The Macclesfield Cattle Enterprise of Edward the Black Prince, and why it failed, 1354 to 1376
By Paul Booth
Accounts of the Manor and Hundred of Macclesfield, Cheshire, Michaelmas 1361 to Michaelmas 1362, Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. 138 (2003)
Introduction: The establishment of a cattle-rearing business on the prince’s demesnes in Macclesfield manor in the mid-1350s is very well documented, both through the accounts and the acta of the Black Prince’s Register. Although Volume Three of the Register provides more information about the governance of Cheshire in the 1350s than at any other period of the county’s medieval history, we have to be aware of its silences as well as of its riches. It contains over 2,000 letters and related documents generated by the prince’s central government, at London and Westminster, between 1351 and 1365, most of which are concentrated in the first ten years, and sent to the officials of the earldom based in Chester castle.
We know in very great detail, therefore, about what has been decided and, because of the notes of warrant attached to most of the letters, who authorised the decisions. The role of Sir John Wingfield as the prince’s business manager in devising and executing the details of policy would not be known to us had not volumes II to IV of the Register survived.
On the other hand, we know next to nothing about the actual formulation of policy, as there are no extant minutes of the prince’s council, or communications between the prince and his central officials. Consequently, we know how and when the Macclesfield herd was set up, how much money was allocated for its development, and what the problems were of managing such an enterprise. What is lacking is any information about why Wingfield and the council decided to establish and invest in the herd in the first place, why Macclesfield was chosen, and what the cattle were to be used for.
Top Image: 14th century manuscript image showing cattle –
BNF Nouvelle acquisition française 5243 Guiron le Courtois Fol. 10v