The Rules of Saint Robert Grosseteste

Source: Taken verbatim from the following webpage on 8 August 2011:

[Explanatory footnotes, numbered in square brackets, and glosses and corrections to the text have been added by Martha Carlin.]


Robert Grosseteste, born circa 1170, was bishop of Lincoln from 1235 to 1253. Despite the title of his rules, he was never canonised – he was too critical of the papacy to earn sainthood; indeed, on his deathbed, he allegedly proclaimed the pope to be the Anti-christ.

Grosseteste – his name means “big head”; apparently he had a small body and a large head – was an intellectual, an Oxford don famed for his grasp of both law and theology. He was an enthusiastic and seemingly tireless bishop, who retained his interest in science; his book De Luce, a study of optics, was written during his first five years as bishop. He was also an enthusiastic builder — the existing nave of Lincoln cathedral is his work. He was something of a maverick as both intellectual and bishop, unafraid to challenge both king and pope, and developing his own style of teaching though, perhaps surprisingly, he founded no school at Lincoln.

He wrote these rules for his friend, Countess Margaret of Lincoln, probably shortly after the death of her husband, John de Lacy, in 1240. Margaret, as her widow’s portion, was left four manors to run herself, hence Bishop Robert’s advice. The rules were almost certainly written before 1242, when Margaret married Walter Marshall, the earl of Pembroke.

The rules themselves are less concerned with agricultural management – though that plays a part – than with the way in which a noble should run his or her estate. They cover both the general (such as planning the yearly travels) to the specific (how to command servants and where to buy the best clothes). The work might be considered a medieval Emily Post.

This is the fourth and final estate management treatise translated by Elizabeth Lamond in 1890, though it is the earliest in date – a generation or two earlier than Walter of Henley’s Husbandry and Seneschaucie. It nicely rounds of the set: Henley and the Anonymous Husbandry cover farming methods; Seneschaucie covers the roles and responsibilities of servants; Grosseteste’s Rules cover the rights and responsibilities of the lord.

Introduction © Andy Staples, June 2002

The Rules

Translated by Elizabeth Lamond, FRHS, 1890 [see full citation under Notes, below]

Here begin the rules that the good bishop of Lincoln, St Robert Grosseteste, made for the Countess of Lincoln to guard and govern her lands and hostel: whoever will keep these rules well will be able to live on his means, and keep himself and those belonging to him.

The first rule teaches how a lord or lady shall know in each manor all their lands by their parcels, all their rents, customs, usages, services, franchises, fees and tenements

Touching your foreign lands; to begin with, buy the king’s writ to inquire by the oath of twelve free men in each manor all the lands by their parcels, all the rents, customs, usages, services, franchises, fees and tenements, and let this be carefully and lawfully inquired into by the most loyal and wisest of the freeholders and villeins, and distinctly enrolled, so that your chief seneschal [estates steward] may have one whole roll, and you another, and let each bailiff have what belongs to his baillie. And if plaintiffs come to you for wrong that anyone has done them, or petitioning, first look yourself at the rolls of that manor to which the plaintiff belongs, and according to them give answer and maintain justice.

The second rule teaches how you may know by common inquest [n. 1] what there is on each manor, moveable or not moveable

Next, cause to be made without delay right inquest, and enrol [n. 2] distinctly in another roll every one of your manors in England, each by itself, how many ploughs you have in each place, small or great, and how many you can have; how many acres of arable land, how many of meadow, how much pasture for sheep, and how much for cows, and so for all kind of beasts according to their number; and what moveables you have in each place of livestock; and keep this roll by you, and often look at the first roll, and this also that you may quickly know how to find what you ought to do. Let all your servants on the manors be set at a fixed sum of money; and after August let your granges [n. 3] be closed.

The third rule teaches the discourse that the lord or lady ought to have with their chief seneschal before some of thy good friends

When the aforesaid rolls and inquests have been made, and as soon as you can, that the work of your people be not hindered, call your chief seneschal before any of your people that you trust, and speak thus to him:

“Good sir, you see plainly that to have my rights set forth clearly, and to know more surely the state of my people, and of my lands, and what I can henceforth do with what belongs to me and what leave, I have caused these inquests and enrolments to be made; now I pray you, as one to whom I have committed trust, as many as I have under me guard and govern.

