Author Archives: Gwyneth Turner

Bastard Feudalism Part II -Gwyneth

In the time since my last blog post on McFarlanian bastard feudalism, I have been able to get access to McFarlane’s seminal 1945 essay on the subject (a big thank you to the librarians). Additionally, I managed to finish P. R. Coss’s lengthy 1989 essay “Bastard Feudalism Revised”, in which Coss provides a thorough critique of McFarlane’s ideas and offers a new framework for understanding the bastard feudal system. Thus, I plan to use this blog post to discuss McFarlane’s ideas a bit more and present some criticisms that have been made of them.

Coss begins his dissection of McFarlane’s work by challenging McFarlane’s emphasis on military developments, particularly during the reign of Edward I, in his explanation of the origins of bastard feudalism. According to McFarlane, “[t]he origin of the practice of substituting paid for unpaid service”, which marked the transition from classical to bastard feudalism, “still remains untraced in detail. But its most significant stage was reached when the need was felt for an army more efficient and durable than the feudal host” (McFarlane 162). He claims that the practice of systematically employing English troops (as opposed to foreign mercenaries, who had been present in English armies even earlier) was begun by Edward I. McFarlane then goes on to describe the process by which these soldiers were hired: “Edward made his contracts with a number of his greater barons, those evidently whose abilities and loyalty he trusted, and left them to make sub-contracts with the members of their respective contingents”, noting that these contracts were initially made verbally and that the practice of setting down the terms of recruitment in a written indenture was not standard practice until Edward III’s campaign of 1341 (McFarlane 163).

Edward I.jpg

Edward I (Richard II’s great-great grandfather!), reigned 1272-1307

Coss argues against McFarlane’s designation of the reign of Edward I as a turning point, claiming that “significant though the developments of the reign of Edward I may have been, they were by no means as revolutionary in the military sphere as had been supposed…[Edward’s] army was recruited in reality upon mixed lines and…the fully contractual army had to wait until the opening years of the Hundred Years War” (Coss 31). It is important to note that McFarlane did not argue that this was not the case, but rather seems to have viewed Edward’s recruitment of troops to supplement those raised by the traditional levy as an important moment in the transition from the levy to the contract as a means of raising troops rather than the definitive replacement of the levy with the contract.

In a more direct contradiction of McFarlane’s argument, Coss makes the claim that “contractual troops antedated Edward’s reign”. He notes the existence of a surviving contract from July of 1270, two years before Edward I became king, in which Adam of Jesmond promised one year of service with five knights in the army of the future king (then the son of the reigning king, Henry III), which embarked on crusade that August. Going off of the work of Simon Lloyd, Coss claims that “the written contract provided the backbone of the English crusade of 1270-2” (Coss 32). Given the clear evidence provided by the contract between Adam of Jesmond and Prince Edward, this is a reasonable claim, although it does not pose a significant challenge to McFarlane’s dating of the origin of the military contract, since this crusade not only took place right before Edward I’s ascension to the throne, but was led by that very same Edward. Additionally, Coss notes that the subcontracts (contracts between magnates and the soldiers that they would bring to the king’s army) which existed at this time were short term rather than for life. This characteristic distinguishes them from the slightly later contracts cited by McFarlane, which were “for life, appearing in this to give to the new order a stability in which by contrast with a feudal society it was otherwise singularly lacking” (McFarlane 164). If indenture for life was indeed a key component of bastard feudal relationships, it can easily be argued that the contracts described by Coss were fundamentally distinct from those which characterized bastard feudal society.

One claim which would more overtly call into question the validity of McFarlane’s framework is the argument made by Richardson and Sayles and cited by Coss “that contracts for military service must have had a continuous history from at least the twelfth century” (Coss 32). However, no evidence besides the late 13th century contract already noted is provided to back up this point. The contracts referred to by Richardson and Sayles may refer to those used, according to Coss, by kings for the purpose of expanding their personal household forces before a military expedition “as early as the time of Henry I and quite possibly in the time of the Conqueror himself” (Coss 32). This may very well be the case and would indeed demonstrate that the practice of paying for military service was in existence long before McFarlane places its origin. However, it should be noted that the king’s practice of hiring men to serve in his personal household was quite different from him contracting magnates throughout the country to serve him with their own personal contingents of hired troops and should therefore not be thought of as being bastard feudal in nature.

