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The Past and Present Society

Bastard Feudalism Revised: Reply

Author(s): P. R. Coss
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Past & Present, No. 131 (May, 1991), pp. 190-203
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society
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Debates often take an unexpected turn. Rather than the vigorous
defence of the traditional, McFarlanesque, framework of refer-
ence against which I had braced myself, I find that two scholars,
with considerable knowledge of twelfth- and thirteenth-century
conditions respectively, have produced stimulating critiques. One
of these offers significantly to modify my interpretation, while
the other threatens to so extend its range as to effectively dissolve
the historical specificity of bastard feudalism altogether.
David Carpenter, an old sparring partner, is in apparent agree-
ment over the content and chronology of bastard feudalism, but
disagrees essentially over the way it came about. He concludes
that the "lords rendered the Angevin revolution in government
harmless by spinning a bastard feudal web over the system", but
argues that it was "the increasing employment of gentry in local
administration" which made it "all the easier for them to do so".
As these lesser men were equally the gainers, so they were equally
responsible: "These developments were to the mutual benefit of
the strong, both lords and gentlemen. It was the minores who
suffered''.1 David Crouch, however, is rather less in accord. He
agrees that "the social order described by the term 'bastard
feudalism' " can be "dated back to the early thirteenth century",
but argues further that the social facts it encompasses were already
in place during the second half of the twelfth century. He believes
my chronology to be at fault, and offers an alternative perspective
which seems to dissolve feudalism and bastard feudalism into a
continuum of aristocratic power, so that "what changes there
were between 1100 and 1300 were matters of degree and
I find myself in agreement with a great deal of what both
scholars say, and since much of what they offer is supportive of
the central thesis (in Crouch's case much more than he thinks),
it is not a question of exchanging blow for blow. Conceptually,
however, and in terms of one's sense of the broad evolution of
feudal society, it is a different matter. What I intend to do,
therefore, is to work through the implications of what they say
for the bastard feudalism thesis, so that it can be modified or
1 Above, p. 189.
2 Above, pp. 165, 168.
extended, as appropriate. In doing so, I will indicate where I feel
that their arguments and evidence do not support the reinter-
pretations they offer. Let me say bluntly, however, that much of
my disagreement with Crouch stems from his unwillingness to
break away from the narrow fief-centred definition of feudalism
and, indeed, from McFarlane's consequent retinue-centred model
of bastard feudalism, the latter problem being present in Carpen-
ter's arguments too.
Let me begin with Carpenter's analysis. He challenges my
interpretation from three angles. The first of these is, I think,
much the most significant. Although he agrees that the Angevin
and subsequent legal reforms were potentially damaging to the
magnates, and indeed offers further support for this view, he
argues against the idea "that the employment of gentry as sheriffs,
judges and so forth to run the new system of local government
falls into the same category". On the contrary, he suggests, it
was precisely this which gave the magnates the opportunity to
pervert the whole system and to "anaesthetize" its effects. He
argues further that the demise of the curial sheriff after 1236
marked a decisive change in the pattern of local government, and
that the employment of knights judicially offered the magnates a
golden opportunity. In other words, "the process Coss takes as
signalling potential doom to the magnates was rather the means
of their salvation".3
I do not believe I put quite the emphasis upon local office-
holding that Carpenter suggests, except insofar as it is sympto-
matic of a direct relationship between local society and the crown.
None the less, his caveat is an important one, and one which
raises a significant paradox. There is no denying that what he
describes is precisely what did happen, as magnates used their
superiority within local society and their own relationship with
lesser men to advantage, "inserting", as he puts it, their "bastard
feudal fingers into the system".4 But the important point is that
it was by no means an accidental development that they should
have done so; on the contrary, from their point of view it was
imperative, as indeed Carpenter himself implies when he talks of
it as the "means of their salvation". None of this should occasion
any great surprise. The central point, as I argued before, is that
the threat to magnate power was latent within the direct relation-
3 Above, pp. 180, 181.
4 Above, p. 181.
192 NUMBER 131
ship between the free subject and the crown.S The threat was not
to be realized, at least not for several centuries, and it was
probably not at this juncture realizable. This was due both to the
way existing society was
structured and to
contemporary habits
of mind. Service and
subordination (often, in effect, very much
the same thing)
characterized society at virtually all levels. There
were, however, factors which were working in a different direc-
tion. Military and other free tenants were
increasingly released
from magnate control; there was a growing sense of territorial
elitism which would
ultimately lead to a graded English gentry;
and there were the
implications of the upsurge of public justice.