“And strictly I command you that you keep whole and without harm, all my rights, franchises [n. 4] and fixed possessions, and whatever of these said things is withdrawn or diminished by the negligence of others, or by wrongdoing, replace it as far as you are able. And my moveable goods and livestock increase in an honest and right way, and keep them faithfully. The returns from my lands, rents and moveables, without fraud, and with lawful diminution, bring to me and to my treasury to spend according as I shall direct, that God may be satisfied, and my honour and my profit preserved by the foresight of myself and you and my other friends.

“Further, I strictly command that neither you nor any of your bailiffs under you in any way, by unlawful exactions of fear, or accusations, or receipt of presents or gifts, vex, hurt or ruin those who hold of me [n. 5] — rich or poor; and if in any of these said ways they are by anyone vexed, hurt or ruined, by fixed inquest which I will that you make in your eyre [n. 6] wherever it can be attained, quickly make amendment and redress.”

The fourth rule teaches how a lord or lady can further examine into their estate [n. 7], that is to say, how he or she can live yearly of their own

In two ways by calculation can you inquire your estate. First this, command strictly that each place at the leading of your corn [n. 8] there be thrown in a measure at the entrance to the grange the eighth sheaf of every kind of corn, and let it be threshed and measured by itself. And by calculating that measure you can calculate all the rest in the grange. And in doing this I advise you to send to the best manors of your lands those of your household in whom you place most confidence to be present in August at the leading of the corn, and to guard it as aforesaid.

And if this does not please you, do it in this way. Command your seneschal that every year at Michaelmas [n. 9] he cause all the stacks of each kind of corn, within the grange and without, to be valued by prudent, faithful and capable men, how many quarters [n. 10] there may be, and then how many quarters will be taken for seed and servants on the land, and then of the whole amount, and what remains over and above the land and the servants, set the sum in writing, and according to that assign the expenses of your household in bread and ale.

Also see how many quarters of corn you will spend in a week in dispensable bread, how much in alms. That is, if you spend two quarters a day, that is fourteen quarters a week, that is seven hundred and fourteen quarters a year. And if to increase your alms you spend two quarters and a half every day, that is seventeen quarters and a half in the week, and in the year eight hundred and fifty three quarters and a half. And when you have subtracted this sum from the sum total of your corn, then you can subtract for the ale, according as weekly custom has been for the brewing in your household. And take care of the sum which will remain from sale.

And with the money from your corn, from your rents, and from the issues of pleas in your courts, and from your stock, arrange the expenses of your kitchen and your wines and your wardrobe [n. 11] and the wages of servants, and subtract your stock. But on all manors take care of your corn, that it is not sold out of season without need; that is, if your rents and other returns will suffice for the expenses of your chamber and wines and kitchen, leave your store of corn whole until you have the advantage of the corn of another year, not more, or at the least, of half [a year].

The fifth rule teaches you how prudently you ought to act when wards or escheats fall to you

If a ward or escheat [n. 12] fall to you, at once send your letters to two of the most prudent and faithful of the country, with one of your own [people] in whom you have confidence, who in no way desire to have this thing; and cause the extent [n. 13] of the wardship or escheat to be made in all the things, and make them send you the extent under their seals, and according to what he who counsels you shall say and yourself direct, either keep it or give it whole to one of your people, or to two or three, according as more or fewer of them shall have been in your service, and much toil have undergone about you and for you, and you ought always especially to regard this reason. And by no advice be too hasty in giving the thing until you are most sure what it is and what it is worth.

The sixth rules teaches you how and when you ought to command your granges to be shut and opened

Command your seneschal that your granges everywhere be entirely closed after August, that no servant may open them without special command or letter from you or him until threshing-time come. And then let there be sent a faithful man, or servant whom the provost [reeve] shall take from that place, and another true man from the township, and all the time let them be present at the opening of the granges, and at the close, and at threshing, at winnowing, at the delivery, at the survey by the tally. And take care that no servant or bailiff receive the money of the returns, but only the provost and another who shall have wherewithal to answer.

