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Lords of the North-Sea World
By Anthony Mansfield
PhD Dissertation, Keele University, 2016
Abstract: This thesis seeks to understand the impact of the locality on the lordships of the North-Sea world. Historians, previously, have focussed on aristocrats and lordship through a lord’s relationship to a central authority. Medievalists, moreover, have focussed on central Europe when investigating the aristocracy and nobility, the consequence of this is that lordships were fixed in central kingdoms, which have been perpetuated from a twentieth-century idea of nationhood. Also such a perception causes us to describe the period in structuralist terms and negates the possibility of a fluid society in the tenth and eleventh centuries.
‘Lords of the North-Sea World’ will, however, show that society was not ‘feudal’ or rigid, by contrast it was flexible and subject to change. This thesis intends to investigate lordships in a seascape that has been relatively untouched by historians. I use a comparative methodology which has remained an underused medium by medieval historians. I begin by outlining the topic and justifying my approach, which will explore the huge historiographical background of aristocratic studies.
Four key themes will be examined; these are territory, solidarities, inheritances and ‘Noble Texts’. All will reveal how important the locality was to the identity, relationships and perception of the aristocracy in medieval society. The thesis, moreover, will suggest that local factors were a key component in the decision making of lords when they had choices. This has been achieved by drawing on narrative and documentary evidence to consider the levels of regional distinctiveness in lordships. The thesis also appeals to the global versus local debates throughout academic disciplines by suggesting that in the early middle ages, global vehicles of power were attempting to blunt the unmistakable authority of localism.