Blood, Position and Power: The Nobility of Later Medieval England, 1066-1485

Module code: HS2302

Module co-ordinator: Dr James Bothwell 

Module Outline

Understanding the nobility is crucial to understanding the history of later medieval England. Whether in battle or at prayer, controlling massive landed estates or “politicking” in parliament, the aristocracy were at the centre of most aspects of life in the Middle Ages. This module examines not only the political events in which the nobility were involved, but also what individual nobles believed and what they desired, all the way down to what they ate and how they died. Illustrated by the use of many contemporary documents (all in translation) this module will help introduce students to how the English nobility functioned “in the round and on the ground” in the later medieval period.

Topics covered

This module begins by examining the national and regional politics, laying the backdrop for our study and ranging from the Norman Conquest through the Anarchy and the Barons’ Wars to the Depositions of Edward II and Richard II and the Wars of the Roses. In the following weeks, we will look at various aspects of aristocratic life in the Later Middle Ages. Starting with an examination of noble family life, including discussions of noble diet, entertainment, hospitality and charity, we will then go on to look at how nobles were educated, and how education varied depending upon both gender and place within the family. War and chivalry are, of course, important parts of medieval life, and we will be looking at a noble’s life both on and off the battlefield, and how style increasingly overlaid substance in the later medieval period. Religion, of course, was also a crucial part of noble life from birth to death and beyond. Last but far from least, we look at the importance of noblewomen, often the power behind the man, but increasingly seen as individuals in their own right, able to influence the outcome of events at both local and national levels.

The connected seminars will use documents, including chronicles such as Orderic Vitalis, the Vita Edwardi Secundi and Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, indentures, household account books, wills and deeds, as well as a wide variety of government documents ranging from the Rolls of Parliament to the internal memoranda of the king’s government as recorded in the close (or “closed”) letters of the royal administration (found in the original form at The National Archive site. We will also look at documents by nobles themselves, such as The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry and The Book of Chivalry of Geoffoi de Charny, in order that we may hear their own voices, and understand how they saw their lives. Finally, if we have the time, we will look a Middle English document in its original form, and you can take a crack at transcribing it (with assistance!).

Learning

The module is taught by lecture in two hours, followed by a discussion of related primary documents in the third hour.

Assessment

Assessment is a combination of coursework and exam weighted 50:50. The coursework is one essay of 2,500 words.

Reading

Clanchy, M: England and Its Rulers 1066-1272 (Blackwell, 1998).

Crouch, D: The English Aristocracy 1070-1272 (Yale University Press, 2011).

Crouch, D: The Birth of Nobility (Longman, 2005).

Given-Wilson, C: The English Nobility in the Later Middle Ages (Routledge, 1987).

Green, J: The Aristocracy of Norman England (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Johns, S. Noblewomen: Aristocracy & Power in 12th Century Anglo-Norman Realm (Manchester University Press, 2003).

Keen, M: Chivalry (Yale University Press, 1984).

McFarlane, K.B: The Nobility of Later Medieval England (Oxford University Press, 1973).

Mertes, K: The English Noble Household 1250-1600 (Blackwell, 1988).

Orme, N: From Childhood to Chivalry (Methuen, 1984).

Strickland, M: War and Chivalry (Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Tuck, A: Crown and Nobility 1272-1461 (Blackwell, 1985).

Ward, J: English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages (Longman, 1992).

Woolgar, C.M: The Great Household in Late Medieval England (Cambridge University Press, 1999).