By Matthew J. Strickland
Law and government in medieval England and Normandy: essays in honour of Sir James Holt, edited by G. Garnett and J. Hudson (Cambridge University Press, 1994)
Abstract: Within a framework of arbitrary, monarchical government, baronial rebellion formed one of the principal means both of expressing political discontent and of seeking the redress of grievances. So frequent were its manifestations that hostilities arising from armed opposition to the crown account for a large proportion of warfare waged in England, Normandy and the continental Angevin lands in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The subject of revolt, lying as it does close to the heart of crown-baronial interaction, is as fundamental as it is multifaceted, embracing many issues of central importance, for example the legal status of revolt and its complex relationship with concepts of treason; the nature of homage and fealty, and the question of the revocability of these bonds in relation to the king; the growth in notions of the crown, of maiestas and the influence of Roman Law; political theories of resistance and obedience; the limitations imposed by ties of kinship and of political sympathy among the baronage on the king’s ability to suppress revolt and to enforce effective punishment; and the extent of the king’s logistical and military superiority.
A detailed examination of such major themes is naturally beyond the scope of a single essay. Elsewhere I have suggested how the context of revolt affected behaviour in warfare, particularly in relation to conventions of war governing siege. What follows addresses the closely related question of how far the presence of the ruler – whether king, duke or count – affected the nature of warfare fought against rebellious vassals.
Whatever the underlying disputes that had led elements of the baronage to resort to arms, be it grievances over land, title or the disbursement of patronage, a desire for enhanced local autonomy, or support for a royal cadet or other dynastic rivals to the throne, the failure of the political process and reversion to the mechanisms of war confronted opponents of the crown with a formidable series of dilemmas. Whether their avowed aim was the deposition of the king for a rival claimant, or merely the enforcement of a reform manifesto such as Magna Carta or the Provisions of Oxford, the successful prosecution of their claims would almost certainly entail a direct military confrontation with the king. They would thus have to resist by force or actively assault the christus domini, the Anointed of the Lord, the divinely sanctioned receptacle of legitimate authority, who had been elected, proclaimed and consecrated.