The Medieval Review 17.12.26

Jobson, Adrian, ed. Baronial Reform and Revolution in England, 1258-1267. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016. pp. 298. $99.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-84383-467-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Craig M Nakashian
Texas A"M University-Texarkana

As editor Adrian Jobson explains, this volume (comprised of fifteen articles plus an introduction) aims to interact with existing historiography by focusing on the various societal groups that intersected with the reforms. These groups include local gentry, aristocratic women, bishops, nobles from outside the main areas of conflict, naval forces, and civic groups. The volume also includes essays looking at how baronial reformers tried to influence the operations of the organs of royal governance, including the Exchequer and Justiciar's Court. Overall the essays, along with the very fine introduction by Jobson, broaden and deepen our understanding of this vital period in English history.

The volume begins with an essay by Christopher Tilley contextualizing how historians' understandings of the reform movement have evolved over the years. In a fashion similar to J. C. Holt's opening to his magisterial book Magna Carta, Tilley seeks to show how suceeding generations of historians from the seventeenth century onwards tried to use the attempts by the barons to reform royal governance to advance political arguments and assumptions of their own day. He demonstrates that our shift away from teleological and judgmental history has not prevented us from seeing contemporary relevance in the period of baronial reform, as well as an illumination of thirteenth-century society.

Tilley's article is followed by David Carpenter's re-examination of the 1258 attempts to rein in royal government, specifically the so-called "Provisions of Oxford," which he demonstrates really encompassed a series of rules and laws that were issued in various ways. Carpenter, who writes with authority, zest, and not a little humor, makes a compelling case that the revolutionary events of 1258 were largely under the radar, unlike the openly revolutionary events of 1264-1265. The attempted reforms of 1258 could also claim (somewhat) that Henry III went along with them reasonably willingly, unlike what was forced upon him in 1264 by Simon de Monfort. This duress forced Monfort and his followers to abandon the fiction that the king had acquiesced to the reforms, and instead pushed them to justify their seizure of power on the broader grounds of the king's supposed tyranny.

The next two articles--"Baronial Reform, the Justiciar's Court and Commercial Legislation: The Case of Grimsby" by Andrew H. Hershey and "Crisis Management: Baronial Reform at the Exchequer" by Nick Barrett--both examine the attempts by the reform barons to gain greater leverage over the levers of royal governance. Hershey does an admirable job demonstrating that the reform-minded barons had broader interests than only those of the aristocracy. They sought to bring justice to lesser merchants through the querela system (proceeding from oral arguments directly to a judgment, rather than to a writ) by incorporating these as commercial regulations under the seal of Justiciar Hugh Bigod and the Council of 15 (established by the Provisions of Oxford). Hershey shows, therefore, that local issues were bound up in the broader political context of the period, though he could have, at times, established a stronger political link between these local and national interests.

Nick Barrett continues the examination of baronial attempts to reform royal governance with a focus on the Exchequer, seeking to redress a lack of scholarship looking at why the baronial reforms did not comprehensively fix royal incomes. In this, Barrett look to illuminate the financial basis to the coup of 1258, and he makes the important observation that while Henry III did not necessarily lack for income, he was overburdened by debt and suffered from a paucity of liquidity. He asks three primary questions: (1) Were crown debts reduced? (2) Were baronial reformers able to raise more money for the central government? (3) Did the baronial reformers successfully streamline royal bureaucracy? The answer to each of these was essentially "no," and the underlying basis for the failure was that the reformers consistently found each problem that they had associated with Henry III's failure of leadership to actually derive from a much broader array of difficult-to-resolve issues.

