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In the 1430s the continuing war with France saw England put under intense financial pressure, whether in the form of national taxation or the loans demanded of individuals. A major loan had been sought for the campaign of 1430 and in October that year the royal council recommended yet more borrowing, with a commission launched in the following March. Another commission, to treat for a ‘considerable loan’, was named on 26 February 1434, but on 5 May the royal council heard that the outcome had been disappointing. The surety, the royal jewels, was not considered good enough: ‘men eschew to lene therupon as may also clerely appere by the report of your forseide commissioners’. The next nationwide commission for loans was not to be named until March 1439, and in the interim the government fell back on targeted requests for specified sums. There was a flurry of such activity in May 1435, after the announcement of the proposed Congress of Arras, due to convene on 1 July. On 13 May the council pressed the feoffees of the duchy of Lancaster for a loan, and on 28 May letters went out to towns seeking help with the costs not just of the embassy itself but of ‘a grete armee to holde the felde’. This was evidently the medieval equivalent of a bulk mailing. One of the letters, sent to Coventry, was enrolled in the city's Leet Book and has been in print since 1907. Another copy survives in the Beverley archives and the wording, apart from the sum requested (Beverley was asked for 200 marks, Coventry for 500), is virtually identical. More revealing, no attempt seems to have been made to personalise the address clause beyond changing the name of the town. The twelve governors (or keepers) who ruled Beverley thus found themselves addressed as the mayor and bailiffs, a solecism that probably did not impress them.
Coventry resolved to give £100 and the surviving list of contributors confirms that this was raised and duly despatched. It seems probable that this was the £100 granted by ‘the mayor and men’ of Coventry, which appears in letters patent of 9 July 1435 promising named lenders repayment from the revenues to be received in the year beginning Martinmas (11 November) 1435.
This essay reconstructs a story, of which the starting point is the woman's voice quoted in the title. The words are not, as might immediately be supposed, those of a woman betrayed by a lover, but of a woman defrauded by her son – and a son of her blood rather than a stepson. The voice we are hearing is that of Jane (or Joan) Stapleton who, on 18 April 1518, began to make her will in her chamber in the monastery of Hailes in Gloucestershire and set out the story in the hope that her executors might be able to correct the wrong done to her. In one respect, therefore, her story runs against the theme of this collection: Jane did not turn to the law for redress.
Late medieval England was a notoriously litigious society, at least among the land-owning classes. The complexity of tenure, particularly when entail and enfeoffment to use entered the equation, meant that title to land could often be open to challenge. The sons of the gentry found it worth spending time at the Inns of Court, not with the intention of becoming practising lawyers but to acquire the knowledge (and the social contacts) that might come in useful if they needed to face or mount such challenges.
What was life really like in England in the later Middle Ages? This comprehensive introduction explores the full breadth of English life and society in the period 1200-1500. Opening with a survey of historiographical and demographic debates, the book then explores the central themes of later medieval society, including the social hierarchy, life in towns and the countryside, religious belief, and forms of individual and collective identity. Clustered around these themes a series of authoritative essays develop our understanding of other important social and cultural features of the period, including the experience of war, work, law and order, youth and old age, ritual, travel and transport, and the development of writing and reading. Written in an accessible and engaging manner by an international team of leading scholars, this book is indispensable both as an introduction for students and as a resource for specialists.
This book is intended as a comprehensive and accessible account of the society of England between the early thirteenth and the late fifteenth centuries. The dates 1200–1500 conventionally describe the ‘later middle ages’ in England, but are obviously not impermeable: some of the contributions that follow necessarily take certain matters back to the eleventh and forward to the sixteenth centuries. The book is organised around five large chapters which provide analyses of the historiographical background and the debate about demography (chapter 1), the social hierarchy and attitudes towards it (chapter 2), the experience of life in towns (chapter 6) and in the countryside (chapter 7), the forms of religious belief current in the society (chapter 11) and the other kinds of identity, individual and collective, that built on and helped to inform social organisation (chapter 15). Around these chapters is a series of shorter, more specialised studies that develops further some of the major themes from war to work, law to literacy, consumerism to magic.
The book thus aims to respond to a new agenda of social history which has extended the range of the sub-discipline from a preoccupation with the material existence of the lower orders to include a range of non-material aspects of life including attitudes to work and to crime, the development of ideas about nationality, and the existence (or otherwise) of self-consciousness or ‘individualism’.
All historical boundaries are problematic. The dates chosen as the limits for this volume, 1200–1500, are arbitrary – as the choice of round numbers was designed to signal and as was stressed in the Preface. None of the contributors would claim that these three centuries represent a self-contained period. The exploration of their themes has meant looking back to earlier developments that were still working themselves out when this period opens, but also glancing forward to suggest how changes continued to unfold in the next century. No-one is in the business of trying to identify some medieval/modern divide, and although, through convention and convenience, most of us continue to use the term ‘the late middle ages’ it is with no intention of implying that the period should be characterised as liminal, let alone autumnal.
One consequence of this perspective is that the Black Death, as in other recent work, is denied its traditional status as the earthquake that reduced medieval certainties to rubble and allowed the building of the modern world. This model was firmly established by Cardinal Gasquet in the first major English study of the plague, published in 1893. Gasquet was particularly interested in the possibility that the plague might explain the Protestant Reformation, but he was also convinced that it brought about a complete social revolution as well. Other historians have linked it more specifically with the rise of capitalism, individualism, the middle classes and the modern state.