A social archaeology of the late medieval English peasantry : power, community and gender
This thesis sets out to develop an archaeological approach to the study of the late medieval English peasantry that allows issues of power, resistance, gender and community to be addressed. It is identified at the outset that the aims of the majority of late medieval rural archaeology are those to do with long-term issues of settlement development and determinations of the chronology and function of material culture types. This thesis puts an alternative interpretive emphasis on the material culture and documentary evidence of the period and focuses on the ways in which detailed, contextual studies of medieval settlements facilitate the investigation of more `social' issues. A case-study approach is advocated and utilised here, as a central contention of the work is that specific aspects of medieval material culture, such as, for example, regular village plans or lordly insignia on churches, do not have one meaning applicable throughout all contexts, and that these contextual meanings only become clear when all the available evidence for a specific settlement is taken into account. The focus is, therefore, on the examination of three Yorkshire villages which contained evidence of peasant settlement, standing buildings, as well as documentary records. In addition, the material culture and documentary evidence of the immediate regions of these villages are investigated in order to further contextualise the suggestions regarding the peasants' experience of power, resistance, community and gender that are put forward. These case studies are followed by a chapter which investigates similar issues as they pertain to four classes of medieval material culture which are dealt with thematically. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the nature of gendered power among the medieval peasantry. The importance of deconstructing deeply-entrenched ideas about `public' and `private' as well as about the nature of power is stressed, and an argument is advanced which suggests that when these concepts are critiqued and the centrality of social practice to discussions of power is acknowledged, it is possible to suggest that medieval peasant women may not have experienced gendered differences as oppressive.