But none of this proved strong enough to
counteract the capacity
of the feudal magnate to sustain social
superiority and to bend
the system to his will. The result was bastard feudalism, where
public justice subsisted and was uneasily mastered, and where it
remained essential that lesser seigneurs,
office-holders and others
should be bound as closely as possible to their social superiors if
the latter's feudal power was to survive.
As Carpenter
acknowledges, there was no necessary identity of
interest between magnates on the one hand and the knights and
lesser men on the other, just as there was no simple point of
fracture or
divergence. It was a complex society with very little
articulation. There was, however, a great deal of tension
and strain within
thirteenth-century society, some of it resulting
from the exercise of magnate power and the
subversion of public
Carpenter has shown that the king could, and did,
attempt to play the "magnate
oppression" card, but that he did
so with limited success. This was not only because of those social
factors which worked to bolster magnate power, but because of
the nature of, and exercise of power by, the crown itself. Despite
the much
advantages of royal justice, royal agents
(especially when resident in the localities) could be
oppressive. Hence the tendency for men to combine to free the
localities from excessive
interference from outside.
In short
Carpenter offers here an important
perspective on the
situation, and one with which I concur. The difference between
us is, to my mind, one of emphasis, not one of
disagreement, and
Carpenter's particular stress upon the means
5 P. R. Coss, "Bastard Feudalism Revised", Past and Present, no. 125 (Nov. 1989),
by which the magnates exercised their social power has further
illuminated the situation.
His second line of attack is against what he sees as my "implica-
tion" that "the way that lords looked for servants outside the
ring of their knightly tenants, and rewarded them not with land,
but with money fees and other gifts" was "just a magnate reaction
to the Angevin legal and administrative reforms".6 This is an
implication which I frankly disown. But, again, it is one which
raises important issues. Of course I fully appreciate the reasons
for the development of service from outside the traditional hon-
our, that "strait-jacket" as he puts it,7 and I am quite aware, as
I made clear initially, that twelfth-century society did not revolve
solely around the honour. The specific needs of the era of high
farming and the growing sophistication of society during the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries take us a long way towards an
explanation of contracts for service and related phenomena, as
the fine study of the subject by Scott L. Waugh makes abundantly
clear.8 On the other hand the attenuation of the stock of land
available for reward, and the continuing need to offer inducements
for service, explain the growth of the money fief and other means
of reward. This too led, indubitably, to a growth in contracts and
legal sanctions. All of this is clear enough. It does not follow,
however, that the employment of knights and other servants from
outside a magnate's honour, nor the granting of fief-rentes, nor
indeed the use of written instruments to record a service relation-
ship, should automatically involve the invasion and subversion of
law courts and offices of administration. It is this latter which in
my view lies at the heart of bastard feudalism.
This, I think, is where a fundamental difference between us
lies. For me this penetration of institutions is not a secondary,
but a primary matter. I rejected, and I still reject, the McFarlane
view which sees bastard feudalism as flowing simply from the
replacement of the tenurial bond with the cash nexus. It is Car-
penter's willingness to retain this perspective which causes him
to impute to me the implication that a broader search for service
on the part of the magnates and the money fief both arose out of
a reaction to the Angevin legal reforms.
6 Above, p. 185.
7 Ibid.
8 S. L. Waugh, "Tenure to Contract: Lordship and Clientage in Thirteenth-Century
England", Eng. Hist. Rev., ci (1986), pp. 811-39.
