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Conclusion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2011

James Davis
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
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Summary

It has been a recurrent theme of the historiography of the Middle Ages to encapsulate the conduct of market trade within the terms ‘paternal’ and ‘moral economy’. Some historians following this approach have contended that there existed an antipathy between prevailing Christian ideology that denigrated commercial activity and the actual needs of the marketplace. Medieval market prosperity was thus subordinated to upholding the welfare of the poor, the privileges of the elite and issues of salvation. In the resulting clash between various interest groups, economic efficiency suffered and growth was inhibited. However, the reality of medieval trade and its control was far more complex. Market morals, law and practice were not necessarily incompatible and, indeed, could be mutually supportive.

Amongst the myriad of market regulations and institutions can be discerned a set of shared values that informed medieval people about the boundaries for acceptable behaviour. Anxieties were rehearsed in clerical exhortations and literature, which also acted as warnings for participants in the marketplace. A common theme of preachers was a sense of obligation to the poor and neighbours, linked to an acceptance of mutual responsibilities. Traders were recognised as important for the sustenance of society, but there was a continuing suspicion about their motives and the potential for abuses and damage to the community. Medieval literature presented an image of persistent fraud, trickery and greed. There were fears that ill-regulated petty retailers left the poor unserved, led to moral decay and caused social disorder, while the traders’ own souls would rot in hell. However, even as they clung tenaciously to conventional convictions and tropes, many late medieval writers were well aware of the complex social and economic realities of their time. They discussed the just price in terms of the market price, recognised the utility of middlemen, and chronicled the growing pervasiveness of market activity.

Type
Chapter
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Medieval Market Morality
Life, Law and Ethics in the English Marketplace, 1200–1500
, pp. 450 - 458
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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  • Conclusion
  • James Davis, Queen's University Belfast
  • Book: Medieval Market Morality
  • Online publication: 05 December 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511763366.008
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  • Conclusion
  • James Davis, Queen's University Belfast
  • Book: Medieval Market Morality
  • Online publication: 05 December 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511763366.008
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Conclusion
  • James Davis, Queen's University Belfast
  • Book: Medieval Market Morality
  • Online publication: 05 December 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511763366.008
Available formats
×