The Peasant Land-market in Berkshire during the later Middle Ages
2013-10-03T10:49:38Z (GMT) by
Small-scale traffic in land was endemic in peasant society and is reflected in the earliest surviving court rolls of the thirteenth century. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a fall in the manorial population and the leasing of demesne land made more land available to the peasantry. Entry fines fell and rents remained virtually stable. The decay of the traditions of customary inheritance and the relaxation of seigneurial prohibitions on the alienation of villein tenements, brought into existence a free market in customary land, in which entire villein holdings changed hands rapidly. This peasant land-market differed in scale and in effects from that of the thirteenth century. Leases and copyholds for lives, and for terms of years, became increasingly common. Village society became increasingly polarised as many middling tenant families declined, and a small group of richer peasants took advantage of the active land-market to build up composite holdings. Often, lessees of the manorial demesne, sometimes sheep farmers and employers of wage labour, these richer peasants appeared to be the founding generation of a prosperous yeomanry, but in many cases their prosperity was short-lived, and considerable instability was a chief characteristic of the period.