Tony Moore takes the baronial reform movement to the countryside in his article--"Local Administration during the Period of Reform and Rebellion"--and he shows that local grievances played a major role in the platform of the 1258 reformers. He focuses his attention on the county of Essex, and he shows that for the twenty-year period prior to 1258 there was a widening gulf between the affairs of the localities and those of the court. While this meant that localities were largely insulated from issues at court, it also meant that their concerns went largely unheard. Part of the manner in which this was done was by a diminishing of the office of sheriff, with sheriffs increasingly drawn from lower-status men of the locality, rather than from among the great men at court. Sheriffs also lost their military roles with royal castles being given to separate castellans, county levies arrayed by commissions of array, and custodies pacis being appointed to keep the peace. A similar process happened administratively with the rise of coroners (charged with keeping a counter-roll of the local courts to check the sheriff) and the escheator (who looked out for the king's feudal rights). The 1258 reformers sought to undo some of these changes by saying that sheriffs should be drawn from the substantial landholders of the county, only serve a year, and get a royal salary. Overall, the reformers garnered the support of local folks by catering to their concerns and most of their ideas became enshrined in later statutes.

Huw Ridgeway's essay looks at the events of 1261 to answer two compelling questions--how did Henry III win without violence, and why was baronial opposition so weak when it should have been at its strongest? He shows that this surprising return of royal ascendency was not the result of carefully thought out strategy, but rather because Henry III had significant amounts of diplomatic and financial support from among his princely European colleagues (the Papacy, Louis IX of France, Alexander III of Scotland, and Richard of Cornwall, king of Germany, especially) and the fractured and factional nature of the baronial opposition, which undermined the ability of the barons to put forward a unified front against the king.

Lars Kjœr argues that medieval chroniclers saw a deep subtext to the baronial rebellion based on Christian ideas of sin, pride, piety, persecution, and divine retribution. He thus (in similar fashion to Tilley's earlier argument) cautions modern historians against reading these sources as denoting the inexorable march towards parliamentary democracy. Instead of focuses on their perceived "accuracy" in recounting events, Kjœr explores how the chroniclers themselves understood why the events were happening. He shows that it is simplistic and inaccurate to divide chroniclers merely into "royalist" versus "baronial" factions, and instead we should understand the very complicated "rhetorical strategies and narrative agendas" that each employed. (124) Ultimately this should give us a stronger sense of the mentalités"#38; of the chroniclers and strengthen our understanding of the historiography of the period.

The following three articles examine the roles played by the city of London, the bishops supporting Montfort, and aristocratic women. John McEwan begins with a discussion of each side's focus on gaining the support of London, and walks the reader through the ultimate decision by the city to throw in with the barons. This serves as the foundation for McEwan's examination of how Henry III dealt with the city once he regained control. He shows that civic governance was complicated, and that city officials brought different perspectives to the conflict; the most partisan baronial supporters were replaced, but Henry fined the rest, and could moderate even that to get more political support from them in return for leniency. Therefore, while the king claimed all of London had been his "enemies," in fact he made a number of specific distinctions designed to maximize his political power.

Sophie Ambler writes on divisions in the English episcopate during the 1258-1263 crisis; this was a period that saw unprecedented factionalization among the bishops, with many of the senior bishops opting to support Montfort (the bishops of Worcester, Lincoln, Winchester, London, and Chichester were suspended in 1266 for their support of the rebellion). She demonstrates that we should be careful, however, at assuming that the bishops opposing Henry III were doing so because of pre-existing problems dating from before 1258 (primarily the issues surrounding his attempts to gain the throne of Sicily for his son Edmund). In fact, bishops had often seen their role(s) as one of guiding and chastising rulers where necessary, but rarely did they ever embrace rebellion. Why this changed after 1258, according to Ambler, was because of a combination of Montfort's charisma and the belief that his uprising was sanctioned by God. She compellingly argues that the Monfortian bishops were true to their traditional calling of ensuring good government, but they were different in seeing that happening outside of the king.

Louise Wilkinson's article brings to light the actions of aristocratic women during the period of baronial reform. She argues that while women have been an increasingly focus of scholarly attention since the 1960s, their agency in political affairs is still often overlooked or diminished. She examines a large number of women connected to major baronial and royalist figures, and, while the poverty and bias of sources makes it difficult to discern these womens' political leanings, she does an excellent job teasing out possible roles and actions through looking at chancery rolls and similar sources. Her conclusion-*that aristocratic women actively participated in the political upheaval of the period, even if we have a hard time pinning down exactly how--is well-taken.

