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Medieval Suffolk: An Economic and Social History, 1200-1500

Medieval Suffolk: An Economic and Social History, 1200-1500

Mark Bailey
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 358
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Suffolk: An Economic and Social History, 1200-1500
    Book Description:

    Suffolk was one of the most important regions of England in the middle ages. Even by 1200 it was wealthy, densely populated, highly commercialised and urbanised; and it survived the impact of three of the most tumultuous events of the last millennium, the Great Famine (1315-22), the Black Death (1349) and the Peasants' Revolt (1381), to become by 1500 one of the richest and most industrialised regions of England, based on cloth manufacture, fishing and tanning. This volume describes, documents and analyses these events. It combines an accessible and readable summary of the current state of knowledge with fresh insights drawn from extensive investigations of primary sources. Overall, it offers a guide to and re-evaluation of the history of late medieval Suffolk.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-571-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Plates
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    This important book will be the first in a series of monographs which together will constitute a scholarly but accessible multi-volume history of Suffolk from the earliest times until the present day. Written by leading experts in the field, the series has been designed to fill a striking gap in the area of regional studies. It will draw upon primary as well as secondary material, and by utilising the county’s rich resources to the full, will present Suffolk’s history within a wider regional, national and international context.

    Notwithstanding its outstanding resources in terms of archaeology, landscape, material culture and archival...

  7. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  8. Note on Currency & Units of Measurement
    (pp. xii-xii)
  9. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  10. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    To the casual observer or the incurious visitor the county of Suffolk might appear to be a pleasant, but undistinguished, backwater. Its landscape is not dramatic, and may be easily dismissed as flat and monotonous, while leading towns such as Ipswich, Lowestoft and Felixstowe have relatively few monuments of great historical interest. Yet the real Suffolk is a county of subtle contrasts and wide variety, and the discerning eye can identify a rich heritage of medieval religious and vernacular architecture. Many features of the modern rural and urban landscapes of Suffolk are centuries old, and were influenced significantly by developments...

  11. CHAPTER 2 Landlords and their Estates, 1200–1349
    (pp. 10-35)

    Suffolk society in the Middle Ages was neither simple nor unchanging, yet throughout the period it was dominated by a small group of landlords who held a disproportionate amount of land. Few of these lords were regular soldiers (although male members of their family, such as younger sons, may have pursued a military career), and most were ecclesiastics, administrators and/or engaged in agriculture. Their standing in society was determined largely by their wealth, which in turn owed much to the size of their landed estate, although it was also influenced to some degree by the tenure on which that land...

  12. CHAPTER 3 Peasants and their Lifestyles, 1200–1349
    (pp. 36-66)

    Any discussion of the lower orders of Suffolk society in the thirteenth century could usefully begin by dispelling some common misapprehensions. Medieval England is traditionally viewed as a peasant society, where a ‘peasant’ is assumed to be a dependent landholder, subject to exacting lordship, whose family worked its holding as subsistence farmers: land was not bought or sold, but merely passed on to relatives. Yet this traditional view is unhelpful, for two reasons. First, hardly any agriculturalists in thirteenth-century Suffolk fit this definition of a peasant. The majority sold much of the produce of their holdings to market; their geographical...

  13. CHAPTER 4 The Agrarian Economy, 1200–1349
    (pp. 67-89)

    The Domesday Survey of 1086 records nearly 20,000 landholders in Suffolk, suggesting a total population of around 100,000. The population certainly expanded over the next two centuries, although its exact magnitude is unknowable, because estimating medieval population levels is notoriously difficult on the scant evidence available. Dymond and Northeast reckon that it doubled between 1086 andc.1300, although even higher rates of growth are evident in some places. For example, between 1086 and 1251 the landholding population of eight Suffolk manors belonging to the bishop of Ely increased by a factor of 2.5. The Lay Subsidy of 1327 lists...

  14. CHAPTER 5 The Suffolk Landscape, 1200–1349
    (pp. 90-115)

    What did the landscape of Suffolk look like in the century and a half before the Black Death of 1349, and would it have been recognizable to the modern eye? Unfortunately, finding clear answers to such straightforward and interesting questions is problematic, because medieval sources do not describe explicitly how the landscape looked. However, they do provide partial information about how much of the land was managed. This enables us to recreate elements of the landscape, which was itself shaped by the particular ways in which local communities organized their arable fields, exploited other natural resources, such as woodland and...

