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A reappraisal of the freehold property market in late medieval England

  • Adrian R. Bell (a1), Chris Brooks (a1) and Helen Killick (a1)

Abstract

This article re-examines the late medieval market in freehold land, the extent to which it was governed by market forces as opposed to political or social constraints, and how this contributed to the commercialisation of the late medieval English economy. We employ a valuable new resource for study of this topic in the form of an extensive dataset on late medieval English freehold property transactions. Through analysis of this data, we examine how the level of market activity (the number of sales) and the nature of the properties (the relative proportions of different types of asset) varied across regions and over time. In particular, we consider the impact of exogenous factors and the effects of growing commercialisation. We argue that peaks of activity following periods of crisis (Great Famine and Black Death) indicate that property ownership became open to market speculation. In so doing, we present an important new perspective on the long-term evolution of the medieval English property market.

Cet article reconsidère le marché foncier de la fin du Moyen Age sur les terres franches. Dans quelle mesure obéissait-il aux forces du marché plutôt qu'aux contraintes politiques ou sociales? Comment cela contribua-t-il à la commercialisation de l’économie anglaise de la fin du Moyen Âge? Nous bénéficions d'une source nouvelle et précieuse pour étudier cette question, à savoir un large ensemble de transactions de biens en pleine propriété pour l'Angleterre du Moyen Âge tardif. L'analyse de cette banque de données, nous permet d'examiner comment le niveau d'activité du marché (le nombre de ventes) et la nature des propriétés (proportion des différents types de biens) ont varié selon les régions et avec le temps. Nous étudions en particulier l'impact des facteurs exogènes et les effets de la commercialisation croissante. Nous soutenons que les pics d'activité qui suivirent les périodes de crise (grande famine et peste noire) indiquent que la propriété s'est ouverte au marché spéculatif. Ce faisant, nous apportons une perspective importante et nouvelle sur l’évolution à long terme du marché foncier en Angleterre médiévale.

Dieser Beitrag unterzieht den Markt für freien Grundbesitz (freehold) im Spätmittelalter einer erneuten Überprüfung und fragt danach, in welchem Umfang er statt durch politische oder soziale Zwänge durch reine Marktkräfte beherrscht wurde und inwiefern dies zur Kommerzialisierung der spätmittelalterlichen Wirtschaft Englands beitrug. Zur Untersuchung dieses Themas verwenden wir eine hochwertige neue Ressource in Form eines umfangreichen Datensatzes zu Transaktionen von freiem Grundbesitz im spätmittelalterlichen England. Durch die Analyse dieser Daten können wir den Umfang der Marktaktivitäten (Anzahl der Verkäufe) und die Art der Grundstücke (Anteil unterschiedlicher Anlagewerte) auf regionale und zeitliche Unterschiede hin untersuchen. Insbesondere erörtern wir den Einfluss exogener Faktoren und die Auswirkungen zunehmender Kommerzialisierung. Wir behaupten, dass die Aktivitätsspitzen im Gefolge von Krisenzeiten (Große Teuerung und Schwarzer Tod) Anzeichen dafür sind, dass der Grundbesitz zu einem Spekulationsobjekt wurde, woraus sich eine bedeutende neue Perspektive auf die langfristige Entwicklung des Grundstücksmarktes im mittelalterlichen England ergibt.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: a.r.bell@icmacentre.ac.uk

References

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Notes

1 Britnell, R. H., The commercialisation of English society, 1000–1500 (Cambridge, 1993); Dyer, Christopher, Everyday life in medieval England (London, 1994); Britnell, Richard H. and Campbell, Bruce M. S. eds., A commercialising economy: England 1086 to c. 1300 (Manchester, 1995); Dyer, Christopher, Making a living in the Middle Ages: the people of Britain, 850–1520 (Newhaven, CT, 2002); van Bavel, Bas, Manors and markets: economy and society in the Low Countries, 500–1600 (Oxford, 2010).

