Printer Friendly

The east Sussex land market and agrarian class structure in the late Middle Ages.

Although Robert Brenner published his "Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe" in Past and Present as long ago as 1976, debate on the Brenner thesis remains vigorous.(1) Much of the discussion, however, has been very general and theoretical. There is still no clear consensus about how the land market operated in England in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. It is not known to what extent leasehold had replaced copyhold tenure by 1500, nor whether such changes as did occur encouraged the adoption of more efficient farming techniques. R. W. Hoyle in fact concluded a recent contribution to the debate by saying: "there is no future in offering instance and counterinstance ... the appropriate form of investigation must be the intensive regional study, in which the land market, tenure, engrossing and enclosure are all seen as interrelated facets of rural change".(2) East Sussex is a good area for such a study since the documentation is particularly rich and it includes villages with different patterns of settlement and land tenure. In the Weald, for example, customary tenants frequently held parcels of enclosed land or small crofts at low assart rents, whereas in downland manors tenants held strips scattered in open fields and were either burdened with labour services or heavy, commuted money rents. Seigneurial power was still strong in both areas in 1400, with lords collecting substantial entry fines that allowed them, should they wish, to "squeeze" their tenants.

At the heart of Brenner's thesis is the belief that peasants would not relinquish their holdings, the basis of their own existence and that of their heirs, unless they were forced to do So.(3) Thus in areas such as France, where peasants maintained firm control over their property, lords could only accumulate large holdings by buying up peasant land on the relatively rare occasions when it came on the market. By contrast, in England, where peasant tenure was less secure, lords were able to add tenant land to the demesne and turn customary tenure into leasehold. Former common land was enclosed and high, arbitrary entry fines frequently forced heirs to part with land which they would never otherwise have given up. In this way, according to Brenner, English lords were able to consolidate their holdings and build up larger and larger units that they then leased to tenant farmers, who, in turn, cultivated them with wage labour.

Since the publication of Brenner's original article, however, detailed studies of the land market in various places have appeared, all of which emphasize the prevalence of inter-vivos transfers (transfers of land either to kin or non-kin made during the lifetime of the tenant) in the post-black Death period.(4) Moreover by the fifteenth century the peasant land market was not so harvest-sensitive as it had been earlier. As land became more readily available in the wake of population decline, many peasant proprietors built up a large enough holding to enable them to withstand a downturn in the economy or a year of poor crops.(5) Yet many families did part with their land. At Willington in Bedfordshire before 1426 the transfer of land outside the family accounted for about 70 per cent of all transactions and by the second half of the fifteenth century "nearly 90 per cent of transfers involved a break in family descent".(6) In east Sussex family attachment to land appears to have remained somewhat stronger than it did in Bedfordshire and on nearly all those manors for which sufficient evidence for detailed calculations has survived, the percentage of land transfers outside the family fluctuated between 50 and 60 per cent.(7) These percentages did not change significantly over the course of the century.(8) None the less the high mortality rate meant that families continually died out for lack of male heirs. Even land that had stayed in the hands of the same family for two or three generations eventually came on the market.

Land clearly changed hands for a variety of reasons. Some villeins abandoned their land as they fled in pursuit of freedom. Customary tenants, especially those who relied on sheep farming, were badly hit when the bottom fell out of the wool market and some of them relinquished their holdings "on account of their poverty".(9) In most instances, however, reasons for a sale of land are not stated. But a certain restlessness -- a desire to seek new opportunities -- seems to have affected at least some cottagers and smallholders. New people would move into a community, acquire land from the lord or another tenant, hold it for a few years and then move on. John Hertsyll, for example, moved into Laughton in 1457, when he received a cottage and two acres from John Cokkell. However, he surrendered the cottage and garden to another tenant in 1465, the two acres of land to a different tenant in 1467, then left. He thus held the land a mere eight years.(10) There is no evidence that he was forced to part with either his cottage or his land: why he chose to do so must remain obscure.

Land was sometimes shed not for economic but religious reasons. The pains of purgatory could be mitigated by meritorious deeds such as almsgiving or the celebration of masses. Although the evidence of much day-to-day piety is lacking, wills give some indication of the concern felt by the testator for the health of his or her soul.(11) Elaborate provision was often made for the number and even form of services to be held on the day of burial itself and one month and a year after death. These rites were sometimes accompanied by gifts of money and clothing to the poor. In addition men and women would make arrangements for the celebration of masses and continued almsgiving for a considerable number of years after their deaths. To pay for these obsequies and alms it was often necessary to sell land. Testators with no surviving children were most likely to request the sale of their land in order to provide for their souls and the souls of their parents. Some people, even if they had immediate heirs, willed the sale of small pieces of property for such purposes, while others requested the disposal of property if all their heirs predeceased them.(12)

Such bequests, however, would not have been possible without a number of interrelated developments. First, and most importantly, there was the growing practice of enfeoffment to use, which enabled a testator to evade the common-law rule prohibiting bequests of freehold land by will. Before his death a freeholder would grant his land to feoffees to use; they would hold it for the benefit of the feoffor, with instructions to convey the land to persons to be named in the feoffor's will. In this way a landowner was able to make more flexible arrangements for his family than was possible at common law. Moreover, if he held by military service or in socage, he could avoid payment of feudal incidents.(13) Since the courts of common law would neither enforce the use, nor interpret it, they were unable to provide legal remedy in the case of feoffees who failed to carry out their instructions. Although ecclesiastical courts of the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester seem fairly regularly to have enforced feoffments to use, it is not clear whether they were willing to tackle all cases. On the other hand, although Chancery began to establish its jurisdiction over uses in the 1370s, it was not until 1439 that beneficiaries of a will made by someone whose lands stood enfeoffed to use gained any kind of remedy in the case of defaulting feoffees.(14) When feoffees did carry out their responsibilities and land was sold in the absence of direct heirs, the end result was usually to disinherit more distant relatives, such as nephews, nieces or cousins.

