Sub-Keepers and Constables: The Role of Local Officials in Keeping the Peace in Fourteenth-Century England

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Musson, A.J. The English Historical Review 117, no. 470 (2002).

This article sets out a medieval, English system of peace-keeping, which worked through a variety of bodies, from the divinely-ordained royal powers of the king to the continually growing responsibilities of local constables. However, the main focus of Musson’s paper is the role of ‘keepers of the peace’, who reside judicially below even the level of the constables. He describes them as “a cog in the judicial machine, interacting with the agencies of central government and other local agents as appropriate, to enforce what was essentially everyone’s right to a trouble-free existence, but which was technically ‘the king’s peace’”. Ultimately, the aim of the paper is to understand how English peace-keeping was upheld at the most local level. Musson argues that peace-keeping in this time and place was reliant on every single one of the parts it was made up of – every law, every person, and every influence were important in maintaining order. The sub-keepers formed the bottom of the ladder, yet were just as essential as the king in creating peace. This bottom-up visualisation of peace is useful for understanding the English medieval system, as well as the wider processes of peace-making globally and throughout history.

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