Manorial accounts are broadly associated with the change from the leasing of
demesnes in the twelfth century to their resumption in hand for direct demesne
cultivation from the late twelfth century. In the twelfth century, demesnes
were placed at farm (ad firmam) and leased to lessees or farmers (firmarii).
From the late twelfth century, demesnes were gradually resumed in hand. One of
the stimuli towards resumption may have been the inflation of 1180-1220, as
leases lost their value over the term of the lease.
There are, however, some nuances to this pattern. First of all, it is
possible that some demesnes were in fact kept in hand during the twelfth
century; the appropriated glebes and small manors given to the houses of some
new religious orders (Austin Canons, Premonstratensians) may have been kept in
hand. The Cistercians, moreover, established granges which were cultivated
directly and may have influenced the resumption of demesnes by other lords.
Secondly, it is quite clear that direct demesne cultivation may have been
conducted on many estates without written accounts until half a century later --
although that doesn't mean that they didn't have oral accounting techniques.
Indeed, the Easter view of account at the Exchequer had been oral accounting.
Another caveat is that not all demesnes were retained in hand during the period
of 'high demesne farming'. For example, Richard Lomas has revealed the flexible
policy on the estate of Durham Cathedral Priory where demesnes were
intermittently leased out and then taken back in hand. That position too is
evident on the estate of Bolton Priory, although hardly referenced by Kershaw.
By this means, lords may have tested experientially whether it was better to
continue to cultivate or lease.
There is a corollary of this, for, when some demesnes were leased out again
during the period of 'high demesne farming', accounts might still be required
even though the demesne was not in hand. For example, when Merton College
placed the manor of Ibstone at farm (ad firmam), the farmer (firmarius
-- lessee) had to render account.
During the late middle ages, in general from the late fourteenth century,
but with experiments from an earlier time, demesnes were leased out again to
firmarii. Again, it was a nuanced pattern, for home farms were kept in
hand, such as Elvethall for Durham Cathedral Priory. At the start of the
process, some demesnes were experimentally leased out and then brought back in
hand, such as Islip by Westminster Abbey. Although accounts were still kept,
they were now less complete.
Chronology and phases
(Paul) Harvey has identified three stages of the development of accounts:
- Phase 1 was a general phase from 1208 to about 1270, when
accounts were produced centrally, usually by religious houses or an episcopal
estate. In these accounts, two local officials, bailiff and reeve, accounted
jointly, although it seems fairly clear that the reeve was ultimately
responsible for any problems in the account and the bailiff's role was more
supervisory (the bailiff was usually of free and the reeve of unfree condition).
The position of the bailiff simply reflected central supervision, especially on
those estates where manors were organised into bailiwicks or groups of manors or
custodia, so the reeve operated at manorial level and the bailiff at
group level. In these accounts, the separate accounts for individual manors
were gathered together, usually in rolls sewn together at the head
(Exchequer-wise as Pipe Rolls), although occasionally head to foot
(Chancery-wise). Even the accounts for individual manors, however, were written
or engrossed centrally. In this group belong the most celebrated
centrally-enrolled accounts and the earliest extant manorial accounts, those for
the Bishopric of Winchester estates, extant from 1208-9, dubbed the Winchester
Pipe Rolls after the method of their gathering together. For each year, the
rolls for each manor are gathered together to form a single Pipe for the whole
estate. Although Titow suggested that they may have been produced from c.1189,
Nicholas Vincent has shown conclusively that they did not precede 1205-6.
Other estates which fall into this centrally-enrolled system before c.1270
include Ramsey and Peterborough Abbeys from the late 1240s, the assise
scaccarii of Canterbury Cathedral Priory, Crowland Abbey from the 1250s,
and, overlapping with stage two, the central accounts of the English lands of
the Abbey of Bec in the 1280s. Harvey is cautious about exact chronology
because phase 1 accounts extend into the period of stage 2, the Winchester Pipe
Rolls persisting in stage 1 form, for example, into the fifteenth century.
