The Legality of Bastard Feudalism

: the Statues of Livery, 1390 to c. 1520

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is concerned with the nature of bastard feudalism and attempts to regulate it during the late medieval and early Tudor period. Bastard feudalism enabled late medieval governments and nobles to obtain the service they required, whether administrative, military or legal. In return for service, a lord granted to his retainers fees and/or his livery. Retaining and distributing livery became associated with public order problems such as maintenance, riots, assaults and intimidation. To prevent such abuses parliament passed several acts which restricted the distribution of livery and, later of fees, to members of a lord’s family, his permanent household servants and his legal counsel. The relationship between the statutes and the resultant cases, thus the impact of the legislation on social practice, and by extension the extent and gravity of these abuses have not previously been investigated. This thesis provides a comprehensive investigation of the relationship between law-making and law-enforcing in England during this period by identifying all the cases of illegal livery that can be identified from the contemporary records. Chapter One examines the current literature on bastard feudalism in order to locate the thesis in its wider historiographical context. Chapter Two explains the records of King’s Bench, their strengths and weaknesses, and establishes a strategy for analysing them using modern database technology. It justifies the design of the database employed and suggests further applications beyond the scope of the thesis. Chapter Three discusses the 334 cases identified, establishes the chronological and geographical distribution of the cases and locates them in their wider local and national contexts. Chapter Four examines the statutes and how they evolved in response to differing pressures from the commons, the lords and the crown. Chapter Five examines the legal processes involved in enforcing the statutes, the outcomes of the cases and the effectiveness of law enforcement with regards to illegal livery. Chapter Six provides a prosopographical analysis of those charged with illegal livery, both giving and receiving. The final chapter summarises the main findings of the thesis, the significance of the various patterns uncovered, and explains the wider significance of the research for the broader topics of late medieval politics, society, and public order. This thesis is thus a forensic and comprehensive study of a discrete facet of bastard feudalism that contributes to modern understanding of working of late medieval society, crime, public order, politics and the legal system.
Date of Award13 Mar 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorMichael Hicks (Supervisor) & Neil Murphy (Supervisor)

Cite this

The Legality of Bastard Feudalism: the Statues of Livery, 1390 to c. 1520
McKelvie, G. (Author). 13 Mar 2013

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis