Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Notions of order and law were inseparably allied in later medieval England. Order, both the public order of civil society and the domestic order of the household, depended upon the maintenance of hierarchy through the conscientious discharge of their obligations by every rank of society. The nature of these obligations was clearly set out by John Stafford, archbishop of Canterbury, in his address to the parliament of 1433. The magnates of the realm must work to maintain unity and concord within the kingdom; the knights and middling men (mediocres) should administer justice with equity; it was the people's part to obey the king's will and his laws. Disobedience of whatever kind, whether of servants towards their masters or of wives towards their husbands, was a kind of treason, the first step down the road towards general insurrection. Law was the means by which this authoritarian ideal of social harmony was regulated and enforced, acting like the sinews of the physical body as it turned ‘a group of men … into a people’. In talking of law, theorists distinguished between divine, natural and positive law, but in the case of each, the purpose of the law was agreed to be declarative: it disclosed an existing state of justice. Actions and decisions that were against justice and universal right (commun droit) could not, therefore, be considered legal.