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Medieval Sourcebook:
A Dispute Over Exaction of the Corvée, 1081

The infringement of the rights of serfs by too heavy exactions could be remedied by appeal to the lord against the injustice of stewards. The term corvée was applied to forced labor regardless of its nature and could be interpreted as boon work. Note also the use of the Water Ordeal.

At Chauvency a certain advocate, Alberic by name, in demanding undue corvees so threatened the serfs of the monastery that the cow of a certain poor man miscarried while ploughing and the poor man himself bore its yoke all day instead. And the abbot heard of this unjust exaction and was amazed at the inhumanity of Alberic and so he hastened to ask Adelo de Dun how his advocate treated the serfs of the monastery who were making such complaints and prepared to prove that a corvec of this kind was not due to him or to any other. Adelo, enraged against Alberic, blushed for this deed, and determined on a day for the abbot to prove the case. A certain Herbert who was exceedingly faithful and honest was then reeve of Chauvency; on the day arranged for the case between the abbot and Adelo, he took the oath lawfully and confirmed his oath by the water ordeal, and proved the severe exactions of the advocates, in truth that those corvées were not at all due. At this public trial there were present Adelo de Dun, Rambald, Count of Murvaux, Peter of Mirowald, with many other nobles.

Done in the year of the Incarnation 1081.


From: Godefroid Kurth, ed., Chartes de l'Abbaye de Saint-Hubert en Ardenne, (Brussels: Academie Royale de Belgique, 1903), pp. 50-51, reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), p. 299.

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© Paul Halsall, September 1998
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