University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

James R. Mathieu

Assessing Political Complexity in Medieval England: An Analysis of Royal Buildings and Strategies (Department of Anthropology)

Abstract
The primary objective of this study is to further develop anthropological models of complexity and political development by focusing them on a historically well-known and rich data set. This is done by developing a general interpretive framework within which political complexity can be assessed through an analysis of material remains and their patterning. This framework uses a decision-making model to understand the process by which individuals affect the world around them and then reverses it so that material evidence can be used to infer past processes, behaviors, and the strategies people used (particularly those that resulted in increasing political complexity). This framework is then used to assess the political development of medieval England as a case study. Arguing that medieval England's political organization is represented by the roughly 650 royal buildings that existed between AD 1066 and 1650, England's political development is assessed via an analysis of the royal strategies that pertained to them. These include strategies of (1) building acquisition, (2) military control, (3) administrative control, (4) residential organization, (5) building alienation and granting, (6) strategies using ideology and symbolism, and (7) royal organizational strategies. By emphasizing temporal correlations in royal strategy use, two major strategic complexes are identified. Tying these into the wider historical and contextual framework (particularly the royal interests and socio-environmental conditions which provoked specific strategy use), the chain of historical causality that led from the earlier to the later complex is illustrated. With this detailed historical contextualization and a focus on how royal strategies affected the five variables of complexity (scale, horizontal differentiation, vertical differentiation centralization, and integrations), this analysis shows an overall growth in political complexity during the period under study, particularly as a result of the degree of royal mobility. By relating increasing political complexity to the pursuit of specific royal strategies and their (un)intended consequences, medieval England's specific path of political development is illustrated. This leads to the further development of anthropological models of complexity and shows the importance of individuals and/or small groups in the process of political development.

 Print  Email