The present decade has presented rich opportunities for medieval historians to focus on major anniversaries, including, 750 years on, the period of baronial reform and rebellion. This is remembered as being significant for the development of parliament, for the capture of King Henry III at the Battle of Lewes (1264) and for the restoration of royal authority following the defeat of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, at the Battle of Evesham (1265). As the editor, Adrian Jobson, explains in his introduction to this collection, and Christopher Tilley explores further in his chapter on historiography, the role of Henry III and de Montfort, and key themes such as faction, have been discussed in detail by historians. The volume promises the most recent research into this pivotal period in English political history, focusing on neglected themes and bringing together approaches often taken separately. The results do not disappoint. Central government provides one of the main themes. David Carpenter reveals that much of what happened in 1258 went unproclaimed—a secret revolution. Some reforms were too revolutionary for public knowledge, while others were not revolutionary enough. Meanwhile, Huw Ridgeway shows how, in 1261, Henry III could peacefully overthrow the Provisions of Oxford, having reassembled a united royal family and court, enabling him successfully to counter his opponents without violence, something almost unprecedented in medieval English politics. Nick Barratt takes issue with arguments that the reformers enjoyed even moderate success in financial affairs, noting that they failed to grasp the root cause of the crisis: lack of ready cash. They created a system that was impossible to administer, while underlying problems of thirteenth-century state finance remained unresolved. Adrian Jobson discusses the importance of the sea and access to the channel ports as royalists and Montfortians vied for control, showing that this dictated military and diplomatic strategies adopted on land. This is more than a study of central government. Several chapters consider urban and county groups, shedding new light on issues at stake and responses to both reformers and royalists. The popularity of reformed access to justice is shown by Andrew Hershey, who examines pleas from 1258 involving merchants from Grimsby and elsewhere, while John McEwan identifies conflicting loyalties facing urban groups in London. Other contributions focus on county society. Tony Moore highlights the changing role of the sheriff as a new official, the custos pacis, emerged as an alternative figure of local authority. Mario Fernandes shows how Warwickshire knights were drawn into the war of 1263–5 on the rebel side, while Peter Coss demonstrates the role of sub-retinues in perpetrating violence in Berkshire. The significance of tenurial factors is played down, with emphasis on bonds of affinity, family and neighbourhood, coercion and the organised nature of acts of violence. Fernandes’ use of the term ‘contrarient’ to describe the rebels, in preference to the narrower connotations of the term ‘Montfortian’, indicates the complexities of what inspired opposition to the king. A regional perspective is also provided by Fergus Oakes’s consideration of the north of England during the war of 1264–5, with informative comparisons and contrasts drawn with the war of 1215–17. Oakes reaches the significant conclusion that, in the north, unenthusiastic royalists eventually submitted to de Montfort, but again switched sides even before the Battle of Evesham. New approaches to sources and to study of societal groups are also evident. Louise Wilkinson recognises the participation of aristocratic women in the political life of the period, highlighting the ways in which women experienced the rise and fall in royalist and rebel fortunes. Analysis of scriptural justifications for the developments of the period is found in the contributions by Sophie Ambler, on the Montfortian bishops, and by Lars Kjaer, examining historical writing of the 1250s and 1260s. Ambler demonstrates how these bishops justified their support for Earl Simon, necessary because they had stepped outside the tradition that bishops should police royal rule and seek to avert conflict. Kjaer notes the ways in which writers sought parallels between events and scripture to draw moral lessons linked to providential history, reaching differing conclusions. He argues for sustained investigation of the presentation of these themes in the narratives of the period. The volume also contributes to our understanding of Henry III’s kingship. H.W. Ridgeway hints at a king who had an argument to put forward about the nature of his authority, and this is explored further in Benjamin Wild’s analysis of Henry’s political outlook, as seen in the ceremonial and rhetoric surrounding the issue and agreement of the Dictum of Kenilworth (1267). For Wild, the proem and first eleven clauses of the Dictum deserve greater attention, revealing how Henry conceived his regality. However, there was inherent tension in seeking at once to restore confidence, define his authority and punish the rebels, explaining the need for the Dictum and why it was initially rejected. Wild explores tensions seen in political debate across Henry’s reign, as the achievements of administrative kingship conflicted with the view of rulership asserted by the king. Overall, this wide-ranging and informative volume is essential reading not just on the period 1258–67, but for wider thirteenth-century English politics. With fifteen chapters reflecting a wealth of detailed research and scholarship, it would be churlish to ask for more. Rather, it may be hoped that the volume will spur ongoing analysis. Jobson himself notes that to compare and contrast England and Europe would require another volume. While existing studies have focused on the ‘aliens’ and the Savoyard and Lusignan factions, further examination of thirteenth-century attitudes to those perceived as immigrants would have much current relevance. Meanwhile, while there are nods to the wider British Isles, further work could consider perspectives from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Research on the Jewish community could add to our understanding of political and financial relationships as, potentially, could consideration of the role of religious orders. To end with this wish-list is not to detract from what is an excellent book, but rather a reflection of its thought-provoking character. The editor and contributors are to be commended on this thoroughly valuable collection. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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