Spartacus Review

Volume 8: 7th December, 2007

Medieval History

Title: The Earls of Mercia

Author: Stephen Baxter


Publisher: Oxford University Press

Price: £60.00

Bookshop: Amazon

Spartacus Website: King Harold II


Offering a fresh interpretation of power structures and political patterns in late Anglo-Saxon England, this book focuses on the family of Ealdorman Leofwine, which obtained power in Mercia, and retained it throughout an extraordinary period of political upheaval between 994 and 1071. The house of Leofwine survived events such as the Viking wars, a palace revolution in 1006-7, and further rounds of political bloodletting during the reign of Æthelred 'the Unready'. It maintained power through Cnut's conquest of 1016, the explosive factional politics of Edward the Confessor's reign, the battles of 1066, and even the first few years of William the Conqueror's reign. Stephen Baxter examines why this family retained power for so long, and why it eventually fell. Offering the first extended treatment of the nature and limits of earls' power, The Earls of Mercia is a reappraisal of the structure of land tenure and the mechanics of royal patronage, and provides a new perspective from which to explore how noble families used religious patronage to strengthen local power structures. Reconstructing pre-Conquest lordship using Domesday evidence, it is the first sustained attempt to explore the relationship between local and national politics,

offering a major new interpretation of the whole structure of the early English kingdom on the eve of its demise.