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Published by EH.NET (September 2007)

Lawrin Armstrong, Ivana Elbl, and Martin M. Elbl, editors, Money, Markets and Trade in Late Medieval Europe: Essays in Honour of John H.A. Munro. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xx + 648 pp. $201 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-90-04-15633-3.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Karine van der Beek, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

This volume, edited by Lawrin Armstrong, Ivana Elbl, and Martin M. Elbl, the first in Brill’s peer-reviewed series Later Medieval Europe, is a Festschrift for the eminent economic historian John H.A. Munro on the occasion of his retirement from the University of Toronto in 2003. Munro’s remarkable academic achievements and extraordinary qualities of character are clearly reflected in the warm preface by Herman van der Wee, in the introduction by the editors, and in the numerous references to him and to his work in the various essays.

The essays, which mostly consist of original work, discuss various aspects of the late medieval economy. They are divided into seven sections ? Money and Ethics, Taxation and Revenue, Expenditure and War, Land and Labor, Market Integration, Long-Distance Trade and Markets, and Regional and Local Markets ? representing the broad range of academic interests embodied in Munro’s work (of which the volume includes a full bibliography).

The share of studies dealing with fiscal policy is quite surprising. The essays can be divided into those focusing on the relationship between public finance and public expenditure, the effect of public finance on markets, and the effects of public expenditure and war on markets. Among the studies that fit in the first category is a paper by Jeffrey Fynn-Paul on the introduction of civic debt in the Catalan city of Manresa in the 1340s. Although the historical evidence he presents is intriguing, the connection he makes between the introduction of civic debt and the subsequent civic unrest is not very convincing. Other essays in this category are by Susannah C. Humble Ferreira, pointing out administrative changes in royal finance that allowed a significant expansion of royal households both in sixteenth-century England and Portugal, and a captivating paper by Kelly De Vries on the effects of warfare finance on war strategies and tactics, concentrating on two critical failed Burgundian sieges during the Hundred Years War.

The effects of political fragmentation on trade are very well demonstrated in two studies. James Masschaele offers an informative overview of the tolls levied in medieval England. He suggests that although the widespread medieval tolls had the potential to undermine trade, “they were prevented from doing so by an effective assertion of public authority” provided by the crown, which managed “to establish relatively narrow limits within which uncertainty fluctuated.” This view is further strengthened by Mark Aloisio’s description of the political mechanisms and regulations that governed the fifteenth-century Maltese grain markets, which precluded their integration into those of the kingdom of Sicily.

Ivana Elbl’s study touches on the question of efficiency of public ownership in a fascinating account of the Portuguese African enterprise. She offers convincing arguments to prove that the enterprise was badly managed, though she does not provide any evidence to support her rather odd claim that the Portuguese crown, “did not necessarily aim at maximizing revenue, but rather at achieving an acceptable and sustainable cash flow.” Last within this category of fiscal policy, Maryanne Kowaleski, in a delightful essay, turns our attention to ways in which the Hundred Years War promoted the development of English merchant shipping and port towns, owing primarily to privileges and increasing naval activity granted by the crown.

Most of the other studies in the book are concerned with the operation of local, regional, interregional, and even intercontinental late-medieval markets. I found particularly intriguing the essays by Martha Carlin and Charlotte Masemann, both of whom used very original types of sources. Carlin utilized three texts that “used discussions of urban occupations, shops and shopping to instruct students in Latin vocabulary and the art of writing business letters,” to provide a vivid and detailed description of street sellers, negotiating techniques, and mainly the variety of goods that was available in the markets of thirteenth-century English towns and in Paris. Masemann’s study combines archaeological (botanical) evidence on consumption in L?beck, a northern German town, with evidence from written records documenting the city’s urban gardens to prove that what was grown in these gardens was consumed within the city.

Masemann’s finding is in line with Richard Unger’s work, in which he presents data on prices of various grains in southeast England, Flanders, Brabant, and Holland (from the late fourteenth century to 1600) indicating that while urban grain markets within these regions were highly integrated in the fifteenth century, their demand seems to have been supplied entirely by nearby rural areas, and that this tended to limit town size until such time as distant trade became less costly. Also concentrating on the Low Countries, David Nicholas analyzes the financial role of Ypres in the region during the thirteenth century based on debt recognitions contracted before the echevins of the city. Francesco Guidi Bruscoli and James Bolton summarize the first findings of their notable Borromei Bank Research Project ? a micro-study based on two surviving ledgers of the family’s companies in Bruges and London between 1436 and 1439, which adds to our understanding of long-distance exchange operations in general and among England, the Low Countries, and Italy in particular.

Ian Blanchard and Martin Elbl both offer detailed pictures of late-medieval intercontinental specie market operation. Blanchard describes the significant role played by Egypt’s crisis in monetary and specie markets, which he believes was responsible for two-thirds of the rise in gold prices between 1375 and 1425. Elbl focuses on the Maghrib, using the abundant Datini records (for the period 1394-1410), preserved in the Datini archive in Prato, to fill in the gap in the literature on the Venetian/Balearic trans-Saharan copper trade.

Lawrin Armstrong and Lutz Kaelber deal with the ethical aspect of medieval financial markets. Armstrong offers an insightful discussion on the tension that existed between canonists and theologians (thus, law and ethics) regarding the problem of usury, and Kaelber’s essay addresses the development of Max Weber’s view on usury.

Finally, the volume also includes studies that focus on institutional and legal aspects of late-medieval market operation. John Drendel’s essay argues that personal servitude, which appeared in northern Francia during the tenth century, never existed in Provence. Francesco Galassi examines the patterns of diffusion of different terms in sharecropping contract in Italy to identify the transmission mechanism that underlies institutional change. Lastly, Martha Howell provides an instructive and comprehensive examination of legal and social aspects of property law in late-medieval Ghent, which points out the political interests that were at work in the process of shaping the law.

To conclude, this Festschrift in honor of the revered John Munro contains original and remarkable work, and while I admit that I found some of the studies to be more appealing than others, they are all characterized by a notable wealth of historical evidence, references, and sources. Given the scope of topics and the diversity of approaches, the volume should be of great interest to a wide range of scholars in diverse fields.

Karine van der Beek is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. Her research focuses on early European growth and on the effects of political structures on institutional formation, market organization, and productivity. Recent papers include: “Political Fragmentation and Technology Adoption: Watermill Construction in Feudal France,” and, “Political Fragmentation and Investment Decisions: The Milling Industry in Feudal France (1150-1250).”