The Medieval Review 17.04.17

Bothwell, James, and Gwilym Dodd, eds. Fourteenth Century England IX. Fourteenth Century England, 9. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016. pp. xii, 175. $99.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-78327-122-1 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

David Routt
University of Richmond

Inaugurated in 2000, Fourteenth Century England offers its ninth volume under new editors who preserve the series' strengths and judiciously expand its mission. It balances contributions from new and established voices and, eschewing an overarching theme, creates space for topical, geographical, and methodological eclecticism. No essay, however, is an island to itself. The ordering of contributions suggests broad groupings; further points of contact emerge throughout the collection. Two essays address monarchical politics, another focuses on the lower clergy, a fourth studies Roman spoils in a parish church, two essays explore monastic historical writing, and two others examine legal, judicial, and constitutional developments. The final chapter introduces a new "Notes and Documents" section for briefer contributions.

Andy King plunges into a controversy of perennial fascination, the death, or perhaps not, of Edward II at Berkeley castle in September 1327. He grapples with Ian Mortimer's conviction that Edward II survived and wandered Celtic and continental byways until, in the 1330s, he, in guise of an Italian hermit, exposed his identity to his confessor. The debate has methodological, even epistemological implications. Mortimer relies on "information streams," his assumption that a medieval scribe rarely observed events he recounted and depended on intermediaries for information, with the garbling of fact inherent in person-to-person transmission. For Mortimer, four "information streams" point to Edward II's survival. King tests each and finds them all wanting, either from defective evidence, misapprehension of sources, or transmutation of supposition into "fact" then to be made basis for further supposition. No one at the wellspring of an "information stream" personally saw Edward II alive after September 1327 and no credible eyewitness account of Edward II's survival exists in King's view. Some contemporaries believed him alive, especially Edmund, earl of Kent, who contrived to restore him, but King's certainty that Edward II perished at Berkeley castle equals Mortimer's conviction that he lived on. It will be interesting to see what riposte Mortimer offers.

Paul Dryburgh examines the life of Edward II's lesser known male progeny. John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall and Edward III's younger sibling, died in 1336 at age 20, just short of maturity. He traces the royal scion's passage from infancy, through adolescence, and to the cusp of adulthood, in John's case against the backdrop of his father's deposition and death, the backlash against his mother Isabelle and Roger Mortimer, and his elder brother's solidification of his rule. Dryburgh exposes the germ of the life John would have led: organizing a personal household, accumulating land, gaining of martial experience, searching for an acceptable bride, and forging a retinue. For Dryburgh, an illness, not a violent disagreement with his sibling, precipitated John's death. Edward III's grief was authentic; moreover, Edward lost the benefit of a trustworthy confidant, counselor, and supporter in his governance.

Rapid promotion of priests following the Black Death and its impact on pastoral life are well known. David Robinson directs his attention to the pre-plague era when ordination of more priests than there were available livings frequently left the ordained without a benefice. Robinson explores the lot of the lower, non-beneficed cleric and outlines the career he might cobble together. Demand for masses for the dead and founding of satellite chapels created openings for chaplains, the least remunerative and secure option for the non-beneficed. A more fortunate priest might secure a chaplaincy in a perpetual chantry, an endowed position offering a permanent living, effectively a benefice. Becoming a vicar was the main opportunity for a non-beneficed priest. The appropriation of benefices and the privileged clergy's pluralism and absenteeism fueled creation of vicarages, a secure position requiring residence in the parish. A vicar customarily garnered a third of the benefice's annual value, usually a humble living, though the lucrative vicarage was not wholly uncommon. Robinson discerns some broad patterns in the career arc of non-beneficed clergy. Waiting a decade or more to secure a vicarage or rectory was typical. The position was usually local, though London and the south ordained fewer priests and attracted outsiders. A vicar held his position on average for twelve years and usually died in harness, though moving to a vacant vicarage or exchanging one position for another occurred frequently enough. Rare before 1320, trading of benefices burgeoned after a 1317 prohibition on the holding of multiple benefices with cure of souls. The fortunate pluralist moved toward his most lucrative living and open vicarages and rectorships were the result. By the 1340s, nearly half of appointments to vicarages in some dioceses involved an exchange. Robinson's analysis is agnostic regarding how the lower clergyman's experience affected the parishioner.

