A reassessment of land transfer patterns among the English peasantry c. 1270-1580

Individualism and the family-land bond: a reassessment of land transfer patterns among the English peasantry c. 1270-1580

Jane Whittle

Land and family had an importance in peasant society that they have lost in modern industrialized society. The majority of family households possessed land, and this land was cultivated, to a large degree, with the intention of providing for the subsistence needs of the family. The family was not only a group of consumers, eating and living together in the home, but a group of producers, labouring together in the home and farm to provide their joint subsistence. Thus, land was the most important resource for subsistence and the family was the most important provider of labour. It would seem logical therefore that the tie between land and family, sometimes described as the family-land bond, would be particularly strong: that efforts would be made to keep the possession of land within the family. The means by which this was achieved was the inheritance of land within the family from generation to generation. A strong system of inheritance, in which land is only passed within the family, precludes the sale of land and therefore anything like a land market from coming into existence.

This paper questions the assumption that the importance of family and land in peasant societies necessarily leads to a strong family–land bond and the absence of a land market between peasants. It is a recognized contradiction in the definition of peasant societies that while they are largely subsistence-orientated, peasants also participate in markets both out of necessity and in search of opportunity.(1) A similar pattern can be envisaged with regard to land. The passage of land within the family is clearly important within peasant societies, but when opportunities are available to buy and sell land, and to deviate from traditional inheritance customs, peasants see advantages in taking up these opportunities and participate in a land market. This article will suggest that the absence of land markets in many peasant societies is the result of tenurial restrictions rather than the emotional attachment of peasants to `family land’.

This view stands in opposition to two existing models. The first model asserts that peasant societies always exhibit a strong family-land bond and, conversely, that a strong family-land bond indicates the presence of a peasant society. And further, that keeping land in the family is evidence of strong emotional ties between family members and between the family and a particular landholding. This view is implicit in Govind Sreenivasan’s recent article in this journal, and has found frequent expression in the work of other historians of medieval and early modern England. For instance, Rodney Hilton states, `a primary feature of peasant outlook was a deeply rooted sense of family property rights in the peasant holding… With this naturally went the conviction that the family’s right in the holding was hereditary’. While Rosamond Faith argues that `however much peasant inheritance customs varied by the thirteenth century they shared one basic principle. They placed great importance on the concept of “keeping the name on the land”‘.(2)

The second model this paper challenges is that expressed by Alan Macfarlane in The Origins of English Individualism. Notoriously, Macfarlane argued that because, among other reasons, rights to land lay with the individual and not the family, and because land was bought and sold as well as passed within the family, the inhabitants of rural England between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries were not peasants but individualists. Following from this, because England was already non-peasant in the thirteenth century, there was no significant transformation in the following five centuries, the period in which the transition from feudalism or peasant society to capitalism or individualism is usually located.(3) Macfarlane’s argument is in fact very similar to the first model, but is used to the opposite effect. The verdict on whether England possessed a peasant society depends to a large degree on whether land was kept within the family.

The aim of this article is not to prove that England possessed a peasant society in the period under consideration. In my view that argument rests on whether the rural economy was predominantly subsistence-orientated in this period, which is not the debate I wish to enter into here. That said, it is implicit in much that is written here that England in the period before the late sixteenth century is envisaged as predominantly peasant. Instead, this paper examines the patterns of land transfer and inheritance in England between c. 1270 and 1580. It does so by exploring a series of comparisons, between different types of document, different periods and different geographical regions. This allows the reasons for variations in the treatment of land and family, both regionally and over time, to be illuminated.

The first two sections of the paper relate to north-east Norfolk in the period between 1440 and 1580, and, in particular, to the manor of Hevingham. This region was characterized by an unusually active tenant land-market and flexible inheritance strategies from at least the thirteenth century onwards. As Bruce Campbell has noted, `eastern Norfolk is one part of medieval England where the typical “peasant” was perhaps, as A. Macfarlane believes, a rampant individualist, market-orientated and acquisitive, and ego-centred in kinship and social life’.(4) The data are drawn from a detailed local study based largely on court rolls and wills, s They describe a society that lacked a strong family-land bond, and was, in Macfarlanite terms, `individualistic’. The third section draws a comparison with the same region during the period between the 1270s and the 1440s, again using court roll data from Hevingham. This enables change over time to be examined in some detail, most importantly, the effect of population change and the end of serfdom. The fourth section relies wholly on secondary material and compares the flexible pattern of landholding so evident in East Anglia with the patterns found in Midland England, where the family-land bond was apparently much stronger. The conclusion assesses the usefulness of the concepts of `the family-land bond’ and `individualism’ as tools for describing and defining peasant society.




