his sons, Edward IV and 
Richard III, sought and obtained confirmation of their titles 
to the throne. The Commons' control of taxation remained 


the same in theory. Their importance, however, declined 
from the heights it had reached under Henry IV to a level 
more like that of the reign of Edward II, when they had been 
occasionally summoned without holding a central place in the 
political arena. Under Henry V they were frequently sum- 
moned to make grants of money ; so also in the fourteen- 
thirties, when the disputes between Henry VI's councillors 
took place partly in parliament. Thereafter the frequency of 
parliaments declined rapidly. In the early part of the fifteenth 
century they were summoned about once a year. After his 
majority Henry VI summoned only eleven parliaments in 
twenty-four years. The last serious outburst of activity by the 
medieval Commons took place in the years 1449-54, occasioned 
by the renewal of taxation for the last phase of the Hundred 
Years' War and the beginning of the strife between York and 
Lancaster. The government was both demanding and 
unpopular and in 1450 the Speaker, William Tresham, revived 
the traditions of his predecessors in leading the impeachment 
of Suffolk against strong resistance from the court. In the 
same parliament and again in 1453 there was strong pressure 
for the resumption of Grown lands as an alternative to taxation. 
In 1451 the Commons demanded the banishment of leading 
courtiers. Some of the important events of the next few years 
were played out in parliament, but it is often difficult to see 
where the Commons stood between the two armed camps 
gradually resorting to naked force. Edward summoned only 
six separate parliaments in his twenty-two years. There was 
indeed a tendency under Henry VI and Edward IV to revert 
to the thirteenth-century practice of holding Great Councils of 
magnates without the Commons. Such assemblies had been 
held occasionally throughout the parliamentary era without 
robbing parliament of its central political and constitutional 
position. It was natural that they should become more promi- 
nent when the main political issues were relations between 
king and magnates. Negotiations were held in assemblies of 
this kind every year from 1453 to 1458. Edward IV held 
more Great Councils than parliaments, announced his marriage 
in one of them, and called for advice on the crucial question 
of relations with Burgundy in several others. The immediate 
reason for the decline of the medieval parliament was the 


abandonment by Henry VI and Edward IV of the hope of 
obtaining the large and regular grants of lay subsidies which 
their predecessors had received. The customs were granted 
for life to Henry VI in 1453 and to Edward IV in 1465. In 
this way the Commons reverted to the position of the early 
fourteenth century, losing control of the customs and making 
less frequent grants of subsidies. The result was a very sub- 
stantial change in the character of politics. Compared with 
earlier kings, Edward IV and Henry VII summoned parlia- 
ments rarely, asked little of them, and paid little attention 
to them. 


The parliamentary era of the late fourteenth and early 
fifteenth centuries was also an age of government by council 
(that is the small group which remained continually in control 
of royal policy and its execution, not the occasional assembly 
of great men in a Great Council). The historical evolution of 
the two bodies is to some extent parallel. Parliament originated 
in the need of thirteenth-century kings for an occasion on 
which to consult with their magnates, to deal with judicial 
grievances, and to obtain taxes ; it grew into a body which 
assumed large powers of interfering in government and check- 
ing royal independence until it was temporarily discarded by 
the kings of the late fifteenth century. Similarly the council 
was originally nothing more than an instrument of royal 
power, a group of men entrusted with authority as efficient 
and loyal assistants of the king. In the reigns of Richard II 
and Henry IV it became the means of imposing upon the king 
an unwelcome recognition of his subjects* power to participate 
in government. Like parliament it enjoyed a lengthy but 
transient phase of independent importance which dissolved in 
the political upheavals of the mid-fifteenth century. 

In the central Middle Ages councils were imposed upon the 
king only in times of minority or at moments of extreme 
distrust of the court. Examples of such occasions are the 
minority of Edward III and the York Parliament of 1318. 
The imposition of a nominated council in a political crisis was 
both rare and largely ineffective. It was the growth of this 


expedient into something like a regular practice which gave 
the council its central importance in the government at the 
same time as parliament was asserting itself. A nominated 
council was the Opposition's way of securing future restriction 
when they had ousted the courtiers in the Good Parliament of 
1376. Its effectiveness was short-lived. The minority of 
Richard II made a council of regency necessary for several 
years in the early part of the reign. In 1380 the Commons 
expressed dissatisfaction with it and demanded instead parlia- 
mentary appointment of the chief officers (Chancellor, 
Treasurer, Keeper of the Privy Seal, and Steward of the 
Household), together with a committee, to control finance. 
The Wonderful * Parliament of 1386 set up what was in effect 
a council to control finance and administration and hear 
grievances, consisting of the Chancellor, Treasurer, Keeper of 
the Privy Seal, two archbishops, two bishops, one abbot, two 
dukes, one earl, and three barons. The peers were Gloucester, 
York, and Arundel. The appointment of this council amounted 
to an assertion of control of government by the magnates 
against the growing independence of the young King. The 
victory of the appellants in 1388 produced another council of 
a similar kind, whose members were to take an oath to main- 
tain the acts of parliament. In 1389 Richard declared his 
will to c call whom I will to the council ', but in practice a 
largely conciliar regime continued for some time. The 
councillors were reappointed in parliament in 1390 and 
included earlier opponents of the King. An ordinance in the 
same year laid down that * the king should give full credence 
to the council in all things touching the government and suffer 
them to govern duly, without commanding them by message 
or letter anything to the contrary ', and gave them power over 
grants of royal property and matters of law. A minute book 
covering the years 1392 to 1393, the first real insight into the 
detailed working of the council, shows that the officers and 
clerks, occasionally reinforced by great lords, did indeed regu- 
larly debate and decide a wide range of business, including 
foreign policy. Gradually, however, by diluting the council 
with his own supporters and reasserting his individual power, 
Richard transformed the conciliar into the despotic government 
of his last years when the council reverted to its original type. 


Outside control was firmly reasserted in the parliament of 
1404, which set up a c great and continual council 9 , including, 
besides the Chancellor, Treasurer, and Keeper of the Privy 
Seal, the Archbishop, four bishops, the Duke of York, two 
earls, four lords, and seven other laymen. The motive in this 
period was much more the Commons' suspicion of the court 
than the desire of a group of magnates to assert themselves 
over the King, but the constitutional device followed the 
precedents of Richard's reign. In 1406 a similar council was 
even more aggressively thrust upon the King. The new 
councillors were obliged to take their oath in parliament and 
their powers were described in a series of articles, including 
the provision that all warrants for letters to be issued by the 
Chancellor, Treasurer, and Keeper of the Privy Seal must be 
passed by them. The King was constitutionally unable to 
control any part of the machinery of government without the 
consent of a council whose nomination had been imposed upon 
him. Parliament reasserted its power in 1410, but this time 
it was acting partly under the influence of Prince Henry, and 
the new council had a larger proportion of magnates. For 
the last years of the reign parliamentary authority receded in 
the dominant quarrels of courtiers, and in the strong rule of 
Henry V the council reverted to the position of a body largely 
dependent upon the King. 

The long minority of Henry VI gave the council a new 
lease of life. The council which the minority demanded was 
appointed by the lords in parliament and included, besides the 
three great royal uncles (Bedford, Gloucester, and Beaufort), 
the chief officials, several bishops and earls, and four promi- 
nent knights. Although the uncles were the most powerful 
individuals and Bedford insisted in 1433 that no councillor was 
to be removed without his consent, the personal dominance of 
any one of them was hindered and the government of England 
for the fifteen years of minority was largely carried out by this 
body of men, meeting regularly round the council table. 
Fortescue's later statement that * the king's council was wont 
to be chosen of great princes, and of greatest lords of the land, 
both spiritual and temporal, and also of other men that were 
in great authority and offices ' is most clearly justified during 
these years, though the practice continued, for somewhat 


different reasons, the intermittent custom of preceding reigns. 
The council perpetuated itself, co-opting new members with- 
out reference to parliament, and the relationship with the 
Commons was quite different from what it had been at times 
under Richard II and Henry IV. The end of the minority in 
1437 did not bring a sudden end to the power of the council. 
It was reappointed by the King and the articles of 1406 
restated as the authority for its action. For some years it 
continued to debate and act with almost as little reference to 
the King as before. It was undermined by changes in the 
early fourteen-forties, when Henry VI asserted his right to 
issue orders by the Privy Seal without reference to council. 
Gradually the power of action in great affairs shifted entirely 
from the council to the King, the court, and the individuals 
who controlled them. The Yorkist and parliamentary efforts 
to restore real authority to the council in 1451 and 1453 were 
again like the attempts of fourteenth-century politicians to 
control a court which had got out of hand ; but, though there 
was some return to conciliar control in the old sense in the 
short periods of York's protectorship, the age of government 
by council was over. 


The Wars of the Roses were a series of struggles for power 
between individuals, struggles which were caused, like earlier 
and similar disorders, by the failings of a corrupt and suspect 
court. To regard them as the trough which separates medieval 
from modern government is in a sense a confusion of categories, 
for the situation which caused them was novel only in a 
dynastic and personal sense. It seems equally clear, however, 
that the government of England in the reign of Henry VII was 
different in important ways, which were not dynastic or 
personal, from what it had been seventy years earlier. The 
history of the years between 1440 and 1470 has the appearance 
of something more than civil war ; rather of a general break- 
down of a system of government from which a new system 
emerged. The point can be made by comparing these years 
with the reign of Edward II. The period from 1307 to 1330 
also saw repeated civil war and the deposition of a king, but 


it does not appear that the government restored by Edward III 
was very different in essentials from that of his grandfather. 
On the other hand, the mid-fifteenth century seems to be a 
period in which government was changing markedly in 

We have already seen some of the elements of the crisis in 
government at the end of Henry VI's reign and how they were 
related to the personal quarrels which developed into the Wars 
of the Roses. The taxation system of the Middle Ages was 
declining for reasons which are obscure but include both the 
obsolescence of the old methods of assessment after radical 
social changes and the weakness of the Crown in enforcing its 
demands. The king had less power to raise money than at 
any time since the reign of Henry III. The system of close 
consultation with the realm in parliaments and councils was 
being abandoned. The exploitation of the royal administra- 
tion by influential individuals had never been absent from 
medieval government and favourites had always been able to 
expect rich rewards, but the spoils system was probably never 
so much the raison ff&tre of government as in these years, when 
council and court had not been checked by the hand of a 
strong king for nearly four decades. While royal lands were 
being enjoyed by feoffees and lessees, important commands, 
like the Wardenships of the Scots Marches (held by Percies 
and Nevilles) and the Captaincy of Calais (used to good effect 
by Warwick), were increasingly regarded as sources of personal 
profit and power. A further, and much more obscure, point 
is the Crown's apparent inability to control local disorder. It 
is an obscure point because the extent of disorder in different 
periods is impossible to assess for comparison. The great 
difficulty of obtaining impartial justice and the prevalence of 
lordly influence in the later part of Henry VFs reign are 
undoubted. In 1440 Judge Paston advised a man not to go 
to law with another party, e for if thou do, thou shalt have the 
worse, be thy case never so true, for he is feed with my lord 
(the Duke) of Norfolk, and much he is of his counsel ; and 
also thou canst no man of law in Norfolk nor in Suffolk to be 
with thee against him ; and forsooth no more might I when 
I had a plea against him ; and therefore my counsel is that 
thou make an end whatsoever the pay, for he shall else undo 


thee and bring thee to naught '. In 1450 Sir John Fastolf s 
concern for the state of his own neighbourhood moved him to 
bring to the notice of King and council, through the same 
Duke of Norfolk, ' how the country of Norfolk and Suffolk 
stand right wildly, without a mean may be that justice be had, 
which will not be but if a man of great birth and livelihood 
there be sheriff this year coming, to lead the people in most 
peace *. There is no good reason, however, to suppose that 
corrupt justice and local disorder were not equally common 
in earlier days, which have left no Paston Letters to illustrate 
them so vividly. They were essential features of a society in 
which great men had real local power, some inevitably 
had the king's ear more readily than others, and the machinery 
of royal government was far too primitive to ensure impartiality 
and security everywhere. In the middle of Edward Ill's reign 
the Folville family lived as robber knights in the county of 
Leicester and once held a royal judge to ransom. In 
Henry IV's time a judge admitted that he had ambushed 
Lord Roos with a body of 500 men. Complaints of the 
depredations of armed retainers are common in the parlia- 
ments of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. What appears 
to be novel in the later years of Henry VI is not the influence 
of great men but the extent to which they were allowed to 
take the law into their own hands in going to war against each 
other. There are earlier examples, notably the war between 
the Earls of Lancaster and Surrey in the reign of Edward II, 
but in general it was something that the King had not tolerated. 
Now he was either powerless or indifferent. The quarrel 
between Sir William Bonville and the Earl of Devon in the 
west country flared into war in 1441 and 1451 and a battle 
at Exeter in 1455. The strict injunctions of the council did 
not prevent the Percy and Neville families from fighting at 
Stamford Bridge in 1453. The weakness of the Crown seems 
to have paralysed the machinery of royal justice. 