The parish church of All Saints North Street in York's Micklegate neighborhood becomes for Jessica Knowles a case study of the motives for integrating Roman stone into ecclesiastical architecture. This church underwent a series of medieval renovations and expansions. Knowles focuses on two: a 1320s rebuilding in which a Roman pillar was installed and a late fourteenth-, early fifteenth-century expansion using Roman stone, two halves of a Roman tombstone, and cross-inscribed, early fourteenth-century gravestones in a wall and its foundations. For Knowles, neither happenstance nor convenience accounts wholly for repurposing of Roman stone. She discerns intention by sponsor and builder to convey a message. While the stone may have reinforced the parish's bond with Rome or the papacy, Knowles believes time, place, and circumstance imparted further layers of meaning. Each refurbishing was undertaken during disordered times, the earlier in the wake of the Great Famine, increased royal fiscal demands, and Scottish incursions, the later amid popular uprisings (1381, 1405) and a recurrence of the plague (1391). In a decaying world, spinning a symbolic thread to a happier past is very human. Knowles finds also a sociopolitical message in the second use of Roman spoils, the concerns of York's tanners. Once a respected trade, tanners were progressively "marginalized" by York's elite, especially the powerful merchants' gild, during the late Middle Ages. Resentful of the tanners' independence, the merchants engineered a gradual diminution of their political voice and, exploiting as pretext the trade's olfactory unpleasantness and its requirement for water, shunted tanners into the Micklegate neighborhood near the river Ouse, especially North Street parish, effectively a tanners' ghetto from c. 1350 to c. 1450. Ancient stone enabled the tanners to express an identity separate from York's political elite. Knowles relies heavily on inference from material remains since neither patron nor builder nor parishioner left comment on an intended message. Her task was further complicated by an 1877 renovation which irrecoverably disarranged the stone used in her second example. Knowles' provocative thesis, nonetheless, merits further testing in ecclesiastical buildings.

Christopher Guyol's reconsideration of the chronicle by St. Albans monk Thomas Walsingham lays bare the intersection of the monastic ethos and chivalric values. Guyol also sees in the chronicle a rebuttal to the Lollards' excoriation of the cloistered life. Struck by Walsingham's lack of condemnation and indeed sangfroid in praising berserker-grade violence by knights in battle, Guyol locates an interpretative key in Walsingham's linking of voluntary physical suffering in battle with spiritual improvement, a type of "heroic asceticism." Walsingham devalued conventional knightly virtues--restraint, prudence, wisdom--and believed pious and conscious willingness to risk life and limb enhanced martial prowess and even could induce an immanent God to shift a battle's outcome. Observed through this lens, gruesome violence becomes a Christian work and the battle of Agincourt represents the apotheosis of ascetic militarism. Walsingham, conversely, equated impiety--violence impure in motive--with defeat. Guyol sees precursors to Walsingham's attitude in monasticism's penchant for martial metaphors and the personal involvement of monks in secular and even military affairs. This offers Guyol avenues for further study, for example the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux's "new knighthood" and the ethos of the crusading orders as well as personal engagement in military operations, such as Abbot Hugh II of Bury St Edmunds' leading knights enfeoffed on his lands to a siege operation in 1224.

Philip Morgan reassesses the chronicle-writing tradition of monasteries in the northern Midlands in the fourteenth century and posits a loose sodality of chronicle writers, a community engaged in borrowing and copying texts, for which Lichfield was the linchpin. Hoping to improve the faint scholarly praise for the region's chronicle tradition, Morgan focuses on four communities, the Benedictines at Chester, the Cistercians at Croxden and Dieulacres, and the secular canons at Lichfield cathedral. These abbeys' chroniclers shared two emphases: monastic patronage and the forging of independent Mercian identity. The focus on a house's patron, whether the de Verduns in the Croxden chronicle or the earls of Chester in the Dieulacres chronicle, drew the writers beyond the local to national and international events because of the scope of a substantial noble's interests. Two discoveries emerge from Morgan's perusal of the abbeys' delightfully grab-bag codices. A continuator of Alan of Ashbourn embedded an independent report in the Lichfield chronicle, as seen from Chester, for Richard II's reign in 1385-1388. An appendix contains Morgan's transcription and translation of these "Chester Annals." Second, Morgan finds in the Dieulacres chronicle an exemplar of the complex sausage-making that was chronicle writing. The chronicle's original author, a partisan of Richard II, had his work emended by a second monk sympathetic to Henry IV, and a third brother edited the whole.

