Medieval Property Investors, ca. 1300–1500
By Adrian R. Bell, Chris Brooks, and Helen Killick
Enterprise & Society, Vol.20:3 (2019)
Abstract: This paper uses a data set of freehold land and property transactions from medieval England to highlight the growing commercialization of the economy during that time. By drawing on the legal records, we are able to demonstrate that the medieval real estate market provided the opportunity for investors to profit. Careful analysis of the data provides evidence of group purchases, multiple transactions, and investors buying outside their own localities. The identification of these “investors” and their buying behaviors, set within the context of the English medieval economy, contributes to the early commercialization debate.
Introduction: The subject of this article is the role of freehold land and property in the developing commercial economy of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As we will detail, in many circumstances, property in medieval England could be bought and sold as a means of accruing profit. During our research we have created the largest data set of English property buyers and sellers to date, detailing close to 100,000 records.
By analyzing the data and identifying trends, we will argue that this type of commercial activity signals the beginning of the development of property as an asset class. Speculation enabled “medieval investors” the ability to “profit” both in terms of the social advancement that landownership bestowed and from the economic value of the real estate equity and rental incomes. We further highlight this dynamic through a number of case studies of some prominent investors identified from the data set. These investors made group purchases, were involved in multiple transactions, and bought land in areas outside their own local influence.
Top Image: Drawing of a house – British Library MS Royal 14 C VII f. 121