Moving forward with the assumption that “[b]oth contracts and contracted troops were important features of royal armies well before the period in which McFarlane saw the beginnings of bastard feudalism”, Coss looks for a different explanation of the origins of bastard feudalism. He cites as one possibility the approach taken by J.M.W. Bean, which revolves around the bachelor – “a special kind of retainer associated, whatever the precise provenance of the payments made to him, with service in the household, and enjoying a more intimate relationship with his lord than did other knightly retainers who did not have his status” (Bean; qtd. In Coss 33-4). Importantly, Bean “suggests that such men were already being given fees from landed estates during the thirteenth century” (Coss 34). Thus, the relationship between a bachelor and his lord could have been a precursor to that between lord and retainer which characterized bastard feudal society. Since bachelors were defined by their service in aristocratic households, Coss ties Bean’s work back to his own disputation of the generally accepted chronology of bastard feudalism by stating that “[s]tressing the importance of the household allows one to argue for the essential similarity of the practices of Anglo-Saxon warlords, Anglo-Norman barons and fourteenth-century magnates” (Coss 34). However, seeing as the bachelor has his origins in the 13th century, it is difficult to directly connect the noble practice of paying knightly household servants with fees from estates to Anglo-Norman,

Coss continues with the pattern of his argument by claiming an earlier origin for another integral feature of McFarlanian bastard feudalism – the practice of retaining justices and civil servants. He notes a study conducted by J. R Maddicott which places the earliest known occurrences of this practice in the 1230s and 1240s. However, those doing the retaining in these early incidences were not lords, but members of the clergy. Coss attempts to dismiss this caveat, stating that “[a]lthough these examples are monastic, there is no reason to suppose that there were not parallels with lay barons” (Coss 36). Personally, I think this assumption warrants further investigation rather than being treated as self-evident. Nonetheless, Coss’s claim that “[t]he occasional assumption that the practice of retaining justices developed, as bastard feudalism itself seems to have developed, only in Edward I’s reign is hard to substantiate. It is more likely that it had been brought into being by the middle years of Henry III” is a reasonable one.

Overall, the arguments which Coss raises against McFarlane’s conception of bastard feudalism are for the most part valid points. However, they ultimately prove insubstantial to invalidate McFarlane’s overarching framework. The most significant contribution of Coss’s work is not to dismiss McFarlanian bastard feudalism entirely, as was his goal, but to suggest a slightly earlier origin for many of the features of the system.


Works Cited

Coss, P. R. “Bastard Feudalism Revised.” Past & Present, no. 125, 1989, pp. 27–64. JSTOR, JSTOR,

McFarlane, K. B. (1945), BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH. Historical Research, 20: 161-180. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2281.1945.tb01345.x




Bastard Feudalism and the Rise of the Medieval Affinity -Gwyneth


When we think of medieval politics, we think of feudalism, the hierarchical system of obligations by which men of lower status are bound to serve men above them in the so-called “feudal pyramid” made up of peasants, knights, lords, and king. Feudal obligations were rendered by tenants in exchange for hereditary grants of land from the lord of the manor. Ultimately, the king owned all of the kingdom’s land and the highest class of the nobility were those who held their land directly from him.

feudal pyramid

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Background to the Reign of Richard II -Gwyneth

Because no historical person or event can be accurately examined outside of its wider context, I thought it would be a good idea to use this blog post to provide some basic information regarding society during the reign of Richard II, with particular emphasis on the world of politics. At the time that Richard became king, England was shaped by two defining events in its recent history: the Black Death and the Hundred Years War. Continue reading

Semester Two: My Work So Far – Gwyneth

So far this semester, I have been dedicating most of my time to primary sources. To begin with, I researched the nature of medieval chronicle sources, which provide the most abundant material for the reign of Richard II, and then examined some of the principle chroniclers in more depth. My analyses can be found in my last few blog posts (here, here, and here). Over spring break, I worked on reading many of the sources complied in A. K McHardy’s The Reign of Richard II: From Minority to Tyranny, 1377-97. This book has been something of a godsend for my project, since it offers an extensive collection of the most important primary sources from the reign translated from the original Latin, French, and Middle English into modern English. Needless to say, McHardy’s efforts have made my work significantly easier.

Reading the many chronicle excerpts, correspondences, parliamentary petitions, etc. included in the book could certainly be tedious at times. My purpose in this task was to identify any mention of Richard’s royal affinity, since this is the focus of my research. However, since these sources tend to bounce between many different goings-on in the political world, it is quite difficult to tell if any given source will mention the affinity or not. Therefore, my only option was to examine them all. This task was made less daunting by concentrating on the period after 1387, when it is likely that Richard first began directly seeking out the loyalty of prominent men in the localities. In the future, I may need to go back to some earlier sources in order to obtain a reference for the nature of the king’s affinity at the beginning of the reign.

