Livery and Maintenance

   Deriving from the French word livrée, “delivered,” livery referred to the uniform, in distinctive colors, that a nobleman gave to his RETAINERS, often together with his BADGE or emblem, to denote their membership in his AFFINITY of sworn followers. Maintenance referred to the lord’s duty to “maintain” or support his retainers, by word or action, in any lawsuit in which they were involved. The two concepts became linked because liveried retainers were both the recipients and the agents of acts of maintenance. Although accepted aspects of the social system known as BASTARD FEUDALISM, both livery and maintenance were seen by contemporaries as abuses of the system and both were the subjects of largely ineffective action by PARLIAMENT. In a broader sense, livery also described the bestowing of payment, whether in money, clothing, food and drink, or other forms, by a lord on his retainers for their political and military service, an exchange that was at the heart of bastard feudalism. By the fifteenth century, maintenance, although long forbidden by statute, had become one of the recognized benefits of “good lordship” that a retainer could expect from the magnate to whom he had sworn allegiance. During the 1440s and 1450s, as the influence and authority of the Crown declined under the ineffectual leadership of HENRY VI, maintenance, which had for some time been growing more violent in its application, came increasingly to mean the bribing, intimidating, or even kidnapping of judges, jurors, witnesses, or opposing counselors. For instance, in the 1440s, Sir Thomas Tuddenham, a retainer of William de la POLE, duke of Suffolk and chief minister of Henry VI, severely disrupted the dispensing of justice in Norfolk by committing frequent acts of embracery (i.e., the bribing of jurors) and by threatening people with loss of life or property if they did not comply with the duke’s wishes in a lawsuit. Tuddenham and his allies also controlled the appointment of sheriffs and court officials and brought fictitious lawsuits against wealthy individuals to extort money. To correct abuses of this kind and to restore order to the royal judicial system, the Parliaments of both EDWARD IV and HENRY VII passed acts against retaining (see Retaining, Acts Against). Although reduced somewhat by these acts and by the strengthening of royal authority after 1471, livery and maintenance continued to exist until bastard feudalism itself disappeared in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
   Further Reading: Hicks, Michael, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman, 1995).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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