2 Masschaele, James, Peasants, merchants and markets: inland trade in medieval England, 1150–1350 (Basingstoke, 1997); Kowaleski, Maryanne, Local markets and regional trade in medieval Exeter (Cambridge, 1995); Miller, Edward and Hatcher, John, Medieval England: towns, commerce and crafts, 1086–1348 (London, 1995); Swanson, Heather, Medieval British towns (Basingstoke, 1999); Nightingale, Pamela, ‘Monetary contraction and mercantile credit in later medieval England’, Economic History Review 43, 4 (1990), 560–75; Allen, Martin, ‘The volume of the English currency, 1158–1470’, Economic History Review 54, 4 (2001), 595611; Allen, Martin, ‘The English currency and the commercialization of England before the Black Death’, in Wood, D. ed., Medieval money matters (Oxford, 2004), 3150; Bolton, J. L., Money in the medieval English economy, 973–1489 (Manchester, 2012); Bell, Adrian R., Brooks, Chris and Moore, Tony K., ‘The credit relationship between Henry III and merchants of Douai and Ypres, 1247–70’, Economic History Review 67, 1 (2014), 123–45; Goddard, Richard, Credit and trade in later medieval England, 1353–1532 (Basingstoke, 2016); Schofield, Phillipp and Mayhew, Nicholas eds., Credit and debit in medieval England, c. 1180–c. 1350 (Oxford, 2002).

3 Campbell, Bruce M. S., ‘Factor markets in England before the Black Death’, Continuity and Change 24, 1 (2009), 79106; Campbell, Bruce M. S., ‘Land markets and the morcellation of holdings in pre-plague England and pre-famine Ireland’, in Béaur, G., Schofield, P. R., Chevet, J.-M. and Pérez-Picazo, M.-T. eds., Property rights, land markets and economic growth in the European countryside (13th–20th centuries) (Turnhout, 2013), 197218.

4 Harvey, Barbara, Westminster Abbey and its estates in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1977); Howell, Cicely, Land, family and inheritance in transition: Kibworth Harcourt, 1280–1700 (Cambridge, 1983); Smith, Richard M. ed., Land, kinship and life-cycle (Cambridge, 1984); McIntosh, Marjorie Keniston, Autonomy and community: the Royal Manor of Havering, 1200–1500 (Cambridge, 1986); Larson, Peter L., ‘Peasant opportunities in rural Durham: land, vills and mills, 1400–1500’, in Dodds, Ben and Liddy, Christian D. eds., Commercial activity, markets and entrepreneurs in the Middle Ages: essays in honour of Richard Britnell (Woodbridge, 2011), 141–64.

5 Mullan, John and Britnell, Richard, Land and family: trends and local variations in the peasant land market on the Winchester bishopric estates, 1263–1415 (Hatfield, 2010). Research for this publication was undertaken during two successive projects at the University of Durham: (1) Richard Britnell, Paul D. A. Harvey, M. R. Page, ‘The Peasant Land Market in Southern England, 1260–1350’ (ESRC, 1996–1999). Data available via the UK Data Service (4086), http://discover.ukdataservice.ac.uk/#4086; (2) Richard Britnell and John Mullan, ‘The Transfer of Customary Land on the Estate of the Bishopric of Winchester, 1350–1415’ (Leverhulme Trust, 2000–2003). Data available onsite in Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, http://www3.hants.gov.uk/archives.

6 Campbell, ‘Morcellation of holdings’, 200.

7 Palmer, R. C., ‘The origins of property in England’, Law and History Review 3, 1 (1985), 150; Palmer, R. C., ‘The economic and cultural impact of the origins of property: 1180–1220’, Law and History Review 3, 1 (1985), 375–96.