In fact, the money fief, the annuity, the contract, the fee and
the indenture are all enabling mechanisms when it comes to
explaining how the magnates were able successfully to penetrate
the administration and the courts, and in this respect stand along-
side the filling of local offices by local men to which Carpenter
has drawn attention. They constituted, as he says, the means of
the magnates' "salvation". It does not have to follow that, because
they were used for, and moulded to, such purposes, the explana-
tion for their origin must lie there. On the contrary, men use and
develop whatever instruments lie to hand as they strive to main-
tain and enhance their influence and their power. Waugh had it
exactly right when he wrote (of the contract): "What began as a
device to solve specific problems . . . evolved into a versatile tool
of social organization which could be used in many different
circumstances . . . The development of contractual retaining in
the thirteenth century thus ensured the pattern of the survival of
the lord/client relations that had been worked out over the previ-
ous centuries and likewise ensured the continued dominance of
the landed elite within those relations and within the social hier-
archy and the economy as a whole".9
Carpenter's over-concentration on the question of service and
its rewards leads him to argue that the "first and greatest bastard
feudal lord" was in fact the king, for he both employed whom
he liked in his service, and had long done so, and rewarded them
with fees and wages as well as with land.10 This is a deliberate
reductio ad absurdum, for the crown was the guardian of the very
public authority which bastard feudalism subverted. Yet, in an-
other sense, it underlines an important feature of the situation.
The crown may have been the guardian and fountain of public
authority, but the king himself had much in common with any
other magnate and, as has so often been said, was enmeshed in
the feudal order. And so, as the bastard feudal order gained sway,
he became increasingly enmeshed there too.
Carpenter's third, and final, point of disagreement is with the
idea that "it was the action of the lords which created bastard
feudalism". On the contrary, he feels, "ambitious and successful
magnates and gentry had a mutual interest in developing bastard
feudalism; a mutual interest, that is, both in forging a free market
9 Ibid., p. 839
10 Above, p. 186.
in service, and in extending local control of local government''.1l
Here again I think we are slightly at cross-purposes. I did not
mean to imply that lesser lords and other clients did not have a
part to play in the formation of bastard feudalism. What I was
attacking at this point was the idea that the bastard feudal system
somehow arose automatically and that it therefore equally bene-
fited, and was sanctioned by, all. What I wanted to stress was
that it arose out of the existing power structure, and here, inevi-
tably, the accent falls on the greater lords. Of course we have to
take account of the demands placed by clients upon the lords,
demands that were implicit within the social order. The satisfac-
tion of such demands, for protection as well as direct sustenance,
lay at the core of some of the problems inherent in the bastard
feudal order. One might also add that lesser men participated in
this society not only as clients, but also as patrons. It is noticeable,
for example, that some of the earliest surviving indentures of
retainer and similar expressions of social binding derive from
lesser lords.12 They too needed to reward men and to hold them
to their service.13 Having said this, it still remains the case that
the interests of lesser lords lay in more than one direction, and
that the evolution of local communities and the development of
an increasingly direct relationship with the crown raised other
possibilities. It was in the interests of the magnates if not to "put
the lid on" such possibilities) then at least to control them.
I think we should be careful, too, that we do not see these
possibilities as arising suddenly at one point in time. For this
reason perhaps we ought not to place too much emphasis even
upon the Angevin legal reforms, as though they were Deus ex
machina. It may well be the case, as I think Crouch is indicating,14
that these legal reforms and their successors should be seen as
part of the process of the emancipation of the feudal tenant rather
1t Above, pp. 188, 189.
12 See the recent, thorough treatment by J. M. W. Bean, From Lord to Patron:
Lordship in Late Medieval England (Manchester, 1989), esp. pp. 12, 40-8, 127-8, 133.
13 It is important, however, not to over-stress the indenture. It is in reality an
expression, and in its mature form a relatively late expression, of bastard feudal
tendencies. Bean, in searching for the institutional origins, as it were, of bastard
feudalism, is surely right to put equal stress upon annuities and livery, although I
find his focus upon the household a relatively narrow one (ibid., ch. 4). For a highly
pertinent recent discussion of the significance of livery in the fourteenth century, see
Nigel Saul, "The Commons and the Abolition of Badges", in Parliamentary Hist., ix
(1990), pp. 302-15.
