Emily Tabuteau

title.none: White, Restoration and Reform, 1153-1165 (Emily Tabuteau)

identifier.other: baj9928.0109.018 01.09.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Emily Tabuteau, Michigan State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: White, Graeme. Restoration and Reform, 1153-1165: Recovery from Civil War in England. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 43. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. 248. ISBN: 0-521-5459-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.09.18

White, Graeme. Restoration and Reform, 1153-1165: Recovery from Civil War in England. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 43. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. 248. ISBN: 0-521-5459-4.

Reviewed by:

Emily Tabuteau
Michigan State University

Long ago, historians told a simple story about the twelfth century in England: The strong, creative rule of King Henry I collapsed during the reign of King Stephen, a period of anarchy; but law and order returned under Stephen's successor, Henry II, who ignored everything that had happened under Stephen, restored the strong government of his grandfather and built on it to create the origins of modern law and government. This picture has long since been modified, and little of it remains unchallenged by some recent scholar. Which of the devices of twelfth century government should be credited to Henry I? Which to Henry II? How much of a collapse of government was there under Stephen? In what sense, if any, does his reign deserve its nickname of "the Anarchy"? What had been lost by 1154? Whatever had been lost, how difficult was it for Henry to restore it? Why did he choose to revive some of his grandfather's measures and not others? What was the chronology of his actions, and what were his motives? When, why and to what extent did he advance beyond what his grandfather had already done? The questions are many, and the answers vary.

In Restoration and Reform, Graeme White makes a major contribution to our understanding of the development of government and law in England in the twelfth century, giving a well researched, well organized and well argued discussion of the questions raised above and a good many others, too. While the titular scope of the book is merely the period of transition from Stephen to Henry II, in order to explain that phenomenon, White has to discuss what happened in Stephen's reign; and in order to explain Stephen, White has to delve into the nature of government and law at the end of Henry I's reign. A nuanced and almost completely coherent picture of the first two-thirds of the century is the result.

White begins by noting that Henry II had spent little time in England before he became its king and, of the first eight years of his reign, spent only two and a half in the kingdom. "If," he asks, "orderly government could be so effectively imposed by a king who spent most of his time elsewhere, had England [under Stephen] truly descended into 'Anarchy'?" (11) White's answer is, yes and no. There was indeed a marked increase in lawlessness and disorder. It was, however, largely a product of civil war and was never as bad as the chroniclers' accounts would have us believe. Moreover, as soon as peace was made between Stephen and Henry in 1153, Stephen began a fairly effective campaign to restore order to his kingdom. Even on this score, therefore, "anarchy" is an exaggeration.

As for anarchy "[i]n the sense of 'absence of government,'...there was plenty of government, not always in Stephen's hands, but much of it...recognisable as that normally associated with the king". (75-6) Everywhere in the kingdom, someone--Stephen himself, his rival Matilda, the king of the Scots, his son the earl of Huntingdon, or even the local magnate--ruled. Stephen's own rule was characterized by "frustration, disruption and obstruction at every turn". (36) Matilda's rule was even weaker, and when Henry took over the Plantagenet claim to England he was weaker still: "Grand political claims went with minimal administrative impact". (45) Oddly enough, the strongest rulers of England may have been the Scots, under whose rule in the North "royal government, modelled on that of Henry I,...was operating with fair efficiency. The task for Henry II was not to reconstruct it, but to transfer it to his own control." (54) There was a danger that the North of England would become part of the kingdom of Scotland, but elsewhere those exercising rule over areas of England claimed either to be or to be acting in the name of the rightful monarch. Because they all utilized the existing devices of government as best they could, "much of the administrative structure passed down from Henry I persisted, [although] it served not the king but those who claimed royal authority in his place". (36) Hence, "a king whose right to the throne was undisputed could call upon an administrative system which had survived sufficiently to need repair, but not wholesale reconstruction". (15)

White's treatment of Henry II's government in the first dozen years of his reign is divided into chapters on "Personnel and Property", "Financial Recovery", and "Administration of Justice". Two major themes resonate throughout. One is that, in all areas, Henry's devotion to things as they were on the day when his grandfather died was less slavish than has often been suggested: where it was useful or even politically neutral to restore things to conditions in 1135, he did so; but where circumstances recommended that later arrangements be allowed to stand, they were. "[N]o principle was so absolute that it could not be overridden in practice". (123) Thus, in personnel matters, "[h]aving appeased his grandfather's household servants, or their families, by acknowledging their titles, Henry II usually looked elsewhere for his key advisers and administrators..." (82) In the shires, even allegiance during the civil war was unimportant: "Men of ability were welcome, from whatever source they came, and those with administrative experience under Stephen clearly had much to contribute..." (99) In matters involving land, while "[i]t was useful politically to present transfers of property under Stephen as lacking validity, certain cases it was even more expedient to leave well alone. If we turn to the resumption of royal demesne, we find much the same thing....When it came to weighing political gain against financial loss, even the alienations of Stephen's reign might be better left to continue." (111-12) Indeed, Henry "did not pretend that [Stephen] had never been king....To have suggested, retrospectively, that England had been ruled for nineteen years by a mere count of Mortain would have undermined the dignity of kingship which it was Henry's consistent purpose to maintain." (128-9)

The other major theme of these chapters, especially prominent in the discussions of finance and justice, is that the year 1163 marked a significant moment in the history of the reign. Fifteen shrievalties changed hands then. Various fine-tunings of financial practice date to that year, perhaps because that was when Richard of Ilchester received his special seat in the Exchequer. In judicial matters, "while demand for the king's intervention in lawsuits was buoyant from the outset of the reign, Henry's initial response was normally to encourage settlements which did not involve the royal courts." (162) This was a sensible approach in a period when Henry "was obviously far too busy to give ear to more than a tiny fraction of the litigation in person, and the routine deployment of royal justices to act on his behalf could not be achieved without a good deal of care..." (185-6) From January 1163 on, however, when the king returned to England after an absence of more than four years, "there are signs of a new approach, as efforts were made to ensure greater activity for the courts of the king and his justices. A concerted attempt to extend the scope of royal justice had begun." (162) Even before the annus mirabilis of 1166, it manifested itself in "a drive against crime" (194), which led to the most contentious parts of the Constitutions of Clarendon among other things. In and after 1166, the new attitude led to such dramatic advances that "the notion of an 'Angevin leap forward' retains some validity..." (211) Indeed, White hints that 1163 rather than 1166 may be the real "watershed in the reign" (218): through 1162, Henry's primary goal was restoration, from 1163 on, it was reform.

Such a bare summary of the major conclusions of the book does not do justice to it. The book gives each topic summarized sustained, detailed development based on careful consideration of the sources. Even if one does not always agree with every conclusion--I am, for example, not entirely persuaded that Henry's legal measures in and after 1166 (or 1163) were so deliberately intended to advance royal justice, nor that his "personal role was confined to ordering that 'something be done'" (215)--every argument here needs to be taken seriously. In sum, this is an eminently satisfactory, highly recommended piece of scholarship.