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A Source Book for Medieval Economic History

By Roy C. Cave; Herbert H. Coulson | Go to book overview

SECTION II
VILLA AND MANORIAL ORGANIZATION

Introduction

In the early Middle Ages the units of rural social and economic order were the manor and the villa. Out of the chaos of the destroyed Roman Empire, kings of western principalities between the seventh and the ninth centuries colonized and brought men back to the land. The monasteries, with the restoration of order, developed the waste places and drew to themselves poor people, often newly enfranchised, to perform the duties of and form the nucleus of a rural population. An economy of free men, however, such as is described in the first document of this section, could not endure; for, although free men did much useful work in clearing, draining, and tilling the soil, the renewed invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries drove them into commendation (document 5) and brought about a rural economic structure almost entirely dependent upon semi-free or unfree people. If European population grew and agriculture thrived somewhat it must be remembered that economic activity was held back by a natural economy, the narrowness of markets, and rudimentary methods. Perhaps the most famous economic documents of the Middle Ages are the two quoted in this section, Charlemagne Capitulary De Villis, and the Domesday survey. The former reveals fully the working of the villa, and from the latter can be gleaned much information on the organization of the English manor. In general manor and villa had strong resemblances. Each might belong to one or more people, each might have scattered holdings of free men, each was administered in roughly the same way, and each depended on the labor of serfs, villeins, and free men. The duties of the administrative officials, seneschal, provost, hayward, etc., can be found in the various

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