14 Above, p. 172.
196 NUMBER 131
than itS fons et origo. Equally the
beginnings of bastard feudal
tendencies should not be seen as
originating against a fully articu-
relationship between crown and localities during the early
mid-thirteenth century. As I have argued
elsewhere, there has
been a tendency to invest too much in the county courts of this
period as a vehicle for the
expression of local feeling. Although
there are many instances of their fighting for local rights and
oppression from without, a cause in which magnates
themselves and indeed their stewards often played a
part, there is evidence enough to show that at this period local
society operated, for the most part, at some remove from the
county court.15 None the less it is equally clear that the years
between the Angevin reforms and the legislation of 1258-9 did
development in the growth of a direct relation-
ship between the central
government and society in the localities,
and that this is
manifested in the period of baronial reform. In
terms of the capacity to articulate local feeling the
century era of reform was, in fact, critical, and as time passed
the growth of
parliament and through it the
government's rela-
tionship with the
"constituencies" gave increasing potential for
the forging of a new
partnership, as a series of studies by J. R.
Maddicott has made
abundantly clear.16 Looked at from the point
of view of the
continuance of magnate power, the necessity of
binding lesser lords and other clients closer and closer to them
became ever more critical. Hence the full flowering of the bastard
feudal order.
In short, although I do not feel that
should lead to a
modification of my thesis on the
origins of bastard feudalism, the
perspectives he opens up on the
role of the lesser lords none the less shed
considerable light on
15 p. R. Coss,
"Knighthood and the Early
Thirteenth-Century County Court", in
P. R. Coss and S. 1). Lloyd (eds.),
Thirteenth-Century England, ii
(Woodbridge, 1988),
pp. 45-57.
16 J. R. Maddicott, "The County Community and the Making of Public Opinion
Fourteenth-Century England", Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser., xxviii (1978),
pp. 27-43; J. R. Maddicott, "Parliament and the
Constituencies, 1272-1377", in
R. G. Davies and J. H Denton (eds.), The English Parliament in the Middle Ages
(Manchester, 1981), pp. 61-87; J. R. Maddicott, "Edward I and the Lessons of
Baronial Reform: Local Government, 1258-80", in P. R. Coss and S. D. Lloyd (eds.),
Thirteenth-Century England, i
(Woodbridge, 1986), pp. 1-30; J. R. Maddicott, "The
Crusade Taxation of 1268-70 and the
Development of Parliament", in Coss and Lloyd
Thirteenth-Century England, ii, pp. 93-116.
its genesis, just as his work on thirteenth-century politics formed
a major ingredient in my original formulation.
Similarly the observations on twelfth-century society offered
by Crouch, a foretaste of the results of his wide-ranging aristo-
cracy project, seem to me to be much more supportive of the
bastard feudalism thesis than he himself realizes. He raises some
very large issues of interpretation. In so doing, however, he
misinterprets me on three crucial points. The first is over the
relationship, as I see it, between feudal society in general and
bastard feudalism in particular. It is not true that I adopt "McFar-
lane's line that 'feudal' society was 'essentially different while
superficially similar' to that which succeeded it''.17 In fact I
quoted with approval G. L. Harriss's famous reversal here, that
bastard feudalism should be seen as "an adaptation of the forms
of feudalism rather than as the manifestation of a radical change
in social organization". 18 I conclude, moreover, that bastard feud-
alism was one particular type of feudal order: "It occurs when a
highly feudalized society is subjected to a growth in publicly
exercised authority, and its chief manifestation is the control of
that authority by means of private and privatized agents''.19 It is
entirely consistent with this interpretation that there should be
strong elements of continuity with the preceding era, and it
occasions no great surprise that Crouch should have found them.
The "changes one finds between 1100 and 1300" might well be
regarded as "matters of degree". However, they were certainly
more than "cosmetic".
Secondly, just as I did not talk of "two radically different
societies", neither did I seek a "crisis at the point of fracture"
between them. Similarly I spoke neither of "a fading aristocracy"
nor of "a crisis in the aristocracy, defined by the catastrophic
decay of honours".20 I was, in fact, at pains to stress that bastard
feudalism did not occur "as a series of separate steps growth
in royal government, potential partnership with the gentry, aris-
tocratic reaction. It was not as mechanistic as this . . . It has to
be emphasized that the threat to the great lord's social power was
essentially latent within the developments I have outlined. It was
17 Above, p. 166
18 Coss, "Bastard Feudalism Revised", p. 30; England in the Fifteenth Century:
Collected Essays of K. B. McFarlane, introd. G. L. Harriss (London, 1981), p. ix.
