The Importance of Parks in Fifteenth-Century Society
The Fifteenth Century, V: ‘Of Mice and Men’: Image, Belief & Regulation in Late Medieval England, Woodbridge: Boydell (2005)
A great deal has been written about medieval parks, but the subject remains unevenly studied and, in many quarters, under-appreciated.
Much of the research carried out over the last fifty years has necessarily been conducted on a regional or even more localised basis, yielding highly specialised studies that are difficult for those with broader interests to synthesise and incorporate. Although historians of the landscape, economy, society and culture of medieval England have begun to develop larger interpretations based on this specialist work, these have mainly grown up separately from one another and there remain few general treatments of these multi-faceted institutions. Notwithstanding the large amount of knowledge that has been gained, therefore, much about the development of parks remains uncertain or disputed; older generalisations, based on more limited research, continue to be recycled; and the impact of these thousands of enclosures has been generally under-estimated.
In this paper, my aim is to consider the role of parks in the fifteenth century. As we shall see, this is an important century for students of medieval parks, because it is supposed to have witnessed an overall decline in their numbers and changes in their functions and wider significance. In the following pages, these views will be reassessed, and more emphasis given to continuity. Part of the difficulty in arriving at a general treatment of parks is that they varied in character. This element of variation cannot be ignored and it will be returned to in more detail, but for now it might simply be noted that the common function of the great majority of parks was to act as an enclosure for deer, and it is this kind of park that is discussed here.