David Green

title.none: Saul, ed., Fourteenth Century England I (David Green)

identifier.other: baj9928.0212.006 02.12.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Green, University of St. Andrews,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Saul, Nigel, ed. Fourteenth Century England I. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2000. Pp. v, 210. 75.00. ISBN: 0-851-15776-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.12.06

Saul, Nigel, ed. Fourteenth Century England I. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2000. Pp. v, 210. 75.00. ISBN: 0-851-15776-9.

Reviewed by:

David Green
University of St. Andrews

This collection of eleven articles is the first in a series of biennial volumes focusing on, as the title indicates, fourteenth-century England. This selection ranges chronologically and geographically throughout the century and country but the main area of interest lies in the middle decades. This is a somewhat disparate collection and no less interesting for that but, in general, the essays stand alone rather than seeking to address particular issues or a general range of themes. This again is neither surprising nor a criticism but it does make the task of reviewing rather more difficult. The essays, in several cases, are developments of conference papers some delivered at Leeds and Kalamazoo. These have continued to be the chief areas from which the papers for subsequent volumes, to be edited by Chris Given-Wilson and Mark Ormrod, have been drawn.

The papers are: Jeffrey Hamilton, 'Charter Witness Lists for the Reign of Edward II'; Andy King, 'A Helm with a Crest of Gold: The Order of Chivalry in Thomas Gray's Scalacronica'; Roy M. Haines, 'Simon de Montacute, Brother of William, Earl of Salisbury, Bishop of Worcester (1333-37), and of Ely (1337-45)'; Anthony Musson, 'New Labour Laws, New Remedies? Legal Reaction to the Black Death 'Crisis''; Gloria J. Betcher, 'Translating a Labour Dispute in the Cornish Ordinalia within a Legal Context'; Cynthia J. Neville, 'Homicide in the Ecclesiastical Court of Fourteenth-Century Durham'; Christopher Phillpotts, 'Plague and Reconstruction: Bishops Edington and Wykeham at Highclere, 1346-1404'; Charles Coulson, 'Fourteenth-Century Castles in Context: Apotheosis or Decline?'; Mary Whiteley, 'The Courts of Edward III of England and Charles V of France: A Comparison of their Architectural Setting and Ceremonial Functions'; Lynda Dennison and Nicholas Rogers, 'The Elsing Brass and its East Anglian Connections'; Douglas Biggs, 'The Reign of Henry IV: The Revolution of 1399 and the Establishment of the Lancastrian Regime'.

Jeffrey Hamilton seeks to address the question of the reliability and value of charter witness lists and makes available the names of those who witnessed Edward II's charters and the frequency with which they did so. The nominal appendix (7-17) is particularly useful and this is complemented by graphs and tables (18-20). The paper is something of a critique and chronological extension of a previous investigation of the source by Given-Wilson applied to a reign that witnessed a remarkably large number of charters - an average of 47.8 per annum, compared with 29 in the reign of Edward III and a mere 13.5 under Richard II. Hamilton broadly concurs with Given-Wilson regarding the place-date evidence that witness lists provide arguing that they probably reflect the presence of an individual at chancery when the grant of a charter was enrolled rather than being with the king when the document was issued. The use of witness lists is particularly interesting with regard to the influence and presence of Edward II's favourites and Hamilton highlights the distinction between the political role of Gaveston, who never witnessed more than 13.6% of charters in any one year and averaged only 5.7%, with the younger Despenser who in 1320-1 witnessed 78.8% of all charters. The witness lists are also very useful regarding the fluctuating authority of Thomas of Lancaster. Andy King compares the Scalacronica with a wide range of contemporary chivalric and historical works such as Charny's Livre de chevalerie, the Brut, Barbour's Bruce and the chroniques of Jean Le Bel and Froissart. Dr King argues that for Thomas Gray "the real business of war had little to do with the knightly heroics of chivalric romance" (25). This is a particularly useful discussion of an often under-used history and King compares it with other more 'fanciful' works developing his argument from the description of Sir William Marmion attacking Norham castle to show this as the exception that proves the rule.

Chivalry is equated, in part, with deeds undertaken for ladies such as that indicated by the title and Gray is shown to have little time for the fripperies of the chivalric ethic such as courtoisie and jousting a plaisance and indeed a general irreverence for the conventions of chivalric culture. Rather "For Gray, chivalry remained a thoroughly pragmatic (and entirely unromantic) arrangement" (35). I would argue that Gray was somewhat more representative of the chivalric classes than King suggests. At this point the age of the Free Companies was upon us and Du Guesclin was coming to prominence. The Black Prince may have been serving the captured King Jean at table after his capture at Poitiers but a year previously he had undertaken one of the most devastating chevaucheacute;es in the course of the Hundred Years War, burning 500 settlements as he rode from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coasts of France and back. Such individuals and examples were entirely representative of the chivalry of the mid fourteenth century and compare closely with the strictures by which Gray lived his life.

