Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN: 521862673X; 341pp.; Price: £50.00
King Alfred's University College, Winchester
Date accessed: 18 June, 2021
Professor Coss has written a splendid analysis of the changing aristocracy of the two hundred years after 1150 that will be required reading for the next century or so. What he has also attempted is even more bold and original, nothing more nor less than to explain the evolution of the English gentry. From the Dark Ages into the nineteenth century and beyond all European countries have possessed a noble elite. England differed from its neighbours, each with a single broad noblesse, because its aristocracy were divided between a numerically restricted, titled nobility, who sat in the House of Lords, and the gentry, who were merely genteel and eligible for election to the Commons. The gentry were thus 'a kind of lesser nobility' whom, as K. B. McFarlane long ago suggested, were what remained when the parliamentary baronage were defined in the fourteenth century. Professor Nigel Saul has traced the emergence of ranks within the gentry. The present reviewer discerned changes in nomenclature rather than in numbers and in composition between the magnates, barons, and knights of the Norman era and the parliamentary peerage, knights, esquires and gentlemen of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. To argue that the English gentry were 'formed between the mid-thirteenth and the mid-fourteenth century' (abstract, p. iii), as Coss does, is therefore controversial. If his important book is indeed 'the first sustained attempt to explore the origins of the gentry and to account for its contours and peculiarities as a social formation' (abstract, p. iii), it is not likely to enjoy universal acceptance.
Coss is especially well equipped for such an ambitious project. His own research on thirteenth-century Warwickshire stimulated his hypothesis of 'a crisis of the knightly class' and generated both a massive edition of early records of Coventry and a monograph on aristocratic society 1180-1280. He has written both on the medieval knight and lady and piloted his current thesis in the journal Past and Present.(1) Warwickshire often features in his examples and footnotes and so too do his early papers, on the knightly crisis itself, on contemporary terminology, bastard feudalism, and the diffusion of ideas, on occasion adapted or restated in the face of valid criticisms. He ranges across five centuries, expounds convincingly on topics as varied as Anglo-Saxon honour, exemptions from office, knightly seals, and the emergence of heraldry, and deploys as appropriate (and critically) the most up-to-date academic literature. His discussions of recent historiography are especially clear and illuminating. Coss the innovator, hypothesiser, and controversialist is underpinned by Coss the meticulous researcher, analyst, and open-minded searcher for truth in what is in many ways an exemplary and undoubtedly far-reaching scholarly monograph.
The term gentry as commonly used by historians, so Coss argues, is a construct that historians have applied loosely to rather different societies. Any particular model may not fit a specific society, yet a single definition nevertheless remains desirable, even if Coss rejects as unsatisfactory several devised by previous historians. Contemporary usage, of 'gentilesse' circa 1240 and 'gentleman' in 1413, respectively postdate and antedate the phenomenon itself. 'It seems certain that gentility was widely felt and articulated within society long before legislation was in place to tell us so'.(p. 4) To define the gentry as lesser landowners is also unsatisfactory, both because the qualifying income of £20 was too restrictive and because Rosemary Horrox long ago pushed Alan Everitt's pseudo- or urban gentry back into the central middle ages. The mere holding of crown office is also too vague to be useful. Neither the three medieval estates, nor heraldry, nor even the notion of an aristocracy that encompasses both nobility and gentry are useful touchstones. Instead Coss offers four criteria, all of which must be satisfied before the gentry can be said to have emerged: his book is really a commentary on these criteria and demonstrates how and when they were achieved. 'If the meaning of gentry is obvious', he tartly writes, 'it is certainly not obvious from our sources'.(p. 7)
What distinguishes the gentry are four facets of its 'collective territoriality': 'collective identity'; status gradations; public office-holding; and collective authority over the people. The gentry, Coss asserts, have always expressed themselves collectively through national and/ or local organs. It was crucial that they ranked themselves in horizontal bands rather than vertically by ties of lordship. 'There can be no doubt that collective responsibility for the administration of justice is an important facet of the gentry' and that it was their way of exercising 'social power'.(pp. 10-11) Coss conceives of the gentry therefore as a type of lesser nobility, based on landholding, but accommodating townsmen and professionals. It was a territorial elite that exercised public authority in the locality and that
seeks to exercise collective social control over the populace on a territorial basis, reinforcing individual status and power . It has a collective identity, and collective interests which necessitate the existence of some forum, or interlocking fora, for their articulation[.] (p. 11)
Angevin legal reforms and the 'regular petitioning' to parliament of late thirteenth-century county communities were important preconditions, but it was the explosion of commissions around 1300 that was 'in large measure' the cause of the gentry. 'The first half of the fourteenth century was crucial in terms of the development of collective control over the populace'.(p. 16) Judicial authority was the crucial source 'of the social control without which income and status, that is to say lordship, could not be assured'.(ibid.) It was also at this time that county sentiment and territoriality in all its aspects were consolidated.
