By Keith Fildes
PhD Dissertation, University of Sheffield, 2009
Abstract: This thesis is a prosopographical study of the English baronage during the reign of Richard II. It considers the role of barons within the political community and attempts to characterise them, both in terms of their engagement with institutions and by exploring private power relations. In the tradition of the political culture framework within which the study is situated, it seeks ultimately to determine the group’s motives.
The first section explores structures, defining the baronage and tracing the historical development of the class. The stresses and concepts that moulded and distinguished the political culture are also set out. Three broad themes – politics, land and lordship – are then discussed in the second section. These endeavour to quantify and qualify the power and authority that were exercised by the 66 baronial families from the reign. In the political arena barons’ engagement with the apparatus of royal government, administration and justice are investigated, along with political favour and its rewards. The size and distribution of their landholding is then assessed and the strategies they employed for putting their estates together determined. The service they performed and received is afterwards discussed and the reasons for and benefits of it analysed. These broader themes are then enriched by a demonstration of the differences on the ground. In this third section two case studies, of the Gloucestershire and Sussex barons, revisit the same themes, but look in more detail at just the handful of resident barons in those counties. Finally, the different situations in the two sample localities are reconciled by deciphering the barons’ motives.
Introduction: The usurpation of Richard II by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke in 1399 was one of the most significant events in later medieval history. It brought to an end almost two hundred and fifty years of Plantagenet rule and would prove to be the genesis of the War of the Roses, which subsequently tore the country apart for much of the proceeding century. The events of the ‘Lancastrian Revolution’ have been well documented and traditional interpretation shows Richard II’s government being so unpopular that Bolingbroke was able to sweep to power on a wave of popular fervour. Although attempts have more recently been made to debunk some of the Lancastrian propaganda upon which many of these narratives are based, the transfer of loyalty by the political community was indisputably decisive. One aspect of the campaign which helps explain what tipped the political and military balance in favour of the pretender is the participation of members of the baronage. In the chronicles it is reported that when Bolingbroke landed in England in July 1399 he arrived with approximately 60-100 men. By the time he reached Bristol three weeks later his army is said to have swelled to about 6000 soldiers, as ‘wherever he went the number of people joining him kept on increasing’. This was not though a populist movement. Bolingbroke’s army, like Richard II’s, was made up of his personal retinue, and those of the nobles and upper gentry aligned to him.