In my recently defended doctoral thesis, I studied the evolution of grain prices, the outbreak of famines and the position of large ecclesiastical landlords on the grain market in 14th-century Flanders. I reconstructed and explained short- and long-term fluctuations in grain prices and examined the way in which landlords (with a large scale and control over resources) managed the volumes of grain they collected. My research was based on hundreds of accounts (esp. Middle French) from landlords in the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Lille, Douai and Cambrai. The study approaches the price shocks on the grain market along four major axes. The first part investigates the price formation of grain. It mainly tackles the many technical challenges of reconstructing a reliable market price series for contexts where the source material is fragmented. Based on these new price series, the second part looks at the frequency, intensity and duration of price shocks. The long and short-term fluctuations of the grain price as well as the integration between the Flemish cities and in a broader European perspective is addressed. The third part studies the vulnerability of the urban population to price surges and the accompanying food shortages due to the far-reaching market dependency on the one hand. On the other, it questions the link between mortality crises of the many plague episodes of the fourteenth century and the subsistence crises. Finally, the fourth part of this study focuses on the large landlords and their role as large scale producers and exporters of grain. The organization of their activities on the grain market, the differences between the organization of the agriculture of the regions in which these landlords were embedded and the adaptation of the income and expense strategies of grain by the landlords are key in this last part. The main concluding points that emerge throughout the dissertation include the unique character and importance of precisely dated prices. This allowed the frequency, intensity of the price peaks, and their influence on the urban population to be accurately studied. Additionally, the importance of large landowners in the production and distribution of grain, as well as the institutional constraints and the importance of the different social agrosystems needs to be stressed. From October 2021 to October 2022 I studied the 15th-century food crises in the city of Liège, and in particular, how large ecclesiastical landlords adapted their household economy to these food crises, part of the FREE project (Food Crisis Middle Ages, funding by FNRS & State Archives). This opportunity for a year-long study on crises in late medieval Liège allowed me to expand my perspective on the source material regarding large ecclesiastical landlords situated in the broader Low Countries.
The economic impact of plague: disruption, mitigation and learning effects in the later Middle Ages.
AbstractThe Black Death and the plague epidemics in its wake constitute the most lethal mortality episodes in European history. Whereas the long-term economic effects of this huge decrease in demand and labour supply have often been studied, the disruptions in the short term have received surprisingly little attention. While my dissertation has shown that each of the giant plague waves of the 14th century was paralleled by a peak in grain prices, I found that this was absent for the outbreak of 1400, despite very high mortality levels. Such variation in the level of disruption could be caused by the evolving nature of the disease or its co-existence with climate instabilities and warfare, but perhaps internal societal factors and coping mechanisms were also of great importance. This project will test whether societies and individual actors were indeed capable of having an impact on the level of economic disruption after a plague outbreak. Mobilizing a range of indicators on consumption and production in the accounts of large ecclesiastical landlords, I will be able to compare both disruptions and reactions in three economically differently organized regions (Flanders, Toulouse & Norfolk). This will allow me not only to assess the nature and depth of economic disruption, but also the role of regional social and institutional factors in mitigating the impact and the possible learning effects which can be observed in the responses to recurrent violent outbreaks of epidemic disease.
- Research Project