It has been argued that the later fifteenth century was a formative period in the emergence of a new entrepreneurial stratum of English society comprising wealthy peasants, propertied yeomen, minor gentry and merchant clothiers who went on to dominate English business in the Early Modern period. Little is known about these people, beyond their well-established role as leaseholders of seigneurial demesnes. This research analyses for the first time the business and credit relationships of this 'middling sort' using the certificates sent to Chancery by creditors suing defaulting debtors between 1485 and 1532. The information contained in these documents will allow for a detailed and systematic analysis of this influential group of people, the relative importance of commerce over status and wider insights into yeoman and gentry society more generally at the end of the Middle Ages.
This research exploits a clear historiographical gap as the certificates of statute staple have been rarely studied. Pamela Nightingale has used debt certificates, but never later than the 1450s and only in her discussions about the English money supply. No one has ever used them to explore the people behind the commercial transactions, thereby rendering an incomplete picture of credit networks. Craig Muldrew's work on credit culture does acknowledge the social component of debt transactions, such as the importance of reputation, but his analysis is focused almost entirely upon the 17th century. Therefore research into the social aspects of early Tudor debt relationships is urgently needed to fill these historiographical lacunae, something this project will rectify.
The certificates are contained at the National Archives and number approximately 2,500 documents which have not been translated, calendared, or even used before, providing a unique opportunity for original research. Cross-referencing with other sources, such as the 1524/5 lay subsidy and the 1522/3 muster rolls, as well as appropriate testamentary records and property deeds, will enhance the reconstruction of these individuals. Other city-specific sources, such as the Staple Court Books of Bristol, will provide the necessary scope for geographic case studies in relation to these individuals, broadening the impact of this project.
The impact of this research is twofold. Prosopographic reconstruction of these individuals will directly impact upon ideas about the development of the 'middle class'. As such this research will have a significant influence upon the fields of later Medieval English economic and social history and the potential to reshape our understanding of this important developing stratum of society. Secondly, an understanding of the process by which entrepreneurs gain influence and power in pre-industrial societies can communicate much to economists and social scientists studying the modern world.
My Masters research explored how lay people understood and responded to disease and illness in the late medieval period, utilising for the first time three gentry letter collections from the Paston, the Stonor and the Plumpton families. This research analysed the chronological and seasonal patterns of references to disease in the letters to examine how these lay people perceived the fluctuating patterns of disease in this period. It also grappled with the rather complex notion of risk and susceptibility, a deeply intimate and often rarely explored aspect of the lay experience of disease. Important emphasis was also placed upon individual family members and the different factors which could affect how strongly their relatives perceived the threat of disease. Finally I analysed the varying methods utilised by these families to manage the problem of illness. Particular attention was given to the individual curative experiences of each family, revealing that lay treatment of disease was often far more diverse than traditionally thought and as a result contributing to the historiographically popular debate over a divide between learned and lay medicine. Ultimately this paper demonstrated the complexity and sophistication connected with the lay experience of disease in this period and shed light on an under-explored and often under-appreciated aspect of the medieval consciousness.
My undergraduate research, published in 2015, explored late medieval land dynamics, focusing upon the land market of Warwickshire between 1284-1345. It utilised approximately 1000 feet of fines and explored the main driving forces influencing the land market. It addressed a clear lacuna in the historiography, in that scholars have tended to adopt a relatively simplistic binary approach towards analysis of land market dynamics, focusing either upon external influences, such as fluctuating grain prices, or else the 'family-land bond' as explanations. However in the process the potential for study of individualism had been overlooked, an aspect given particular emphasis within this research through the reconstruction of the lives and careers of prominent individuals appearing in the fines.