A Comparison of Agricultural Production on the Estates of King, Church and Laity in 1086

A Comparison of Agricultural Production on the Estates of King, Church and Laity in 1086

By John McDonald

Flinders Business School Research Paper Series (2007-8)

Introduction: In the late eleventh century, the principal economic activity was agricultural production on the estate or manor. The lord of the estate, through his manager or bailiff, employed the residential labour force and resources available on the estate to produce arable and livestock produce. The institutions of feudalism and manorialism discouraged trading in land and labour inputs, but there were flourishing local, regional and international markets in outputs. Given these institutions and the infrastructure, one might expect lords to have used the available estate resources to maximise the value of net estate output and then trade to a consumption optimum.

There were three kinds or classes of estate, king’s, ecclesiastical and lay. Lay lords derived most of their income from their estates. With this income they fed and housed family members, financed their feudal obligations, purchasing military hardware, chain-mail armour, weapons and stallions for battle, paid the geld and other taxes and engaged in competition with peers in ambitious building programs. One can imagine there was never enough money to go round! Lay lords had strong incentives to run their estates efficiently and maximise estate net income.

Many ecclesiastical lords were no less worldly. Some were major magnates such as bishops. Others, such as priests, ran smallholdings. Although there were doubtless many examples of pious ecclesiastical lords, others behaved in a similar fashion to lay lords, feasting, fighting in battle and indulging self-interest. Some estates were attached to and financed cathedrals and churches monasteries and nunneries. Campbell argues that, with the advantage of a knowledge base, some ecclesiastical estates were leaders in technological and commercialisation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Were ecclesiastical estates also leaders in agricultural practice and efficiency in the late eleventh century?

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