English government in 1461 therefore has the double aspect 
of a declining constitutional system and a collapsing royal 
authority and it is a debatable matter how the two were 
connected. The achievement of Edward IV was to restore 
royal government to supremacy and also to restore it in a 
somewhat different form. His most difficult task was to restore 


effective government. It took three months after Towton to 
subdue Cornwall, where a Lancastrian faction, led by one 
who was called * the great errant Captain of Cornwall ', was 
dominant, and indeed the west country was never fully at 
peace in the first decade of the reign. The long struggles of 
the Paston family to recover their legal control of old Sir John 
Fastolfs inheritance culminated in 1469, after many years of 
recrimination and violence, which the law could not settle, 
with the Duke of Norfolk besieging Caister Castle with a large 
army. No doubt many other people less well known to us 
took the law into their own hands. The revival of civil war 
in 1469 was connected with local feuds. Nevertheless the last 
decade of the reign saw order largely restored and the King 
far more firmly in the saddle. This was partly due to the 
settlement of political troubles and partly to Edward's per- 
sistent efforts to make his authority felt in all parts of the 
kingdom. He went himself on judicial progresses in 1464 and 
1475. He took a great interest in local politics. The squires 
of his household were c to be of sundry shires, by whom it may 
be known the disposition of the countries '. He substantially 
increased his influence in some areas by endowing faithful 
supporters with large properties, for instance Lord Hastings in 
Leicestershire. In the Welsh Marches and the north, Edward 
and his brother, Gloucester, had large blocks of territory 
which allowed a new approach to the problem of local control. 
In 1476 the disorder in Wales and the Marches was tackled 
by entrusting the Prince of Wales's council (presided over 
since 1473 by Bishop Alcock of Ely) with a general judicial 
commission covering the counties of Shropshire, Hereford, 
Gloucester, and Worcester, which gave a much more effective 
control over that area. Supreme judicial authority north of 
the Humber was divided between the Earl of Northumberland 
and the Duke of Gloucester and, at the end of the reign, 
Gloucester's council was given a judicial commission covering 
Yorkshire. This arrangement was continued by Gloucester as 
Richard III when he set up a Council in the North Parts under 
his nephew, the Earl of Lincoln. Thus considerable strides 
were taken towards the permanent pacification of disturbed 
areas in a manner which was novel and foreshadowed the later 
councils of the Tudors. 


Both Edward IV and Richard III assumed the throne as 
if it were a rightful inheritance and had themselves crowned 
before obtaining the confirmation of their titles in parliament. 
The parliamentary element in their inauguration was therefore 
less than it had been in the case of Henry IV. 1 Edward IV 
took great pains to emphasise the elevation of kingship by the 
magnificence of his person and his court. In contrast with 
Henry VI, whose appearances did not inspire loyalty for by 
this mean he lost many and won none or right few, and ever 
he was shewed in a long blue gown of velvet as though he had 
no more to change with ', Edward IV showed himself c clad 
in a great variety of most costly garments . . . the royal court 
presenting no other appearance than such as fully befits a 
most mighty kingdom, filled with riches. . . .* A widely 
travelled German visitor in 1465, who thought it c the most 
splendid court that could be found in all Christendom 5 , 
marvelled with what extraordinary reverence the King was 
treated by his servants. c Even mighty counts had to kneel to 
him. 9 Edward was generous in grants of land to trusted 
supporters, but he did not allow the corruption of courtiers to 
divert money from its intended purpose of paying for royal 
magnificence. The proper organisation of the whole house- 
hold was carefully described in the lengthy Black Book of the 
Household of the King of England about I47I-2. 2 

Sir John Fortescue's often quoted advice that the council 
should consist of twelve laymen and twelve clerics, taking no 
fees except from the king, reinforced by the ministers and by 
four spiritual and four lay lords to be chosen annually, was 
not far from the arrangement which actually existed in a less 
rigid form when he was writing in the fourteen-seventies. The 
council consisted of the King's servants and ministers, promi- 
nent bishops, and magnates. It met often and was entrusted 
with a wide variety of important business. It has been shown, 
for instance, that the protracted negotiations about the finances 
of Calais, leading up to the Act of Retainer in 1466, were 
carried out by consultation between the council and the Staple. 3 

^. l *? Jv Armstrong, * The Inauguration Ceremonies of the Yorkist 
Kings *, T.R.H.S. (1948) 

2 A. R. Myers, The household of Edward IV (1959) 

,? J* *V J-MKk* 1 * ' Council, Administration and Councillors 1461-1485 '. 
Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research (1959) * 


About 1475 anyone who wished to farm royal lands needed 
c first to have a bill enclosed of the king, then to certain lords 
of the council, (for there is an act made that nothing shall pass 
from the king unto time they have seen it) and so to privy seal 
and Chancellor '. The council recovered some of the powers 
of jurisdiction which had slipped from it in the mid-century. 
A case was heard in 1482, for instance : { In the star chamber 
at Westminster . . . Present my lords the Archbishop of York, 
Chancellor of England, the Bishops of Lincoln, Privy Seal, 
Worcester, Norwich, Durham and Llandaff, the Earl Rivers, 
the lords Dudley, Ferrers, Beauchamp, Sirs Thomas Borough, 
William Parre, Thomas Vaughan and Thomas Grey knights. 
In full and privy council was openly read the judgement 
and decree made by my lords of our said sovereign lord's 
council. . . , 9 Edward IV's councillors were both eminent 
and powerful. In constitutional and political function, how- 
ever, they had largely reverted to the situation of Edward Fs 
reign. Their proceedings probably had more regularity and 
formality, but they were once again a body of trusted men 
assisting the King without any constitutional dependence upon 
parliament. This change in the nature of the council was 
paralleled by a greater centralisation of official business in the 
royal household. Edward made much use of his Secretary for 
sending out important letters. The organisation of finance, as 
we have seen, came increasingly into the hands of the Chamber, 
which partially superseded the Exchequer. These tendencies 
towards a more centralised monarchy, clearly visible in the 
Yorkist period, were developed with great effect by the early 

The political changes of the fifteenth century inspired no 
great political philosophy. The current ideas, expressed by 
politicians and lawyers, were for the most part the dissolving 
wreckage of the systems of thought inspired by the evolution 
of the monarchy in the thirteenth century or borrowed at that 
time from the Continent. Fortescue's Governance of England, the 
most famous political treatise of the age, can be read as a 
commentary on the paradoxical state of kingship under 
Edward IV. The later part of the book advocates in an 
extreme way the withdrawal of the king into an isolated 
dependence on his estates and his privy council. This was the 


path which the Yorkists and early Tudors on the whole 
followed and it led to a different kind of monarchy from that 
of the Middle Ages. The early chapters are a restatement of 
the traditional medieval ideal of government by consent, 
c dominion political and royal ' as he calls it in distinction 
from * dominion merely royal '. There was no theoretical 
contradiction between the two arguments, for the object of his 
practical suggestions was to rescue the monarchy from its 
subservience to great lords, not to make it despotic. The 
historical effect of the constitutional changes which he advo- 
cated, however, was to release the monarchy from much of its 
old obligation to consult with the community of the realm. 
This implication was not generally accepted by fifteenth- 
century theorists. Even the English despotism, never to 
achieve more than a stunted growth in comparison with the 
Continental examples, was in its infancy and was not to receive 
philosophical expression for many years. The sermon which 
the humanist John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, prepared for 
the parliament of Richard III, in which he exhorted the 
avaricious enclosers and depopulators to think less of their own 
interests and more of the ' common and public body of the 
realm *, foreshadowed the theory of a co-operative monarchical 
commonwealth, which became popular in the sixteenth century. 
In 1483 it was still unusual. 

The chief political groups whose wishes the Crown had 
been bound to consult in the early fifteenth century were the 
nobility, the gentry, and the merchants. The abandonment 
of foreign war and the decline of parliament partially removed 
from the gentry and merchants their power, and perhaps their 
wish, to bring pressure to bear on the king. The end of the 
Hundred Years' War had been itself, as we have seen, one of 
the main elements in the internal crisis of Henry VTs reign 
York and Warwick were both disappointed and disgruntled 
commanders. The new dynasties of York and Tudor could 
profit from the ending of the war without themselves incurring 
the odium of defeat. They escaped from the vicious circle of 
summoning hostile parliaments to satisfy the demands of 
magnate commanders who would in turn be made more 
dangerously wealthy by the wartime finance which was ruinous 
to the Crown. The circumstances which compelled Henry VI 


to give up the old pattern of war and finance eventually 
enabled his successors to withdraw for the time being from the 
parliamentary system which had been evolved in the Middle 
Ages, to depend more on their own estates and the councillors 
of their own choosing. The ultimate, paradoxical result of 
the collapse of Lancastrian government was that power was 
concentrated more closely in the king and his servants, and 
that he was exalted as never before above his subjects. The 
sphere of consultation was narrowed while the area of royal 
power was extended. 

The structure of government set up by the Yorkists was 
maintained and developed with very little change of purpose 
or method by Henry VII. He too relied on incomes from the 
royal estates and the customs, both of which grew substantially. 
Having no troublesome close relations, he was even more 
successful than Edward IV in acquiring estates by forfeiture 
and escheat without granting them away again, and the rising 
curve of exports was steeper. He too summoned few parlia- 
ments and fought no wars on the Continent, ruled through a 
central council subservient to his will, and developed the 
Councils of Wales and the North. The period from 1461 to 
the early part of the reign of Henry VIII therefore has some 
unity as far as its political and constitutional tendencies are 
concerned. All over Europe richer kings were uniting their 
countries with stronger central institutions. Similar features 
are found in the kingdoms of Louis XI of France (1461-83) 
and Ferdinand (1479-1516) and Isabella (1474-1504) of 
Aragon and Castile. The peculiarity of later English constitu- 
tional development the parliamentary system giving supreme 
power to the mercantile and landed gentry within a monarchy 
appeared in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 
1485 England was much more like its neighbours and we 
should have to look far into the future to discover why there 
was so sharp a divergence by the end of the seventeenth 
century. One can only speculate whether some of the features 
of the English monarchy in 1509 the heavy reliance on income 
from overseas trade, which would again later as before in the 
fourteenth century give a political lever to the merchants, and 
the weakness of local magnate power were essential prepara- 
tions for the constitution of the eighteenth century. 


