This paper explores the question of how medieval England was supplied with working horses. It uses a national sample of over 300 manorial accounts from c .1300 to assess the role of demesnes in the production and distribution of these animals. It finds that demesnes were significant net consumers of horses, relying primarily upon the market for their supply. This illustrates that there was a well-established market for these animals by c .1300, but also that these large institutional farms did not breed enough horses to sustain their own demand, let alone a surplus that could have supplied the market. Demesne managers did, however, fill an important distributive role in the trade of agricultural horses by acting as ‘middle men’ in marshalling the various channels of work horse acquisition and dispersion.
This article explores the nature of agricultural labour in England c. 1300. Using a national sample of over 400 manorial accounts containing detailed data for over 4000 individuals, the piece looks closely at famuli labour, the nucleus of the workforce on seigneurial demesnes (the farms directly cultivated by manorial lords as opposed to the land of their tenants) at the beginning of the fourteenth century, a period considered to be the pinnacle of medieval population and intensive land exploitation. By examining the rates of remuneration as well as the availability of work for the range of famuli labourers, we argue that famuli labour was divided into a bipartite system of first- and second-tier workers where core, or first-tier (and mostly male), labourers such as ploughmen, carters, and shepherds were paid higher wages and presented with more opportunities to work as compared to a group of more subsidiary ‘second-tier’ labourers largely comprised of women, the young and the elderly.
As a contribution to the long-running debate concerning the extent and motivation of medieval storage, this article uses purveyance accounts to examine such facilities in England prior to the Black Death. Three hundred and fifteen cases of predominantly urban storage were recorded for 97 communities for the products of agriculture purchased by the purveyors, mostly threshed grains. When these 315 cases were analysed using an Excel database, it was found that, in contrast to the often magnificent barns on monastic and other lordly estates, this storage was much smaller and informal, often indistinguishable, it seems, from the domestic storage for families themselves. As modest as it was, however, it likely played an important role in the increasing commercialization of medieval England, even perhaps to the extent of making society at the time more susceptible to subsistence crises.
Medieval transport might strike the uninitiated as inherently primitive, but developments in the technology and infrastructure of getting goods and people around in the Middle Ages were constantly occurring. In the case of medieval England, they contributed critically to the commercialization in the country, particularly for the period from 1066 to around 1300. Nor was the story one of gradual and inexorable progress, but one of many twists and turns, as transport adjusted to major shifts in the social and economic environment, particularly when the Black Death struck in the middle of the 14th century. In broad terms, it appears that inland water transport developed quite significantly in the early medieval period (up to, say, 1300), but that land transport gradually improved to the extent that river navigation, while remaining important in certain parts of the country, especially the east, began an overall decline (although coastal shipping continued to be important). However, a particularly salient and as yet unexplained paradox was that, as commercial traffic increased, the legal and social framework for the upkeep of road and river transport networks seemingly relaxed, so that enforcement of the maintenance provisions of bridges and roads became more uncertain. Thus, over recent decades, medieval English transport has become situated more securely within larger social, economic and cultural visions of the period, as documentary, archaeological and iconographic studies with strong transport orientations have become more common and inventive.