There are two articles discussing how different regions reacted and interacted with the period, first with Mario Ferndandes' examination of Warwickshire knights, and second with Fergus Oakes' examination of the role(s) of northern barons. Fernandes shows that the Barons' War deeply changed Warwickshire; local administration and the ranks of the gentry were decimated. He focuses his attention on evidence from the Grand Assize panels organized after the conflict to sort out competing claims and issue justice. He eschews the term "Montfortian" for all of the opponents of the king, preferring instead to call them "contrarients" in order to better capture the broad array of reasons why particular figures went against the king. He shows that Warwickshire knights were subject to a variety of pressures pushing them in different directions during the war, and this had the effect of reducing their "freedom of choice" (180). He sees a rise in the importance of neighborhood and proximity in determining allegiance, and while the importance of tenurial ties was declining, it still mattered, as did family links, straight-up coercion, and personal grievances. Thus, while we cannot ignore the importance of free choice in determining political action, we should recognize that these various pressures pushed political actors strongly in one direction or another.

Fergus Oakes brings the study of the reform period to the north to address an absence of scholarly treatments of its role (mainly since there were not any major armed conflicts in the north). Oakes aims to examine balance of military/political power, nature of the war in the region, and the Monfortian attempts to bring the royalists to heel. Narrative source material is not readily available for the area, so he relies on royal records, though even these are not as useful as they could be due to the fact that so many northern nobles had liberties. Oakes shows that, while there was not a "northern faction" as such, northern nobles played leading roles in the period of reform, and he provides a fine overview of leading northern barons and their actions during the war.

Sandwiched between these two articles is Peter Coss' "Retinues, Agents and Garrisons during the Barons' Wars". Coss (re)assesses our understanding of baronial organization and targeting of royalists was between Lewes and Evesham. He uses the assize rolls detailing cases before the special eyre held between 1267-1272, most especially the Berkshire roll, due to its location in "contested" country (not strictly royalist or Monfortian) and because it hasn not been much used by historians. With this evidence he effectively reconstructs how the baronial reformers spread destruction in Berkshire during the period, though he also recognizes that royalists were probably engaged in similar activities.

The volume editor, Adrian Jobson, contributes an article examining the reform period from the perspective of the maritime theater. The role of naval forces and preparation has not been a major focus for historians of this period, and Jobson aims to show why we should take it more seriously. He demonstrates that baronial reformers prioritized control over coastal defenses and that the coastal forts became primary targets for both the reform forces and the king. Each side devoted significant resources to ensuring control over the maritime defenses and routes, and deeply valued naval security. Naval strategic priorities influenced the military campaigns of the period (though less so the Evesham campaign), and thus we cannot gain a complete understanding of those campaigns without taking the naval context into account.

Finally, the volume concludes with an article by Benjamin Wild entitled "Reasserting Medieval Kingship: King Henry III and the Dictum of Kenilworth." Wild examines Henry III's use of ceremony and rhetoric to bolster his kingship, and Wild discusses these actions alongside broader developments in the rise of the administrative state. He argues that while ceremony was important to English kings, the strength of the administrative kingship moderated its impact. The Dictum of Kenilworth is particularly important because it can show us what Henry III thought of regality and because it shows the consequences of the rise in administrative kingship. Thus, while Henry III used rhetoric and ceremonial ideas of theocratic kingship to argue for his position, the omnipresence of his administrative state undercut his claims that kingship was somehow above such tawdry temporal concerns.

One criticism of the volume is the arrangement of the articles, which is broadly chronological. Many of the articles, however, cover overlapping periods, so this arrangement does not always succeed. There are several "themes" that emerge by reading the articles (local/regional effects, barons in royal government, etc) and had the articles been arranged under these headings, it would have given the volume a stronger coherence. Overall, however, this is an important volume that brings together scholars from a variety of perspectives to illuminate our understanding of not just the period of baronial reform in England, but also how the period fits into broader discourses.

Copyright (c) 2018 Craig M. Nakashian

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