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2 - An age of deference

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Peter Coss
Affiliation:
Cardiff University
Rosemary Horrox
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
W. Mark Ormrod
Affiliation:
University of York
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Summary

THE SOCIAL ORDER

At the beginning of the great treatise on the laws and customs of England known as Bracton, the anonymous early thirteenth-century author attempted a classification of persons. His first and most basic division is between the free and the unfree, freedom being ‘the natural power of every man to do what he pleases, unless forbidden by law or force’. A second division is between male, female and hermaphrodite. Yet another classification is between those who are in their own power (potestas) and those who are in the power of another. This power may be paternal, that is to say the power of the father, or it may be seigniorial power, which Bracton regards here as essentially power over bondmen (the unfree). This division is complicated by the fact that there are also people who may be said to be in the care rather than the power of others, and by wives, who are ‘under the rod’.

These, then, are the basic divisions of mankind. But Bracton highlights a further difference. There are some men of great eminence who rule over others. In spiritual matters these are the pope and his archbishops, bishops and other lesser prelates. In temporal matters they are the king, earls and barons, magnates or vavasours – men, that is, ‘of great dignity’ – and knights.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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