Like all historical phenomena, however, the new monarchies 
of 1500 were transient. Kingship in France was weakened 
again by the upheavals of the Wars of Religion, similar in 
some ways to the Wars of the Roses, in the second half of the 
sixteenth century. Elizabeth I faced poverty and troublesome 
parliaments like some of her medieval predecessors. The 
elements of the body politic which we have observed in this 
book Crown, parliament, nobility, the possible methods of 
taxation -were transformed very gradually over the centuries 
while one part or another rose temporarily to prominence or 
sank temporarily into insignificance. The Middle Ages did 
not end with the victory of Edward IV or Henry VII or their 
reforms ; it was not the first or the last time that kings tried 
to live without parliaments. In 1642 constitutional arguments 
were being used that would have been in place in 1327 or 1399, 
and the king was struggling with financial and political prob- 
lems which had many similarities to those of the fourteenth 
and fifteenth centuries. 

Appendix A 




















Edward 1 

Edward returns to England 

Invasion of Wales, Treaty of 


Statute of Gloucester 

John Pecham, Archbishop of 


Statute of Mortmain 

Conquest of Wales 

Statute of Westminster II 1285-1314 Philip IV of 

Edward overlord of Scotland France 

Robert Winchelsey, Archbishop of 1294-1303 Pope 

Canterbury Boniface VIII 

Battle of Maes Moydog 

Invasion of Scotland 

Expedition to Flanders 

Confirmation of the Charters 

Rebellion of Wallace 

Battle of Falkirk 

Peace with France 

Edward II 

The Ordinances 

Battle of Bannockburn 

Treaty of Leek 

Battle of Boroughbndge 

Execution of Thomas of Lancaster 

Truce with Scotland 

Invasion by Isabella and Mortimer 


Pope moves to 

1316-34 Pope John XXII 




Edward III 

Treaty of Northampton 


End of Minority 1 329-71 

Condemnation of Mortimer 

Battle of Halidon Hill 

Beginning of Hundred Years' War 

John Stratford, Archbishop of 


Battle of Sluys 

Foundation of the Order of the Garter 

Battles of Cr&y and Neville's 



Philip VI of 
David II of 
























Capture of Calais 

Death of William of Ockham 

Black Death 

Statute of Provisors 

Statute of Labourers 

Battle of Poitiers 

Treaty of Br&igny 

First version of Piers Plowman 

Company of the Staple at 


Battle of Najera 

William of Wykeham, 

Bishop of Winchester 

Death of Queen Philippa 

' Good ' Parliament 

Death of Black Prince 



John II of 

Charles V of 

1 378-141 7 Great Schism 

Richard II 

Peasants' Revolt 

William Courtenay, Archbishop of 1380-1422 Charles VI of 

Canterbury France 

Death of John WyclifFe 

* Wonderful ' Parliament 

* Merciless ' Parliament 
Battle of Otterburn 
Richard II in Ireland 
Peace with France 

Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of 


Death of John of Gaunt 

Deposition of Richard II 

Henry IV 

Death of Geoffrey Chaucer 
Revolt of Owen Glyndwr 
Battle of Homildon Hill 
Battle of Tewkesbury 

Battle of Bramham Moor 
Battle of Shipton Moor 

Henry V 

Battle of Agincourt 

Treaty of Troyes 





Death of Philip 
the Bold of 

John the 
Fearless, Duke 
of Burgundy 
Council of 

Philip the 
Good, Duke of 


1422-61 Henry VI 1422-61 Charles VII of 


1424 Battle of Verneuil 

1426 Parliament of Bats 

1429 Relief of Orleans 

1431 Joan of Arc burnt 1431-48 Council of Basle 

1 435 Treaty of Arras 

Death of Duke of Bedford 

1436 English withdrawal from Paris 
Siege of Calais 

1437 End of Minority 

1444 Truce and marriage contract 

with France 
1447 Death of Humphrey, Duke of 

Gloucester and of Cardinal 


1 449-53 Last phase of Hundred Years' War 
1450 Jack Cade's Rebellion 

1 453-4 Henry VI's madness 

First protectorate of Richard, 

Duke of York 
1455 First Battle of St Albans 

1460 Battle of Wakefield 
Death of Duke of York 

1 46 1 Battle of Towton 

Edward IV 1461-83 Louis XI of 

1464 Edward IV's marriage to 

Elizabeth Woodville 

1469 Rebellion of Earl of Warwick 1467-77 Charles the Bold, 

Duke of 

1470-1 Restoration of Henry VI 

1 47 1 Battle of Tewkesbury 

Death of Sir Thomas Malory 
1475 Treaty of Picquigny 

1477 Caxton prints first book in 

1478 Death of George, Duke of 

Edward V 

1483-5 Richard III 

1485 Battle of Bosworth 

Books for Further Reading 


Some general introductions and textbooks : 

D. M. Stenton, English Society in the Early Middle Ages, 1066-1307 (Pelican 

History of England, 1951) 
A. R. Myers, England in the Late Middle Ages, 1307-1536 (Pelican History of 

England, 1952) 

G. W. S. Barrow, Feudal Britain, 1066-1314 (1956) 
V. H. H. Green, The Later Plantagenets, 1307-1485 (1955) 

A full account of the period is contained in three volumes of the Oxford 
History of England : 

F. M. Powicke, The Thirteenth Century, 1316-1307 (1053) 
M. McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-99 (1959; 

E. F.Jacob, The Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (1961) 

Many aspects of medieval life are described in : 

A. L. Poole, ed., Medieval England (2 vols., 1958) 

Introductions to the Continental background are contained in : 

G. W. Previte-Orton, History of Europe, 1198-1378 (3rd ed., 1951) 
W. T. Waugh, History of Europe, 1378-1494 (S 3 ^ ed -> J 949) 

E. Perroy, The Hundred Tears' War (trans. W. S. Wells, 1951) 
Cambridge Medieval History (vols. vi, vii, viii, 1929-36) 


Most of the sources for the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and many 
of those for the fifteenth are in Latin or French. Here are a few which 
happen to be in English or have been translated : 

B. Wilkinson, Constitutional History of Medieval England, 1216-1399 (3 vols., 
1948-58), includes many translated extracts 

Vita Edwardi Secundi (Life of Edward II) (ed. N. H. Denholm-Young, 1957) 
The Brut (English Chronicle) (ed. F. Brie, Early English Text Society, 


Froissart, Chronicles (trans. Lord Berners or T. Johnes) 
Sir Gawqyne and the Grene Knight (ed. B. Stone, 1959) 
William Langland, Vision of Piers Plowman (ed. J. F. Goodridge, 1959) 
Wycliffe, Select English Writings (ed. H. E. Winn, 1929) 
The Book of Margery Kempe (ed. W. Butler-Bowdon, 1954) 
The Paston Letters (ed. J. Gairdner, 4 vols., 1910) 
The Libelle of Englysshe Polycye (ed. G. Warner, 1926) 
Sir John Fortescue, The Governance of England (ed. C. Plummer, 1885) 



Lay Institutions 

Two Victorian masterpieces from which much of the modern writing on 
medieval institutions stems : 

W. Stubbs, Constitutional History of England (3 vols., 5th ed., 1891-1903) 

F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, History of English Law before the Time of 
Edward I (2 vols., and ed., 1898) 

Some modern theories about parliament : 

M. V. Clarke, Medieval Representation and Consent (1936) 
B. Wilkinson, Studies in the Constitutional History of England in the Thirteenth and 
Fourteenth Centuries (1937) 

G. T. Lapsley, Crown, Community and Parliament in the Later Middle Ages (1951) 
J. S. Roskell, The Commons in the Parliament of 1422 (1954) 

K. B. McFarlane, * Parliament and Bastard Feudalism ', T.R.H.S. (1944) 
H. G. Richardson, ' The Commons and Medieval Politics ', T.R.H.S. (1946) 

(Law and the Legal System) 

W. Holdsworth, History of English Law (vol. i, 1956 ; vols. ii and iii, 1922-3) 

T. F. T. Plucknett, The Legislation of Edward I (1949) 

H. M. Cam, The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls (1930) 

H. M. Cam, Liberties and Communities in Medieval England (1944) 

M. Hastings, The Court of Common Pleas in the Fifteenth Century (1947) 

(Royal Administration) 

4, F. Baldwin, The King's Council (1913) 
. B. Chrimes, Introduction to the Administrative History of Medieval England 


T. F. Tout, Chapters in Medieval Administrative History (6 vols., 1920-35) 
J. F. Willard and W. A. Morris, The English Government at Work, 1326-37 

(3 vols., 1940-50) 

B. P. WolfFe, f The Management of English Royal Estates under the 
Yorkist Kings ', E.H.R. (1956) 

(Other Institutions of the Lay Nobility) 

K. B. McFarlane, * Bastard Feudalism ', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical 

Research (1945) 

R. Somerville, History of the Duchy of Lancaster (vol. i, 1953) 
W. H. Dunham, Lord Hastings 9 Indentured Retainers, 1461-33 (1955) 
A. R. Wagner, Heralds and Heraldry in the Middle Ages (and ed., 1956) 
G. A. Holmes, The Estates of the Higher Mobility in Fourteenth-century England 


(On Warfare and Castles) 

Sir Charles Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages (2 vols., 

2nd ed., 1924) 

R. Allen Brown, English Medieval Castles (1954} 
A. E. Prince, ' The Indenture System in the Reign of Edward III ', Essays 

in Honour of James Tait (ed. J. G. Edwards, V. H. Galbraith and 

E.F.Jacob, 1933) 
K. B. McFarlane, * The Investment of Sir John Fastolf's Profits of War *, 

T.R.H.S. (1957) 



Some notable examples of political history in detail : 

F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward (2 vols., 1947), includes a 

character study of Edward I 
J. E. Morris, The Welsh Wars of Edward I (1901) 
T. F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (and ed., 


J. C. Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward 'II (1919) 
P. E. Russell, The English Intervention in Spain and Portugal in the Time of 

Edward III and Richard II (1955) 
S. Armitage Smith, John of Gaunt (1904) 
' " igeofWyt 

G. M. Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe (3rd ed., 1904) 

A. Steel, Richard II (1941) 

R. Bird, The Turbulent London of Richard II (1948) 

Sir Charles Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381 (1906) 

J. E. Lloyd, Owen Glendower (1931) 

R. A. Newhall, The English Conquest of Normandy (1924) 

K. B. McFarlane, * At the Deathbed of Cardinal Beaufort ', Essays in 

Medieval History presented to F. M. Powicke (ed. R. W. Hunt, W. A. Pantin 

and R. W. Southern, 1948) 

Social and Economic History 

The best general account is E. Lipson, Economic History of England, (vol. i, 

iithed., 1956) 
For a wider background : The Cambridge Economic History of Europe (vols. i-iii, 


Other useful general books : 

H. C. Darby, Historical Geography of England before 1800 (1936) 

M. W. Beresford and J. K. St. Joseph, Medieval England : an Aerial Survey 

(On Agrarian Society) 

