‘Imperialism’, Sir Keith Hancock famously scolded, ‘is no word for scholars’.1 But is it a word for medievalists? Posed in mischief, this is a question with a grim subtext. It is increasingly acknowledged that some form of ‘imperial experience’ remains at hand, its capacity to inspire debate undiminished.2 The imperial turn in contemporary world affairs has provoked a storm of semantics, polemics and apologetics on the matter of empire.3Haute vulgarisation and high dudgeon are prime characteristics of the genre.4 Neither sits well with the empirical tradition in English historical scholarship. Medievalists might be forgiven for suspecting, in the manner of Hancock, that ‘imperialism’ is one more master noun turned tyrant.5 I begin with two contrary assumptions. The first is that disputation is its own defence. As two imperial luminaries have put it: ‘Spacious subjects need to...

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