University of Cambridge > > Core Seminar in Economic and Social History > Felons’ possessions and English living standards, 1370-1600

Felons’ possessions and English living standards, 1370-1600

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This paper seeks to contribute to the debate about changes in the material well-being of labourers, artisans and farmers in England’s countryside and small towns between c.1370 and c.1470 and compares this period to the sixteenth century. It introduces a hitherto largely unknown source that has the potential to shed light on household wealth: the lists and valuations of goods and chattels preserved in the records of the royal escheator and coroner. These lists were generated by the process of felony forfeiture, which saw the possessions of felons, fugitives and outlaws seized, valued, and sold for the benefit of the crown. The paper describes the felony forfeiture material; considers the methodological challenges involved in quantifying the evidence it contains; and presents and interprets new data on change over time in the number, value and range of goods owned by ordinary households. Overall, the felony forfeiture material suggests surprisingly little change in the ownership of household goods during the fifteenth century, despite this often being viewed in the literature as an era of significant shifts in consumption.

This talk is part of the Core Seminar in Economic and Social History series.

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