Let’s begin with the infancy of the High Medieval Aristocracy.
Initially an Anglo-Saxon Institution, and expanded across our land after the Kingdom of Wessex’s unification of one Kingdom – England, shires were governed by an Ealdorman. These shires by 1014 had been administratively organised into Earldoms, inherited by the appointed Earl or Sheriff. On the arrival of the Normans to our shores, this continued under William the Conqueror, and it was only on the ascension of Edward III that his sons were appointed Dukes. Kings would establish the honours of Marquesses and Viscounts to further establish differentiation of noble rank above Earl.
Behind the grandeur and ceremony that we’ve become accustomed too, as an institution this aristocracy was not born out of aspiration for a flourishing economic, social and cultural state, even with the foundations of that unified Kingdom. Instead, and with honest humility it should be recognised, that it was born from the advancement of self interest. Evidenced in how it demonstrated its rule in its infancy. The stealing and seizing of land under a pretence of piety, justice and efficiency was all too common in that nobility. No one, not even the religious monastics were spared the extortion as lavish wealth was accumulated, only to be employed for private gain. All of which was accomplished with a great degree of success under these claims; that it was morally right, that it was under crown authority, that it would provide economic sustainability and not exhaustively, that it would establish justice for all within the Kingdom.
Whatever your conclusions about the aristocracy – past, present or future – what transpired in reality was the establishment of powerful dynasties that would be wealthy beyond comprehension, powerful politically in society, and as was inevitable with such nurturing in its infancy, corrupt beyond belief. Nobles flourished with stark divisions in the standards of living to the majority in medieval society. The birth of the aristocracy was a painful ordeal, and it’s honest to confess that the medieval nobility could often be described as far from noble.
For the sake of balance and honesty there is much fault to be found with the aristocracy – even today. It’s worth noting that the influence and impact of those dynasties and those early shires under an Earldom can still be felt today. The use of leasehold sales for the homes built upon their hereditary land is a perfect example of self interest. Prior to reforms of the hereditary peerages in 1999, the number of hereditary Lords who failed to contribute as part of their constitutional duty to the House of Lords was scandalous. It should be reflected that in its infancy these characteristics were exemplified, and those characteristics remain. It would be foolish to defend the aristocracy as without fault, nor without the need for greater reform. It should be clear by now that this is not a defense of the institution.
The political influence of the Aristocracy, and the further development of the role of the institution is outside the scope of our examination, but those early foundations are important to view how the medieval earldoms, with particular emphasis on their land management, were established.
One sweeping change for the Aristocracy would come at the beginning of the 20th century. Under the weight of economic and social changes, those shires, now referred to as estates, hosting grand manor houses rather than a motte and bailey would in the aftermath of the Great War feel the first pinches of a changing world and a new phenomenon. Those unwilling to adapt and change to a new world and new technology found themselves collapsing. The presence of these estates today, and the continued presence of hereditary peers in the Lords even after 1999 make for a testimony to their survivability.
Endorsed and facilitated by the Left in the aftermath of both wars, inheritance taxes would be a bitter blow to these institutions, and the agricultural practices of a nation would change. These changes would include a radical change – farm owners would now be handling the responsibility for land they would now own and the techniques they would employ. The impact of that decision has been felt across the last century, and as agriculture has grown and adapted we’ve witnessed a shift from centralised large farms with much aristocratic oversight to an enterprising model, fueled by experience and the privatisation.
That change, and we must give credit where it is due, was in significant part because of a liberal boldness at the end of the Great War. It would appear however that the Left has changed its thinking, and set out to reapproach agricultural policy with radical ideas. It is not misplaced to be searching to better serve a struggling industry, but it is curious as to where we have seemingly found ourselves. Drawn to unexpected sources for the new inspiration. Large and influential farms, a centralised workforce, and the direction of local officials from the Department of Agriculture – nationalisation of the entire agricultural industry. All of this looks familiar. If you pull on this umbilical cord, following it through history, you might well find yourself in the High Middle Ages.
The Left have yet to announce the ‘good news’ of a pregnancy, but they’ve conceived the beginnings of a new aristocracy.
The lessons of Eastern Europe during the Great War with the rise of the Bolsheviks and nationalisation under trade unions was an experiment framed as morally right, economically sensible and bold steps towards true justice for all. It was implemented by seizing, stealing, and plundering. What would follow were deeply rooted problems within soviet society, far from the utopia promised. The wealth, power and double standards between those who rule and those who labour remained deeply entrenched. What materialised was something oppressive and dark, but be at no mistake, it was also the birth of an aristocracy in everything but name.
The Rose Government have set out their trajectory, promising agricultural change that will reforge a fairer and more prosperous society.
They may not arrive in the delivery room adorned with a wig, red robes of state or an honorary title gifted from the crown, but this chapter parallels history already well worn in the Middle Ages.
Call the Midwife!
To great surprise, the Left’s new aristocracy is potentially well into its first trimester.
This article was written by flatartifact, a new member of the LPUK