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Wartime Corruption and Complaints of the English Peasantry
By Ilana Krug
Noble Ideals and Bloody Realities: Warfare in the Middle Ages, eds. Niall Christie and Maya Yazigi (Brill, 2006)
Introduction: The late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries witnessed a great military transformation, one that heavily affected the peasantry in ways it had not before. It was also a period of near-constant warfare, with Edward I’s campaigns in France, Wales and Scotland, Edward II’s continuous conflicts with Scotland, and the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War under Edward III. Peasants were required to participate in nearly every aspect of wartime efforts: as financiers, as victuallers, and as fighters. Yet, as far as the peasantry was concerned, corruption was part and parcel of levies, purveyance and even military service, and it was this added component that often made the already heavy demands unbearable.
Before delving into the abuses of wartime financing, a brief discussion of these demands is appropriate. However, since it is the corruption of such methods rather than the methods themselves that is the topic of this investigation, the following will simply be an overview.
By the time of Edward I, the price of warfare had drastically increased. With the decaying of the feudal military system, kings were forced to pay salaried soldiers rather than being able to rely solely on their feudal host. Fortifications and armor were more expensive, and political and military support had to be bought.
Top Image: Bodley MS. Douce 151 Bestiary – Fol. 022r