|COMMERCE AND ITS REGULATION|
|Subject:||Vendors, lenders, sales, and purchases|
|Original source:||1. Public Record Office, King's Remembrancer, E101/509/19; 2. Public Record Office, Exchequer of Receipt, E403/439, 440; 3. Durham University Library Special Collections, Durham Cathedral Muniments GB-0033-DCD.|
|Transcription in:||Edith Rickert, "Extracts from a Fourteenth-Century Account Book," Modern Philology, vol.24, (1926), 115-19, 249, 253; 2. Frederick Devon, Issue Roll of Thomas de Brantingham, Lord High Treasurer, 44 Edward III. London: Record Commission, 1835, passim; 3. Joseph Thomas Fowler, ed. Extracts from the Account Rolls of the Abbey of Durham, Selden Society, vols.99-100 (1898), 69-72, 494-96, 503-504.|
|Original language:||1. French; 2-3. Latin (2 translated by Devon)|
|Date:||14th and 15th centuries|
[1. Extracts from the business ledger of merchant Gilbert Maghfeld, 1390s]
[2. Select entries, pertaining to towns or townspeople, from an account of royal expenses, 1370]
[3. Purchases by a monastic house]
[Bursar's account, ca. 1299]
Purchases made in Durham and Darlington
For 102 lb. of wax bought at various times in Durham, £4 3s.6d.
Purchases made at the Boston fair in the year 99
For 20 ells of burnet bought for the Prior and
his colleagues, £4 8s.½d.
Expenses of William and John regarding wool
For the cost of carts and horses carrying wool from Bewley
to York, 14s.4d.
Expenses of the bursar and William
For transportation and porterage of wool from Boston to Lincoln, including storage
and tronage, 17s.10½d.
Herring and dogdraves
[Bursar's account 1302-03]
Expenditures made at the Boston fair etc. 1303.
[A section, omitted by Fowler, concerning purchases of
burnet, russet, paupers' cloth, canvas, sheep-fells, budge, strendling, squirrel fur,
miniver, linen cloth, baskets.]
[Cellarer's account, 1438/39]
Purchases of oil, honey, butter, and lard.
First, for 6½ gallons of honey bought from Robert Hull of Lanchester, 6s.6d.
Purchases of fish
First, for 5,000 red herring bought from William Bromptoft
of Hartlepool, at 8s. [the thousand], 40s.
Purchases of spices
First, for 1 dozen of pepper bought from John Grosier of London, at 16d. per lb., 16s.
First, for 40 stone of Spanish iron bought
from John Anbell, at 6d. [per stone], 20s.
For cutting, gathering, and getting in the hay in various locations, together with
carriage of 120 cartloads of that hay to Durham, Relly, and Aldin Grange, 59s.7d.
A medieval merchant
Gilbert Maghfeld (or Maunfeld as often spelled) was primarily, and officially, an ironmonger, although like many merchants he was neither in such a dominating position in his trade nor so blinkered as to restrict his business activities to goods of one particular type. The successful merchant was the one who could judge his opportunities well, and Gilbert exemplifies the kind of merchant who helped make London the economic capital of England, as well as the kind vulnerable to the risks of a mercantile system reliant on credit transactions.
If we assume that Maghfeld's name derives from the East Sussex village of Mayfield, situated near the River Rother, and take note of his known connections with Tonbridge, a Kentish centre of iron-working in the fourteenth century, then it can be speculated that Gilbert's early career may have benefited from the needs of the ship-building industry at Small Hythe (southern Kent) and along the Thames. He probably acquired some of his iron from the Kentish Weald, although is also seen importing from Bayonne and from Spain; in the last years of his career he shows no sign of having dealt in iron sourced from northern Europe, although one of his cellars was known as the 'osmundhous', referring to the type of iron produced in Sweden. Mayfield was, in the first half of the fourteenth century, making the transition from a village to a small market town serving the Wealden; a rental of ca. 1285 makes no mention of market stalls and the 1296 subsidy listed only 27 households, yet a fire in 1388/89 damaged 85 shops, which probably represent the expansion and development of stalls. In the context of this commercial growth, traders who prospered were naturally drawn towards the greener pastures of London.
Alongside the iron predominant in his cargoes, Gilbert also imported whatever potentially profitable goods were available in the foreign markets: wine, furs, and spices, and on occasion wax, copper, millstones, Lombardy woad, and Swedish herring, while his own business records show lead, lumber, coal, and a wide range of other commodities passing through his hands, perhaps as middleman rather than importer. His documented exports were grain and cloth. He also bought stockfish imported via Boston, and shipped it down to London, selling it, along with the herring, both to city fishmongers and direct to consumers. Wine was even safer as an investment for most any London merchant, due to the high demand for it in the capital, and Gilbert's customers included a number of religious houses within and close by the city, a couple of bishops who had cause to maintain city residences, and sheriffs of some of the home counties; such customers tended to buy large quantities. In fact, so heavily was Maghfeld involved in the wine trade that in November 1379 he was associated with a group of vintners and others in a commission carry out a search of wine cellars and wine shops in the city, as well as chandlers' shops, to root out and dispose of wine, vinegar, or sauces based on those liquids, found to be of substandard quality. Gilbert's overseas ventures were often undertaken with partners, a common approach to spreading costs, labour, and risks, and those with whom he did business doubtless included the wine merchants from La Rochelle to whom he acted as host each year.
Maghfeld catered to a wide range of customers for his merchandize and clients for his money-lending. Rickert [p.115] summarizes them as including:
"scores of merchants of London and other English towns, representing more than thirty guilds, besides merchants of Prussia ... of La Rochelle, of Bayonne and Bordeaux, of Italy and Spain.... a score or so of knights and squires in royal households, sergeants-of-arms, clerks in the Exchequer and Chancery, several controllers in the Custom House ..., two "men of law," many chaplains and parsons, including nearly a dozen great ecclesiastics.... he dealt also with the Earl of Derby, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester, and, possibly once, even the King himself."
In 1390 the goods he handled were worth £1,150 (though this is unlikely to represent cash-in-hand), suggesting he would have stood out among the ironmongers, although he himself barely merited that descriptor any longer; already, in 1376, he had been one of three ironmongers chosen by his fellows to serve on a Common Council drawn from the crafts.
The chosen trade affiliation of Gilbert, or Gybon as he referred to himself (and was once referred to in the city Letter-Books), did not place him in the very top ranks of London society, for the ironmongers were not among the mercantile elite, and only a handful of them attained aldermannic status in the Middle Ages. Indeed, Maghfeld was the first ironmonger to do so, when he became (during a period when annual election was the norm and more than just a formality) alderman in 1382 for Billingsgate ward, where he and his wife Margery had been living for years, having in 1372 taken out a long lease on a property in St. Botolph's parish between Thames Street and the river; the property included a wharf. Even so Gilbert was not the electors' original choice, for Nicholas Exton had been chosen at the March election, but he was removed from office in August as part of mayor John de Northampton's efforts to displace rivals from positions of power, the removal of Philpot following later in the year. If, however, the elevation of Maghfeld in place of Exton was part of Northampton's machinations, it does not seem that Maghfeld was a particularly active supporter of the Northampton faction, for he was not later embroiled in the legal prosecutions once Brembre's party regained power; yet Maghfeld was replaced as alderman, in March 1383, by a Brembre supporter, and the Letter-Book entry relating to Maghfeld's election was struck out.