Additionally, the accounts for some estates which were transformed into phase 2
accounts, began as stage 1 accountancy. There are two particular examples, both
kept in the form of volumes: the Beaulieu Abbey account book of c. 1268
and the Bolton compotus of 1286-1325.
- Phase 2 accounts commence c.1270 and represent the
period of local production of accounts, in which accounts were produced on the
manor and kept separately as accounts for individual manors for individual
years; they were not engrossed or centrally-enrolled. In some cases, the
process involved the estate steward and auditors travelling to the manors to
audit the accounts. Quite often only one official accounted -- either bailiff
or reeve, most usually, for large manors with unfree tenantry, the reeve. In
this phase, it was possible to have both local accounts and also
centrally-enrolled accounts, but the centrally-enrolled accounts were usually
produced for a further purpose which could not be achieved through the local
rolls -- usually the proficuum calculation, an estimate of 'profit' in
the perception of the auditors. For example, Os(e)ney Abbey had
locally-produced accounts for manors from the 1270s, but in c.1280, at
least for one year, complemented these local rolls with a central account, which
engrossed the salient details of the local rolls to calculate 'profit'.
- Phase 3occurred when demesnes were leased out again and the
accounts disintegrate in integrity as demesne exploitation diminished.
Before 1250, Harvey reckons there are extant accounts from about a dozen
estates; a few more were added between 1250 and 1270; in 1270, 'the floodgates'
opened. 'There are reasons for supposing that this is not a result of chance
but accurately reflects the spread of written accounts amongst estate owners'
Influences on development
- The potential influence of household accountancy has not
really been explored, either by Harvey or, in his work on household accounts,
Woolgar. Some early manorial accounts resemble in parts household accounts,
especially so-called diet accounts, and this is particularly true of some
manorial accounts of Stubbington, a manor of Southwick Priory, in the 1240s and
1260s. Edmund King has recently considered this relationship to be important,
since the Peterborough Abbey accounts are constructed to show the supply of the
household and consumption. Another reason for highlighting consumption is that
demesnes were originally arranged on the principle of food-farms, manors
producing to supply designated quantities of renders in kind to the household.
Firmarii may have continued in the twelfth century to have rendered
these food-farms. Indeed, the centrally-enrolled accounts of phase 1 type
include both manorial accounts and obedientiaries' accounts. The earliest
treatise, from the 1240s, the rules of Robert Grosseteste for the Countess of
Lincoln (Les reules saint robert), places an emphasis on (a) household
supply and ordering consumption and (b) morality. The aspect of morality can be
associated with the period of Baronial Reform coincidental with some of the
earliest extant accounts of phase 1, corresponding with baronial insistence that
the King put his house in order and live of his own. Nevertheless, such
reasoning does not apply to all estates.
- Lordship has been recently emphasised by Edmund King, since much of
the content of early manorial accounts is concerned with the exactions of
lordship -- control of the peasantry
- The royal Exchequer used to be credited with enormous influence,
but it is difficult to reconcile chronology. It used to be suggested that the
Exchequer, with its extant pipe rolls from 31 Henry I (1130), was a model for
private accountancy, in particular the Winchester accounts at the central
exchequer of the Bishop at Wolvesey, but there is a large gap between 1130 and
1208 (or Vincent's 1205).
- The action of account featured large in earlier literature too; it
was applied by the Statute of Westminster II (1285) to the relationship between
lords and their estate officials, so again there is a problem of chronology,
since the expansion of manorial accounts began in the 1270s. The action allowed
a remedy to a lord against a defaulting official who could be thrown in the
Fleet Prison until the debt was acquitted (if ever in these circumstances!).
The origins of the action may be sought in the early thirteenth century, but
more usually in commercial actions involving merchants; it is found, for
example, in the treatise Brevia Placitata in the 1260s.
