The Medieval Review 16.11.02

Thompson, Benjamin and John Watts, eds. Political Society in Later Medieval England: A Festschrift for Christine Carpenter. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2015. pp. xii, 268. $99.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-78327-030-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Linda E. Mitchell
University of Missouri-Kansas City

This collection of essays honoring the life, scholarship, and pedagogy of Christine Carpenter, whose work has shaped two generations of political historians in England, is a nicely balanced and focused examination of the influence of Carpenter's work on her students and colleagues over the last thirty years. It begins with a direct reference to K. B. McFarlane, the historical "grandfather" of Dr. Carpenter, as her own thesis supervisor, Gerald Harriss, had been one of McFarlane's students. McFarlane posited a vision of the relationship between king, Crown, and polity that has determined the debates about the English medieval political community since the publication of his magnum opus, The Nobility of Later Medieval England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974). Carpenter's own masterwork, much-referenced in the volume, Locality and Polity: A Study of Warwickshire Landed Society, 1401-1499 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), takes McFarlane's notion of the inter-relatedness between king, country, and locality, and both compresses it into a detailed granular study of a single county's political community, and also expands it by integrating elements of social history into the political. This development, which both she and the blurb on the back cover of this collection identify as "total history," is a response to the apparent denigration of the political by scholars influenced by the notion of "total" history espoused by the Annales school.

In mostly short and concise articles, the authors honoring their professor and colleague take elements of their own research they feel intersect best with Carpenter's vision of English political history in the late Middle Ages and present their findings as they relate both to Carpenter's body of work and to the exploration of English politics by other scholars. After an introduction by John Watts and brief "appreciations" by Helen Castor, Catherine Holmes, Zara Steiner, Rosamond McKitterick, and John Morrill, which tell amusing and charming anecdotes about their friend, teacher, mentor, and colleague Christine, eleven articles outline, in similarly granular form, elements of localized political and politico-social history of late medieval England (with one exception) all with a nod to the influence of Carpenter's work on their own. The volume ends with a bibliography of Carpenter's work and a list of her students and advisees.

Tony Moore's article, "'If I do you wrong, who will do you right?' Justice and Politics During the Personal Rule of Henry III," begins the collection, which is largely chronological in organization. His focus, on the ways in which King Henry III's (r. 1216-1272) perceived manipulation of the law in protecting friends, family, and allies in the period after his majority (ca. 1235) and before the wars with the barons and the adherents of Simon de Montfort (1258-1264), reflects Carpenter's methodologies back onto an earlier period. He thereby demonstrates that the issues of the Wars of the Roses were not all that different from those of two centuries before. Andrew Spencer's "The Coronation Oath in English Politics, 1272-1399" emphasizes the importance of both the language and perceptions of coronation oaths from Edward I succession (r. 1272-1307) to Richard II's deposition (r. 1377-1399). He discusses the ways in which subtle changes in wording of the coronation oaths themselves, which have rarely been studied by scholars more focused on the ordo rituals, reflect the desires of the monarch (or the guardians of the monarch in the case of Edward III in 1327 and Richard II in 1377) to define his method of rule.

Caroline Burt's article, "Local Government in Warwickshire and Worcestershire under Edward II" owes a more deliberate debt to Carpenter's presentation of the relationship between local and national politics, but extends such discussions backward to the previous century. She demonstrates that Edward II's (r. 1307-1327) incompetence is clearly on display in the ways in which local political society struggled with the tensions that were played out on a more national scale, especially between the king, the Beauchamp earls of Warwick, and the earl of Lancaster.

Richard Partington's "The Nature of Noble Service to Edward III" focuses on the ways in which men of lower social status, such as the Flemish Sir Walter de Mauny (aka Manny), hero of the Battle of Sluys, advanced through service to Edward III (r. 1327-1377) and how these "men raised from the dust" (to coin a phrase from another medieval era) differed in their service from the peers and magnates who also served the king. Partington nicely illustrates the transition that was occurring during the reign of Edward III of the knight from a largely military figure to one whose main activities were largely administrative, and how this stood in opposition to the more traditional roles still deployed by the peers. He also shows how Edward III was a canny manipulator of his inner circle, dangling benefices such as the Order of the Garter in front of men who were perceived as less than utterly trustworthy and loyal.

