Accounting in an English medieval abbey
By George F. Malecek
The Accounting Historians Notebook, Vol.2:1 (1979)
Abstract: Let us consider the accounting problems for an abbey, a monastery, one of the prominent social institutions of the middle ages, a center for many activities: religious, social, cultural and economic. More specifically, let us center on the activities of a relatively large abbey near the coast of southern England, Beaulieu Abbey in the year 1269. The activities of this abbey would not seem strange to some of our modern rancher-oilman-financier entrepreneurs of South Texas. The modern rancher-farmer may have, in addition to his agricultural activities, some oil and/or gas interests, some financial interest in the local bank, etc. Most of these activities, and more were familiar to the monks governing a large medieval abbey.
Introduction: We often tend to think of ourselves as discoverers, as innovators, as inventors. Yet, occasionally, our admiration of our achievements is tempered, when we become aware of the truth, or at least, a partial truth, in the adage of the ancient sage that “There is nothing new under the sun.”
For example, we may admire our ability to develop an accounting system which will bring together a multiplicity of complex transactions and, our additional ability to reduce this complexity to a series of relatively simple financial reports. However, a study of accounting history reveals surprising sophistication in the methods of our forebears.
Top Image: A monk working – 19th century image by Louis-Henri de Rudder