15.05.32, Ward, ed. and trans., Elizabeth de Burgh

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Valerie Schutte

The Medieval Review 15.05.32

Ward, Jennifer, ed. and trans. Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare (1295-1360): Household and Other Records. Suffolk Records Society, 57. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2014. pp. xxx, 186. ISBN: 9781843838913 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Valerie Schutte
Independent Scholar

Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare, is well-known for her contribution to and founding of Clare Hall, Cambridge. In this fifty-seventh volume of the Suffolk Records Society, Jennifer Ward presents primary documents, mainly household accounts, to offer a different perspective of Elizabeth, that of a wealthy landlord. Elizabeth de Burgh was the niece of Edward II and cousin to Edward III. She was widowed for the third time at the age of twenty-seven, in 1322. She chose to remain a widow for the remainder of her lifetime. Upon receiving one-third of her brother's estate at his death in 1314, Elizabeth became owner of lands in eastern England, including the honor of Clare, and lands in Dorset, Wales, and Ireland, in addition to her dower lands. As a widow, she ran her household and lands and lived a noble lifestyle.

Approximately one hundred of Elizabeth de Burgh's household accounts are extant and are currently located in the National Archives, London; Ward kindly provides a table of these as an appendix. In fact, Elizabeth's records represent nearly one-fifth of all extant household records in England for this time period, notwithstanding royal accounts. Ward has selected several excerpts from these accounts and translated them into English (only providing the original Latin for a select couple of accounts) to show how Elizabeth's house functioned and how she lived as a wealthy noble woman. Elizabeth actively acted as lord over her lands, held judicial courts, and patronized laymen and religious alike, with her longest-lasting patronage being that to Cambridge. Only her wardrobe and household account of 1339-40 are reprinted in full in this collection, while the rest of the accounts are just given in small sections, divided thematically into chapters related to Clare Castle, food and hospitality, lordship, patronage, and Elizabeth's will of 1355. The only drawback to these accounts is that they are all dated during her widowhood and not before.

Ward's selection of Elizabeth's accounts cover a variety of interesting topics. These accounts reveal mundane incomes and expenditures, from provisions of grains to food expenditures for Clare Castle. They also cover how much Clare's properties were worth based on rents, farms, and the value of livestock. For example, the manor of Walsingham was worth £55 13s in 1338-9, mostly based on profits from livestock, grain, and rents. These accounts even illuminate examples of court records and types of crimes committed, while showing Elizabeth taking an active role in dispensing justice. Other interesting records include expenses related to Elizabeth's coach, such as the cost of all of the pieces, and one can get a vivid picture not only of the expense of a coach but also how it was constructed. It is not until Ward's sixth section, where she offers sources related to patronage and influence, that Elizabeth as a person is truly illuminated, except for Elizabeth's having pastimes that included falconry and her desire to wear nice fur. However, the patronage and influence section gives a much better glimpse into the life and character of Elizabeth, from her foundation of Clare Hall, Cambridge to licenses for rents granted to Elizabeth by King Edward III. Elizabeth's will of 1355, the final document offered by Ward, is surely the most important, for it offers details of Elizabeth's vast ownership of property and material goods, as well as the people and institutions whom she supported.

Even though the back matter of this book admits that this study is geared towards amateur historians of Suffolk, it is worth reading by those who are not especially interested in the history of Suffolk. This collection of records is an important piece of scholarship for offering its readers the opportunity to see the primary documents related to Elizabeth de Burgh, although it does leave one wanting to know what information is located in the accounts that Ward did not select to produce here, instead of only those that Ward found interesting regarding Clare Castle, daily life, lordship, religious practices, and patronage.

This book will be of value to medieval historians, as it offers a glimpse into numerous aspects of Elizabeth's life as a lady running her own household, acting as both lady and lord, as she had the unique ability to do as a widow. This collection of accounts will also be useful to women's historians and historians of Edward II and Edward III as an example of the difficulties of inheritance, how nobles were tied to the crown, and as a case study of an important noble woman during their reigns. However, this text is best suited for student use as an introduction to many types of medieval sources, their language, and their purview and for its affordable price point for a collection of primary sources. Ward's translations make these sources accessible for students, instead of just a reproduction of texts that would be aimed at specialists.

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