THE 13th CENTURY: A GREAT PERIOD OF CHURCH BUILDING
The 13th century was a great period of church building in the south and west of England. The landowners of
Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire, including the religious
houses which were great landowners, were becomming rich on the profits of sheep rearing and the profitable
wool trade with Flanders. As well as many parish churches,
Salisbury Cathedral was built between
1220 and 1266, Wells Cathedral was consecrated in 1239 and Glastonbury Abbey was being rebuilt after the
fire of 1184.
Mass would have been said in Latin and have been wholly unintelligible to the vast majority of the population although an important part of their lives. The medieval Catholic Church held great temporal power over the daily lives and morals of the population; it was the only intermediary between God and man. This in a society which vividly imagined the penalties for sin and the need for Divine redemption.
THE CIVIL LAW
The medieval Church was responsible for administering trial by ordeal.
During the reigns of the Norman kings when the bishops rendered a great service the Crown and country by providing a body of learned and able administrators, but, by the fourteenth century there were many among the laity, highly trained as lawyers, able to replace the clerics and indeed envious of their monopoly on administration.
For a number of years following a petition to parliament in 1371 against the employment of clerics in the royal service, clerics and laymen alternated as chancellors and treasurers of the land.
see also: The Medieval Church
The population of England was growing fast at the time and is reckoned to have doubled in the two centuries
which followed the compilation of William the Conqueror's Domesday Book. Historians estimate the population
of England at about 1300 as between four and six million.
The population was decimated by bubonic plague, the Black Death, which errupted in 1348 and is estimated to
have claimed one in three of the population in England. There were two more epidemics in the sixties and
The Black Death of the 14th century caused much economic as well as personal turmoil, leaving much marginal land untended.
Despite this, prosperity seems to have returned quite quickly as we find many churches being built and rebuilt in the
Apart from the coastal and inland ports, many towns grew up around the numerous Norman castles built throughout England after the conquest of 1066 providing what would today be called "support services" and "industries" to these hubs of local activity. Early in the medieval period, towns would be "owned" in the same manner as any manor.
As the populations of the towns grew, particularly after the ravages of the first outbreaks of the black death (1348), so did the emerging merchant class with the coneqent growth of trade and established trade routes (the poor and dangerous condition of the roads meant that most goods were transported by water wherever possible).
As the towns prospered on trade, so did the merchants who, in the interests of the stablity they required for their trading activities, sought to remove the towns from the control of local barons and supported successive monarchs in establishing strong central government. The medival monarchs encouraged the growth of both trade and towns and the granting of charters to those towns rich enough to afford them became a major source of royal revenue.
The merchants became the eilte of the townsfolk and it was their money which bought the charters guaranteeing the independance of the towns which they governed (although the merchant guilds frequently clashed with the craft guilds over power). This growth in the indepence of the towns contributed to breakdown of feudal society centered on the manor.
When Joan of Arc was captured by the English and tried for aiding the Dauphin of France against them, the only charge which she could be convicted of by her judges was that of wearing men's clothes - an offence for a woman of the time.
THE CIVIL LAW
The medieval Church was responsible for administering trial by ordeal.
William the Conqueror found slaves being sold abroad from the north of England and Bristol and passed laws prohibiting this export trade. Their wording lays the emphasis is on preventing Christians being sold to non-believers rather than finding fault the practice of slavery.
|Medieval Monarchs of England|
|Chancellor of the Exchequer|
|The office originated in the 12th century.|
|First Lord of the Treasury|
|Responsible for administration of the royal treasury in the absence of the Lord Treasurer, the office evolved into that of the modern Prime Minister.|
|While the office of Chancellor is an ancient one, its significance varies in different periods.|
|The official responsible for administration of the royal treasury. Originating in Medieval times, it ceased to be used after 1714.|
Food and clothing for the household of a large landholder would be produced on the home farm but income was usually derived from the rents paid by tenant farmers. While rents were subject to a certain extent by the fortunes of farming, those landlords who raised sheep derived a steadier income from the important wool trade. The larger landowners (clerical as well as lay) took part in politics which, while a precarious occupation, put them in touch with many business opportunities.
The fifteenth century was a period of perpetual squabbles between landowners about the title of lands. These could drag on for many years sometimes leading to violence as a claimant sought to enforce his claim with his armed retainers. With the agriculture of the period depressed, such situations had dire consequences for the tenant farmers who had replaced feudal serfs as both disputing landlords might send armed servants to forcibly collect rents.
Although most farmers had become tenants by the fifteenth century and paid money rents rather than rendering feudal service the landlord still held great sway by presiding over the manorial court or court leet, either in person or by his steward.
WARS OF THE ROSES (1455-1485)
For three decades the Houses of York and Lancaster fought for the Crown in what mch later became known as the 'Wars of the Roses' after their emblems.
Many have claimed the year 1485, when Henry, Earl of Richmond won the Battle of Bosworth Field and the Wars of the Roses to found the Tudor dynasty as King Henry VII, as the end of the 'feudalism' and the 'Middle Ages' in England.
While the Tudors enforced the King's law in the land by freeing the Privy Council and law courts from the grip of the barons and placing them under the control of the Crown and forbade the personal retainers which, for example, allowed the Duke of Norfolk to besiege Caister Castle in 1469 in a private quarrel over right of possession, the process was one of gradual change. In the north, subject to the more-or-less regular raids of the Scots, the marcher barons enjoyed considerable autonomy and many aspects of the feudalism remained until the unification of the crowns of England and Scotland by James I in 1603.
Links to Other Pages on this Site
Links to Other Sites
ISLE OF WIGHT
The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages
by Rashdall, publisher Oxford, 1895
Cathedral Shrines of Medieval England
by Ben Nilson, publisher Boydell and Brewer, ISBN0851155405
Life in a Medieval Abbey
by Tony McAleavy, publisher English Heritage
Anglo-Norman Medicine: vol. II Shorter Treatises
by Tony Hunt, publisher Boydell and Brewer, ISBN0859915239
An insight into conditions in medieval England.
The Great Household in Late Medieval England
by CM Woolgar, publisher Yale UP, 1999
Recommend a Book for this Page
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