19 Coss, "Bastard Feudalism Revised", p. 63.
20 Above, pp. 167, 168, 172.
not in practice realized, precisely because of the inherent power
of the lords. The elements of this alternative, public and landed
polity and the institutions of bastard feudalism developed gradu-
ally across time. They grew, in fact, together; they were symbi-
otic''.2l I was arguing, therefore, neither for a sharp shift nor for
radical discontinuity.
Thirdly, Crouch misunderstands the emphasis I placed on the
honour and its decline. It is certainly the case that I see the decay
of the honour as a symptom of a decline in the traditional means
of exercising aristocratic power. I do, however, warn against the
view that "To argue solely in terms of the growth of central
government and the aristocracy's reaction to this would be to see
only surface phenomena".22 More importantly Crouch exagger-
ates the extent to which I saw twelfth-century society as revolving
around the honour. It was never part of my argument that the
honour was an enclosed society. To contrast the twelfth-century
"honour" with the fourteenth-century "affinity" as standing for
"two radically different societies" is to put the matter much too
starkly, and thereby to distort my formulation.23 Our differences
here, however, stem from our radically different approaches to
the issue of feudalism.
First of all, I find it difficult to accept the proposition that
because there is disagreement over the definition of feudalism we
should automatically abandon it. If we were to jettison every
concept which failed to achieve unanimity we would be left with
a very primitive vocabulary. The fact that Crouch goes on to use
"feudal" to describe a narrow set of military arrangements
centred on the fief, and proceeds to treat all other forms of
military recruitment and subordination as non-feudal, tends to
confirm me in the view that it is essentially those who are tied to
this usage who now wish to abandon feudalism, as their model
fails against the results of recent historical research. By contrast,
where feudal is used to describe a total social formation it seems
to me that disagreements are more often a matter of emphasis,
with some stressing the mode of production, others the parcelliz-
ation of authority, yet others the superiority of a warrior class
and so on. With these observations in mind, and with a view to
avoiding a long historiographical survey on the subject, let me
21 Coss, "Bastard Feudalism Revised", p. 52. Emphasis added.
22Ibid., p.41.
23 Above, p. 167.
offer a working definition of feudalism in the broader sense of
the term.
Feudal society, in my view, is characterized by direct appropri-
ation of surplus production and by a tendency to decentralization
of authority and justice (more or less realized). It is dominated
by a seigneurial class, or classes, whose power is territorial, is
based ultimately upon physical force, and involves the direct
subordination of man to man.24 This subordination most often
involves the idea of service, and this characterizes feudal mores
and habits of mind. Within this social order the greater feudatory
needs to dominate the lesser, and he must continue to do so if he
is to remain on a superior plane. One further feature of feudal
society needs emphasis. As Marc Bloch himself stressed, in the
midst of all this there survived older forms of association, includ-
ing the state. One might well argue that feudalism is essentially
a matter of distinctive social relationships which crystallize into
concrete, institutional forms. We should avoid, therefore, over-
concentration upon the forms, to the detriment of the underlying
tendencies of which they are manifestations.25 As far as twelfth-
century England is concerned, both the fief and the honour are
significant social forms; but they do not in themselves constitute
feudalism. Neither is a sine qua non.
It will be apparent, then, that I regard England during the
twelfth century as highly feudalized, but that this does not mean
that I accept the view of that society which Crouch imputes to
me. There is more to feudal society than the honour and the fief.
In fact, my sense of aristocratic society in the twelfth century is,
I suspect, very little different from his own, and I accept the
general contours that he has drawn, with a multiplicity of military
arrangements and a variety of means of social domination. Two
points, however, do need stressing, even though there is a broad
measure of agreement between us, if we are to fully understand
the origins and nature of bastard feudalism.
The first is that the fief must be seen in its full context, and
not solely from the vantage point of recruitment to the royal host.
The servitium debitum was only one imperative acting upon lords.
24 My sense of feudalism is, therefore, close to that of Georges Duby: see, for
example, G. Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy, trans. Howard B.
