A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century - Margaret Wade Labarge (1965)

I am a fan of "daily living" style history books (see Daily Living in the 12th Century and Scotland Under Mary Stuart) and this book is a solid entry in this category. Working from surviving household rolls of Eleanor de Montfort, augmented by similiar sources, Margaret Labarge attempts to paint a picture of the mechanics involved in administering a large noble household with a reasonable degree of success.

The book is well laid out, discussing first the castle as a dwelling, then the position of noblewomen in household management. From there she proceeds to questions of provisioning, cooking, clothing and so on, addressing costs, the household organization to monitor and provide the goods or services and so forth, with the result that the reader does get a certain Upper Management view of the time. The conclusions that Labarge draws from the scanty information in the rolls is correlated with and supported by other documentation so that she offers an interpretation of a specific point, one feels fairly confident in accepting it.

The book is particularly useful if one is interested in the economics of the time since it contains quite a bit of information on pricing, something which is missing from many books of this type. On the other hand, unless one is interested in it, the discussions of, for instance, why the wheat prices are higher in one location than another and how much may leave one cold.

A Baronial Household ... is perhaps not as accessible as, for instance, the Gies'books, being aimed less at the casual reader and more at the reader with an interest in medieval history, but that is no crime. It is fine addition to any collection of "Daily Life" books.

Overall Grade: B

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