Welcome to the website for the AHRC-funded Noblesse oblige? research network! This network is a forum for the re-evaluation of ‘baronial’ government and the common good between the tenth and fourteenth centuries across different Afro-Eurasian polities. By bringing together emerging and established international scholars, it challenges the traditionally Eurocentric approach to this problem and uses new methodologies to reassess our framework for studying the medieval period, leading to a fundamental reappraisal of the teleological narrative that has previously explained the rise of modern states.

The story of the medieval barons is commonly a negative one. Because aristocracies have been almost universally eclipsed by centralised states in the modern world, they are often cast as regressive forces whose self-interest held back ‘progress’. Nor is this exclusively a European narrative, though the historiographical attention paid to the ‘rise of the State’ has privileged the Latin Christian experience of political formation and shaped the way in which non-royal élites are seen in other historical contexts. As a result, ‘private’ rulers such as lords, amirs, kshatriya, and samurai are often assumed to have been at odds with the needs of the wider society. 

This network is challenging this understanding of the role of ‘barons’ in their relation to public good in two important and complementary ways. First, we are exploring case studies of how these non-royal élites conceived and implemented responsible government, whether for themselves or for others. Second, we are comparing these case studies in a bold transnational framework, reaching from western Europe to China, that spans the collapse of major centralised imperial projects in the ninth century to the destabilising experience of the Great Death in the fourteenth. 

We have brought together international scholars in two online working groups, followed by an international conference in order to discuss, debate, and disseminate interpretations of the ‘public’ role of the baron in an Afro-Eurasian Middle Ages. The two working groups are organised two major axes of research: ‘Barons and the Public Good in a Transnational Context’ and ‘Minority Élites and Government in a Transnational Context’ which will work separately before uniting in a three-day conference in 2023 to share their findings. The research developed through this collaboration will then be refined and presented to a wider audience at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds in 2024.

This website serves as an interactive portal connecting our research network to a wider public, and hosts blog posts and working papers suitable for a wide audience, in addition to teaching materials for use in the classroom. We hope you will get involved with our work and please feel free to use the contact information to reach out to us if you would like to contribute to or benefit from our research collaboration!