17.01.12, Crouch, ed., with intro and appendix by Dace, The Newburgh Earldom of Warwick and its Charters 1088-1253

Main Article Content

Jonathan Herold

The Medieval Review 17.01.12

Crouch, David, with intro and appendix by Richard Dace, eds. The Newburgh Earldom of Warwick and its Charters 1088-1253. Publications of The Dugdale Society, 48. Bristol: The Dugdale Society, 2015. pp. xx, 370. ISBN: 978-0-85220-099-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Jonathan Herold
University of Trinity College (Univ. of Toronto) and Glendon College, York University
jr.herold@utoronto.ca; jherold@glendon.yorku.ca

David Crouch's The Newburgh Earldom of Warwick and its Charters, 1088-1253 presents an edition of and extensive commentary on the surviving acta issued by members of the first family to hold the Earldom of Warwick, an honor created in the late eleventh century to reward a younger son of Roger de Beaumont for supporting King William II's claim to the English throne over that of his elder brother, Robert Curthose. The first earl, Henry de Beaumont, enjoyed a position of power and trust under William II and Henry I, but his Newburgh successors did not enjoy similar influence in the affairs of the kingdom, and, as the 286 acta collected in this volume indicate, they held a decidedly lower profile under the social and political vicissitudes of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Despite the fact that the charters in this volume do not directly address momentous events or matters of high policy, they do provide interesting glimpses of how the first earls and countesses of Warwick conducted acts of benefaction, negotiation and patronage under conditions of dynamic socio-political change in Anglo-Norman England.

This volume is the second of two 'aristocratic archives' edited by David Crouch that have appeared since 2015 containing editions of documents pertaining to aristocratic families that have figured notably in Prof. Crouch's studies concerning the formation and transformation of European sub-regal elites into an aristocratic noble class. [1] Information provided in many of the documents included in this collection undoubtedly informed his study of the early Earldom of Warwick: providing full editions of this material (with additions!) is an act of considerable generosity for those interested in the literate modes of practicing lordship in the Anglo-Norman realm. [2]

The surviving records of acts produced by the Newburgh earls of Warwick are widely dispersed among various manuscripts held by thirty-three different modern British and Continental archives. Prof. Crouch has collected these records in a volume that is well organized to facilitate easy reference by scholars with a range of interests in Anglo-Norman charters. He provides a useful introduction to the collection with commentary on the general diplomatic characteristics of the documents along with a discussion of the sigillography associated with the some of the surviving near-contemporary single-sheet exemplifications of the first six earls' acta. Most of the collection is organized in order of the issuing earl or countess from earliest to latest; since the majority of the texts are undated, acts issued by the same grantor are arranged in alphabetical order of the primary beneficiary, with acts directed from the same grantor to the same beneficiary arranged in a what seems the most likely chronological order (ten texts that Crouch discovered after he established the main series of acts are included in an appendix to the edition). Crouch bases his editions of individual acta on the oldest surviving text, his aim being to reproduce the text of the original act. He also prefaces each act with a brief abstract, and in most cases provides critical commentary on the text as well. He also supplies the collection with a general index that lists the principal parties and manors referred to in these records, as well as a useful subject index that provides references to a number of selected terms and topics addressed within the collected texts: in the case of specialized terms, entries are indexed by the English translation of the term in question, with the corresponding Latin or French words used in the texts themselves listed parenthetically. Crouch's organization of the material and the supporting apparatus that he provides ensures that the documents included in the collection can be readily consulted by researchers interested in a range of social, legal, economic, linguistic and symbolic aspects of Anglo-Norman diplomatic.

In addition to Prof. Crouch's commentaries, Richard Dace provides a brief historical introduction to the volume describing the origins of the Earldom of Warwick and providing brief biographical sketches of the Newburgh earls and countesses. The introduction also provides information about the various estates and members of the earls' household mentioned in the documents themselves. Dace gives particular attention to the 15-20 identified stewards, noting the increased "professionalization of the role" by the 1230s (38). Prosopography is clearly Dace's forte, as indicated by his contribution of a second appendix to the edition, "The Tenants of the Earldom of Warwick" (297-335). Dace provides information concerning the eight 'greater' and twenty-one 'lesser' tenants who held lands from the Newburgh earls, drawing on a range of records beyond the acta to describe the social, political and economic relationships in which the tenants participated with the Newburghs, other regional aristocrats, and each other. These supplements to Prof. Crouch's edition of the charters provide useful context for understanding the people and places mentioned in the individual document texts, as well as illustrating the complex and dynamic relationships between (and among) lords and tenants during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Although this volume will be of particular interest to scholars of the local history of the English midlands and Welsh march of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the acts of the Newburgh earls and countesses also illustrate the increased importance of producing and preserving written records among the laity during this era. The majority of acts in the collection record straightforward grants, but they also include several examples of settlement records, exchanges and notifications. The developing routines of document production among the sub-regal laity can be discerned in these records, and the presence of several spurious texts among this collection of acta suggests the increasing importance placed upon having and keeping written records to support claims of land tenure during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Although nearly all of the collected acts were written or recorded in Latin, a letter and six notifications issued by Countess Ela Longespée (d. 1298) were written in French, indicating the penetration of vernacular language into literate-legal culture toward the end of the thirteenth century. In short, although this edition focuses upon the written acts of a particular aristocratic family, there is much in this volume that will interest and engage scholars of many social, legal, economic and intellectual aspects of Anglo-Norman history.



1. The earlier of Prof. Crouch's recent editions of acta is The Acts and Letters of the Marshal Family, Marshals of England and Earls of Pembroke, 1145-1248 (Camden Fifth Series, 47. London: Royal Historical Society, 2015).

2. Articles by David Crouch focusing on the acts of Newburgh earls include "Geoffrey de Clinton and Roger, Earl of Warwick: Magnates and curalies in the reign of Henry I," Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 55 (1982): 113-124); "Oddities in the Early History of the Marcher Lordship of Gower, 1107-1166," Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 31 (1984): 133141 ), and "The Local Influence of the Earls of Warwick, 1088-1242: A Study in Decline and Resourcefulness," Midland History 21 (1996): 1-22.

Article Details