G. C. Romans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (1941) 

R. A. L. Smith, Canterbury Cathedral Priory (1943) 

A. E. Levett, The Black Death on the Estates of the Bishopric of Winchester 

(Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History, ed. P. VinogradofT, 

vol. v, 1916) 

F. G. Davenport, The Economic Development of a Norfolk Manor (1906) 
R. H. Hilton, The Economic Development of Some Leicestershire Estates (1947) 
M. W. Beresford, The Lost Villages of England (1954) 
. M. W. Bean, The Estates of the Percy Family, 1416-1537 (1958) 


W. Rees, South Wales and the March, 1284-1415 (1924) 

M. M. Postan, ' The Chronology of Labour Services J , T.RJH.S. (1957) 

M. M. Postan, 'Economic Evidence of Declining Population*, Econ.H.R. 

' (1950) 
(Trade and Industry) 

E. Power, The Wool Trade in English Medieval History (1941) 
E. M. Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Venturers 

E. Power and M. M. Postan, Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century 


L. F. Salzman, English Trade in the Middle Ages (1931) 
A. A. Ruddock, Alien Merchants and Shipping in Southampton, 1270-1600 (1951) 
L. F. Salzman, English Industries of the Middle Ages (and ed., 1923) 
L. F. Salzman, Building in England down to 1540 (1952) 



A. S. Green (Mrs J. R. Green), TownLife in the Fifteenth Century (2 vols., 1894) 

S. L. Thrupp, The Merchant Class of Medieval London (1948) 

J. W. F. Hill, Medieval Lincoln (1948) 

M. Dormer Harris, Life in an Old English Town : a History of Coventry (1898) 

The Church 

Monks and friars are dealt with in the first two volumes of : 

Dom David Knowles, The Religious Orders in England (1948-55) 

(On the Rest of the Church) 

J. R. H. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century (1945) 
A. Hamilton Thompson, The English Clergy and their Organisation in the 

Later Middle Ages (1947) 

W. A. Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century (1955) 
K. L. Wood-Legh, Church Life in England under Edward lit (1934) 
M. E. Aston, * Lollardy and Sedition ', P. and P. (1960) 

(Some Individual Churchmen) 

D. L. Douie, Archbishop Pecham (1952) 

C. M. Fraser, A History of Antony Bek (1957) 
K. B. McFarlane, John Wycliffe (1952) 

Literature, Thought, and Education 

The Age of Chaucer (ed. B. Ford, Penguin Guide to English Literature, i, 

C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (2nd ed., 1938) 

H. S. Bennett, Chaucer and the Fifteenth Century (1947) 

E. K. Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages (1945) 
G. Left, Medieval Thought from Saint Augustine to Ockham (1958) 

D. E. Sharp, Franciscan Philosophy at Oxford in the Thirteenth Century (1930) 
J. A. Robson, Wyclifand the Oxford Schools (1961) 

G. R. Owst, Preaching in Medieval England (1926) 

H. Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (ed. F. M. Powicke 

and A. B. Emden, 3 vols., 1936) 

A. F. Leach, The Schools of Medieval England (2nd ed., 1916) 
R. Weiss, Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century (2nd ed., 1957) 
H. S. Bennett, English Books and Readers, 1475-1557 (1952) 

Architecture and Art 

P. Brieger, English Art 9 1216-1307 (Oxford History of English Art, 1957) 

i. Evans, English Art 9 1307-1461 (Oxford History of English Art, 1949) 
. Harvey, Gothic England (1947) 
G. Webb, Architecture in Britain : the Middle Ages (Pelican History of Art, 

M. Rickert, Painting in Britain : the Middle Ages (Pelican History of Art, 

J 954) 
L. Stone, Sculpture in Britain ; the Middle Ages (Pelican History of Art, 1955) 


Black figures refer to main entries 

Abergavenny (Monmouthshire), 104 
Aberystwyth Castle (Cardiganshire), 93 
Abingdon (Berkshire), 37 
Acre (Palestine), 102 
Acton Burnell (Shropshire), 27 
Adolf of Nassau, King of Germany, 106 
Agincourt, Battle of, 202, 208 
Agriculture, 11-18, 21-4, 132-3, 136- 

48, and see Black Death, Manors 
Ailred, Abbot of Rieyaulx, 177 
Airmyn, William, Bishop of Norwich, 

Keeper of Privy Seal, 44, 68-9 
Alcock, John, Bishop of Ely, 249 
Alexander III, King of Scotland, 94-5 
Alnwick Castle (Northumberland)., 221 
Amiens, Treaty of, 204 
Amory, Roger d', 113-15 
Ancient Demesne, 144-5 
Angevin Empire, 123, 208 
Anglesey, 92-3 
Anne of Bohemia, Queen of England, 

186-7, 189, 198-9 
Antony of Burgundy, 222 
Antwerp (Netherlands), 34, 119-20, 

150, 153 

Appeal and appellants, 189-90, 241 
Aquinas, St Thomas, 56-7, 80 
Aquitaine, Duchy of, 3, 105, 123, 196, 

208, and see Gascony 
Aragon, Kingdom of, 105, and see 

Archdeaconries, 43 
Architecture, 27, 37, 51-S, 132, 138-9, 

179-81, and see Castles, Cathedrals 
Aristotle, 56, 79^-81, 136 
Armagh, Archbishop of, see Fitzralph 
Armagnacs, 200-1, 203 
Army, see Warfare 
Arras, Treaty of, 204, 207 
Array, Commissions of, 74 
Artevelde, James van, 120, 198 
Arthur, King, 26, 164 
Articuli super Cartas, 109 
Artois, Robert of, 118 
Arundel (Sussex], 27; College, 180; 

Earls of, 27, 111, 115-16, 124, 180, 


Arundel, Thomas, Bishop of Ely, 
Archbishop of Canterbury, Chancellor, 

Assarts, 18 

Assizes, 62; nisi prius, 62; oyer and 
terminer, 62 

Audley, Hugh d', 113-14 

Aumale, Countess of, 21, 23, 29 

Austria, 2 

Avignon, 47-5, 178 

Avon, river, 163 

Bacon, Roger (philosopher), 43, 57; 

Roger (knight), 146 
Badlesmere, Barthol 

olomew de, 113, 115 

Ball, John, 131-2, 144-5, 172 

Balliol, family, 89, 117; Devorguil, 66; 
Edward, 99; John, 95-6 

Baltic, 32, 138, 152-3, 159 

Bamborough Castle (Northumberland), 

Bannockburn, Battle of, 20, 73, 98, 100, 

Bardi Company, 34, 79, 120 

Barons, see Magnates 

Barons' Wars, 89, 110 

Basle, Council of, 178,211 

Bastard Feudalism, 28-30, 72-3, 88, 
165-7, and see Feudalism 

Bayonne (France), 105 

Beauchamp, family, Earls of Warwick, 
27,111, 112, 161, 188-90, 224; Lord, 
251; Richard, Earl of Warwick, 138, 
161, 163-4, 180, 202, 206, 210; 
Thomas, Earl of Warwick, 115 

Beaufort, family, 161, 189, 194, 213, 
216: Edmund, Earl of Dorset, Duke of 
Somerset, 207-8, 213, 216, 218, 221; 
Henry, Cardinal, Bishop of Lincoln 
and Winchester, Chancellor, 168, 179, 
194, 211-13, 216, 230, 232, 245; John, 
Marquis of Dorset, Earl of Somerset, 
190, 194; John, Earl and Duke of 
Somerset, 213, 225; Margaret, Count- 
ess of Richmond, 225; Thomas, Earl 
of Dorset, 194 

Beaumaris Castle (Anglesey), 93-4 


266 INDEX 

Bee Abbey (Normandy), 23 
Becket, Thomas, Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, 104, 109 
Bedford, John, Dukeof, 1 38, 204, 206-7, 

Bedford, Robert of, 66 
Bek, Antony, Bishop of Durham, 44, 49 
Benedict XII, Pope, 47 
Benedictine Order, 45, 50, 149 
Beowulf, 27, 30 

Bcre Castle (Merionethshire), 92 
Bergen-op-Zoom (Netherlamis), 153 
Berkeley, Castle (Gloucestershire), 23, 

1 16 

Berkeley, family, 25; Thomas, 23-4, 1 16 
Berry (France), 122 
Berwick-upon-Tweed, 96, 98-9 
Beverley (Yorkshire), 37, 152, 156 
Bible, 135, 174 

Bigod, Roger, Earl of Norfolk, 108-9 
Bishops, 44, 122; in parliament, 82-8; 

see Church 
Black Death, 2, 19, 34, 79, 122-3, 126, 

136-8, 155, 169, 172, 184, 228 
Blacklow Hill (Warwickshire), 1 12 
Black Prince, see Edward, Prince of 


Bodiam Castle (Kent)', 165 
Boethius, 56 
Bohemia, 174, 184, 186 
Bohun, family, Earls of Hereford, 25, 

83, 89, 90, 104; Humphrey de, Earl of 

Hereford, (temp. Edward I), 108-9; 

Humphrey de, Earl of Hereford, (temp. 

Edwardll), 111, 113, 114-15; William 

de, Earl of Northampton, 124 
Bole family, 147 
Bolingbroke Castle (Lincolnshire), 188; 

see Henry IV 
Bolitout family, 147 
Bolton, Thomas de, 29 
Bonaventure, St, 57 
Boniface VIII, Pope, 47, 77, 108 
Boniface IX, Pope, 178 
Bonville, William, 248 
Bordeaux (France), 31, 105, 122, 123, 

197, 199, 208 
Borley (Essex), 15 
Borough, Thomas, 251 
Boroughbridge, Battle of, 99, 115 
Boroughs, 38-40, and see Towns 
Boston (Lincolnshire), 32-3, 37, 149, 


Bosworth, Battle of, 225 
Boteler, Ralph, 165; WUliam le, 66 
Bourgchier, Thomas, Archbishop of 

Canterbury, 134, 179 
Brabant, Duchy of, 119-20, 200; Duke 

of, 106 

Brabazon, Roger de, 70 
Bracton, Henry, 64, 80 

Bradford on Avon (Wiltshire), 152 
Bradwardine, Thomas, Archbishop of 

Canterbury, 169-70 
Bramham Moor, Battle of, 193 
Bray, Henry de, 20 
Brecon (Wales), 90 
Brembre, Nicholas, 189 
Brent, river, 88 
Brentford (Essex), 143 
Bretigny, Treaty of, 3, 123, 182, 196, 


Brigham, Treaty of, 94, 96 
Bristol, 37, 38, 154, 158, 160; St 

Augustine's, 53-4; St Mary Redcliffe, 

160, 181 
Brittany, Duchy of, 121-2, 183, 197-8, 

Bruce, family, 89, 117; Edward, 100-1; 

Robert (King Robert I of Scotland), 

Bruges (Netherlands), 34, 119, 150, 154, 

170, 173, 197 

Buckingham, Duke of, see Stafford 
Building, see Architecture, Castles, 

Cathedrals, Houses 

Builth Castle (Breconshire), 93; lord- 
ship of, 92 

Burgh, Richard de, Earl of Ulster, 100 
Burghclere (Hampshire), 18 
Burgundy, Dukes and Duchy of, 139, 

150, 153, 155, 198, 206-7, 221-4, 242, 

and see Charles the Bold, John the 

Fearless, Philip the Bold, Philip the 


Burley, Simon, 185, 189 
Burley, Walter, 80, 124 
Burnell, Robert, Bishop of Wells, 

