Medieval Credit Finance/Sowing the Seeds II

ICMA Centre, University of Reading, 30 March 2010

The Medieval and the ModernThe Middle Ages are popularly seen as a period of economic stagnation. In fact, historians have long been aware that there is ample evidence for innovative economic and financial developments. For example, bills of exchange and the growth of pan-European merchant societies contributed to an expansion of long-distance trade, while governments consolidated their authority and increased their revenues by establishing systems of direct and indirect taxation. At the same time, tools developed for modern financial and economic analysis have the potential to expand our understanding of the medieval economy, where it is possible to reconstruct appropriate data sets from the surviving medieval sources. There is thus considerable scope for collaboration between medieval historians and economists and this one day seminar will showcase recent research, with the aim of encouraging future projects.

The seminar is presented in two parts, and participants are welcome to attend the morning, the afternoon, or all day - just let us know your preference. There is no registration fee (and lunch and dinner is provided for delegates) but please note that places at the morning session ('Sowing the Seeds II') and the conference dinner may be limited; lunch and dinner will only be provided for those who have registered in advance. Anyone interested in attending should contact Dr Tony Moore ( as soon as possible.

Reception starts at 10:00 and coffee, tea and other refreshments will be available.

Morning Session - 'Sowing the Seeds II'

'Sowing the Seeds' is a workshop for early career medieval economic historians, which arranges group discussions on selected topics in order to set out the current state of the discipline and identify key questions for the future, as well as the best sources and methods for tackling them. It also provides a good opportunity to meet fellow medieval economic historians.

  • 10:45 - Introduction
  • 11:00 - 'A New Approach to Modelling the Medieval Economy'
  • 12:00 - 'Women in the Medieval Economy'.
  • 13:00 - Buffet lunch

Afternoon Session - Medieval Credit Finance

  • 14:00 - Project presentations
    This session will present the work of three current research projects that seek to apply modern economic and financial analysis to medieval data. See below for further detail.
  • 16:00 - Tea and coffee break
  • 16:30 - Keynote speaker:
    Professor Jim Bolton (Queen Mary, University of London), "Was there a 'crisis of credit' in fifteenth- century England?"
  • 18:00 - Concluding remarks
  • 18:30 - Conference dinner


Project presentations

European State Finance Database
Dr Catherine Casson

The European State Finance Database (ESFDB) is the product of an international collaborative research project for the collection and dissemination of data on European fiscal history. The project was founded in the 1990s by Professor Richard Bonney and Dr Margaret Bonney and funded by the British Academy and the Economic and Social Research Council. The presentation reports on the redevelopment of the ESFDB website, a process which involves the addition of new datasets, the provision of new search and navigation tools and an update of the bibliography. The newly developed website will be launched on 20 March 2010 at a conference at the University of Cambridge. The enhancement of the website is funded by the Conferences and Initiatives fund of the Economic History Society and administered by Dr D'Maris Coffman of Newnham College, Cambridge and Dr Anne Murphy of the University of Hertfordshire.

Credit Finance in the Middle Ages: Loans to the English Crown c. 1272-1340
Dr Adrian Bell, Professor Chris Brooks, Dr Tony Moore, ICMA Centre, University of Reading

The current project looks at the financial relationship between the English crown and the Italian merchant societies during the period 1272-1340. It examines the successive relationships between three English kings (Edwards I, II and III) and three Italian merchant societies (the Ricciardi of Lucca, the Frescobaldi of Florence, and the Bardi and Peruzzi, also of Florence), with the ultimate aim of using this data to construct a reputational model of sovereign borrowing. This will investigate how the 'credit rating' of the English crown affected both the availability of credit and the interest rates charged for that credit, a question of considerable contemporary relevance. It is the latest in a series of collaborations between medieval historians and economists/financial academics based at the ICMA (International Capital Markets Association) centre.

Late medieval financial market integration: the Hanseatic Area, the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Poland, c. 1300-1550
Dr Oliver Volckart and Dr David Chilosi, London School of Economics

This project uses the exchange rates between the numerous local silver currencies, and also the fewer interregionally used gold currencies, circulating in the Holy Roman Empire, the hanseatic area and the kingdom of Poland from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries to analyze the integration of financial markets. First, the development of the nominal exchange rates of these currencies is examined to show whether and how far exchange rates between currencies based on the same kind of precious metal deviated from parity; deviations are then used as indicators of weaknesses in market integration. Second, exchange rates between currencies based on different kinds of precious metals are used to calculate local gold-silver-ratios; spreads between these ratios likewise indicate weaknesses in integration. This will led to an examination of the impact of monetary policies pursued by many late medieval governments, such as the effects of currency unions and of attempts to exclude foreign money from circulation.

Further details are available here

Keynote lecture: Was there a 'crisis of credit' in fifteenth- century England?

Professor Jim Bolton

Jim Bolton is Professorial Research Fellow on the Borromei Bank Research Project at Queen Mary, University of London. The project has computerised the Borromei bank ledgers for the London branch 1436-39 and the Bruges branch, 1438. These contain details of tens of thousands of financial transactions, which contribute greatly to our understanding of the development of medieval finance and credit. For instance, the London ledger shows that merchants were used to paying each other through their bank accounts, with no coin changing hands; that they could both write and accept bills of exchange; and that Filippo Borromei & co. of London offered some of them extended credit, with balances being carried over from year to year. All three have considerable implications for current debates on the technical and accounting skills of English merchants and on the creation of paper money to alleviate shortages of gold and especially silver coins, or perhaps the bullion from which they were struck. Professor Bolton's other research focuses on the medieval English economy, and particularly on the coinage, the money supply and inflation and deflation, and on migration to England from north-western Europe and Ireland in the fifteenth century.