Michael Burger

title.none: Britnell, ed., The Winchester Pipe Rolls (Michael Burger)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.035 05.01.35

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Burger, Mississippi University for Women,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Britnell, Richard, ed. The Winchester Pipe Rolls and Medieval English Society. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2003. Pp. x, 213. $99.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84383-029-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.35

Britnell, Richard, ed. The Winchester Pipe Rolls and Medieval English Society. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2003. Pp. x, 213. $99.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84383-029-9.

Reviewed by:

Michael Burger
Mississippi University for Women

Historians should avoid celebration, which is usually an easy excuse to impose modern standards on the past only to obscure it. But if there is one thing historians can legitimately celebrate, it is a really good source. Such an occasion produced this collection of essays, most of them given as papers at a conference on the medieval pipe rolls of the bishops of Winchester in 1999. One might wonder whether that setting and its afterglow account for some of the descriptions of the rolls and work inspired by them found in this volume: "heroic" (13), "astonishing" (19), "of the foremost historical value" (30) and, most fulsome, "the noblest representatives of the earliest form of medieval manorial accounts" (1). But the rolls inspired such reverence long before the conference, and for good reason.

Their greatest attraction is their combination of volume and chronological range. Incomings and outgoings for the bishop's estate, fifty-seven manors, are recorded in a series stretching from 1208-9 into the seventeenth century. Between their commencement and the change to registers in the mid-fifteenth century, the rolls survive for more than three out of four years. Such a volume of evidence generates impressively large numbers. Most of the contributors to this volume make a point of the thousands of instances of this or that they have culled from the rolls. Seductive figures of this sort help explain why the rolls have particularly drawn attention from economic historians like most of the contributors here. Medieval economic history is enriched for their being thus seduced.

In "The Winchester Pipe Rolls and their Historians," Richard Britnell recounts the complex adventures of the rolls before they reached their current residence in the Hampshire Record Office. Not all of them made it; one was lost even in the 1930s. Although only four rolls have seen printed editions, they are all on microfiche up to 1412-13. The move to the PRO helped inspire the first printed edition in 1903, which in turn brought the rolls greater attention. But it was Lord Beveridge who first extensively exploited them where perhaps their greatest potential lay: for quantitative history. Beveridge's approach and data provided fodder for M.M. Postan, but J.Z. Titow used the rolls themselves to great effect in support of Postan's Malthusian position. Britnell lays out very clearly and briefly various challenges to their views since the 1960s, discussing the contributions to the present volume along the way. It is a very useful historiographical account which, although it keeps the use of the rolls front and center, takes in the much larger issues to which work on them pertains.

Bruce M.S. Campbell threatens to be Carabosse at Sleeping Beauty's christening. In "A Unique Estate and a Unique Source: the Winchester Pipe Roll in Perspective," he announces that the very points that make the rolls so attractive are inextricably linked to limitations on their usefulness. Campbell argues that historians can be badly misled by relying on the most common sources bequeathed by the Middle Ages: those produced by and for clergy. This specter has long haunted medieval historiography. Campbell puts the argument regarding economic history with admirable vigor and system: the drawbacks of church manor account rolls in general are writ large in the Winchester pipe rolls. The bishop of Winchester's holdings put him among the top half dozen English magnates. His estates were much larger than most, ecclesiastical and lay, just as episcopal and abbatial estates were on average larger than most other estates. The problem here is that large estates worked very differently from small ones. Whole villages were more likely to fall within a single large manor than a smaller one, and so give lords a greater hold over their tenants. Indeed, larger manors were better suited to cultivation of the demesne using servile labor. The bishops of Winchester certainly took this approach, in spades. Similarly, large estates like the bishop's were oriented toward market production. The Winchester rolls are glorious, but their very production and survival reflect the atypical situation they record.

But Campbell comes to rescue Sleeping Beauty, not to slay her. The rolls can be put to statistical uses that are, he suggests, independent of manorial structure (e.g., to recover population trends and prices paid by the bishop). Moreover, he suggests that one can safely use the rolls for aspects of agrarian history which reflect manorial structure, so long as the evidence is carefully compared with scrappier evidence from small, lay estates. He gives some examples of work which does this. Campbell's advice is, thankfully, followed in other essays in this volume.