Andrea Ruddick's "Local Politics and Ecclesiastical Patronage in Gentry Letters" looks at the ways in which consideration of church benefices, in the form of advowsons, operated as important forms of local patronage in the fifteenth century, a time when such appurtenances to manors and fees were being separated from their property and falling into the hands of the church in greater numbers. Using letters, such as those of the Pastons, the Stonors, and the Plumptons, Ruddick shows that the preservation of these lines of patronage continued to be important in securing local alliances, even as control of them was disputed by both members of the higher clergy and more socially elite competitors.

The central article, Benjamin Thompson's "Locality and Ecclesiastical Polity: The Late Medieval Church between Duality and Integration," is also the longest. Thompson makes use of the title of Carpenter's most well-known work of scholarship to emphasize the ways in which the church in the fifteenth century navigated the tension between its role in pastoral care ("integration" into society) and its fundamental separation of the spiritual and the secular, the clerical and the lay (the "duality" idea expressed in the title) on local levels--with special attention paid to Norfolk. He concludes that although the church integrated itself into the very fabric of local society, it also persisted in retaining the notion of duality that marked the difference between ecclesiastic and lay culture.

Jackson W. Armstrong, in "Concepts of Kinship in Lancastrian Westmorland," looks at agnatic kinship relationships and their political implications in the far north of England, comparing them to both politicized kin relationships farther south and the clan-based socio-political units of the Scottish borderlands. Focusing, in particular, on naming practices, which were somewhat idiosyncratic in Westmoreland, Armstrong concludes that kinship combined both the development of more neutral patronymics common to the south and the retention of lineage based associations with immediate predecessors (the use of -son and -doghter) as cognomen forms.

Ted Powell's "Body Politic and Body Corporate in the Fifteenth Century: [T]he Case of the Duchy of Lancaster" investigates the notion of "incorporation" as it developed in the late Middle Ages in England, especially with reference to a specific description of the Duchy of Lancaster by Edward IV (r. 1461-1470, 1471-1483) in 1461 as being incorporated--that is, removed from the personal rule of his predecessor, King Henry VI (r. 1422-1461, 1470-1471), who held Lancaster by hereditary right, and included in the king's "body politic" as part of the appurtenances of the Crown. This complicated notion of incorporation, which had developed as a royal benefice to certain towns and cities in previous centuries, was used by Edward IV not only to prevent the Lancastrians from retaining a landed political base in England at the time of Henry VI's deposition, but also to advance a specific and particular relationship between the Crown and localities, as incorporation required royal permission and encapsulated a specific connection between the incorporated body and the body politic. An appendix presents the article of incorporation of St. Catherine's College, Cambridge, in 1475 that crystallizes the elements required for incorporation during Edward IV's reign.

Theron Westervelt's article, "Manifestoes for Rebellion in Late-Fifteenth-Century England" investigates the language of manifestoes from Jack Cade's Rebellion to the attempted invasions of Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel in the early years of Henry VII's reign (r. 1485-1509). Manifestoes were used both to state opposition to the "bad counsel" of the king's allies and associates and also to present the rebel as promoting "good" rule over "bad." In some ways, this was the least complete of the articles in the volume, leaving many questions unanswered: what form did these manifestoes take? who was the intended audience? how influential were they? Nevertheless, Westervelt raises an intriguing issue of the relationship between a newly-literate vernacular culture and forms of political rebellion and dissent.

