The English Aristocracy and Mesne Feudalism in the Late Middle Ages

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Abstract

Historians have generally argued that the feudal system in the later Middle Ages in England had declined into obsolescence, at least as far as the aristocracy were concerned, and little has been written in the last half-century on the subject. Yet not only were the greater landowners assiduous in keeping records of tenants holding land from them by knight’s service, serjeanty and socage, but evidence from these sources suggests that feudal rights and duties remained important. Revenues from feudal incidents (honorial courts, escheats, wardships and feudal aids) were fluctuating but often lucrative sources of income, though they had declined from thirteenth-century heights and were subject in the later fourteenth and fifteenth century to both political fluctuations and variability in quality of lordship. Lords also continued to insist on the personal performance of homage; the numbers involved, the high-status buildings in which the ceremony was performed (usually before important witnesses) and the solemnity of the ceremony itself suggest that homage was more important in the later Middle Ages than is generally acknowledged. Feudal tenants, indeed, played a significant part in aristocratic affinities. Defined in narrow terms as a system of relationships, feudalism was not moribund.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1027-1059
Number of pages33
JournalEnglish Historical Review
Volume133
Issue number564
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2018

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