Bastard Feudalism

   The term “bastard feudalism” refers to a society in which titled noblemen, and some members of the GENTRY, developed networks or affinities of sworn RETAINERS who provided political, legal, domestic, and military service in return for money, office, and influence. Because the system allowed the raising of large bands of armed men, bastard feudalism enabled wealthy members of the PEERAGE to disrupt law and order and conduct private feuds in their localities, and even to contend for control of the national government. For these reasons, bastard feudalism was once considered a primary cause of the WARS OF THE ROSES, although most historians today view it as a useful and neutral social system that merely became susceptible to abuses during periods of royal weakness, such as occurred during the personal rule of HENRY VI and the first reign of EDWARD IV.
   Charles Plummer coined the term bastard feudalism in 1885 to describe what he believed was a degeneration of feudalism, the early medieval social system that was based on a lord’s granting of land (by heritable tenure) to a vassal in return for military or other services. Plummer blamed bastard feudalism for the disorder and instability that for him characterized the late fifteenth century. Plummer’s phrase came into wide use in the 1940s when the influential historian K. B. McFarlane employed it to describe the functioning of English political society between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. McFarlane viewed bastard feudalism not as an illegitimate offshoot of an earlier, purer system but as a natural response to societal changes that was, through individual abuses and royal incapacity, employed for disruptive and illegal purposes. Because they were rarely kept under arms for long periods, noble retinues were not private armies. Although it could be seriously threatened by the military forces of dissident noblemen, as occurred to Henry VI in the 1450s, the Crown never sought to abolish retaining, only to control it through statutes passed by PARLIAMENT (see Retaining, Acts Against). Lacking standing armies, kings relied on noble retinues for the military forces they required to conduct foreign wars or crush internal rebellions. Once Edward IV destroyed the house of LANCASTER and secured himself on the throne, armed forces raised by bastard feudal relationships tended to support rather than threaten the Crown. However, under an inept monarch like Henry VI, or an insecure one like Edward IV before 1471, ambitious or disaffected magnates, like Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, in the 1450s and Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, in the 1460s, could use their networks of retainers to defy or even control the Crown. Although bastard feudalism did not cause the disorder and instability of these decades, it did provide powerful men with the means to take advantage of royal weakness and their own ambition.
   Men recruited under the bastard feudal system were not exclusively employed for military purposes; many were household servants, while others bound themselves by indenture (contract) to supply various services. Only those recruited in emergencies, as when Warwick summoned retainers to repel Edward IV in 1471, were meant solely for military employment. In return for money and “good lordship,” which might mean using influence to obtain an office or bribing or intimidating a judge or jury in a lawsuit (known as embracery), retainers often wore their lord’s BADGE or livery (uniform) and took their lord’s part (except, technically, against the king) in any political or military dispute. Although both Edward IV and HENRY VII limited retaining, bastard feudalism continued as the basis of English political society until the late sixteenth century.
   Further Reading: Bean, J. M.W., From Lord to Patron: Lordship in Late Medieval England (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1989); Bellamy, J.G., Bastard Feudalism and the Law (Portland, OR:Areopagitica Press, 1989); Hicks, Michael, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman, 1995); McFarlane, K. B.,“Bastard Feudalism,” in England in the Fifteenth Century: Collected Essays (London: Hambledon Press, 1981).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Bastard feudalism — The Dunstable Swan Jewel, a livery badge, about 1400 (British Museum) Bastard feudalism is a term that has been used to describe feudalism in the Late Middle Ages, primarily in England. Its main characteristic is military, political, legal, or… …   Wikipedia

  • Bastard feudalism — A modern term for the changes in the forms of lordship in the 14c. Whereas classical feudalism relied upon oaths and service owed through *fief and obligation, bastard feudalism is distinctive because cash payments were at its heart. Contracts… …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • Feudalism — Feudalism, a term first used in the early modern period (17th century), in its most classic sense refers to a Medieval Europe political system composed of a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving… …   Wikipedia

  • Feudalism — • The source of feudalism rises from an intermingling of barbarian usage and Roman law Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Feudalism     Feudalism      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • feudalism — feudalist, n. feudalistic, adj. /fyoohd l iz euhm/, n. the feudal system, or its principles and practices. [1830 40; FEUDAL1 + ISM] * * * Term that emerged in the 17th century that has been used to describe economic, legal, political, social, and …   Universalium

  • Feudalism — A term of tortuous elusiveness. Broadly, the word is used of the system of land holding, administration and relations between vassal and lord in England after 1066. At its heart is the assumption that everyone had a lord, from the lowliest… …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • Wars of the Roses, Causes of —    Civil war erupted in fifteenth century England for many interrelated reasons. While Tudor and Elizabethan commentators found the chief cause of the conflict in the 1399 deposition of Richard II and its attendant break in the legal line of… …   Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses

  • 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… …   Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses

  • United Kingdom — a kingdom in NW Europe, consisting of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: formerly comprising Great Britain and Ireland 1801 1922. 58,610,182; 94,242 sq. mi. (244,100 sq. km). Cap.: London. Abbr.: U.K. Official name, United Kingdom of Great… …   Universalium

  • Acknowledgments —    Until the mid twentieth century, the nature and consequences of the series of civil conflicts fought in England in the late fifteenth century were not in doubt. These civil wars, which in the nineteenth century were termed the “Wars of the… …   Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.