The manor of Hevingham is situated in north-east Norfolk, eight miles north of Norwich, and includes most of the village of Marsham and parts of neighbouring Hevingham and Brampton. It was an attractive place to hold land, containing not only good quality arable land, but also some meadowland and a large area of heathland used for rough grazing. The rent was moderate, fixed at 7d. an acre, and entry fines were low, fixed at between 4d. and 6d. per acre. The manorial administration placed few restrictions on the land-exchange activities of tenants, allowing them to split landholdings, hold land jointly, be non-resident and, under certain circumstances, transfer land outside of the manorial court.

Table 1 shows the nature of land transfers recorded in the surviving court rolls of the manor between 1444 and 1558.(6) Transfers between non-relatives outnumber those between relatives throughout the period, although the proportion of transfers between relatives increases in the sixteenth century. With regard to the area of land transferred, the amount of land falling into the different categories fluctuates considerably, although a sharp increase in the importance of family land transfers in the last period, 1544-58, can be observed. It is also evident that land transfers between family members are on average larger than non-family transfers. Despite the increasing importance of family land transfers over time, the volume of non-family transfers suggests that there was no strong system of the inheritance of land in Hevingham between 1444 and 1558.



1444-60 1483-97 1498-1512

No. of transfers 153 142 141

% no relationship 79 73 58

% inheritance custom 3 4 11

% inter-vivos family 8 12 15

% other same surname 7 9 11

% to executor/s 3 2 4

No. of acres([dagger]) 458 656 884

% no relationship 48 68 37

% inheritance custom 5 6 11

% inter-vivos family 34 12 25

% other same surname 6 9 19

% to executor/s 6 6 8

1513-28 1529-43 1544-58

No. of transfers 112 95 96

% no relationship 68 64 56

% inheritance custom 7 5 10

% inter-vivos family 16 26 28

% other same surname 6 1 5

% to executor/s 3 3 0

No. of acres([dagger]) 751 554 771

% no relationship 59 64 38

% inheritance custom 12 4 6

% inter-vivos family 18 30 52

% other same surname 8 0 5

% to executor/s 3 1 0

([dagger]) The total area of customary land was approximately 566 acres.

(*) Sources: Norfolk Record Office, Norwich (hereafter NRO), NRS 19559 42D2, 14763 29D4, 19560 42D2, 13685 28D3, 14477 29C1, 14487 29C1, Hevingham Court Rolls, 1425-60, 1483-4, 1485-1509, 1509-45, 1547-58, and miscellaneous courts.

Before reaching any firm conclusions, however, we must consider two problems with the coverage of the data. First, not all land transfers within the manor are recorded in the court rolls. Court rolls only consistently record transfers of customary land and not of demesne or freehold land. Customary land is land that had previously been held by unfree servile tenure, but in Hevingham’s case was now held by copy-hold of inheritance. However, as much of the manor’s demesne was granted out piecemeal to customary tenants between 1489 and 1491, and had become assimilated into customary tenure, and the majority of the manor’s freehold was held by the lords of two neighbouring manors, the court rolls do in fact record the great majority of the land within Hevingham manor held by ordinary tenants.(7)

Secondly, distinguishing between family and non-family land transfers is always problematic. It depends both on identifying the relationship between different actors in the land market, and on defining `the family’. Table 1 distinguishes between five types of land transfer, according to the relationship between the person giving up or surrendering the land and the person acquiring it. Transfers by inheritance custom are the most clearly defined form of transfer. They occurred when a landholder died in sole possession of land. The land then passed, according to the custom of the manor, to the nearest heir. These transfers are therefore always between relatives. If the dying tenant had no heirs, the land reverted to the manorial lord by right of escheat: this was relatively rare in Hevingham during this period. Even in the mid-fifteenth century, when other manors in north-east Norfolk and elsewhere in England had large numbers of vacant customary holdings lying `in the lord’s hands’, this was not the case in Hevingham. The favourable terms of tenancy and extensive common grazing rights offered by the manor seem the most likely explanation.