- Regalian right might be a possible avenue to pursue on a number of
fronts. Estates came into the hands of the Crown during episcopal vacancies,
during the Interdict and during wardships. During the Interdict, the estates of
the religious and ecclesiastical estates were confiscated into the King's hands
and there are royal accounts for their administration (although there was
depredation). The Winchester estates were in royal custody in 1205-6 during a
vacancy before the election as bishop of Peter des Roches, who was effectively a
royal appointee. In the early years of Henry III many estates, including lay,
were assumed into the King's hands during wardship and escheat and royal
accounting procedures were imposed during their custody (Cazel's edition of
these accounts for the Pipe Roll Society).
The accounting year
The period of the account is generally assumed to be Michaelmas to
Michaelmas, like the royal Exchequer, but that was not always the origin and
there continued to be significant deviations. What can basically be defined as
the principle is that the account followed the harvest year, but the accounting
period might begin before harvest or significantly after harvest.
- Merton College estates: the accounts consistently through the
middle ages ran from July to July, that is from before the harvest; the period
was usually from around the feasts of St Kenelm (17 July) or St Margaret the
Virgin (20 July) or St James (25 July); in the initial period of their
introduction, however, there was an experiment with Michaelmas, but the change
was subsequently made to July; the earliest account of Ibstone, one of the
earliest of the estate, in 1277-8, ran from Michaelmas to Michaelmas, but in
1279-80 the change was made to St Kenelm and July continued thereafter as the
start; at Cuxham, the change was made slightly later, in 1285, for the accounts
of 1279 to 1285 ran from Michaelmas to Michaelmas, but after 1285 the norm was
unerringly July; at Malden, the first accounts from 1270-1 commenced at
Michaelmas, but the change was made to St James in 1299.
- Westminster Abbey estates: when written accounts were begun, the
accounting year commenced at the Gule of August (Lammas Day, St Peter in Chains)
at Oakham (1275-6), although there was some variety; on all manors, however, the
year was standardised at Michaelmas in 1284.
- Bolton Priory estates: the accounting year initially commenced
at Martinmas (Nov 11), after harvest; the reason may have been its location in
the north and the later harvest period; Martinmas was the norm from 1288-9
through to 1303-4, but in 1304-5 the transition was made to Michaelmas.
- Stubbington (Southwick Priory) provides an interesting case
because of the early series of accounts and the degree of experimentation:
Translation of St Swithun (15 July)|
|1252||about St Margaret the Virgin (20 July)|
|1268-70||Michaelmas (September 29)|
|1280-1||Gule of August (1 August)|
|1319-20 ||St Peter in Chains (1 August)|
|1330-1||Gule of August (1 August)|
|1344 ||Gule of August (1 August)|
|1351-2||Gule of August (1 August)|
- Hinderclay (Bury St Edmunds): the accounts for at least this
one manor of BSE Abbey began in July through the thirteenth and fourteenth
- Elvethall (Durham Cathedral Priory): the accounts of at least this
one manor commenced at Whitsun through the late fourteenth century.
One rationale for a pre-harvest year of account might be this: the grain
accounted for after harvest had been sown in the previous year and some of the
costs would have been absorbed in the previous year (sowing, weeding,
ploughing); these costs could be transferred by opening the year of account in
July or August, before harvest.
- The account was produced locally for the reeve in draft with the
totals left blank;
- the account was audited: either by a central audit in which the accounting
official went to a central location; or by a local audit in which the auditors
moved round the manors, in which case, although the account was first produced,
say, at Michaelmas, it might not be audited until Martinmas if the manor was
late in the auditors' schedule;
- at the audit, the face of the account (cash side) was checked through and
cancellations and revisions (e.g. to prices) made, but the totals were not yet
- the next stage at the audit was the checking of the dorse, the stock and
grain account; cancellations, disallowances and revisions (of prices) were made;
the costs were marked on the roll -- for example, if a dead calf was assumed to
be the reeve's fault, it was charged as a cash sum against him; the auditors
might consider that the price of grain sold was too low or the price of grain
bought too high and would revise the prices in the account;
- at the same time, when going through the dorse, the auditors may have
implemented the responsio or targets set for the productivity; grain may
have been expected to yield to a certain level (seed-yield ratio), stock to have
a certain reproduction ratio (including the yield of fleeces, milk, cheese etc);
if the target was not reached, the difference was charged in cash against the
- these items from face and dorse were then added up and a new section placed
in the face of the account: venditiones super compotum; these were
fictitious sales after the account in that they were charges made against the
reeve for negligence, for failure to meet targets, for loss;
- the totals and balance were then struck.
