Meditations on the Historical Production of Spaces

Distances Traveled by Eel-Rents

Reynard the Fox steals dinner from a peasant transporting eels in his cart (1339) Bod. MS Douce 360 fol. 33r.

So how far did eel-rents travel? What is was the average distance that eels traveled between the site of their capture and the location where they were due as in-kind rent?  This question bears considering, because it potentially affects the types of eels that a landlord could demand. Live eels are hard to carry in bulk if you don’t have a schuyt or something like it.  Eels begin to go bad within a day, so recently slain eels would be an impractical rent over long distances. Dried or salted eels are far more portable, however.  The longer the distance, the more certain we can be of the types of eels required.

While I have not done extensive work on this question, I do have some preliminary findings (with the caveat that these represent only rough estimations).


Methodology:

Taking the largest single block of eel-rents, from the 1086 Doomsday survey, I have excluded most rents where the physical destination is uncertain (such as the Clifton rent of 150 eels to Eudo the Steward, or the 16 separate rents due to the itinerant King William).  I have included the rents due to Odo of Bayeux that were close to Canterbury, which he controlled at the time. I have then calculated the distance between their source coordinates and their destination coordinates using the haversine formula, figuring for miles.  Finally, I have averaged the distances, figuring both for total rents and for those due only within England.  A number of the rents were due to locations in France, which skewed the numbers significantly.


Results:

Eel-rents in 1086 that stayed within England traveled an average of 25.29 miles.

  • 39.3% (24/61) traveled less than 10 miles
  • 32.7% (20/61) traveled more than 25 miles
  • 9.8% (6/61) traveled more than 100 miles

Total English eel-rents in 1086 traveled an average of 77.51 miles

My methodology probably leads to a higher average distance than was actually the case, because it excludes a large number of what were likely local transactions.

The data is here.

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