Clarke (London, 1974), pp. 162-77; G. Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society
Imagined, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago and London, 1980), pp. 150-5.
25 None the less the rise and fall of particular institutional forms can hardly be
without historical significance.
200 NUMBER 131
It has long been
understood that pressure came also from below,
from relatives, servants and associates seeking land. The fief was,
by and large, the most attractive form of reward.26 The need to
deliver, and to continue to deliver, was potentially
to the lords as the pool of available land dried up. Naturally they
took to rewarding in whatever ways were possible. None the less
whenever and wherever land became available the pressure to
subinfeudate remained strong, as the activities of William Marshal
and others in Ireland, for example, make perfectly clear.27 It is
hardly surprising either that those with access to the crown and
royal patronage should seek to use it to reward
subordinates. As
the role of the central
government expanded this was to become
increasingly significant factor. Crouch points here to another
area in which the growth of the central
administration tended to
cause difficulties for lords in exercising their wider social roles.
The crown was simply better placed to offer patronage to the
men of the shires, in terms of lucrative office as well as matters
like marriage and wardship, than were the magnates. Little won-
der that lords came
increasingly to regard the control of its flow
as a vitally important matter.
The second point which needs stressing is that the heart of
magnate power, at least qua magnate rather than as simple
seigneur, lay in
dominating local society. Here the honour was
a vital
institution, but it never
constituted the sole means of
magnate control. For one thing honorial justice was
complemented by the exercise of delegated royal
jurisdiction, or
franchise; most often in one and the same court.28 Crouch is
26 See, for example, Sally Harvey, "The Knight and the Knight's Fee in England",
Past and Present, no. 49 (Nov. 1970), repr. in R. H. Hilton (ed.), Peasants, Knights
and Heretics (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 136-40. For a stronger view, which tends to
displace the servitium debitum from its primary role, see R. Mortimer, "The Beginnings
of the Honour of Clare", in R. Allen Brown (ed.), Proceedings of the Battle Conference,
1980 (Woodbridge, 1981), pp. 140-1; R. Mortimer, "Land and Service: The Tenants
of the Honour of Clare", in R. Allen Brown (ed.), Anglo-Norman Studies, viii (Wood-
bridge, 1986), pp. 192-6.
27 D. Crouch, William Marshal: Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire,
c. 1147-1219 (London, 1990), pp. 105-6: "It was in Ireland that many of his political
affinity became his tenants for the first time". See also R. R. Davies, Domination and
Conquest: The Experience of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, 1100-1300 (Cambridge, 1990),
pp. 32-3.
28 W. O. Ault, Private 3rurisdiction in England (Yale, 1923), p. 323; N. Denholm-
Young, Seignorial ffurisdiction in England (London, 1937), p. 95. I have never under-
stood the view that would deny that privatized public authority in the hands of
individuals (or corporations) was feudal.
surely right, in this context, to point to the similarities between
the later medieval affinity and earlier forms of association. The
expansive nature of lordship was one of the dynamic features of
feudal society. The history of feudal society in France shows lords
using a variety of means to bring others under their sway. This
could include tight territorial control, as was often the case, for
example, within castellanies, where local seigneurs exercised the
power of the ban. It could involve the creation, by various routes,
of subordinate tenures. Equally it could involve little more than
alliances, backed up by oaths of fidelity and acknowledgement of
superiority the famous mouvance, or network of fideles. We
would do well to look for similar phenomena in England, and
indeed something similar to the mouvance has recently been sug-
gested in the mid-eleventh century.29 Such phenomena are by no
means non-feudal, although arguably they are often symptomatic
of less advanced forms of feudalism. But this is not necessarily
so. The type of affinity which Crouch describes around William
Marshal is a similar type of association of subordination, but
occurring here because he and others like him were essentially
interlopers within the territorial scene. But an affinity in the sense
that Crouch is using the term could clearly be a means of ex-
tending existing lordship. In times of disorder and/or weak gov-
ernment, well-placed magnates were ever likely to be particularly
expansive. The extension of local power by subjugation, by creat-
ing clients in one way or another, is a characteristically feudal
mode of behaviour. That Stephen's reign in particular should see
looser forms of domination flourishing, and lords making pacts
and agreements with both lesser lords and lords of equal degree,
is precisely what one would expect to have happened.