Some customary tenants seem to have been more concerned about the spiritual welfare of immediate family than the material welfare of distant relatives. They employed the normal mechanism of the manorial courts to make death-bed provision for their souls. As with any other transfer of customary land, it was surrendered first to the lord, but with a request that the land be sold and the money received given to a local church or to provide obits (anniversary masses). At Laughton in 1420-1, for example, John Cokkell and his wife surrendered a messuage and eighteen acres with the intent that eight acres be sold and the money received given to the parish church; the remaining ten acres were to be given back to the Cokkells for life and then sold for the church. Occasionally a son would give up part of his inheritance. Thomas Stoneham, at Bibleham, sold a bond tenement to provide for the souls of his parents.(15) Although there are only seven explicit references in the Pelham court rolls to land being put on the market for this reason, whenever an heir sold the land soon after the death of a tenant there is a strong likelihood that he or she was doing so in accordance with the wishes of the deceased to fulfil his last will and take care of the salvation of his soul. As a result more land was brought on the market than Brenner allowed for.

This land had to find a buyer, however.(16) By the late Middle Ages people without large reserves of capital were able to spread the cost of land purchase over a period of time and thus acquire land that they might otherwise never have been able to afford. It is not yet clear when this practice was first introduced, but by the mid-fifteenth century the system seems to be well developed. The cases that came before the court of Chancery clearly show that with freehold land many buyers did not pay the full purchase price at the time the sale was concluded. Instead they paid a certain amount "in hand", as a deposit, which was often half the purchase price, but could be just a small token payment. The balance was to be paid in annual instalments over an agreed period which, for major purchases, could be as much as ten years. After making the down payment the new owner usually took possession of the land, but did not receive a charter or other document giving him full legal title. It was not until the final instalment had been paid that the seller or his feoffees was obliged "to make an estate" to the buyer, officially transferring the property.

Customary tenants, with few resources behind them, may have been less able or willing to wait several years for the full payment of a purchase price. Unfortunately the court rolls rarely indicate what agreements lay behind any transfer of land, although a few scattered references do indicate that some tenants were prepared to countenance deferred payment. Executors of an estate, for example, were not always in need of ready cash. So, when John and Julia James bought thirty acres on the death of Humphrey Smith, they were allowed to pay the sellers 40s. a year until 20 [pounds] had been fully paid.(17) When William atte Dene and his wife Joan acquired a tenement and sixteen acres from Andrew Cokshete, they agreed to support him, granting him a chamber in the southern part of the hall and a part of the garden. In return he agreed to allow them to pay 20s. a year until 10 [pounds] had been fully paid. Members of the gentry also had the resources to wait a few years. When Richard Scras sold twelve acres to William Frances, he allowed him to pay off five marks -- presumably the balance of the account -- at the rate of 13s. 4d. a year.(18)

Such agreements were particularly useful for families with limited means who wished to set up in business. In 1467, for example, Richard Crane surrendered two cottages and half an acre to William and Juliana Greenstreet, who agreed to pay 3 [pounds] over the next three years. The Greenstreets used one of the cottages as an alehouse and probably took the profits of their business to pay off their debts.(19) They might never have been able to establish themselves if they had been forced to make just one payment for their property. So too when John and Agnes Petyt acquired a messuage and garden next to the cemetery in the town of Battle, they agreed to pay the sellers 13s. 4d. a year until four marks had been fully paid.(20) At the next court following the purchase, Agnes Petyt was accused of keeping suspicious and quarrelsome men and women in her house; within a few years she was clearly running a brothel.(21) Again the profits of business may have enabled her to meet payments on the family's property.

Some people preferred to lease additional property, rather than purchase it. Brenner, however, stressed the vulnerability of the lessee. On the expiry of a lease, the rent could be raised or the tenant evicted. Thus he did not see leasehold as a benefit to the tenant but as a weapon in the hands of the landlord, increasing his power. Nevertheless leasing did have advantages, especially for those with limited means. The lessee did not have to find a purchase price, and he could often keep the land for as long as he needed and no longer. As he became older, or if he found himself in financial straits, he could simply relinquish the land on expiry of the lease; he did not have to find a buyer. Smallholders and cottagers, faced with the need to provide for noninheriting children, or simply to cultivate more land as their families grew in size, were more likely to resort to leases than purchases.(22) Certainly elderly tenants, who sublet land they could not work themselves, seem to have had no trouble finding takers. So too lords could usually find takers for small half-acre or acre parcels of demesne land, during years when no one was willing to lease the demesne as a whole.

In fifteenth-century east Sussex, as elsewhere, most manorial lords were not in a position to exploit the economic advantages of leasehold tenure and did not appear even to be aware of them.(23) In the depressed economic conditions that prevailed throughout much of the century, the greater security provided by customary tenants might seem preferable to the uncertainties of leasehold. One could never be sure, for example, of finding new tenants on the expiry of a lease, and rents were as likely to be revised downwards as upwards. Thus there was no wholesale conversion from copyhold to leasehold tenure in east Sussex. When the Battle monks were unable to find a tenant for a customary holding, they sometimes leased the land for a few years: when a tenant appeared who was willing to take the land (either on the old terms, or at a reduced rent), it reverted to its former state. The archbishop of Canterbury leased for a money rent some former bond land that had been burdened with rents of hens, eggs and labour services; on by far the greater part of his land, however, labour services were commuted into a money rent, and the basis of tenure remained unchanged. Moreover the rents paid by the lessees remained almost as stable as those paid by the customary tenants. When the economy began to revive towards the end of the fifteenth century, it was generally the subtenants, leasing to each other or to the townsmen, who charged high, so-called "economic" rents, not the manorial lords.

