The Angevin Cycle

An essay by Raymond Makewell


In the book ‘The Science of Economics’, a chapter is devoted to Leon MacLaren’s observations regarding economic cycles. He observed that everything in nature behaves in cyclical patterns, of growth, activity and contraction, within which there are large and small cycles that occur over the life of whatever is being considered. No cycle is quite the same as its predecessor, and each new cycle grows from something unseen in the previous one.

Cycles of course influence other cycles. The natural cycles of temperature and weather clearly influence the patterns of bio-diversity, affecting microbial, vegetable and mammalian life, and in due course the fecundity of human life as well as cycles of human activity. By the same token, cycles of spiritual and intellectual activity flow into daily life and establish the fabric in which human activity takes place and how we interact. The Anglo-Saxon period, for instance, was one in which villages were largely self-sufficient, there was little trade and little requirement for money. As the feudal system broke down and trade and specialisation increased, employment for monetary wages became widespread and prices and wages become important factors in the distribution of the prosperity of the nation.

In looking at the period of English history from the end of the Anglo-Saxon era until the end of the 14th century it is apparent that a large number of these cycles coincide. Some do effect each other, and in many cases the buds of the new cycle can be seen growing out of the former cycle to meet new requirements. For want of any better name I have called this period the ‘Angevin Cycle’, which includes cycles well documented and with their own names in each particular area of activity. The period, for instance, until the end of the 13th century in Northern Europe was referred to by climate scientists as the Medieval Warm Period.[1]

This essay is a very brief examination of these cycles and how they can influence each other. As in previous essays the focus is England, but it should be noted that similar or complementary changes were taking place in North Western Europe and further away at or around the same time.

The Turning of a Cycle

Extent of Angevin Territory
Extent of Angevin Territory

The period is associated with what is sometimes called the Angevin Renaissance, a high period in intellectual and cultural activity, a high point in trade and other economic activity, and the end of feudalism, with the Magna Carta in the period immediately after 1215. By the end of the 13th century there is a marked change as well in political, politico-geographic, social, economic, intellectual, religious, cultural and other aspects of life in England, Europe and beyond. All these point to peaks having been reached and passed in areas of human endeavour from the most spiritually sublime to the most physically base, more or less at the same time. Simultaneously climate change unleashed destructive forces on England and Northern Europe. Society under these influences changed again and new forms and structures developed in the next era.

The Natural World

From the late 12th century to the end of the 13th century England and most of Northern Europe experienced the climax of what has been traditionally referred to as the Medieval Warm Period.  It is now more commonly referred to as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, because although solar irradiance tended to be relatively high across the planet, the increase in surface temperature was not experienced uniformly. In North West Europe the strong westerly airflow kept winters mild and wet. From about the1270s solar irradiation diminished and northern hemisphere temperatures cooled. It was an abrupt and extreme change, frequently devastating in an economy dependent on agricultural production.

During the warm period climatic conditions for agriculture and horticulture in England were exceptional favourable.[2] The Norman occupiers found that in the benevolent conditions they could grow grapes and other crops they favoured.

The first occurrence of nature failing to sustain agricultural life was in the year 1279 when an outbreak of sheep scab occurred. The causal agent for sheep scab is the mite Psoroptes ovis. It lives on the skin of sheep, and its faeces cause an acute form of allergic dermatitis. Sheep numbers fell by thirty percent from the national flock of around fifteen million beasts, and fleece weights were down by twenty to twenty five percent. The disease halved the output of wool when England was by far the largest producer in Europe. Textile and raw wool export quality and quantity fell enormously, which in turn starved cloth manufacturers at home and abroad of raw materials. By this time, much more in Flanders than in England, there were large numbers of people who relied solely on cloth manufacture for an income, and many of these were employees with no other means of support.

By the end of the 13th century the regular moderate rain that Tacitus had associated with England’s prosperity had become erratic.[3] There were harvest shortfalls as a result of sodden fields in 1315-16, 1321, 1328 and 1331 as well as1349-51, the years immediately following the Black Death. These shortfalls occurred mostly in winter crops. The period between 1314 and 1322 became known as the Great Famine. Excessive rain and harvest failure extended across northern Europe. In 1341-42 the river Main in Germany experienced the single greatest flood event of the previous 10,000 years. Incessant rain and waterlogged pastures caused a proliferation of Fasciola hepatica and its water snail hosts, and ingestion by sheep and other livestock led especially to sheep murrain.[4] Autumn in 1347 was wet, as were the winter and autumn of 1348 and the whole of 1349. In Chester in 1348 it was recorded in one set of manorial accounts that, ‘there was inordinately heavy rain between Midsummer and Christmas, and scarcely a day went by without some rain at some time in the day or night’. Over the years between 1349 and 1357 net grain yields per seed were down twenty-seven percent and in the eight years from 1349 to 1350 yields were fifty-two percent below average, the lowest result for the continuous period 1270 – 1455 for which records are available.

From about 1320 Northern Europe began to experience some notably arctic winters. Enclosures had to be built to protect animals in from the winter cold. The beasts often became part of the family household, so sharing the warmth. Hay had to be stored for winter feed. Manure, highly prized to improve agricultural productivity, was collected and then spread by hand, which meant greatly increased effort. At the same time increasing ice in the North Atlantic made trade with Greenland less viable until it eventually ceased.

Almost concurrently cattle plague (rinderpest) appeared. Cattle plague was not unknown in England; the chronicles record it occurring a number of times in the Anglo-Saxon period. Between 1316-1321 under extreme weather conditions rinderpest erupted in Bohemia and spread west, and by Easter 1319 it had crossed the North Sea and spread across Kent. Rinderpest thrived when temperatures were low and humidity was high. Once an animal was infected the disease ran its course in 9 – 21 days and was usually fatal. In some herds the fatality rate was one hundred percent. The impact was not just on the production of meat and milk; it also destroyed those oxen used for ploughing and hence affected grain production. Rebuilding herds took many years.[5]

Beyond the impact of any of these was that of the Black Death. The Black Death is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. These bacteria had been resident for a long time in arid regions of central Asia (Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, central China) where it had persisted as an enzootic infection of gerbils, marmots, tarbagans and susliks, and was spread by the fleas for which these sylvatic rodents were host. In 1346 the disease, having crossed into commensal rodents, was having a devastating effect on the Mongol army that was laying siege to the Genoese Crimean outpost of Kaffa, 3,000 miles further west. The besieging army catapulted their corpses over the city wall and thus the Black Death entered the European trade routes,[6] reaching England in 1348. It recurred in the years 1361-62, 1369 and 1375. Damp weather favoured the breeding and spread of the fleas. The prevailing weather and ecological conditions meant that outbreaks commonly flared whenever adverse weather depressed harvests, stoked poverty and fanned cognate infections.

It is usually accepted that the death toll from the Black Death was around one third of the population,[7] with no discrimination between town and country. Detailed records are few, but on some manors and abbeys where records were maintained the losses were higher. Those who survived found very different economic conditions.