The first chapter sets out Coss' argument that the gentry emerged around 1300. The second chapter, 'The Roots of the Gentry', discredits alternative hypotheses that the gentry originated earlier, before the Norman Conquest or alongside the legal reforms of Henry II. Both these periods witnessed some of the distinctive characteristics of the gentry and established some of the foundations for the gentry, yet, so Coss argues, no gentry had yet emerged. Thus the code of honour, gradations of rank, endogamous marriage, and the manorial system that Blair and Gillingham identified in Anglo-Saxon England did indeed contribute to the emergence of 'a broad seigneurial class' (p. 29), that was already characterised by hall-house and proprietary church. But Anglo-Saxon 'society was dominated by vertical lines of association'(p. 31), and Anglo-Saxon England was a state of the weak Carolingian type that lacked the widespread public offices and powerful assemblies of the thirteenth-century gentry. Neither the local public office nor powerful assemblies of the thirteenth century yet existed. Anglo-Saxon county courts were not representative and were dominated by bishops and magnates.
'There can be no doubt whatsoever that the concept of nobility was widening and deepening in twelfth-century England' (p. 35), Coss emphatically asserts. It was under Henry II that Hugh Thomas has identified many features familiar later, such as bastard feudalism, bastard feudal perversions of justice, county solidarity, and service to the crown. To these Coss adds heritability of land and primogeniture, the development of toponymic surnames, hereditary heraldry, chivalry, the restriction of the title dominus to knights and the formal dubbing of knights, and the proliferation of seals amongst even the petty knights (milituli). An exclusive knighthood was being born. Horizontal ties become more visible. 'Heraldry belongs to a highly aristocratic world', he writes. 'A fully chivalric knighthood was born'.(p. 37)
At this stage Coss seems to have proved the case for a twelfth-century gentry. And yet it is not enough for him. 'The power of lordship remained extremely strong', he laments.(p. 40) 'The most significant form of political organisation in England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was', he approvingly quotes Crouch, '"a form of power focused on a discrete region and a dominant personality who sought to control it"'. Here horizontal ties have been elevated above being an accompaniment or alternative to lordship, to a development from lordship and a succession to it that are essential prerequisites for Coss' definition of the gentry. Such an argument appears both perverse and anachronistic. Also, of course, twelfth-century aristocrats had not yet fulfilled the thirteenth-century criteria that Coss feels essential to the gentry.
Thirty years ago Coss postulated a crisis of the knightly class in the thirteenth century.(2) His case for an economic crisis is untenable, he now concedes, but the 'knightly class' was nevertheless transformed. The number of knights fell during the thirteenth century, from perhaps 5000 to a quarter of that number, as military service declined and the costs of knighthood both in time and money increased. Most families of milituli gave up being knighted. They thereby resigned themselves to reduced status - presumably reluctantly, since knighthood carried a social cachet and 'few people relish downward mobility'.(p. 95) Those who still opted to become knights became an exclusive elite of those with coats of arms, fully conversant with 'the panoply of ideas surrounding chivalry' that they shared with the magnates, with whom they were associated most memorably at the 1306 Feast of the Swans. 'In sum, there is abundant evidence to illustrate both the exclusivity and the binding force of knighthood in and around the time of Edward I'.(p. 146) This 'realisation of a more exclusive knightly class' was a fundamental change, of 'momentous importance in the history of gentility', a crisis of a different kind, and 'an important stage in the development of the lesser nobility and a significant step towards the formation of the English gentry'.(pp. 70, 108)
The Angevin legal reforms that had placed almost all knights on juries, which however took up little of their time, had nevertheless converted very few into trusted agents of the state. A. B. White's notion of 'self-government at the king's command' (3) has been pushed too far back in time and is applied anachronistically to the thirteenth century: 'The result is that an embryo has been mistaken for a mature organism, that is to say the gentry'.(p. 44) Not yet a cohesive class capable of pressing their interests nationally, rather ranged under (and perhaps represented) by their lords, early-thirteenth-century knights seldom attended county courts, which were certainly not forums of debate, and sought not to influence the crown but to protect themselves negatively against royal intervention. It was the wars of Edward I that created more tasks to be performed, that caused an 'explosion of commissions' of array, subsidy, and the peace, and that brought the shires under the rule of 'amateur landlord-magistrates' that endured until 1889 and beyond. By 1307 most knights held such 'major local office'. As partners in county government, they had royal authority to control their tenants; and as county communities they petitioned together to parliament. The percolation down to the esquires and eventually to mere gentlemen of their knightly culture and its symbolism, such as heraldic seals, crystallised the gentry into an elite group clearly demarcated from peerage and peasantry alike.