The seventh rule teaches you how you may know to compare the accounts with the estimate of the extent or the fault of your servants and bailiffs of manors and lands

At the end of the year when all the accounts shall have been heard and rendered of the lands, and the issues [n. 14], and all the expenses of all the manors, take to yourself all the rolls, and by one or two of the most intimate and faithful men that you have, make very careful comparison with the rolls of the accounts rendered, and of the rolls of the estimate of corn and stock that you made after the previous August, and according as they agree you shall see the industry or negligence of your servants and bailiffs, and according to that make amendment.

The eighth rule teaches you the general commandments that you ought often to give your household

Exhort all your household often that all those who serve you shall know to serve God and you, faithfully and painstakingly, and for the will of God to prefer in all things to do your will and pleasure in all things that are not against God.

The ninth rule teaches you what you ought to say often to the small and great of your household, that all do your commands

Say to all small and great, and that often, that fully, quickly and willingly, without grumbling and contradiction, they do all your commands that are not against God.

The tenth rule teaches you the particular command that you ought to give to the marshal of your hostel

Command those that govern your house before all you household that they keep careful watch that all your household, within and without, be faithful, painstaking, chaste, clean, honest and profitable.

The eleventh rule teaches you who ought to be received to be of your household indoors or without

Command that no one be received, or kept to be of your household indoors or without, if one has not reasonable belief of them that they are faithful, discreet, and painstaking in the office for which they are received, and withal honest and of good manners.

The twelfth rule teaches you what inquest ought often to be made in your household by your commandment

Command that often and carefully inquest be made if there be any disloyal, unwise, filthy in person, gluttonous, quarrelsome, drunken, unprofitable, and those who shall be found so, or of whom such report is spread, let them be turned out of your household.

The thirteenth rule teaches you how by your commandment peace shall be kept in your hostel

Command that in no way there be in your household any who make strife, discord or divisions in the hostel, but all shall be of one accord, of one will as of one heart and one soul. Command that all those who work at a craft be obedient and ready to those who are over them in the things which belong to their craft.

The fourteenth rule teaches you how your guests ought to be received

Command strictly that all your guests, secular and religious, be quickly, courteously, and with good cheer received by the seneschal from the porters, ushers and marshals, and by all be courteously addressed and in the same way lodged and served.

The sixteenth rule teaches you in what clothes your people should wait on you at meals

Command your knights and all your gentlemen who wear your livery, that that same livery which they use daily, especially at your meals and in your presence, be kept for your honour, and not old tabards, and soiled herigauts and imitation short hose [n. 15].

The seventeenth rule teaches you how you ought to seat your people at meals in your house

Make your free men and guests sit as far as possible at tables on either side, not four here and three there. And all the crowd of grooms shall enter together when the freemen are seated, and shall sit together and rise together. And strictly forbid that any quarrelling be at your meals. And you yourself always be seated at the middle of the high table that your presence as lord or lady may appear openly to all, and that you may plainly see on either side all the service and all the faults. And be careful of this, that each day at your meals you have two overseers over your household when you sit at meals, and of this be sure, that you shall be very much feared and reverenced.

The eighteenth rule teaches you how you ought to give leave to your people who bear office in your house to go to their own home

As little as possible give leave to those who keep office in your house to go to their own homes, and when you give leave, give them a short time to return to you, if they wish to serve you; and if any of them speak back or grumble, tell them that you will be lord or lady, and that you will that all serve your will and pleasure, and whoever will not do so send away, and get others who will serve your pleasure – of whom you will find enough.

The nineteenth rule teaches you how your hostel ought to be served at meals

Command that your panter [n. 16] with the bread and your butler [n. 17] with the cup come before you to the table, foot by foot, before grace, and that three valets be assigned by the marshal each day to serve the high table and the two tables at the side with drink. And no vessel with ale shall be placed on the table, but under the table, and wine only shall be placed on the table; but at the table where you are, wine and ale shall be under the table, except before you only shall drink be on the table.