Chancellor, 27, 44, 104 
Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk), abbey and 

town, 37, 45, 55, 145, 172; liberty of, 

60; parliament at, 213 
Butler family, 101 
Byzantium, 2, 152 

Cabot brothers, 154 

Cade, Jack, and Rebellion of, 217-18, 


Cader Idris (Merionethshire), 92 
Caen (Normandy), 121, 203, 208 
Caernarvon Castle, 93-4 
Caernarvonshire, 89, 93 
Cahors (France), 105 
Caister Castle (Norfolk), 163, 165, 249 
Calais, 3, 122, 149-50, 155, 164, 190, 

194, 197, 199-203, 207-8, 212, 216, 

219-20, 222-3, 230, 240, 247, 250, 

and see Staple 
Cambrai (France), 120 
Cambridge, 31; parliament at, 156; 

University, 55-6; King's College, 54, 


Cambridge, Richa 
see York, Duke of 

Richard, Earl of, 201-2; 


Cambridgeshire, 18 

Canons, cathedral, 50 

Canterbury, 159; Archbishops and 
Province of, 6, 43, 69, 245, see Thomas 
Arundel, Thomas Becket, .Thomas 
Bourgchier, Thomas Bradwardine, 
Henry Chichele, William Courtenay, 
Robert Kilwardby, Stephen Langton, 
Tohn Morton, John Pecham, John 
Stratford, Simon Sudbury, Robert 
Winchelsey; Cathedral, 50, 138, 179; 
Christ Church Priory, 18, 22-3, and 
see Eastry 

Canterbury Tales, see Chaucer 
3, William, 160 
, 90, 93 

uaroigonsr, , 

Carisbrooke Castle (Isle of Wight), 29 

Carlisle, Cathedral, 53; diocese, 43 

Carmarthenshire, 92-3 

Castile, Kingdom of, 163, 185, 186, 197, 

and see Henry of Trastamara, Isabella, 


CastiUon, Battle of, 208 
Castle Combe (Wiltshire), 151-2 
Castles and castle-building, 7, 27-8, 37, 

CAed 7, 50-5, 138-9, 179-80 
Catherine, Queen (wife of Henry V), 

201, 203, 225, 232 
Caxton, William, 134, 153 
Cely, family, 149-50; Richard, 150 
Chamber, King's, 70-1, 114, 235, 251; 

Chamberlain, 114, see Despenser, 

Latimer, Pole 
Chamberlain, Roger, 238 
Chancellor, 69-71, 81, 83, 88, 1 1 1, 244, 

245, 251; see Thomas Arundel, Robert 

Burnell, Henry Beaufort, William 

Edington, Michael de la Pole, John 

Stratford, Simon Sudbury, William of 

Chancery, 6, 38, 62, 67, 69-71, 83, 87, 

159, 173; Irish, 100 
Ghandos, John, 75 
Chantries, 179-80 
Charles I, King, 164 
Charles IV, King of France, 1 16 
Charles V, King of France, 182, 196, 198 
Charles VI, King of France, 199, 200-1, 

203-4, 208-9 
Charles VII, King of France, 203, 20&- 


Charles of Salerno, 103 
Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, 


Charter of the Forest, 108-9 
Charters, Confirmation of the (Con- 

famatio Cartanan), 84-7, 108 
Chartres (France), 123 

INDEX 267 

Chartres, Alan of, 66 

Chaucer, Geoffrey, and Canterbury Tales, 
4, 6, 21, 133, 135-6, 138, 159, 172 

Chaucer, Thomas, 238-9 

Cherbourg (Normandy), 203 

Cherwell, river, 38 

Cheshire, 26, 60, 188, 191, 193 

Chevage, 146 

Chichele, Henry, Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, 179-80 

Chichester, Bishop of, 125; see Adam 
Moieyns, Reginald Peacock 

Chiltern Hills, 175 

Chipping Camden (Gloucestershire), 

Chronicles, 5-6 

Church in England, 1-2, 5, 41-58, 

76-7, 104, 125, 134-6, 144, 168-181, 

228, 230, 231; see Bible, Bishops, 

Cathedrals, Chantries, Dioceses, Friars, 

Lollards, Monks, Popes, Taxation 
Cicero, 134 
Cinque Ports, 90 
Circtemspecte Agatis, 50 
Cistercian Order, 23, 31, 45, 149, 172 
Clare (Suffolk), 21 
Clare, Bogo de, 42; family, Earls of 

Gloucester, 28, 83, 92, 104, 124; 

Gilbert de, Earl of Gloucester, 20- 1, 

98, 111 
Clarence, George, Duke of, 220, 222-4, 

234; Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of, 101, 

124, 135, 182; Thomas, Duke of, 201-2 
Clement V, Pope, 109 
Clement VII, Pope, 198 
Clencis Laicos, 77, 84, 108 
Clifford, Roger, 92 
Cloth, making and trade, 31, 36-7, 

132-3, 136, 138, 148-56, 158-60; see 


Cloud of Unknowing, 177 
Cobham family, 25 
Colchester (Essex), 37 
Cologne (Germany), 32, 134 
Combe Abbey (Warwickshire), 24 
Commerce, 30-40, 78-9, 132-3, 136, 

14&-56, 158-60, 194, 198, 240; see 

Cloth, Towns, Wool 
Common Pleas, Court of, 62, 87 
Commons in parliament, 19, 34, 81, 

83-8, 125-7, 141-2, 173, 175, 183-6, 

188^9, 191-2, 194, 218, 228-46; see 

Commutation, 16 
Coxnpiegne (France), 206 
Comyn, John, the Red, 97 
Confirmatio Cartanan, see Charters 
Constance, Council of, 174, 178, 203 
Constance, wife of John of Gaunt, 197 
Conway (Caernarvonshire), 191; Castle, 

93-4; Treaty of, 90-2 



Cornwall, 12, 21, 31, 62, 249; Edmund, 

Earl of, 21, 104; Earl of, see Gaveston 
Cotswold Hills, 24, 31, 149, 151 
Cotton, Bartholomew, 5 
Council, Great, 82, 242-3 
Council, King's, 69-71, 83, 114, 185, 

188, 194, 21 1,243-6, 250-1 
Council in the North Parts, 249, 253 
Council of Wales, 249, 253 
County Court, 85, 236-7 
Courtenay, family, Earls of Devon, 161, 

248; William, Bishop of London, 

Archbishop of Canterbury, 175-6, 

185, 187, 228 
Courts, see Common Pleas, King's 

Bench, Law, Manors 
Courts Leet, 60 
Coventry (Warwickshire), 37-8, 151, 

156, 158; Abbey, 24, 38; St Michael's, 

159, 181 

Cowick Ordinance, 69 
Crfcy, Battle of, 3, 73-4, 121-2, 202, 

Cromwell, Ralph, Treasurer, 165, 180, 

Crowland, Godfrey of, Abbot of 

Peterborough, 23 
Crowland, Isle of (Lincolnshire), 23; 

Abbey, 23; Prior of, 225 
Cruck house, 1 1 

Crusades, 48, 76, 102, 105, 107, 198,239 
Cumberland, 72 
Custom, Ancient, 78, 83, 84; New, 78, 

84,87, 111 
Customs, see Taxation 

Daliingridge, Edward, 165 

Danzig (Poland), 152-3 

Davidll, King of Scotland, 99, 121 

David ap Gruffydd, 83, 90-2 

Dean, Forest of (Gloucestershire), 36 

Dee, river, 90, 192 

Demesne, 14-15, 147-8 

Denbighshire, 90 

Derby, Earldom of, 121; see Lancaster 

Despenser, family, 30, 224; Edward, 
180; Henry, Bishop of Norwich, 146, 
198; Hugh, 113-17, 124; Thomas, 
Earl of Gloucester, 190 

Devon, Earls of, see Courtenay, Stafford 

Devonshire, 22, 222 

Dioceses, 43-4, 50 

Domesday Book, 144 

Dominic, St, 46; Dominican Order, 46, 

Donatello, 139 

Dordrecht (Netherlands), 34, 79, 1 19-20 

Dorset, 20; Earls of, see Beaufort; 

Marquis of, 224 
Dosy family, 147 
Dudley, Lord, 251 

Dumfries, 97 

Dunbar (East Lothian), 96 

Duns Scotus, John, 58 

Dunstable,John, 138 

Dunstanburgh Castle (Northumber- 
land), 28 

Durham, Bishops of, 36,, 60, 67, 251, 
and see Antony Bek, Robert of Holy 
Island; Cathedral, 50-1; diocese, 43-4; 
Palatinate, 60, 98; Priory, 44 

East Anglia, 13, 15, 16, 20, 55, 60 

Eastry, Henry of, Prior of Christ Church, 
Canterbury, 22-4, 177 

Edgecote, Battle of, 222 

Edinburgh, 98 

Edington, William, Bishop of Win- 
chester, Chancellor, 125 

Education, 55-8, 134-5, 180-1; see 
Cambridge, Oxford, Universities 

Edward I, King, and law, 65-7; and 
the Church, 49-50; and taxation, 
76-9; and parliament, 82-5; and 
conquest of Wales, 98-94; and Scot- 
land, 94-8; and England, 102-4, 
106-10; and France, 104-6; men- 
tioned, 3, 4, 5, 7, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 
25, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 34, 37, 39, 42, 
44, 46, 54, 61, 62, 63, 70, 7l| 72^ 73, 

Edward II, King, as Prince of Wales, 
94, 98, 110, 217; and parliament, 
85-6; and Scotland and Ireland, 
98-101; reign of in England, 110-17, 
mentioned, 3, 4, 6, 13, 18, 20, 23, 25, 
29, 30, 34, 49, 53, 54, 55, 63, 68 71 
72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 79, 81, 87, 88, 159 
184, 186, 188, 215, 241, 242, 24^ 

Edward III, King, and parliament, 
86-8; as Prince, 116; and England, 
116-17, 123-7, 182-5; and Hundred 
Years' War, 117-23; mentioned, 3, 32, 
34, 44, 52, 53, 54, 68, 70, 71, 72, 73^ 
75, 76, 77, 79, 81, 100, 101, 103, 104 
106, 133, 135, 154, 161, 162, 163, 182 
196, 202, 217, 227, 229, 230, 233, 243, 
247, 248 

Edward IV, King, as Earl of March, 
220; as King, 220-5; his government, 
233-5, 248-9, 250-1, 253-4; men- 
--- J "" '53, 154, 156, 161, 165, 

Edward V, King, 214, 224-5, 234, 249 
Edward, Prince of Wales (Black Prince), 

73, 122-4, 162, 182, 185, 196-7, 202 
Eleanor, Queen, 52, 55 
Elizabeth I, Queen, 254 
Elizabeth Woodville, wifeof Edward IV, 

see Woodville 

Ely, Bishops of, see John Alcock, Thomas 
Arundel; Cathedral, 52-3, 55, 139; 

, 60-1 

rune; aer 

Priory, 17; liberty 
English language, 1 
Escheators, 68, 75, 234 
Esplechin, Truce of, 120, 125 
Essex, 143, 145, 151 
Eton College, 181 
Exchequer, 6, 62, 69-71, 100, 112, 115, 

159, 162, 173, 229-30, 234-5, 251; 

Irish, 100; see Treasurer 
Exeter, 40, 158; Bishops of, 82, 173, see 

Walter Stapledon; Battle at, 248; 