This lengthy survey undoubtedly fails to represent adequately the subtlety, tenacity, and virtuosity of Coss' arguments. He successfully substantiates most of the developments he reveals. It can be no surprise that Coss is at his most magnificent and most convincing for the era within which he is an acknowledged master. Appropriately demanding to read, his highly academic book deserves to be re-read and re-read, as this reviewer has done, new insights emerging on each occasion from both text and footnotes.
What is much less certain however is whether his findings deserve the significance he attaches to them. Coss asserts his own arguments and dismisses those of others more readily than the evidence permits. He appears to locate many decisive changes much earlier in time than would the historians of later eras: the gentry rule over the localities, effective county communities, and the substitution of intra-class relations for feudal or bastard feudal lordship are obvious examples. The explosion of commissions was surely ephemeral, the experience of particular war-time generations, even if never fully reversed. Edward I's commissioners certainly had less to do than their more numerous fifteenth-century counterparts, still less the Tudor JPs administering stacks of statutes in week-long quarter sessions and almost full-time out of court. If only then were the inactive drones weeded out, in office for prestige rather than service, if many fifteenth-century commissions and most commissioners were inoperational, what evidence has Coss that appointments equated to actual activity around 1300? Was it yet necessary for local standing and material security to hold royal office? Two centuries later Richmond's John Hopton famously did not. If representation had to be expressed through county institutions, such expressions need not indicate county sentiment. It is telling here how little evidence of active representation even Derek Hirst could find under the early Stuarts and how self-interested and negative were the motives Conrad Russell has attributed to them as officeholders. There were unquestionably more horizontal than vertical ties in all periods and the former did ultimately supersede the latter, but surely long after 1350. Even for the fifteenth century, few historians accept Christine Carpenter's argument that witnessing deeds was as potent a tie as retaining. All of Coss' knights were lords, all his gentry were masters, employers, and heads of households, and all commanded men, as did their successors into the seventeenth century and beyond. Lordship over the gentry and by the gentry had centuries yet to run.
Given Coss' definition of the gentry and criteria for the gentry, which were designed to fit what he perceived as the mature model of his own period, it is not surprising that he has successfully traced and even sometimes explained the emergence of these criteria by that date. Whether his definition and criteria are the right ones, however, is a very different matter. He makes only the most superficial of comparisions with what follows. At one level, Coss is highly prescriptive. All his chosen criteria have to be fulfilled for the gentry class to exist: late in the thirteenth century, when most but not quite all are, he prefers to write of a proto-gentry. There is surely much to be said for the definition of the gentry more broadly as a lesser aristocracy that existed at any time between the late Saxon and Victorian eras and yet underwent considerable evolution and development in between. The continuities that Coss himself reveals from the pre-conquest and Angevin eras look more significant than any differences. Since rank and status at all times depended on command of manpower and wealth, which derived principally from land, surely aristocrats before 1250 could remark the differences in local standing that resulted just as decisively as did their counterparts in 1565, Peter Laslett's early modern villagers, or Richard Gough at Myddle in 1698? Even the development of exclusive knighthood may not have been such a profound change. There were certainly more gentry families circa 1500 than knights circa 1200. Many families worth £20 a year chose to be distrained rather than accept promotion. If their assessment of the pros and cons - an assessment shared by most of their peers - placed material prosperity and survival ahead of status, as Coss indicates, it also demonstrates that knighthood was not worth much pain. Most heirs of milituli surely retained such other aristocratic attributes as leisure, hospitality, and ideology as Chaucer's Franklin evidently did. A generation later he would have counted as a gentleman. Some who paid fines to avoid knighthood accepted it when really honourable, on the field of battle or at royal hands: witness all those northerners who had paid their fines and yet accepted knighthood on the Scottish campaigns of 1481-2. Furthermore Coss' 'knightly class' is his own construct: it was not a class at all, but rather an intermediate (albeit significant rung) within a broader English aristocracy.
