Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9588
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Jones , E. D.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Medieval Merchets as Demographic Data: Some Evidence from the Spalding Priory Estates, Lincolnshire
  • Source: Continuity and Change 11, 3 (Dec. 1996): Pages 459 - 470.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Journal Article
  • Subject (See Also): Black Death Demography Famines Marriage Merchet (Marriage Payment) Serfs Spalding, Lincolnshire, England- Spalding Priory
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 13- 14- 15
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence: Legal Document; Spalding, Spalding Gentlemen's Society, Myntling Register, ff. 212-269v. Compiled around 1478, based on Spalding Priory court rolls (beginning in 1278) which are no longer extant.
  • Illustrations:
  • Table: Three tables. Table One breaks down merchets for four manors (1253-1478) by person paying (fathers, single females, husbands, etc.) and by condition of marriage (outside fief and to freemen). Table Two totals the number of merchets for five manors (1253-1299 and 1300-1349). Table Three lists annual merchet numbers for five manors (1307-1330 and 1340-1354).
  • Abstract: This article discusses the use of merchets--payments to their manorial lords for permission to marry by serf women in medieval England--as a source of demographic data. Evidence from the estates of Spalding Priory in Lincolnshire serves as the basis of discussion here. The subject has been the focus of recent debate amongst historians, with particular attention upon the arguments of R. M. Smith and L. R. Poos. Though a good set of merchet statistics--such as that surviving from Spalding--may provide some clues to demographic patterns, this article argues that by and large merchet data cannot serve as an accurate basis for a population analysis involving serf marriages. This is true not only as a result of the vagaries of estate management and documentation and the fact that only a minority of serf marriages which took place resulted in the recording of a merchet, but also because marriages outside the manor, runaway serfs, widowers' marriages, and manumissions all create problems affecting the accuracy of merchet data as a population indicator. In general the arguments of Smith and Poos are substantiated. [Reproduced by permission of Cambridge University Press]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Western Australia
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1996.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 02684160
  • Material/Technique :
  • Rights: