Credit and the Sociability of Credit in York Archdiocese in the Fifteenth Century

  • Hannah Robb

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the sociability of credit in the Archdiocese of York in the fifteenth century through the microcosm of individual credit agreements that supported day-to-day trade. In doing so it reconstructs the practicalities of credit contracts and the social relationships on which they were built in the late medieval market. It asks questions posed in the literature of early modern credit of the evidence for the fifteenth century. The discussion identifies a continuity in attitudes towards borrowing and lending with a ‘currency of reputation’ evident in the debt and defamation litigation brought before the consistory court at York. The emphasis placed on reputation in the credit economy was not a process unique to the economic pressures of the early modern market or the language of the Reformation but is to be found in the ideals of honesty and trustworthiness that underpinned credit in the fifteenth century. The language of litigation points to a reputation oriented society in which individual commercial probity was enmeshed in household morality. Drawing on a range of secular and ecclesiastical courts operating in the north of England it presents an analysis of those petty credit agreements that propped up day-to-day market activities. Finding in the fifteenth century a legal system in which both written contracts and oral testimony were accepted forms of proof, the thesis illustrates the range of credit agreements that supported the informal credit economy. The qualitative approach to the records explores the relationship between the language of the court and the language of credit, suggesting that the legal code of the ecclesiastical courts in particular shaped later understandings of trust and good faith in early modern contracts. Reading credit across the multitude of legal courts within York highlights the legal plurality exercised in the late medieval period. It raises questions as to how reliable models positing a direct correlation between levels of credit and the volume of circulating coin are when predicated on the records of merchant credit alone. The discussion of changing legal preferences in the fifteenth century and the shifting of business from church to secular courts draws attention to the ways in which the archive might shape understandings of the level of credit in the economy. The dissertation is structured around the legal pleas in which debt was presented at court. The introduction outlines the current historiographical trends in the social history of credit. The first chapter, ‘An Age of Transition?’, addresses those explanatory frameworks that seek to model the market in the middle ages advancing the fifteenth century as a period of transition from a moral to an individualistic market. Chapter two looks in detail at those monetarist explanations for a declining credit market in line with the productivity of the mints in the north of England. The credit economy is accessed via a study of debt litigation in the courts of York, the third chapter thus presents an analysis of the relationship of the competing legal jurisdictions in and around the city, considering the implications of legal developments on levels of presentment. Chapter four explores ‘hidden credit’, those contracts that were unrecorded in official rolls registering credit, through testamentary litigation and the evidence of household accounting. Chapter five explores the morality of the marketplace. It considers the practice of charging interest in a credit economy predominated by familial relationships and explores debt litigation as a forum for neighbourly disputes. The two final chapters asses the presentation of debt in the consistory court of York Minster. Chapter 5 considers pleas of breach of faith and the language used to describe the contract and chapter 6 pleas of defamation where characters were defended in light of the need to engage with the credit economy. The conclusion considers the sociability of cred
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorGeorg Christ (Supervisor) & Charles Insley (Supervisor)


  • reputation
  • trust
  • ecclesiastical court
  • Credit
  • Fifteenth century
  • York

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