Command that your marshal be careful to be present over the household, and especially in the hall, to keep the household, within doors and without, respectable, without dispute or noise, or bad words. And at each course call the servers to go to the kitchen, and they themselves to go always before your seneschal as far as you until your dishes be set before you, then go and be in the middle of the chief hall, and see that all servants with meats go orderly, and without noise to one part and another of the hall to those who shall be assigned to divide those meats, so that nothing be placed or served disorderly.

Especially do you yourself keep a watch over the service until the meats are placed in the hostel, and then attend to your own meals, and command that your dish be so refilled and heaped up, and especially with the light dishes, that you may courteously give them from your dish to all the high table on the right and on the left, and where you shall please they shall soon have what you yourself had before you.

The twentieth rule teaches how you shall take an example from the serving at dinner and supper in the house of a good man

And know the establishment of the house of the Bishop of Lincoln; know that each quarter of wheat shall make nine score loaves of white and brown bread together, that is loaves of the weight of five marks, and the hostel at meat is served with two meats, large and full, to increase the alms, and with two lighter dishes also full for all the freemen, and at supper with one dish not so substantial, and also light dishes and then cheese. And if strangers come to supper they shall be served with more according as they have need.

The twenty-first rule teaches how your people ought to behave towards your friends, both in your presence and absence

Command that your knights, and chaplains, and servants in office, and your gentlemen, with a good humour and hearty cheer and ready service receive and honour, within your presence and without, all those in every place whom they perceive by your words or your manners to be especially dear to you, and to whom you would have special honour shown, for in doing so can they particularly show that they wish what you wish. And as far as possible for sickness or fatigue, constrain yourself to eat in the hall before your people, for this shall bring great benefit and honour to you.

The twenty-second rule teaches you how you ought to behave towards your bailiffs and servants of your own lands and manors when they come before you

When your bailiffs and your servants of lands and manors come before you, address them fairly and speak pleasantly to them, and discreetly and gently ask if your people do well, and how your corn is growing, and how profitable your ploughs and stock are, and make these demands openly, and your knowledge shall be much respected.

The twenty-third rule teaches you to forbid dinners and suppers out of the hall

Forbid dinners and suppers out of the hall, in secret and in private rooms, for from this arises waste, and no honour to the lord or lady.

The twenty-fourth rule teaches you for what reason the number of parcels

Know the reason why you ought for certainty to know the number of your ploughlands, and the number of acres of fallow and of sown land; it is that you may know how much corn you ought to have altogether; how much stock, how much seed the land ought to yield. Know that each ploughland bears poorly that does not yield a hundred seams [n. 18] of corn, then of so many ploughlands as you have, so many hundreds of quarters at the least you ought to have, or be sure the land is badly tilled, or falsely sown, or the corn stolen. If you have then forty ploughlands, you ought to have four thousand quarters of corn, if fifty, five thousand, and so on.

Know that each acre of fallow ought to support yearly two sheep at the least, then a hundred acres of fallow can support two hundred sheep, two hundred acres, four hundred sheep and so on. If you know how many acres you have sown of each kind of corn, inquire how much the acre the soil of that land takes for sowing, and count the number of quarters of seed, and you shall know the return of seed, and what ought to be over.

The twenty-fifth rule teaches you two rules for selling and threshing your corn

Observe two rules with regard to selling and threshing corn: that there be no corn sold that the straw does not remain to strew the sheepfolds daily and to make manure in the court. And be sure that the straw so kept will always be worth the half of the corn sold.

For the other part, do not in any wise let anyone thresh oats before Christmas, neither for provender nor for sale before all is bought, if you can, and after Christmas, when one begins to sow oats, cause your oats to be threshed, and that straw so newly threshed be as good if a little is mixed with hay. All straw and hay give great strength to your oxen and vigour to work. And understand well that if you wish to sell oats then you shall be able to sell better and take more when it is necessary that each may have to sow.