In other ways, it appears that the Scalacronica was not so different from other chivalric works. Gray's admiration for the bravery of Giles de Argentine might be compared with Chandos Herald's laudatory comments regarding William Felton who "charged among the enemy like a man devoid of sense and discretion" and Ralph Hastings who "cared not two cherries for death" Chivalry in the Scalacronica is equated with honour. Honour, chivalry and nobility were all terms applied to describe similar virtues and might be used interchangeably but at heart they were probably rooted in a delight in prowess and skill at arms on the battlefield. Richard Kaeuper described chivalry using the analogy of a tightly bound cable made up of many different strands. The central component of that cable was, arguably, the pragmatic warrior ethic and, if so, Scalacronica appears to me, through King's wide-ranging and detailed discussion, to be an essential example of the chivalric ethic at work in the age of the professional soldier.

Roy M. Haines focuses on the episcopal career of Simon Montacute in Worcester and Ely while also noting the actions of other members of his family. Montacute's activities, his duties and those undertaken by his administration are explored and the evidence of his registers is considered. Montacute was one of those bishops who had little interest in becoming involved in the wider affairs of state but he was drawn into this arena by the outbreak of the Hundred Years War and by the demands of Edward III to bring the country together in the support of his foreign policy. In this regard Haines also considers the categorisation of the upper ranks of English society. The discussion, like that of Jeffrey Hamilton, is particularly useful for the appendices which note the ordinations and the licences for absence in the diocese of Ely in the years 1338-45.

The following two papers are broadly concerned with the consequences of the Black Death. Anthony Musson's paper is a reconsideration of R.C. Palmer's thesis on the legal and governmental response to the Black Death. He takes issue with a number of aspects of this: his chronological reading of the effects of plague on labour legislation and judicial remedies; Palmer's focus and what Musson sees as exaggerated importance of the central courts; the interpretation of writs; and the role of chancery, the judiciary and king's council. In support of his argument that the Ordinance and Statute of Labourers were based on customary practices and existing forms of regulation, Musson cites a wide range of evidence including the Assize of Measures, 1189, the government response to the great famine, and, on a more localised level, the close regulation of mercantile activity. This is a closely argued and convincing approach which does not undermine the impact of the Black Death but contextualises it within a broader social and economic chronology and shows how earlier crises had spurred a central government and legal response and argues, as others have done, that the most significant effects of the Black Death were not felt until the 1370s. With regard to this, additional evidence of a very different sort may prove to be illuminating. Gloria Betcher considers the Cornish Ordinalia in which the Passio Domini, the second play, features a slapstick episode featuring a labour dispute between Christ's jailer and his servant, the splendidly named 'Lashbutt'. The Ordinalia was composed between 1375 and 1419 at a time of many labour disputes and as such acted as both a social commentary and a dramatic parody.

The legal and judicial character of the fourteenth century is explored further by Cynthia Neville whose paper deals with the relationship between the secular and ecclesiastical courts and their overlapping jurisdictions in the unusual context of the palatinate of Durham. The chief evidence concerns the case of one William of Beverley, the archdeacon of Northumberland, who was indicted for murder and tried twice, first before an ecclesiastical and then a secular court. Professor Neville uses a fascinating case study to highlight the sophisticated courtroom strategies used in ecclesiastical courts showing these were not only the province of secular institutions and provides a clear demonstration that these bodies co-operated more often than they conflicted.

Christopher Phillpotts considers the manor of Highclere through its estates and buildings while under the control of Bishops Edington and Wykeham. He considers the effect of repeated outbreaks of plague and details the structural programme undertaken by these two renowned builders. While Edington was engaged on various royal projects he was also refurbishing Highclere, a process Phillpotts describes in detail. Diagrams of a suggested building plan in c. 1350 and c. 1400 are provided and there is a graph of manorial income and expenditure.