Cathedral, 51; Duke of, 218, 221 
Eynsham, Abbot of, 140 
Eyre, general, 62-3 

Falaise (Normandy), 203 

Falkirk, Battle of, 73, 97 

Fastolf,John, 152, 163-4,206,248-9 

Ferdinand, King of Aragon, 253 

Ferrers, Lord, 251 

Feudalism, 28-9, 65-7, 74, 94-5, 
and see Bastard Feudalism 

Fiennes, Roger, 165 

Filgrave (Buckinghamshire), 14 

Fitzgerala family, 101 

Fitzralph, Richard, Archbishop of 
Armagh, 169-70 

Fitzwalter, Lord, 162 

Flanders, 32, 37, 73, 108, 119-21, 125, 
139, 150-1, 153, 160, 186, 198-200, 
239-40; Count of, 106, 198, and see 

Flemish merchants, 32-3 

Fleta, 83 

Flint Castle, 93 

Flintshire, 90 

Florence, 30, 33-4, 79, 139, 150-1, 154, 
156, 163 

Folville family, 248 

Forests, 108 

Formigny, Battle of, 208 

Forncett (Norfolk), 147 

Fortescue, John, 235, 245, 250-1 

Fotheringay College (Northampton- 
shire), 180 

Fougeres (Brittany), 208 

Fountains Abbey (Yorkshire), 18, 23, 
31, 33, 45 

France, and its relations with England, 
3-5, 34, 51, 68, 75, 92, 94, 96-8, 102, 
104-6, 116-23, 135-7, 150, 152-3, 159, 
162-5, 173, 182, 186, 188, 190, 192-5, 
209, 215-16, 221-3, 225, 227, 229, 
233-4, 239, 254, and see Hundred 
Years' War; Kings of, see Charles, 
John, Louis, Philip 

franchises, 59-65 

Francis, St, 46; Franciscan Order, 46, 
56-8, 172 

INDEX 269 

Frescobaldi, Company, 33, 79; Amerigo 

dei, 111 

Friars, 46, 56-8 
Frisby (Lincolnshire), 148 
Froissart, Jean, 6, 72 

Garter, Order of the, 124, 202 
Gascony, 30-1, 37, 102-3, 105-6, 108, 

116, 118, 121-3, 154, 196, 201, 207-8, 

215-16; see Aquitaine 
Gaunt, John of, see Lancaster 
Gaveston, Peter, Earl of Cornwall, 73, 

110-13, 115-16 

Geddington (Northamptonshire), 52 
Genoa and Genoese, 154, 160 
Germany, 120, 184, 190; see Adolf of 

Nassau, Lewis the Bavarian 
Ghent (Flanders), 120, 151 
Gilds, 35-6, 156-8 
Glamorgan, Lordship of, 89 
Glamorganshire, 114 
Glastonbury Abbey (Gloucestershire), 

Gloucester, Cathedral (St Peter's 
Abbey), 52-5, 139, 179; Dukes of, 
161, see Humphrey, Richard III, 
Thomas of Woodstock; Earls of, see 
Clare, Despenser; parliaments at, 170, 

Gloucestershire, 25, 181, 249 

Glyndwr, Owen, 192-4, 200 

Good Parliament, 173, 183-4, 197, 229, 
241, 244 

Gothic style, see Architecture 

Gottschalk of Almain, 32 

Government and kingship, 2-3, 6, 
59-88, 215, 227-54, and see Chamber, 
Chancery, Commons, Exchequer, 
Household, Law, Loans to Kings, 
Parliament, Taxation, Wardrobe 

Gower, Lordship of, 1 14 

Gower, Thomas, 235 

Gravesend (Kent), 143, 198 

Gray's Inn, 134 

Greenwich (Kent), 168 

Gregory XI, Pope, 1 73 

Greystoke, Ralph, Baron of, 29 
Grosseteste, Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, 

57, 172, 177 
Gwynedd, 90 

Hainault, County, 205, 212; Count of, 


Halidon Hill, Battle of, 73, 99, 117 
Hamburg, 32 
Hampshire, 18 

Hanse and Hansards, 32, 152-3, 155, 160 
Harfleur (Normandy), 202, 208 
Harlech Castle (Merionethshire), 93-4 
Harleston (Northamptonshire), 20 



Haslingfield (Cambridgeshire), 14 

Hastings, Battle of, 136 

Hastings, family, 163; William, 165, 

Hawarden Castle (Flintshire), 92 
Hawkwood, John, 163 
Haxey, Thomas, 190 
Hedingham (Essex), 27 
Henley, Walter of, 21 
Henry I, King, 145 

Hen^ Ili^ng, 25, 37, 51, 65, 85, 89, 
102/105, 108, 186, 247 

Henry IV, King, as Henry Bolingbroke, 
Earl of Derby, Duke of Hertford, 135, 
188-91; as King, 192-5, 199-200; and 
parliament, 231, 240; and Council, 
545; mentioned, 146, 147, 153, 157, 
159 161, 162, 196, 201, 214, 227, 229, 
237, 239, 242, 243, 246, 248, 250 

Henry V, King, as Prince, 193-5, 201, 
214, 245; as King, 201-4; mentioned, 
3, 147, 163, 168, 178, 192, 196, 208, 
209, 210, 211, 214, 227,228, 229, 232, 
242 245 

Henry VI, King, minority of, 210-13, 
245-6; and France, 204-9; and 
England, 214-20; finances of, 229-30, 
232-3; government of, 247-8; after 
deposition, 221-3; mentioned, 3, 4, 6, 
13&T 150, 154, 155, 156, 161, 163, 165, 
168 175 177 178, 180, 181, 225, 226, 
236, 237, 241, 242, 243, 246, 250, 252 

Henry VII, King, as Earl of Richmond, 
225; as King, 4, 132, 140, 148, 167, 
214^15, 227, 243, 246, 253-4 

Henry VIII, King, 93, 103, 131, 140, 

Henry of Trastamara, King of Castile, 

Herbert, family, 161; William, Earl of 
Pembroke, 221 

Hereford, Earls of, see Bohun 

Herefordshire, 60, 249 

Herrings, Battle of the, 206 

Herstmonceux Castle (Sussex), 165 

Hertfordshire, 21, 145 

Hervey, Walter, 39 

Higham Ferrers (Northamptonshire), 
38, 147 

Hindon (Wiltshire), 18 

Holand, John, 189-90; Robert, 29; 
Thomas, 189-90 

Holderness (Yorkshire), 23 

Black Book of, 250; see Chamber, 
Houses, 7 

149, 152 

Houses, / 

Hull (Yorkshire), 32-3, 37, 1< 
Humber, river, 137, 223, 249 
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, 161, 

168, 202, 204-5, 211-13, 216, 245 
Hundred, 60, 63; Hundred Rolls, 16, 

24 65 
Hundred Years' War, 3, 34, 48, 77, 79, 

87, 104, 117-23, 125-7, 154, 162-4, 

178, 195-209, 214, 221, 228-9, 242, 

252; see France 

Hungerford, family, 161; Thomas, 238 
Huntingdonshire, 237 
Hus, John, 174, 184; Hussites, 174, 


Ilchester, Richard of, 66 

Impeachment, 184, 188-9, 217, 241-2 

Industries, 36-7; see Cloth 

Inner Temple, 134 

Innocent III, Pope, 47 

Innocent IV, Pope, 47 

Inns of Court, 134-5, 164 

Ipswich (Suffolk), 145, 158 

Ireland, 3, 89, 100-1, 163, 190-1, 199, 

216, 218, 220; Duke of, set r Vere 
Isabella, Queen, wife of Edward II, 

106, 116, 118 
Isabella, Queen, wife of Richard II, 


Isabella, Queen of Castile, 253 
Italy and Italians, 23, 30, 32, 34^5, 


152, 154-6, 159-60, 168, 178, 229, 


Jacqueline of Hainault, 205 
jacquerie, 123 
James I, King, 94 
Japan, 152 

Jervaulx Abbey (Yorkshire), 45 
Jews, 33, 103 
loan of Arc, 206, 213 
loan of Kent, 170, 185 
John, King, 76, 107, 108, 186 
John XXII, Pope, 48 
John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond, 97 
John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, 
John the Good, King of France, 122-3, 

Judges and justice, see Law 

Holland, 150 j v* 5 ^ -*- j -~, 

Holy Island, Robert of, Bishop of Justices of the Peace, 156 

Durham, 44 

Homildon Hill, Battle of, 100, 193 
Hotspur, see Percy 
Household, royal, 69-71, 111-12, 114, 

125, 194, 235, 249-50; Ordinance, 70; 

Keepers of the Peace, 63, 68 
Kemp, John, Archbishop of York, 179, 
213, 230 
Kempe, Margery, 6, 135, 177 

Kenilworth (Warwickshire), Canonry, 

24: Castle, 112, 116, 165 
Kent, 13, 15, 22, 25, 143, 145, 217; 

Earl of, 116-17 
Kildare, Earls of, 101 
Kilkenny, Statutes of, 101 
Kilsby, William, Keeper of Privy Seal, 

44 71 
Kilwardby, Robert, Archbishop of 

Canterbury, 56-7 

Kings and kingship, see Government 
King's Bench, Court of, 62, 87, 134 
King's Repton (Huntingdonshire), 13 
Kirby Muxloe Castle (Leicestershire), 


Kirkstead Abbey (Lincolnshire), 31 
Knighton, Henry, 5 
Knights and '-=- 

73-5, 83-8, 

see Commons, 
Knollys, Robert, 197 
Kyriel, Thomas, 208 

Labourers, Justices of, 141 

Lacy, Alice de, 112; Henry de, Earl of 
Lincoln, 70, 90, 104, 111 

Lake District, 12 

Lambeth Palace, 6 

Lancashire, 112 

Lancaster, family, 4; Edmund Crouch- 
back, Earl of, 25, 90, 104; Thomas, 
Earl of, 28-30, 70, 88, 99, 111-16, 
248; Henry, Earl of, 1 16-17; Henry of 
Grosmont, Earl of Derby, Duke of, 
121-2, 124; Dukes of, 67; John of 
Gaunt, Duke of, 112, 123-4, 143, 147, 
159, 161, 163, 165, 170, 173,182-9, 191, 
194, 197-9, 211, 237-8, 240; Duchy of, 
147, 163, 191, 194, 211, 231-2, 234r-5; 
Palatinate of, 237 

Langland, William and Piers Plowman, 
6, 138, 172, 176-7, 236 

Langton, Stephen, Archbishop of Can- 
terbury, 109 

Langton, Walter, Bishop of Lich6eld, 
Treasurer, 70, 109 

Latimer, Thomas, 174 

Latimer, William (temp. Edward II), 
29; (temp. Edward III), 182-3, 241 

Lavenham (Suffolk), 133, 152, 181 

Law, ecclesiastical, 49-50, 59-60, 104; 
royal, 49-50, 59-67, 82-3, 103^, 
134-5, 148, 164, 247-8; Welsh, 92-3 

Leek, Treaty of, 70, 113-14 

Leicester, 37, 174; St Mary's Abbey, 5; 
Earls of, see Montfort, Thomas of 
Lancaster; parliament at, 212 

Leicestershire, 248-9 

Leiden (Holland), 150 

Leland, John, 165 

Leominster Abbey (Herefordshire), 45 

INDEX 271 

Lessingham (Norfolk), 23 

Lewis the Bavarian, King of Germany, 

'Libel of English Policy', 155-6 

Liberties, see Franchises 

Lichfield, Bishop of, 125, and see 
Walter Langton 

Limoges (France), 105 

Limousin, 123 

Lincoln, 36-40, 158; Bishop of, 251, and 
see Henry Beaufort, Robert Grosseteste, 
PhilipReptonJohnRussell; Cathedral, 
51, 53; diocese of, 137; Earl of, 249, 
and see Lacy, Thomas of Lancaster; 
parliaments at, 109, 113 

