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Welsh History Review

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Vol. 9, nos. 1-4 1978-79

Lordship and society in the march of Wales, 1282-1400 : Book review.

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bibliography and index are exemplary, and there are five well-designed
maps and a number of charts and tables (notably, on p. 400, one illus-
trating taxable wealth in eight marcher lordships in 1292).
A Scottish historian may be permitted a brief grimace of envy when
he scans Dr. Davies's range and depth of source material. There are
impressive cadastral surveys which record what the lord's hard-fisted and
busy officers thought their territory ought to consist of in tenants, services,
customs and rent. There are court rolls, parliamentary petitions and other
legal sources to reveal what actually happened. There is a not incon-
siderable measure of annalistic and literary material, especially poetry.
Many of his greater marcher lords were also major figures in the realm
at large, readily 'biographable', such as Henry Lacy, earl of Lincoln,
John, Earl Warenne, successive earls of Lancaster, the Despensers and
Roger Mortimer. But the merit of a scholar is to be judged not by the
richness of the sources available to him but by the use he makes of them.
Dr. Davies has mastered his material (at what cost in hours searching
yards of barely legible document in national, local and private repositories
one may guess at from a glance at the bibliography) and has then been
able to refine and transmute it into an immensely readable and illuminating
essay. That is why his book is so satisfying and will endure for many years.
Lordship, perhaps more than kingship, was the leitmotiv of medieval
politics, forming the focus of competitiveness in a status-conscious but
far from static society. In the Welsh marches we may see it not only at its
height in the fourteenth century upon which Dr. Davies concentrates but
also, as he suggests, in its most perfectly exemplified manifestation
throughout western Christendom. This was because by a series of historical
accidents the March came to form a buffer region in which ancient Welsh
custom, extraordinary franchises justified by military necessity, and
generally poor communications combined to perpetuate lordship at a
stage of development which in most western feudal and post-feudal
kingdoms did not last more than a generation or two. The Welsh in
pura Wallia could not, and the rulers of the regnum Anglie would not,
defeat and eradicate this remarkably tough and resilient cluster of self-
contained, self-sufficient 'countries' in which ran neither the cyfraeth Hywel
nor the king of England's writ. The Welshness of the March is strongly and
rightly insisted upon by Dr. Davies who, though he may not see the
original 'Norman conquests' in Wales precisely as the late Sir Goronwy
Edwards saw them, nevertheless agrees that the marcher lords occupied
the place and enjoyed the rights of the old Welsh kings and princes.
Occasionally Dr. Davies may be too emphatic about Welshness, as when
(p. 310) he refers to 'the old Welsh custom' of the commorth Calan Mai,
the cow tribute paid biennially in Clun, Brecon and Hay, triennially in
Kidwelly. As he recognises (p. 134), this custom was also Northumbrian
(and Scottish, it should be added); but as late as 1276 an estate at Longsdon
and Endon in Staffordshire, forty miles from the nearest point of Wales,
was still paying 'cow-scot' every three years (W. Farrer, Honors and
Knights' Fees, II, 256). A tribute so universal and apparently archaic must
surely go back far before the existence of 'Wales', 'England' or 'Scotland'.
The special value of marcher evidence on such a point is that it survives
from so late a period.
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