M. M. Postan thought that the village "kulak", who derived most of his income from rents, was probably an uncommon figure in medieval England, since he would be unable to charge enough to make a profit.(24) But in the Sussex Weald, with low assart rents of 2d. an acre, a lessor could charge three or four times the amount he owed the lord and still pay a lower rent than on most downland manors. William Lulham paid the Pelhams 2s. 3d. for the land he had acquired from the Vachedys, but when he leased it to Richard Adam for ten years in 1461, he charged 10s. for the first three years and 8s. a year for the other seven.(25) So too when Peter Pupp leased a tenement of sixteen acres to Martin Alys of Lewes for ten years in 1505, he charged 16s. a year. He himself probably owed the Pelhams an annual rent of just 2s. 8d.(26) Such leases may not have been atypical. Although the lessor was responsible for keeping the property in good repair, and repairs might consume a large part of the receipts in some years, in others he undoubtedly made good profits. People could then use the profits of earlier leases to finance later acquisitions of land. Land could also be taken back in hand between leases. Simon Baron at Ripe, for example, acquired four small parcels of land, all of which he leased out at one time or another. Two of the leases specified that the lessee could plough or sow the land if he wished, except during the last two years of the lease.(27) Baron himself may then have sown the land on recovery of the lease, taking advantage of the increased soil fertility from these fallow years. Customary tenants, with low fixed rents, were clearly well placed to benefit from any rising demand for land. Indeed they may well have been more aware of "market possibilities" than great lords, operating at a distance through stewards with far-flung responsibilities. Brenner -- as Patricia Croot and David Parker have pointed out -- failed to consider either the role of the customary tenant as lessor, or the possibility of land accumulation by copyholders as well as by manorial lords.(28)

Land tenure was more multi-layered, and society infinitely more complex, than Brenner allowed for. Tenants frequently held both freehold and copyhold land: they might be, and often were, both lessors and lessees simultaneously. Parishes were not necessarily conterminous with manors. When two or three lords shared jurisdiction within an area, tenants often held both freehold and copyhold land from more than one lord. Richard Heggenworth, one of the major land accumulators in the Weald, in 1468 held from the Pelhams 123 acres of copyhold land in Waldron, Hoathly and Chiddingly, which he had acquired from fourteen different tenants.(29) But he was also picking up freehold and copyhold land from the Gages at Hoathly, as well as other Wealden land from different lords. In addition, as his detailed will makes clear, he possessed other land elsewhere in Sussex -- at Burwash, Rotherfield, Hellingly, Herstmonceux and Wartling -- as well as at Chatham and Gillingham in Kent.(30) Similarly, in the early sixteenth century, George Richardson, after he became beadle of the Pelhams at Chiddingly, started gathering together small pieces of property. Over the next twenty-four years he constantly added to his holding, sometimes acquiring small parcels of one or two acres, and at other times buying substantial accumulations of fifty acres or more. By the time of his death in 1528 he held from the Pelhams 297.5 acres in Laughton, East Hoathly and Ripe. He also held a large number of small pieces of land in Ripe from Thomas West, Lord La Warr, for a total rent of 30s. 5d.(31) He undoubtedly held more land elsewhere. Men like Heggenworth and Richardson -- and similar land accumulators in other parts of the country -- did not exercise any of the traditional rights of lordship.(32) They held no manors and had no legal rights over their subtenants beyond the right to distrain for nonpayment of rent. Their capacity to "squeeze" their tenants was limited.

Likewise successful burgesses from Battle, Rye and Winchelsea invested their trading profits in land in the surrounding countryside, as they had done earlier.(33) Rye merchants, for example, bought up lands, houses and gardens in Playden and St Mary Marsh, close to the town, but they also invested in property within a ten-mile radius. In 1488 at least fifteen men from Rye and Winchelsea held property in Kent and Sussex.(34) The goods of William Stoneaker were valued at 400 [pounds] and he owned not only houses in Rye and Winchelsea, but land in Beckley, Peasmarsh and Westfield in Sussex and Brookland in Kent.(35) But the gentry and rising yeomen were equally active in the market of these coastal lands, buying and selling to each other as well as to local merchants. Robert Stoneaker, for example, sold to Lord Dacre the houses and land that his father had acquired in Winchelsea and Westfield for 100 [pounds] or more.(36) Meanwhile the Oxenbridges regularly leased the manor of Brede from Syon Abbey, but at the same time were buying up tenant land as it came on the market.(37) Although such men frequently exchanged small parcels of land with each other in order to build up more compact units, they had not often succeeded, by the end of the fifteenth century, in building up very large contiguous holdings. Their land still lay scattered, although in slightly larger units, and to keep track of it they needed to record its precise whereabouts.(38) Thus, although much of this land was leased, it was not taken by a single tenant, but by a number of different people, often in fairly small agglomerations.

Finally, by the end of the fifteenth century, great lords had also entered the local land market, buying up tenant holdings within the jurisdiction of their neighbours. Theoretically such land owed the full gamut of services, including the obligation to attend the court, pledge fealty, and pay relief or an entry fine. But in practice lords routinely paid a fine instead of attending the courts of their fellows, almost never pledged fealty (despite frequent summons) and often failed to pay their rent on time. Bailiffs did not dare distrain powerful lords for arrears. Even such a prominent member of the Sussex gentry as Sir John Scott had to write off annual rents, such as 6d. owed by Lord Dacre and 4s. owed by William Belknap, "because they could not be levied".(39) Accumulation of tenant land by the gentry thus exacerbated the difficulties landlords were already facing in their efforts to maintain rent levels. Not only was it difficult to collect existing rents, but it was quite impossible to extract additional levies. To try to "squeeze" a fellow lord was to risk antagonizing him and, perhaps, a powerful patron. Brenner was undoubtedly right when he pointed out that lords faced with falling or ossified rents had to find other sources of income. However, he was wrong in thinking that the only avenue was greater exploitation by taking more from each peasant, or from one another via brigandage and warfare.(40) Some lords, in fact, found it possible to increase revenues by producing more goods for the market.

