Commercial Activity, Markets and Entrepreneurs in the Middle Ages

Commercial Activity, Markets and Entrepreneurs in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of Richard Britnell

Ben Dodds
Christian D. Liddy
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 272
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    Commercial Activity, Markets and Entrepreneurs in the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    Long dominated by theories of causation involving class conflict and Malthusian crisis, the field of medieval economic history has been transformed in recent years by a better understanding of the process of commercialisation. In recognition of the important work in this area by Richard Britnell, this volume of essays brings together studies by historians from both sides of the Atlantic on fundamental aspects of the medieval commercial economy. From examinations of high wages, minimum wages and unemployment, through to innovative studies of consumption and supply, business fraud, economic regulation, small towns, the use of charters, and the role of shipmasters and peasants as entrepreneurs, this collection is essential reading for the student of the medieval economy. Contributors: John Hatcher, John Langdon, Derek Keene, John S. Lee, James Davis, Mark Bailey, Christine M. Newman, Peter L. Larson, Maryanne Kowaleski, Martha Carlin, James Masschaele, Christopher Dyer.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-988-6
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Tables (pp. viii-viii)
  5. List of Contributors (pp. ix-ix)
  6. List of Abbreviations (pp. x-x)
  7. Richard Britnell : An Appreciation (pp. xi-xvi)
    Ben Dodds and Christian D. Liddy
  8. 1 Unreal Wages: Long-Run Living Standards and the ‘Golden Age’ of the Fifteenth Century (pp. 1-24)
    John Hatcher

    Not many decades ago the long fifteenth century was a notoriously dark age in English history, neglected because it was located awkwardly between the ‘true’ Middle Ages and the early modern era. When at last it began to receive the attention it warranted, attempts to dispel the gloom were bedevilled by an ambition to fashion generalisations that fitted the whole experience of the 150 years after 1350, or even the quarter millennium from 1300 to 1550. As a result fundamental disagreements arose, the most notable being whether this era should be characterised by economic growth and prosperity or by recession...

  9. 2 Minimum Wages and Unemployment Rates in Medieval England: The Case of Old Woodstock, Oxfordshire, 1256–1357 (pp. 25-44)
    John Langdon

    Many might consider a discussion of minimum wages and unemployment rates in the Middle Ages as hopelessly anachronistic. Certainly medieval people would probably have had considerable trouble in understanding what either of these concepts meant. Unemployment rates — the percentage of the total available workforce who are not employed — would certainly puzzle them. In their minds, everyone, even the habitually lazy, would be put to work for family and community, especially at busy times like the harvest. Minimum wages in the way we think of them today would likely have been no easier for them to understand. Certainly, when state attempts...

  10. 3 Crisis Management in London’s Food Supply, 1250–1500 (pp. 45-62)
    Derek Keene

    As in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, subsistence crises were common in medieval Europe, but famines, defined as food shortages that occasioned large increases in mortality caused by hunger and disease, were relatively rare.¹ Famines usually arose from harvest failures in a succession of years, in most cases the outcome of abnormal weather and sometimes exacerbated by warfare or political breakdown. Contemporary descriptions did not always make such a precise distinction, but in the commercialised conditions which prevailed from the early eleventh century onwards it was common to characterise the severity of a crisis or famine by reference to the price...

  11. 4 Grain Shortages in Late Medieval Towns (pp. 63-80)
    John S. Lee

    This article examines the impact upon English towns of shortages of grain during periods of harvest failure in the later Middle Ages. It explores the reactions of civic and central governments at times of shortage, looking in detail at the census of people, grain, bakers and brewers drawn up in Coventry during the dearth of 1520. This census seems to have formed more than simply a headcount, and it is argued here that its purpose was to ensure that resident traders did not retain surpluses of grain beyond their immediate production needs, and to provide a means by which the...

  12. 5 Market Regulation in Fifteenth-Century England (pp. 81-106)
    James Davis

    Close supervision of price, quality, weights, measures and hygiene was an expectation in medieval English markets, both large and small, and this made them attractive venues for commerce.¹ Regulation engendered confidence in users of formal markets, tempering the risks involved in commercial transactions.² Admittedly, market regulations were often couched in paternal, moral and protective language, offering succour to poorer consumers but also aiding certain vested interests. Middleman activity was curtailed, prices were fixed according to a consensus about prevailing market conditions, and retail trade could be reserved to residents and burgesses through restrictions and tolls. To an extent, such laws...