This reversal does not seem to have adversely affected Maghfeld's business. In 1386 he was able to extend his Billingsgate property interests, at least temporarily, by joining with two other men in holding part of the Billingsgate quay further east, along with adjacent tenements, which included two shops in Bridge Street (with a reversion of a third) and a house in Pudding Lane with two cellars, to the north-west of where he lived. Some of the account items given above relate to work conducted by a plumber on his property: installation in his hall of a wash-stand with a drain to the exterior, and perhaps some work on his wharf; other items (not given above) show the preparation of timbers and the work of a carpenter and masons on building, or rebuilding, his wharf. He also held property and a quay at Woolwich, where he probably had a warehouse. Like many wealthy merchants he invested some of his profits in rural property, mainly in Kent, though also in other home counties, and his real estate interests in London were spread among several parishes. He may not have retained aldermannic status, but he was still considered a prominent citizen, sitting on the Common Council again in 1383-84 as a representative of Billingsgate, summoned to the Guildhall in July 1385, again as a representative of his ward, to discuss with mayor and aldermen measures for coastal defence, and in August 1388 as a representative of his craft, to consult with the same about matters to be addressed at the coming parliament.
A new political opportunity for Maghfeld arose a decade later, when in March 1392 he was once more elected alderman for Billingsgate ward; he would remain there to the beginning of 1397. However, at the time of his election the London authorities were in conflict with Richard II, partly over the king's demands for loans; after seizing the city liberties, Richard dismissed (and briefly imprisoned) the mayor and sheriffs, appointed Sir Edward Dalyngrigge as warden and instituted a judicial commission to investigate alleged civic misgovernment; Dalyngrigge may have done business with Maghfeld prior to this, and certainly during his brief tenure as warden he called on Maghfeld for several loans, totalling £24 13s.4d. Ironically, the restoration of aldermannic status initially exposed Gilbert to a huge fine imposed on the city authorities by the judicial commission; but the fine was pardoned a few months later, once Richard was satisfied he had sufficiently asserted his authority over the city elite. On the same day the warden was commissioned, in July 1392, king and council appointed Maghfeld as one of the replacement sheriffs, just a few months before the shrieval term was to end; Maghfeld was continued in that office said to be the choice of the warden (successor to Dalyngrigge), whereas Maghfeld's colleague was elected by the community for the next term lasting into 1393.
Richard's choice of Maghfeld owed something to the fact Gilbert had no long-standing association with the aldermannic elite with which the king found himself in an dversarial relationship; his colleague as sheriff was the similarly unaffiliated Thomas Newenton, a grocer who had never before served as alderman. Perhaps these men were expected to be more compliant with the judicial investigation. But it may also have owed something to the favourable attention Maghfeld had already acquired, as a supplier of goods and loans to members of the court, and of services done for the king since 1383: first and briefly as guardian of the seas along the south-east and eastern coastlines; on various royal commissions 1384-85; and thereafter (for most of the rest of his life) as a collector of the king's customs, first at Southampton, then Boston, and finally London. Gilbert was present in 1393 when he was succeeded as sheriff by mayoral-choice Richard Whittington, who was also in King Richard's favour.
Suggestive of service to his king at even earlier date is Gilbert's acquisition (1379) of guardianship of an underage heir to Kent estates. The profits from administering those estates he could temporarily apply to his own business, until he had to account for at least some of them when the heir came of age (1393); and Maghfeld's business ledger refers to items such as grain, livestock, hemp seed, and eggs sourced from those estates in 1392 for the use of his household. In the city he performed the same role from 1375 for the teenage son of John Pounfreyt, a fellow resident of his parish and probably a family friend since Gilbert also acted as the sole non-family executor of the will of Robert Pounfreyt; this guardianship gave him access to a £40 inheritance, until 1378, when the young man was of age to claim the money.
Maghfeld's significance to the historian is, however, far less his role in the political history of London than his contribution to documenting the city's economy and mercantile connections of the late fourteenth century. His business ledger covering the period July 1390 to June 1395, with less detailed entries continuing to 1397, represents a rare survival of a record of the transactions of an English merchant. England has no equivalent to Maghfeld's contemporary, Francesco di Marco Datini, a merchant of Prato and Florence whose multi-national family of companies generated documentation which has survived, almost by a fluke, in vast quantity, including a series of financial ledgers. And while the Cely letters throw light on mercantile activities of that English family, they are not systematic business records. It was the arrears Maghfeld owed from customs collection that helped bring about his ruin, while also resulting in the seizure of his possessions, including his ledger, and the fortuitous survival of the latter to our time. His earlier ledgers have not been discovered and probably have not survived.
Despite the value of this document to the history of commerce in the fourteenth century,
Maghfeld has mainly proven of interest to historians of medieval literature apart
from, notably, Margery James because he was
a contemporary and an acquaintance (at the least) of poets Chaucer and Gower,
and in his roles of merchant, money-lender, civic official, or customs collector,
also interconnected in some small way with lesser literary figures, such
It has in fact been much debated whether Chaucer may have had Maghfeld in mind as his model when he was shaping the satirical portrait of the merchant of Canterbury Tales. Chaucer declined to name his merchant, which itself has been used to argue that he was discretely avoiding offending a man from whom he might need a further loan in the future; his characterization of the merchant is considered unusually sympathetic, the merchant's main failing being that he is a bore, constantly speaking of his business successes. Maghfeld lived in the same part of the city as Chaucer and, besides their direct business together, the two men may well have had dealings in regard to the customs service, for Chaucer was a customs controller at London during the period when Maghfeld was farming tunnage and poundage; also, during part of Maghfeld's stint as collector, Chaucer was a clerk in the royal bureaucracy whose work had him interacting with customs officials. The two may well also have crossed paths occasionally in the city or at court. Be this as it may (and Chaucer's language can be used to support conflicting interpretations), in the fictional merchant Chaucer's readers would have recognized, if not Maghfeld himself, then a fairly typical London merchant/money-lender, who was prepared to stretch the boundaries of what was legal or moral to make a profit, but who tried himself to avoid becoming mired in debt.
A complete transcript of Maghfeld's account book has, regrettably, never been published. The above are just extracts selected by Rickert, partly on the basis of showing the high-ranking connections of Maghfeld, and partly for the Chaucerian associations they reveal; they cannot necessarily be considered a representative cross-section of Maghfeld's business dealings. They do not represent a continuous sequence of entries in the ledger nor are they placed in the order in which they appear therein. But they give some sense of the kind of business activities in which Maghfeld was involved. The ledger also provides a look at the household of a London merchant, evidencing not only his domestic staff (butler, male cook, and two maids), but also his business employees: a clerk and two or three 'valets' immediately on hand, the latter making most of the entries in the business ledger; bailiffs and others to look after his Woolwich and Kent properties; and mercantile agents who carried out his overseas transactions: one at Bayonne, one in Flanders, and a London citizen (Thomas Craft) who was perhaps his roaming agent and principal factor. The Bayonne agent had standing orders, and funds to back them up, to look out for good value wines of the region. These agents undoubtedly kept their own ledgers, for little of Maghfeld's foreign transactions are recorded in his own.
Despite the heterogeneity of his merchandize, the majority of his sales seem to have been iron and its products, even at the later end of his career. Analysis of these sales between 1390 and 1392 has shown that:
"Well over half his yearly stock was sold to other wholesalers of the great organized trades of London, while merchants and traders of the home counties and even further afield, in Suffolk and Hampshire, bought about one-third of his supplies, for iron was a commodity in such great demand that it was always worthwhile to buy it for re-sale. Maghfeld sold very little direct to the men engaged in the industrial work of the craft, and it was only one-sixth of his stock which remained for sale in small quantities to a few blacksmiths and to meet the modest household needs of a few consumers." [James, op.cit., p.367]
By contrast, his stock of woad and alum when he had some on-hand (his supplies fluctuating) was mostly sold to craftsmen involved in the cloth-making industry (dyers and drapers), and some to London grocers for re-sale. Transactions were not necessarily for cash. He obtained two pipes of wine from a linendraper in exchange for some linen, which the draper would export, and made similar exchanges of goods for goods when he knew he could find customers for what he was obtaining. Even more common were credit transactions; James op.cit., p. 369] determined that although the ledger entries made it look as though payment was deferred only for a few months, these terms were sometimes modified by written agreements, or Maghfeld had to live with late-paying customers; his ledger opens with a list of debts carried over from previous volume(s) of the series, some of them unpaid for many years; the challenge of recovering these, which would have entailed suing creditors or their pledges, or of negotiating indirect payment solutions, doubtless contributed to his financial problems as more and more of his capital became locked up in debts capital that he needed to pay for credit he had obtained on his own purchases. At his death he held obligations of debt amounting to well over £800; in actual fact, some of these had been paid, and cancelled in the ledger, but he had hung on to the obligations and failed to issue his customers with proofs of payment. This, together with the unprofessional look of the ledger, suggest he may have lacked some of the qualities of a good businessman, or perhaps just show him over-stretched and/or under stress in the latter part of his career.
