Life in the Fast Lane: Essays in Economic History and State Building

Jacob Hall

Advisor: Mark Koyama, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Noel Johnson, Vincent Geloso, Desiree Desierto

Online Location, Zoom
November 03, 2023, 11:00 AM to 01:00 PM


This dissertation consists of three chapters on medieval economic history and political economy. 

Chapter 1 explains the unique governance strategy of medieval European kings. Medieval European kings were itinerant. Rather than govern from a fixed capital city, the king traveled from town to town. Itinerant kinship was a defining characteristic of the political economy of the middle ages. Its end in the early sixteenth century marks the beginning of the early modern era, and goes hand in hand with the growing size of the state. In this paper, using novel data on the daily location of every English monarch over five centuries, I demonstrate that itinerant kingship was a strategy employed by medieval kings in order to build and maintain political coalitions in the face of violent, potential rivals. I then argue that itinerant kingship as a royal strategy is replaced in England by the convening of Parliament in the early sixteenth century due to changes in military technology, which fundamentally altered the relationship between the crown and the nobility.

Chapter 2 provides new and improved estimates medieval travel speed. In the premodern world, slow travel speed effectively acted as a barrier to trade, and thus to market integration and Smithian growth. But current estimates of medieval travel speed are sparse, and the estimates that do exist rely on few data points. Using the daily travel itineraries of medieval kings, I create near continuous time series of land and inland water travel speed for England and France over four centuries. 

Chapter 3 explores the political economy of the 1215 rebellion against English king John and Magna Carta, a pivotal moment in constitutional history. We model Magna Carta as an optimal agreement between two coalitions capable of violence: the king’s loyalists and the rebel barons. This agreement is more likely when the king extracts large rents; the distribution of rents among barons is egalitarian; and barons can move resources away from the king. Under these conditions, even the baron that enjoys the largest rents is willing to lead a rebel coalition that has sufficient resources to defeat the loyalists. We test predictions with data on the universe of barons in England in 1215.