Lincolnshire, 18, 31, 39, 140, 222 

Lincoln's Inn, 134 

Lindsey, 31 

Linlithgow (West Lothian), 98 

Lionel of Antwerp, see Clarence 

Lister, Geoffrey, 146 

Literature, 26, 134-6, and see Chaucer, 

Little Wenham Hall (Suffolk), 27 

Liveries, see Bastard Feudalism 

Llandaff, Bishop of, 251 

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, 

Loans to Kings, 78-9, 120, 183, 211, 
229, 232-3 

Loire, river, 122-3 

Lollards, 131-2, 134, 173-7, 184, 194; 
see Wycliffe 

London, 23, 32-3, 37, 39, 115, 134-7, 
143-5, 149, 152-3, 155-7, 158-9, 160, 
175, 185, 188-9, 212-13, 218, 222-4, 
229, 238, 240; Blackfriars, 175; Cheap- 
side, 35; gilds, 35; Bishop of, see 
Courtenay; Guildhall, 159; Inns of 
Court, 134-5, Lombard Street, 33; 
Mercers' Company, 153; Mile End, 
143; Mint, 159; St Paul's, 54, 159, 170, 
173, 185; Savoy, 143, 185; Smithfield, 
143-5; Steelyard, 32; Temple Bar, 
159; Tower, 143, 159, 212, 222, 225 

Louis, Count of Flanders, 119-20 

Louis XI, King of France, 221-2, 234 

Louis XIV, King of France, 106 

Lucca and Lucchese, 33, 78-9 

Ludford, Battle of, 220 

Ludlow, Lawrence of, 34 

Luther, Martin, 184 

Lutterworth (Leicestershire), 170 

Luttrell Psalter, 55 

Lydgate, John, 149 

Lynn (Norfolk), 6, 32, 37, 40, 152, 

Lyons, Richard, 183-4, 229 

Madog ap Llywelyn, 93 


Maes Moydog, Battle of, 73, 93 

Magna Carta, 88, 103, 107-8, 112 

Magnates, 19-20, 24-30, 132-3, 160-7, 

237-42, 246-7 

Maine (France), 207, 213, 216 
Maintenance, 167 
Malory, Thomas, 164 
Malta, 154 
Maltote, 84, 107 
Man, Isle of, 98 
Manny, Walter, 75, 121, 162 
Manors, 6, 13-18, 20-4, 61, 142, 146-8; 

Manor-houses, 27; see Villeins 
March, Earls of, 142, 161, 193, 202, 

215; see Mortimer, Edward IV 
Marches, Scots, 28, 89, 100, 164, 193, 

247; Welsh, 12, 14, 18, 25, 27-8, 31, 

60-1, 89-94, 114-16, 175, 192-3, 225, 

Mare, Peter de la, 183, 241; Thomas 

de la, Abbot of St Albans, 145, 177 
Margaret, Queen, wife of Edward 1, 106 
Margaret of Anjou, Queen, 156, 204, 

207, 213, 216, 218-23, 231-2 
Margaret of Burgundy, sister of 

Edward IV, 222 

Margaret, the Maid of Norway, 94 
Marlowe, Christopher, 1 10 
Marsh (or Mershe), William atte, 143 
Martin V, Pope, 178-9 
Medici family, 154 
Melcombe Regis (Dorset), 137 
Melun (France), 203 
Mendip Hills, 151 
Merchant Adventurers, 153-5 
Merionethshire, 90, 93 
Methven (Perthshire), 98 
Middelburg (Netherlands), 153 
Middlesex, 88 
Midwinter, William, 149 
Milford Haven (Pembrokeshire), 193, 


Mining, 36 

Modus Tenendi Parliamentum, 85 
Moleyns. Adam, Bishop of Chichester, 

Molmen, 15 
Monks and monasteries, 45-6, 177-8; 

Dissolution of monasteries, 131; and 

see Benedictine Order, Cistercian Order 
Monmouthshire, 60, 114 
Montague, family, 161; William, Earl 

of Salisbury, 25, 117, 124; Thomas, 

Earl of Salisbury, 202, 206 
Montereau (France), 203 
Montfort, Eleanor de, 90-1; John de, 

Duke of Brittany, 121; Simon de, Earl 

of Leicester, 102 
Montgomery, Treaty. of, 89 
Montgomeryshire, 90 
More, Thomas, 214 

Morlaix, Battle of, 121 

Mortimer, family, 25, 114, 192-3. 

201-2; Edmund, 193; Roger, 89-90; 

Roger, Earl of March (temb. 

Edward H-III), 25, 101, 115-17, 124; 

Roger, Earl of March (temp. 

Edward III), 124; see March, Earls of 
Mortimer's Cross, Battle of, 220 
Morton, John, Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, 134 
Mose (Essex), 143 
Mowbray, family, 161; Thomas, Earl of 

Nottingham, Duke of Norfolk, 188-9, 

191; see Norfolk 

Najera, Battle of, 197 

Napoleon, 106 

Narbonne (France), 122 

Nefyn (Caernarvonshire), 73 

Netherlands, 153, 155, 159, 222, see 
Burgundy, Brabant, Flanders 

Neville, family, 100, 161, 163, 217-18, 
222-3, 225, 237, 247-8; George, Arch- 
bishop of York, 222-3; Gilbert, 66; 
Ralph, Earl of Westmorland, 190-1; 
Richard, Earl of Warwick (King- 
maker), 1 12, 166, 207, 2 10, 2 1 7, 219-gl, 
247, 252 

Neville's Cross, Battle of, 99, 121 

New Radnor, 18 

Newcastle upon Tyne, 36-7, 96; Truce 
of, 99 

Nibley (Gloucestershire), 23-4 

Nicholas, IV, Pope, 48, 76 

Norfolk, 6, 145, 166, 247-8; Duke of, 
133, 237-8, 247-9, see Mowbray; Earl 
of, 116, see Bigod 

Norham (Northumberland), 95 

Norman Conquest, 66, 89, 105, 1 16, 136 

Normandy, Duchy, 105, 121-2, 202-^, 

Northampton, 220; Earl of, see Bohun; 
Treaty of, 99, 117 

Northampton, John of, 157 

Northleach (Gloucestershire), 149, 181 

Northumberland, 25, 72, 98; Earls of. 
161, 165-6, 218, 249, see Percy 

North Walsham (Norfolk), 146 

Norwich, 36, 38, 42, 146, 151, 158, 160; 
Bishop of, 251, and see William Airmyn, 
Henry Despenser; Priory, 5 

Norwich, Juliana of, 1 77 

Nottingham, 188; Castle, 117; Earl of, 
see Mowbray 

Novgorod (Russia), 152 

Ockham, William of, 80, 169 
Ockwells (Berkshire), 165 
Oldcastle, John, 174-5, 202 
Oldhall, William, 166 
Omnium, Duke of, 27 



-d orders, 69, 

^ 229; Duke of, 
Md Orleans, 200-3, 207, 213, 216 
Ormond, Earls of, 101 
Otterburn, Battle of, 99 

221; Provisions of, 82, 85, . 12, U m- 
versitv 55-8, 80, 136, 168-71, 174-5, 
158, 180, J83; 

iVLzLKucuv^iJ- vrfiwwwQ'w, __,,,-__ 

Hall, 174; Magdalen College School, 
Oxfordshire, 22 

Philip IV, the Fair, King of France, 47, 

105-6, 119 

Philip VI, King of France, 118, 121 
Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, 

187-8, 196, 198, 200 
Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, 


Philippa of Hainault, Queen, 119, 182 
Philosophy, 56-8, 79-81, 168-71 
Philpot, John, 185,239-40 
Pickering (Yorkshire), 234 
Picquigny, Treaty of, 214, 223 
Piers Plowman, see Langland 
Pipe Rolls, 69 
Pisa, Council of, 178 
Plague, see Black Death 
Plymouth, 200 

3, 73, 122, 162, 202, 

, 203^, 206-7 230; 
Treaty of, 105; University, 44, 5b 

. l 
125-7, 159, 190-1, 250, and see 

Paston?f^iily and letters, 6, 162, 224 
248-9; John, 237-8; William, 137, 247 
Patay, Battle of, 206 
Paxton (Huntingdonshire), 66 
Payne, Peter, 174 
Peacock, Reginald, Bishop of Chichester, 


Pecham, John, Archbishop of Canter- 
bur^SS, 44, 48-50, 5<W, 92, 104, 109, 

Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile, 197 

Pelham family, 161 

Pembroke, Earl of, 112-13, 197, and see 
Herbert, Tudor 

Pembrokeshire, 225 

Pendley (Hertfordshire), 140 

25, 99-100, 161, 193, 

200, 5 

Earl of Northumberland, iao, M-, 

and see Northumberland, Earl of; 

Henry (Hotspur), 193; Thomas, Earl 

of Worcester, 190 
Perfeddwlad, 90 

Perpendicular style, see Architecture 
Peters, Alice, 162-3, 182, 184 
Pwth. 98 
Peruzzi Company, 34, 79, 120 

Peterborough, Abbey, 23; Soke of, 60 

Peter Lombard, 56 

Philip Augustus, King of France, 107 


Poitou (France), 123 
Pole, Michael de 

, rci ^ QA 

, e la, Earl of Suffolk, 34, 

187-9, 241; William de la, 32, 34, 79, 
120, 133, 149, 187; William de la, 
Earl and Duke of Suffolk, Chamber- 
lain, 206-7, 213, 216-17, 241-2 

Poll Taxes, 142-3, 184, 186, 198, 228, 

Pontefract Castle (Yorkshire), 113-14 

Popes and their relations with England, 
l?46-8, 50, 76, 83, 103, 106-1, 113, 
1 17, 170-1, 173, 178-9, 190, 198, 207, 
211-12, and see Benedict, Boniface, 
Clement, Gregory, Innocent, John, 

Population, 18, 132, 136-8, 146-7, 155, 
172, 184,230 

Portugal, 154, 186 

Prebends, 50 

Princes in the Tower, 214, 225 

rv^ 246, 251; Keeper of 
the, 70-1, 111, 244r-5, 251, and see 
William Airmyn, William Kilsby 

Provence, 30 

Puttock, Stephen, 17 

Qito Warranto, 65, 103-4 

Radcot Bridge, Battle of, 188 

Radnorshire, 89-90 

Ramsey Abbey (Huntingdonshire), 5o 

Raunds (Norfolk), 147 

Reading, Council at, 49 

Rectors, 42 

* 169-76, 184 

,36, 139,154 - 
Repton, Philip, Bishop of Lincoln, 174 
Retainer, Act of, 150, 250 

274 INDEX 

Retainers and retinues, see Bastard 

Revesby Abbey (Lincolnshire), 31 

Rheims (France), 206 

Rhine, river, 154; Rhineland, 106, 119 

Rhuddlan (Flintshire), 92; Castle, 93-4 

Rhys ap Maredudd, 92 

Riccardi Company, 33, 78-9 

Richard I, King, 65 

Richard II, Kin^, reign of, 185-92, 
197-9; and councils, 243-4; mentioned, 
4,5,99, 135, 138-9, 143, 146, 147, 152, 
153, 157, 159, 160, 161, 165, 171, 174, 
175, 178, 179, 184, 194, 196, 200, 214, 
215, 217, 237, 238, 239, 241, 245, 246 