  13. 6 Self-Government in the Small Towns of Late Medieval England (pp. 107-128)
    Mark Bailey

    After decades in which research into the largest and greatest towns dominated the agenda of urban historians, they now recognise the important economic role played by the small towns of medieval England. Richard Britnell’s research has been influential in effecting this change in emphasis, because one of his first publications considered the foundation and early development of the small market town of Witham (Essex), and his later, magisterial, work on the commercialisation of the economy sketched the background to the expansion of small boroughs, markets and fairs in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.¹ Rodney Hilton and Chris Dyer also championed...

  14. 7 Marketing and Trading Networks in Medieval Durham (pp. 129-140)
    Christine M. Newman

    Almost one hundred years after the publication of Madeleine Hope Dodds’s meticulously detailed essay on the subject, the history of the Durham ‘bishop’s boroughs’ continues to attract historians.¹ There is little doubt that research into these small marketing centres is rewarding for it can serve to reveal much about the administrative, political, social and economic structures of the society in which these institutions operated. Of the six Durham boroughs over which the bishop enjoyed unmediated lordship, charters have survived for three : Durham, Gateshead and Wearmouth (Sunderland). These were all granted by Bishop Hugh du Puiset (1154–95) at various...

  15. 8 Peasant Opportunities in Rural Durham: Land, Vills and Mills, 1400–1500 (pp. 141-164)
    Peter L. Larson

    Probably upwards of half of County Durham’s population died in 1349.¹ Upsetting the ratio of land to labour in an area where serfdom was tottering on the edge of irrelevancy might have opened the door to greater individualism and entrepreneurial activity.² Using tithe receipts, Ben Dodds has shown there was a ‘rapid recovery in aggregate output’ in the aftermath of the Black Death that fits A. R. Bridbury’s ‘Indian Summer’, and rather than ‘retreating into subsistence production, peasants adopted new techniques and expanded output to meet the demands of the market’.³ Subsequently, aggregate production relative to pre-plague levels tailed off...

  16. 9 The Shipmaster as Entrepreneur in Medieval England (pp. 165-182)
    Maryanne Kowaleski

    The successful shipmaster or magister of a medieval ship possessed many skills: navigational expertise to guide the vessel to its destination; commercial acumen to dispose of cargoes in his charge; management ability to employ, victual and direct a crew of men who were often of disparate backgrounds and ethnicities; business savvy to cope with wily seamen, shore-side workers and merchants in foreign ports; initiative to handle the dangers and risks that pervaded life at sea; and a basic understanding of law and international politics to steer his ship, cargo and crew through the dangerous waters of the medieval seas.¹ This...

  17. 10 Cheating the Boss: Robert Carpenter’s Embezzlement Instructions (1261×1268) and Employee Fraud in Medieval England (pp. 183-198)
    Martha Carlin

    This essay will consider a negative aspect of market production: the losses caused by employee embezzlement or fraud. Between 1261 and 1268 Robert le Carpenter (Robert Carpenter ii, 1230–1280), of ‘Hareslade’ (modern Haslett Farm) near Shorwell on the Isle of Wight, compiled a formulary, in Latin, containing a collection of form letters, legal texts and other model documents having to do with law and administration.¹ Carpenter, who was probably a freeholder and a former bailiff of William de Insula, lord of the manor of Shorwell, copied into his holograph formulary many texts from other collections.² However, he also added...

  18. 11 The Public Life of the Private Charter in Thirteenth-Century England (pp. 199-216)
    James Masschaele

    Over the course of his career, Richard Britnell has frequently used charter evidence to document major attributes of the economy and society of medieval England. One thinks immediately of his pioneering use of royal market charters to illustrate the spread of commercialisation, but other examples also come to mind, such as the role charters played in creating the trust in public norms and rules that underpinned economic growth in the period and the way in which charter use facilitated pragmatic literacy.¹ His work has demonstrated the value of looking at the medieval economy as something embedded within a larger social...

  19. 12 Luxury Goods in Medieval England (pp. 217-238)
    Christopher Dyer

    What was the importance of luxury goods in the medieval economy? It has often been assumed or implied that trade in high-value commodities and the manufacture of luxuries lay at the heart of medieval towns and their commercial life. Richard Britnell has done more than anyone to advance an alternative view, but no one has faced the subject head on, as this essay attempts to do.

    Luxury is one of those difficult terms which cannot be strictly and easily defined. The word is constantly used by historians, who refer to ‘luxury goods’ and people involved in the ‘luxury trades’. We...

  20. Index of People and Places (pp. 239-248)
  21. Bibliography of the Writings of Richard Britnell (pp. 249-255)
  22. Tabula Gratulatoria (pp. 256-256)
  23. Back Matter (pp. 257-257)


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