Digging into the primary sources made me realize that I need to obtain some more information about political society in general at the time of Richard’s reign. For the most part, I have only looked at the medieval concept of the affinity in the context of the king, when it was in fact of great importance to the magnates as well and was a crucial component of feudal society in the localities. Interestingly, it is often pointed out that while completely novel for a king, the locally focused approach to retaining pursued by Richard in the 1390s was very similar to that typically used by magnates. Therefore, I feel that in order to understand the significance and logic of Richard’s policy, it is important to familiarize myself with the way in which magnate affinities were organized and operated during this time. Thus, my next task will be to step back momentarily from the lens of Richard II and focus on some readings pertaining to local political structures in the late medieval period more generally. After doing this and perhaps examining some more primary sources, it is my hope that I will have gained enough direction to begin drafting my final paper.




Medieval Chronicles Part III: The Supplementary Sources -Gwyneth

In this blog post, I will be providing a brief overview of some of the chronicle sources used to supplement the three major sources discussed in my previous post. One such source is the Historia Vitae et Regni Ricardi Secundi, which was composed by two monks at Evesham Abbey, the first writing from 1377 to 1390 and the second from 1390 to 1402. Since we already have plentiful information pertaining to the period covered by the first author, the second author is of much greater interest. However, the usefulness of the second monk is diminished by his brevity, frequent errors, clear hostility to the king, and tendency to focus on local rather than national politics (McHardy 13). While the second portion of the chronicle, composed under Richard’s usurper Henry IV, the first king of the house of Lancaster, is often accused of being “a vehicle for Lancastrian propaganda”, Given-Wilson refutes this claim by citing the fact that the chronicle does not use the ‘Record and Process’, the official Lancastrian account of the deposition. Given-Wilson goes on to praise the Vita, claiming that it is “a largely independent source, and as such has great value” (Given-WIlson 5). Nonetheless, it is difficult to believe that the second monk’s critical attitude towards Richard was not influenced by the Lancastrian regime under which he was writing. Continue reading

Medieval Chronicles Part II: The Major Sources for the Reign of Richard II -Gwyneth

As promised in my previous blog post, this week I will be discussing some of the most principle chroniclers active during the reign of Richard II. Of these, one of the most important and frequently cited is Thomas Walsingham (c. 1340 – c. 1422), a monk at the prominent Hertfordshire monastery of St. Albans. Although Walsingham is widely recognized as having been a prolific author, there remains scholarly debate as to exactly which of the numerous chronicles produced at St. Albans he contributed (Stow 69-70). Stow attributes the Chronicon Angliae, the Annales Ricardi Secundi, the Ypodigma Neustriae, and the Historia Anglicana to Walsingham. Although none of the books I have read cite the Ypodigma Neustriae, each of the other three sources are cited and attributed to Walsingham in at least two of my books, with the Historia Anglicana cited in all three books (Gundy; Fletcher; Saul). Thus it seems to me that these three texts can be said to have been definitively attributed to Walsingham by scholars. Continue reading

Medieval Chronicles (part one) -Gwyneth

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that the next step in my research project is to look at primary source material. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to talk about primary sources a bit more specifically in this blog post. In regard to the different types of written sources from the medieval period, Joel T. Rosenthal, editor of Understanding Medieval Primary Sources, provides a useful breakdown of the material into three major categories: narrative histories, government records, and private or personal records (Rosenthal 1-2). Since the first category – that of narrative history – has arguably been the most influential in shaping analyses of Richard’s reign, as well as the most easily accessible to amateur historians such as myself (there is even a Medieval Chronicle Society!), it is here that I will focus my post. Continue reading

Richard II’s Creation of a Royal Affinity, 1389-97: A Brief Overview and Discussion of Current Scholarship -Gwyneth

For my demonstration of learning last semester, I produced a review of literature pertaining to several important topics within Richard II’s reign (an overview of which can be found here) in the period between 1389-97. This period is not arbitrarily defined, but is marked by the two crisis which form its boundaries. Continue reading

Planning my End-of-Semester Work -Gwyneth


Since I am planning to continue my independent project next semester, during which time I will write my final paper, there was not a natural answer to the question of exactly what I will produce as my demonstration of learning for this semester. While meeting with T. Margaret a few weeks ago, we decided that I should create an extensive annotated bibliography to turn in at the end of the semester. Continue reading

My Project So Far -Gwyneth




MedievalMonk  During my time doing independent research this semester, I have learned a great deal about just how challenging it is to conduct research on my own. At the same time, I think I have accomplished a lot in spite of the difficulties of adjusting to this new structure of learning and working. Continue reading