Brenner believed that economic development would occur only after the emergence of "new class relations more favourable to new organizations of production, technical innovations, and increasing levels of productive investment".(41) In reality, however, well-established knightly families in fifteenth-century Sussex demonstrated that they were as open to technical innovations and productive investment as any tenant farmer. The accounts of Sir John Scott, after he acquired the Sussex manor of Moat, show what a difference there could be when land was managed with a strong entrepreneurial hand and a keen appreciation of market possibilities.(42) For the first few years of his occupancy the manor was leased to the rent-collector for 13 [pounds] a year. But in the 1470s it was back under his own direct control and used for breeding and fattening beef cattle for the table. Every year thirty to thirty-five oxen were sent to Calais to feed Scott's household there, and some years stock was supplied to feed the household of Lady Scott.(43) In addition, most years some stock -- oxen, sterile cows, calves -- was sold to local butchers, bringing in revenues of 16 [pounds] to 18 [pounds]. Furthermore Scott initiated a programme of land clearance and improvement: ditching, enclosing, removing trees and undergrowth, followed by marling. He also sowed at a higher rate of seed. These measures led to high yields per acre.(44) Although, in years when Scott or his son visited the manor, much of this grain was used up feeding their household and horses, in other years all that was not needed for the manorial staff or fattening oxen was sold. Scott's bailiff also actively exploited the non-agricultural resources on the estate. Each year bundles of reeds were cut in the marshes; some were used to thatch manor buildings; any surplus was sold at Rye. In addition, in the late 1470s, the manor began to produce billets of firewood on a large scale. In 1479-80, 175,000 billets were made, of which 149,000 were sold. Merchants from Calais, Hythe, Deal, Rye and elsewhere readily bought this firewood and in 1481-3 the bailiff received at least 35 [pounds] from such sales and perhaps more.(45)

Furthermore, after bad floods in the 1460s and 1480s inundated much of the coastline, small ecclesiastical houses, lay lords and tenant farmers all engaged in the work of rebuilding the sea-walls and reclaiming ("inning") new land. Lewes Priory recovered "at its own great cost and expense" 92 of the 300 acres flooded in 1480.(46) Between 1478 and 1500 Sir Richard Guildford was responsible for major works of embanking and land reclamation that eventually produced the new parish of East Guldeford. Some of this land was sold, but at the time of his death in 1506 he still held 1,800 acres of marsh in the reclaimed lands of Guldeford Inning.(47) Both Henry Fynch and Goddard Oxenbridge also inned parcels of marsh.(48) Some tenant farmers were equally willing to sink money into such enterprises. The Frebodys leased marshland from the Etchinghams at their manor of Udimore. In 1459, however, John Frebody paid Sir Thomas Etchingham 73 [pounds] for different lands, the greater part of which "he hath ynned at his own costys out of the sea and part of the said land hath slyched".(49) Frebody also held copyhold land from Syon Abbey at its manor of Brede and thirty acres of freehold land at Pett. Some of this land was then subleased to others.(50) He was thus both lessor and lessee, and the leasehold land he held from the Etchinghams merely supplemented his other resources. He certainly was not forced to sink money into land reclamation because he was "separated from possession of land" and faced with high, competitive rents.(51) He freely chose to do so.

Smallholders and cottagers with fewer resources would undoubtedly find it harder to accumulate the funds necessary for large-scale productive investment. But that does not necessarily mean that their farming was "relatively inefficient".(52) A number of tenants received permission from their lords to add marl to their lands. Complaints of trespass reveal that at least some people were growing peas, beans and vetch on their land. The expansion of pastoral husbandry increased the amount of available manure. Moreover tenants who wished to engage in land improvement, but were short of funds, could borrow money using their land as security. At the time of the loan a parcel of land was transferred from the borrower to the lender, on the understanding that when the loan was repaid the land would be transferred back to the original owner. If the loan was not repaid, then the property remained in the hands of the lender. By the 1490s at Alciston (which belonged to Battle Abbey) the court rolls were quite explicit: "Robert Thomson and Juliana surrender a cottage and garden to John Smith, but if they pay 5 [pounds]. 5s. the next year and 4 [pounds] in 1500, the surrender is void".(53) The loans of six Alciston tenants are recorded in this way within the space of a few years, each lender receiving a cottage as a pledge. Similar transactions might well have occurred earlier, with oral rather than written agreements. Not all borrowers used their money to finance improved, efficient farming, but the availability of small loans brought the possibility of agricultural improvement within the reach of a broader spectrum of people.

