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The knightly families of Northumberland: a crisis in the early fourteenth century

Dixon, M.C. (2000) The knightly families of Northumberland: a crisis in the early fourteenth century. Masters thesis, Durham University.



The way Northumbrian society was created and how it developed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is crucial to the crisis the families faced when war broke out between the kingdoms of England and Scotland. Eighty years of peace and prosperity in the North saw the consolidation of the Norman presence along the border. The Anglo/Norman and Scottish/Norman families formed a single aristocracy, holding estates on both sides of the border and being vassals to both kings. United by language, customs and manners, they formed a homogeneous society. The peace that prevailed for the last eighty years of the Fourteenth century brought prosperity to the region and were 'the golden years' in the history of the North. This peace was shattered in 1296 when, following the events of the Scottish succession, Edward I declared war on Scotland. The northern nobility were at once thrown into a crisis of allegiance. Any choice, inevitably, meant a loss of lands on the other side of the Border. A boundary had suddenly become a frontier, and friends and relatives had became 'the enemy'. All the families of the knightly class, the barons, the lesser nobility and the gentry were involved in, and affected by the war, albeit in different ways. The outbreak of war was followed in 1315 by flooding and bad weather causing a series of bad harvests, leading to famine and high food prices. Coupled with this there was a sheep and cattle murrain, which killed many of the plough oxen thus making recovery difficult. The Black Death in 1348 depleted the population, adding to the economic decline The inactivity of Edward n to the suffering in the north during the Scottish raids of Robert the Bruce led to a rebellion of the lesser landowners under the leadership of Gilbert de Middleton in 1317. This rebellion was to have repercussions forty years later in the form of a collection of escheats known as the Nessfield escheats, named after William de Nessfield, escheator north of Trent. For some, a war, could be the making of their fortunes. Such a person was John de Coupland. By capturing David 1, King of Scots in 1346 at the Battle of Neville’s Cross, he was lavishly rewarded. However, he did not enjoy his good fortune for long, for in 1363 he was murdered by a group of Northumberland knights. The question of whether the knightly families of Northumberland faced a crisis in the early fourteenth century has similarities to the debate over the fate of the knightly class in the thirteenth century. Some historians have suggested that the high cost of knighthood in that period caused a crisis, while an alternative view is that there was no general crisis, but that some families faced difficulties as a result of the mismanagement of their affairs. The question of whether the knightly families of Northumberland faced a crisis in the fourteenth century is explored from the perspectives of the Scottish war, the economy and the political situation.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:2000
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2012 11:48

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