Hospitality, conviviality, and the English gentry: Social networks of the landed elite in late medieval Suffolk

Elizabeth Gibson Kunz, Fordham University


This dissertation examines how the late medieval English gentry used hospitality and conviviality to maintain their honor and reputation, create and sustain personal networks, engender loyalty, and reaffirm their place within the socio-economic hierarchy. By looking at how the gentry extended hospitality and promoted conviviality within their residences, historians can see how the gentry ordered their relationships, thus giving us an intimate look at their social networks. Since the medieval gentry household, no matter its size, provided both a political power base and a social community for the family, investigation of these households will highlight the personal aspects of the gentry's lives. The household accounts of gentrywoman Dame Alice de Briene of Acton Hall, Suffolk provide the opportunity to see hospitality and conviviality in action. Encapsulated in these accounts are daily lists of diners at Acton Hall. The identification of these visitors allowed me to determine to whom Dame Alice opened her home, as well as the type and amount of hospitality and conviviality offered to individual guests. In the middle ages, hospitality and conviviality were both a private and public concern. Because the honor and reputation of the medieval gentry depended to a great extent on the hospitality that they could provide, the ability to offer food and lodging to a visitor, whether a friend or stranger, was a vital matter. Conviviality also helped to bolster a family's standing within its community when a family hosted large feasts and furnished lavish entertainment for household guests, friends, family, and neighbors. Hosting such elaborate parties demonstrated the prestige and wealth of a family and created a positive climate within the community for building and reinforcing ties of both a personal and public nature. More than demonstrating how the landed elite of the middle ages used hospitality and conviviality to reward family, friends, business associates, and workers for their loyalty and friendship, these accounts allow us to shift the focus away from the purely political realm. My investigation allows us to see how networks functioned within the more personal, domestic sphere, thereby enlarging our perspective of the gentry in medieval English life.

Subject Area

European history|Middle Ages

Recommended Citation

Kunz, Elizabeth Gibson, "Hospitality, conviviality, and the English gentry: Social networks of the landed elite in late medieval Suffolk" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3022796.