Population growth which had become rapid in England and northern Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries stopped. It was not to resume for 100 years.[8]

The denizens of England were aware that weather patterns had changed. The cause was largely attributed by the church to the sinful behaviour of the people. Later some writers would attribute it to the sinful behaviour of the church; either way it would seem there was not much to be positive about.

The Church

A Golden Age

The Golden Age of Latin Christendom is reckoned by some to run from 1054 to 1309;[9] it was given enormous momentum by the inspirational reforming pope Gregory VII (1073-85). The Golden Age was a period of revival of learning, and, in the monasteries, re-establishment of the Benedictine threefold vow – poverty, chastity and obedience – intended to be the highest exemplification of Christian life. It was accompanied by an increase in the numbers of clergy, a revival of interest in philosophy and ecumenical matters, art and architecture, and a penetration of spiritual life into the lay community. In England, it followed a massive contraction in the number of active abbeys and clerics as a result of the clashes with Vikings and the collection of the Danegeld. The church though still held twenty-five percent of the land of England.

Lanfranc, Abbot of Saint-Étienne at Caen in Normandy, was chosen by William the Conqueror for the task of reforming and reviving a tired, corrupt and isolated church. Lanfranc had become a renowned teacher and jurist in Pavia, Italy and had attempted to withdraw to a contemplative life at Bec in Normandy. He was subsequently convinced to establish a school there, which drew students from all over the Latin-speaking world.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, to achieve spiritual and secular reform Lanfranc replaced many English clerics with competent and devout Norman monks. His initial aim being to introduce a version of Benedict’s rule for running the abbeys, he established teaching centres –  many English monks and priests were illiterate –  and sent many monks to monasteries in Normandy. He prescribed a more disciplined life, including celibacy for the secular clergy. Lanfranc was succeeded by his former student Anselm, who continued his programme.

This brought the English church into the renaissance being experienced in the rest of Europe. The key was education. The first stage was that clerics should be able to express themselves about the word of God; they needed to learn to read and write, especially in Latin. This phase of their education was called the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric).[10] The next stage, the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy), completed a basic education. Beyond this, universities grew up for the study of philosophy, theology, law, architecture, medicine and other subjects. Their enquiries included the nature and purpose of life and of society.

The Church’s view of Society

Those who sing, fight, and work
Those who sing, fight, and work

The concurrent rise of trade, monetary wages, and increasing specialisation meant that the earlier view of society as comprising, laboratores, oratores, bellatores was no longer satisfactory.[11] Instead, a new articulation of the world, of man’s role in it and the nature and function of society arose among Scholastic theologians, based on the assumption that salvation is the real purpose of life. Economic interests, they held, must be subordinate to that goal, and economic behaviour subject to the rules of morality. Material wealth was seen as a necessity of life, though it might incite powerful appetites that would have to be controlled. Private property was to be tolerated as a concession to human frailty rather than being desirable in itself, and  should  be used for acts of charity and care of the poor.  Labour, understood to be the common lot and true virtue of all mankind, was both necessary and honourable; trade was necessary but placed the soul in peril; finance, if not immoral, was at best sordid and at worst disreputable. The true virtue of work was to inspire the creation of new or reformed monastic orders.

Society was now seen as an organism like the human body, comprised of different members, each with individual functions, whether prayer, defence, merchandising, or tilling the soil, all serving the whole. Functions fell into classes, each of which received a reward. To claim more was unethical, and would probably mean that others in the same occupation could not earn enough to live on.

On the other hand, inequality of reward between functions was necessary. Peasants’ wages must not encroach on those above them.  Finance and trade did not fit well into this pattern, seeming to be oriented to profit rather than service, but guilds of merchants founded on Christian principles included religious practice in their public and private meetings and venues, as well as sponsoring and decorating local churches.

Expansion of the Church

The Priesthood

In this environment, there was a great increase in the number of churches, cathedrals and monasteries, and of those taking holy orders. As a consequence the influence of religion on lay life grew steadily. The Domesday Book, completed in the year 1088, lists 1,800 communities with one or more churches; by the beginning of the 13th century the number of parishes had grown to between 8,500 and 9,500.  230 new monastic houses were established in the first half of the 12th century, [12] 220 in the second half and a further 77 in the first half of the 13th century. Orders of friars also arrived, who rejected property and devoted themselves to pastoral care.[13] By 1260 more than a hundred houses of friars had been established with a total of over 2,000 occupants. The majority of the great English cathedrals were built during this time, and universities were established at both Oxford and Cambridge. The numbers of clergy increased commensurately. Parishes had an average of three clergy. Priests also served in cathedrals and private chapels. These secular clergy probably numbered between 30,000 and 35,000 by the end of the 13th century, approximately one in forty of the male population, but by then the growth had ended.

Even during the compilation of the Domesday Book, the church held around twenty-five percent of the agricultural land of England. As the number of active monasteries declined, the manors which provided the income to support them had been ‘farmed’ so the church continued to control them and the revenue they produced. New orders of monks, such as Cistercians, arriving from the Continent, were accustomed to physical labour as part of their discipline. They saw the opportunity to open up land that was wild or had fallen out of use. Abbeys were established in northern areas previously devastated by William, and on land reclaimed from swamps and marshes in large parts of East Anglia previously so inaccessible that they provided sanctuary from the Normans.


Building with Stone
Building with Stone

The evidence from Anglo-Saxon times indicates that individuals in villages would have the skills and tools to build their own houses, and that no specialist building trade existed. Places of worship were often in the open air, sometimes indicated simply by an upright stone cross. Where a building existed it was likely to be constructed of timber and clay. With the arrival of the Conqueror and the revival of the church the requirements changed. Buildings in stone demonstrated the permanence and grandeur of the church.  From Normandy came architects, quarry men, sculptors, masons, workers in stained glass, lead, painting and other craftsmen to teach their skills. Village churches were numerous but typically of modest size. Monastic buildings included cells, libraries, scriptoriums, chapels, kitchens, as well as all the practical requirements of a working manor.  Their abbeys were sometimes as grand as the cathedrals. Cathedrals were vast.  Often sited where they could be seen for miles around, large bodies of both skilled and unskilled labourers were employed over decades in the building of them.[14] Stone was also being used increasingly for the construction of castles, the manors of wealthy landholders and the town houses of rich traders and merchants. In a short time a massive new industry had been created dominated by ecclesiastical buildings.

The village church was customarily paid for by the holder of the local manor. Wealthier landholders, as demonstrations of their piety and devotion, also made contributions to finance the building, expansion and restoration of abbeys and monasteries. The patron of a cathedral was usually the appointed bishop.[15] There are no measures to indicate how many men worked on the construction of the cathedrals; conceivably hundreds of workers would have been needed on each site, when the population of the surrounding city was only a few thousand. Much of the work was seasonal since mortar did not set during cold weather, so that part of the workforce would have to be absorbed into other occupations during the colder months.

