The county community of Hampshire, c.1300-c.1530, with special reference to the knights and esquires
By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the class of landlord pre-eminent in the
localities were the knights and esquires. Much debate has occurred over whether these
lords were primarily identified as a county elite or whether the county is a false
construct. This thesis proposes that the knights and esquires resident and with primary
interests in Hampshire formed a landed and political community within a county of
communities. They were a close-knit group of some fifty families who held the major
county offices sometimes for many generations and formed marriage alliances within
The nature of this community was determined by the domination of the county by the
WinchesterB ishopric and other ecclesiasticallo rds who held the richeste statesa nd
had done so since before the Conquest and would continue to do so until the
Dissolution of the Monasteries. There were no great estates belonging to the crown or
to the nobility in Hampshire. As a result of this pattern of landholding, many
landowners looked to the counties bordering Hampshire, particularly Wiltshire, and
this fostered a regional, rather than purely county, outlook.
The resident knights and esquires co-existed with other communities in the county.
Many landholders with knightly status had estates in Hampshire even though they were
based in other counties. Most of them did not hold office in Hampshire, but
nevertheless formed a permanent presence alongside those resident lords. These lords
had estates from all over England, though most from neighbouring counties,
reinforcing the regional, rather than county, outlook most landlords had.
This thesis covers two centuries. Continuity is a key theme. The long view illustrates
how important heiressesw ere to the survival andd ispersalo f the family estate.I n line
with nationalt rends,t he numberso f Hampshirek nights and esquiresd ecreaseds; everal
estates suffered dispersal. The resultant parcels of land were not enough to support
knightly status. Dispersal and wastage were not, however, means by which outsiders
and self-made men could enter this county community. With very few exceptions, most
of the familiesa t the start of the sixteenthc entury owed their statust o marriagesb ased
on social parity and careful accumulation. The wealthiest estate remained in the hands
of the Church; buyers could not amass and maintain blocs of territory.
This ended when the Dissolution of the Monasteries opened up the land market and
the nature of Hampshire landed society changed irrevocably.