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Response to Review of Lordship and Faith: the English Gentry and the Parish Church in the Middle Ages

I am very grateful to Robert Swanson for writing such a very generous, thoughtful and wide-ranging review of my book: a review, indeed, which is altogether more generous than the book deserves. Most of what Professor Swanson says relates to matters which I have touched upon but perhaps treated too briefly, and which he believes would have benefited from lengthier discussion. It is certainly the case that I was conscious at times of the provisional nature of what I said: just as I was conscious, as most academic authors are, of the constraints imposed by the word limit set by the publisher, in my case the Oxford University Press. I am not in the least disposed to criticise the limit given to me, which I think was a perfectly reasonable one; and most purchasers – or prospective purchasers – of the book would probably say that the book is quite long enough, and so expensive enough, as it is.  In general, my view is that a book is both more effective and more readable for being crisp, sharply focused and to the point.

Nonetheless, I would be in complete agreement with Professor Swanson that I was guilty of failing to give sufficient attention to definition of that key word, ‘parish’. After some 30 years of writing about the gentry, I was well aware of the importance of identifying to readers’ satisfaction just precisely who that group were. As a relative newcomer to parish studies, however, I was perhaps insufficiently sensitive to the need to spell out more clearly what sort of institution I understood the parish to be. In some places, as in chapter 11, I was thinking of it principally in jurisdictional terms, while in others, in chapter 13 for example, I was dealing with it largely as a body of people. If I’ve not been as explicit as I should have been, however, I don’t think that the attentive reader will have any difficulty in picking up what my understanding is in any particular chapter as he or she goes through. Nor, I think, will he or she have any difficulty in identifying the main arguments which I’ve put forward in the book which, if they are ‘stimulating’ and ‘trail-blazing’, as Professor Swanson maintains, I hope are also evidentially well supported.