Some examples of targets
The responsio system involved the pre-setting of targets for yields.
These targets might be complex or simply based on expected returns in an
average year, such as threefold yield for grain (1:3 seed-yield ratio). More
complex targets would have different expectations for each type of grain as
illustrated by the precepts of the anonymous author of the Hosebondrie.
On the Crowland Abbey estates, the auditors went further and required a yield
per acre target for grain. These calculations could only have been achieved by
the auditors by reference back to the account of the previous year to determine
the amount of seed used in sowing or the amount of demesne sown. Targets for
livestock sometimes exhibit a high degree of experimentation.
Examples of responsiones: grain
- (wheat) Respondet de .iiij. quarteriis dimido .j. pek' minus se quarto
It answers for 4½qtrs 1 peck less than fourfold -- the seed-yield ratio
just fell short of 1:4 by 4½qtrs 1p.
- (Rye) Respondet de dimidio bussello plus se dimidio
- (Barley) Respondet de .v. quarteriis dimidio minus se tercio
- (Oats) Respondet de .iiij. bussellis minus semine
- (Peas) Respondet de .j. bussello plus se quarto
- (Vetches) Respondet de .j. bussello dimidio minus se altero et dimidio
[Source: God's House, Southampton, manorial accounts]
Examples of responsiones: stock
Cheese (casei paragraph) -- milk
- (1311-12) lactat' vacce respondet de .ij.s. et ouis de .j.d [Lactage
of a cow answers for 2s. and of a ewe 1d.]
- (1312-13) lactagium vacce respondet de .ij.s. et ouis de .j.d.ob.
ultra in toto .xiij.d.
- (1313-14) Lacta vacce habentis vitulum respondet de .ij.s.vj.d. vacce
sterilis de .xv.d. ouis de .j.d.ob. [Milk of a cow having a calf answers for
2s.6d. of a sterile cow for 15d. and of a ewe 1½d.]
- (1315-16) Lactagium vacce habentis vitulum respondet de .iiij.s. vacce
sterilis de .ij.s. et ouis de .ij.d. cum reprisa
[Source: God' House, Southampton, accounts for Hickley].
- (1305-6) Vacca habens vitulum Respondet de .ij.s. vacca sterilis de
.xviij.d. et ouis de .j.d.
- (1306-7) Vacca feca respondet de .ij.s. preter vitulum vacca sterilis de
.xviij.d. et ouis de .j.d.ob.
[Source: God's House, Southampton, accounts for Gussage]
- Casei responsio vaccarum et ouium non appreciata hoc anno pro mala
responsione [Cheeses The responsio of cows and ewes is not valued this
year because of the poor responsio].
[Source: God's House, Southampton, manorial account]
Fleeces -- wool
- (1311-12) Vellera multonum respondent in ponderacione de .j. libra
dimidia uellera ouium de .j. libra et hogerellorum de dimidia libra [Fleeces of
wethers answer in weight for 1½ lbs, fleeces of ewes for 1 lb and of hoggs
for ½ lb]
- Vellera respondent de .iij.d. ob. et ultra in toto .xvj.d.ob. [Fleeces
answer for 3½d. and additionally in total 16½d.]
- Vellus multonis respondet de .vj.d. vellus ouis et hoggerelli de .iiij.d.
vellus agni valet .ij.d. [The fleece of a wether answers for 6d., the fleece of
a ewe and hogg for 4d., the fleece of a lamb is worth 2d.]
[Source: God's House, Southampton, manorial accounts]
These entries for fleeces/wool illustrate the amount of experimentation
conducted, changing between assessing average weight of fleeces of issue by type
of sheep and the value of the fleece in general and by type of sheep.