Even though Maghfeld's ledger is far from a complete record of his business activities in that period, it is sufficient to suggest his trade was in an unsteady decline from 1392, most marked in, but not exclusive to, his core business of ironmongery. Merchants especially those active in international trading were accustomed to financial risks, and some of Maghfeld's are documented for the late 1370s and early 1380s, but he apparently recovered from those losses. James [pp.372-73] attributed his troubles of the '90s to the consequences of Richard II's quarrel with the Londoners: Maghfeld's acquisition of burdensome and time-consuming civic responsibilities; the demands on him for loans to his shrieval colleague and the royally-appointed warden, to the city Guildhall, and to the royal household, which diverted some of his mercantile capital; resentment within his customer base for his association with the unpopular Richard, affecting his credit standing; and, in 1394, the royal requirement for the leading citizens (of whom Maghfeld was now clearly one) to provide financial support for the king's Irish expedition, there being no evidence that Maghfeld's contribution was ever reimbursed. His finances had become over-reliant on the money-lending that must have recommended itself as the kind of business activity that would enable him to remain in the city after he had acquired official civic responsibilities there. In particular he had over-extended himself in loans to men in the entourage or service of the king men from whom repayment could be difficult to obtain; this, together with collapsing credit in London, would have reduced his resources to acquire goods abroad. It has also been noted that a shortage of coinage in England played a role in Maghfeld's problems too.
By mid-1395 his expenses were exceeding his receipts, and he was having difficulty covering the credit that others had extended to him. To compensate, he had probably been dipping into the cash received through his customs collection duties a temporary windfall similar to the inheritance of wards he had administered and his account of receipts from the 1395/96 fiscal year showed him owing arrears of some £496. Astonishingly, it was precisely at this time, in September 1395, that Maghfeld purchased a ship, the Ste. Mary's Knight from from a Lucca man (though a citizen of Venice); whether an attempt courageous, desperate, or foolhardy to revive his involvement in international commerce, or a plan to re-sell at a profit, we cannot know. The seller may have been a little nervous about the transaction, for he requested the sale agreement to be sealed with the mayor's seal, had it notarized by an imperial notary, and witnessed by merchants of Lucca, Venice, Florence and Genoa. Whatever Gilbert's intent, the acquisition of a ship did not reverse his declining fortunes. A reflection of that decline was that by February 1397 he had lost his aldermannic post. He died in May 1397, essentially a ruined man, even if that fact was not immediately apparent to others. It fell to the king's officials to try to recoup the missing customs revenue from Maghfeld's own debtors.
The king as customer
The second text presented above comprises, like the Maghfeld ledger entries, a set of selections, chosen according to a theme rather than any representativeness. These are extracted from the Treasurer's roll of expenditures in 1370, with a view to giving a rough, tip-of-the-iceberg idea of some of the kinds of goods and services the king and his officials sought and obtained from urban merchants, artisans, or communities. Under the Plantagenets, the main organs of national government (Parliament excepted) became almost permanently fixed in the London/Westminster nexus, and the focus of wholesale commerce shifted, for London merchants, away from the great fairs to their home-based ports, markets, and shops, so that the city acquired the attractive capacity of a fair, year-round or at least during that part of the year when marine conditions were not too hazardous for transport of cargoes by ship. London's own population, augmented by the visitors it drew from the provinces, created a consumer base large enough to support continuous commerce.
Through these trends the city took on more the character of a capital, administratively and economically, and Londoners were looked to more heavily, by the royal court and by the magnates who hovered around it, as sources of goods, services, and cash. Thus Londoners capitalized on, as well as contributed to, the decline of the fairs, preferring to buy and sell on home turf where they had, and fought to maintain, privileges advantageous to themselves; and indeed to force buyers to come to the city, as a number of London gilds tried to prevent their members from selling elsewhere. By the close of the thirteenth century, pretty well every luxury good imported into England was available in London, and a growing percentage of the purchases made for the king and members of his court took place in that city.
The examples obtained from the treasurer's roll are far from comprehensive, for what must have been many expenditures on household provisions, clothing, and furnishings, as well as entertainment, would have been covered by accounts of other officials notably the keepers of the Wardrobe, which serviced the royal court, the officers of the king's Household, and their subordinates. The king's treasurer and his chamberlains presided (usually by deputy) over the lower floor of the building housing the Exchequer, known as the Exchequer of Receipt (and colloquially as Hell) because its principal concern was receive the various revenues due the Crown and to pay out those funds, either by allocation of lump sums to other centres of expenditure, such as the Wardrobe, or by individual payments as recorded in the Treasurer's accounts. Those payments comprised, for the most part, wages, rewards, annuities, or pensions, to bureaucrats, revenue collectors, household servants, messengers, soldiers and sailors, and the like. In addition there are repayments of loans made to the king by towns, religious houses, private individuals, and other sources. The other largish category comprises costs related to special projects such as military operations (in the case of 1370, an offensive expedition sent to France) and the maintenance of garrisons and coastal defences.
Although much of the archives of the king's Household have been lost, the need for certain officials to account to the Exchequer brought Wardrobe and other documents into that archive; this surviving Exchequer documentation is quite extensive, which is part of the reason why, apart from the earlier Pipe Rolls, so little of it has been made more widely accessible through publication. The richness of this documentation in the thirteenth century, as opposed to the sparseness of other records (national or local), evidencing commercial transactions, is part of the reason why the Crown seems to be such an important customer and stimulus to the enrichment of at least some London merchants and craftsmen. The relationship between the king and the Londoners, although not infrequently antagonistic, was reciprocally beneficial, so that it could be said that "London, with its trade and wealth, was the backbone of the royal finances." [T.F. Tout. Chapters in the Administrative History of Medieval England: The Wardrobe, The Chambers and the Small Seals (1920–33), Manchester University Press, 1920, vol. 4, p.319]. Merchants were used to living with risk and, for the prospect of developing a good client relationship with the king, seem to have been able to tolerate the fact that kings were often dilatory or undependable debtors.
Edward III was a big spender on luxuries, even compared to previous monarchs. But the king was not the only rich and luxury-loving customer from whom London tradesmen could hope for patronage. The queen also had her own wardrobe, and sometimes the Prince of Wales or other princes. Other noble and ecclesiastical households must also have been lucrative clients. The greater magnates acquired townhouses in London and used them as wardrobes, or even rented additional buildings for that purpose. Londoners did not like it when wars drew the king into the field for sometimes extended periods, taking with him components of the Wardrobe and Household, or when parliaments large gatherings of wealthy consumers were summoned to other locations in England, for this drew trade away from London into the provinces.
But it was particularly to the patronage of the king, who purchased large quantities of victuals and the kinds of luxury goods that provided high profits, that a number of the leading Londoners economically and politically owed their prosperity, and to whom a few owed their ruin. The king did not exclusively patronize London businesses we see him buying from merchants of other English towns (such as herring from Yarmouth men) and from foreign merchants (notably wine and cloth); but the Londoners were more convenient, perhaps hungrier, and long-term business relationships could be established with them. Above all it is the vintners and other London merchants dealing in wine who appear most commonly in royal records of purchases, such as (to give just one example) John Crouche, who in 1399 sold 9 casks and 1 pipe of sweet Spanish wine, 2 butts of Rumney, and 1 butt of Malmsey to the king's household, for £94 10s.
