Library Dissertation Showcase

Agriculture and economy on the Manor of Old Ross: a revaluation of the significance of Roger Bigod’s Irish Lands

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2020

In recent years, the volume of research into the history of Ireland has greatly increased and consequently we have a developing, albeit still limited, understanding of the economy of Ireland in the middle ages. Ireland has been broadly overlooked in studies of European economy, and comparatively little research has been dedicated to exploring its own unique economic processes. Previous research has labelled the Irish lands belonging to the English lords as less significant than nearer territories, if any significance has been afforded at all. When starting this project, I found only a handful of historians exploring the system of manorial centres in Ireland – the core agricultural unit and the foundation of the medieval economic system in medieval Ireland. Previously, our understanding of much of Irish economy and politics came from research into the elite classes and their interactions with the English – only in more recent years has the perspective began to shift towards the lower levels of society and how the economy functioned from the bottom-up. Studies into this area are limited by the scarcity of complete sources; The majority of evidence we have comes from the regions of Ireland under Anglo-Norman control as the Gaelic regions are not known to have had the extensive administrative system the Anglo-Normans had. However, though the Anglo-Normans administrative structure allowed for extensive record keeping, much documentation was lost during the early twentieth century. Consequently, the data we do have is disjointed and has resulted in ‘the fragmentation of research into specific areas and reluctance to place the data into a wider European context’ Though, in recent years a number of historians have used new approaches and technologies to explore topics such as patterns of spatial land-use and architecture within the manor centres. The manorial account – an intricate record of the agricultural activities and receipts of specific manors – is central to the historical analysis of these centres. Much of our understanding of the manorial system in Ireland comes from its counterpart in England, from which we have ample data concerning the internal functions and economic practices of the manors. In Ireland during the thirteenth century these records became more abundant in their numbers, peaking at the end of the century, but seemingly very few survive after the 1320s. From those that survived overall – close to 300 in varying detail – those from the regions of Carlow, Wexford, and Kildare provide the most complete, extensive examples of manorial accounts. These accounts pertain to the lands of Roger Bigod, who inherited the Liberty of Carlow – a territory which included the manors of Old Ross, New Ross, and several manors in Wexford. The accounts of Old Ross represent some of the most detailed manorial accounts from this period across the whole of Ireland, and present us with a unique perspective into the everyday running of the manors and a database of information concerning the agrarian systems utilised in South-East Ireland during this period of Ireland’s history. As such, my study will focus on the manorial accounts at Old Ross, focusing on the accounts for the years 1282-1288.

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