World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Bastard feudalism

Article Id: WHEBN0001852432
Reproduction Date:

Title: Bastard feudalism  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: England in the Middle Ages, England in the Late Middle Ages, Feudalism in England, Wars of the Roses, Henry VII of England
Collection: Feudalism in England, Late Middle Ages
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Bastard feudalism

Bastard feudalism is feudalism in the Late Middle Ages, primarily in England. Its main characteristic is military, political, legal, or domestic service in return for money, office, and/or influence. The gentry began to think of themselves as the men of their lord rather than of the king; individually they are known as the "retainers", and collectively as the "affinity" of the lord, among other terms.


  • History and historiography 1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • External links 5

History and historiography

The historian Charles Plummer coined the term "bastard feudalism" in 1885. Plummer blamed bastard feudalism for the disorder and instability of the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century. However, "bastard feudalism" as a concept is primarily associated with Plummer's contemporary William Stubbs (1825-1901).[1] According to Stubbs, a shift in English history took place under Edward I (reigned 1272-1307) when the feudal levy was replaced with royal payment in return for military service by the great magnates who willingly served the king. Thus, instead of vassals rendering military service when required by the lord, they paid a portion of their income into the lord's treasury. In turn the lord would supplement the owed military service with hired retainers, a sort of private army in full-time service to the lord.

In the 1940s K. B. McFarlane presented a strong challenge to the ideas of Stubbs.[2] McFarlane stripped the term "bastard feudalism" of any negative connotation. To him, bastard feudalism centred not the financial aspect (the sums involved were mostly negligible) but on the concept of service in exchange for good favour. In a society governed on a personal basis, service to a lord was the best way to obtain favour in the form of offices, grants, etc. Lords would retain administrators and lawyers, as well as recruiting local gentry into their affinities. By offering money instead of land, lords could afford to retain more followers.

In return for becoming retainers, the gentry would expect to rely on their lord's influence in local and national politics. This practice was known as "maintenance". The retainer might wear his lord's livery badge or the grander form, a livery collar, which could be very useful in a courtroom. Under a weak king, such as Henry VI (reigned 1422-1461 and 1470-1471), the rivalries of magnates might spill over from the courtroom to armed confrontations, thereby perverting justice.

Since the crown and the nobility essentially had the same interests at heart, military commissioning of great magnates was not in itself disruptive to society. The civil wars of the 15th century were caused by personal factors (particularly the failings of Henry VI), not by institutional ones. Recent historical research has shown that payment for military service goes back much further than the reign of Edward I, further discrediting the ideas of Stubbs.

As of 2014 historians consider the concept of feudalism problematic, and bastard feudalism no less so. The term is therefore used only with caution, although it is not a dead concept. Most historians today would view it as a neutral social system that was open to abuse. Provided that a king could control the lords, bastard feudalism could provide a stable way of organising local society. Two points are worth bearing in mind in relation to the Wars of the Roses:

  1. elements of what is considered bastard feudalism can be identified as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century
  2. a weak king was more likely to be vulnerable to magnates made over-mighty by "bastard feudalism"

Because they were rarely kept under arms for long periods, noble retinues were not private armies. Lacking standing armies, kings relied on noble retinues for the military forces they required to conduct wars or to crush internal rebellions. Under an inadequate king like Henry VI, ambitious or disaffected magnates like Richard Duke of York (1411-1460) or Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (1428-1471) could use their network of servants and retainers to defy or even control the crown. Groups of gentry, already coming to blows over local issues, inevitably attached themselves to different patrons. Their private feuds continued under their leaders' banners and transferred to the battlefields of the Wars of the Roses.

Although Edward IV (reigned 1461-1483) attempted to limit "retaining", he generally did not succeed. However, Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509) managed to largely overcome bastard feudalism by imposing financial sanctions on unruly nobles. Furthermore, Henry passed a statute in 1504 that only allowed the King to have retainers - nobles had to apply and pay for a licence. Overall, bastard feudalism had vanished by the early seventeenth century.[3]

See also


  1. ^ William Stubbs. The Constitutional History of England. Oxford: 1875.
  2. ^ K. B. McFarlane: essays and articles published posthumously as England in the Fifteenth Century London: 1981
  3. ^ Livery and Maintenance, Encyclopedia of The Wars of the Roses, ed. John A. Wagner, (ABC-CLIO, 2001), 145.


  • Castor, Helen. The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: public authority and private power, 1399-1461, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-820622-4, ISBN 9780198206224 Google books
  • Coss, P. R. "Bastard Feudalism Revised." Past & Present 125 (Nov. 1989), 27-64. Stable URL: JSTOR
  • Coss, P. R. "Bastard Feudalism Revised: Reply." Past & Present 131 (May 1991), 190-203. Stable URL: JSTOR
  • David Crouch The Birth of Nobility: Constructing Aristocracy in England and France, 950-1300. Harlow: Pearson/Longman, 2005 ISBN 0-582-36981-9
  • David Crouch, 'From Stenton to Macfarlane: models of societies of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, 5 (1995).
  • Hicks, Michael. Bastard Feudalism. London: Longman, 1995 ISBN 0-582-06091-5
  • McFarlane, K. B. England in the Fifteenth Century. London: Hambledon, 1981 ISBN 0-9506882-5-8
  • Storey, R. L. The End of the House of Lancaster. Gloucester: Sutton, 1966
  • William Stubbs. The Constitutional History of England, in its origin and development. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1875
  • Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-Clio, 2001
  • Warren, John. The Wars of the Roses and the Yorkist Kings. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995
  • Webber, Bruce. The Wars of the Roses. London: UCL Press, 1998

External links

  • Livery and Maintenance
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.