Other than what would today be classed as 'office supplies', there are few commercial purchases in the pair of Issue Rolls covering Easter and Michaelmas terms, 1370, and none are for wine; those that are found therein are mostly incidental to larger initiatives. Nonetheless, we have some impression from these items how Londoners in particular benefited from proximity to the usual base of royal government, as middlemen and producers of a range of commodities and as service providers such as couriers, carriers, manufacturers, and money-lenders (when ready cash was needed in a time-frame not accommodated by the normal pace of inflowing revenues, as was too often the case). The character of the Issue Rolls evolved somewhat over time as administrative machinery elaborated, or attempts were made to improve efficiency or accountability. So commodities such as victuals and vestments were not always absent from the Issue Rolls. Richard Cassidy's use of the Liberate Roll for 1258/59 to help reconstruct a calendar of the damaged Issue Roll of Michaelmas term of that administrative year [http://cmjk.com/rolls/Calendar%20issues%20Mich%201258.pdf], shows, for instance, that on one occasion 40 marks was spent on 8 tuns of wine obtained from John de Gisors, and on another £22 10s. for 9 tuns of wine from Stephen de Chelmersford, while an even larger volume (25 tuns) was acquired from another Londoner, Philip le Taylur, for 100 marks. In December £210 were turned over to the Wardrobe to cover costs for clothing for the king, queen, and their children doubtless representing multiple expenditures at different times, which would have been itemized in Wardrobe accounts.
Certain tradesmen were being favoured with repeat custom, although not usually to the point of monopolies developing. But certain London businessmen known to have royalist sentiments were shown particular favour by Henry III and Prince Edward, in order to strengthen the monarchy's base of loyalist dependents within the city. One example is William de Gloucester, a London goldsmith who evidently was employed as the king's official goldsmith, and who also held office as master of the Exchange; others include John de Northampton, Philip le Taylur, and John de Gisors. Edward I showed greater inclination to put business the way of foreign merchants, it being his policy to encourage their involvement in England's commerce, particularly the Gascons, whom he favoured, and the Italians who provided banking services that made some of his military campaigns practicable.
Whether the business generated by the royal household spread much further afield is less clear. Certainly the king was sending buyers out to the great English fairs, when they were in their heyday and the cheapest places to purchase large quantities of a range of English and foreign goods such as wax, spices, and especially the high quality cloths produced in Flanders and luxury cloths imported from further afield, before middlemen got their hands on them, pushing prices up. Thus, for example, at the end of April and in early May of 1226 the Treasurer was ordered to allocate large sums of money to agents (who normally included the king's tailor) to take to the fair of St. Ives to buy cloth for the king and his brother. Local traders might also be commissioned to acquire goods for the king's use, and even sent far afield to do so. London merchant Adam Bury, for instance, was despatched to Paris for the Black Prince to seek out bargains in velvet and find cloths embroidered with swans or ladies' heads.
Sources of victuals may have been more diversified, but the examples of Wardrobe accounts so far published do not itemize purchases so as to identify their suppliers. Nor, when the coronation of Edward II was being organized, does it seem that the Wardrobe had a list of preferred tradesmen, for the mayor and sheriffs of London (whose citizens traditionally helped serve at the feast) were tasked with identifying suppliers for the food and drink to be consumed at the event, but paid for by the Crown. Not surprisingly nor unreasonably, they selected men known to them, on whom they could rely men of at least moderate consequence, and sometimes more, in their trades. The sheriffs mercer Nicholas Picot (alderman of Coleman Street ward from 1298 to his death in 1312, chamberlain 1300-04) and corder Nigel Drury (alderman of Billingsgate 1308-15) opted to put some of the business their own way and supply £40 worth of ale, while other business was given to follow members of the ruling class: Adam de Foleham to supply some of the fish (£100), and Thomas Brun the poultry (£200); Walter de Hakeney, was allocated £20 worth of large fish to provide. On the other hand, Henry de Redenhale, who was assigned the specialized task of supplying £20 worth of small pike and 10 marks worth of Gloucester lampreys, was not yet even a citizen. Of the five chandlers designated by the city authorities to supply £100 worth of grain: Roger le Palmer was on his way to becoming one of the leading cornmongers of the city; Adam Wade was a member of one of the more substantial families of the city and on the rise; Thomas de Wrotham, John le Huthereve, and John de Romeneye are relatively little documented but all seem to have been based close to Thameside docks. Of the two men chosen to provide meat for the feast, in the form of cattle and boars to the value of £100, one, Ralph Ratespray, was an established mercator animalium, while Nicholas Doreman was one of the more prominent butchers. The five men charged with providing wood and coal, value £50 John Fairhod, Thomas de Hales, Thomas Wastel, Roger le White, and John de Talworth were likewise established woodmongers, a trade that had existed for at least half a century. Its members seem to have favoured as an area of residence Castle Baynard ward (not one of the wealthier wards), where there was a public dock on the Thames bank by the Westwatergate, another further east known as Wood Wharf several woodmongers living close to the former dock as well as private wharfs, at least one of which is known to have been owned at this period by a woodmonger (buscarius, Baldewyn le Buscher. Finally, £20 was at the disposal of John le Discher and associates to provide plates, dishes, and salt-cellars.
For that coronation, cloth was provided by London draper Richard Poterel junior, who was paid £200 for it. The same event may perhaps also explain the purchase, from London mercer Peter de Sparham, of gold tassels, a gold chaplet with frontal, an alb decorated with pearls and silk, and other items of the same sort, which the king wished the Duchess of Cornwall and other ladies-in-waiting of the court to have.
Not only coronations, but also royal marriages, funerals, and other occasions for ceremonial displays of monarchic authority, dignity, social superiority, and beneficence might give rise to lavish royal expenditure that included patronage to London merchants and artisans particularly those who manufactured or supplied luxury goods.
Prominent among these were goldsmiths, as a few examples will illustrate. Roger Frowyk, who had been paid for repairs to a sceptre to ready it for Edward II's coronation, received an advance payment in November 1315 on the price for making a gold crown for the king. In 1242 Margaret, the widow of Adam de Shoreditch was paid £46 6s.11d. for a plain silver gilt cup, two gold clasps, and 126 rings that Adam had, before he died, supplied the keeper of the Wardrobe. In 1365 Thomas Hessey received a commission worth over £250 for a large number of cups and other silver gilt plate intended as gifts for important members of the entourage accompanying the Count of Flanders to England; these were not off-the-shelf items, but, perhaps specified in the terms of the contract, individually styled: one was shaped like a chalice and its top enamelled with a white eagle, another had an enamelled top decorated with rubies, one stood atop three lions, another three angels, and so on. In 1385 another goldsmith, John Bottesham, supplied Richard II with a woodsman's knife and a huntsman's horn decorated with gold and with green silk tassels, for £25 17s.4d. The Plantagenets all had a taste for beautiful and expensive things, and Richard perhaps more than any of them. He commissioned from London goldsmiths bejewelled collars for himself in 1393; and, in 1397 for his queen to give as Christmas gifts, a tablet set with sapphires and rubies for the Duke of Lancaster, and studs and rings with precious stones for other courtiers. His successor was not so different; in 1406 Christopher Tildesley was paid for having produced, doubtless at king's specifications, a collar of gold worked with the motto "soveignez" and the enamelled letters S and X, and hung with 10 amulets decorated with 9 large pearls, 12 large diamonds, 8 rubies, 8 sapphires, and with, dangling from it, a triangular clasp (brooch) with a great ruby set in it and decorated with 4 large pearls. When this was delivered to the king at Winchester and he learned what it cost he may have balked, for he needed to consult with men knowledgeable in such matters to be reassured that the price of £385 6s.8d. was reasonable. In 1415 Henry V owed the even more daunting sum of £976 0s.10½d. to William Randolf, for making him 12 gold dishes, 48 silver chargers, and 96 silver dishes, for his table; the same goldsmith received a commission worth £85 11s.4½d from Henry VI (1423) for a large silver spice plate with gilt cover, three salt-cellars and three candelabras all of silver gilt. Such commissions might not come to a goldsmith often, but when they did they put bread, and more, on table.
