Medieval France. An Encyclopedia

(Darren Dugan) #1


. The topic can be divided into the categories of private and public accounting. French
royal accounting received considerable impetus from the reign of Philip II Augustus, at
which time the careful registration of income and expenses began. A Chambre des
Comptes would emerge in the early 14th century. However, France did not have an
adequate royal budgetary system until after the end of the ancien régime. The most
advanced private accounting techniques evolved first in medieval Italy and were later
best implemented outside Italy in the Low Countries. This is not to say that France did
not witness the development of accounting systems, which attained considerable
sophistication at markets like the Champagne fairs.
Accounting procedures existed in the context of large rural estates, where terriers or
compoti might provide data on the seed sown, the acreage cultivated, and the yield
realized. In the realm of commerce, there survive some few fragmentary private accounts:
those of an unknown draper of Lyon for 1320–23, of the notary and draper Ugo Teralh of
Forcalquier for 1330–32, of the merchant and draper Jean Saval of Carcassonne, of the
Bonis brothers of Montauban in the mid-14th century, and of the merchant Jacme Olivier
of Narbonne at the end of the century.
It is generally accepted that the technique of double-entry bookkeeping emerged in
Italy in the 13th century. The categories of credits and debits did not exist side by side in
the earliest forms of French accounts. In those of Ugo Teralh, debtors wrote in their own
obligations. The brothers Bonis kept various books, several of which have survived: a
book, labeled C, for credit offered to debtors; a livre vermeil for deposits, which also
contained the accounts of estates managed by them; a book D, which in part continued C.
Forestié has identified additional books A and B, which do not survive but would have
preceded book C. The Bonis lent money at interest in addition to their commercial cloth,
spice, and pharmaceutical business. Their accounts of credits and debits were not
positioned opposite each other but rather consisted of discrete entries in succession. In
contrast to the accounts of the Bonis, the account book of Jacme Olivier provided no
general accounting of the credits and debits at the end of the volume. However, Olivier
provided not only accounts for particular individuals but also for specific voyages, noting
the costs of merchandise and shipping. Though not on a par with Italian financial
technology, the pressures of complex commercial operations, the existence of
associations of multiple partners bringing capital to an affair, and the increased use of
delegated authority for administration of property encouraged the development of
sophisticated accounting measures in France by the end of the Middle Ages.
Kathryn L.Reyerson
Blanc, Alphonse. Le livre de comptes de Jacme Olivier, marchand narbonnais du XIVe siècle.
Paris: Picard, 1899.
de Roover, Raymond. “Aux origines d’une technique intellectuelle: la formation et l’expansion de
la comptabilité à partie double.” Annales d’histoire économique et sociale 9 (1937):171–93,
Forestié, Édouard. Les livres de comptes des frères Bonis, marchands montalbanais. 2 vols. Paris:
Champion, 1890–94.

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