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  • SOME RECENT WORKS ON MONASTICISM

    English Monastic Finances in the Later Middle Ages. By R. H. SNAPE. 1926. ix + 190 pp. Cambridge University Press. 10s. G d .

    By G. R. GALRRAITH. 1925. xvi + 286 pp. Manchester University Press. 128. 6d.

    The Dominican Order in England before the Reformation. By B. E. R. FORMOY. 1028. xvi + 160 pp. S.P.C.K. 6s.

    Christian Monasticism. By I. C . HANNAH. [1924.] 270 pp. Allen SC Unwin. 10s. Gd.

    The Constitution of the Dominican Order, 1216 to 13GO.

    IT may disconcert the reader to find that Mr. Snapes essay on English monastic finances in the later Middle Ages was written fourteen years ago ; but in the interval little has been added to the printed materials, to which alone Mr. Snape restricted himself, and the difficulties of such a work, under such limitations, are almost as great now as in 1912. The greatest collections of account rolls, those, for instance, at Canterbury, Westminster, or Norwich, seem to be too vast an undertaking for any editor ; and those rolls that have been published suffer either from their fragmentary nature, or, when numerous, from the abbreviated form in

    which many are, doubtless unavoidably, presented. In this last point there is an important moral : an edition like that of the Durham account rolls, consisting mainly of extracts of archaco- logical interest, is very useful in many ways, but does not serve what is, after all, the primary purpose of these records, namely, to give a complete financial statement. For this period there is no general survey like the Valor Ecclesiasliciis of 1635. England lost a great opportunity in 1338-40, when the valuation of Pope Benedict XI1 was prevented by royal prohibition from being applied not only to the Augustinian Canons,l but also, as Mr. Snape rightly guessed, to the Benedictines, the Black Monks.2

    In the first chapter Mr. Snape deals with the monastic population, monks, lay-brothers and servants, showing that the decline in numbers began before the Black Death ; in the following chapter, perhaps the most interesting and valuable part of the

    l Snape, op. cit . , p. 71 and note, where there should be a reference to Mr. Salters printed work, Oxford Historical Society, vol. lxxiv, p. KO.

    Deen and Chapter of Canterbury MSS., Register I. fol. 446.

  • 108 HISTORY [JULY

    book, he deals with monastic organisation, and rightly begins by explaining its most striking feature, the strict partition of property between the abbot and the convent, and the further partition of the conventual portion between the obedientiaries, the chamber- lain, cellarer, etc. In making this clear by analysing a late thirteenth-century agreement between the abbot and convent of Bury St. Edmunds, he seems to convey the impression that this system was usually brought about at one blow, by a kind of Social Contract, and, while explaining its practical advantages, which were legal and constitutional rather than financial, he does not trace its historical origin. It seems that each piece of property, a t its first accession, was often definitely allocated, ad victum, ad vestiturn, ad fabricam, and so on, perhaps by the wish of the donor himself, aa Archbishop Peckham supposed. Certainly the practice of separate endowment goes back to thc generation following the Norman Conquest, as Dr. Armitage Robinson has shown in his study on Gilbert Crispin, Abbot of Westminster, which appeared in 1911. This may seem outside Mr. Snapes period, but the merits or demerits of later monastic economists cannot be fairly judged without some consideration of the origins of their traditional system. If, as Mr. Snape maintains, the monastic economy in the sixteenth century was so inferior to the household management of a great layman, like the Earl of Northumberland, it was because the monasteries were ancient and conservative corporations, still bound to the peculiar circumstances and expedients of their early history. Nor were the monlts entirely blind to the financial defects of their system of separate endowments and separate accounts :

    There is evidence, however, which would appear at first sight to shorn that, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes under the stimulus of external criticism, many monasteries came to recognise the advantage of having a central office through which all receipts, if not all detailed payments, should be made, and established a common exchequer for the whole house. This evidence centres round the official known as the bursar, the treasurer or the receiver, whose office would seem to make its first appearance towards the close of the twelfth century, and became common during the earlier thirteenth eentury (p. 37).

