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3 - Local Government in Warwickshire and Worcestershire under Edward II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2021

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Summary

In the mid-twentieth century, K. B. McFarlane dramatically revised our understanding of the late-medieval nobility and its interaction with the king, arguing that, for the most part, the relationship between them was mutually symbiotic, and focused around the provision of stability and order in the localities. McFarlane’s many followers have studied both individual members of the nobility and local society in general. The most comprehensive study to have come in McFarlane’s wake remains Christine Carpenter's magisterial Locality and Polity, published in 1992. In this book, Carpenter both dissected local society in fifteenth-century Warwickshire and examined the magnates whose affinities played a central role in its governance; she did all this in the context of national politics. When things broke down locally, she showed, it was either because the king was failing to provide leadership at the centre, leading to instability across the realm (as McFarlane had argued), or because individual nobles were simply not up to the job on the ground.

But what was happening at the start of the period covered by McFarlane’s research? Here the historiography is less fully developed, and there is much less clarity on the relationship between aristocratic power, local office, royal policy and local order. In the late 1980s, work on the thirteenth century tended to invoke the idea of rivalry between king and magnates locally, which seemingly resulted in disorder. More recently, in work on Edward I, and on the Beauchamp earls of Warwick between 1268 and 1315, I have argued that the situation in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries was actually somewhat similar to that in the fifteenth century. Although ‘bastard feudal’ connections between local men, including royal officials, and magnates in the thirteenth century were more limited than later, where they existed they seem, in the final years of Edward I’s reign at least, to have had a stabilising effect on society. It should be emphasised that the growth of such connections did not mean that the king withdrew from (or was somehow pushed out of ) local government: far from it. First, the royal judicial system remained the focus for most litigants, and the common law grew and grew in popularity. Secondly, aside from the routine elements of government that were, by 1300, extensive, Edward I (like the best of his fifteenth-century counterparts) made essential ad hoc interventions in the localities.

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Political Society in Later Medieval England
A Festschrift for Christine Carpenter
, pp. 55 - 73
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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