Did tenants, however, become more vulnerable in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries as the economy revived and the power of the state was thrown behind the authority of the lords? The expansion of both Rye and Lewes towards the end of the fifteenth century gave a new boost to the Sussex economy. As trade and population increased, so did the market for food and other goods. Grain, stock and firewood, as well as manufactured articles and foodstuffs such as bread, beer and ale, flowed from the villages and the surrounding countryside into the towns. As R. W. Hoyle has already suggested, there was not just one path to capitalist development, and lords reacted to the increased demand in different ways.(54) Although some, like Sir John Scott and Sir Richard Guildford, involved themselves directly, others preferred to rely on the help of leaseholders. In the early sixteenth century Battle Abbey leased out large parcels of former demesne land on fairly long leases of twenty to thirty years, with the express stipulation that the lessees, during the term of the lease, should uproot all thorn and other bushes and cut down and remove all undergrowth and wood, so that the ground was level and ready for the plough.(55)

There was, however, no wholesale conversion from customary tenure to leasehold. From the good set of court rolls dealing with the Wealden land belonging to the Pelhams, it seems clear that, in the first thirty years of the sixteenth century, sons were still inheriting copyhold land there without hindrance and paying the traditional relief of one year's rent. Moreover, when land passed from one tenant to another, the entry fine was moderate -- 20s. for sixty acres. When a cottage and eight acres escheated to the lord for lack of heirs, it was not turned into leasehold, as it could easily have been, but granted out again as copyhold to new tenants for an extremely favourable entry fine -- the performance of two days' sawing.(56) Nevertheless by the 1530s some tenants of large holdings were clearly feeling insecure about their tenure "at the will of the lord". In 1530, for example, John atte Bergh surrendered his tenement and one hundred acres so that it could be regranted to him "and his heirs by custom of the manor and tenure of new assart". He paid 10 [pounds] for this right. The following year Stephen Hoke similarly turned his two tenements and sixty-seven acres into copyhold by inheritance on payment of 5 [pounds].(57) The Pelhams were thus able to increase their income in a variety of ways. In addition to confirming copyhold for a fee, they leased parcels of former demesne, and contributed to the development of the Wealden iron industry by building an iron mill at Burwash that was leasing for 16 [pounds] in 1524.(58) For them industrial capitalism was more attractive than agricultural development.

Some lords did behave as Brenner envisaged, dispossessing tenants and charging high entry fines. When John Chatfield died, his youngest son and heir, John, was just three years old, and his inheritance eventually passed into the hands of his lord, Roger Lewkenore, despite valiant efforts on the part of his uncle.(59) John Palmer, after he took over the manor of Ecclesdon, forced some of his copyhold tenants to exchange their former holdings for new ones. Although he insisted that the new land contained as many acres of arable land and pasture and was as good yearly value as the old, the tenants were clearly upset at the move. They complained bitterly that he had taken their land against their will and had destroyed some of the houses there.(60) Tenants of former demesne land were particularly vulnerable. Thomas Erll, his wife Denise and their son, Thomas, held a corn mill, garden and pond for the term of their lives, but "at the will of the lord". When the manor changed hands the new owner, Nicholas Carew, entered the mill and expelled Thomas Erll the younger, insisting that as the mill had been parcel of the demesne and not customary land, "it was lawful for him to do so". He then leased the mill, on a forty-year term, in return for a substantial entry fine of 22 [pounds].(61) Other cases of dispossession obviously occurred without complaints reaching the courts, but how many it is impossible to say.

The gentry's acquisition of tenant land, however, helped to temper the power and authority of manorial lords and served as a brake against arbitrary actions. John Praty developed some of his copyhold land, building houses, making closes and gardens, then renting them out. Since he had failed to seek a licence before doing so, the owner of the manor, Sir Thomas Pelham, seized the land.(62) John Praty, however, was not an impecunious, powerless peasant, but a member of an important Sussex gentry family.(63) He could afford to appeal to the court of Chancery for the restoration of his land. Unfortunately, in this instance, the outcome of the case is not recorded. But when another Pelham, Sir William, enclosed Broyle wood, where his free tenants had been accustomed to common their animals, he was successfully resisted.(64) Among his tenants were such wealthy and well-connected men as John Thatcher, Sir John Benge (controller of the royal household) and Giles Fiennes (heir to Sir Thomas Fiennes of Claverham).(65) After they protested, Pelham agreed to a compromise, whereby the tenants gave up their pasture rights in the enclosed wood, but continued to enjoy their traditional rights on the remainder of the land. In return Pelham gave up his right to collect pannage dues.(66) Less powerful tenants might not have gained as much.

The neat division of society into lords and peasants obscures the multiple functions an individual might carry out. The Frebody family are a good example. By the 1480s two members -- John and Thomas Frebody -- were both well established, holding copyhold as well as freehold land. At the time of his death Thomas was seised of three tenements, with forty acres of arable, forty acres of pasture and forty acres of marsh at Udimore and Brede.(67) Both men occasionally exported firewood and loads of timber, and they were willing to lease marshland from the Etchinghams when they needed additional pasture for their animals.(68) Some of their own land was then subleased to others. Thus the same person could equally well be classified as landlord, customary tenant, lessor, lessee, peasant farmer or merchant. Likewise, in the sixteenth century, family members continued to combine farming with commercial activities. William Frebody worked as a major brewer of beer.(69) Such men undoubtedly respected the local gentry and were willing to co-operate with them, but they were unlikely to be totally intimidated by them.(70)

Similarly the term "wage-labourer" can be applied to individuals whose economic circumstances varied widely. Young people worked as servants, living in the households of their employers, but many, though not all, eventually acquired land of their own. Some non-inheriting children were never able to scrape together the funds to purchase land or a cottage. They rented a room or a house from someone else and were primarily dependent on their wages. Although the numbers of wage-labourers did increase in the early years of the sixteenth century, east Sussex society in this period was not sharply divided between the substantial farmer and landowner on the one side and the landless labourer on the other. Holdings of between ten and thirty acres were still plentiful. Moreover estate workers and craftsmen -- ploughmen, shepherds, carpenters, thatchers -- did not just work for wages, but themselves kept animals and grew crops, both for sale and to feed their families.(71) In addition men frequently practised more than one trade -- working as both carter and tailor, perhaps -- as well as cultivating their own land.(72) Such families, in their turn, often hired labour -- to mow a meadow or help out during harvest -- when they were particularly busy. Thus the same person could be, at different times, employer, employee and self-employed. With this occupational flexibility, families were better able to make payments on entry fines and withstand seigneurial pressure.