    Archbishop Peckham in his visitations was specially interested in causing the establishment of bursaries of this kind. But this corrective was not so widespread as i t seems : many officers, like the Treasurer a t Winchester or the Bursar at Durham, did not deal with the whole income of the house, but were simply supplementary to the rest of the officials :

    Snap, op. c i t . , p. 42. Cf. the list of Donations in Somners Antiquitiee of Ca74fe~bury (1703), Pt. I. App. p. 36.

  • 19271 SOME RECENT WORKS ON MONASTICISM 109

    A new official waa intorposod betweon the abbot, and the last unassigned portion of his housee revcnues. . . . Probably, therefore, it is not far wrong to see in the whole system of the endowmont of the obediences, of which this is the last development, evidence, in the first place, of a persistent attempt to aecure the convent against the danger of an extravagant or dishonest abbot (p. 62).

    In spite of this, and similar safeguards, such as the joint custody of the common seal, there was no effective check upon the abbots autocracy, except the interference of the visitor or the president of the general chapter; and thus i t was upon the abbots business morality, and his business capacity, that the prosperity of the house ultimately depended. To the absolute authority and responsibility of the monastic paterfamilias, the successes, of course, no less than the disasters, were due.

    The most disappointing part of the book is the chapter on the Revenues, which is little more than a study, admirable enough in itself, of the monastic appropriation of churches. One cannot help feeling that the temporalities, the income derived from the monastic estates, might have been less neglected had they possessed the same polemical interest. As it is, Mr. Snape has practically ignored one half of the monastic balance sheet; his obvious duty was to carry Professor Savines investigations some centuries further back, by examining the sources and management of monastic revenue, and especially that system of farming which he so much deplores, as removing the monks from contact with the world, a point of view hardly to be shared by the monastic moralist.

    Again, the writer has not attempted a general analysis of monastic expenditure, but has confined himself to a few of its more interesting aspects : expenses incurred in connexion with visitations (only less costly than the luxury of exemption), with university education, hospitality, alms. It may be noted that the system of separately endowed departments was inelastic and could not easily find a place for a fresh charge such as the maintenance of monks at the universities, which had to be defrayed by a levy or contribution from the various obedientiaries, as is shown in their accounts. The inevitable raid upon parochial endowments being employed even for the conduct of R lawsuit (p. 109) is not an unnatural comment on the proceedings in the Benedictine provincial chapter of 1343, but there is another, and perhaps more probable interpretation of the text in question, namely, that it was not by exploiting appropriated churches, but by using the contribution, or general levy, to maintain proctors at the Court of Rome, that the lawsuits and

    1 Wilkins, Concilia, ii. 714.

  • 110 HISTORY [JULY

    other common business of the chapter were to be furthered. Churches might legally be appropriated to any particular monastery, but not, surely, to such a body as the provincial chapter, for its common purposes: while we know, from the collectors accounts that survive at Westminster, that i t was precisely for these common legal expenses that the contri- butions were largely used. Mr. Snape estimates the average amount of monastic alms a t fivc per cent. of the total income: it should be remembered that the original basis of monastic charity was distribution, not in money, but in kind, from the table and the clothes-room. It is not very convincing to say with Dean Kitchin that there is not a trace of the visitation of the sick on which Archbishop Lanfranc lays so much stress. Such a visitation as that described in the early fourteenth century a t St. Augustinss, Canterbury,l would, from its nature, leave no traces on the accounts, and though this is supported only by one of those custumals which Mr. Snape values so lightly (p. 2), there is a convincing realism in the details, for instance, the clearing of the sick mans house of women. Chapter V deals with monastic debt, with the various means of raising money, such as loans, sale of produce in advance, and corrodies. Financial conditions were worst in the alien priories and other small houses which had not the economic physique to live down a period of misfortune or maladministration. All houses had to face a growing economic pressure on those who with a fixed income were steadily con- fronted with rising prices; nor was the income always even stationary, sometimes it decreased : an example of this with an interesting contemporary attempt at diagnosis will be found in the Durham Scriptmes Tres (Surtees SOC., 1839, pp. ccxlviii-cclii).

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