The principal concern of manorial accounting was to assess the obligation of
the accounting official to the lord, to prevent fraud -- was the local official
Any further refinements would need to re-work the information in the
account, since the account was constructed to answer those primary questions --
is the local official honest and what is his obligation to the lord? In fact,
the information was re-worked on some estates to answer further questions about
the perception of 'profitability', which usually took two forms:
- proficuum (profectus) manerii: how well is the property
paying? this calculation was the more common;
- ad proficuum ganagii (wainagii) et stauri [to the profit of wainage
(arable) and stock]: is the property being managed in the best way, that is,
direct management as against leasing out? This calculation was more unusual.
Statements of this 'profit' are sometimes added to the feet of the local
accounts, often as bare statements, but sometimes with evidence of how the
calculation was reached. Other cases of centrally-enrolled calculations allow a
closer insight into the perception of profit, such as those of Os(e)ney Abbey
The adoption of 'profit' calculations: known cases
|Canterbury Cathedral Priory||From c.1225|
Abbey, Winchester||From c.1233-4|
|Westminster Abbey (conventual)||From 1267-8|
|Norwich Cathedral Priory||From c.1268|
|Southwick Priory||From c.1268
|Beaumanor, Leics (lay)||1277-8?|
|Bigod estates (lay)||From the late
and in later local accounts|
|Merton College||From 1281-2|
House, Southampton||From 1293-4|
|Bolton Priory||From 1295-6|
|Lichfield episcopal estate||From 1304-5|
|Abbey of Bury St Edmunds||By 1323
|Clare estates (lay)||1329-30 or 1338-9|
|Darley Abbey||Early fourteenth century|
Other methods of assessing performance
- compare the current account with the extent (Bishoprics of Ely and
Worcester -- the former noted on the account, the latter noted in the extents in
the Red Book of Worcester)
- rule of thumb: each carucate or hide should produce to a certain value
(Gloucester Abbey) -- i.e. value the produce from the hide and check against
Some sample statements of 'profit'
- (Berkswich, 1312-13, Lichfield episcopal): Valet hoc anno .ix.li.x.s.
- (Wirksworth, 1304-5, Lichfield episcopal): Proficuum istius manerii hoc
- (Bolton Priory, Clarum de Maneriis, 1296-7): Rither Memorandum quod
manerium de Rithert respondit hoc anno de claro De .xj. quarteriis frumenti
precium quarterii .iiij.s.viij.d. Et de .vj. bussellis siliginis precium
busselli .vj.d. Et de .viij. quarteriis auene precium quarterii .xx.d. Et de
.xxxix.s.xj.d. in denariis. Summa de claro .C.viij.s.xj.d.
- (Stubbington, Southwick Priory, 1268-9): Et valet hoc anno manerium
deductis expensis necessariis in omnimodis expensis cum tota Decima infra
Portesbrig' .C. libras v.s.viij.d.ob.
- (Stubbington, Southwick Priory, 1351-2): Valor hoc anno .xx. marce. Ideo
minus causa pestilencie
- (Stoke Lacy, from the central Status Maneriorum, either 1279-81 or
1313-15): Stoke lacy De eodem manerio computatur per Ricardum prepositum de
anno regni Edwardi .viij. Et valet manerium hoc anno .xix.li. Blada ibidem
existencia in garbis vix sufficientia pro liberacionibus et semine istius
manerii et de hamme.
Some sceptical reflections
'Whether the College -- or any other landlord for that matter -- ever
seriously or carefully asked itself about the relative advantages of direct
exploitation and leasing is, however, greatly to be doubted'.
'Modern approaches to this question have seldom been any more sophisticated,
and it has been more or less assumed that of course direct exploitation was the
more advantageous and the more profitable course in all but exceptional cases.
This is much to be doubted'.
T.H. Aston, 'The external administration and resources of Merton College to
circa 1348' in J.I. Catto, ed., The History of the University of
Oxford Volume 1 The Early Oxford Schools (Oxford, 1984), p. 322.