• Medieval Credit Crunch

    I am endlessly fascinated by Hildegard’s world and constantly come across interesting facts about the way people lived then which do not fit into the series. Only today I came across a reference to a medieval credit crunch.

    In the first third of the fourteenth century Florentine bankers achieved the zenith of prosperity but it  was followed  by forty years of instability.  This was not only caused by the collapse of authority due to the corruption of the Church, the devastation caused by the Black Death (wiping out nearly half the population of  Europe) but by the continuing English French war over the succession to the French Crown.  The latter led to the default of the Florentine banks’ chief debtor, King  Edward III of England.  Many banks went broke between 1343 and 1376, for instance the Bardi, the Peruzzi and the Acciaiuoli.  The collapse of almost every other small trading company in Florence followed.  Sounds familiar?  Overlending, no security and the inablility of debtors to  pay back their loans.


    A  lovely wild November day, the trees still hanging onto a few golden leaves.  The floods in Cumbria are causing more damage today than similar ones in the 13 80’s when the Abbey of Meaux was cut off for many weeks and the monks were unable to bring food in from their outlying granges.   In those days with a smaller population there was no need to build on flood plains but even so the swollen rivers,  with their broken, often wooden bridges made travel difficult and dangerous, cutting off whole communities as in Cockermouth this week.   Monastics were paid to guard the bridges and took tolls from travellers for the upkeep of them.   Ferrymen would also be paid by the local abbot or landowner to maintain communications with the outside world where bridges could not be built.

    There was a ferry across the Thames near Westminster – hence the name Horseferry Road.

    In the East Riding –  because it’s so flat and swampy –  the monks devised a system of ditches and canals.  When I was at the site of Meaux Abbey in the summer we saw a small stone bridge built over what is still called the Abbot’s Ditch.  This was a narrow waterway connecting the abbey to the nearest river, the Hull, which was used to transport goods – wool, grain, honey mostly – to the ports on the Humber where it could be shipped abroad.

    Just random thoughts on this wild day!