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Abstract Christine Caprenter


Political and Geographical Space: The geopolitics of late medieval England

Dr Christine Carpenter, Faculty of History and New Hall, University of Cambridge


In contrast with most of the work on space in the late-medieval/early-modern periods, which tends to focus on its symbolic aspects, my paper will be concerned with real, geographical space. This is, first, the space across which kings had to send their commands and get them obeyed, without the benefits of modern technology or a standing army. I shall be asking how – indeed whether – they managed to do this and what circumstances helped or hindered their efforts. It will become apparent that the bedrock of a ruler’s practical power in this period was not any force of his own but the tenant force that could be drawn from the lands of the nobility and gentry of the shires. In the course of the discussion, I shall explain why this was normally placed at the disposition of the king’s officers in the localities and also why it was sometimes withdrawn. I shall then move on to look at local geopolitics: how these local societies functioned, enabling the king’s government to be carried on, and how actual geography and tenurial geography (the two often interlinked) were a substantial determining factor in this respect. The theme of the paper will be the absolute necessity to recognise the importance of geography, whether of terrain, landowning, or simply of distance, in any discussion of governance and politics in this period.


Further Reading

C. Carpenter, Locality and Polity: a study of Warwickshire landed society, 1401-1499 (Cambridge, 1992), chaps.2 and 9 and any one of 10-15

G.L. Harriss, Shaping the Nation: England 1360-1461 (Oxford, 2005), chaps.3 and 6