Peerage titles as names and their implications for dynastic definition in late medieval and early modern England

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This paper explores how from the late middle ages English peerage titles functioned as names, being granted, assumed, and used in ways which were not fundamentally dissimilar to more specifically personal names. It counters the assumption that, generally, titles soon lost any real substance, and suggests they might be potent signifiers of cultural and social value, through which we can understand important political choices and preferences. On this basis, the paper uses peerage titles for a case-study contribution to the historiography of succession politics. Here, Eric Ives has argued that a decisive shift from common-law principles of succession occurred with Henry VIII’s second succession statue, as Henry was given absolute power to nominate a successor for lack of legitimate heirs of his body. Yet this is to ignore a significant ongoing and inherently controversial process by which membership of the royal kin was determined, in which markers of proximity to the crown, including peerage titles, were of some importance. From the fourteenth century, through repeated use with royal children, certain titles accumulated dynastic associations. Evidence suggests that the late medieval monarchy was less prone to grant these titles, and therefore more sharply-focused in its definition of dynasty, than some who would argue for its fragility might suggest. But that evidence sheds new light on the changing nature of dynasty under the “Tudors”, and on its recreation by James VI/I, and further develops approaches to the succession after 1603 proposed by Howard Nenner.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-431
Number of pages43
JournalViator - Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


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