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Early Prescriptive Texts on Estate Management and la moralisation de I’administration

The issue is where to go from there. It should be said immediately that the thirteenth century is not needed to initiate a tradition in England of reflective, practical, and—sometimes—moralistic thinking about estate management and the conduct and control of manorial officers. The so-called Institutes of Polity, a text composed from 1008 by Archbishop Wulfstan of York (d. 1023) comprises prescriptive reflections addressed to different social groups (ad status, as later medievalists would say) to offer a ‘programme for a Christian society’.[1] One group is reeves (gerefan).168 Initially considered along with earls (eorlum) Wulfstan asserts that all must ‘love what is right in front of God and the world and nowhere neglect their wisdom through injustice, either for gain or friendship’.169 The section on reeves themselves begins with the basic precept: ‘Right it is that reeves work vigorously and constantly profit their lords with right.’170 What this means in practice is not expanded—the remainder of the chapter is a lament that since Edgar’s death (975) reeves have been ‘robbers who should be herdsmen of Christian folk’.171 They have done worst who should know best, but, beyond the important recognition of reeves’ place within England’s political-eschatological future, there is nothing specific to reeves per se. Two pre-Conquest tracts are more specific on manorial duties: Rectitudines singularum personarum (‘Duties of individuals’, possibly mid-tenth century, connected possibly with Bath Abbey, possibly the crown), and Bege sceadwisan gerefan (‘On the canny reeve’) known as Gerefa and late tenth/ early eleventh century.172 What is most interesting about Rectitudines, the more functionally detailed treatise, is that it is in the ‘voice’ of an over-reeve (ealdorman), advising others about estate expectations and impositions.173 It seems quite distinct from Carolingian capitularies, ‘concerned with higher levels of oversight’.174 More striking still is the sensitivity these over-reeves are encouraged to display. Rectitudines runs through functional categories and establishes norms (‘the taxable swineherd ought to pay. . .’) while also stressing that these norms must flex with the estate’s customs:

All estate customs are not alike. On some estates a tenant must pay tax in honey, on

some tax in food, on some tax in ale. He who looks after the administration is to take deeply connected in such texts—see 333 for a comment on the ‘reluctance—or inability—to distinguish the status of law-code and homily’, apropos the running together in Corpus Christi Cambridge MS 201 of the law-code .^thelred ‘V’ and the Institutes of Polity.

  • 168 Die «Institutes of polity, civil and ecclesiastical»: ein Werk Erzbischof Wulfstans von York, ed. and trans. (into German) Karl Jost, Schweizer Anglistische Arbeiten 47 (Berne, 1959). An English trans. of the second version is in Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Michael Swanton, rev. edn. (London, 1993), 187—201. The versions have a complex manuscript history. In Jost’s edition ‘I. Polity’ refers to the earlier version; ‘II. Polity’ the later.
  • 169 «Institutes of polity», ed. Jost (II) cap. IX, §85 at 78.
  • 170 «Institutes of polity», ed. Jost (II) cap. X, §94 at 81.
  • 171 «Institutes of polity», ed. Jost (II) cap. X, §95 at 81.
  • 172 On dating and explication see P. D. A. Harvey, ‘ Singularum Personarum and

Gerefa, EHR 426 (1993), 1—22, and for dating 7, 11, 17—19; Wormald, Making of English Law, 232—3, 387—9; Charters of Bath and Wells, ed. S. E. Kelly, Anglo-Saxon Charters, 13 (Oxford, 2007), #24 (‘Sawyer’, §1555) at 150. Both treatises are translated as ‘two estate memoranda’ in Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Swanton, 26—33. Kelly argues that a royal official is as likely an author as a Bath reeve given the estate’s royal connections, but the references to royal obligations in the text imply to me that the king is a different person from the estate’s lord (Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Swanton, 26, 27).

  • 173 Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Swanton, 28, 29 (Rectitudines). Harvey argues this usage of ealdorman suggests an earlier dating given that it only occurs elsewhere in this context in Alfred’s translation of Bede, Harvey, Rectitudines Singularum Personarum and Gerefa 18—19. Harvey and others see the first person singular as the sign of a reviser, 17 n. 1).
  • 174 Harvey, ‘Rectitudines Singularum Personarum and Gerefa 20. Aside from capitularies, cf. Hincmar of Reims, De ordine palatii, ed. Thomas Gross and Rudolf Schieffer, MGH Leges, Fontes iuris germanici antiqui 3 (Hannover, 1980); Rosamund McKitterick, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, 2008), 142—8.

care that he always knows what is the ancient arrangement on the estate, and what the custom of the people.[2]

Having run through the different tasks/people, the text closes by reiterating this need for discrimination:

As I said before, estate laws are various. Nor do we apply these regulations, which we have previously spoken about, in all districts. But we tell what the custom is where it is known to us. If we learn better, we will readily delight in and maintain it, according to the custom of the people among whom we then live. Wherefore one must learn the laws in the district lovingly, if one does not wish to lose good opinion on the estate.[3]