The twenty-sixth rule teaches how at Michaelmas you may arrange your sojourn for all the year

Every year, at Michaelmas, when you know the measure of all your corn, then arrange your sojourn for the whole of that year, and for how many weeks in each place, according to the seasons of the year, and the advantages of the country in flesh and in fish, and do not in any wise burden by debt or long residence the places where you sojourn, but so arrange your sojourns that the place at your departure shall not remain in debt, but something may remain on the manor, whereby the manor can raise money from increase of stock, and especially cows and sheep, until your stock acquits your wines, robes, wax and all your wardrobe, and that will be in a short time if you hold and act after this treatise as you can see plainly in this way. The wool of a thousand sheep in good pasture at the least ought to yield fifty marks a year, the wool of two thousand one hundred marks, and so forth, counting by thousands. The wool of a thousand sheep in scant pasture ought at the least to yield forty marks, in coarse and poor pasture thirty marks.

The twenty-seventh rule teaches you how much the return from cows and sheep is worth

The return from cows and sheep in cheese is worth much money every day in the season, without calves and lambs, and without the manure, which all return corn and fruit.

The twenty-eighth rule teaches you at what times in the year you ought to make your purchases

I advise that at two seasons of the year you make your principal purchases, that is to say your wines, and your wax, and your wardrobe, at the fair of St Botolph, what you shall spend in Lindsey and in Norfolk, in the Vale of Belvoir, and in the country of Caversham, and in that at Southampton for Winchester, and Somerset at Bristol; your robes purchase at St Ives.



NOTES (copyright Martha Carlin, 2011):

The above text comes from Walter of Henley’s Husbandry, together with an Anonymous Husbandy, Seneschaucie, and Robert Grosseteste’s Rules, ed. and trans. Elizabeth Lamond, with an Introduction by W. Cunningham (London: Longmans, 1890), pp. 121-145 (English translation only). The modern scholarly edition of these texts is that of Dorothea Oschinsky, Walter of Henley and Other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).

[n. 1] An “inquest” was an inquiry concerning some matter.

[n. 2] To enrol (or enroll) a document at this time meant to write it out on sheets of parchment, which were then stitched together, rolled up, and stored.

[n. 3] A grange was a large barn for storing grain or other agricultural produce.

[n. 4] A franchise in this context was a “freedom” from some legal constraint; it was thus a legal immunity or special privilege (e.g., in owning property, earning income, or trading)

[n. 5] To “hold of” (i.e., hold property of) someone was to be that person’s tenant.

[n. 6] An eyre was an inspection tour (from the Latin word “iter,” meaning “journey”).

[n. 7] To inquire into one’s estate was to check on the state of one’s financial well-being.

[n. 8] The “leading of the corn” was the bringing in of the grain at harvest-time (“corn” in British English = grain).

[n. 9] Michaelmas was the feast of St. Michael the Archangel (September 29). Since this fell after the harvest was in, it was a common date in medieval England for drawing up the year’s financial accounts and for paying annual or quarterly dues such as rent or wages.

[n. 10] A quarter of grain (“corn”) was a measure of capacity containing 8 bushels.

[n. 11] In great households, the Wardrobe was the office that was in charge of bulk purchases of cloth and clothing, furs, spices, wax, jewelry, and other valuables.

[n. 12] A ward was an under-age heir given into someone else’s legal guardianship. An escheat was something of value (such as cash, land, or livestock) that was legally forfeited to the king or someone else.

[n. 13] An “extent” was a valuation.

[n. 14] The “issues” of a manor were its produce or output (cash, grain, lambs, cheeses, apples, etc.).

[n. 15] A better translation of this (by Dorothea Oschinsky, in Walter of Henley and Other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting, p. 403)
is: “. . . and not old surcoats, and soiled cloaks, and cut-off coats.”

[n. 16] The panter was the household official in charge of the pantry, which served out loaves of bread to the household.

[n. 17] The butler was the household official in charge of the buttery, which served out wine and ale to the household.

[n. 18] A “seam” was a horseload; here it is used synonymously with quarter (i.e., 8 bushels).