Dr. Matthew Holford, ‘Middling Sorts of People in Late Medieval England’, (15/11/2013). A Report by Dr. Gordon McKelvie

Dr. Gordon McKelvie, (University of Winchester), attended this interesting talk at the IHR. He has been very kind and offer to provide us with a report on the paper. So we are delivering this to you in his behalf! We hope you enjoy it.

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Dr Matthew Holford presented a wide-ranging and engaging paper on ‘Middling Sorts of People in Late Medieval England’ to the Late Medieval Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research on 15 November 2013. The seminar is Britain’s leading series dedicated to the late medieval period and attracts a large, well-informed crowd. Winchester has strong links with this series. In this calendar year alone Professor Michael Hicks and Dr James Ross (also one of the seminar conveners) have similarly presented stimulating papers to the series. Holford’s well-received paper made it three out of three for the department in 2013.

Holford’s topic is an emerging area of investigation for 15th century historians and builds on much of his previous publications on jurors, communities and local societies as well as his current work on ‘Mapping the Medieval Countryside’. The middling sort occupied that area in the social hierarchy where the wealthier peasantry met the lower echelons of the gentry. The classification of who constituted a member of the ‘middling sort’ was flexible and difficult to ascribe to specific individuals. The term was used in literature from the period, although the people denoted as members of the ‘middling sort’ varied between authors. Drawing on other sources, predominantly those from central government (such as parliamentary records, tax returns and numerous others) as well as considering how early modernist have viewed the topic, Holford sketched a broader picture of the middle sort. While and income of £10 was the threshold for membership of the gentry, other valuations such as 100s, 40s, and 20s were important thresholds that determined one’s standing in the local community. (40s in particular since that was the property qualification for voting in county election as regulated by at statute of 1429 which remained unaltered until the Great Reform Act of 1832). While chroniclers were happy to discuss the peasantry en mass, Holford noted that this was unhelpful since this neglected the nuances of social stratification during the later middle-ages. It was also noted that we need to think about this section of society when considering many of large popular revolts of the period such as the Peasants’ Revolt (1381), Cade’s Rebellion (1450) and the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536). Holford conclusion was that we need to think of middling sorts of people as opposed to one homogenous middling sort.

The paper was followed by around 40 minutes of discussion on the numerous talking points that emerged from this paper. In no way can Holford’s discussion be regarded as the final word on this topic. Quite the opposite. Further research, particularly that being produced currently by the ‘Mapping the Medieval Countryside’ project at Winchester will yield more information and lead to a greater understanding of this important section of late medieval society. Clearly this is an area that will produce a plethora of studies from numerous scholars of the next few years and we may look forward to much more discussion and research in this area.

By Dr. Gordon McKelvie

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The W.U Hstry team would like to thank Gordon for sharing this with us and wish him the best in his career!

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