Katherine Stocks uses "Payments to Manorial Courts in the Early Winchester Accounts" to illuminate the bishop's manorial courts for the period 1209-1252; the Winchester rolls are by far the richest field for such a study in her period. Stocks finds that payments for the assize of bread and ale suggest the absence of the later distinction between courts leet and baron. By establishing that payments were recorded in rough chronological order, she is able to show that the Winchester courts did not always meet as often as every three weeks. As Stocks notes, several other conclusions rely on instances small in number, at least by Winchester standards. Fines on summoners show that people of a variety of occupations had the job. By 1240, bailiffs rather than reeves presided over the court. Stocks also sheds light on the procedures of the court, as well as on election to manorial office, which some people avoided. She detects a large increase in the volume of business conducted by the court. She is stuck, however, for an explanation. Population growth does not explain it. Had the bishops become more interested in getting revenue from their manorial courts? No, for the rolls undermine the common belief that lords saw manor courts simply as revenue generating devices. The size of individual payments declined in her period. Moreover, the rolls betray sloppy arithmetic. In a well-turned argument, she concludes that payments to the court were preserved in the rolls not for fiscal purposes, but to document the bishop's rights, rights that were essential to the demesne agriculture stressed on the Winchester estates. It would be nice to see Campbell's injunction applied here: were smaller estates' accounts neater in such matters?

Mark Page examines fines paid to manorial courts for entry onto land in order to reconstruct "The Peasant Land Market on the Estate of the Bishopric of Winchester before the Black Death," beginning his study in 1263. He carefully compares Winchester manors with each other, also frequently relating his results with those from other sources in other parts of England (generally finding similarities). Five sample Winchester entries open up elements of the argument, a nice expository device. Not surprisingly, everywhere inheritance was an important way for land to move from one person to another. But what beyond that? Page finds that a market in land was very active on some of the bishop's manors and barely at all on others. As in other studies, where the land market functioned, it did so for trade in small-holdings. Two forces discouraged such exchanges: tenants' own sense of manorial custom, which they enforced in court, and which favored the maintenance of whole tenancies rather than their break up, and the bishop, who was similarly vigilant to maintain his tenants' holdings entire so as to ensure that tenants had the wherewithal to do customary services. Tenants, however, were tempted to break up their holdings in their lifetimes for various reasons, such as to make arrangements with servants in husbandry or overcome impartible inheritance and so take care of younger children.

So what made the difference between a lively land market and a dead one? Manors with a lot of assarts saw a greater fragmentation of tenancies and thus trade in land. Such manors attracted newcomers, who were less attached to manor custom and so the old tenurial structure. But, warns Page, matters did not always work out this way. Local circumstance was, again, critical. At Witney, for example, he finds that new lands were taken less by newcomers than by the younger children of already standing tenants, thus reducing the urge to break up older tenancies.

All of this is persuasive. It might, however, be worth considering a possible softer side of the bishops of Winchester. Page indeed points out places where the rolls explicitly note that holdings should not be dismembered or that whole tenancies were being restored. I am not sure, however, how certainly one can credit such expressions to the bishop's bailiff rather than others in court. Moreover, the description of some de facto divisions might show a bailiff flexibly accepting divisions proposed by tenants rather than consistently trying to stop them. As Page notes, it looks as though many or most of these arrangements were intended as temporary anyway, perhaps for a generation. And there could be good reasons for the bishop to accept them. Take the "retirement agreements," whereby a son took on his father's tenement, setting aside a small holding to the father for his lifetime. Such agreements likely left a lord more assured of receiving services due, not less so.