Plate and jewellery of precious metals, sometimes jewel-encrusted or enamelled, were not simply display objects for their owners; they were an investment in objects which, in times of need, could be melted down or turned over as pledges for loans of cash. In March 1408 Henry V recovered two gold flasks and an unspecified number of gold cloths upon repaying £565 10s. 7d. to John Hende, while in 1424 Henry V received back half a gold collar which he had surrendered as security for loans from Londoners Henry Barton (£1200), William Tristour (£1200), Thomas Chalton (£100), and Thomas Stanes (£81 6s.8d.), to help cover costs of his expedition to France. The legendary Richard Whittington, although it was with Richard II he had first found favour, through his services as financier, he also made loans to the Lancastrian regime; we hear for example in 1411 of a loan of 100 marks, in 1413 of one of £1000, and of one of 2000 marks in 1417 (of which an instalment of 500 was repaid over two years later. In addition there were sales of luxury goods, such as of pearls and cloth of gold (e.g. worth £215 13s.4d in 1403, £385 6s.8d in 1406). The Crown could rarely make its expenditures conform to its income and there was a constant reliance on short-term loans or provision of goods on credit, although repayment could sometimes take rather longer than agreed.
The goldsmiths were also called upon to make royal seals, a need that arose not infrequently; not only were new seals required when a king came to the throne, but also when he restyled his title, as for example when Edward III renounced his claim to be king of France in 1360, then resumed it in 1369. Each new queen needed her own great and privy seals too, and the Prince of Wales might have similar needs, along with the keeper of the realm when the king was abroad. Various local officials in royal service also had to be provided with seals. The Engraving of seal matrixes and casting of seals from them was often contracted out to London goldsmiths such as John de Chichester who, having already in 1360 been called on to supply jewellery on the occasion of the marriage of one of Edward III's sons, was commissioned in 1361 to make a pair of privy seals in silver, and in the following year was engaged to produce a silver chain for the privy seal. For Edward I's second queen William Kele had in 1299 made a great seal in silver and a privy seal in gold, and another privy seal for her in 1306, while Simon de Kele cast an unspecified seal for Edward II in the opening months of his reign. In 1377 Nicholas de Twyford was the goldsmith selected to engrave and cast a seal for use in regard to certain Welsh lordships which had temporarily come into the king's hand, and the following year he two drinking-cups and two ewers, silver gilt, for the king to give as a wedding present to one of his courtiers. In 1423 John Bernes was given a pound to cover his expenses in riding from London to Windsor castle to alter the engraving on the great seal and the privy signet, and to engrave a new inscription on the privy seal. In 1390, however, a brass seal (engraved by goldsmith Adam de Thorp) was considered adequate for the chancellor of the king's lordship of Pembroke, and in 1403 a lapidary was sufficient to make and engrave a base metal seal for a customs collector at Plymouth. None of these were especially high-paying jobs the amount of skilled labour being worth almost as much as the precious metals that were used but they show another dimension of the goldsmith's trade.
The royal taste for finery or possessions that showed off wealth and status was not limited to the products of goldsmiths. William Courtenay, a London embroiderer, was in July 1365 paid £250 of £350 due for what must have been a magnificent vest, perhaps intended by Edward III as a gift for the Count of Flanders, whom he hoped to entice into an alliance through a royal marriage, though in this he was disappointed. In 1367 Courtenay earned the more modest amount of £20 for orfrays and other decorative items to add to a velvet vest for the king, embroidered with pelicans, gold tabernacles, and other imagery, as well as for Courtenay's workmanship in repairs to the vest. By contrast a non-entity of a messenger had to make do with a gift of worsted, striped black and white, purchased from London merchant John Organ for £1 13s.4d. (1385), although an ambassador could expect at least the high-status scarlet cloth acquired from John Staunton in 1434 for £16.
Some of the finery was produced for the king to give as offerings when he attended religious services, or as gifts to churchmen. To highlight one supplier, Adam de Basinges was ordered paid a total of £43 19s.1d. for a number of such items around October 1240: six baudekins of gold and an embroidered chasuble to be offered at St. Paul's Cathedral, a chasuble of violet silk with a gold fringe to be offered at Westminster Abbey, a mitre as gift to the Archbishop of Armagh, and a plainer chasuble with vest for the Henry III's own chaplain at Kennington. The following January payment to him of amounts totalling £117 16s.8d. was ordered for a gold cope to be offered in the king's private chapel at Westminster at Christmas, for three chasubles of red silk, two diapered cloths and a cloth of gold to be made into a tunic and dalmatic, two embroidered copes, two embroidered chasubles, and an alb embroidered with a gold fringe, all for offerings in the same chapel at other times, as well as a cope of red silk as gift for the Bishop of Hereford. In 1317 100 marks was paid for what must have been a particularly fine embroidered cope, purchased from Rose de Bureford, and intended as a gift to be presented by the queen to the pope. A payment order of April 1242 (for amounts totalling £21 7s.7d) listed further items purchased from him for similar purposes: 3 yards of undressed cloth and 11 yards of white linen for an altar cloth, a silk cloth with fringe, orfrays for decorating a cope, two cloths of gold, a cushion of silk cloth, two silk cloths manufactured in Genoa and one in Milan, and three baudekins. Besides liturgical vestments, common oblations included frankincense and jewellery.
Such oblations reflect not only the conventional piety that kings either felt, or felt the need to display, but also concern for divine favour during life and the health of their souls after death. Another concern for health is seen in the expenditures, often through the king's physician, at the establishments of London apothecaries. One, John de Sellyng, was paid 20 marks in March 1308 for drugs he had supplied to Edward II when he was Prince of Wales. In 1357 John Adam was paid a rather small amount for spermaceti, white powder, madyan, caffetin sugar, and an electuary, all for the Scottish king David Bruce (then a prisoner in the Tower). John Salman and John Waddesworth were the apothecaries chosen in 1395 to supply various spices, electuaries and their containers (electrines), as well as other bottles and vials.
When a royal did finally succumb to health problems or age, however, it was London's chandlers who had an opportunity to win business. For the corpse to be transported to Canterbury Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, then lie in state during the funeral service and the vigil preceding it, as well as for similar commemorations (body absent) on the month's-mind anniversary of the death, a hearse had to be constructed: typically a wooden and/or metal framework with a coffin sometimes built in. Although this job might be given to carpenters and other workmen, as was the case with the hearse for Philippa of Hainault's funeral in January 1370, the work seems often to have been contracted out to chandlers, presumably because one function of the hearse was to hold multiple candles that were kept alight during ceremonies, and it was the wax-chandlers who supplied those lights, as well as those for placement throughout the church where the ceremonies took place. In 1394 13s.4d. was paid for the carriage of 1,500 lbs. of wax from Suffolk to London, to be delivered to Roger Chaundeler to make lights for the hearse of Anne of Bohemia; possibly the same man as the Roger Elys chandler who had provided four hearses for Anne's funeral and one-month and two-month memorials, but for whom full payment had to wait until after his own death, his executors receiving the outstanding balance in November 1397. Simon Prentot was the wax-chandler who supplied the hearse for the month's-mind of Henry IV, along with 120 candles for installation on the hearse and others for elsewhere in Canterbury Cathedral, for which he received £200 in two instalments. His services were required again in April 1421 at the death of Thomas, Duke of Clarence, the king's brother, although on a reduced scale, for his fee this time was £85. But when Henry V, shortly into his reign, had the remains of the murdered Richard II brought for reburial in Westminster Abbey, all that was spent was 163;4 for a London joiner, John Wyddemer, to go with his assistants to King's Langley friary to collect the remains, put together a bier and coffin, and have it drawn back to the abbey; and half of that was not paid until over a year after the job was completed. When the anniversary of the reburied Richard was celebrated, banners that had been made for Henry IV's anniversary were re-used.
