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Border Liberties and Loyalties

North-East England, c. 1200 to c. 1400

Matthew L. Holford, Keith J. Stringer

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This book examines the organisation of power and society in north-east England over two crucial centuries in the emergence of the English 'state'. England is usually regarded as medieval Europe's most centralised kingdom, yet the North-East was dominated by liberties - largely self-governing jurisdictions - that greatly restricted the English crown's direct authority in the region. These local polities receive here their first comprehensive discussion; and their histories are crucial for understanding questions of state-formation in frontier zones, regional distinctiveness, and local and national loyalties.

The analysis focuses on liberties as both governmental entities and sources of socio-political and cultural identification. It also connects the development of liberties and their communities with a rich variety of forces, including the influence of the kings of Scots as lords of Tynedale, and the impact of protracted Anglo-Scottish warfare from 1296. Why did liberties enjoy such long-term relevance as governance structures? How far, and why, did the English monarchy respect their autonomous rights and status? By what means, and how successfully, were liberty identities created, sharpened and sustained? In addressing such issues, this ground-breaking study extends beyond regional history to make significant contributions to the ongoing mainstream debates about 'state', 'society', 'identity' and 'community'.

About the Author

M. L. Holford was a research associate at the University of Durham and Cambridge University from 2003 to 2008. He has written on regional cultures and identities and on the dynamics of local government in medieval England.

K. J. Stringer is Professor of Medieval British History at Lancaster University. He has written extensively on the related fields of medieval state-making, noble power structures, religious reform, cultural exchanges, and regional, national and supra-national identities.


The study's comprehensive scope makes it an indispensable resource for future research regarding medieval English liberties. Essential.
- R. C. Figueira, Lander University, Choice
Holford and Stringer offer fresh perspectives on the "problem" of the liberties and draw compelling new conclusions about notions of community and identity in later medieval Britain... The similarity of the questions that the authors ask from one chapter to the next belies the complex set of circumstances that distinguished political life in each of the liberties, and the great value of this book lies above all in the authors' ability to demonstrate the astonishing range of experiences characteristic of the period.
- Cynthia J. Neville, Speculum: a journal of medieval studies