Influence on population at large

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral

The peasants around Durham could not have been other than awestruck at the sight of  Durham Cathedral, since it is entirely possible that they had never seen a building bigger than a wooden house (or perhaps the local manor holder’s house).  Built to the glory of God, cathedrals were a constant reminder of His presence. The paintings, sculptures and stained glass told stories from the Bible and lives of the saints to a mainly illiterate congregation. Long sermons taught that craftsmen should be honest, that the higher members of society had a duty to look after the lower, and that the lower should respond similarly, thus assuring the health of the whole commonwealth.[16]

The church established feast and fast days, high days and holy days, and promised salvation to the meek and humble. Rituals and grand religious ceremonies were held to satisfy a hunger for mystery, music, and spectacle, and encouraged people to take part in events such as mystery plays.[17] The liturgy became increasingly rich and engaging, aided by the use of elaborate altar vessels, vestments, tapestries and fine fabrics, and the introduction of polyphonic choral music for which the acoustics of Gothic architecture were particularly well suited.

A literate, educated and disciplined priesthood was able to consider and articulate questions of philosophy, theology, law and ethics as applied to both clerical and lay life, bringing civilisation and culture to a rustic population.

Ebbing of the Influence of the Church

Wycliffe in his study
Wycliffe in his study

By the beginning of the 14th century, religious reform and the growth of the church had largely run their course in England. Acre (the Holy Land) fell in 1291 bringing the crusades to an inglorious end. The Order of Knights Templar was disbanded on accusation of unchristian behaviour, the papacy split, and the papal court moved from Rome to Avignon.

Even within the church, doubts were being expressed. Prominent among the dissenters was John Wycliffe (1320 – 1384), who taught that the Bible was the only reliable guide to the truth of God. Scripture, he argued, provided no justification for the papacy or for many of the accepted practices of the church. Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English was the final straw. After his death the church declared him a heretic and all his works were burned. Despite Wycliffe’s continual attacks on corruption within the religious hierarchy, the church continued to become worldly, more concerned with material than with spiritual wealth.


Patterns of Landholding

Following his conquest of England, William imposed a feudal structure of landholding across the country, but retained the English law as it had stood at the time of Edward the Confessor.

King William now held all land by virtue of conquest.  In turn he allocated the land of the Anglo-Saxon landholders to 170 or so of his closest followers, who became his principal tenants in exchange for service. That service was to provide a number of mounted and armoured knights, as required, for military service. The knights usually became sub-tenants, holding manors with an income from which they could support themselves and meet the expense of their military accoutrements and squires.

The basic unit for the allocation of land in this system was the manor, usually in a village. The initial charter granted by the king included the food tax due from the village, and in many cases profits from justice. This income enabled the manor-holder to build a home for himself or his local manager (reeve). In time the manor-holder often acquired more strips in the common field and more grazing rights in the pasture than were needed to support a single family. As a result he could take on workers to produce surpluses that he might use to acquire further land, and/or manors.

The manors might be held by one man in several counties. They were usually not contiguous but would be managed from a central administration. Manors in this type of system could be purchased or leased to or from others.

As well as his lay supporters, the king’s principal tenants included abbots and bishops, the lords of the church. They held the land granted to them with the same obligations as the lay landholders.

The manorial system did not include all the land of England. Some villages of freemen survived having no relationship to any manor, governed entirely according to Anglo-Saxon tradition; in practical terms, self-governing democracies operating outside the feudal structure, even with their own courts.

Availability of Land

Beyond the gates of the Anglo-Saxon village was the forest. Forest simply meant the land beyond the gate, and had nothing to do with the type of ground or the natural vegetation. To the extent that it was within reach of a village it provided some of the income of the villagers. Some forest had become attached to a particular village or villages, other forest remained unclaimed but was unsuitable for either grazing or agriculture.

Apart from prior claims to land which had become established custom, there were, by the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, substantial areas of uncultivated land. In the north of England a scorched earth policy had been conducted by William to ensure food was not available to potential northern enemies, and as punishment for rebellion. Vast amounts of outlying land were lost to habitation, travel had become too dangerous and an extensive flow of refugees had been created, some of whom went to southern towns. Much greater numbers had sought protection in monasteries and larger manors where what initially appeared as charity led to serfdom, committing the refugee and all his descendants to bondage to the manor for ever.

William’s love of hunting caused him to set aside vast areas of ‘forest’ for game reserves, denying access to peasants with cruel punishments imposed on offenders. This reduced the income of many, and in the worst cases whole villages were driven from the land.

On working manors many of the more powerful and ruthless Normans were able to overcome the limitations of Anglo-Saxon tradition by force. Manors could be re-organised with all the strips in the lord’s holding grouped together, so that the lord was no longer an equal player in organising village life. As a result French agricultural techniques could be introduced with significantly higher yields than traditional methods. This enabled the lord to employ more labour and to shift production progressively to sheep rearing.

Many areas of unused land were brought into production over the 12th and 13th centuries, through a process known as ‘assarting’, which simply meant converting land to agricultural use. On a small scale, individuals would clear an area, sometimes in secret, to extend the amount of their land. On a larger scale, the holders of manors would organise their workers to do the same. Many of these activities were illegal and subject to action in the courts.

Cistercian Monks at Work
Cistercian Monks at Work

On the largest scale, the Cistercians and other orders established new monasteries on wild land in the north of England and the swamps and marshes in the south and east. In  swamp lands especially this meant draining, clearing, and constructing levees over large areas. Mills,[18] especially water mills, started to be used in great numbers across the countryside. In both the north and especially the Fenlands, assarted land was grazed for the large-scale production of fine English wool, and new breeds of sheep were developed to achieve the best result.[19]

Although the area of land in rural production increased steadily, rents and prices for the purchase of land rose until towards the end of the 13th century, facilitated by credit from the new money-lending classes.[20] Prices and rents of urban land similarly rose, and retail plots in towns became progressively smaller.

The Charter of the Forest (1217) had a profound positive effect on peasants where such forest was available to them, and restored many of the sources of substance or income that had been removed by King William’s forest laws 150 years earlier.[21]

After the Great Famine (1314 – 1322) and the Black Death (1348 – 1349) the cycle turned again. The surviving landholders could not find sufficient agricultural workers to till their land. Even the prices of mills fell by twenty-five percent between 1335 and 1345. Food and other agricultural commodities became cheaper for want of customers and there was some attempt at price regulation. Rents fell with fewer people competing for land. From tax records in Kent it is very clear that fertility was the primary determinant of the value of agricultural land.

Rental prices for commercial space in Central London stagnated, then fell. Between 1300 and 1340 the real value of rents in the Cheapside area of London halved.

