Horses, oxen and technological innovation : the use of draught animals in English farming from 1066 to 1500

Langdon, John (1983). Horses, oxen and technological innovation : the use of draught animals in English farming from 1066 to 1500. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This study is primarily intended as a contribution to the subject of medieval technology. In it the introduction of the work-horse to English farming as a replacement for oxen has been traced through nearly 450 years to see how medieval English society reacted to and upon this particular technical innovation. It has been found that in the adoption of the horse and in the use of draught animals generally there was a sharp differentiation between the experience of the demesne and that of the peasantry. Horses were adopted slowly on demesnes, such that by the end of the fourteenth century oxen still dominated as draught animals here by a ratio of two to one over horses. On the peasant side the adoption of horses for work was much quicker. Nearly half of the peasantry’s draught animals were horses by the end of the thirteenth century, and this proportion continued to increase, especially during the fifteenth century and afterwards. Smallholders in particular were in the vanguard in using horses, because they found the beasts so much more versatile than oxen.
The use of draught animals overall seems to have been linked most intimately to the activities of the market. Thus when the economy began to expand in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, so did the employment of horses, especially in their capacity as hauling animals. Similarly, when market relationships became more complex at the end of the medieval period, there was a marked specialisation in the use of draught animals, as some areas began to employ horses exclusively and others reverted to the more intensive use of oxen. On the other hand, such changes had little effect on agricultural production, since any cost savings resulting from improvements in traction tended to be spent on increased consumption or other non-agricultural purposes. This seems to have been particularly true of lords and other demesne holders, and it is clear from this study that, in the matter of traction at least, they took a firm second place to the peasantry in the adoption of new techniques.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Faculties (to 1997) > Faculty of Arts
School or Department: Department of History
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain


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