Officers and Accountability in Medieval England 1170-1300

ISBN : 9780198847984

John Sabapathy
336 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Sep 2019
Send mail

Winner, The 2015 Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize

  • Focuses on a major development in medieval government and administration: the accountability of officers
  • Compares political, administrative and legal practices in both royal, seigniorial, ecclesiastical and university contexts
  • Studies an English issue in its wider European context
  • Engages with the history of the actual practices as well as the theories and ideas informing them

The later twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a pivotal period for the development of European government and governance. A mentality emerged that trusted to procedures of accountability as a means of controlling officers' conduct. The mentality was not inherently new, but it became qualitatively more complex and quantitatively more widespread in this period, across European countries, and across different sorts of officer. The officers exposed to these methods were not just 'state' ones, but also seignorial, ecclasistical, and university-college officers, as well as urban-communal ones. This study surveys these officers and the practices used to regulate them in England. It places them not only within a British context but also a wide European one and explores how administration, law, politics, and norms tried to control the insolence of office.
The devices for institutionalising accountability analysed here reflected an extraordinarily creative response in England, and beyond, to the problem of complex government: inquests, audits, accounts, scrutiny panels, sindication. Many of them have shaped the way in which we think about accountability today. Some remain with us. So too do their practical problems. How can one delegate control effectively? How does accountability relate to responsibility? What relationship does accountability have with justice? This study offers answers for these questions in the Middle Ages, and is the first of its kind dedicated to an examination of this important topic in this period.


1: Introduction
2: Bailiffs and stewards
3: Sheriffs
4: Bishops
5: Wardens and Fellows
6: Conclusions
Select Bibliography

About the author: 

John Sabapathy is a Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at University College London. He is the co-editor of Individuals and Institutions in Medieval Scholasticism and is writing The Cultivation of Christendom, a history of thirteenth-century Europe for the Oxford History of Medieval Europe.

  • Winner of the 2015 Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize

"a very elegant book" - Chris Wickham, History Today Books of the Year 2014

"a hugely rewarding book, sophisticated and important, and one which both demands and repays close attention ... a study of the development of procedures of accountability as a means of controlling the conduct of officers, but it uses its subject to present an impressively rich and subtle account of the mentality of government ... the technical skills that he brings to its study are hugely impressive ... Simply to conceptualize the topic in the way that he has done, and that itself advances the historical agenda, demonstrates extraordinary intellectual skills. The study itself is deeply rich and subtle, with a firm theoretical grounding, and it successfully opens out a range of important historical questions, giving it a resonance well beyond medieval history ... a highly original work which will surely stimulate debate and further research for many years; it really is new administrative history." - Judges Comments, Royal Historical Society 2015 Whitfield Prize

"Officers and Accountability significantly contributes to our understanding both of England's history in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and of the extent to which English and continental European trends and developments must be viewed holistically. It also provides interesting food for thought in relation to trends of corporate, institutional, and governmental cultures, as well as behavior and regulation in the modern era. It is an interesting and very important first monograph that thinks innovatively about medieval cultures and mechanisms of accountability." - Caroline Burt, American Historical Review

"This is undoubtedly an important book and Sabapathy's strength is his complete mastery of the literature of accountability and his ability to draw out useful strands from a huge variety of secondary sources to bring to bear on his theme of accountability and to illuminate his individual examples." - Andrew M. Spencer, English Historical Review

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.