With land and work now freely available, workers and serfs, unlike their ancestors, no longer felt bound to their manor or their lord. Despite laws passed to retain the status quo, many lords were prepared to pay higher wages to attract new workers, both on the manors and in the towns.[22] Agricultural wages rose by fifty percent. These laws made it a crime for a landless man under the age of 60 to refuse to work, or to break an existing contract, imposing fines on the transgressors, and appointing special ‘Justices of Labourers’ from among the local landholders to enforce the legislation. In 1361 the legislation was strengthened by penalties of branding and imprisonment. The perceived injustice of these bonds began to spark revolutionary ideas.

End of the Feudal World

In England feudalism was a Norman concept that had two parts. The king as conqueror claimed all the land of England, and granted varying amounts to his immediate associates on the understanding that they would provide well-trained, armed, armoured and mounted knights (including themselves).[23] The principle landholders in turn gave land to lesser men on the same basis. Military training usually involved living in the household of an established knight and experience in battle. This training was also the introduction to higher society. Land held by the church had similar obligations to provide knights.[24] Associated with this was the concept that each man should have a lord to whom he gave service; many of the lower classes were bound to their lord’s land on this basis.

The system had an inherent tension. The king needed knights, armoured, mounted and experienced in fighting, who would be replaced by similarly qualified men if they were killed. His tenants, however, wanted to be able to bequeath their holdings to their natural heirs, who may have had no interest in fighting or in the honour associated with it.

When the situation became unbearable many would flee to seek alternative means of survival.[25] After the Black Death agricultural labourers were in very high demand. The Ordinance of Labourers (1349) and the Statute of Labourers (1351) were passed to protect the interests of landholders by restraining wage rates, but the landholders apparently protected by these laws were the same group prepared to pay the higher wages to secure labour. Serfs now found it attractive to flee their manor; with the growth of trade and towns those who had fled became harder to identify and towns increasingly offered sanctuary. Legally serfdom continued for some time, but had no practical effect. The higher wages were to continue for more than 100 years.

Wages of building labourers, however, fell as building activity was halted, not to recover until the end of the 15th century.

By the mid 14th century warfare in Europe had changed. Mounted and armoured knights no longer provided the advantage they had previously. The king was now happy to accept a monetary payment called ‘scutage’ as an alternative. Under King John scutage increased until it became intolerable to the landholder. This was one of the factors contributing to the framing in 1215 of the Magna Carta which provided them with some protection from the wiles of an undisciplined king.

Military prowess under the reign of Edward III (r.1327 – 1377) became reserved for tourneys and jousts, where the combatants would wear the ribbons of their ladies.


English Trade

For most of the Anglo-Saxon period, England consisted of self-sufficient villages. Although money was available for exchange, the value of coins was such that they were impractical for household retail transactions. By the end of the Anglo-Saxon era the seeds of trade and specialisation had been sown.

Formal exchange took place at markets and fairs, nurtured and supported by the government which licensed the venues, fixed the times that markets could take place, ensured that there were witnesses for larger transactions and protection for traders travelling to and from the venue. The location of the market was indicated by an upright cross, which also became the point where freelance labourers assembled to seek work. The number, timing and location of markets were also regulated so that particular markets were not overwhelmed by those of neighbouring towns. Licensed moneyers were available in many of these towns and, with the exception of the years 1247 and 1248, the integrity of the coinage had been maintained for centuries to the envy of many other nearby kingdoms.

Markets and market towns became the places where a villager could buy a cow, and travelling merchants (English and increasingly French, Flemish and slightly later Italian)[26] could purchase wool for export.

By 1270 monasteries, and especially Cistercian monasteries, were also acting as middle men, buying wool from surrounding manors to make up sufficiently large quantities to attract Italian merchants for a single sale. From about the same time the concept ‘profit’, started to appear as an entry in the accounts of many manors.

The Jews in England

From the outset William desired to support and encourage trade in his new kingdom. He brought ‘his’ Jews with him immediately following the invasion and they enjoyed his protection and that of subsequent monarchs. In fact, they were largely limited to the practice of usury, an activity forbidden to Christians. Their customers included the king, landholders usually borrowing to acquire additional parcels of land large or small, merchants, and abbeys keen to expand, as well as many smallholders desiring to purchase additional livestock. They became lenders to those who had been devastated by natural disasters. The immensely wealthy Aaron of Lincoln lent money to no less than nine Cistercian monasteries.[27]

House of Aaron the Jew – C12th
House of Aaron the Jew – C12th

The king, apart from having a source from which he could borrow, benefitted enormously from taxes paid by the Jews and profits from the courts in which they were disproportionately involved. In addition, the king was able to waive his debts to Jews; the relationships between the king and his Jews,[28] and between the community at large and the Jews, were fickle; from time to time there were persecutions. In 1290 the Jews were expelled as part of an agreement that allowed a taxation measure to be passed through parliament. The property of the Jews fell to the king, as well as all debts due to them. Debts owed by the Jews were rendered null and void.

The absence of simple usury left a gap that craftsmen, merchants and bankers began to fill in various innovative ways. Wool clips for instance could be sold in advance, allowing the Cistercians to continue to borrow. Trading ventures could be financed by ‘investment’, allowing people to contribute financially to a project and share the profits.  International traders began to operate using crude forms of bills of exchange,[29] holding their reputations as far more valuable than their stock. These practices remained controversial for a considerable period of time – profit being frowned on by the church in much the same way as interest – but the utility of these inventions was too great, and from the 15th century they became the means to a hugely expanded financial system.

International Trade

The economic historian Janet Abu-Lughod identified eight circles of international trade operative towards the close of the 13th century. The furthest from England united China, the Philippines, Indonesia and South East Asia (VIII); closer was a circle based around the Bay of Bengal (VII); closer again, a circle linking the lands around the Arabian Sea (VI). A circle around the Red Sea linked Indian Ocean trade with Mediterranean trade (V); and similarly a mixed sea and land route using the Persian Gulf and the cities of Acre and Aleppo (IV). The remaining circles of trade were the Mediterranean (II), and the  Northern European circle (including both the Baltic Sea and the North Sea and extending as far as Iceland and Greenland), (I), using the Champagne fairs as the hub that joined the Northern Europe circle with the Mediterranean circle; and the long overland route that joined China with the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean (III).

Janet Abu-Lughod – Trade Map
Janet Abu-Lughod – Trade Map

Across combinations of these paths, pepper from Java found its way to tables in England, silks from China to wardrobes of European nobility, and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan to the scriptoriums of English monasteries, in exchange for furs, skins, honey, slaves and silver from Northern Europe. The international trade system had by 1280 introduced Arabic numerals to Europe and allowed the acceptance of bills of exchange.[30]

The Northern European circle was largely based around trade fairs which took place at scheduled times of the year in different places for prescribed periods, creating a circuit for merchants of which the Champagne (France) fairs were the most significant. The success of the system of fairs was dependent on easy access to the venue, support provided by the patron for rapid resolution of commercial and criminal disputes, and protection for merchants before, during and after the event. The commonality of the law of across mainland western Europe provided a clear understanding of the legal requirements and resolutions for merchants. The growth of trade and cooperation between merchants led to ships of a magnitude not seen since Roman times coming into operation in England. At the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, ships typically weighed 30 tons and were pulled up onto the banks of a river to trade. At the end of the 13th century ships were usually 250 tons, and wharves were constructed for them along the riverbanks, with cranes to facilitate loading and unloading and warehouses adjacent to store cargos.