For the production of decorative banners was another source of business associated with state funerals, as well as other occasions. For Henry IV's anniversary two London painters, Thomas Kent and Thomas Wryght were to receive £36 15s.4d. for providing the material for 90 banners and ornamenting them with the arms of all the kings of Christendom and other nobles of different kingdoms, 50 jettons (roundels) with arms, and valances similarly painted, to be placed around the hearse. Painters were one kind of artist occasionally employed by the Wardrobe, but mostly for emblazoning funerary or military banners, walls, or royal vehicles, with coats-of-arms or other heraldic devices. Thus in 1435 a London painter, Thomas Daunte, was paid for painting the Duke of Bedford's arms on 300 shields, at 8d. per shield, and six banners for the Duke's funeral.
Less frequently we find sculptors called on, as in 1376 when, as part of work still going on to create a tomb for the late queen Philippa, the London stonemason John Orchard was engaged first to carve three angels to decorate the tomb, and slightly later to produce from alabaster figures of an infant boy and girl, deceased children of the queen, for their own small tomb. Something even more out of the ordinary was the table Edward III was having made in London, in 1366, for transport to Windsor, to be placed in his chapel in the castle. This was probably in relation to his foundation in 1348 of the Order of the Garter and of a college of St. George at Windsor, attached to the king's chapel of St. Edward the Confessor (which was at that date rededicated to a number of saints, including St. George). The porch he added to the chapel in the 1350s became the focal point for the chivalrous order. The table was built, and a number of unspecified figures carved into it by William (or John) de Lyndeseye, wood-carver, of London; it was then painted by another artisan.
It is in decorating banners that we first encounter the London painter Gilbert Prince, commissioned in 1364 in connection with the funeral of the late Queen of Scotland; he was paid £24 for his work plus some unspecified items purchased from him. In 1377, with Edward III's executors trying to wrap up his finances, Gilbert received £44 payment of a debt for having painted the king's arms on four small banners for the minstrels' trumpets and for decorating a pair of curtains for the king's great bed. Richard II, a man of highly cultured tastes and in some regards a Renaissance prince in a state not yet ready for such a thing, was able to find in some of the London craftsmen (such as goldsmiths Nicholas Twyford and Drugo Barantyn) creative abilities that met his taste for high-quality work art impressive enough to show off his regal power. He took such a liking to Gilbert's work that he seems to have made him England's first official court painter. In 1383 he granted him exemption from jury duty and other civic service obligations, likely to ensure Gilbert was not distracted from his artistic endeavours. In 1392 he was paid the extraordinary sum of £650 13s. 7½d. for various works of art that had been created over an unspecified period of time for the king. His will of 1396 shows him fairly wealthy and employing a clerk, Thomas Litlyngton. When Richard II undertook an expedition to Ireland in 1399 among his entourage was his painter, one Thomas Litlyngton alias Thomas Prince; it seems not improbable that Thomas was not simply Gilbert's clerk but an apprentice who had obtained his London citizenship and adopted his master's surname, as if the medieval counterpart of a modern 'brand'. Richard II was the first monarch known to have had a portrait painted of himself from life, ca. 1394. This life-size panel painting still hangs in Westminster Abbey and may have been intended by Richard to accompany his tomb there. While the artist is unknown, it is generally suspected to have been the work of Gilbert Prince, despite the high quality of the work being atypical of most English artists of the period.
Richard had ambitious plans for a tomb monument for himself and his first wife, Anne. In 1395 he had engaged the highly reputed architect/sculptor, master stone-mason Henry Yevele, along with fellow London mason Stephen Lote, to create the marble tomb itself, for £200, of which instalments were paid in 1395, 1396, and 1399. The contract may have included carved moulds of the recumbent figures of Richard and Anne, holding hands, for Richard contracted with two coppersmiths to cast them in bronze from some unspecified 'pattern', but with the addition of decorations in the form of symbols representing the pair; his original intent was that the effigies be painted, although the treatment they finally received was gilding. This work of several London craftsmen still survives in fairly good condition in Westminster Abbey. A similar tomb effigy, of Henry V's mother, was created in 1413 by a different London coppersmith.
It is only very occasionally that we see a larger group of suppliers, further down the social scale, benefitinging directly and significantly from royal expenditure. In 1259, as part of Henry III's ongoing remodelling of his palace at Westminster and in response to damage from a fire that started in the kitchen, improvements were made to fire safety and to sanitation through the reconstruction of a chimney more solidly, adding a sewer from the kitchen, and rebuilding the laundry and a latrine near the Thameside wharf. Besides the numerous workmen, skilled and unskilled, who found employment, and the suppliers of stone (whose names, but not their places of origin, are given), many thousands of nails for wall pannelling, roof shingles, and other purposes, were purchased through one Henry of London Bridge, and larger amounts were spent on obtaining regular consignments of lime (for the masonry) from Londoners Agnes Calfonar and Richard Calfonar. Richard Box, member of an aldermannic family and agent for Henry Nasard, draper, a 'king's merchant' who did a lot of business with the Wardrobe, was despatched to Boston fair to acquire four cartloads of lead for repairs to gutters and roofing; and the widow of Richard of Eastcheap made a small amount from sale of hurdles and poles to construct scaffolding.
Although many of the goods and services purchased from Londoners were related to luxury items, there were more prosaic expenditures, such as: the roughly £11 11s. which in 1257 was ordered to be paid to Ralph le Spicer and his wife Amphelisa for supplying an evidently large quantity of ale, while in the following year Bartholomew le Spicer received £8 7s.7d. for nutmegs, figs, raisins, and cinnamon; the 3s.4d paid William the bookbinder, for rebinding the Little Domesday in 1320; 23d. to James Chaundeller of St. Mildred's parish for a chest to be used in the treasury (1364), and 13s. 4d to joiner John Wyddemer in 1415 for what was probably a larger chest to archive documents related to truces between the king of England and other rulers; 8 marks paid to William le Clerk in 1308 for nine brass pots for use by the scullions of the king's kitchen; and (1316) the 6s.8d reward for an unusually large sturgeon that fishmonger Simon de Miravelle's employees had caught in the Thames near Woolwich, and that he salted, put in a barrel, and took along to the king's kitchen, perhaps intending it as a gift that might lead to future custom.
Office supplies also fall into this category of necessaries, although it was not all in-stock materials, for some was custom-designed to facilitate bureaucratic procedure. Tout [op.cit., vol.1, p.47] relates that from about 1286 Wardrobe accounts submitted to the Exchequer were altered from the parchment rolls that typify medieval archives to bound books of parchment designed specifically for that purpose, with projecting slips of parchment attached to identify where each main section began. In 1312/13 William de Southflete, a Londoner stationer, made four such expense account books, at 2s.6d. each; two years earlier he had supplied a similar number, along with a quantity of loose parchment membranes. In 1428 the haberdasher, Walter Lucy, was the source of 12 parchment books intended for distribution to customs collectors in various ports, with the instruction that they should record imports and exports therein, and not in any other record, and should submit those books (and not any other document) when rendering account at the Exchequer.
Military needs were, unsurprisingly, a more regular item of outlay, and a few examples will show some of the range of expenditures and London suppliers. Draper Simon de Swanlond was in 1317 paid an installment of the 163;115 3s.4d. due him for cloth he supplied to make uniforms for the knights and valets accompanying Edward II to Scotland. In 1326 a more beleaguered Edward commissioned a city armourer, Nicholas le Clerk, to produce one hundred coats of mail, helmets with neck-guards, and pairs of gauntlets, so that the king could increase his garrison at the Tower. In 1378 John Lincoln was commissioned to supply the town and castle of Cherbourg with 300 qt. of wheat, 200 qt. of beans, 60 casks of wine, one cask of oil, 100 chaldron of sea coals, 10,000 lb. of iron, one barrel of brass, two horse-mills, 1,000 planks for wainscotting, 20,000 nails, 2 carts, 6 horses with harness, 2 pipes of powder, 40 war slings, 10,000 crossbow quarrels, 200 bows, 700 quivers of arrows, and 200 spears; the contract was worth 1,000 marks, although the amount had to be borrowed from leading aldermen William Walworth and John Philpot to pay Lincoln. With the military technology shifting, in 1400 four relatively obscure Londoners one a grocer, another an armourer, and a third described as a sergeant who lived near the city Guildhall supplied, in separate transactions, quarrel guns, saltpetre, sulphur, wadding, and emery.
