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Mole removal and sliced whale meat: The accounts of a medieval noble

Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare

Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of ClareWhat did medieval nobility spend their money on? A new book takes a look at the surviving accounting records of a 14th century noble – Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare.

Elizabeth was born in 1295, the youngest of three daughters to Gilbert de Clare, the Earl of Hertford, and Joan of Acre, the daughter of King Edward I. Elizabeth was married three times, played a role in the tumultuous politics of England during the reign of Edward II, and when her brother died at the Battle of Bannockburn she and her sisters inherited the family fortune. When her last husband died in 1322, Elizabeth took a vow of chastity and for the next 38 years she was able to run her large estate, centred around Clare Castle in Suffolk.


In Elizabeth de Burgh Lady of Clare (1295-1360): Household and Other Records, Jennifer Ward has edited and translated the surviving administrative accounts of this lady during her widowhood. They reveal much about the daily life of Elizabeth and the dozens of staff she employed, as well as how her vast estate was managed.

Upkeep at Clare Castle

Some of the records deal with the maintenance and upkeep of the Lady of Clare’s properties, including Clare Castle. They not how various workmen are coming into the castle to carry out various tasks. For example, in the year 1324-5 this was just one expense recorded:

For 1 man’s pay making the gutter between the Hall and the Lady’s Great Chamber and repairing other gutters, for himself and his boy, 4s. 10d. Henry Golde’s pay carrying sand for the said man and helping the said plumber for 6 days, 1s. 3d. 1 tiler’s pay tiling between the Hall and the Lady’s Great Chamber and repairing the porch at the door of the Lady’s Great Chamber and fitting the ridge-pieces of the cloister between the Hall and the Chapel for 31 days, 12s. 11d., taking 5d. a day for himself and his helper. 1 groom’s pay carrying sand for the said tiler for making mortar for 3 days, 6d. For 6,000 tiles purchased, 17s., at 2s. 10d. per 1,000. For 200 tiles purchased for the ridge-pieces, 5s. 8d., at 2s. 10d. per 100.


An account from 1343 details some new work done on Clare Castle:

For pay and wages of divers carpenters, sawyers, masons, plasterers and divers other workmen working on Clare castle for the time of this account, making a new building between the hall and kitchen, with solar and divers chambers in the same for the Scullery, Saucery, Larder, Oven-house and other buildings for offices, and also divers new pentices under the walls of the castle between the chamber called Colingham’s chamber and the gate of the castle. With the making of divers fireplaces in the same making another new building in the outer bailey of the castle for the Lady’s huntsmen and dogs, and repairing divers other in the castle, with tiles, lime, straw, lead, timber, iron nails and divers other items purchased the aforesaid in the particulars sown to this roll and examined, £34  2s. 1½d.

We even get to see the household had minor nuisances to deal with:

Item paid to Thomas Molecatcher taking moles in the garden and the outer bailey of the castle at the term of All Saints [1 November], 2s. For his wages taking moles in the manor this summer, 3s.

Provisioning the estate

Other accounts detail the many different items that were being purchased for the household. Men were sent to London and other parts of England to arrange orders and bring back supplies, and that there were several merchants who they would prefer to deal with. For example, Bartholomew Thomasin, an Italian grocer living in London, was used on several occasions during the years 1339-1340. He sold the Clare estate many things, and often there were also repeat orders. Here is a list of some of the goods they bought from the grocer, along with price paid for them:


15 sugar-loaves weighing 100 lbs, at 1s d. a lb. £5 8s. 4d.
1 piece of Polish wax weighing 1½ cwt 18 lbs., at £2 15s. per cwt, plus in total 4d., £4 11s d.
5 gallons 1 quart of olive oil with 1 barrel, 7s 8d.
1 quire of paper 4d.
12 lb. of pine-seed, 6s.
6 lbs of plums, 3s.
6 lbs of almonds, 1s. 3d.
6 lbs of currants, 6s.
2 lbs of cloves, 11s.
3 lbs of sandalwood, 16s 6d.
12 lbs of pepper, 14s.
20 lbs of cumin, 5s.
1 box of pistachio nut confections containing 3¾lb., 6s. 4d.
1 box of royal pastries containing 4 lb., 4s.
2 lbs of violet sugar in gobbets, 3s.
1 peck of figs from Malaga, 18s.

Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare (1295-1360)The food supply

Having a household of dozens of men and women (and horses) meant that a lot of food was needed. The managers also kept careful records of how much food was available. Here is the list of available supplies for one week in the year 1340:

Expenses of the household from 17 December to 23rd of the same month, both days counted: Pantry: 10 qr 4b. of wheat baked which rendered 2,032 loaves and 3b. 1 peck of flour. And 2,234 loaves used from the stock. Buttery: 30 sesters, 2 pitchers of wine from stock. And 880 gallons of ale from stock. Kitchen 5½ carcasses of beef, 7½ bacons, 11½ carcasses of sheep, 1 pig and 1 deer from stock. Item 1,820 herring, 41 stockfish, 8 ling, 21 cod, 3¼ salmon, 230 eels from stock. Poultry: 4 pheasants, 6 rabbits, 3 partridges and 18 mallards from stock. Marshalsea: 32qr 3½b. of oats of which 4qr 6½b. 3 pecks from increment. Item 3qr 1 peck of bran, 68 loaves. And 47 horseshoes from stock.


While these food supplies were usually bread, ale, wine, meats and fish, the records also reveal that sometimes the household had access to some more unusual meals:

Apples, ½d
360 eggs, 2s ½d.
3 swans
1¼ gallons of honey, 1s. 9d.
3 pieces of sturgeon and 2 pieces of dolphin
500 oysters, 1s. 3d.
3 slices of whale-meat
8 crabs and crayfish, 1s 4d.

Jennifer Wards’ book Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady of Clare (1295-1360): Household and Other Records is published by Boydell Press. Please visit their website for more details.


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