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The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages: The Fourteenth-Century Political Community Paperback – 26 Sep 1996
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'Given-Wilson is sensible and judicious, but also when necessary, incisive. As an introduction to the medieval nobility his book is ideal.' – Times Literary Supplement
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In the first category is the whole question of how the various ranks of the English aristocracy arose in the first place. Most of us will be aware that 1066 saw a clash between an Anglo-Saxon king who used to be an earl and a Norman duke who wanted to be a king. Given-Wilson explains how in the aftermath of the conquest 'barony' became hereditary without ever losing its solid foundation in money and how the nobility split into parish gentry, county gentry and a true nobility which was extremely small by European standards.
In the second, the author analyses what is meant by the concept of 'affinity' ( a term to be found in, for example, any history of the Wars of the Roses, but never really explained) and shows it to be a culmination of centuries of change. His argument is based in detail on the legal, economic and other changes that facilitated and/or were caused by these developments and one comes away with at least a broad idea of the some of the mechanisms by which great families rose and fell over centuries. I found, for example, that reading this provided a useful context to understand events covered in Gloucestershire's Forgotten Battle: Nibley Green 1470.
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Given-Wilson also probes the surprising fact that no really great noble dynasts emerged in England during the 12th century -- a family that might compare in wealth and status with the great peers of France or the dukes and margraves of Germany. (It was mostly a combination of geographical dispersion of landholdings and much greater social fluidity than that of the 14th century.) The author is also careful to provide examples of his points from a large number of noble families of interest to the genealogist. The historical maps detailing the manor holdings of the Nevils, Berkeleys, Clares, Montagues, Beauchamps, Percys, Cliffords, Fitzalans, Mowbrays, and Beauforts are enlightening and the notes and bibliography are very extensive.