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  • Author or Editor: Mark Casson x
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Markets occupy a central role in economic theory. It is assumed that we understand them – but do we really? This chapter suggests that we do not. We know a lot, but not so much as we should. Markets remain a subject of controversy in popular debates over economic policy and historical debates over commercialization and capitalism. That is why we need to learn more. Markets facilitate trade. Trade, it is often assumed, developed from small beginnings in chance encounters; for example, two people meet on a country path and one swaps their coat for the other’s piece of jewellery. But there is little evidence for this ‘chance encounter’ theory. The key question is ‘Can you really trust a stranger?’ Why does the stronger person not just rob the weaker one? So why would the weaker person go out alone? Trade, it would seem, needs a secure environment. Security needs to be provided by someone who can observe a situation and has the power to detain and punish a wrongdoer. Hopefully, the threat of being captured and punished will deter the wrongdoer. Trade therefore requires a strong individual who can provide that security, such as a tribal leader. Archaeological evidence from the Stone Age suggests that neighbouring tribes would meet at ceremonial centres to marry off their children, worship their gods and trade some goods as well. Provided the tribal leaders were at peace with one another, the ceremony would provide a safe environment where trade could take place. By the Bronze Age, long-distance trade was common in many parts of the world, supported by a network of small cities.

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Business and Community in Medieval England

It may seem like a recent trend, but businesses have been practising compassionate capitalism for nearly a thousand years.

Based on the newly discovered historical documents on Cambridge’s sophisticated urban property market during the Commercial Revolution in the thirteenth century, this book explores how successful entrepreneurs employed the wealth they had accumulated to the benefit of the community.

Cutting across disciplines, from economic and business history to entrepreneurship, philanthropy and medieval studies, this outstanding volume presents an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the early phases of capitalism.

A companion book, The Cambridge Hundred Rolls Sources Volume, replacing the previous incomplete and inaccurate transcription by the Record Commission of 1818, is also available from Bristol University Press.

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The Cambridge Hundred Rolls Source Volume

One of the most important manuscripts surviving from thirteenth-century England, the corpus of documents known as the Hundred Rolls for Cambridge have been incomplete until the recent discovery of an additional roll.

This invaluable volume replaces the previous inaccurate transcription by the record commission of 1818 and provides new translations and additional appendices.

Shedding new light on important facets of business activity in thirteenth-century Cambridge, this volume makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the early phases of capitalism.

This unique text will be of interest to anyone working in the fields of economic and business history, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and medieval studies.

A research monograph based on recently discovered historical documents, Compassionate Capitalism: Business and Community in Medieval England, by Casson et al, is also now available from Bristol University Press.

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This chapter sets out the key research questions addressed in the book. These concern the role of English towns in the commercial revolution that was underway in the thirteenth century. There is a particular focus on the medieval property market, and on the citizens who were active in that market. The chapter reviews previous literature, and explains the choice of Cambridge as a case study. This choice is largely dictated by a unique source of information, namely the Cambridge Hundred Rolls, which are also described in this chapter. The Hundred Rolls date to 1279, but the origins of the town were much earlier. The early history of the town is set out, so that the context of the Hundred Rolls can be fully understood.

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Chapter 2 investigates the significance of the property market in medieval Cambridge. It considers how far the property market at this time anticipated the urban property markets of today. Detailed information on the Cambridge property market is provided in the Hundred Rolls. A unique feature of the Rolls, compared to other sources such as rentals, is that they record all the rents paid on a property and not just the rent paid to one particular lord, such as the king or local lay lord. The rolls show that many properties paid multiple rents. With full information on each of these rents it possible to analyse separately the total rent paid and the various components of this rent going to individual lords. Chapter 2 introduces the statistical methods required to address these issues and reports the results obtained by applying them.

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Chapter 3 analyses the economic topography of the town, building on the results presented in Chapter 2. It investigates how far occupations were specialised in different part of the town. It constructs profiles of all the Cambridge parishes, showing how many properties were located in each, how much rent those properties paid, to whom they paid it, who held the properties, and in some cases their occupation too. It is also possible to chart the spatial distribution of occupational names. Because of the missing roll, it is possible for the first time to provide a definitive account of all the parishes. This corrects a bias in previous topographical accounts, which have over-emphasised the north and west of the town at the expense of the south and east.

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Family dynasties were important players in the property market of medieval Cambridge, the Hundred Rolls reveal. Using a wide range of archival sources this chapter examines the inter family relationships and cross family connections of 23 families identified from the rolls, including the Bartons, Blancgernuns and Dunnings. Strategies by which families accumulated and extended their property portfolios are examined. Causes of family decline and family success are considered.

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This chapter considers what factors contributed to the survival and success of the leading families, and to the decline of others. It identifies the crucial role of entrepreneurs in founding and sustaining the fortunes of leading families. A key finding of the chapter is the distinction between old aristocratic wealth and new mercantile wealth. Some older families fell into debt and lost their property portfolios. Others redistributed income within the family or undertook strategic marriages, and thus obtained a new lease of life.

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Chapter 6 examines Cambridge’s performance at a regional and national level. Cambridge’s position relative to other leading towns nearby, such as Ely, Bury St Edmunds, King’s Lynn, Huntingdon and St Ives, is examined. The competitiveness of its market is evaluated through assessment of its transport connections and the local charters for market and fairs in the Cambridge area. Once again new information is brought to bear on the subject; in this case the account rolls of the Merton manor in Cambridge, previously owned by the Dunning family and subsequently acquired by Walter de Merton for the endowment of Merton College, Oxford. The chapter demonstrates the dominance of Cambridge market in the local economy. The strength of this market, combined with the town’s control of the export-oriented river trade, assured its leading position in local trade and contributed to attracting investors from the local region and beyond.

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Chapter 7 connects the book to work on the subsequent history of Cambridge, including that on the development of the University. It considers the extent to which trends identified in the Hundred Rolls continued into the fourteenth century. Cambridge adjusted to the decline in its agricultural trade after the Black Death by developing its service sector, linked to university education. The role of family dynasties remained significant, but the period was characterised by the growth of three key institutions – the borough corporation, the guilds, and the colleges. College property holdings increased, driven by increasing student numbers, and the colleges gradually obtained rights to the meadows adjoining the river to the west of the town. The foundation of King’s College transformed the street plan in the west of Cambridge, obliterating many ancient streets and buildings, but providing new economic opportunities to supply the academic community.

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