A concern with one’s professional standing (‘profession’ seems justified); an awareness that simple autocracy is managerially inadequate; the need for local knowledge—such an approach is readily comprehensible, yet we may still be struck by the sophistication of management, instruction, and knowledge-sharing implied. The sophistication is comparable to that of Robert Grosseteste’s Rules, addressed to the landlady’s perspective, some 240—300 years later:

When your bailiffs and the servants of your lands and manors come before you address them well and speak pleasantly to them, ask them discreetly and gently how your men are doing, how the corn stands, about the progress of your ploughs and your stock. Make these enquiries openly and your knowledge shall be much respected.[4]

The tone may be more courteous, but a comparable balance between rigour and responsiveness is sought.

Gerefa by contrast (perhaps written by a colleague of Wulfstan’s) has generally been seen as less ‘practical’ because more ‘literary’.[5] It is true that beyond its itemized shopping list of desirable tools and equipment it sticks to general principles of managing people. But what it says on this count seems no less practical than what the Rules or Walter of Henley or Rectitudines have to offer. If Gerefa is influenced by a reading of Cato or Columella, as Harvey has argued, that seems in itself no reason to discount some perfectly sensible insights into effective estate management. So the reeve

should never allow his servants to over-rule him, but he is to command each one with the authority of the lord according to the rights of the people; it is better for him to be forever out of office than in, if those whom he should govern can govern him; it is not prudent for a lord to allow that.[6]

An analysis of these early prescriptive texts perhaps offers ways to soften two important interpretations. One is the tendency—implicit at least—to presume that administration only becomes ‘moralized’ in the later twelfth and certainly in the thirteenth century (after a supposed Carolingian false start). Certainly there are later highly significant royal actions expressing the ‘moralisation de l’administration’—as with Louis IX’s 1254 ordonnances on local administrators.180 But in terms of the quality of their moral concern it is hard to perceive much difference between a Wulfstan and a Louis IX. The difference must lie elsewhere—perhaps quantitative, perhaps administratively technical. Secondly, Rectitudines’ emphasis on exercising discrimination and respecting local custom and dues may imply that we should not overemphasize the static, descriptive, imposed nature of early surveys.181 This is not to presume such sensitivity to local customs is by any means normal. It is to argue that the practice behind the parchment may be more pliable than we can perceive, as Harvey has argued about much later manorial accounts. They are ‘virtually a dialogue, a debate between local officials and auditors’; ‘the purpose of a manorial account was to establish the state of reckoning between lord and local official: we should never take for granted that it records what really happened on the manor’.182 Accounts were negotiated. Can the same principle hold earlier? If dues have been specified, there may yet be some flexibility in negotiating or exacting them.183

It is possible that this can be seen in an arguably contemporaneous Anglo-Saxon survey of Tidenham, which may be an ‘application’ of Rectitudines (whose vocabulary implies Somerset).184 There is a hint that labour dues there are notable (‘From Tidenham much labour is due’), implying a sense of wider norms to measure them against—which Rectitudines would provide.185 In both texts the geneat tenant is obligated to ride, provide horse-service (auerian is attested only in these two texts), and give carrying service.186 Rectitudines says that a geburs services vary, and indeed those specified at Tidenham do not precisely match Rectitudines. At Tidenham he gives 6d. and half a jar of honey at Easter; six jars of malt at Lammas; a ball of ‘good net yarn’ at Martinmas. In Rectitudines at Easter a young sheep or 2d. is due; at Martinmas twenty-three jars of barley and two hens; no Martinmas levy is specified but 10d. is due at Michaelmas about which Tidenham says nothing. It is hard to prove, and any argument for Rectitudiness ‘flexible’ approach being applied at Tidenham may simply reflect that the Tidenham survey has less, not more, connection with Rectitudines. No clinching argument is available—but it is possible that precepts similar to Rectitudiness were applied at Tidenham. [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Looking at these mid-tenth/eleventh-century texts the development of a sophisticated ‘functional’ and ‘normative’ literature for manorial agents seems neither an intrinsically royal nor necessarily twelfth- or thirteenth-century story. It suggests some general tradition of thinking about effective estate management. That may imply this tradition can be at most a precondition, not cause, of later developments around accounting and bailiffs’ legal accountability. Perhaps it could soften sharp lines in a story about a post-Carolingian ‘evolution from patrimonial exploitation to public administration’, at least as a general rule.[14] Wulfstan did not see a contradiction between the two—just as Grosseteste would be as sharp on good management as fair management. Stephen Baxter has suggested that Wulfstan saw it as his religious duty to ‘exploit’ God’s property, to make it as productive as it should be—and that he did.[15] It is true that a prelate has different values to call on when justifying productive ecclesiastical estate management (‘Deus lo vult! ’) than a seigneurial lord may (‘I want it!’). But even in a post-Carolingian, pre-twelfth-century renaissance England we can see practical ‘managerial’ concerns arising from a moral obligation to give a lord—divine or human—his economically expressed due.

