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Extra resources for Political Life in Medieval England, 1300–1450

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The entries in surviving fourteenth- and fifteenth-century chamberlains' accounts (those of Norwich, Leicester, Exeter and York provide some good 45 Political Life in Medieval England examples) recording fees and gifts to royal officials and to lawyers specifically retained to represent the relevant town in the central courts at Westminster provide striking evidence of the sort of channels through which provincial towns now maintained their political dialogue with the centre. And the series of petitions by which impoverished towns sought the partial or total remission of the annual fee farms payable to the royal exchequer during the reign of Henry VI speaks much for the common agenda, the concerted action, and the particularly successful lobbying that characterises the political relations between the towns and the crown in this period.

38 3 POLITICAL IDENTITIES: THE LOCALITIES In recent years there has been a reaction against the history of 'high' politics (that is, as viewed from the centre) and towards the idea that the true character of medieval political life can only be comprehended by studying the 'low' politics of the regions and localities and the 'popular' politics of the mob. This approach has undoubtedly transformed our understanding of the complexity and richness of medieval political culture . Unfortunately, however, it has all too often been seen as replacing, rather than supplementing, the study of central politics and has sometimes given the impression that later medieval England was rather like France: a patchwork oflocal polities that saw the king's actions as at best an irrelevance , at worst an intrusion, into the affairs of the provincial power elites.

The numbers of electors preserved in the returns vary considerably, not only from county to county but also from election to election, and the variations have to be accounted for as much by erratic record-keeping as by differences in local attitudes to the importance of parliament. We have also to confront the awkward truth that the vast majority of returns named only men of quality and substance: the sort of people that we are attempting to trace here are all too often effectively lost in the phrase et aliorum, which often appears at the end of such lists.

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