The penultimate article, by co-editor John Watts, "'New Men', 'New Learning' and 'New Monarchy': Personnel and Policy in Royal Government, 1461-1529" compares the social positions of the men who comprised the administrations of the Yorkist and early Tudor kings and challenges earlier presentations of the impact of humanistic education on royal administrations during the difficult transition between Plantagenet and Tudor rule. Watts uses a prosopographical approach to tease out both the identities (however briefly) and educational backgrounds (even more briefly) of groups he identifies as "primary" and "secondary" advisors to Edward IV, Henry VII, and Henry VIII before the 1530 revolution. He finds that the Tudors made use of "new" men with perhaps more humanistic backgrounds not because of a revolutionary notion of kingship but because of their anxieties over the loyalty of the traditional magnates and aristocrats after the exigencies of the Wars of the Roses. An appendix listing the men included follows the article.

The last piece in this collection, Jenny Wormald's "How Different It Was In Scotland: Three Earls, a Football, and a Ghost Story" is both a radical departure from everything that precedes it and an extension of Carpenter's idea of the totalizing nature of socio-political history both geographically, into northern Scotland, in particular Aberdeenshire, and chronologically, into the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Wormald concludes that the structures of governance, alliance, and association found in England in the late Middle Ages is in some ways the anomaly, and that Scotland's system--especially the relationship between the peerage and the Crown--was far more like the European model than the English.

This is a fine collection honoring a fine scholar, but as is the case with many Festschriften there are infelicities and incongruities along with the encomiums and examples of solid scholarship. Because the collection contains work by established scholars--both friends and former students--as well as young scholars just embarking on their careers, the quality of work is a bit uneven. The older and more established scholars are less inclined to explore beyond their limited parameters; the younger scholars might reflect on a larger and more diverse collection of work but their conclusions are more tentative or less comprehensive than their older colleagues. Thompson's article was far too long in comparison to the others in the collection and it was rambling and unfocused, even though the subject was interesting and his approach more refreshingly theoretical than granular. Taken individually, all the articles stand well on their own merits, which is unusual in a collection of this kind.

This brings me, however, to my primary complaint about the contents of this volume. Apparently, for the students and colleagues of Dr. Carpenter (excepting Dr. Wormald), "total" history revolves around England, with the rest of the polities of the British Isles and Ireland mentioned only in connection to or in the context of England, and the English involvement on the Continent a distant whisper (even in Partington's article, which focuses especially on the French wars). "Total" history for this group also excludes women entirely, even when their participation in the political events of the day might be useful for inclusion. For example, Walter de Mauny's stature in Edward III's court was enhanced by his exceptional marriage to Margaret Marshal, daughter and heir of Thomas de Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk, and therefore a cousin of the king. This relationship had to have altered the calculus between king and courtier, yet this--and many other political marriages that enhanced the status of men at court--is not mentioned at all. There is also a very heavy reliance on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which consistently overlooks the engagement of women as socio-political actors. References by some authors to the Paston letters and their female authors notwithstanding, this is all too typical of medieval English political historians, who continue to eschew the notion that women, especially in the contexts of family and patronage--both extensively discussed topics in the articles in the volume--engaged in political activity. It might have been a more interesting and inclusive collection had contributors taken Carpenter's notion of the intersection between political and social history and developed it within a broader context: with respect to Wales, Ireland, and (further into) Scotland; with respect to the ways in which the personal and the political intersected with gender. This might be asking too much of a group that seems to pride itself on a somewhat parochial view of medieval English politics, but it is a reasonable suggestion. Indeed, in his introduction, John Watts makes a point of highlighting the specificity of locale and topic: in a rather startling passage, he presents a self-congratulatory picture of English political history that includes an entirely gratuitous (and inaccurate) dig at American historians, one that will probably cause a certain level of indrawn breath by readers outside England, as it did to this reader. While this parochialism does not detract from the individual articles, which are of a consistently high quality even when they are not always groundbreaking, it does present the work and influence of the exceptionally generous, creative, and intellectually challenging Christine Carpenter as unnecessarily limited to a small group of insular scholars.

In conclusion, this is a useful collection for anyone interested in a corpuscular view of later medieval English political history. It is also a very fine testament to the energies and intellectual rigor of the esteemed Christine Carpenter.

Copyright (c) 2016 Linda E. Mitchell

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