Reconstructing Communities: Tenants and Landholdings at Hospitaller Manors in Middlesex

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center)
Nicole Hamonic, University of South Dakota
A large and overarching historical shift in medieval history is the changing terms of land tenure and status of the medieval peasantry in the high and late Middle Ages. The peasantry represented the largest component of the population, yet evidence for the details of their lives remains obscure, often couched or hidden in the formulaic and legal language of charters and manorial court documents. The general acceptance of large-scale and descriptive shifts in society often influences the historian’s analysis and interpretation of the minutiae located in a charter. Details that do not fit into the expected evolution of peasant statuses and tenures are too often interpreted as ontological proto-types of later developments, or dismissed as aberrations or deviations from the expected trajectory. Through careful analysis of charters pertaining to the Hospitallers’ landed estate in Middlesex in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, this paper will examine the local peasantry and will attempt to reconstruct their communities. It will explore the changing property market, hereditary rights, and statuses of the tenants, and will examine how these changes are reflected in the formulae of the charters. It will demonstrate how historical details often complicate the larger, established context, and will argue that regional studies of peasant land tenure yield complex and rewarding insights into medieval society that are otherwise hidden by the broad strokes of an historian’s brush.
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