Áine Foley recites a medieval saying: "Poor man be hanged by the neck, rich man by the purse," a maxim reflecting how rarely the ultimate penalty was visited on the connected and well-heeled. Foley's examines the instances in which neither affluence nor status stilled the executioner in Ireland. England is Foley's baseline for evaluation of the Irish experience. The lowly English felon normally was hanged and the noble beheaded. In the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, high-status executions, though still rare, became more frequent and brutal. Hanging, drawing, and quartering appeared in 1283 and was inflicted occasionally, most famously on William Wallace in 1305. This punishment maximized public humiliation and physical torment. Execution of English nobles ebbed as the century passed and beheading became once again the norm. As in England, the humble Irish scofflaw was hanged but high-status execution assumed a different character. Judicial starvation was inflicted on a handful of substantial men early in the fourteenth century, several during the Great Famine. The idiosyncratic penalty perhaps spared the condemned's family the social ignominy of public execution, it possibly forestalled rescue en route to the gallows, it perchance prevented birth of a martyr, or it conceivably seemed a more humane end. Whatever its rationale, the practice filtered down the social hierarchy and noble starved lesser noble. Ethnicity too shaped the condemned's fate. Gaelic birth made hanging more probable and Ireland's first hanging, drawing, and quartering was performed in 1328. Factionalism, moreover, within the Anglo-Irish nobility imbued many capital sentences with political undertones. High-status execution indeed sometimes drifted into "political theater," as when Edward Bruce's corpse was ritually executed after his death in battle. High-status execution ultimately was rarer in Ireland than England, perhaps because of the English crown's dependence on Anglo-Irish nobles to preserve order.

A case in England's Court of Chivalry enabled E. Amanda McVitty to investigate the interplay between a monarch's immediate political needs and the evolution of the English constitution. Thomas Lord Morley in 1399 charged John Montague, the earl of Salisbury, with treason for having revealed the duke of Gloucester's private counsel to Richard II, a betrayal that caused the duke's execution. Lord Morley as an addicion leveled a second charge: conspiring to destroy the "lords and community of the realm" and to undermine the chose publique and communalté. This litigation's context was the recent deposition of Richard II, the installation of Henry IV, and Henry IV's need, perhaps existential in his mind, to legitimize his rule and quell dissension. For McVitty, Henry IV's involvement in the case exposed a conscious effort to move the operative statutory definition of treason (Statute of Treason, 1352) as an offense against the king's person--the crux of Lord Morley's initial charge--toward the more abstract understanding in civil law of treason as lèse majesté, an offense against the state's public authority as in Bracton, Glanvill, and Fleta and implicit in Lord Morley's addicion. If successful, Henry IV could then conjoin his "body natural" with the "abstract political body of the crown" and gain a tool to suppress dissension. Henry IV's effort is doubly intriguing in light of his staunch opposition to a similar legal gambit by Richard II in 1397. McVitty, moreover, adduces indications of Henry IV's intervention in treason cases beyond the Court of Chivalry: prosecutions before the King's Bench in 1402 of a man repeating gossip insulting to Henry IV and of twenty friars and clergy who preached that Richard II remained among the quick and would reclaim his throne imminently. While not every defendant was convicted, treason took on broader meaning. A suspected traitor could be charged with destruction of "the language and law of England" (153), an accusation McVitty sees as sharpening the line between subject and alien and merging "political, legal and ethnic identity" (153). McVitty's fascinating analysis underscores that legal and constitutional change, even in abstruse matters, need not arise from a coolly considered program of reform but just as readily from political exigencies.

D. A. L. Morgan contributes the first of Fourteenth Century England's "Notes and Documents." Morgan scrutinizes a letter to Richard II written at Chatton, a document long assumed to figure in the unraveling of Richard II's rule, and proposes that it has been misdated--correctly 1381, not 1398--and that its authorship is more uncertain than once assumed. For C. Given-Wilson, Morgan's rereading of the evidence clarifies the timing of the decision to the create the Middle March. Morgan's analysis, furthermore, underlines the imperative to revisit old evidence, retest old verities, and retain healthy skepticism since even small, unconscious, and unintended error can cascade through scholarship and impede understanding.

While the reader will no doubt gravitate toward the essay speaking to individual interest, Fourteenth Century England invites the dipping of a toe in a different pool to enjoy the interconnectedness of the medieval experience. In the tangle, that is England's fourteenth century, it is unsurprising, even in a non-thematic collection, that some topics--famine, plague, and the rise and fall and death and non-death of monarchs--cross from essay to essay. Other points of contact are serendipitous yet instructive. Dryburgh's Henry Burghersh, one of a pair of brothers entangled with Isabelle and Roger Mortimer, whose links with John of Eltham's nascent retinue enabled his rehabilitation and eventual service at Edward III's chancellor and treasurer, was for Robinson the bishop of Lincoln whose diocesan records cast light on the lower clergyman's search for a living. Foley's Theobald I de Verdun was the constable of Ireland and lord of Meath who had material impact on high-status executions, while Morgan's Theobald was first lord Verdun of Alton, patron for the Cistercians at Croxden and subject for monastic annals. In ways big and small, Fourteenth Century England exposes the textured richness of medieval life.

Copyright (c) 2017 David Routt

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