Military materiel and provisions was an area in which merchants other than Londoners were more likely to obtain royal orders. In 1340, for instance, Robert Baious and other merchants of Barton-upon-Humber sold 674 quarters of wheat and malt and 309 quarters of peas to the keeper of Edinburgh and Sterling castles, then in English hands. And in 1404 Thomas Saundres and John Stevenes of Bristol sold 66 pipes of honey, 12 casks of wine, 4 casks of sour wine, 50 casks of wheat flour, 80 qt. of salt, for Prince Henry to victual Welsh castles.
The royal court's patronage of businesses close at hand in London was natural and still evident in later reigns. The Wardrobe account for 1480 shows among the Londoners who were beneficiaries of royal spending (most of them on repeat occasions): suppliers of cloth and haberdashery such as mercer and alderman Richard Rawson, mercer John Pykering, Alice Claver silkwoman, hosier Richard Andrewe; cordwainer Peter Herton who supplied shoes, slippers, pattens, and boots for the king himself and for servants of his household; Peter Draper, who despite his name was an ironmonger; and Piers Baudwyn stationer, who bound in cloth eleven books for the king's library, including copies of the Bible, the histories of Livy, Josephus and Froissart, and a work titled Le Gouvernement of Kinges and Princes, and who also gilded some old book clasps.
The Crown was only one though the most conspicuous of a number of high-ranking and high-spending customers whose custom most London businessmen would surely like to have cultivated, and which attracted ambitious and capable merchants to immigrate to London. True, only a small percentage of the city traders and craftsmen would make their fortunes primarily through doing business with the king or his officials, but more could include that among a cluster of prosperous clients, and could leverage royal patronage into business elsewhere, beginning with those nobles who liked to follow the king's suit. At least as important to the city's economy must have been the trickle-down effect of royal expenditure, as prospering city merchants attracted more business, expanded their activities and the employment of others, and spent some of their profits on the products of artisans or stock ofshopkeepers further down the socio-economic scale.
The religious house as consumer and producer
A religious community of secular canons was established at Durham in the late tenth century, in association with the foundation of a church as a new resting-place for the bones of St. Cuthbert. They were in 1083 replaced by Benedictine monks, and the land held by the church was divided between the monastery and the bishopric; in the two decades or so that followed the monastery grew and a cathedral was built in place of the original church. In the fifteenth century the number of monks fluctuated between about two dozen and four dozen, but there were also half a dozen novices, a few poor children and old women who were charity cases, and the numerous lay servants associated with the community.
It was strictly speaking a priory, in that a prior was the chief administrator, for the place of an abbot was held by the bishop, and he was the titular head of the monastery, as well as having palatine powers in the county. A bursar, whose title indicates that he held the purse-strings, is first heard of in 1293, although the earliest account roll to survive from the abbey (1278) looks much like a bursar's account; he was the principal financial official, to whom the others were accountable. As accounting became more decentralized, we hear of a cellarer, who provisioned the monastery with necessaries (but not luxuries) and a chamberlain in the first half of the fourteenth century. The cellarer had oversight of the food storage and production facilities mentioned above, as well as salt-house, paste-house, seething-house, apple-house, etc., and he employed women for water-carrying, as well as the occasional rat-catcher, mole-catcher, or ferreter. The chamberlain's principal duty was to provide for the bed-linen and clothing of the main community of monks and novices, as well as those of the latter who were proved bright enough to send to study at Oxford. The tailor worked under him, and he purchased from the cellarer the pick of the hides for making boots. Not surprisingly, the foul work of tanning seems to have been carried on outside the monastery.
Monastic houses were not as lavish in their expenditures as the Crown, for showy display was less part of their cultural imperative; yet they were far from ascetics and aspired to a comfortable standard of living, with expenditures on middling-grade cloth, on the relatively inexpensive fur of squirrels to line outerwear for warmth, on adequate furnishings to permit a civilized existence, and on ample victuals whose taste was improved with imported spices. The prior and his household, who had their own stock of supplies administered through the prior's wardrobe, would live a little more luxuriously, and the major officials of the monastic household would also receive clothing that was fur-lined. Such houses could be large-scale operations, requiring a wide range of expenditures, different accounting centres, and staff specializing in managing different resources and assets. Some of those resources were the result of a certain amount of self-sufficiency most of the grain and provender, for instance, came from tithes due the abbey from tenants of its widespread lands. And at least some of the community's needs for vegetables were met by gardens that were part of the abbey complex. The abbey's own servants included: a butcher, who looked after the slaughterhouse; a keeper of the meat larder, housing various knives for cutting carcasses into cookable portions, and equipment for roasting meat, which was another of the keeper's duties; a fishman, who looked after the fishhouse where fish was stored in bulk; a keeper of the fish-larder, where certain fish was stored (in barrels), and all fish was prepared for cooking. There were also workshops for candle-maker, tailor, plumber, and glazier, besides the more usual bakery and brewery.
The monks were not only consumers and purchasers of goods, but also producers and sellers. Durham's abbey had a stud farm, operated by the prior, where horses were bred and trained; those surplus to abbey needs were sold at fairs at Durham, Darlington, and Ripon. Wool produced from the abbey's flocks was likewise sold, through middlemen or at the Boston fair, as were other surplus raw products, such as tallow and hides from livestock slaughtered for food or dead of some sickness, and oak bark (used by tanners); for example, the chamberlain's account of 1450/51 records among its receipts 18s. from the sale of 15 hides to John Henrison, a barker. Furthermore, the abbey had on some of its lands coal-mines, whose operation, certainly in place by the latter half of the fourteenth century, generated revenues from coal sales (likely through Newcastle or its middlemen) roughly in the order of £20 to £50 a year, which were assigned to a dedicated financial officer, for expenditure mainly on the physical fabric of the monastery, but also on costs incurred in mine operation and in prospecting for new sources of coal investment which at times was not inconsiderable. There was a growing demand for coal, for both domestic and industrial uses. In addition, lead used by the plumber was sourced from abbey's own mine.
Although Hartlepool's harbour would be developed so that it could serve as the official port of the Palatine County of Durham, the monks of Durham were more inclined to import wine or other goods through the larger ports of Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Kingston-upon-Hull, which attracted more mercantile cargoes, or through fairs that at Boston being the closest major fair, while the lesser but closer fair at Darlington was regularly frequented. Thus, for example, in the bursar's account for 1278 we hear of 4 tuns of wine being purchased at Newcastle at Easter, 24 tuns later in the year, and payment for carting 17 tuns from Newcastle to Durham; usually the source of bulk purchases of wine is unspecified. Similarly, while some names such as that of Newcastle merchant Roger Thornton appear a number of times in the accounts, more often than not the names of individual sellers are absent, sometimes simply because not known, as in the case of "a certain woman of Newcastle" from whom fish were purchased in 1334; in 1330 we hear of business done with Thomas del Holme, identified as a merchant of Beverley, but this is because it is in the form of a substantial 'loan' of £174 10s. This might represent credit given on merchandize bought, or advance purchase of some of the abbey's wool clip later that year, or the next; for it was a common practice for religious houses to contract out to merchants or middlemen its sale of future wool clips, in order to obtain cash advances a practice which could get the houses into financial trouble down the road. For the abbey, like the king, did not always have cash on hand and so was no prompt in paying some its debts; the cellarer's account for 1438/39 identified Thomas Castell of Newcastle and Geoffrey Mawer, for example, among the suppliers to whom money was paid from debts of several of the previous accounting years.
