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Tenure, Law, Accounts: The Political Economy of Bailiffs

The question then is what produces changes in a bailiff’s accountability—as expressed in the action of account. The argument has numerous threads so it is useful to summarize. The first two parts of this chapter argued that fragmentary elements of the later action of account are visible in the twelfth century. They also suggested that the later thirteenth century’s high formalization of a procedure was arguably meaningful, not just a coincidental function of well-placed barons whom the legislation served. The first part of this third section accepted the argument that demesne farming did not drive the legal changes, even when the elements of the action of account can be dated considerably earlier than Oschinsky argued (and so closer to the start of demesne farming). It then argued for an extension of English estate management literature to well before the twelfth century, but noted that while this literature is, in some ways, as sophisticated as its more famous thirteenth-century analogues, the earlier literature was principally interested in estate officers’ responsibilities, not their accountability. That interest continued into the period focused on here, but it was modified by new sorts of focus on officials’ accountability (as seen in the action of account). Oschinsky was right to put demesne farming and a ‘practical’ or ‘moral’ estate management literature into the same sequence with bailiffs’ accounts and accountability, but demesne farming may have been a necessary not sufficient condition for changes in bailiffs’ and stewards’ accountability.

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