What protected peasants best? Markets, risk, efficiency, and medieval English agriculture

Research in Economic History

ISBN: 978-0-76230-993-1, eISBN: 978-1-84950-194-1

ISSN: 0363-3268

Publication date: 15 January 2003


McCloskey's model of medieval English agriculture shapes the debate over the origins and persistence of the open fields. This essay deconstructs McCloskey's often-cited analysis and demonstrates that McCloskey's assumptions contradict her conclusions. McCloskey's claims concerning the costs of various methods of mitigating risk are inconsistent with her vision of autarkic villages where scattering protected peasants from adverse agricultural shocks. Instead, McCloskey's claims corroborate an alternative markets-plus-morals view of medieval English villages. Correcting McCloskey's erroneous inferences resurrects long forgotten explanations for the persistence of the open fields and suggests a new agenda for the study of medieval English agriculture.


Richardson, G. (2003), "What protected peasants best? Markets, risk, efficiency, and medieval English agriculture", Research in Economic History (Research in Economic History, Vol. 21), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 299-356. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0363-3268(03)21008-9

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