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  5. Real Property and Movable Goods in Late Medieval Sweden

Real Property and Movable Goods in Late Medieval Sweden

Forskningsprojekt finansierat av Vetenskaprådet (VR)

Project leader: Gabriela Bjarne Larsson, Centrum för medeltidsstudier

This project aims at gaining new knowledge of how women and men in late medieval Sweden broadened their use of property so as to gain a larger measure of personal, economic freedom. By economic freedom we denote the option to do what you want with your property, i.e. to give or to sell it to a person of your choice. We examine how people went about to facilitate transfers from one owner to another. Two major strategies will be studied: firstly how men and women redefined landed property to make it economic movable, and secondly how they redefined certain transaction forms to avoid restrictions connected to real property. Both strategies have recently been studied by European scholars and in our studies we use their conceptualization.

All five project members will explore economic action among various groups in society such as townspeople, the nobility, peasant families, and religious houses, to gain a better understanding of the role of landed versus movable property. We will use databases, charters, memorial books and legal records.

This project will elucidate long-term processes that are little known. They involve the transformation of marriage as an economic institution, the formation of inheritance systems, the relationship between individual and kin, and how the gift-giving economy transformed in medieval Sweden.

We will study selling and giving practises simultaneously as responses to and creations of new ideas about property. To be able to elucidate strategies chosen by different groups in society we need an understanding of different materials. Each member of the project is a specialist in some way: to be able to detect long term trends we will use the economic historian Johan Söderberg’s databases; to be able to gain knowledge of strategies taken by religious houses we need experts in Latin and therefore Elin Andersson is connected to the project. Historian Gabriela Bjarne Larsson is well grounded in medieval law, and economic historian Johanna Andersson Raeder in genealogical information. This enables us to use different kind of materials to wind up the medieval economy.

Sofia Gustafsson will study the definition and regulation of real property and movable goods in Northern European Towns, and use a comparative method. All project members will use the same comparative method described in her application, granted in the fall 2012 by VR.

Senior applicant Johan Söderberg will further develop the above-mentioned database, which presently records more than 1,700 purchases of farmland in East Sweden for the period 1274-1649. This database will be used by all members of the team, in different ways. It can be used for investigating how land was paid for in terms of cash, movable property, or other resources. The database also contains information on the sex of sellers and buyers, enabling us to explore possible shifts in the activity of men and women in the land market. Finally, Söderberg will use existing data on prices of farmland and movables to study how the capital requirements of farms changed in the long term, from a situation with high land prices before the Black Death to another balance, with low land prices and possibly a shift from grain production to cattle raising, in the subsequent centuries.

Junior applicant Johanna Andersson Raeder will study how movables and landed property were exchanged between spouses and close family members. The legal framework, the bilateral inheritance system, served to protect the interest of the spouses’ respective families i.e. their lineages, rather than the economic interest of the married couple. However, Andersson Raeder showed in her dissertation that the economic practice deviated from this and that spouses circumvented the legal framework in order to favour each other and their common household. This economic practice will be studied further in this project aiming to reveal strategies to redefine real property (hereditary or acquired) into economically movable property. It is also of interest to investigate whose property was converted to movable property, was it mainly women's or men's immovable property that was converted? And what does it say about the relationship between spouses in the household? The marital economy is in focus and will be studied from a life cycle perspective. The premise is that the economic needs and conditions changes during different stages of married life. By conducting a thorough examination of gifts and other forms of property transactions, that can be linked to a married couple and their common household (even after the death of one spouse), we will be able to increase our knowledge of the marital economy in late medieval Sweden, and compare it to other regions in Europe, such as England and Flanders.
Another part of this project is to increase and publish an existing database with demographic and economic information concerning marital households.

Senior applicant Gabriela Bjarne Larsson will study selling and giving practises between townspeople on the one hand and religious houses, fraternities and guilds on the other. She will side with scholars that do not look upon the gift and the sale as totally different distributions. She will study similarities and differences between the relationship of the donor and the bestowed and the relationship between the seller and the buyer.
Larsson will make a quantitative and a qualitative examination of the different forms of gift that women and men donated to each other and to religious houses. She wants to know if the donation was in real property, in kind or in coin, and for what purpose it was given. To be able to detect this she will use gifts documented in endowments, bequests, testaments, town records and two Memorial books, one for Visby and the other for Stockholm. To study how the priors/guardians from mendicant orders and other religious houses acted on the town market, preferably in Stockholm, and how these institutions defended their rights at the town court (rådstugan), she will use town records (Stockholms stads tänkeböcker) and the Memorial book for the Franciscans in Stockholm.

In connection to GBL’s research, junior applicant Elin Andersson will edit and translate the Memorial Book (diary) of the Franciscans in Stockholm. The Franciscan house in Stockholm was founded in 1270 and the Memorial Book, preserved at the National Library of Sweden, displays records between 1335 and 1550. We will be able to study how Franciscans in Stockholm managed to find a way to circumvent the restrictions regarding gifts and trade, selling and buying; what kind of persons donated real property or movable goods to the Swedish Franciscans; how women functioned as benefactors in medieval Sweden.


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