  15. CHAPTER 6 Towns and the Urban Environment
    (pp. 116-151)

    At the end of the eleventh century Suffolk contained three of England’s most important towns and four other boroughs. In 1066 Ipswich had been comfortably the county’s largest town, but was strongly associated with resistance to William I’s conquest, and by 1086 — the date of the Domesday Survey — had suffered severe depopulation and destruction. In stark contrast, Bury St Edmunds and Dunwich flourished under Norman patronage and expanded rapidly between 1066 and 1086, by which date they both rated among England’s top ten towns. The Normans actively developed Dunwich as a commercial centre and port to rival Ipswich, and its...

  16. CHAPTER 7 Commerce, Crafts and Industry
    (pp. 152-175)

    England’s economy and society became significantly more commercialized during the course of the Middle Ages. This is reflected in an expansion in the supply of money, the provision of smaller denominations of coin, the emergence of credit markets, and the growth of towns, weekly markets and seasonal fairs (chapter 6). The existence of more formal markets and fairs, with legal structures to enforce the rules of trade, reduced the costs and risks associated with commerce, and therefore encouraged more people to produce goods and services for consumption by others rather than for themselves. The economy of Suffolk was strongly influenced...

  17. CHAPTER 8 Pestilence, Rebellion and the Decline of Villeinage, 1349–1500
    (pp. 176-203)

    The Black Death erupted in southern England during August 1348 and had reached London by September. Using the internal evidence of manorial court rolls (which record the death of tenants) and bishop’s registers (which record the appointment of beneficed clergy to a parish), Jessopp concluded that the pestilence first reached East Anglia during the spring of 1349. His pioneering work was largely based on Norfolk, where some coastal communities were first hit in March and others closer to Norwich were struck in April and May: the pestilence was raging in central Norfolk in the high summer and early autumn, when...

  18. CHAPTER 9 The Rural Economy, 1350–1500
    (pp. 204-241)

    The Black Death sent a seismic shock through the economy, whose consequences were profound and far-reaching. The loss of half the workforce in 1349 could not be absorbed without major adjustments in an economy where land and labour were the main factors of production. The agrarian economy contracted markedly, although the extent of its decline was not as great as the fall in population, because productivity – output and consumption per capita – rose. Labour had suddenly become scarcer; work was easier to find; and the survivors of the Black Death discovered that land was more readily available. These changes resulted in...

  19. CHAPTER 10 ‘The World Turned Upside Down’: Rural Society, 1350–1500
    (pp. 242-263)

    The surfeit of land on more attractive terms and tenures, the availability of better-paid employment, and, to a lesser extent, the dissolution of villeinage and serfdom, presented clear opportunities for social and economic advancement among the lower orders of Suffolk society. These opportunities encouraged economic individualism and personal enterprise. Young teenagers now had ample opportunity to leave the family home to work in domestic service, perhaps on a dairy farm or in the house of a textile manufacturer, or to establish their own home while picking up regular work as a labourer. Farmers could expand their holdings or provide their...

  20. CHAPTER 11 Towns, Trade and Industry, 1350–1500
    (pp. 264-289)

    The expansion of weekly markets and small towns in the thirteenth century had been founded primarily upon local trade in raw and processed foodstuffs, and in the provision of basic goods and services for nearby farms and households. The severe and sustained demographic contraction after the arrival of the Black Death reduced the volume of this commercial activity, and by extension reduced the volume of trade passing through fairs, weekly markets and towns. Yet the scale of this reduction was not as great as the fall in population, because consumption per head increased, and both the nature and structure of...

  21. CHAPTER 12 Conclusion
    (pp. 290-302)

    Medieval Suffolk possessed a highly distinctive social structure. It was a county of weak manorialism, where the average vill was split between a number of manors; the typical manor was small; and the average manorial lord directly worked his demesne land and was modestly wealthy. Inc.1300 at least 80 per cent of all tenants and tenancies were free, one of the highest proportions in England, and conversely the proportion of villeins and unfree tenancies was among the lowest. Head rents on both free and villein holdings were relatively low, and landlords adopted a permissive approach to the sale...

  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 303-312)
  23. Index
    (pp. 313-328)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-329)