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1 - ‘If I do you wrong, who will do you right?’ Justice and Politics During the Personal Rule of Henry III

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2021

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Summary

One of Christine Carpenter's many contributions to medieval historiography has been to encourage the study of law as a social and political force. The law was vital to landholders since it guaranteed their property rights and land was the essential basis of their social standing and political power. Legal sources are equally important for historians, providing ‘by far and away the best source for events in the localities’. Although Carpenter cautions against the unsophisticated use of legal records, in Locality and Polity she demonstrates how they can be employed to reconstruct local power structures and politics. Her work has also stressed that the increasing importance of royal justice had implications for royal power and the relationship between the king and his landed subjects. The king had become so central to the functioning of the polity that a tyrannous or merely weak ruler posed a danger to all his subjects. This chapter will explore one stage in the pre-history of the later medieval polity, focusing on the expansion of royal justice in the mid-thirteenth century. First, it will demonstrate the increasing business of the royal courts and how this changed the nature of the relationship between local landholders and the crown. Next, it will investigate the interactions of Essex landholders with the royal judicial system in the decade before 1258 to assess whether they had any particular reasons for dissatisfaction with Henry's rule, which may help to explain the support of local landholders for the reform movement and later Simon de Montfort. Finally, it will use one case-study, the dispute between Hugh fitzRichard of Elmstead and Warin de Munchenesy over the manor of Thorrington, to illustrate some of the practical results of the expansion of justice.

The provision of justice and maintenance of order had always been a key responsibility of government; indeed ‘law and order’ remains a powerful political theme today. According to the contemporary legal treatise attributed to the royal justice Henry de Bracton, ‘to this end is a king made and chosen, that he do justice to all men’. This duty was made explicit in the coronation oath and symbolised on the obverse of the great seal, showing the king seated with sword (later sceptre) and orb.5 While medieval kingship was inextricably tied up with justice and the maintenance of order, the institutions and structures by which this justice was delivered and order enforced changed dramatically.

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Political Society in Later Medieval England
A Festschrift for Christine Carpenter
, pp. 15 - 37
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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