Medieval France. An Encyclopedia

(Darren Dugan) #1


. Except for the Roman introduction of chickens, domestic animals in medieval France
were little different from those of prehistoric times or, except for their smaller size, from
domestic animals today. From early on, dogs were bred for hunting and herding and
horses for riding and pulling; religious prohibitions prevented the use of either for food.
Improved breeding of other species occurred from the central Middle Ages. Although the
military and agricultural usefulness of the horse increased tremendously with the early-
medieval introduction of horseshoes, horsecollars, and stirrups, most peasants continued
to use oxen for plowing; asses served as pack animals (in the Midi they were widely used
for hauling salt) and as riding animals for clerics and women. The preference for cattle,
despite the higher speeds and greater strength of the horse, was due to the high cost of
feeding the latter, particularly over the winter; even with cattle, there was a tendency to
sell extra animals before winter, and considerable profits were made by urban dealers
having access to winter feed who bought cattle in the fall from peasants and then sold
them back for the spring plowing. Cows were kept primarily for the young they produced
rather than for their limited milk production. Because large animals competed with
humans for food (there was tension between the needs for sufficient livestock to manure
the fields, for pasture for that livestock, and for arable for cereals), small-animal
husbandry generally predominated in food production. In the earliest period, pigs, being
adaptable, were the primary source of meat; they were able to live in a wild state on
acorns and nuts in the forest but were also kept by town dwellers. As forests disappeared
and their use became more controlled in the central Middle Ages, and as demand for
meat, cheese, wool, leather, and parchment increased, sheep and goats became
increasingly important in the rural economy, as did the practice of transhumance.
Chickens, ducks, geese, and peacocks are mentioned by Carolingian sources, and rabbits
appear to have been domesticated during this period.
Constance H.Berman
Duby, Georges. Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West, trans. Cynthia Postan.
London: Arnold, 1968.
Slicher van Bath, Bernard H. The Agrarian History of Western Europe: A.D. 500–1850, trans.
Olive Ordish. London: Arnold, 1963.


. Originally a relatively small pagus (administrative county) centered on the town of
Angers at the confluence of the Loire and Mayenne rivers, Anjou expanded throughout
the 11th century to become one of the major principalities of France. Under strong
counts, Anjou was able to dominate much of western Francia independently of the king
of France. From this base, the Plantagenêts were able to conquer Normandy and England,

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