Towards the end of the 13th century there had been breakdowns in most of these trade circles. In the Northern European circle, between 1285 and 1314, the French king started to discriminate against Italian and Flemish merchants at what had been the previously neutral Champagne fairs as an indirect measure against England. By 1290 the volume of trade at these fairs had begun to fall dramatically and continued to decline. Tax receipts from the Champagne fairs fell by sixty percent between 1320/3 and 1340/1. The receipts from the English fairs of St Giles and Winchester fell by one-fifth from the 1330’s to the 1340’s. Flemish textile production in the period 1335 to 1345 fell by a third.

The overland route from the North Sea to the Mediterranean became impassable due to warfare. The Genoese response was to develop maritime links via the Straits of Gibraltar, using convoys of heavily armed ships that could resist the Barbary pirates. This approach was estimated to add twenty percent to the cost of shipping between the Low Countries and Italy.

Although trade diminished in the 14th century, it took on new forms. Some of the major fairs were to continue for hundreds of years. Stourbridge Fair near Cambridge was originally established in 1211 to fund a leper colony at a nearby church, but when there were no longer any lepers to care for it was taken over by the town of Cambridge and the University, and licensed to be the only point on the river Cam at which ships could load and unload. Its size and the extent of its merchandise made it increasingly famous.[31]

The new complexities of travel in the 14th century led Italian trading families, instead of travelling themselves to purchase raw materials, to establish permanent branches overseas from which their agents could fulfil orders from their Italian clients, and pay their English suppliers. This led Edward 1 to grant the area around Lombard Street in London to Italian goldsmiths and merchants, and the establishment of the beginnings of international banking.


The Sources of the Law

Law is a possession of the people and not the land. In mainland Europe Roman law spread with the growth of the Roman Empire; subsequent invasions replaced the rulers, but left Roman law largely intact, albeit in a fragmented state. The Latin church, ruled from Rome, to some extent had adopted Roman Law. In England, however, the Anglo-Saxon invaders replaced any remnants of Roman or Celtic traditions with their own. By the 11th century even those laws had become scattered, administered in manorial and local courts by potential beneficiaries of the cases that came before them, and/or by people incompetent in legal matters. At best, the law became local rather than national, and at worst, dependant entirely on the goodwill or otherwise of those running the manorial courts.[32]


Between 529 and about 534 the last Latin-speaking Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, had the entire Roman Law codified as the Digests of Justinian, but the texts were lost until the late 11th century. On finding the text, the University of Bologna was established in large part to study its content. [33] The study spread rapidly to other universities as they were founded. The lawyer whose work is most evident in the Digests is Ulpian (AD170 – 223). The English lawyer and cleric Henry de Bracton, used Ulpian’s words to describe the legal profession: “Law” he said, “is called the good and just art, whose priests we are deservedly called: for we worship Justice and minister the sacred laws. Bracton felt himself to be, metaphorically, a priest of the law, “a priest forever in the order of Ulpian.” Law and justice in this environment had a new dignity and scope.

Canon Law is an assemblage of Roman Law, the directives of ecumenical councils, the rules that governed the running of abbeys and, the largest source, written pontifical decisions as a result of the Pope being asked to advise on some matter.[34] These accumulated to form a massive number of individual letters. In the late 12thcentury they were compiled as a legal text book by the cleric and jurist Gratian, and became the first part of the collection of six legal texts, collectively known as the Corpus Juris Canonici or Canon Law.

Canon Law was perceived as the code of behaviour that allowed acting in the spiritual world while living on earth. Its ultimate punitive power lay in the ability of church authority to excommunicate an offender, clerical or lay; the threat of such punishment was a powerful means of bringing order to society, where in many cases civil authority was not strong enough to enforce law or punish offenders.

The Normans, without their own strong legal system, accepted the English law as it stood at the time of Edward the Confessor to be the law for ruling the land. Conflict, however, increasingly arose between the king’s courts and those of the church, especially as to which courts had authority to deal with what matters. The dispute between Henry II and Thomas á Becket arose from exactly that.[35]

The Revival of the Law

Following a number of successive kings who had ruled on an arbitrary basis, Henry II (reigned 1154 – 1189) and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wanted to re-establish orderly royal government in England, the key to which was reform and unification of the law. Law (Canon and Roman) and justice being subjects actively pursued at the universities, he had to hand a body of men suitably trained for this task, with some experience of the application of Canon law, who became the king’s judges.

Broadly, four areas were addressed. The first was the establishment of courts that could deal with matters where there might be a royal interest; the second, a clarification of property law, securing property rights, establishing the principle of primogeniture for passing property from one generation to the next, including the right to sell or give away land; and, most significantly, the establishment of the Common Law.[36]

The Common Law was accomplished by sending the judges on circuits to hear cases, many of which would previously have been dealt with in manorial courts according to the custom of the manor and/or the interest of the manor holder. The judges recorded their cases and these became precedents for future cases of the same or similar nature. Thus, the law became gradually uniform across wider and wider areas and less specific to particular towns and manors. The judges now had no vested interest in the outcomes of particular cases, and the benefit to the landholder of conducting trials became less and less significant.[37]

Lapses in the Law

The effect of the reformation was constrained in two areas. The separation between ecclesiastical jurisdiction and civil jurisdiction became a political issue, a power struggle between the pope and the king, rather than a genuine question for legal clarity. By the 14th century this conflict was often reduced to the “petty reality of legalism”. The growing bureaucratic and administrative process of the church’s institutions transformed the canonical norms into a set of technical rules and regulations increasingly detached from the daunting goals of an economy of salvation. Canon law seemed no longer able nor interested to foster the spiritual and the temporal dimensions of human life. Its failure expressed the decline of the intellectual movement which had shaped the distinctive features of ecclesiastical law. This decline explains to some extent the inability of the church’s institutions to respond to the expectations of Christian society until the Reformation, and the shift of focus of Christian behaviour from purely spiritual ends to the maintenance of life in increasingly difficult times.

The second, was that the effective operation of the civic law still required a disciplined and benign king. King John’s excesses had led to the Magna Carta as a peace treaty between himself and his barons. Bracton, a little later wrote, “The king has a superior, namely, God. Also the law by which he was made king. Also his curia, namely, the earls and barons, because if he is without a bridle, that is without law, they ought to put the bridle on him.” It took some time for this principle to become effective.[38]

Production in Ecumenical Units

Although the church was entitled to collect certain taxes, nominally for charitable work, some estimate as little as five percent of what was raised was actually spent for that purpose, but even more of its revenue was raised from the profits made on monasteries and other of its enterprises.

