- Ecclesiastical Lordship, Seigneurial Power and the Commercialization of Milling in Medieval England by Adam Lucas
While most scholars agree as to the importance of innovation and technology adoption, the questions surrounding these phenomena, that is, their determinants, [End Page 227] location, timing, and effects, remain open and keep attracting the attention of researchers from a variety of fields. Adam R. Lucas's Ecclesiastical Lordship, Seigneurial Power and the Commercialization of Milling in Medieval England represents an important contribution in this aspect. The book offers an excellent opportunity to look into the fascinating case of the adoption of water and wind power in Western European milling during the Middle Ages and provides a fresh overview of its history and historiography. It examines milling in a broader cultural, economic, legal, and political context and challenges existing views on the basis of the author's own findings and the most up-to-date relevant literature.
Lucas, a leading researcher of ancient and medieval technology, and the author of Wind, Water, Work: Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology (Brill, 2011), presents in this book new findings regarding the role of ecclesiastical landlords in commercial milling. His systematic examination of charters, account books, surveys, and other documents from thirty English religious houses, including a large share of small and medium houses, lead him to conclude that Augustinians, Cistercians, and minor orders provided non-seigneurial milling alternatives in many parts of England from the twelfth century onwards. Thus, non-seigneurial mills were not held only by lay hereditary and customary tenants, and ecclesiastical lords contributed to the commercialization of milling in this period as well.
Lucas's book, nonetheless, goes far beyond the mere presentation of findings. He provides a comprehensive examination of the discontinuities in the evolution of manorial property rights and the complexities of ecclesiastical patronage, as the key for understanding the ways in which religious houses and other lords acquired, managed, and drew revenue and services from mills. The first three chapters, which I find to be a little over-detailed, are dedicated to the foundation of English monasticism in the seventh century, the origins and properties of mill suit in the context of the development of feudal land tenure, and the commercialization of milling in England between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Chapter 4 outlines the religious orders' foundation, location, wealth and holdings, and milling activities vis-à-vis their broader management practices, whereas chapters 5 to 8 summarize the findings of Lucas's research, discussing the number of mills, their types, the timing of their mentions, the details of their acquisition, the type of tenure by which they were held and leased, their profitability, and estimating the proportion of mills that each house was likely to build.
There are a number of claims raised by Lucas throughout the book. Amongst them is the contention that there was demand for mechanical milling by tenants and that lords' main concern was competition from other mills, rather than the use of hand mills (a point that was also shown in my 2010 article in Economic History Review, 'The Effect of Political Fragmentation on Investments: A Case Study of Watermill Construction in Medieval Ponthieu, France'), contesting Marc Bloch's theory from the 1930s which saw mills as a symbol for class struggle. He also shows that 'suit of mill' existed in Anglo-Saxon England on royal and [End Page 228] ecclesiastical estates and became more widespread after the Conquest as a result of the manorial reorganization by William I, who created and expanded existing manorial demesnes from land which had formerly been held in free tenure (with obligations), and extended seigneurial monopolies to territories that had not formerly been subject to them. As to the increase in commercialization and investment in urban and rural industries from the late twelfth century, Lucas claims that was a result of the fall of many mills out of seigneurial control, as many demesne mills were either leased to free and customary tenants for a...