September 22, 2017 Subject:
This comes in Five Volumes
This is the kind of book reserved for the deepest layer of research; once again, I kept finding Tout listed in the footnotes of history book after history book. Who is this guy? It's actually a misnomer to say I’m finished. I read Volume One out of five. Tout apparently made English administrative history his life’s work, and subsequent modern “rewrites” rely on his exhaustive research. I found him surprisingly readable. My immediate concerns are related to Richard II’s reign, but I concluded that I would be remiss if I didn’t go back to the beginning. As expected, Tout began with the Normans, though things really started to heat up in the reign of Henry III, when the administration as we would recognize it began to take shape. It was interesting to see how the king’s household—or his chamber—established itself for his convenience, then started forming subgroups like the chancery, the exchequer, and the wardrobe; all of them initially answered to the king, then eventually they broke free and functioned on their own. Each department developed its own officers; sometimes they were clerics, sometimes they were laymen. These positions were often stepping-stones to greater appointments, all the way up to archbishop. The great seal of the chancery was soon supplemented by a privy—or small—seal (often, but not always, held by the exchequer) which was frequently used when the king was absent (overseas). I wish things were tidy and linear so I could get my hands around them, but there was much back-and-forth between which department worked for whom—sometimes being reabsorbed into the king’s chamber, and sometimes duplicating their efforts (especially between the exchequer and the wardrobe). This went on for generations. But overall, I’m beginning to see just how critical these departments were to defining the king’s role in his government (and how much control he had). Interestingly, Tout refused to describe any major political upsets of each reign; he insisted that this was outside the scope of his study. So, even though we have what amounts to a civil war in Henry III’s reign, he only spoke of the changes in the administrative structure. It was as though the household ran as usual, even with catastrophes erupting all around it. Maybe that’s the way it was? With this as a firm foundation, I’m skipping forward to the end of Edward III (volume three); with luck, I’ll be able to discover just why the nobles and commons were so intent on “cleaning house” during the Merciless Parliament of Richard II. What was going on behind the scenes?