Resources, Roles, and Conflict: Active Resource Management in the Anglo-Norman Kingdom
By Dolores M. Wilson,
M.A. Thesis, University of Houston (2003)
Abstract: Contrary to the view that the Middle Ages was simply a time of rapid environmental exploitation and degradation, legal documents of the Anglo-Norman kings who reigned England and Normandy 1066-1135 reveal that medieval landholders practiced conscious management of their resources. These resources centered on woodland and fisheries, both daily necessities. Because of the value of woodland products, foresters employed by the king, lay nobility, and ecclesiastics actively managed trees and vegetation. The understanding of ecosystem damage is evident in controls on fisheries, specifically restrictions on blocking the passage of fish in waterways. These conservation efforts were not aimed at environmental preservation because of altruistic motivations, but rather to preserve needed resources for economic and political ends. Because of the value of the environmental riches at their disposal, conflict was inevitable and could escalate to violence. These incidents reinforce the conclusion that the Anglo-Normans practiced a defacto active resource management.
Modern perception of human interaction with the environment is heavily rooted in our post-industrial setting. The environment comes to the forefront each year, especially for school children, via Earth Day celebrations. The first Earth Day in 1970 was organized as a ‘teach-in’ with both an educational and protest flavor. In tone, it was negative: a forum to express the American concerns about degradation of the land, rivers, lakes, and air. In this Earth Day setting, humans are viewed as the destroyer, the polluter of the environment. This has serious impacts on the perception of human historical interaction with the environment: If people have done such a bad job of keeping our environment healthy in spite of all of our modern scientific knowledge, how much more damage must they have done in the past in their ignorance? This thesis will counter this modern perception. Through an examination of the legal documents of the first three Anglo-Norman kings (William I, William II, and Henry I) who reigned from 1066 to 1135, we will investigate the level of awareness and control exercised by the medieval Anglo-Normans over their environmental resources. What were the resources they attempted to manage? How did they exercise control? What types of conflicts developed over these coveted resources? Were the management practices truly active and deliberate?