Charles Coulson makes a further case for an argument he has made elsewhere by casting doubt on the military rationale behind castle-building. He does this by emphasising the continuity of design and the importance of symbolism. Such evidence as licences to crenellate reveal "a comprehensive social phenomenon of arrivisme chiefly, affecting all the propertied classes...[since] 'fortification' throughout the period, predicated not defence essentially but noble style" (139-40). By this argument the fourteenth-century castle was by no means in decline. Rather, Coulson argues, a comparison should be made with the symbolic impact of great ecclesiastical buildings. Castles should, on this basis, be subjected to forms of analysis usually reserved for churches and fortified manor-houses. This is an intriguing approach and Coulson provides a great deal of evidence to support his argument. Some is less effective than others. His comment that "The alarms of war were formulaic feudal occasions, systematically manipulated to keep dependency alive" (149) seems to me to be stretching the point. He supports this with the example of the Black Prince's castles in Cornwall in the period 1351-61. The necessity to encourage public support for the Hundred Years War, particularly financial support, must be acknowledged but this was surely not just a symbolic exercise. Plans had been found at Caen in 1346 for the French invasion of England and before 1362 there was no alliance that prevented the chance of an attack by the Castilian galley fleet. The Black Prince himself recruited heavily from Cornwall and was absent overseas from 1355-7 and 1359-60 presumably it was only reasonable that he make suitable defensive preparations. Mary Whiteley continues the archaeological/architectural theme of the volume although she takes a very different approach to Charles Coulson seeing the mid fourteenth century as a period of transition in terms of the function and structure of royal buildings. She compares the upper bailey of Windsor castle, largely rebuilt in the period 1357-68 by Edward III with Charles V's town house in Paris, the Louvre and his chateau at Vincennes. The interior design of the buildings is the chief focus of her discussion alongside their political purposes. She argues that Windsor was a "visible symbol of Edward III's power as a triumphant military conqueror. Charles V's residences on the other hand had a more political intent: they were to make a defiant assertion of the rights of the Valois kings to the French throne..." (158). Whether one can distinguish between the politics of the battlefield and the dynastic struggle for the throne of France at this point seems to me to be somewhat questionable. Surely Edward's demonstration of his military conquests was overtly political.

The financial resources available to both sides for such a lavish building programme is an interesting area of discussion and serves to underline the political importance (however defined) of architectural and household ceremonial. Recent work undertaken by Chris Given-Wilson and Françoise Bériac on the prisoners from Poitiers and the limited financial benefits they gave to Edward III may nuance this aspect of the argument. It should be noted that Jean II did not arrive in London until 1357 (154). Nonetheless, this provides another extremely valuable source concerning the ceremonial conduct and functions of the French and particularly the English courts since there are no literary descriptions of these activities of Edward III's household.

Lynda Dennison and Nicholas Rogers discuss "the most elaborate military monumental brass of the fourteenth century" (167), that of Sir Hugh Hastings at Elsing in Norfolk. The chief area of discussion lies in the provenance of the brass and the potential identity of the engraver. The article is very effectively illustrated and the authors provide a wide variety of evidence for their thesis that the brass may have been part of a short-lived East Anglian artistic tradition with analogies to certain manuscripts and stained glass at Ely Cathedral. Rather than the two comparable brasses in the region suggested by Paul Binski, Dennison and Rogers argue for "the presence of six brasses apparently in the same style" (192) and therefore the likelihood of an East Anglian workshop. In the final paper, Douglas Biggs readdresses the question of the identity of what he describes as "the members of the new Lancastrian establishment" (195). This provides a re-evaluation of the political acumen of Henry IV and considers both the development of the Lancastrian Affinity -- with annuitants and retainers in nearly every county -- and the close connections the king established with the titled nobility. The paper describes the effective manner in which Henry manipulated the broad body of the aristocracy in order to support his new administration. The early section focuses on the upper nobility including York, Westmoreland, Warwick, the Courtenay family and the three Percys. Consideration is also given to the episcopate.

After a discussion of high politics Biggs considers the machinery of government in a number of different arenas: central household offices, local politics and parliament. He describes the placement of Lancastrian retainers in county offices particularly those of sheriff and Justice of the Peace. It is surprising that there was no criticism in parliament at the intrusion of Lancastrians into these supposedly independent county communities. Biggs posits that this was probably due to the rather more tactful way in which he did so compared with Richard II. Presumably it was also because through the placement of his retainers in parliament, the king effectively controlled the lower house. As a result Henry IV is not described as a weak king but one who "created and managed a broad base of support for his dynasty from all quarters of political society" (210).

This is a wide-ranging collection that is a testament to the vitality of fourteenth-century studies. The papers provide an interesting mix of interpretation, factual statements and more tentative discussion. They use a great variety of differing source material in some cases to illuminate similar issues and will promote debate and disagreement, which is all to the good.