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Response to Review of Nobility and Kingship in Medieval England: The Earls and Edward I, 1272-1307

I am very grateful to Dr Bothwell for his conscientious review and for the many positive things he has said about my book. As a young scholar, it is with some trepidation that one reads a first review from a senior colleague and Dr Bothwell’s generosity is thus received with pleasure and a little relief.

Many of Dr Bothwell’s criticisms, especially on the topics and sources that are missing from the book, are valid and welcome. In mitigation I would say that a monograph of this kind is always likely to be less comprehensive than either author or audience might wish. There are always more things which one would like to have written about, but had I covered all those mentioned by Dr Bothwell the book would have been closer to 200,000 words than 120,000 and my editors would have been tearing their hair out! I do think, however, that I have taken greater care over my use of charter witness evidence than Dr Bothwell fears, while it is, perhaps, going a little far to suggest that a single mention of the tripartite view of medieval society constitutes a belief in its applicability that excludes all others.

There is one part of the review, however, that needs a more detailed response. I always expected my discussion of bastard feudalism to attract most comment, in particular my detailed comparison between bastard feudalism in the late 14th and 15th centuries and the circumstances of the 13th century. I anticipated, however, that criticism would either come from late medievalists who took issue with my presentation of the 15th-century situation or from my colleagues in the 13th century who wished to argue either that Peter Coss’s (1a) view that there was no material difference between the 13th and 15th centuries or that discussion of bastard feudalism is unnecessary and outdated.(2a)

Dr Bothwell, however, criticises my reliance on 13th- and 15th-century material suggesting that ‘one needs to take further into account the developments of the 14th century’. Unlike him, I would suggest that there is an unfortunate gap in the historiography of noble power in the localities in the 14th century between the work of Maddicott and Phillips and that of the later 14th and 15th centuries starting with Walker, all of which I discuss extensively.(3a) Beyond some brief discussion in Holmes’s Estates of the Higher Nobility and Nigel Saul’s studies of the county communities of Gloucestershire and Sussex (4a), there is nothing in print to compare with the numerous detailed studies of noble power after 1377 or the work of 13th- and early 14th-century scholars. That is not to say, of course, that the nobility have been neglected by scholars of Edward III, but the focus of Ayton, Fowler and Green, for instance, has been primarily on their military role, while Dr Bothwell himself has documented their relationship with the king through the prism of patronage.(5a) This work, good as it is, has not focused on power in the localities in the way that later 14th and 15th-century historians have done.

Given this, it is natural that my book ‘is primarily comparative rather than developmental’ in its discussion of bastard feudalism, and is not able to offer detailed commentary on the developments of the 14th century. My purpose was to tackle 13th-century assumptions that our period is the same as the 15th in terms of noble power and to offer some early thoughts about how we might have got, in Dr Bothwell’s words, from ‘point a’ to ‘point b’. It is for 14th-century scholars to fill the gap and this book is meant in part to act as a spur for this to happen. I have made some preliminary research on Henry, earl of Lancaster’s (d.1345) affinity in the book (pp. 130–1) and intend to write more in the future on the Lancastrian affinity from the 1320s to the 1340s, while the work of Christine Carpenter just published and her Ford Lectures in 2016 on the 14th century will hopefully stimulate more detailed work on Edward III’s nobility by scholars of that reign.(6a)


  1. P. R. Coss, ‘Bastard feudalism revised’, Past and Present 125 (1989), 27–64.Back to (1a)
  2. D. Crouch, The English Aristocracy, 1070–1272: a social transformation (New Haven, CT, and London, 2011), pp. 150–9, esp. n. 75.Back to (2a)
  3. J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 1307–1322: a study in the reign of Edward II (Oxford, 1970); J. R. S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, 1307–1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II (Oxford, 1972); S. Walker, The Lancastrian Affinity, 1361–99 (Oxford, 1990).Back to (3a)
  4. G. A. Holmes, The Estates of the Higher Nobility in Fourteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1957); N. E. Saul, Knights and Esquires: the Gloucestershire gentry in the fourteenth century (Oxford, 1981); Scenes From Provincial Life: Knightly Families in Sussex, 1280–1400 (Oxford, 1986).Back to (4a)
  5. A. Ayton, Knights and Warhorses: Military Service and the English Aristocracy under Edward III (2nd edition, Woodbridge, 1999); A. Ayton and P. Preston, The Battle of Crecy, 1346 (Woodbridge, 2007); K. Fowler, The King’s Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, 1310–1361 (New York, 1969); D. Green, The Black Prince (revised edition, The History Press, 2008); J. S. Bothwell, Edward III and the English Peerage: Royal Patronage, Social Mobility and Political Control in 14th-century England (Woodbridge, 2004).Back to (5a)
  6. C. Carpenter, ‘Bastard feudalism in the fourteenth century’, in Kings, Lords and Men in Scotland and Britain, 1300–1625: Essays in Honour of Jenny Wormald, ed. S Boardman and Julian Goodacre (Edinburgh, 2014).Back to (6a)