Networks and Neighbours: Vol 2, No 1 (2004)
The paper is a comparative study on the aristocrats of eastern England, eastern Normandy, western Flanders and central Norway. This comparison will specifically investigate the aristocratic understanding of territory between the mid-tenth and mid-eleventh centuries. Currently in English historiography a ‘maximum view’ prevails promoting strong centralised states centred on powerful kings. However, this paper intends to challenge the ‘maximum’ paradigm through a comparative framework of North Sea Europe. This approach not only promotes the presence of regional identity but also emphasises how comparative studies allow historians to debate national historgraphical theories. Therefore to understand aristocratic perception of territory research centres on regional texts and aristocratic homes.
The outcome will highlight that central institutional ties were weak outside of traditional land holdings. Furthermore, it will stress that the localities did not subscribe to national identities or borders. In contrast, these areas maintained their own cultural provinces and central places based on the landscape and cultural memory. Finally, it was this regional identity that the aristocracy of North Sea Europe attached itself to so that they could perpetuate their right to rule a locality, as well as strengthen their position against the interventions of central powers. The conclusions presented will highlight a regionally focussed aristocracy that provides evidence against centralised states. Moreover, it will show how further comparative research will illuminate the possibility of a North Sea network in the Early Medieval period.