Manors of Abbots and Bishops

From the time that Saint Augustine arrived in England in 597 the monks had needed an income to support themselves without taking them away from their missionary, teaching and other work in the community. Augustine’s first monastery was established at Canterbury, where King Ethelbert gave Augustine and his company the food rent previously due to himself, so that they could live securely, establishing in the process the precedent for land privately held by the church or by lay interests. At the time of the Domesday Book twenty-five percent of the manors in England were held by church officials (bishops and abbots), either with lay people working the land, or with the manors leased to provide cash incomes. This proportion rose to thirty-three percent by the year 1300.

With the revival of interest in the church, one in forty of the adult male population took up holy orders and lived from this abundance. Abbots and bishops usually held multiple manors in multiple counties, each with a ‘reeve’, or local manager responsible for the worldly aspects of the manor, ensuring the best income, and caring for the physical fabric of the property. The reeve could be either ecclesiastic or layman, but his focus was always to see the manor as a business, and adapt accordingly the resources available to him. Some abbeys held extensive sideline businesses; some, for instance, had their own ships that they used for cross-channel trade, and could charge their associates for these services.

Specialised Manors

A few monasteries were established to supply particular needs of the church. In the North of England for example, monasteries were established to begin lead mining,[39] using knowledge and skills that the church was able to bring from mainland Europe. They had manpower and capital in sufficient quantities to initiate the enterprise and an outlet for the product in ecclesiastical buildings across the Continent.

Labouring Monks

Many of the new monastic orders, for whom physical labour was part of their spiritual discipline, regarded ambitious plans and worldly success as a measure of their spiritual success; efficient management, together with commercial acumen, became the means of achieving this. Cistercian monasteries were often happy to engage with Jews, borrowing substantial sums to acquire stock, buildings and the like. In good times this extra money allowed the monasteries to expand rapidly, especially with the production of wool.

Usury, though, was condemned by the church, and the head of the Cistercian order on a number of occasions had written to all his abbots instructing them that such practices were not permitted. After the expulsion of Jews from England, the Cistercians found ways of complying with the letter if not the spirit of the law, the best-known being to sell in advance the next year’s and subsequent years’ wool clip to Italian merchants.[40] This practice was equally frowned upon, in part because it ran counter to the restrictions on usury, and in part because of the potential consequences of a poor yield when the fleece became due.

By the end of the 13th century these monasteries had become dominant in the wool trade.

Knights Templar

At the other extreme, the order of Knights Templar (founded in 1139) had rapidly grown during the crusades. They had established fortresses across Europe and the Mediterranean and in the Holy Land. The strength of their fortresses and their reputation for integrity made them ideal places where a crusading knight could leave his wealth until he returned, providing the role of a bank. With a network of ‘branches’, the knights who accepted a deposit could instruct knights at another location to return the deposit or settle debts, facilitating the movement of money or trade without the risk of having to carry money from one location to another.

Holding so much money, the temptation to lend at interest became great, especially to kings, and repayment became contentious, leading to the closure of the Order and the commercial facilities it offered in 1312.

Theology and Ethics

By the middle of the 14th century the power and privileges of the clerics had begun to expose human frailties and indulgences among them. Even within the church doubt had arisen as to its own authority in interpreting the Christian message, and increasingly clerics were assigned temporal positions close to the seat of temporal power to ensure the effective running of the kingdom. Within the abbeys the association of the monks with the lay people was seen as potentially distracting and corrupting. At the Abbey of Eynsham (near Oxford), in the shadow of the huge abbey church, the enormous village church that still stands was built so that the villagers did not interfere with monastic life. Such separation made it difficult to accept the clerics as authorities on the spiritual life or, when the environment was proving less and less abundant, to focus on a spiritual end instead of the immediate need to support life.

Although statistics show rural wages rising during the second half of the 14th century, the novel Piers Ploughman is not alone in describing ordinary life as facing hunger, poverty and difficulty. Wetter, heavier soils, cooler and less predictable weather meant more attention was given to survival in this world than to preparation for the next.

What Remained?

The idea that England was a nation, and a nation of free men, persisted throughout the Norman and Angevin periods and carried on despite the difficulties, but it was a long time before similar identities were developed in other countries.

Wool and cloth continued as the principal exports from England; with the reduction in population more land was available to produce wool and rents decreased. Much of this additional land was in due course given over to sheep. The Cistercian monasteries particularly devoted effort to sheep breeding to find the best breed for each abbey. Their dominance in the wool trade continued until the Reformation.[41]

Although without doubt many households produced some part of what they consumed, both food and clothing, by the mid-14th century very few households, urban or rural, would be entirely self-sufficient as had been the case at the beginning of the 12th century. Similarly, with the disappearance of the serfs, few men and women would be paid for labour in the form of use of land or certain agricultural surpluses to support themselves. Money had allowed more specialisation and greater urbanisation, and the English monetary system had been nurtured and protected for hundreds of years.

A New View of the World

A Period of Uncertainty Regarding Life

The rapid change of climatic conditions, and the introduction of new, invariably fatal diseases in both men and animals, recurrent crop failures, a much cooler environment as well as excessive but largely arbitrary taxation[42] made the world a very doubtful place.

Larger Scale of Operations

During the period of economic expansion towards the end of the 13th century, the scale of economic activity and the amount of equipment applied to it grew across all areas of the economy, from the entirely rural to the most sophisticated international trade. Much of this growth hinged on the introduction of horses instead of oxen as draught animals. This was a technological revolution. Horses are much better for ploughing the heavier, wetter soils. Different harnesses and ploughs have to be made for horses; working beasts need oats as well as grass for fodder, which means planning, preparation and storage at least a year in advance.

On the manors there was a massive expansion in the number of water mills.[43] Many monasteries acted as middlemen to accumulate enough wool to make up a shipload for Italian merchants. Ships had increased in size and wharves, cranes and warehouses were required to support the maritime trade.

Conceptions of a Corporation

That which was to have the most profound impact, continuing even to today, was the concept of a ‘legal person’, an ‘artificial person’, or a ‘juridical person’. In both ecclesiastical and civil law there was no provision for groups of people coming together to act as a single entity, except in the relationship of servant and master.

In civil law an abbey, its lands, buildings, moveable property and the like were the property of the abbot, [44] for disposal in his will as he chose.[45] Although the institution of the abbey had some sort permanent existence and operated according to a set of rules,[46] this had little or no standing in English law. [47] The monks could hold no personal property, ‘whether book or tablets or pen … since they are not permitted to have even their bodies or wills at their own disposal’,[48] nor had they rights to anything produced. Joining and leaving the abbey were subject to rules, as was continued participation.

