Philanthropy, economy and society in north east England: The Middle Ages, 1100-1500

This paper surveys the history of philanthropy in the North East of England from the time the North East was brought under Norman control (thirty years or so after the Conquest of 1066) to the end of the fifteenth century. Our purpose is to understand philanthropy in the context of the economics,
politics, beliefs, values and social practices of the time. With government effectively de-centralized and wealth very unevenly divided, the conditions existed for major philanthropic initiatives, especially in the two and a half centuries before the Black Death. There were seven main loci of activity, three religious, two religious-secular, and two secular. Philanthropy helped both in fulfilling religious
obligations and in increasing the social standing of donors. Building, repairing, extending, adorning, and endowing churches and chapels counted among the most favoured of philanthropic causes. Care for the poor, sick and elderly was another religious injunction placed upon the wealthy by the medieval church. Furthermore, across the region, landed, clerical and entrepreneurial philanthropists played a
leading part in creating the infrastructure that made economic and social progress possible.