Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History




In the course of medieval English history the position of earl has played a major role. Despite this fact, little has been done in the area of research to try to learn why. The position of earl exerted great power in pre-Conquest England. The immediate effect of the Norman Conquest was to reduce the power of the position of earl. Despite the Norman Conquest the earls regained their power and influence. There must have been reasons for this to happen.

The reasons that made the earl an important position may be found through studying the functions and the development of the English Earl. Understanding the origins of the position of earl leads to a better understanding of its development. This uncovering of the position of earl involves the study of charters, grants, and texts.

The Norman Conquest is an important part of the picture due to the feudalism that historians imposed. Feudalism brings with it one of the largest problems in understanding the development of earl because historians do not agree on its definition. Due to this fact it is important to review the major interpretations of feudalism.

After looking at the problem of different interpretations of feudalism, this thesis deals with the early origin of the position of earl. The use of early histories such as Tacitus and the Saxon Chronicle shows the origins and development of the position. The development is traced through several phases; Ancient, Pre-Danish, and the Danish Development. Charters and grants are used to show the powers, privileges and rights the earls attained. The year 1066 is handled separately because of its importance in the development of the position. The post-Conquest phase is reviewed to the time of the writing of the Domesday Book (lOS5).

There are many aspects that could be studied about the position such as; the political, the economical or the social. This thesis is only attempting to study the aspects of the development and functions of the earl from which other research may be encouraged.



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