At another level, the choice of criteria is contentious. Is it true that 'magnates were always trying to make their power truly territorial'?(p. 41) The evidence often suggests not. Did the gentry really seek (or need to seek or feel the need to seek) to control the populace territorially? Here, as elsewhere, Coss asserts what appears a somewhat tendentious Marxism. It certainly is not demonstrable that via control over their tenants, judicial authority gave the gentry the material wealth without which they were nothing, nor that this was particularly bastard feudal or undesirable. For almost any later historian the gentry was especially a hereditary caste. Early modernists would surely assert that a gentleman does not work with his hands. Trade is ignoble, it was often declared into the eighteenth century. The One-Class Society - an undivided aristocracy - and the essentially rural values that Laslett identified in a England that contained pseudo-gentry seem as valid for Coss' era as the seventeenth century that he was writing about. An aristocratic lifestyle was essential both for Sir Thomas Smyth and K. B. McFarlane. Coss' argument does not appear to allow for the numerous barons (however insignificant) whose heirs did not become fourteenth-century peers, nor for what happened to those families that abandoned knighthood without sinking into the peasantry.
In rebuffing those un-named historians (including the present reviewer) who stand for long-term continuities, Coss has argued for momentous changes. 'Admittedly, there are many continuities; but equally, there is hardly any area of life in which the fifteenth-century world, for example, was not radically different in some respects from that of the eleventh and twelfth'.(p. 8) Historians of course always believe that the changes that they perceive in their specific period were fundamental. They are justified insofar as contemporaries also felt that what they were experiencing was novel, important, and moreover the results of their own actions. Hindsight however does have a place in history. How many generations of fundamental and momentous change are compatible with a ruling class (the aristocracy) that persisted for over a thousand years? There is a proprietary air to Coss' work, a desire to locate the crucial changes within his particular patch and to see off any rivals that is familiar to all historians. There is also a certain Whiggish determinism in focussing on what existed at a particular moment. On his larger canvas, therefore, as he intended, Coss has written not 'a history of the gentry per se, but . a contribution to that history'.(p. xi) It is however the most significant such contribution to date.
- The Lady in Medieval England, 1000-1500 (Stroud: Sutton, 1998); 'The formation of the English gentry', Past & Present, 147 (1995), 38-64; The knight in medieval England, 1000-1400 (Stroud: Sutton, 1993); Lordship, Knighthood and Locality: a Study in English Society c.1180-c.1280 (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1991); idem and Trevor John, eds,. The Early Records of Medieval Coventry, with the Hundred Rolls of 1280, Records of Social and Economic History, ns 11 (1986).Back to (1)
- 'Sir Geoffrey de Langley and the crisis of the knightly class in thirteenth-century England', Past & Present, 68 (1975), 3-37.Back to (2)
- A. B. White, Self-Government at the King's Command: a Study in the Beginnings of English Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1933).Back to (3)
Professor Hicks has written the type of review, of The Origins of the English Gentry, which every author likes to receive. It is appreciative, it is generous in spirit and, most importantly, it engages with the work under review in a forthright and robust way. Moreover, Hicks unerringly puts his finger on points of contention and on issues that one hopes will lead to further inquiry and debate. I will try to respond in the same spirit and with the same vigour. Every reading is a writing, some literary critics tell us, and hence my book, like any other, carries potential implications beyond those intended by the author. Hicks draws out some lines of interpretation which go beyond, or even run counter to, authorial intent. This being the case, I value the opportunity to clarify my views. There are many points where I think the questions he poses are particularly apposite to my inquiry and I would like to draw particular attention to these. Needless to say, there are some other points on which we are never likely to agree, and these follow from our respective philosophies and historical approach. I will pay rather less attention to these, other than to point them out, since we can hardly expect a resolution. Although some sharp points are embedded in the first half of his review, it is in the second half - where he questions whether my findings deserve the significance I attach to them - that his major criticisms lie. I will, therefore, concentrate on these while bringing some of his earlier points into play as we go along.
