Courts in East and West

Authored by: Jonathan Shepard

The Medieval World

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138848689
eBook ISBN: 9781315102511
Adobe ISBN:


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In most pre-industrial societies formidable practical obstacles face those aspiring to paramount authority over other persons well beyond their own immediate district or kin-group. They rely heavily on face-to-face dealings in order to gain active cooperation from the heads of other powerful families or groupings. Notions of abstract authority which can be delegated by the ruler to his agents are not, without benefit of widespread literacy and urban culture, readily grasped by those due to be drawn into their ambit. A court, in the sense of an entourage of notables revolving around an overlord, of variegated and fluctuating composition but observing ritual deference towards him, is a means of concretising and enhancing his authority. On the one hand, the overlord can hope to reinforce his personal ties with individuals and, on the other, some conception of an order transcending bilateral, essentially personal relationships may be propagated. In this way courts serve to bring focus and cohesion to polities whose paramount rulers rely on the essentially voluntary cooperation of the magnates and others who matter at grass-roots.

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