It is also true, however, as Crouch is indicating, that we should
not see the extra-tenurial retinue, or extra-tenurial elements
within a retinue, as necessarily aberrant. It does seem to be the
case that in the twelfth as well as the thirteenth century a lord's
retinue, at least as indicated by the witnessing of his charters,
could comprise men who were not his tenants. Nevertheless
tenurial ties were important and remained so into the thirteenth
century. Their importance can be seen when it came to rebellion
against the crown, as J. C. Holt's famous study of the Northerners
29Ann Williams, "A Vice-Comital Family in Pre-Conquest Warwickshire", in
R. Allen Brown (ed.), Anglo-Norman Studies, xi (Woodbridge, 1988), pp. 279-95,
esp. p. 291.
clearly shows. When all the necessary caveats have been made,
"the general impression of the evidence is that the great rebel
lords were followed by the men whom they might reasonably
regard as their particular tenants almost to a man" .30 This remains
true, notwithstanding the political independence which many men
of knightly rank were already showing, secure in their wealth
and/or administrative experience.3l Such independence of mind,
and factors of regional and local association, were even more
significant in 1264-5, but even then, and despite all the changes
of the intervening years, there were many rebel knights who were
following the lead of their overlords. In some cases they were
even prompted by distraint.32 Others, to be sure, participated as
members of the household contingents and retinues of the barons
and wealthier knights, and there can be no doubt that tenurial
links were becoming a less significant, and "direct" service a
more significant, factor.33 Even so, as far as the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries are concerned, I think we should be wary of
assuming that a lord's power over lesser seigneurs was necessarily
limited to his immediate retinue and to his charter witnesses.
Indeed it should not be lost sight of that even in the fourteenth
century indentured retainers could be drawn from families with
a traditional tenurial dependence upon their lords.34
There are, then, in all of this considerable elements of continu-
ity. It seems to be undoubtedly the case that tenurially subordinate
lords were increasingly ceasing to regard service to (or even
association with) their chief lord as axiomatic, at least not without
additional reward. In other words, we are brought back increas-
ingly to the emancipation of the lesser lord, of the feudal tenant.
But does this undermine the bastard feudalism hypothesis? I think
not. The "affinity", as Crouch uses the term, is certainly a feudal
30 J. C. Holt, The Northerners: A Study in the Reign of King 3rohn (Oxford, 1961),
p. 43; see also ch. 4, in general.
32 See, in particular, C. H. Knowles, " 'The Disinherited', 1265-80" (Univ. of
Wales Ph.D. thesis, 1959), pt. ii, ch. 2.
33 See also Daniel Williams, "Simon de Montfort and his Adherents", in W. M.
Ormrod (ed.), England in the Thirteenth Century: Proceedings of the 1984 Harlaxton
Symposium (Woodbridge, 1985), p. 173. Here it is suggested, however, that the
independent action of the lesser landowners of the Midlands and East Anglia, who
predominated in this rebellion, is to be explained partly in terms of "the de facto
demise of the great Midland earldoms which culminates in the middle years of the
thirteenth century on the eve of the Barons War" (ibid., pp. 174-6).
34 See, for example, Philip Morgan, War and Society in Medieval Cheshire, 1277-1403
(Manchester, 1987), pp. 18-19.
phenomenon, and
within a
order. One can
therefore, a
degree of
In this
there is no
reason to
despise the
quest for
Moreover, as
points out in
relation to the
subversion of the
courts and their
"features of
control" can be
found in the
century, and
that.35 The
difference is one of
changes can
qualitative. The
growth of the
during the
century and the
capacity for
behaviour on the part of the
lesser lords
magnates to use the
armoury at their
public law
courts and
office and to bind the
gentry as far as
possible to
them. The
lords, as
needed to
dominate local
society. But this
exercise of
power at and
through the
centre as
What they had to offer was
domination, but also aid and
tion, as well as
reward. In this they
succeeded: but at a
That price was
Newcastle upon Tyne
P. R. Coss
35 Above, p. 180.