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Fifteenth-century Durham and the problem of provincial liberties in England and the wider territories of the English crown

Thornton, Tim (2001) Fifteenth-century Durham and the problem of provincial liberties in England and the wider territories of the English crown. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series, 11. pp. 83-100. ISSN 1474-0648

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IT is remarkable when an historical interpretation has stood almost unchallenged for one hundred years. Yet this is the case with the approach to the history of the county palatine of Durham outlined by G. T. Lapsley in 1900; it is a story of the steady decline of this once highly autonomous jurisdiction which has been retold by virtually all those who have written on the subject since. 1 It is even more remarkable when that interpretation has acted as a vital support for two much more far-reaching paradigms. In the case of Lapsley’s interpretation of Durham, these extend not just elsewhere in the British Isles but also to North America. On the one hand is the approach to the territories of the English crown as a precociously centralised polity, characterised by the effective authority of the crown’s institutions and the rapid decline of what little provincial particularism had once been present. 2 With Lapsley’s Durham a pale shadow of its former self by the fifteenth century, historians have been able to propose that even the strongest of the ancient palatinates was effectively defunct and the power of the centre unopposed. 3 On the other hand, there is the paradigm which sees English North America as the scene of a conflict between the direct authority of an ambitious crown and a burgeoning desire for local self[hyphen]government which was eventually successful

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: UoA 62 (History) © Cambridge University Press
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
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References: 1 Gaillard Thomas Lapsley, The County Palatine of Durham: A Study in Constitutional History (1900); Constance M. Fraser, ‘Prerogative and the Bishops of Durham, 1267–1376’, English Historical Review [hereafter EHR], 74 (1959), 467–76; Jean Scammell, ‘The Origin and Limitations of the Liberty of Durham’, EHR, 81 (1966), 449–73. I would like to thank Cliff Davies, Ralph Griffiths, Mark Ormrod and Tony Pollard for their patient and helpful comments on this paper. 2 Marxist work, e.g. A. L. Morton, A People’s History of England (1938); Whig historiography, e.g. George Macaulay Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe (1899, 4th edn 1909); his History of England (1926, 3rd edn with corrections 1952); and more recent influential interpretations such as Mervyn James, Family, Lineage and Civil Society: A Study of Society, Politics and Mentality in the Durham Region, 1500–1640 (Oxford, 1974); Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer, The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution (Oxford, 1985). 3 E.g. recently D. M. Loades, Power in Tudor England (Basingstoke and London, 1997), 33. 4 Jack P. Greene argued for the acceptance of considerable autonomy in early seventeenth[hyphen]century America thanks to the distance from the centre and lack of an effective force that could be deployed by the central authority: Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607–1788 (Athens, Ga., and London, 1986), esp. chapter I. Greene developed the approach of Charles H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Approach (New York, 1923). Cf. Stephen Saunders Webb, who emphasised strong central rule through military governorships: ‘Army and Empire: English Garrison Government in Britain and America, 1569 to 1763’, William and Mary Quarterly, third series, 34 (1977): 1–31; idem, The Governors[hyphen]General: The English Army and the Definition of Empire, 1569–1681 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1979).
Depositing User: Sara Taylor
Date Deposited: 11 May 2007
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 23:36


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