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Landscape, territory and common rights in medieval East Yorkshire

McDonagh, Briony


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Professor Briony McDonagh
Interim Director of the Energy and Environment Institute & Professor of Environmental Humanities


The paper examines issues of landscape, territory and common rights, with specific reference to the multi-township, multi-manor parish of Burton Agnes in the north-east Yorkshire Wolds. Burton was a territorial unit of considerable antiquity which survived as a distinct estate until the late twelfth century when it was split between coheiresses. This produced a complex territorial and tenurial situation, characterised in the later medieval period by ongoing conflicts over common rights between neighbouring manorial families on behalf of themselves and their various tenants. Crucially — given the lack of adequate commons governance structure — such conflicts proved not only almost impossible to resolve but also productive in documentary terms. This paper examines the far-reaching consequences of the 1199 division of the estate in two linked sets of sources: firstly, by using legal documents and estate records to examine conflicts about common rights in the parish moor in the later medieval period; and secondly and relatedly, by utilising standing buildings, landscape and documentary sources to interrogate the built landscape as a site to articulate territorial claims (including to rights and resources in the parish moor) and the patronage thereof by local manorial families. In this sense, the paper both traces the consequences of earlier territorial arrangements and explores the range of strategies by which local manorial families might make and mark territory in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In doing so, the paper makes the case for writing ‘grounded’ historical geographies of the commons which both set individual commons within their wider temporal, spatial and territorial contexts and recognise them as always entangled within the broader politics and landscape of the parish.


McDonagh, B. (2019). Landscape, territory and common rights in medieval East Yorkshire. Landscape History, 40(2), 77-100.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 8, 2019
Online Publication Date Oct 17, 2019
Publication Date Jul 3, 2019
Deposit Date Feb 8, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 4, 2021
Journal Landscape History
Print ISSN 0143-3768
Electronic ISSN 2160-2506
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 40
Issue 2
Pages 77-100
Keywords Landscape; Territory; Common rights; Commons governance; Built landscape; Parish and township boundaries; Burton Agnes; Harpham
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Additional Information Journal is Landscape History (published by Taylor & Francis). Can it be added please?


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