The Medieval Economy of Wales

Matthew Stevens, The Economy of Medieval Wales, 1067-1536 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2019). ISBN: 9781786834843. £24.99.

Dr Matthew Stevens’ book, The Economy of Medieval Wales, 1067-1536 has been attracting some glowing reviews recently.

The book examines the economy of Wales from the first Norman intrusions of 1067 to the Act of Union of England and Wales in 1536. Key themes include the evolution of the agrarian economy; the foundation and growth of towns; the adoption of a money economy; English colonisation and economic exploitation; the collapse of Welsh social structures and rise of economic individualism; the disastrous effect of the Glyndŵr rebellion; and, the alignment of the Welsh economy to the English economy.

Reviews include:

Journal of British Studies

His main purpose in writing the book was to draw together for both students and historians the scattered and often overlooked research on the economy of Wales in the past century or more in a sensible narrative relating it to both English and European historiography. Stevens meets this considerable challenge…excellent…

This may be a short book, but we should thankful for its brevity and clarity and acknowledge that it fills an important vacant space for students of the medieval English, Welsh, and West European economies.

(Professor Jim Bolton, Queen Mary, University of London)

The English Historical Review

Economic histories of Britain tend to make fleeting reference to mountainous, rugged Wales. Likewise, the scholarship on medieval Wales is small and patchy, albeit distinguished… Matthew Stevens casts a powerful beam of light onto this dimly lit world with the first concise and accessible economic history of medieval Wales. He provides a highly reliable survey of the existing scholarship, supplemented with his own considerable knowledge of medieval Welsh towns.

The book is well structured, well informed and well written. It provides a handy, accessible and stimulating survey of the medieval Welsh economy. Undergraduates and local historians will be inspired by it, and academic historians will perforce engage with it. It deserves to be cited for years to come.

(Professor Mark Bailey, University of East Anglia)

The Journal of European Economic History

Matthew Frank Stevens, an internationally acknowledged expert in the field of medieval history…

Stevens’s book is particularly effective for at least three reasons. First, it offers a synthesis that can easily bring Wales into today’s debates on the economic and social history of the Middle Ages. This means not only putting Wales to the test of medieval Europe, but also comparing the interpretations of other regions with this new model, one that could be called a “politically-driven economy”. Second, in a highly original way, it eliminates the historiographical barrier between the countryside and the city, a barrier still very resilient in the field of economic and social history. Third, at a more general level, it explicitly demonstrates the inadequacy of research conducted by applying preestablished theoretical models to single bodies of sources or to single local histories: such a procedure, rather than testing a hypothesis, reifies an interpretation regardless of what actually emerges in the research. In a spirit reminiscent of recent admonitions by David D’Avray, Stevens proposes, on the contrary, to reverse the perspective by first reconstructing events, structures and processes, and then comparing them with theoretical models.

The Economy of Medieval Wales fully achieves its aim of offering a historical overview for Wales and stimulating new reflections

(Dr. Dario Internullo, University of Rome, Tre)

Reviews in History

This is an important and valuable book. Many works of economic history include the word ‘Wales’ in a sub title or index but relatively few have engaged with the relatively sparse sources and unfamiliar context (to most English historians) of the royal shires—the north and west—and Marcher lordships—the south and east—that characterise Wales after the conquests of Edward I. Fewer still have seriously examined the situation before the 1280s, when native rulers retained areas of Wales in their own right. Matthew Stevens’s book is a welcome contribution to a historiography that is uneven and often very old indeed. It is the first book to provide modern national coverage…

Stevens’s work, using a multitude of local examples, does something important beyond its novelty and should encourage debate that is overdue among scholars of Welsh—and English—medieval history. For England, perhaps, we should see Wales.

(Dr Adam Chapman, Institute of Historical Research, London)

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