contributor.author: Lisa L. Ford

title.none: Clark, ed., The Fifteenth Century (Lisa L. Ford )

identifier.other: baj9928.0412.025 04.12.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lisa L. Ford , Yale University, lisa.ford@yale.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Clark, Linda, ed. The Fifteenth Century: Authority and Subversion. Series: The Fifteenth Century, vol. 3. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. ix, 191. $70.00 1-84383-025-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.12.25

Clark, Linda, ed. The Fifteenth Century: Authority and Subversion. Series: The Fifteenth Century, vol. 3. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. ix, 191. $70.00 1-84383-025-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Lisa L. Ford
Yale University
lisa.ford@yale.edu

The conference proceedings and collected essay volumes on the fifteenth century which have appeared on academic and library bookshelves over the past several years are a great boon to the late medieval/early modern historian, professor, or tutor. As well as providing an abundance of the most recent research on an array of sometimes obscure points, they are a welcome source of reading assignments for the beleaguered academic struggling to provide dedicated students with texts that address issues of particular relevance to special subject/upper division courses.

This recent addition to the mix is no exception and, as Linda Clark points out in her preface, it serves both the reader and the authors by granting us glimpses into ideas which may form the backbone of tomorrow's publications, giving newer, as well as established, scholars a place to provide such revelatory material. Overall, the essays are narrowed to sharp points of reference and most will be of the greatest interest to those already invested in and conversant with the subject, rather than the average undergraduate student. That said, the individual essays contained each have a contribution to make to the historical discourse and the volume is well worth adding to the bookshelf. The skillful juxtaposition of the essays into related pairs also makes for an interesting intra-volume comparison of ideas.

Alastair Dunn and James Ross both fasten on Henry IV's struggles with Richard II's "highly active political ghost" in their essays, and provide new perspectives of the pretender rebellions that haunt usurpers as they struggle to consolidate their winnings. Dunn seems surprised that Henry IV retained his throne, a theme sounded elsewhere in regard to late medieval usurpers. He points out both Henry's good and bad policies and concludes that the king's willingness to embrace personal confrontations and personal dispensations of forgiveness ultimately gave him a significant edge. Ross is more interested in the construction of a conspiracy previously given little attention--that spearheaded by Maud de Vere, Countess of Oxford--and the question of whether those involved truly believed in a still-living Richard II, or were falling back on a convenient excuse for rebellion. Dunn is concerned with suppression, Ross with machination, and their differing perspectives make this an interesting pair to read in tandem.

The Wyclif and the Lollards who emerge from the pages of Clive Burgess' essay resemble more closely the victims of McCarthyism than the founders of the hallowed reformation. Burgess critically examines the idea that Lollardy was a strong, coherent, but underground movement, characterizing it rather as a convenient label for sporadic outbreaks of heresy, and even lunacy, but one which gave the organized church, as well as informers or the disgruntled, an easily levelled accusation with a potent punch. In his view, modern historians have nurtured this same artificial construct of shadowy networks in an effort to create a strong pre-Reformation culture and linear descent from Wyclif to Luther. Ian Forrest's essay makes a tidy transition from that query to raise the question of whether the need to find concerted heresy is a product of the late 20th century historical fascination with the under-represented populations of the 15th. He presents an intriguing study that ties the accustomed local mechanisms behind reporting sexual sin to accusations of heresy, arguing that parishes in which higher levels of heresy are found may perhaps be more active in exercising their social conscience than in harboring heretics.

Hannes Kleineke surveys England's "wild, wild west" in the 15th century, and finds that practical explanations of endemic rebelliousness appear as potent as political ones. The volatile combination of incipient litigiousness, aggressive populations of sailors and tin miners, and the lack of a local lord of sufficient status to quell misbehavior effectively adds up to a cocktail of disruption, and one which Kleineke tracks through most of the 15th century. In this essay, the inherent local shortcomings and weaknesses foster a smoldering climate for disruptive actions, and disturbances are as symptomatic of issues at the local level, as of weakness at the center. In another area of long-term contentiousness, Peter Booth delves, in exhaustive detail, into power shifts in the North, particularly those revolving around the affairs of the Percy and Neville families, and their long-standing feud, tracking the course of an animosity that lasted through the 15th century. The exacting analysis of the varied developments and affinities that upheld the antagonists is rich with detail, including appendices of indictments, and both essays will contribute greatly to assessments of 15th century local "chaos" and its causes, players, and problems, and hopefully result in increasingly accurate and sophisticated pictures of the state of the counties.

Focusing on individuals, Frank D. Millard closely analyses the Epitaphium eiusdem Ducis Gloucestrie. He draws out of this work the possible political platforms contained in the panegyric and characterizes the whole as a personal appreciation by one closely concerned with Duke Humphrey's clear qualifications to lead England in the time of Henry VI's regency, and justification of his actions through the depiction of his sure reward in Heaven. Millard imagines him a "people's prince," and produces his standing with the Londoners as a proof of his populist appeal, an argument that resonates with more recent events. Joanna Laynesmith adds a valuable piece to the growing literature on queenship and discussions of the roles of queens and queen consorts, their powers and limits, with an essay that argues that the Coventry pageants which greeted Margaret of Anjou in her official entry to the city in September 1456 were particularly pointed toward portraying Margaret in a leading role, and offering her as a point of strength in a period of kingly weakness.

David Grummitt and James Lee form the last pair of essays, and each brings greater clarity to the roles of two highly significant, but frequently invisible, late medieval offices: the exchequer clerk and the recorder. Grummitt tracks the evolution of exchequer clerks from the 15th-century self-contained brokers of finance, who successfully exploited their mercantile connections for the crown, to the 16th-century royal clients who successfully built protective dynasties of the office in a compelling essay. Lee demonstrates that the recorder was a highly significant figure in the relations between town and crown, serving effectively as the spokesman to and for both sides from an ambiguous position of semi-neutrality, most effectively displayed by Lee through the physical placement of the recorder in Henry VII's royal entry to Bristol. Lee shows that their skillful balancing of these responsibilities deserves a great deal more attention, and great sympathy, as in the case of the unfortunate York recorder whose duty it was to inform a campaigning Edward IV that he was not welcome in the city!

As might be expected, the volume abounds in statements such as "it is generally presumed," or "has long been treated," or speaks of long-held historical "truths" which require some knocking down. This is a collection devoted to revisionism and skepticism, and which strives to push boundaries, raise new queries, or examine long-ignored gems of historical interest. Essayists concentrate on challenging long-held views, fleshing out specific incidents that deserved no more than a brief sentence 30 years ago, or pursuing documents or incidents left fallow while more prominent issues were being argued. Thus, the essays either add new layers of complexity to the view of a given issue, or seek to provoke the reader to a different perspective altogether, an admirable, if not unexpected aim for a volume devoted to cutting-edge research.

Overall, authority appears to defeat subversion (with perhaps the exception of the relentlessly antagonistic southwesterners in Kleineke's essay). The Countess of Oxford's phantom rebellion, the exaggerated claims of the Bristol Lollards as a pre-Reformation stronghold, the eventual control of exchequer clerkships by the crown--all go down under the essayists' pens. But not without difficulty. In the 15th century, the establishment may have eventually triumphed, but the rabble-rousers appear to have been very busy indeed. It remains to be seen if the challenges put forth by this volume will follow the same pattern.