The Medieval Antecedents of English Agricultural Progress: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Medieval Antecedents of English Agricultural Progress

1st Edition

By Bruce M.S. Campbell


368 pages

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Until recently, historians tended to stress the perceived technological and ecological shortcomings of medieval agriculture. The ten essays assembled in this volume offer a contrary view. Based upon close documentary analysis of the demesne farms managed for and by lords, they show that, by 1300, in the most commercialized parts of England, production decisions were based upon relative factor costs and commodity prices. Moreover, when and where economic conditions were ripe and environmental and institutional circumstances favourable, medieval cultivators successfully secured high and ecologically sustainable levels of land productivity. They achieved this by integrating crop and livestock production into the sort of manure-intensive systems of mixed-husbandry which later underpinned the more celebrated output growth of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. If medieval agriculture failed to fulfill the production potential provided by wider adoption of such systems, this is more appropriately explained by the want of the kind of market incentives that might have justified investment, innovation, and specialization on the scale that characterized the so-called 'agricultural revolution', than either the lack of appropriate agricultural technology or the innate 'backwardness' of medieval cultivators.


’Although some of Campbell’s findings have been amended or amplified by subsequent research, none of the papers in this remarkably coherent collection appears outdated, and despite some inevitable overlap can usefully be read together by historians interested in longterm agricultural progress and technological change.’ English Historical Review ’…this is a well-produced collection of essays in which all medieval agricultural historians will find much of interest.’ Economic History Review

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction. Progressiveness and backwardness in 13th- and early 14th-century English agriculture: the verdict of recent research; Agricultural progress in medieval England: some evidence from eastern Norfolk; Arable productivity in medieval England: some evidence from Norfolk; Land, labour, livestock, and productivity trends in English seignorial agriculture, 1208-1450; A new perspective on medieval and early modern agriculture: 6 centuries of Norfolk farming c1250-c1850 (with Mark Overton); Norfolk livestock farming 1250-1740: a comparative study of manorial accounts and probate inventories (with Mark Overton); Commercial dairy production on medieval English demesnes: the case of Norfolk; Measuring the commercialisation of seigneurial agriculture circa 1300; Matching supply to demand: crop production and disposal by English demesnes in the century of the Black Death; Constraint or constrained? changing perspectives on medieval English agriculture; Index

About the Author

Bruce M.S. Campbell is Professor of Medieval Economic History at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, The Queen's University of Belfast, UK.

About the Series

Variorum Collected Studies

The first title in the Variorum Collected Studies series was published in 1970. Since then well over 1000 titles have appeared in the series, and it has established a well-earned international reputation for the publication of key research across a whole range of subjects within the fields of history.

The history of the medieval world remains central to the series, with Byzantine studies a particular speciality, but the range of titles extends from Hellenistic philosophy and the history of the Roman empire and early Christianity, through the Renaissance and Reformation, up to the 20th century. Islamic Studies forms another major strand as do the histories of science, technology and medicine.

Each title in the Variorum Collected Studies series brings together for the first time a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. These studies are reprinted from a vast range of learned journals, Festschrifts and conference proceedings. They make available research that is scattered, even inaccessible in all but the largest and most specialized libraries. With a new introduction and index, and often with new notes and previously unpublished material, they constitute an essential resource. 

For further information about contributing to the series please contact Michael Greenwood at

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain