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Record-keeping, fiscal reform, and the rise of institutional accountability in late-medieval Savoy: a source-oriented approach

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - CASTELLANY ACCOUNTS (Record-keeping, fiscal reform, and the rise of institutional accountability in late-medieval Savoy: a source-oriented approach)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-04-30

This research project has spotlighted a relatively neglected corpus of sources, the ‘computi’ or accounts of the castellanies (basic administrative units) of late-medieval Savoy. Through a holistic analysis, the project has taken advantage of the unusual wealth of detail of the Savoyard source material in order to illuminate key topics in late-medieval institutional and social history, from the transfer of administrative models – the ‘computi’, it has been now definitively demonstrated, were modelled on the records of the English Exchequer – to the consolidation of state institutions, with particular attention to the institutional dialogue between the central administration and territorial officers, and the acculturation of the local aristocracy to the norms of institutional accountability. Taking an inclusive view of institutional and political processes, the project has highlighted the agency of central and local administrators, as well as of local communities and their notables, in the governance of the Savoyard territories. The Savoyard developments have been contextualised through comparison with similar institutions and practices from England and France.
The project has compared a sample of castellanies from the Savoyard heartlands, the bailiwick of Savoy proper, with a smaller sample of castellanies from Savoy’s periphery, c. 1260–1370. It proposes a novel understanding of the ‘computi’: not merely financial balances of revenues and expenses, but hybrid texts with dialogical elements that functioned as instruments for governing the territory from the centre, by means of memoranda and instructions to the castellans inserted in the ‘computi’ on the occasion of the regular audits. The dialogue between the largely aristocratic castellans and the central administration, as evidenced by the hitherto neglected notes and instructions of the ‘computi’, provides the socio-political context for the development of Savoyard institutional accountability. The project has demonstrated that the accounts’ textual bits – notes, memoranda, and instructions – offer a privileged entry-point into the world of Savoyard institutional accountability; the model of analysis pioneered in this respect in the project can be replicated in future studies on the vast Savoyard archive of castellany accounts.
The correlation between the different types of data of the ‘computi’ – about the local land market and local social competition and conflict, for example – pioneered in the project can similarly be tested against larger data sets in future studies.
The project’s findings have been presented in a session at the International medieval congress, University of Leeds (2018), an international conference on administrative accounting in late-medieval Europe, held at the University of Bucharest (2018), and in a volume edited by the Principal Investigator (‘Accounts and Accountability in Late-Medieval Europe: Records, Procedures, and Socio-Political Impact’, edited by I. Epurescu-Pascovici, Brepols, 2020) as well as a number of articles in international peer-reviewed journals such as ‘Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies’ and ‘Comptabilité(S): Revue d’histoire des comptabilités’. The Principal Investigator’s monograph on state and society in late-medieval Savoy will be completed in 2021.
In addition to the re-evaluation of the ‘computi’ – as discussed above – one of the project’s main results is a comprehensive framework for making sense of the first hundred years of Savoyard institutional accounting, integrating socio-political, institutional, and financial developments in a coherent narrative. The project has traced the subtle shifts in the priorities of Savoyard accountability, c. 1260–1370: prescriptive (concerned with the definition and preservation of the count’s rights and patrimony), financial (controlling the flow of money through different local and centralised accounts), and administrative (overseeing castellans’ governance of the territories). The project drew attention to castellans’ status as the dynasty’s partners and proposed that the fourteenth-century drive towards administrative professionalisation was a response to castellans’ increased autonomy as the dynasty’s creditors. In the early fourteenth century, as the dynasty grew more dependent financially on the aristocrats serving as castellans, the central administration sought to acculturate them to the norms and ethos of institutional accountability, through instructions that emphasised the need for written proof, proper procedure, and standards of service, such ‘debita diligencia’ and ‘idonea cautio’. The ‘auditores computorum’ relied on little more than words and parchments, that is, valued-laden language and repeated instructions inserted in the ‘computi’, but they were partly successful in inculcating the spirit and standards of institutional accountability. However, in the second half of the fourteenth century, and particularly by the century’s end, the count’s growing debt to castellans made it very difficult to remove them, and they ended up monopolising their assigned office (i.e. castellany) for decades – in a major setback for the central officials’ efforts to professionalise the territorial administration.