Besides the outsider merchants encountered at fairs, coastal towns, or perhaps occasionally in Durham's own market, one has the impression that men such as fishmonger Geoffrey Mawer and grocer John Salton were local suppliers, or at least regular visitors to the Durham market, and even more confidence that Thomas Spycer of Elvet, who in an account of 1427-28 is said to have made up medicines on various occasions for the Prior's household, was probably an apothecary based at Durham. The overall purchasing strategy seems to have been to buy in bulk at places such as the Boston fair, or the port at Newcastle where there was greatest choice and where better prices could be obtained on large purchases from importers, and then to meet interim needs, or perhaps a desire for fresh rather than preserved fish, by smaller purchases from more local suppliers who did business most days of the week. This was only common sense. It can be seen most clearly in the abbey's acquisitions of spices, and related groceries, of which monasteries were major consumers. There was no obvious dependence on the businessmen of urban Durham, and, apart from its market, the town was perhaps more important as a source of skilled and unskilled labour than of commodities.
The above extracts from the Durham accounts illustrate the complicated journey necessary to get abbey wool to the Boston fair and purchases back again. The return journey described involved a first stage along the River Witham from Boston to Lincoln, followed by a stretch at road from there to Torksey (that stretch of the Witham apparently not being navigable for barges at this time). From Torksey the goods were put back on boat to use the Fossdyke canal, connecting to the River Trent then the Ouse to reach Aldwark. The last and longest stage of the journey was then overland to Durham and must have taken several days, requiring overnight accommodations. A more direct route would have been up the coast to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with a relatively short road trip from there; but this would also have been more risky and might have involved customs issues at Newcastle. Evidently the road system was not in so poor a condition as to encourage extra risk or expense. London was too far away for shopping trips a road journey there in June 1544, via Darlington, Northallerton, Doncaster, Stamford, Huntingdon, and Royston taking six days but its merchants brought goods up the coast to ports such as Newcastle, and a in 1336 a messenger bringing the prior a letter from an unnamed London merchant likely had something to do with an order for goods, past or present.
If London was too distant, and London merchants too infrequent visitors, to be a regular source of supplies, then the fairs of the region were also insufficient to meet the abbey's needs, especially for foodstuffs and spices. The monks evidently did some of their shopping locally, or at the markets and ports of towns of their own county or of Northumberland venturing southwards more rarely, and then to Hull or the Boston fair.
Much the same picture of monastic commerce can be painted of another northern institution, Selby Abbey, from surviving obedientiary accounts [G. Haslop, "A Selby Kitchener's Roll of the Early Fifteenth Century", Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 48 (1976), pp.119-33]. The abbey was founded about 1069/70 under sponsorship of King William I and his wife, in response, legend has it, to the request of a monk from Auxerre, who claimed to have been inspired by a vision to establish a Benedictine house in northern Yorkshire; the foundation may have coincided with the birth of the future Henry I there, during a visit of king and queen. The site assigned the abbey lay on one bank of the tidal river Ouse and on a major land route between the Midlands and northern England, not very far from developing market centres such as York, Pontefract, Howden, Leeds, Tadcaster, and Market Weighton; this was a promising location for tapping into long-distance commerce. It was adjacent to a settlement which had existed from at least Viking, and probably Roman, times; medieval Selby became a busy port within the West Riding, and its marketplace lay just outside the abbey gates : the Quo Warranto proceedings of 1293 show the abbey as the owner of Selby's market and fair. William Rufus gave the abbey to the Archbishop of York, and later the de Lacy family became principal patrons, paying for the rebuilding in stone of the original wooden monastery; the community comprised about two dozen monks, but also included a fluctuating number of artisans, lay servants, corrodians, and temporary guests, so that the total number of individuals to be fed, accommodated, and in some instances clothed, at any given time might well approach or exceed a hundred. Royal patronage attracted endowments of land and the abbey became one of Yorkshire's wealthiest, thanks too to its involvement in trading wool from its large flocks. Its presence must have done much to stimulate Selby's economy; the 1379 poll tax record shows residents included half a dozen merchants, a similar number of innkeepers, and artisans that suggest flourishing cloth, leather, and construction industries, the last also entailing some shipbuilding.
The kitchener's financial account for 1416/17shows that foodstuffs and other supplies obtained from abbey farms, warrens, orchards, and gardens, or from the abbey's cellars, were supplemented by rents in kind and through purchases.
Cattle, pigs and sheep were sourced from farms at locations within a few miles of Selby, though occasionally further afield, such as at Pontefract. Livestock surplus to abbey needs are recorded as sold to York butchers and others. Hides and pells of animals slaughtered for the abbey kitchen were sold to barkers or other tanners, while their fat, if not used for making candles for abbey use, might be sold to chandlers; even the intestines could find buyers in women who would cook up the offal into nutritious meals for the poor. Other foodstuffs surplus to abbey requirements may have been disposed of from Selby market stalls held by the abbey, though most of these stalls seem to have been rented out to locals.
Saltwater fish were bought in large quantities by abbey representatives sent to Scarborough (perhaps during its lengthy fair), Hull, and York, with purchases being shipped back along the Ouse, as well as from William Muston, a York resident who appears to have acted as a commercial agent for the abbey, not only by obtaining supplies in York markets, but perhaps by frequenting the herring fair at Yarmouth. Salmon or other freshwater fish, were available from abbey fisheries at Selby and at Crowle (on the Lincs./Yorks. border) as well as at locations further down the Ouse, such as Airmyn. William Pinne was another agent sent on abbey business, including for purchases, to locations such as York, Pontefract. and Howden
Food flavourings, such as spices, salt, almonds, honey, and figs might be obtained at York and, occasionally, as far away as London, though probably were mostly purchased from itinerant traders or the abbey's commercial agents, such as spicer Roger Selby of York.
Cloth, housewares, and hardware seem to have been bought from individuals, frequently named, perhaps local traders or regular visitors to Selby's market. The same is true also of building materials, although the abbey had a supplier of lime (for mortar) at Sherburn, whence it was sent by cart to Selby, building stone came from a quarry at Monk Fryston (six miles from Selby), whose name indicates it an abbey property, and some of the abbey's lumber came from trees on its estate, sawyers being hired to convert them into boards.
"Sir Thomas Percy"
"owes what he received"
"Bishop of Exeter"
"because in scavage"
"Roger de Kendale"
"Stephen Atte Merssh"
"Hawesia le Mattewife"
"which they lent"
"Simon de Morden"
"King of Navarre"
"cup silver gilt"
"knight of Germany"
"cups and vessels"
"John de Chalton"
"Robert de Wouborne"
"manor of Rutherhuyth"
"John de Ketelby"
"John de Balton"
"Thomas de Gloucester"
"John de Grafton"
"Guido de Rouclyf"
"red herring, white herring"
"guardian of the seas"
"assessed for historical credibility"
"the order in which they appear"
"entries in the business ledger"
"Ste. Mary's Knight"
"surviving Exchequer documentation"
"John de Gisors"
"Stephen de Chelmersford"
"Philip le Taylur"
"William de Gloucester"
"John de Northampton"
"fair of St. Ives"
"Adam de Foleham"
"Walter de Hakeney"
"Henry de Redenhale"
"Roger le Palmer"
"Thomas de Wrotham"
"John le Huthereve"
"John de Romeneye"
"Thomas de Hales"
"Roger le White"
"John de Talworth"
"John le Discher"
"Peter de Sparham"
"William Kele, Simon de Kele"
"Nicholas de Twyford"
"Adam de Thorp"
"Adam de Basinges"
"Rose de Bureford"
"John de Sellyng"
"artist is unknown"
"Bartholomew le Spicer"
"William le Clerk"
"William de Southflete"
"Simon de Swanlond"
"Nicholas le Clerk"
|Created: October 28, 2014. Last update: April 15, 2021||© Stephen Alsford, 2014-2021|