First of all, he suggests that I 'locate many decisive changes much earlier in time than would the historians of later eras', citing specifically 'the gentry rule over the localities, effective county communities, and the substitution of intra-class relations for feudal or bastard feudal lordship'. What he has in mind here is made explicit later in the paragraph: future expansion of the work of peace commissions; changes in membership of those commissions and questions surrounding their operation; problems relating to the depth of county sentiment and the relationship between self-interest and the representative principle; the persistence of vertical lines of association; and the continuance of gentry lordship along traditional lines. None of these issues is denied in the book. In fact, my concluding chapter draws attention to them. I do not argue that the gentry was fixed for all time in the mid-fourteenth century, nor that it immediately inherited the earth. On the contrary I emphasise that the gentry continued to evolve.
Nor, I might add, do I subscribe to the view that the subsequent history of the gentry is unilinear; indeed, there is every reason to expect brakes and fluctuations rather than a steady accretion of independence, solidarity and power. I considered it beyond the remit of a book on origins to trace the subsequent history of the changes manifested in the later thirteenth and early to mid-fourteenth centuries. But I wholly endorse the significance of the issues posed by Professor Hicks in the history of the gentry, and I hope that my findings will figure in future debates around them. In the mean time I do not think that I antedate later changes in the three areas Hicks has specified. Of course, this is a matter of perception and interpretation, but I was careful not to claim too much for the fourteenth century. Hence with regard to local rule I wrote:
Full gentry power in the localities was not to be realised. Indeed, it could not be realised without a tamed crown and a higher nobility whose social distance was sufficiently reduced that they constituted, in effect, the highest gradations of the gentry. For a long time to come, English political life, and much else besides, was to be dominated by the interplay of these three forces.(p. 253)
The second area is the county community. This, as we all know, is a much-debated issue, and - one has to freely admit - a difficult one. The depth and breadth of county sentiment are notoriously difficult to discern. Hence, whilst I do find an increasing identity with the county among knights and other landowners during the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, I have tended to avoid statements about county community precisely for fear of asserting too much. What clearly is important at this time, however, is the increasing inter-relationship between parliament and localities. Once again, it is necessary to stress that we must expect differences across both time and space, and that changes are not always consistently in one direction.
As far as the third issue is concerned, it is perhaps arguable, on the basis of the developments I have discerned, that 'intra-class relations', as Hicks puts it, may have become stronger at this time. However, it is no part of my argument that they substituted for 'feudal or bastard feudal lordship' in this period, and I have no quarrel at all with his assertion that 'Lordship over the gentry and by the gentry had centuries to run'. Hicks offers an interesting perspective in suggesting that the 'explosion of commissions was surely ephemeral, the experience of particular war-time generations, even if never fully reversed'. This is very probably correct. But his caveat is vitally important. Things never were the same again. Henceforward, we have, inter alia, JPs, MPs, knights and esquires, we have social gradation on a territorial basis, social control by lesser landowners on an extra-manorial footing, and interlocking fora through which collective interests can be clearly expressed. We have the beginnings of a true partnership between the lesser landowners - the gentry - and the central government. Beyond this it is not necessary to go.
Hicks's second major objection is that my definition of gentry is unduly restrictive. He suggests replacing it with a broader one: 'a lesser aristocracy that existed any time between the late Saxon and Victorian eras and yet underwent considerable evolution and development in between'. The continuities look more significant than the differences, he suggests, since 'rank and status at all times depended on command of manpower and wealth, which derived principally from land'. Other early reviewers of my book have complained that I give too much attention to constitutional arrangements (I would rather say to 'the polity') than to the economic and social infrastructure. I think that this is a valid criticism and that a chapter devoted to lordship, particularly manorial lordship, would have produced a more balanced treatment. Land is a sine qua non of the gentry, notwithstanding the importance of upwardly mobile professionals, and seigneurialism was vitally important in the early history of the gentry. I regarded these things as given. My comparative neglect of the material base in the body of the book in favour of the four components of territoriality was because my primary concern was to differentiate the gentry from the lesser nobility from which it sprang and with which it shared those most vital characteristics, so that one might probe in detail precisely where the differences lie.
This brings us to the issue of continuity. Few historians these days, I suspect, would applaud J H Round's attack on 'the anti-cataclysmic tendencies of modern thought', and continuity is very much in fashion (1). My argument is that the gentry evolved from a lesser nobility, one which had Anglo-Saxon roots, and that the gentry continued to evolve in later centuries. It might be added that in the natural sciences evolution tends to be understood today less in terms of Darwinian gradualism and more in terms of sharp shifts in response to specific stimuli. I am thus quite happy to agree with Professor Hicks that a lesser aristocracy existed from the late Anglo-Saxon to the Victorian era. Where I do not agree is that lesser aristocracy, or lesser nobility, should be regarded as synonymous with gentry.