If English lords were not as powerful, nor English peasants as vulnerable, as Brenner thought, what can account for the different economic development of England and France? A contributing factor -- as Croot and Parker have already pointed out -- is the absence in France of any group equivalent to that of the English yeomanry.(73) However, behind the rise of the yeomanry lay the opening up of the land market. English peasants -- both copyholders and freeholders -- were allowed to bypass the traditional rules of inheritance and to arrange for the sale of their land after death. Concomitantly buyers acquired the right to spread the cost of land purchase over a number of years, thus facilitating its acquisition. In addition, by the end of the fifteenth century, even small cottagers could mortgage their property in return for a loan. These funds could then be used to finance agricultural improvement or additional land purchase, or simply to tide over a period of bad harvests. The French land market, however, was less fluid -- possibly because the French legal system operated very differently from the English. If the French peasant did not have the same access to loans as his English counterpart, and had to pay the full purchase price for land at the time of sale, then opportunities for land accumulation would, inevitably, be less. Fewer families would be in a position to take advantage of any upswing in the economy. Agrarian backwardness in France, as compared with England, therefore, may have been as much a product of France's legal system, as of class relations and state authority. * Much of the research for this article was made possible by a summer research fellowship from the University of Oregon. I am also very grateful for the helpful comments of Paul Brand, James Given, Eleanor Searle, Scott Waugh and members of the Huntington seminar in British history on an earlier version of this article. (1) For the views of Brenner and his opponents, see T. H. Aston and C. H. E. Philpin (eds.), The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe (Cambridge, 1985). For more theoretical approaches, see John E. Martin, Feudalism to Capitalism: Peasant and Landlord in English Agrarian Development (Basingstoke, 1983); R. J. Holton, The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London, 1985). (2) R. W. Hoyle, "Tenure and the Land Market in Early Modern England: Or a Late Contribution to the Brenner Debate", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xliii (1990), p. 19. (3) For French peasants, see Brenner, "Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe", in Aston and Philpin (eds.), Brenner Debate, p. 29; for English peasants, see Brenner, "The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism", ibid., p. 236. (4) R. J. Faith, "Peasant Families and Inheritance Customs in Medieval England", Agric. Hist. Rev., xiv (1966), pp. 77-95; Anne De Windt, "A Peasant Land Market and its Participants: King's Ripton, 1280-1400", Midland Hist., iv (1978), pp. 142-59; Richard M. Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle (Cambridge, 1984); P. D. A. Harvey (ed.), The Peasant Land-Market in Medieval England (Oxford, 1984). (5) B. M. S. Campbell, "Population Pressure, Inheritance and the Land Market in a Fourteenth Century Peasant Community", in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle, pp. 87-134. See also Christopher Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 258-73. (6) A. Jones, "Bedfordshire: Fifteenth Century", in Harvey (ed.), Peasant Land-Market in Medieval England, p. 203. (7) Detailed calculations were made for nine manors: five in the Weald (Waldron, Laughton, Chiddingly, East Hoathly and Ripe -- belonging to the Pelhams), three on the downland and coastal plain (Alciston, Lullington and Blatchington -- belonging to Battle Abbey) and one where partible inheritance was practised (Brede -- belonging to Sir John Cornwall). The one manor which did not follow the general trend was Blatchington, where the percentage of inter-vivos transfers to non-kin was only between 20 and 25 per cent in 1400-60. (8) I am very grateful to James Given for carrying out the regression analysis demonstrating that the changes which did occur were statistically insignificant. (9) For the example of Giles Page, see M. Mate, "The Occupation of the Land: Kent and Sussex", in E. Miller (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iii, 1348-1500 (Cambridge, 1991), p. 122. Giles Rukke held a customary tenement of nine acres, but, when his grange was blown down by the wind in 1468, he claimed his poverty prevented him from rebuilding. When he died (in 1471) his son, Simon, refused to return home and claim the tenement. East Sussex Record Office, Lewes (hereafter E.S.R.O.), SAS/G18/44-8. (10) British Library, London (hereafter Brit. Lib.), Add. Rolls 32013, 32031, 32033. (11) Clive Burgess, "By Quick and by Dead: Wills and Pious Provision in Late Medieval Bristol", Eng. Hist. Rev., cii (1987), pp. 837-58, stresses the fact that wills fail to reveal the true extent of pious investment although he admits their use as a source. (12) Of 108 east Sussex wills consulted, nine specified the sale of land if the heirs died. Another nine specified the immediate sale of land, usually "at the best price", with the money received to be disposed of in a variety of ways for the good of the testator's soul. Eleven Sussex cases before the court of Chancery also dealt with problems arising from testamentary provisions for the sale of land. (13) The "use" enabled landowners to treat land as their own, while avoiding the restrictions and penalties associated with legal title. For a good discussion of this aspect, see R. H. Helmholz, "The Early Enforcement of Uses", Columbia Law Rev., lxxix (1979), pp. 1503-13. (14) Ibid. See also Margaret E. Averay, "The History of the Equitable Jurisdiction of Chancery before 