Blog Western Europe

The Danish Medieval Aristocracy, A Fictional Law from the Viking Age and the Good of the Realm

Lars Kjaer

In the second half of the twelfth century the kingdom of Denmark, and the role of the secular elite, was utterly transformed. In this blog post I would like to look at a strange pseudo-legal text from the 1180s, Lex castrensis – ‘the law of the retainers’ – purporting to be a translation of a law code issued by the great viking ruler Cnut the Great (r. 1016-35), and what it reveals about the ways in which the aristocracy sought to adapt, and adapt to, the changing political circumstances, and how they imagined their role in ensuring the future welfare of the realm.

Blog Western Europe

Urban politics and baronial power in fourteenth-century Sicily

Susannah Bain

Traditionally, the landed families that dominated the political landscape of fourteenth-century Sicily have been cast in the mould of the feuding, disruptive baron. At a weak point in the fortunes of the Sicilian monarchy, families such as the Palizzi and Rossi established their own bases of power distinct from the authority of the monarchy and fought with one another, worsening the predicaments of the already war-torn and plague-ridden island. To many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars, the disruption caused by the barons was one aspect of a much longer chain of unfortunate events which disrupted Sicily’s vitality, and paved the way for the economic and political difficulties that continue to define the island in the present day.  More recent studies of this period have taken a more nuanced approach to these barons, considering their influence within pan-Mediterranean political networks and how they established and exercised their political authority [i]. A key aspect of the political operation of these middling elites was their engagement with Sicily’s urban centres. Not only did cities provide revenue, but the nobles used them as a stage for displaying their political power, embedding themselves in existing political structures, and to present themselves (with mixed success) as upstanding and worthy leaders.

Blog Western Europe

The barons of Ireland: the role of magnates in the governance of thirteenth-century Ireland

John Marshall, Trinity College Dublin/Institute of Historical Research, London

And the barons of Ireland,

Who were in this brawl,

All passed over to Normandy

And told the news to the king,

How the Flemings were slain

And the king of Scotland taken.