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Connor Williams

History, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

Kingship, Nobility and Gentry: The Uses and Abuses of Wardship from Edward III to Henry IV (1350-1413)

For the landholding class in Medieval Britain, two concerns lay at the top of their priorities – land and family. Land was the basis for power and position in medieval society, with the largest landholders and those who held directly from the crown the kingdom’s ‘tenants-in-chief’. Family was the instrument of transmission for land from one generation to the next as children inherited from their elders. 

But what happened when the adult lord died too soon, leaving a minor heir? What happened when the heir was found mentally unfit to take over the administration of highly complex estates and networks? What happened when an heir was abroad in exile but still held the right to inherit? This is where the instrument of ‘wardship’ came in. Wardships have been legally defined as a ‘feudal incident’ which triggered at the time of inheritance when the heir was considered unable to take over the management of their estates. My thesis will investigate the administration, use (and abuse), and reaction to wardship during the latter half of the fourteenth-century to 1413.

My thesis addresses three principal strands:

  1. How were wardships used by the king and royal government as a mechanism to shape landed society to serve royal interests? The king could use wardships as a way of rewarding loyal servants and followers by granting them custody over portions of the inheritance of wards. Wardships were therefore a crucial aspect of the distribution of patronage. However, by granting wardship to third parties the crown was denied valuable income. My research will investigate how three English kings (Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV) balanced these competing priorities.
  2. Considering the perspective of those who received grants of custody from the crown. How were custodians chosen and why? Also under consideration is their treatment of the lands and the heirs in their custody: did they discharge their obligations responsibly or did they abuse their position and exploit the lands for their own benefit? If mismanagement by custodians was an issue – what restrictions or punishments were placed on custodians?
  3. What was the experience of the ward, their families and their dependents? Wardships had the potential to have a profound impact on those landowning families whose lands were transferred into the custody of the crown or a third party. Furthermore, with wardship of the body, infant children could be placed in the care of the family of the custodians. This gave wardships a crucial social dimension that needs considering. While this could be something highly disruptive, it could equally result in mutually advantageous social and political networking.
By using wardships as a tool of researching the nature of power in the localities, the relationship between the crown and landholders, and the intersection which wardships provided for different classes to interact with each other, this study will reshape our historical understanding of the socio-political interactions and priorities which shaped the experiences of the nobility and gentry in fourteenth-century England. My research aims to open important new lines of inquiry into the workings of late medieval administration and kingship.

Research Area

  • History
  • Political History

Publications

WILLIAMS, Connor. "Roger Mortimer, fourth earl of March - a study in minority, royal service and 'proximity' to the crown during the late fourteenth century", Journal of the Mortimer History Society, Volume 4 (2020), pp. 21-38.

Conferences

"The Child Lords of the Marches: The Hastings and Mortimer Wardships, 1375-95" - International Medieval Congress 2021, University of Leeds (Online), July 2021.

"Rota Fortunae: A Reassessment of Richard II's Fall from Power, 1377-99" - East Midlands Conference for History Teaching and Learning Undergraduate History Dissertation Showcase, University of Derby, June 2019.

Public Engagement & Impact

As a member of the Mortimer History Society, I am an editorial assistant and content creator for their quarterly newsletter Mortimer Matters which is read by the society's 500+ members. I am also a member of their research and palaeography group which has the long-term aim of transcribing and publishing archival sources related to the Mortimer family and wider Welsh Marches for easier access to scholars to encourage wider research in both fields.

Other Research Interests

My research interests include:

  • The wider fourteenth-century, particularly the reign of Richard II.
  • The landholding classes of Medieval England, Wales and Ireland.
  • The development and history of the Welsh Marches.
  • Medieval genealogy.
  • Administration development of Medieval England, particularly within the localities.

Memberships

  • Mortimer History Society (2019-present)
  • Pipe Roll Society (2020-present)