Last Updated on October 1, 2023 by Robert C. Hoopes
Title: “Unveiling the Intricacies of a Medieval Gentry Household: A Glimpse into Alice de Bryene’s Manor”
Subtitle: Insights into the Daily Operations and Management of Acton Hall, Suffolk
Acton, Suffolk – In a fascinating exploration of medieval life, new research sheds light on the remarkable management skills of Alice de Bryene, an English noblewoman who oversaw her properties and household from her manor in Acton for nearly five decades.
According to a recently discovered Household Book dating back to 1412-1413, historians have gained valuable insights into the people who played vital roles, shaping the functioning of the manor. Astonishingly, this manuscript reveals that the most pivotal employee of the household was the Steward – a trusted figure responsible for overseeing other workers and meticulously accounting for expenses.
The duties of the Steward extended far beyond mere bookkeeping. Not only was he responsible for ensuring that both guests and servants were properly fed, but he also managed the day-to-day expenses, bought and prepared food, and oversaw the smooth functioning of the manor. As per the records, an impressive average of 45 meals were served daily, highlighting the Steward’s vital role in maintaining the household’s well-being.
Alice’s personal chapel, a prominent feature on the premises, was managed by a dedicated chaplain. This esteemed individual held dual roles, serving religious needs while also actively participating in the estate’s management. Furthermore, the Chamberlain, another pivotal figure, was entrusted with personal domestic management, as well as the safekeeping of significant documents.
The manpower at Alice de Bryene’s manor consisted of a diverse workforce. The inner circle included squires who participated in entertainment and travel arrangements, while valets, with lower social standing, carried out various tasks within the manor. Boys, often responsible for menial labor like horse care and farming assistance, completed the workforce.
A peculiar aspect of this medieval household was the limited presence of women. Apart from Alice herself, only two women were mentioned in the records – one serving as her personal attendant, while the other worked as the laundress.
It is also worth noting that the Chamberlain, Chaplain, and other employees were paid a total of £44 for the year, coupled with the provision of clothing. Additionally, temporary workers such as carpenters were occasionally hired for repairs or farm work, emphasizing the management’s resourcefulness.
For deeper insights into this enchanting era, readers are encouraged to refer to ffiona von Westhoven Perigrinor’s book, “Life in a Medieval Gentry Household: Alice de Bryene of Acton Hall, Suffolk.” This comprehensive account offers a captivating exploration of Alice’s life and the inner workings of her distinguished manor.
As our understanding of history deepens, the remarkable figures like Alice de Bryene continue to remind us of the rich tapestry of life and the multifaceted roles played by individuals within society. Step back in time and immerse yourself in the fascinating world of this medieval noblewoman and her carefully curated household.