Bees in the medieval economy: religious observance and the production, trade, and consumption of wax in England, c. 1300–1555

Published Online:
27 Jun 2018

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Abstract The high and late middle ages saw a significant increase in demand for beeswax, a fundamental component of medieval Christian devotion, spurred by both changing socio‐economic conditions and shifts in religious practice. The vast quantities of wax needed for churches and religious foundations in England drove a thriving international trade spanning from the hinterland of Novgorod to the port of Lisbon, while at the same time encouraging widespread domestic beekeeping. This article considers the impact of supply‐side constraints and increasing demand on wax prices, calculating the cost and quantity of wax purchased by large foundations, parish churches, and individual offerings, to reveal the hitherto underexplored impact of religious consumption on the medieval economy.

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