Bastard Feudalism in England in the Fourteenth Century

medieval-peasantsBastard Feudalism in England in the Fourteenth Century

By Christine Carpenter

Kings, Lords and Men in Scotland and Britain, 1300-1625: Essays in Honour of Jenny Wormald, ed. Steve Boardman and Julian Goodare (Edinburgh University Press, 2014)

Introduction: Jenny Wormald has written with distinction on lordship, service and governance in late medieval Scotland. This is a contribution to the same subjects in the kingdom on the other side of the border. It addresses, at times speculatively, a conundrum which has of late become increasingly evident: if, as has been assumed, bastard feudalism in the fourteenth century was the same as in the fifteenth, why does it look so different in many ways?

It is necessary to begin with a summary of our present understanding of bastard feudalism in the fifteenth century. The fons et origo is K. B. McFarlane and his revolutionary rejection of the Plummer/Stubbs view that this was, as the name suggests, a debased form of feudalism. Thus, bastard feudalism did not replace a legitimate and permanent bond, based on land, with an illegitimate and inherently unstable one, based on money, contract and mutual advantage, thereby undermining government and society and encouraging terrible violence which culminated in the Wars of the Roses. Rather, it filled a gap left by the decline of feudalism. At first McFarlane still accepted the prevailing opinion that linked the emergence of bastard feudalism to the king’s military needs. But, for him, it was not that the requirements of the French wars gave birth to the military contract and all its alleged evils but that the decline of the feudal host necessitated the recruitment of armies in a new way: the contract. However, well before his death, he had realised that we need to think of bastard feudalism not as a by-product of military needs but (to use George Holmes’s apposite phrase) as ‘part of the normal fabric of society’.

Click here to read this article from the University of Edinburgh

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