There is, however, a growing advocacy of Anglo-Saxon gentry among British medievalists; in fact, it threatens to become an orthodox position. If, as Hicks suggests, to argue that the English gentry was 'formed between the mid-thirteenth and the mid-fourteenth century' is controversial and hence 'not likely to enjoy universal acceptance' that is increasingly because it runs counter to this new view rather than to the traditional framework he traces back to McFarlane: 'The gentry were thus "a kind of lesser nobility", whom, as K B McFarlane long ago suggested, were what remained when the parliamentary baronage were defined in the fourteenth century [my italics]'. The new proto-orthodoxy has certain advantages, and I have to admit that I rejected the idea of a weak Anglo-Saxon followed by a stronger later medieval gentry only after much thought.
There are, I think, two major problems with it. One is that it is extremely difficult to reconcile a very broad definition of gentry, such as the one Professor Hicks advocates, with the idea of the gentry as a specific (essentially English) form of lesser nobility. And yet that is what many, including some of the best-known, advocates of the Anglo-Saxon gentry continue to do, with their emphasis upon central and local institutions as well as upon the manor and seigneurial power. It is difficult to have it both ways: a gentry that is both broad and specific at one and the same time. It could certainly be argued that by abandoning some of the specifically English contours of the gentry historians might better facilitate comparative study. However, no one, as far as, I know is suggesting this.
The second problem is a connected one and it takes us back to the issue of continuity. There is a version of continuity in which late Anglo-Saxon society is seen as the same, in all its essentials, as the society which persisted throughout English history and into recent times. It slides easily into notions of English exceptionalism and into the Whig interpretation of history. I have tried to confront this issue more squarely in 'What's in a construct? The "Gentry" in Anglo-Saxon England', in Ralph Evans, ed., Lordship and Learning: Studies in Memory of Trevor Aston (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, due September 2004). It is ironic, therefore, that Professor Hicks should accuse me of 'a certain Whiggish determinism'. I may have a blind spot here, but I do disavow the appellation. Of course, I readily concede that all quests for origins contain an element of teleology. However, the Whig interpretation, as I understand it, sees the perceived virtues of the present in the past and applauds those individuals and institutions that have, historically, facilitated the progress of those virtues. As Herbert Butterfield wrote: 'The fervour of the whig historian very often comes from what is really the transference into the past of an enthusiasm for something in the present, an enthusiasm for democracy or freedom of thought or the liberal tradition'(2). Neither I, nor Clio through me, is specifically on the side of the gentry. I stand more with Butterfield's historian as 'essentially the observer, watching the moving scene' (3).
Finally, Professor Hicks ends with some assertions which reveal that he perceives medieval society in an entirely different way from me. In fact, he accuses me of 'a somewhat tendentious Marxism'. I am not sure that the label Marxist is of any value at all in this context, unless one were to regard the likes of Marc Bloch, Michael Postan and Georges Duby, for example, as Marxists; but that is by the way. I would not have thought it tendentious, Marxist or otherwise, to suggest that courts were an important component of seigneurial income, nor that social control was a significant motive in medieval lordship. Few would want to use the diffusion of aristocratic values, I would have thought, to argue that every property holder's interests were the same. And most commentators on medieval society that I know of believe that territorial power was a primary motive among magnates, whether one is talking of the twelfth century or the fifteenth. John Watts, for example, has written recently that the 'dream of every nobleman was surely the unchallenged rule of the locality, in which case everybody would be, in some sense, a part of his following' and Helen Castor that the 'aim of every magnate . was to defeat or neutralize by accommodation the regional pretensions of his rivals in order to achieve or maintain control of his "country" (4). Here it is Professor Hicks with his somewhat tendentious anti-Marxism who appears to be swimming against the tide. However, tendentious is just a stronger word for contentious, and contentious for challenging. Challenge is the stuff of academic history, especially when the challenge is proffered in a crisp and courteous way.
1. J H Round, Feudal England (London, 1985; repr. 1964), p. 182.
2. Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (London, 1931; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), pp. 71-2.
3. Ibid., p. 52.
4. John Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge, 1966), p. 67; Helen Castor, The King, the Crown and the Duchy of Lancaster: Public Authority and Private Power, 1399-1461 (Oxford, 2000), p.100.