The Anglo-Norman lordships in this area were distinct in several ways: they were geographically compact and jurisdictionally separate one from another, and they had special privileges which separated them from the usual English lordships. Royal writ did not obtain in the Marches: Marcher lords ruled their lands by their own law—sicut regale ("like unto a king") as Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, stated (Nelson 1966), whereas in England fief-holders were directly accountable to the king. Marcher lords could build castles, a jealously guarded and easily-revoked Royal privilege in England. Marcher lords administered laws, waged war, established markets in towns, and maintained their own chanceries that kept their records, which have been completely lost. They had their own deputies, or sheriffs. Sitting in their own courts they had jurisdiction over all cases at law save high treason. "They could establish forests and forest laws declare and wage war, establish boroughs, and grant extensive charters of liberties. They could confiscate the estates of traitors and felons, and regrant these at will. They could establish and preside over their own petty parliaments and county courts. Finally, they could claim any and every feudal due, aid, grant, and relief" (Nelson 1966, ch. 8), although they did not mint coins. Their one insecurity, if they did not take up arms against the king, was of dying without a legitimate heir, whereupon the title reverted to the Crown in escheat. Welsh law was frequently used in the Marches in preference to English law, and there would sometimes be a dispute as to which code should be used to decide a particular case.
Feudal social structures, which were never fully established in England, took root in the Marches, which was not legally part of the realm of England. The traditional view has been that the Norman monarchy granted these outright. A revisionist view is that such rights were more common in the 11th century throughout the Conquest, but were largely suppressed in England, and survived in the Marches. Settlement was encouraged, as if the lands were desert: Knights were granted their own lands, which they held in feudal service to the Norman lords. Settlement was also encouraged in towns that were given market privileges, under the protection of a Norman keep. Peasants came to Wales in large numbers: Henry I encouraged Bretons, Flemings, Normans, and English settlers to move into the south of Wales.
The tendencies of innovations in the Plantagenet monarchy were towards a centralised bureaucracy and judiciary, with the gradual elimination of localisms. In the Marches of Wales these processes towards a "high mediæval" authority were staunchly resisted. Protests of the border lords surviving in the Royal records throw some light upon the nature and extent of the privileges whose normal operation has left no record.
On the local side, the able-bodied population was more directly essential to the local Lord and was able to extract from him carefully defined and highly local liberties. A point of friction was in the Lords' funded churches where they appointed churchmen to livings held tightly under hierarchic control in the manner that had developed in Normandy, where a highly organised church structure was well in the hands of the Duke. The Welsh church, on the Celtic plan, closely connected with clan loyalties, brooked little authoritarian influence.
The Marcher Lords were progressively tied to the English kings by the grants of lands and lordships in England, where control was stricter, and where many marcher lords spent most of their time, and through the English kings' dynastic alliances with the great magnates. It was less easy to work in the opposite way, and establish a position among the hereditary marcher families, as Hugh Le Despenser discovered. He began by exchanging estates he held in England and by obtaining grants in the Welsh Marches from the King. He even obtained the Isle of Lundy. When the last male heir of the de Braose family died, Despenser was able to obtain the de Braose lands around Swansea. In 1321 the Marcher Lords threatened to start a civil war and it was agreed that a Parliament should be called to settle the matter.
Read more about this topic: Marcher Lord
Other articles related to "marcher powers, marcher":
... Royal writ did not obtain in the Marches Marcher lords ruled their lands by their own law—sicut regale ("like unto a king") as Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, stated (Nelson 1966), whereas in England fief-holde ... Marcher lords could build castles, a jealously guarded and easily-revoked Royal privilege in England ... Marcher lords administered laws, waged war, established markets in towns, and maintained their own chanceries that kept their records, which have been completely lost ...
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