1460", Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, xlii (1969), pp. 129-44; J. A. Guy, "The Development of Equitable Jurisdiction, 1450-1550", in E. W. Ives and A. H. Manchester (eds.), Law, Litigants and the Legal Profession (London, 1983), pp. 80-6. I am very grateful to Paul Brand for clarifying my understanding of these matters. (15) Brit. Lib., Add. Rolls 31969, 30044. (16) A very perceptive article by Paul Hyams, "The Origins of a Peasant Land Market in England", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxiii (1970), pp. 18-31, raised questions about the source of the purchase money and the role of the money lender, but supplied no answers. (17) E.S.R.O., SAS/G1/25. (18) Brit. Lib., Add. Rolls 32024, 32034. See also E.S.R.O., SAS/G18/46, where John Colyn surrendered a tenement and eight acres to Richard Wood, reserving an upper chamber for himself for life, as well as the right to sit in the hall by the fire. Colyn allowed Wood to pay 23s. 4d. the first Michaelmas and another 23s. 4d. the following Michaelmas. (19) E.S.R.O., SAS/G18/48. Greenstreet paid 6s. 8d. the first year and 26s. 8d. for the next two years. He later gave up one of the cottages, but kept the other until his death in 1511/12. Juliana Greenstreet was cited as a common or public brewer for twenty-five years and her husband was once cited as a regrator of bread. (20) Huntington Library, San Marino, California, BA 664. The agreement stated that if they paid the full 4 marks the concession of the property would be valida et firma, whereas if they failed to make any of the payments, the sellers would have the right to re-enter and recover their "pristine state". (21) Huntington Lib., BA 667, 703, 719. She was accused of being a bawd (pronuba) and keeping suspicious women in her house. She was cited each year from 1479 until 1481 when the rolls cease. (22) The Russian economist, A. V. Chayanov, believed the landholding of a peasant family would expand and contract in response to the size of the family's supply of labour. For a good discussion of his views, see Richard M. Smith, "Some Issues Families and their Property in Rural England", in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle, pp. 6-21. (23) This point is well illustrated in Hoyle, "Tenure and the Land Market", pp. 1-20. (24) M.M. Postan, The Medieval Economy and Society (London, 1972), p. 141. (25) Brit. Lib., Add. Rolls 32363, 32019. (26) Brit. Lib., Add. Rolls 32058. (27) The court rolls record eight leases: Brit. Lib., Add. Rolls 32031, 32011, 32013, 32032, 32034, 32042, 32043; one roll contains two leases. They do not specify the rent at which the land was leased. (28) Patricia Croot and David Parker, "Agrarian Class Structure and the Development of Capitalism: France and England Compared", in Aston and Philpin (eds.), Brenner Dabate, p. 81. (29) Brit. Lib., Add. Charter 30428. There were similar accumulations in other parts of England: see Rosamond Faith, "Berkshire: Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries", in Harvey (ed.), Peasant Land-Market in Medieval England, pp. 1434. (30) Brit. Lib., Add. Charters 29484-6. He had no immediate heirs and requested in his will that all his land be sold for the benefit of his soul. (31) His youngest son, William (still under age), inherited the copyhold land held from the Pelhams: Brit. Lib., Add. Roll 32072. The land held from the La Warrs was entailed to his other sons, first Robert, or, in the event of his death, John: Brit. Lib., Add. Charter 30762. (32) For similar activity in the Lea Valley, see Paul Glennie, "In Search of Agrarian Capitalism: Manorial Land Markets and the Acquisition of Land in the Lea Valley, 1450-1560", Continuity and Change, iii (May 1988), pp. 11-40. (33) Throughout the thirteenth century Battle burgesses had been active investors in the farmlands within the vicinity of Battle and the estates of the abbey's gentry neighbours: E. Searle, Lordship and Community: Battle Abbey and its Banlieu, 1066-1538 (Toronto, 1974), pp. 109-28. (34) E.S.R.O., RYE 80/1 (allowances at the time of levying a fifteenth). (35) E.S.R.O., RYE 77/3 (1491/2). His goods had originally been assessed at 600 [pounds]. That was later crossed out and 400 [pounds] inserted, but the original assessment may well be accurate. For his lands in Brookland, see RYE 80/1. In his will he mentioned houses and gardens in Playden and lands in Rye, Beckley and Westfield, but left all other lands and tenements to his son: Public Record Office, London (hereafter P.R.O.), PROB 11/18 quire 33. For purchase of the land in Peasmarsh, see E.S.R.O., AMS 5592/87. (36) E.S.R.O., AMS 5592/90 (receipt for 20 [pounds]. 15s. in good money in discharge of 100 [pounds] due for houses and lands in Westfield and Winchelsea). It is not clear whether Lord Dacre had also paid something "in hand" at the beginning of the sale. (37) P.R.O., S.C. 2/15/51. By the 1480s Robert Oxenbridge had acquired forty-four different parcels of land at Brede that had formerly belonged to other people, with rents ranging from 2d. to 13s. 4 1/2d. (38) Most of the exchanges recorded by Bartholomew Bolney are for a few roods or few acres of land: see The Book of Bartholomew Bolney, ed. M. Clough (Sussex Rec. Soc., lxiii, Lewes, 1964), pp. 45-53. In 1534 the compiler of a book with some ties, James Burton, listed the "bounds and buttellings of my land within the parish of Eastbourne"; most of the plots comprised just a few rods or one to three acres: E.S.R.O., CP 183. (39) Scott was controller of Edward IV's household from 1461-70 and later marshal of CAM. E.S.R.O., SAS/HC/179/7; SAS/HC/179/9. (40) Brenner, "Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism", p. 224. (41) Brenner, "Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development", p. 18. (42) In 1459 Scott acquired from John Passely the manor of Moat, 203 acres of arable, 200 acres of meadow, 200 acres of pasture, 200 acres of wood and 200 acres of