Royal paternalism and the moral economy in the reign of Edward II: the response to the Great Famine



This article contains the first systematic discussion of Edward II's response to the famine of 1315–17, the most severe of the middle ages. While there had been earlier famines, that of 1315–17 produced the earliest surviving evidence of official attempts at remedial actions. Those included the enforcement of traditional regulatory measures such as the assizes of ale and weights and measures, and efforts to regulate brewing by preventing the use of wheat and limiting the amount of barley used. In addition, the government acted to encourage the import of grain and imposed prohibitions on export that were explicitly justified by scarcity and high prices. English bishops were urged to encourage those who were hoarding grain to hold only enough for themselves and their families and sell the rest. While it is unclear whether government actions had much effect, it is difficult to imagine under fourteenth-century conditions that any government had the means or measures to respond effectively to famine. Nonetheless, some of the measures taken by Edward II's government, especially export prohibition and attempts to persuade or compel those with supplies of grain to sell it, had a long future ahead of them.