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How Medieval Monasteries Made Money

May 9, 2013

Medieval Monasteries needed to make money to survive, some orders, like the Cistercians, did not want to make any sort of profit, but the Benedictines liked to make their money and were very wealthy throughout the middle ages. The Benedictines followed the rule of St Benedict and are commonly known as the black monks. Some Benedictine monasteries were founded before the Norman Conquest tended to be financially better off, and those that weren’t still did well, and here is how.

As religious houses, Benedictine monasteries provided religious services to the community, at a cost; tithes would have been granted to them and for a large monastery, this could be a lot of money. Donations were also made to the monasteries, in either cash or materials that could be used or sold.

Benedictine monasteries were also land owners in the middle ages, most were endowed with land in their foundation, some didn’t increase the land they owned, but others did. Abbey’s such as St Albans and Bury St Edmunds increased their land ownership and used their monks to administer the manors and land they owned. This land generated money for the abbeys through rent and other services, paid in money and kind. Land could be used for arable farming, another way to generate money or it could be used for pastoral farming. Although the pastoral farming tended to be left to the Cistercians and those in Scotland, East Anglia, Northern England and Wales.

Multure was a big part of the income of many monasteries in England. Multure was a fee payable to the owner of a mill, and everyone needed to use a mill to grind their grain. Many monasteries, including St Albans and Bury St Edmunds, had mils on their land. Abbots did not allow any other mills, even hand mills, meaning that people had to use the abbot’s mill and pay multure to the abbot and monastery for this privilege.

Finally, monasteries held courts, which would create money through handing out fines to those living under the abbey’s jurisdiction. The monastery would also benefit from tolls from the markets that would take place in the market towns.

Medieval monasteries really were money-making machines. They knew how to administrate their land well, and how to squeeze every last penny out of those living and working on their lands. Many Benedictine monasteries grew in wealth and had many wealthy assets, including land and items. This ultimately did not help in their downfall, when Henry VIII was not happy with the wealth of the abbeys during his reign.

For a more detailed discussion on this see: –

‘The Monastic Economy’ in Monastic and religious orders in Britain, 1000-1300 by Janet Burton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).


From → Medieval History

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