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How did the kings of England and France govern their kingdoms? This volume, the product of a ten-year international project, brings together specialists in late medieval England and France to explore the multiple mechanisms by which monarchs exercised their power in the final centuries of the Middle Ages. Collaborative chapters, mostly co-written by experts on each kingdom, cover topics ranging from courts, military networks and public finance; office, justice and the men of the church; to political representation, petitioning, cultural conceptions of political society; and the role of those excluded from formal involvement in politics. The result is a richly detailed and innovative comparison of the nature of government and political life, seen from the point of view of how the king ruled his kingdom, but bringing to bear the methods of social, cultural and economic history to understand the underlying armature of royal power.
The title of this chapter may sound provocative. It must be clear from the start that I have no intention of excluding Scotland from the small number of West European monarchies which deserve to be considered as modern states in the making: that is to say, states deeply immersed in intensive warfare, involving the building of an efficient fiscal system and the development of representative institutions able to provide the necessary political legitimation and consensus without which the rise of these socio-political structures would be impossible. However, although all these elements were present in late medieval England and the Scottish king spoke the language of the modern state early on, the emergence of this political structure remained a contentious issue in Scotland: the struggles between the ‘Royal Stewarts’ and other aristocratic lineages such as the different branches of the Douglas family reached a degree of violence exceeding accepted standards, not to speak of the situation in the Highlands.
However, what is at stake here is not Scotland per se. Rather, it is the English perspective, the English view of Scotland as a kingdom and an independent state. In his seminal study of fifteenth-century English diplomacy, John Ferguson, following the path of his teacher, G. P. Cuttino, finds no room for Scotland in his survey of the English diplomatic machinery. In the tabulation of the data which he included in his study of English medieval diplomacy, 417 missions were sent abroad in the name of the king of England under the reign of Henry VI.
In 1415 Henry V, king of England, invaded northern France. In the east, two new powers, Muscovy and, above all, the Ottoman Empire, were putting eastern Europe to the sword. The 'modern states' of western Christendom were characterised by the provision of substantial revenues derived from national taxation raised by consent. Dialogue, political intercourse between prince and subjects, was essential to the modern state. Both theory and practice needed adapting to the particular political society of each state on at least two levels. Epitomising power, witnessed by an attentive audience, they became complex rituals, given tangible expression as dramatic presentations overlaid with symbolism. Speeches, in particular sermons, could convey unequivocal declarations of political thought. Clerics and ecclesiastics who had completed their university studies in the faculty of arts had become acquainted with the political works of Antiquity. History, like politics, was being transformed by literature; the success of Jean Froissart's work in aristocratic and bourgeois circles is testimony of this.