Baronial Reform and Revolution in England, 1258-1267, ed. Adrian Jobson (Albright)

Adrian Jobson, ed.

Baronial Reform and Revolution in England, 1258-1267

(Boydell & Brewer, 2016) 284 pp. $99.00


For many people who study English history, it is thought that the importance of the burgesses in the English parliament goes back to the Magna Carta, but among the many worthwhile aspects of this book is the way that the authors point to the turbulent but often obscure period of English history between 1258 and 1267 as being momentous times in encouraging the development of constitutional monarchy in England.  For those people who wish to take a closer look at the crisis of Plantagenet England that occurred during the reign of Henry III, this book contains a variety of essays that examine different aspects of the period of the baronial revolt, providing the reader with various perspectives that combine to create a well-balanced and complex picture of a realm in crisis and the question of the legitimacy of monarchy in an age of assertive nobles and rising commoners.

The sixteen essays of this particular volume address this crucial period of difficulties within the realm of King Henry III of England.  The editor of the collection, Adrian Jobson, begins the essays by introducing the subject matter as well as the scope of the book and its constituent essays.  After that, Christopher Tilley writes about how modern historians in have looked at the period between 1258 and 1265, and how they have assessed blame and looked at the relevance of this area of history to the future over time.  In the essay that follows, David Carpenter examines the secret revolution of 1258, and how the baronial reformers sought to obfuscate the radicalism of their demands by not publishing the full details of the restrictions they wished to place on King Henry III.  After this, Andrew H. Hershey turns his attention to the case of Grimsby in showing the importance of the lesser bourgeoisie in opposing the crony corruption of more elite towndwellers through the mechanisms for conflict resolution established in the baronial reforms in the Justiciar’s Court.  After that Nick Barratt examines the lack of effectiveness of baronial reform at the Exchequer, showing how despite their efforts at increasing regulation the baronial treasury suffered the same lack of revenues as Henry’s private management.  Tony Moore then writes about local administration during the period of reform and rebellion while H.W. Rideway asks the reader what happened in 1261 to restore Henry’s position from where it had fallen three years before.  Lars Kjœr then examines how reform and rebellion were written in various contemporary texts while John A. McEwan examines the vicissitudes of civic government in London between 1263 and 1270 and the difficulties that were faced by the political elites of that vitally important city.  Sophie Ambler writes about the importance of the Montfortian Bishops in legitimizing baronial reform while Luoise J. Wilkinson writes about the often-neglected importance of aristocratic women among both royalists and reformers.  Mario Fernandes then examines the Warwickshire evidence concerning the loyalties of the midlands knights during the Barons’ war before Peter Coss takes a look at the prosography related to retinues, agents, and garrisons of the various competing sides during the conflict.  After this Fergus Oakes examines the course of the Barons’ War in Northern England in 1264-1265 and how tenuous the balance between the two sides was before Adrian Jobson discusses maritime warfare during the period and the importance of privateering and the Cinque ports to the baronial cause and Benjamin L. Wild closes the book with a detailed textual analysis of the Dictum of Kenilworth and King Henry III’s efforts to reassert his legitimacy as a monarch in the face of continued conflict and division within the realm even after the death of Simon de Montfort at Evesham.

Despite the varied perspectives within the essays of this book, all of them share a few elements that help to make this a cohesive collection despite its many points of view.  For one, many of the essays are focused on more obscure aspects of the period of conflict between baronial and royal leadership, which presupposes on the part of the reader some knowledge of the period, as the essays only refer to the most famous aspects of the baronial conflict in passing, like the baronial victory at Lewes in 1264 and the victory of the royalist forces at Evesham that led to the deaths of many baronial leaders including Simon de Montfort, the king’s brother-in-law.  There are no battle studies here, but instead there is a focus here on forgotten theaters of the war—like the war in the North or the naval history of the conflict, neglected groups like women and dwellers of cities and towns or even the church establishment with divided loyalties.  The essays also focus on the importance of personalities as well as the origin of the conflict within the troubled Plantagenet state where there were disputes within the royal family and the lack of a secure royal demense to provide for the fiscal stability of the royal establishment in the face of immense ambitions in Sicily and on the continent.  Some of the essays discuss the mistrust of nativist English of the Savoyard relatives of Henry’s wife and point to the way that this period of reform both followed the previous baronial discontent of the reign of King John and presaged the conflict over the legitimacy of the monarchy in the 17th century.  As a result of the cohesion of the essays as well as the detailed and evidence-based perspectives of its writers, the book as a whole gives the reader a closer understanding of a time of great conflict and also a sense of the tenuous nature of the reestablishment of the English monarchy after the crisis had passed.

There is a great deal to appreciate from this volume.  In addition to gaining a better understanding of the period this book surveys, the book’s readers will likely find much in here to relate to when it comes to contemporary crises over the legitimacy of elites and the prominent element of foreigners within insecure societies, even though the authors do not attempt to score points in contemporary political disagreements within the scholarly essays in this volume.  Given the perspectives and approaches of the authors of the essays of this book, it is to be assumed that the ideal readers of this book will possess at least a graduate level of education in history as well as a strong interest in English medieval history and the relationship between war and society, but such readers will find much to appreciate here and to encourage their own research.
Nathan Albright
Norwich University

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