Richard III, King, as Duke of 
Gloucester, 161, 220-1, 223-5, 241, 
249-50; as King, 214, 225-6, 234, 
249, 252 

Richmond, Earl of, see John of Brittany, 
Henry VII 

Rievaulx Abbey (Yorkshire), 23, 31 

Rivers, Earl, 134, 221, 224-5, 251 

Robert I, King of Scotland, see Bruce 

Robin of Redesdale, 222 

Rolle, Richard, 177 

Rome, 1, 44, 47-8, 176-9 

Romney Marsh, 18, 22, 41 

Roses, Wars of the, 4, 110, 164, 166-7, 
213-26, 227, 233, 246-7, 254 

Rouen (Normandy), 203, 204, 208 

Rous,John, 140-1 

Roxburgh (Scotland), 98 

Ruislip (Middlesex), 23 

Russell, John, Bishop of Lincoln, 252 

Rye (Sussex), 198 

St Albans (Hertfordshire), Abbey, 5, 
45, 145; Abbot of, 142, and see Thomas 
de la Mare; first battle of, 218; second 
battle of, 220 

St Andrews (Fifeshire), 97 

St George, Master James of, 93 

St German, Roger of, 66 

St Omer, 34 

Salisbury, 151, 158; Cathedral, 51; 
Earls of, see Montague, Thomas of 
Lancaster, Neville 

Saratoga, Battle of, 136 

Savage, Arnold, 239-41 

Scale of Perfection, 177 

Scales, Lord, 221-2 

Schism, Great, 173, 178, 198 

Scone, Stone of, 96 

Scotland, and its relations with England, 
2, 3, 66, 72, 74, 89, 94-100, 105-9, 
111-13, 115, 117-18, 121-2, 187, 193, 
220-1, 224; and see Alexander, Bruce, 

Scrope, William, Earl of Wiltshire, 190 

Sculpture, 54-5, 139 

Scutage, 66 

Seal, Great, 69 

Secretary, King's, 251 

Segrave, Nicholas de, 62 

Seine, river, 121,202 

Selby, Abbot of, 190 

Sens (France), 203 

Serfs and serfdom, see Villeins 

Sevenoaks (Kent), 134 

Sevenoaks, William, 134 

Severn, river, 90 

Shakespeare, William, 74, 213-15 

Sharp, Jack, of Wigmoreland, 175 

Sheen (Surrey), 178 

Sheep, see Wool 

Sherburn Indentures, 1 14 

Sheriffs, 38, 60, 63, 68-9, 75, 85, 156, 

188, 234, 237 

Shipton Moor, Battle of, 193 
Shrewsbury, 92; Earls of, 161, and see 

Talbot; Battle of, 193; parliament at, 


Shropshire, 60, 249 
Sicily, 2, 102 
Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, 


Sir Gawayn and the Grene Knight. 26 
'Sir Orfeo', 26 

Sluys (Flanders), 188; Battle of, 120 
Smyth, John, of Nibley, 23-4 
Snowdonia, 90, 92 
Soham (Cambridgeshire), 166 
Somerset, 139, 181; Dukes and Earls of, 

see Beaufort 

Somme, river, 121, 202 
Southampton, 33, 37, 149, 158, 160, 

201, 232 

Southwark (Surrey), 135 
Southwell Minster (Nottinghamshire), 


Soviet Revolution, 131 
Spain, 154, 163, 189, 199, 240 
Spalding Abbey (Lincolnshire), 37 
Spring, family, 152; Thomas, 133 
Stafford, family, 161; Henry, Duke of 

Buckingham, 224-5; Humphrey, Earl 

of Devon, 221-2 

Stamford (Lincolnshire), 37; parlia- 
ment at, 111 

Stamford Bridge, Battle at, 218, 248 
Stanley, Thomas, Lord, 224-5 
Staple and Company of the, 33-6, 79, 

119, 149-50, 154, 159, 183, 229, 250; 

Ordinance of the, 34, 126 
Stapledon, Walter, Bishop of Exeter, 

Treasurer, 69, 115 
Statute, of Gloucester, 65, 104; of 

Labourers, 126, 141-2, 156, 218; of 

Livery and Maintenance, 167; of 

Mortmain, 50, 66; on the Burning 

of Heretics (De Haeretico Comburendo), 

175; of Praemunire, 48, 172, 178, 212; 
of Provisors, 48, 126, 172, 178; of 
Qitia Emptores, 66-7; of Quo Warranty 
65, 104; of Rhuddlan, 92; of Treasons, 
124; of Westminster I, 65; of West- 
minster II, 66; of Winchester, 74, 144; 
of York, 82 

Stephen, King, 215 

Stepney (Essex), 159 

Stirling (Scotland), 98 

Stokesay Castle (Shropshire), 27, 34 

Stony Stratford (Buckinghamshire), 224 

Stour, river, 151 

Stourbridge (Cambridgeshire), 31 

Stow-on-the- Wold (Gloucestershire) , 

Stratford, John, Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, Chancellor, 71, 125 

Stratton, Adam de, 21 

Sturmy, William, 154 

Subsidies, see Taxation 

Sudbury, Simon, Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, Chancellor, 143 

Sudeley Castle (Gloucestershire), 165 

Suffolk, 116, 133, 145, 151, 181, 247-8; 
Dukes and Earls of, see Pole 

Surrey, Earl of, 61, 96-7, 111-12, 

Sutton (Surrey), 17 

Swinderby, William, 174 

Swynford, Katherine, 189 

Syon Abbey (Devonshire), 178 

Syria, 102 

Talbot, family, 161; John, Earl of 
Shrewsbury, 206-8 

Tattershall Castle (Lincolnshire), 165, 

Taxation, papal, 48-9, 76-7, 178-9; 
royal, 49, 68-71, 75-9, 83-8, 106-9, 
119-20, 126-7, 142-3, 151, 162, 173, 
183-6, 191, 194, 227-35, 240, 242 

Terumber, James, 152 

Tewkesbury (Gloucestershire), 163; 
Abbey, 53, 180; Battle of, 223, 225 

Thames, river, 38, 137, 143, 154, 159 

Thanet, Isle of, 22 

Theydon Garnon (Essex), 141 

Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Bucking- 
ham, Duke of Gloucester, 161, 185, 
187-90, 198, 244 

Tidman of Limburg, 32 

Tin, 31, 36, 154 

Tithes, 42 

Toulouse (France), 122-3 

Tournaments, 72-3, 124, 164 

Tours (France), 122 

Towns, 35-40, 156-60, 236 

Towton, Battle of, 220, 249 

Trade, see Commerce 

Treasurer, 69, 71, 81, 83, 111-12, 

INDEX 275 

244-5, and see Ralph Cromwell, Ex- 
chequer, Bishop of Exeter, Walter 
Langton, Bishop of Lichfield 

Tresham, William, 242 

Trojans, 26 

Trowbridge (Wiltshire), 152 

Troyes, Treaty of, 203 

Tudor, family, 4, 86, 161, 214, 234, 249, 
251-3; Edmund, father of Henry VII, 
225; Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, 225; 
Owen, grandfather of Henry VII, 

Tyler, Wat, 143-5, 157 

Ulster, Earl of, see Burgh 
Union, Act of (1536), 93 
Universities, 55-8 

Valence, William de, 98 

Van Eyck, Hubert and Jan, 139 

Vaughan, Thomas, 251 

Venice and Venetians, 138, 150, 154, 

Vere, family, 25, 27; Robert de, Earl of 

Oxford, Duke of Ireland, 187-9 
Verneuil, Battle of, 204, 206, 208 
Verney family, 161 
Vicars, 42 
Villages, 11-12, 26, 147-8, and see 

Manors; deserted, 7, 140-1 
Villeins and villeinage, 14-18, 59, 

142-8, 152 
Virgate, 12, 16 

Wakefield (Yorkshire), 12; Battle of, 

Wales, 2, 3, 7, 20, 73, 89-94, 192-3, 
225, 249; Prince of, see Edward I, 
Edward II, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, 
Owen Glyndwr, Henry V; and see 

Wallace, William, 97 

Walsingham, Thomas, 5 

Walton Ordinances, 125 

Walwayn, John, 6 

Walworth, William, 143, 157, 185, 239 

Wardrobe, King's, 70-1, 111-12 

Warfare, 4, 72-5, 122, 162-5, 208, and 
see Castles 

Warkworth Castle (Northumberland), 

Warwick, 27, 140, 163; Castle, 165; 
Chapel, 163, 180; Earls of, see 
Beauchamp, Neville 

Warwickshire, 24 

Wash, the, 18 

Waynflete, William, Bishop of Win- 
chester, 180 

Weald, 18, 36 

Wells, Cathedral, 35; Bishop of, 104, 
and see Robert Burnell 

2)6 INDEX 

Westminster, 61-3, 68-9, 96, 134, 159, 

190, 234, 251; Abbey, 51, 55, 170, 185; 

Hall, 138, 159, 175, 179, 183, 188; 

St Stephen's Chapel, 159; parliaments 

at, 185, 191 
Westmorland, 72 
Whittingham, Robert, 140 
Whittington, Richard (Dick), 157, 159, 

229, 240 

Wight, Isle of, 200 
Wigmore Castle (Herefordshire), 89 
Wilburton (Cambridgeshire), 16, 146 
William I, King, 61, 105 
Willoughby d'Eresby, Lord, 29 
Wilsnack (Poland), 177 
Wilton Diptych, 138 
Wiltshire, 18, 151, 161, Earl of, see 

Winchelsey, Robert, Archbishop of 

Canterbury, 44, 48, 86, 103, 107-8, 

Winchester, 37, 158; Bishops of, 18, 83, 

and see William Edington, William 

Waynflete, William of Wykeham; 

Cathedral, 138, 179-80; College, 

180-1, 183; diocese, 44, 211; St Giles's 

Fair, 31; St Swithun's Priory, 21 
Windsor, Castle, 37, 68, 183; College, 

178; St George's Chapel, 54 
Windsor, William of, 163 
Woodeaton (Oxfordshire), 140 
Woodville, family, 161, 222, 225-6; 

Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV, 222, 

Wool and wool trade, 23, 31-5, 39, 
77-9, 86-7, 106-9, 119-20, 126, 
149-51, 154, 229-30, and see Staple 

Worcester, Earl of, 251, and see Thomas 

Worcester, William of, 164 

Worcestershire, 249 

Wrawe, John, 145 

Wycliffe, John, 2, 131-2, 170-6, 183-6 

Wykeham, William of, Bishop of Win- 
chester, Chancellor, 69, 158, 173, 180, 

Wynford, William of, 180 

Yarmouth (Norfolk), 146 

Yevele, Henry, 179 

York, 37-8, 42, 44, 151-2, 158, 160; 
Archbishop of, 49, 179, 189, 251, and 
see John Kemp, George Neville; 
Cathedral, 138, 179; diocese and pro- 
vince, 43-4; parliaments at, 113-15, 
243; St Mary's Abbey, 45 

York, family, 161, 202, 214-26; Duchy, 
163; Edmund Langley, Earl of Cam- 
bridge, Duke of, 180, 182, 190-1, 
244-5; Edward, Duke of, 201-2; 
Richard, Duke of, 207, 210, 213, 
215-20, 241, 246, 252 

Yorkshire, 25, 31, 99, 112, 151-2, 191,