John Mullan's study of "The Transfer of Customary Land on the Estates of the Bishop of Winchester between the Black Death and the Plague of 1361" picks up where Page leaves off. Studies of other estates suggest the Black Death created a more active market in land. Did, Mullan asks, the plague have the same impact on the Winchester estates? On the whole, yes. Using figures culled from select regions, Mullan argues that although the total volume of land transfers declined markedly in the decade or so following the Black Death, that decline was a natural product of the drop in population. The big story is the proportion of transfers of land outside the family within that shrinking total. After the Black Death, extrafamilial transfers begin to make up a larger and larger share of the total, in the bishop's Somerset manors as high as an extraordinary 87% of the total. Because Mullan's article is unfortunately devoid of figures from before 1349, Page's article is an essential complement to his, as Page provides statistics for Mullan's "before." In this regard, it is unfortunate that only Page's aggregate figures can be compared with Mullan's; they are, however, consistent with Mullan's conclusion. Mullan's piece, however, in turn complements Page's by pursuing an issue raised by Zwi Razi which endangers both articles: might extrafamilial transfers be badly overcounted by relying on surnames to identify family members? The rolls present clear cases of relatives who did not share surnames; perhaps other such relationships are disguised in notices of land transfers. But Mullan finds that even bringing genealogical information from entries other than the entry fees to the counting up makes little difference to the totals. One suspects that his results would hold good for Page's period too.

Christopher Thornton's elegant study of "The Level of Arable Productivity on the Bishopric of Winchester's Manor of Taunton, 1283-1348" asks why the bishop's crop yields were so poor. Thornton carefully compares the five "submanors" of Taunton, which were accounted separately, developing a WACY ("Weighted Aggregate Crop Yield") for each. He finds that the bishop invested little in them in terms of marling or dung, using wage over servile labor, or even in matching crops well to soil. Steering clear of Marxist explanations stressing the control of labor, Thornton points out that high carrying costs and a limited local market meant that Taunton produced as much as it could sell; higher yields would have been wasted. And so it made economic sense to invest little. Besides, as Thornton notes, Taunton regularly gave the bishop a small fortune.

To what extent should the economic troubles of the early fourteenth century be credited not to agrarian troubles, but to cyclical economic recession? John Langdon, Jill Walker, and John Falconer seek to answer that question by examining "Boom and Bust: Building Investment on the Bishop of Winchester's Estate in the Early Fourteenth Century." They find that the bishop's investment both in building maintenance and new construction rose and fell between 1297-8 and 1347-8, often in response to the accidents of personality and high politics. As for the years of crisis, 1315-22: Winchester saw a downturn in building investment which followed national trends. The authors conclude, reasonably, that the downturn must have exacerbated the effects of poor harvests. In this regard, it would be interesting to know to how many construction workers on the Winchester estates worked in that trade full time.

Nicholas Vincent's "The Politics of Church and State as Reflected in the Winchester Pipe Rolls, 1208-1280" marks a change of pace. Vincent's concern is to illustrate the rolls' potential for non-quantitative, political and ecclesiastical history. In characteristic fashion, he does so handily. Although the pipe rolls do not reveal the bishop's hangers on through direct payments in the manner of household rolls, records of hospitality given on episcopal manors serve that purpose. Vincent reprises such conclusions regarding Peter des Roches from his biography of that bishop, although readers interested in broader issues that evidence addresses should consult that earlier study. Here Vincent establishes William Raleigh's continuing contact with royal justices after his elevation to the episcopate, a contact which appears to have gone beyond the desire to cultivate men in useful places. Bishop Aymer de Lusignan of unhappy memory turns out to have shown greater care for the poor than other bishops did. Indeed, his almsgiving reveals the economic hardship that helped catalyze the troubles of 1258. National politics are also illuminated by Bishop Nicholas of Ely's security precautions: fear of civil disturbance still haunted the kingdom as late as 1272, an anxiety the chroniclers failed to register. Vincent's aim here is not to prove a thesis but to illustrate the value of the rolls, and so this piece is harder to summarize than the rest. Vincent also notes briefly how the rolls might illuminate onomastics, numismatics, law, and the cult of the saints.

These fine essays are generally well served by their publisher. Typographical errors are few: "one's" lacks an apostrophe on 83, and on 104 I cannot make sense of "231 of the 76 named players--again almost exactly half" without reading "476" for "76." Chapter 5's running head is a bit confusing, especially given the title of the previous essay. The table on 88 could use more careful presentation: is one to read "inter-vivos" for "intra-family"? Similarly, it is unclear, in the table on 90, why the percentages for family and non-family transfers for North Hampshire in the years 1360-1 have question marks, and why they total 66% rather than 99-100%.

In case there were doubts, these essays show the Winchester pipe rolls to be noble indeed.