In a village things were a little different. Generally, four types of land holdings existed for each Anglo-Saxon farmer. The divisions included the land around each farmer’s house – over which he held absolute dominion; the strips which he farmed; the common land shared for grazing, and the ‘wasteland’ beyond the fenced area of the village from which farmers gathered timber, firewood, wild fruits, and where they were able to hunt. Such a system required extensive cooperation among the members of the village. Individuals owed duties to the whole, the village, and the village as an entity had singular responsibilities such as law enforcement, collection of taxes and military service,[49] building and maintaining hedges and roads, and protecting animals in the common field at night. Similarly, but to lesser extents, institutions such as ‘the hundred’ and ‘the shire’ allowed for the existence of corporate entities, but all responsibility remained personal, and all other relationships were personal. The individual owed duties to the community, and in turn benefitted from the extra productivity arising from the strength of the community, that is, the economic benefits to the individual were reaped not collectively, but by his own work.

In the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, new forms of association began to emerge. With the growth of learning, various associations began to be established to represent, for instance, towns, specialised crafts, formal markets, international trade, and factory production .[50] Many of these required royal consent. So, the men of such and such a town were granted the privilege not to pay taxes on goods purchased at any other town, but for this right they paid a nominated amount to the royal coffers. Other associations enabled merchants to share ships, or groups of merchants to share the profits or losses of a single maritime trading venture. The Hanseatic League held premises in London and Boston, and this international association of merchants allowed trade to continue and prosper across the North Sea and the Baltic Sea when most other international trade was collapsing.

Each institution so established required specific legal authority, not least because it was recognised early that if one was not dealing with a person one was not dealing with anyone. The evolution from this to a modern company or a sporting club with its own name, assets and bank accounts was a slow process. But the idea was a prerequisite for joint trading ventures with both active and silent partners, that could be large enough to open up trade with India, the Americas and the Far East hundreds of years later.

Rising Incomes for Rural Peasants & Wage Earners

From the time of the Great Famine (1314 – 1322), the population of England fell, and fell again even more dramatically with the Black Death (1348-1349). Successive bouts of the plague prevented the population from growing again until after the mid-fifteenth century. The drop in population meant landholders, especially those producing export crops such as wool, had to compete to attract workers. Rural wages rose and those receiving them, as well as some peasant landholders, were able to enjoy increased prosperity until the population was restored.  Rural wages then gradually diminished until the late 19th century.

Welfare or the Divine World?

There is an eastern view of life that holds there are ultimately three motivations for, or objectives of work: work for God, work for profit or service, or work for pleasure. In Christian terms the highest motivation was to be found in an abbey, where God was to be held in mind all day and all night, and monks had no property, not even their own bodies or their own wills. At its height this is what the church taught, and working in this way monasteries and cathedrals became exquisitely adorned with works of art to remind the viewer constantly of God and the divine world.

Charity, or service, on the other hand, shows immediate results.  Some of the new religious orders[51] deliberately settled in towns and cities, living in poverty, where they perceived the greatest needs of the people. They relieved the poor, provided medical support (often in the form of hospitals), and offered care and spiritual relief for the terminally ill.  In all these areas they could both serve the needy, and teach by example the holy way of life.   Christian behaviour was measured in terms of charitable acts.

Many people had started to question the authority of church officials in the interpretation of the Bible. Wycliffe produced an English translation, so that the more literate could go directly to the source in their own language. At a time of recurrence of disease (in both humans and domestic animals), poor harvests or crop failures and famine, English rural life no longer provided an assured livelihood, and the focus of attention moved from divine ends to survival in this difficult world.


In this essay we have looked briefly at cycles of climate, and their implications for the environment on which we depend, the cycles of the human spirit as demonstrated by the growth and contraction of religion, cycles affecting the availability of land and the resulting distribution of prosperity, the rise and fall of international trade and its impact, the rediscovery of human law and, given the scale of the church’s economic power, its influence on the rest of society.

Each of these cycles clearly affects and is affected by the other cycles, although the fact that so many peaked at the same time is an exceptional condition. Even the climate cycle caused the trade cycle to spread the Black Death, and the ability to resist and survive the disease was a function of the spirit, strength, and continuing diet of the population at large.

Some of the technical innovations arising from the period were directly related to overcoming the difficulties of the times, or to taking up new opportunities that were now presented. The introduction of horses for farming and for moving wagon-loads of goods came at a time when oxen were being destroyed by disease and had difficulty ploughing heavy, wet soils. Horses required changes in the crops to meet their energy needs.

Despite the difficulties of the 14th century, kings were not discouraged from engaging in warfare or from financing it by taxing a shrinking and oppressed population.

What did arise from the confluence of these cycles is perhaps somewhat of a surprise. The peak of the cycles in the 13th century saw a growth in the scale of many enterprises and the amount of equipment that was applied to them. Cathedrals, mills, ships, docks and warehouses increased in size, being both feats for the builders and those practising the trades involved. At the same time, accounts began to show ‘profit’ as the object of enterprise, whether agriculture, manufacture, trade or any other venture.

Whilst the use of more equipment may have provided greater certainty to business and labour generally, by the late 14th century the attitude to work and life had changed. Society was no longer optimistic. The object of work was no longer to prepare for life in the divine world, but to secure life now, in difficult and unpredictable times.

And finally, the basis of society began to change, from families, monasteries and manors to groups of people connected by vested interest, where the collective is recognised at law as having individual existence, individual rights and individual responsibilities unrelated to those of the people who comprise the group or are servants of it.

The concept of an ‘artificial man’ required the refinement of the law that had begun to take place in the 12th and 13th centuries. In subsequent cycles the law was expanded and adapted to fit other needs in society, becoming, as it is today, company law at one end of the scale, laws governing sporting and social clubs at the other end; it could also be used as a tool for tax avoidance and/or avoiding personal responsibility at other points.[52]

In the Angevin period to hold land was the key to securing wealth. Today most productive wealth is held, in the first instance, by these artificial entities to which we attribute both reality and immortality. Land, its availability and productiveness, is clearly influenced by the cycles mentioned above. No doubt our ‘artificial men’ will be subject to them as well and it is important to watch and see whether these still serve us, or limit our ability to adapt in other ways.




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Burton, Janet; Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain, 1000-1300;

Campbell, Bruce; The Great Transition; Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Cassady, Richard; The Norman Achievement; Guild Publishing, London, 1987.

Chibnall, Marjorie; Anglo-Norman England 1066-1166; Wiley, 1991.

Clancy, M.T; Early Medieval England; Folio Society London (Original Published as ‘England and Its Rulers 1066-1272’, Fontana, 1983).

Duplessis, Robert, S; Transitions to Capitalism in Early Modern Europe; 1997.

Fischer, David Hackett; The Great Wave; Oxford University Press, 1996.

Fisher, Joseph; The History of Landholding in England; Longmans, Green, & Co London, 1876.