heath in Iden, Playden, Peasmarsh, Beckley, Ewhurst and Northiam: Feet of Fines for the County of Sussex from 1 Edward II to 24 Henry VII, ed. L. F. Salzman (Sussex Rec. Soc., xxiii, Lewes, 1916), p. 271. (43) The oxen bound for Calais were either driven to Dover and shipped live; or were killed, cut up and salted, then shipped in barrels from Winchelsea. (44) He spent at least 27 [pounds] over six years on this work of land clearance. The first harvest from oats on this new land brought a yield of 8.12 times as much as the seed (32.5 bushels an acre), and from wheat 10.93 times as much (27.3 bushels an acre): E.S.R.O., SAS/HC/180/7; SAS/HC/179/5-8. (45) E.S.R.O., SAS/HC/179/8; SAS/HC/179/10; SAS/HC/182. (46) P.R.O., D.L. 29/454/7329. (47) Calendar of Inquisitions Post-Mortem Henry VII, iii, no. 374. See also V.C.H. Sussex, ix, pp. 149-51. (48) The will of Henry Fynch refers to "the marsh that I have inned": P.R.O., PROB 11/10, quire 1; that of Robert Oxenbridge to the newly inned marsh of his brother, Goddard Oxenbridge: P.R.O., PROB 11/14, quire 15. (49) Hastings Museum, JER box 8. He had also built on the land. (50) In the 1480s John Frebody regularly paid fines to Syon Abbey rather than attend its court. For the land at Pett, see Abstracts of Star Chamber Proceedings Relating to the County of Sussex, ed. Percy D. Mundy (Sussex Rec. Soc., xvi, Lewes, 1913), pp. 34-5. (51) Brenner, "Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism", p. 301: "the English peasantry . . . had no choice but to respond to the rising market by competing with one another as effectively as possible ... But this compulsion to compete was only the result of the fact that they were separated from possession of the land, thus deprived of direct (non-market) access to their means of subsistence, correlatively consigned to leasehold status, and, as a result, subjected to the system of competitive rents". (52) Ibid., p. 297. (53) E.S.R.O., SAS/G18/52. (54) Hoyle, "Tenure and the Land Market", p. 18. (55) Huntington Lib., BA 763, BA 845. See also BA Deeds 55/1610; BA 55/1608. The rents for these lands were usually low (2d. an acre), but the abbey saved itself the expense of supervising and paying for the land clearance. (56) Brit. Lib., Add. Rolls 32080, 32085. (57) Brit. Lib., Add. Rolls 32084, 32086. For similar transactions at a later date in other parts of the country, see Hoyle, "Tenure and the Land Market", pp. 7-19. (58) E.S.R.O., ASH 200. (59) P.R.O., REQ 2/9/142; 10/200. His uncle, William Staple, complained to the court of Requests. Although the court found in his favour, Roger Lewkenore, according to Staple, utterly refused to make restitution. Staple, therefore, complained again that Lewkenore kept the land in his own hands and took the profits. Lewkenore's answer is not recorded. (60) Abstracts of Star Chamber Proceedings Relating to Sussex, ed. Mundy, pp. 12-13; P.R.O., REQ 2/10/68. (61) P.R.O., REQ 2/9/16. (62) P.R.O., C. 1/554/27. (63) In the Sussex cases which came before the court of Star Chamber, John Praty of Chiddingly is described at various times as "husbandman", "Yeoman" and "Sir John Praty". It is not clear whether these refer to the same person at different stages in his career, to different members of the same family, or are simply loosely used and inaccurate terms. The John Praty who engaged in land development held at least thirty acres of Copyhold land from the Pelhams and other land elsewhere. When he borrowed 10 [pounds] from Humphrey Banaster he pledged , security two messuages, two barns, two gardens and sixty acres of arable and woodland in Chiddingly: P.R.O., C. 1/468/16. In 1524 his income from land was assessed at 5 [pounds]: Lay Subsidy Rolls, 1524-5, ed. J. Cornwall (Sussex Rec. Soc., lvi, Lewes, 1956), p. 122. (64) This custom had been of long standing: see custumals of the Manors of Laughton, Willingdon and Goring, ed. A. E. Wilson (Sussex Rec. Soc., Ix, Lewes, 1961), p. 61. (65) John Thatcher was one of the commissioners for the collection of the subsidy of 1524 and assessed at 100 [pounds]: Lay Subsidy Rolls, ed. Cornwall, p. 129. (66) Brit. Lib., Add. Charter 30484 (confirmation by Nicholas Pelham of an agreement made by his father). The tenants had owed pannage of one hog in every ten using the wood and, for herds of less than ten, 1/2d. for every six-month beast, 1d. for each nine-month beast and 2d. for every hog two years old or more. In 1525, before the agreement was reached, forty-one tenants from Laughton, Hoathey and Waldon had been charged pannage. Brit. Lib., Add. Roll 32079. (67) He paid Syon Abbey 22s. 8d. a year rent for his copyhold land held at their manor of Brede: P.R.O., C. 1/288/87; S.C. 11/649. (68) P.R.O., E. 122/35/11; E. 122/35/18. (69) Hastings Museum, JER box 8. (70) John Frebody joined with Robert Oxenbridge and others in a joint lease from the Etchinghams. In 1524 a Goddard Frebody had goods worth 24 [pounds]: Lay Subsidy Rolls, ed. Cornwall, p. 161. Since this is an unusual first name, it is quite likely that Sir Goddard Oxenbridge was his godfather. (71) Donald Woodward, "Wage Rates and Living Standards in Pre-Industrial England", Past and Present, no. 91 (May 1981), pp. 28-45, demonstrated that many building craftsmen were still involved in agriculture in the sixteenth century. (72) Simon A. C. Penn and Christopher Dyer, "Wages and Earnings in Late Medieval England: Evidence from the Enforcement of the Labour Laws", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xliii (1990), pp. 360-6. (73) Croot and Parker, "France and England Compared", p. 85.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:England
Author:Mate, Mavis E.
Publication:Past & Present
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:9146
Previous Article:The passion of Perpetua.
Next Article:Bible reading, "Bibles" and the Bible for children in early modern Germany.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters