Journal Article

Feet of Fines for the Palatinate of Durham, 1228–1457: Liberties, Law and the Local Community

M.L. Holford

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXV, issue 515, pages 818-843
Published in print August 2010 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online August 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/ceq161
Feet of Fines for the Palatinate of Durham, 1228–1457: Liberties, Law and the Local Community

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Many studies over the last century have portrayed the liberties of medieval England as entities which enjoyed little autonomy and were of limited local significance: in Helen Cam's phrase, they were ‘cogs’ in the ‘magnificent machine’ of royal government. In the last decade important works on Cheshire and Durham have done much to modify this picture. They have described liberties with vigorous institutions and communities which fought hard to preserve their independence from royal demands, and set much store by their distinctive political cultures. This article builds on such studies by presenting new evidence of the vitality and popularity of Durham's court of pleas in the later Middle Ages. It argues that final concords made by the liberty's inhabitants provide some index of this popularity, and demonstrates that the lost palatinate archive of medieval feet of fines can be reconstructed to a significant extent from later sources. The reconstructed archive leaves little doubt that the liberty court was widely used, even in the district of Sadberge, where the authority of successive bishops of Durham was weakest. The paucity of final concords relating to the liberty in the archives of Common Pleas also suggests that Durham's inhabitants rarely chose the king's court over the bishop's. The Durham court was a genuine boon for local people that provided a solid institutional foundation for the development of ‘community’; the same may well have been true in other liberties.

Journal Article.  13070 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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