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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Medieval records of Ombersley manor : (rentals and court rolls, 1300-1500) Scardellato, Gabriele Pietro


The history of English rural society in the Middle Ages generally is written on the basis of records produced by manorial lords which register the dues and obligations of tenants as well as changes in holdings, fines and other legal transactions which touch on the lives of the villagers. This thesis is a critical study of the potential uses of a group of such sources for an historical "reconstruction" of medieval rural conditions. The records under review refer to Ombersley, a Midlands manor belonging to the Benedictine abbey of Evesham, and cover the period of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. While by no means complete, they have survived to an extent that a special study of their value and the problems connected with them is warranted. A brief introduction on the geographic and settlement conditions of the manor (Ch. 1) is followed by a survey of the quality and quantity of the collection of Ombersley account rolls, court records and rentals, summarized in a calendar (Ch. 2 and Appendix). Recent works on the "reconstitution" of medieval rural communities have raised a number of questions on the use of such records; the present thesis attempts to focus this discussion to the use and misuse of rentals (surveys). The importance of this type of document in the study of population trends, land distribution and related aspects of manorial life derives from its wealth of detail. However, owing to their seigneurial point of view and "static" character, rentals are not as reliable as often assumed. The problems connected with them are discussed and illustrated by an analysis of two extensive rentals of Ombersley, presented in an annotated tabulation, combining their data with those extracted from court rolls and other manorial records (Ch. 3). These juxtapositions enable us to date these and other surveys correctly and to identify the "careers" of a good number of individuals and families on the manor. Based on the critical evaluation of these interrelated sources, a summary of the major demographic and economic trends is offered for the two centuries under review, including calculations of the manor's population, mortality rate, reproductive capacity and its economic development as reflected in the payment of different seigneurial dues. Bearing in mind some of the common pitfalls of generalization, I plan to use these data as a basis for monographic treatment of social stratification and other details in Ombersley's history.

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