8 Harvey, P. D. A. ed., The peasant land market in medieval England (Oxford, 1984).

9 Harvey, Paul D. A., ‘The peasant land market in medieval England – and beyond’, in Razi, Zvi and Smith, Richard eds., Medieval society and the manor court (Oxford, 1996), 404–07; Briggs, Chris, ‘Credit and the freehold land market in England, c. 1200–c. 1350: possibilities and problems for research’, in Schofield, Phillipp R. and Lambrecht, Thijs eds., Credit and the rural economy in north-western Europe, c. 1200–c. 1850 (Turnhout, 2009), 109–27.

10 Campbell, Bruce M. S., ‘Medieval land use and land values’, in Wade-Martins, Peter ed., Historical atlas of Norfolk (Norwich, 1994), 48–9; Campbell, B. M. S., Galloway, J. A. and Murphy, M., ‘Rural land-use in the metropolitan hinterland, 1270–1339: the evidence of inquisitiones post mortem’, Agricultural History Review 40, 1 (1992), 122; Campbell, Bruce M. S. and Bartley, Ken, England on the eve of the Black Death: an atlas of lay lordship, land and wealth, 1300–49 (Manchester, 2006); Holford, Matthew, ‘“Notoriously unreliable”: the valuations and extents’, in Hicks, Michael ed., The fifteenth-century inquisitions post mortem: a companion (Woodbridge, 2012), 117–44; Margaret Yates, ‘The descriptions of land found in the inquisitions post mortem and feet of fines: a case study of Berkshire’, in Hicks ed., The fifteenth-century inquisitions post mortem, 145–54. We should also note that inquisitions post mortem also covered the estates of those incapable of managing them. The purpose of IPMs was, as well as determining value, to identify the heir and type of tenure, therefore the reliability of valuations in IPMs changed over time and between regions depending in part on the identity of the escheator.

11 This was not the date the document itself was drawn up, but that of the previous return day in the Court of Common Pleas. Return days occurred at approximately weekly intervals during the law terms.

12 The series covers the whole of England, with the exception of the palatinates of Chester, Lancaster and Durham (the fines for these counties can be found in CHES 31, PL 17 and DURH 12).

13 The authors wish to thank Margaret Yates for making data from Essex and Warwickshire available. The new data were extracted from English abstracts of feet of fines created by Chris Phillips, available at http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/fines/counties.shtml with the following exceptions: data for Yorkshire 1307–1377 was taken from the edited volumes of fines published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series. See Baildon, W. Paley ed., Feet of fines for the county of York from 1327 to 1347, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 42 (Leeds, 1910); Baildon, W. Paley ed., Feet of fines for the county of York from 1347 to 1377, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 52 (Leeds, 1913); Roper, M. ed., Feet of fines for the county of York, 1300–1314, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 127 (Leeds, 1965); Roper, Michael and Kitching, Christopher eds., Feet of fines for the county of York from 1314 to 1326, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 58 (Woodbridge, 2006); data for London and Middlesex was taken from Hardy, William J. and Page, William eds., A calendar to the feet of fines for London and Middlesex from the reign of Richard I (London, 1892) and supplemented by data extracted from photographs of the original sources available at the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website, http://aalt.law.uh.edu/. Except where noted, the authors’ feet of fines dataset based on the above materials provides the source for all tables and figures.

14 See Table 3.

15 Yates, Margaret, Campbell, Anna and Casson, Mark, ‘Local property values in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England’, in Casson, Mark and Hashimzade, Nigar eds., Large databases in economic history: research methods and case studies (Abingdon, 2013), 124–45.

16 Yates, Campbell and Casson, ‘Local property values’, 144.

17 Davies, Mike and Kissock, Jonathan, ‘The feet of fines, the land market and the English agricultural crisis of 1315 to 1322’, Journal of Historical Geography 30, 2 (2004), 215–30; Yates, Margaret, ‘The market in freehold land, 1300–1509: the evidence of feet of fines’, Economic History Review 66, 2 (2013), 579600; Yates, Campbell and Casson, ‘Local property values’; Ingram, Hannah, ‘Crisis and conscious property management: reconstructing the Warwickshire land market, 1284–1345’, Midland History 40, 2 (2015), 181200.

18 Bell, A. R., Brooks, C. and Killick, H., ‘Medieval property investors, c. 1300–1500’, Enterprise and Society 20, 3 (2019), 575612.

19 Roper and Kitching eds., Feet of fines for the county of York from 1314 to 1326, viii–ix.

20 Baker, J. H., An introduction to English legal history (London, 1971), 125–6.

21 Bean, J. M. W., ‘Landlords’, in Miller, Edward ed., The agrarian history of England and Wales, vol. III: 1348–1500 (Cambridge, 1991), 551–4; Baker, An introduction to English legal history, 128–9.

22 Bean, ‘Landlords’, 554.

23 Roper ed., Feet of fines for the county of York, 1300–1314, viii.

24 Ormrod, W. Mark, Killick, Helen and Bradford, Phil eds., Early common petitions in the English parliament, c. 1290–1420, Royal Historical Society Camden 5th ser., 52 (Cambridge, 2017), 82–3.

25 Raban, Sandra, ‘The land market and the aristocracy in the thirteenth century’, in Greenway, D., Holdsworth, C. and Sayers, J. eds., Tradition and change: essays in honour of Marjorie Chibnall (Cambridge, 1985), 240, n. 5.

26 Pollock, F. and Maitland, F. W., The history of English law before the time of Edward I, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1952), ii, 95, 101–02.

27 Roberts, Samuel, Digest of select British statutes (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, 1847), 267–8; Meekings, C. A. F. ed., Abstracts of Surrey feet of fines, 1509–1558, Surrey Record Society, 19 (Frome and London, 1946), xxvxxvi.

28 The bar was partially reinstated in 1489 with the First Statute of Fines (4 Henry VII, ch. 24): see Meekings ed., Abstracts of Surrey feet of fines, xxvi. The effects of this and the 1361 statute will be discussed further below.

29 Burt, Caroline, ‘The demise of the General Eyre in the reign of Edward I’, English Historical Review 120, 485 (2005), 114.

30 Roper and Kitching eds., Feet of fines for the county of York from 1314 to 1326, viii.

31 Meekings ed., Abstracts of Surrey feet of fines, xiv; Phillips, Chris, ‘A short introduction to feet of fines’, Foundations 4 (2012), 47.

32 Bean, ‘Landlords’, 562.

33 Meekings ed., Abstracts of Surrey feet of fines, xxii.

34 The remaining 20 per cent also tend to be given in round numbers, generally multiples of ten. There are a small number of exceptions (c. 50), the majority of which date from the first half of the fourteenth century, suggesting that the valuations of property in fines from this period are more detailed and reliable.

35 Yates, ‘The market in freehold land’, 588.

36 Bean, J. M. W., The decline of English feudalism, 1215–1540 (Manchester, 1968), 180234.

37 We form five-year averages rather than plotting individual years so that the underlying trends are easier to discern rather than being masked by year-to-year volatility. Figures 2–11 display data taken solely from those fines recording a monetary payment.

38 Kershaw, Ian, ‘The great famine and agrarian crisis in England 1315–1322’, Past & Present 59 (1973), 350; Razi, Zvi, Life, marriage and death in a medieval parish: economy, society and demography in Halesowen 1270–1400 (Cambridge, 1980); Bruce M. S. Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market in a fourteenth-century peasant community’, in Smith ed., Land, kinship and lifecycle, 87–134; Dyer, Christopher, ‘Social structures: the West Midlands’, in Hallam, H. E. ed., The agrarian history of England and Wales, vol. II: 1042–1350 (Cambridge, 1988), 660–75.

39 Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market’, 113–16; Davies and Kissock, ‘Feet of fines’. Davies and Kissock plot ten-year moving averages of grain prices (taken from David L. Farmer, ‘Prices and wages’, in Hallam ed., The agrarian history of England and Wales, vol. II) against transactions in the fines for Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire between 1290 and 1330 (p. 221, Figure 1).

40 Ingram, ‘Crisis and conscious property management’, 185–6.

41 Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market’, 110.

42 Davies and Kissock, ‘Feet of fines’, 226–8.

43 During this period, individuals in the fines are more commonly identified by their regional origin rather than their social status (see Bell, Brooks and Killick, ‘Medieval property investors’, Table 3). This may be attributed to increasing division of labour and the consequent rise in number of new occupations (see Britnell, Richard, ‘Specialisation of work in England, 1100–1300’, Economic History Review 54, 1 (2001), 116).

44 Bell, Brooks and Killick, ‘Medieval property investors’, Table 2.

45 Ingram, ‘Crisis and conscious property management’, 189.

46 Analysis of the sale of manors as a proportion of total transactions between 1315 and 1322 was also conducted at a county level: this revealed little regional variation, with sales featuring manors on average constituting 2–3 per cent of the total in each county during this period.

47 We have plotted the frequency of the 14 most frequently recurring values (all those which occur one hundred times or more) and used these to calculate three price categories each containing a roughly even number of properties. These are as follows: Low Value = under 3,200 pence; Medium Value = 3,200 to 15,999 pence; High Value = 16,000 to 240,000 pence.

48 It is of course possible that some of these smaller properties were being sold off as part of the estates of wealthier landowners; however, the data suggest that this was not generally the case. Between 1315 and 1322, in most cases where an individual was involved in multiple fines, they acted as the purchaser rather than the seller, or were involved in both buying and selling property. Notable exceptions include John le Warner, who sold four small properties (one messuage and three plots of land measuring between one and five acres) in Lincolnshire between 1316 and 1320, and Thomas de Waynflete and his wife Pernel, who sold five properties in Croft by Wainfleet, Lincolnshire in 1319 and 1320, all for sums of ten marks or less. We also acknowledge that low value properties may have been those of low profitability rather than low size (where acreage is not indicated).

49 Yates, ‘The market in freehold land’, 584. In addition, the frequent movement of the Court to York during the 1320s was also a contributing factor to the decline of fines; see Roper and Kitching eds., Feet of fines for the county of York from 1314 to 1326, viii, and Ormrod, M., ‘Competing capitals? York and London in the fourteenth century’, in Rees-Jones, S., Marks, R. and Minnis, A. eds., Courts and regions in medieval Europe (Woodbridge, 2000), 7598.

50 Yates, ‘The market in freehold land’, 582.

52 Bean, ‘Landlords’, 567; McFarlane, K. B., The nobility of later medieval England: the Ford Lectures for 1953 and related studies (Oxford, 1973), 55; Carpenter, Christine, Locality and polity: a study of Warwickshire landed society, 1401–1499 (Cambridge, 1992), 97, 133–4; Yates, ‘The market in freehold land’, 582.

53 Howell, Land, family and inheritance in transition, 43–4; Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market’; Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 71–4.

54 Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 71–4.

55 This was despite the lack of correlation between grain price and land market activity as noted earlier, suggesting that other factors were motivating purchasers’ behaviour, that is, status, and/or opportunity for a bargain.

56 Howell, Land, family and inheritance in transition, 43–4.

57 McFarlane, The nobility of later medieval England, 55.

58 Payling, Simon, ‘Social mobility, demographic change, and landed society in late medieval England’, Economic History Review 45, 1 (1992), 5173. This is based on analysis of patterns of inheritance in the inquisitions post mortem; comparing the periods 1336–1348 and 1370–1377, Payling finds a substantial increase in the number of IPMs in which there was no direct male heir.

59 Poos, L. R., ‘The social context of Statute of Labourers enforcement’, Law and History Review 1 (1983), 28; David L. Farmer, ‘Prices and wages, 1350–1500’, in Miller ed., Agrarian history of England and Wales, vol. III, 485–6.

60 Bailey, Mark, ‘The myth of the seigniorial reaction in England, c. 1350 to c. 1380’, in Kowaleski, Maryanne, Langdon, John and Schofield, Phillipp R. eds., Peasants and lords in the medieval English economy: essays in honour of B. M. S. Campbell (Turnhout, 2015), 150.

61 Bean, ‘Landlords’, 568.

62 Payling, ‘Social mobility’, 53.

63 Bell, Brooks and Killick, ‘Medieval property investors’.

64 Ibid., Table 4. The overwhelming majority of clergy appearing in the fines are lesser clergy acting on an individual basis rather than representatives of large ecclesiastical institutions. A small number of the latter appear (usually acting as purchasers) during the first half of the fourteenth century.

65 Bell, Brooks and Killick, ‘Medieval property investors’, Figure 3.

66 Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market’, 123–4.

67 Bell, Brooks and Killick, ‘Medieval property investors’, Figure 5. The main locations of property investment by Londoners during the fifteenth century were Essex and Kent; evidence from debt cases in the Court of Common Pleas raises the possibility that these properties were acquired in lieu of debt payments (see Keene, Derek, ‘Changes in London's economic hinterland as indicated by debt cases in the Court of Common Pleas’, in Galloway, James A. ed., Trade, urban hinterlands and market integration c. 1300–1600 (London, 2000), 63–5, 72–3.

68 Clarke, M. V., ‘Forfeitures and treason in 1388’, in Sutherland, L. S. and McKisack, M. eds., Fourteenth century studies (Oxford, 1937); Ross, C. D., ‘Forfeiture for treason in the reign of Richard II’, English Historical Review 71 (1956), 560–75.

69 Ormrod, Killick and Bradford eds., Early common petitions, 95–6.

70 Bolton, J. L., The medieval English economy, 1150–1500 (London, 1980), 218–19.

71 McFarlane, K. B., ‘War, the economy and social change: England and the Hundred Years War’, in McFarlane, K. B., England in the fifteenth century: collected essays (London, 1981), 142–3.

72 Hatcher, John, ‘The great slump of the mid-fifteenth century’, in Britnell, Richard and Hatcher, John eds., Progress and problems in medieval England: essays in honour of Edward Miller (Cambridge, 1996), 237–72.

73 Bell, Adrian R., Brooks, Chris and Dryburgh, Paul R., The English wool market, c. 1230–1327 (Cambridge, 2007), 9.

74 Meekings ed., Abstracts of Surrey feet of fines, xxvi.

75 When land is included in a property with no further description it is assumed that this refers to arable land.

76 Figure 8 is based on the approximately 17,000 fines in the database that feature land measured in acres. In order to prevent distortion by very large properties, this excludes all those transactions featuring properties measuring over two thousand acres (eighteen fines in total).

77 Yates, ‘The market in freehold land’, 132.

78 Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 77, 136–48.

79 Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market’, 103–06.

80 Bell, Brooks and Killick, ‘Medieval property investors’, Figure 5. Similar trends are likely to be found in relation to Kent, which was not included in this analysis due to the lack of a complete sample.

81 Keene, ‘Changes in London's economic hinterland’, 63–5.

82 Bell, Brooks and Killick, ‘Medieval property investors’; Oldland, J., ‘The allocation of merchant capital in early Tudor London’, Economic History Review 63, 4 (2010), 1058–80; Yates, Campbell and Casson, ‘Local property values’, 144.

83 Bailey, Mark, The English Manor, c. 1200–1500 (Manchester, 2002), 8.

84 Campbell, ‘Morcellation of holdings’.

85 Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market’, 130.

86 Hatcher, John, ‘England in the aftermath of the Black Death’, Past & Present 144 (1994), 36.

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A reappraisal of the freehold property market in late medieval England

  • Adrian R. Bell (a1), Chris Brooks (a1) and Helen Killick (a1)

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