The point is that thinking in England about estate management and officers’ conduct was sophisticated—both practically and morally—from an early date. There is also a case that estate surveys may be more flexible than they seem at even that early date. What the sources just analysed do not clearly express is a particular idea of how any estate officers should be held to account. These texts seem concerned with responsibilities before accountability. Rectitudines is focused on the estate agents whom reeves supervise, so it is unsurprising it says nothing of the reeve’s own liabilities. The implicit means of controlling estate officers in Rectitudines is simply direct supervision. Wulfstan’s Institutes of Polity explicitly decries reeves’ abuses. Its solution, however, is simply the character-improving one of more prayer and repentance. In Michael Clanchy’s terms, love (affective self-regulation) not law (imposed direction) is the preferable order.[16] But conscience, love, is what has already failed on the Institutes’ own account. Likewise the Wulfstan-influenced Gerefa says the reeve ‘is to take care that he protect and promote everything according to what is best’ for the estate. But it does not say what to do if the reeve is not just canny but crafty and corrupt. If agents’ responsibility is lacking these texts do not offer a solution beyond ‘more responsibility’.[17] My suggestion in the final part of this chapter is that a difference between these earlier and later texts—a difference between a Wulfstan, a Louis IX, or a Grosseteste so to speak—is that later texts are more preoccupied with the acco untability, as distinct from the responsibility, of a lord’s men, and that this preoccupation is a function of a partially changed political economy.

  • [1] Patrick Wormald, The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, i.Legislationand its Limits (Oxford, 1999), 197, see also 394, 458—65, and dating the first version of the Institutes1008—14, 458 n. 153). It is an important part of Wormald’s wider argument that law and theology are
  • [2] Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Swanton, 28 (Rectitudines).
  • [3] Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Swanton, 30 (Rectitudines).
  • [4] Rules, cap. 27, Walter of Henley, 406 (Oschinskys trans.). Cf. also the lady’s speech to her ‘hautseneschal devaunt aucun de ses bons amis’ in cap. 3.
  • [5] Harvey, ‘Rectitudines Singularum Personarum and Gerefa , 12; Wormald, Making of EnglishLaw, 389.
  • [6] Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Swanton, 31 (Gerefa).
  • [7] The phrase is Jacques Le Goff’s, Saint Louis (Paris, 1996), 218, with usage by Laure Verdon,‘Le Roi, la loi, l’enquete et l’officier: procedure et enqueteurs en Provence sous le regne de Charles II(1285—1309)’, in Claude Gauvard (ed.), LEnquete au Moyen Age, Ecole fran^aise de Rome (Rome, 2008), 319—29 at 328—9; Lachaud, fthique du pouvoir, 412—13.
  • [8] Cf. Thomas N. Bisson, Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins of EuropeanGovernment (Princeton, NJ, 2009), 325—9.
  • [9] Harvey, Manorial Records, 33, 34.
  • [10] This would also soften Bisson’s contrast between earlier prescriptive accounts and later twelfth/thirteenth-century ones in Crisis.
  • [11] 184 Charters of Bath and Wells, ed. Kelly, #24. Kelly is sceptical of a Bath Abbey and Rectitudinesconnection. I cannot judge Wormald’s claims for the Somerset dialect (Making of English Law, 233).See also Wormald’s Appendix to Archbishop Wulfstan and the Holiness of Society’, in Wormald,Legal Culture in the Early Medieval West. Law as Text, Image and Experience (London, 1999), 225—51.
  • [12] Charters of Bath and Wells, ed. Kelly, #24 at 148, her translation.
  • [13] 186 Charters of Bath and Wells, ed. Kelly, #24 at 147; Anglo-Saxon Prose, trans. Swanton, 27.
  • [14] The evolution that Thomas Bisson has argued for in Catalonia 1151—1213: Bisson, FiscalAccounts of Catalonia under the Early Count-Kings (H51—1213), 2 vols. (Berkeley, Calif., 1984),i. 151-8.
  • [15] Stephen Baxter, ‘Archbishop Wulfstan and the Administration of God’s Property’, in Wulfstan,Archbishop of York: The Proceedings of the Second Alcuin Conference, ed. Matthew Townend, Studies inthe Early Middle Ages 10 (Turnhout, 2004), 161-205, esp. 162-5, 176, 186-90.
  • [16] Clanchy, ‘Law and Love’.
  • [17] 19° On the reluctance to acknowledge structural conflicts of interest and the preference for solutions based on hopes wagered on ‘good character’ see Dunbabin, ‘Aristotle in the Schools’, 69; SusanReynolds, Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900—1300, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1997), 189.
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