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Hudson, John; Land, Law and Lordship in Anglo-Norman England; Clarendon Press, Oxford 1997.

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[1] More commonly referred to today as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, because warming did not take place everywhere across the globe.

[2] From around 1300 the Wolf minimum began.

[3] Tacitus, Germania, approx. 98 AD.

[4] A parasite which infects the liver.

[5] Transition from oxen to horses was well under way.

[6] `The majorir of this coes from Campbell.

[7] During the recurrence of the plague in 1361-2 the mortality rate was not as high, but was especially acute in young children, perhaps a reflection of a changed age distribution of the population following the initial epidemic.

[8] The majority of this section is sourced from Bruce Campbell, The Great Transition.

[9] From the time of the great schism between the eastern and western church, to the Avignon papacy.

[10] Alfric’s Colloquy was a text book written at Eynsham for the teaching of Latin grammar.

[11] Those who work, those who sing (or pray) and those who fight. See Aelfric of Eynsham, and Alfred the Great (from his translation of ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’) for original references.

[12] In 1077 the Cluniac priory at Lewes, Sussex, in the 1090s, the Augustinians at Colchester, in 1120 the Tironensians at Andwell and Hamble (Hampshire), in 1124 the Savigniacs at Tulketh (Lancashire), in 1128 the Cistercians at Waverly (Surrey), and in 1178 the Carthusians at Witham (Somerset). All grew but the Cistercians were the most successful.

[13] The Dominicans at Oxford in 1221 (and London in 1224), the Franciscans at Oxford, London and Canterbury in 1224, the Crutched Friars at Colchester by 1235, the Carmelite friars at Aylesford (Kent) and Hulne (Northumberland) in the early 1240s, the Austin Friars at Clate (Suffolk) in 1248 and the Friars of the Sack at London in 1257.

[14] Specialists required for such buildings would have included a master quarryman, a master sculptor, a master mason, a master blacksmith, a master glassmaker, a master stone cutter, a master mortar maker, a master carpenter, a master roofer. Blacksmiths and carpenters were more likely to be engaged in making and repairing the tools than in the actual construction.

[15] From income derived from the lands he controlled, as well as donations, and other collections (sometimes taxation) he was entitled to take.

[16] From ‘tunc autem totius rei publicae salus incolumis praeclaraque erit, si superiora membra se impendant inferiora superioribus pari jurerespondeant, ut singula sint quasi aliorum ad invicem membra’ Quoting John Wyclif – Select English Works of John W… ed T. Arnold.

[17] Mystery plays (perhaps from the Latin “ministerium” meaning “occupation” or “craft”), are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. They are presentations in churches by the craft guilds of Bible stories as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song.  Subjects include the Creation, Adam and Eve, the murder of Abel, and the Last Judgment.

[18] Between 10,000 and 12,000 by the year 1300.

[19] Most of these were lost after the reformation.

[20] Jews were not allowed to own land.

[21] It provided variously the rights to fish, practice some limited hunting, use the pannage under the oaks to feed pigs, collect firewood, etc.

[22] The catalyst for moving could be the long term situation, or the impact of natural and other events to which the poor were particularly vulnerable.

[23] The number of armed and mounted knights provided was the measure of the wealth an influence of his principle tenants.

[24] Many abbots and bishops also fought, but were restricted to the use of a club on the basis that this did not draw blood and therefore did not breech the cannon law that the clergy should not be armed.

[25] This could be as a result of either on-going oppression by the lord, or a situation where in one or a number of consecutive seasons crops failed.

[26] Norman and other French merchants were identified in local markets by their dress.

[27] One of the wealthiest men at any time in English history. Get newspaper article as source. The Cistercians were frequently told by the leaders of the order that they should not borrow, but found ways around this such as selling next year’s wool clip in advance.

[28] In 1215 there were about 5,000 Jews in England.

[29] A concept imported from the Persians. Note, Roman Numerals are not incompatible with the abacus.

[30] Originally a Persian idea.

[31] The inspiration for Bunyan’s “Vanity Fair” written in the 17th century. The venue was a field, which for the fair was filled with tents and stalls.

[32] Some moderation was provided by the coroner, whose function was to safeguard the crown’s financial interest in the outcome of a trial, especially in the case of a capital offence. Books were even published as guides, ‘How to hold Pleas and Courts’ – see Bennett p204 for reference.

[33] The University of Bologna, established in 1088, was probably the first university in Europe.

[34] The formal word describing these is ‘decretals’. They are Papal letters in answer to requests for advice.

[35] Henry’s legal advice was that if a priest committed murder he should be tried and punished in the lay courts. Archbishop Thomas á Becket, however held that only the church had the power to try a priest.

[36] As it became known from his death in 1189.

[37] Previously significant enough to warrant a note in the Domesday Book.

[38] Bracton goes on – “The king has no equal within his realm. Subjects cannot be the equals of the ruler, because he would thereby lose his rule, since equal can have no authority over equal, not a fortiori a superior, because he would then be subject to those subjected to him. The king must not be under man but under God and under the law, because the law makes the king . . . for there is no rex where will rules rather than lex.”

[39] Lead mining had been practiced here in Roman times, but the activity lapsed after the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

[40] Wool was the primary product of these monasteries, so much so that Italian merchants would list those where they could find sufficient wool to comprise a single ship load with one purchase.

[41] These breeds were largely lost as a result of the destruction of the abbeys under Henry VIII, and the new breeds of the 19th century.

[42] The King’s expectation was that each district would yield a nominated amount of tax revenue, at least as great as the previous collection, even if the numbers of taxable people were reduced. Attempts to mitigate the resentment included having the teams of taxors being made of a lay person and a cleric to give credibility from both the perspective of the king and those being taxed.

[43] Primarily for the grinding of grain, but also used for fulling mills, and other light industrial purposes.

[44] Land, buildings, religious memorabilia, livestock and all movables. The instrument of his authority may have been a curia council or the equivalent in the case of a bishop and his See.

[45] Ultimately the king would select the next abbot. The remainder of the abbot’s possessions could be willed according to the his discretion.

[46] A variant of Benedict’s rule.

[47] In these formative years every conceivable form of monastery appeared, including family religious houses. One writer notes that the compilers of the Domesday Book were not certain whether St Peter owned his church, or the priest who currently cared for it.

[48] St Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 33. This extended to personal authority exercised by higher officials of the church over the lower and from time to time assignment of the clergy to different positions, locations and missions, not the least of which being the reluctant mission of Saint Augustine and his followers to England.

[49] Although individual soldiers were expected to supply their own weapons. After the crisis was resolved, nothing remained of the army.?

[50] Craft guilds (mysteries), burgers of towns, merchant adventurers. Much of the small-scale cloth production of earlier times which took place in rural cottages became factory production in towns.

[51] The Franciscans and others.

[52] An artificial man (a company, for instance) can become bankrupt, with the owners not liable to settle the entire debt that has been incurred.