The custom of inheritance varied from manor to manor.(8) The most common form found in England was impartible male inheritance, by which land passes to one son. However, partible male inheritance, by which all the sons receive a share of the land, also occurred and was relatively common in north-east Norfolk.(9) When there were no sons, daughters normally inherited jointly. Custom also varied in the provision made for landholders’ widows. In some manors, a widow received all of her husband’s land; it then passed on to the next generation only after her remarriage or death. In other manors a widow received half, or more commonly, a third of her husband’s land. Elsewhere widows received no land at all.(10) As no statement of Hevingham’s manorial customs survives, it is necessary to rely upon precedent as shown by the land transfers in the manor’s court rolls. This indicates that the custom was impartible male inheritance. If there were no sons, daughters inherited jointly. There is no evidence of widows receiving any of their husbands’ land, by customary right, under normal circumstances.(11)

Table 1 demonstrates that, in fact, inheritance by custom was relatively uncommon in Hevingham during this period. It was consistently outnumbered by inter-vivos family transfers: transfers between family members during the lifetime of the person giving up the land. These transfers are more difficult to detect than customary inheritance, as we need to be sure of the relationship between the people involved in the land transfer. In this study, people have only been assumed to be related when the family relationship is stated in the court roll. The reliance on stated relationships provides a relatively consistent measurement over time and also means that some transfers via women are recorded despite the fact they do not necessarily have the same surname as their relatives. It does, however, under-enumerate family transfers, because relationships were not always stated. For this reason a further type of transfer, ‘other same surname’, is included. Some of these transfers may have been between family members, but others were not, as a number of unrelated or distantly related families within the manor shared the same surname. For example, there were at least three quite different families with the surname `Bisshop’ holding land within the manor.

There is one final problematic category, that of transfers to executors. Land transfers were only placed in this category if the executor was neither a relative nor shared a surname with the dying landholder. As with the `same surname’ transfers, it is difficult to be sure if these are transfers within or outside the family. While some executors did pass land on to relatives of the testator, executors were also quite frequently required to sell land and thus transfer it outside the family.

The definition of family used in this paper is, therefore, a restricted one. It relies on family relationships being stated in the court roll. Distant family relationships are not recorded. While four generations of relatedness might be recorded in a direct line, from great-grandparent to great-grandchild, lateral relationships were not recorded beyond siblings and their children. Zvi Razi has argued that reliance on surname-only evidence results in family land transfers being substantially under-enumerated. Additionally, in the fifteenth century when the demographic situation reduced the numbers of close relatives available, the likelihood of under-enumeration of family relationships increases.(12) While the method used in this article does not rely on surnames, it also fails to detect more distant relationships. Classifying transfers between more distant relatives as family transfers or non-family transfers would have required not only a detailed reconstruction of family relationships in the manor, which was not possible given the documentation available, but also assumptions about the significance of family links. Razi asserts that family land was sought after, even by distant relatives, `because it was cheaper, it provided them with better title and it enabled them to be absorbed more easily into the village community’.(13) There is no evidence that the relationship of distant kinship had any special relevance of this kind in Hevingham. It seems very unlikely that there was a qualitative difference between land transfers to distant kin and those to neighbours or other acquaintances. Instead, it has been assumed that the narrow recognition of family relationships evident in the court rolls reflects a reality in which only close family relationships were of significance in land transfers.(14)

So, despite the incomplete coverage of the court rolls and the difficulties in classifying types of land transfers, we can conclude from Table 1 that there was an active land market in Hevingham manor during this period, with frequent transfer of land between non-relatives. Inheritance custom was relatively unimportant with regard to the passage of land: inter-vivos family transfers were more numerous and involved greater acreage. Definite family land transfers accounted for less than 40 per cent of the acreage transferred in the period before the mid-sixteenth century. Nevertheless, it is striking that family land transfers were increasing in importance over time, accounting for 58 per cent of land transferred in the period between 1544 and 1558. This trend has been noted elsewhere: for instance, in the West Midlands by Christopher Dyer; in Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, by Cicely Howell; and in Earls Colne, Essex, by Sreenivasan.(15)

More detail about the nature of land transfers between family members in Hevingham is provided in Table 2. Two features of particular interest stand out. While the majority of transfers are from parent to son, land transfers between husband and wife make up a large proportion of family transfers. Many family land transfers resulted from the need to provide for women’s widowhood, and from remarriage, and had little to do with the inheritance of land between generations. While widows lacked customary rights to their husbands’ land, in practice the majority of men provided their widows with land, usually by means of joint tenure. Women who had acquired land jointly with their husbands received that land automatically, without payment of a fine, after their husbands died. These transfers are not recorded in Table 2. However, if the couple had not originally received the land jointly, the man could regrant land to joint tenure with his wife during his lifetime or surrender land to her on his deathbed. This is what we observe in the table. Because widows often received land, we also find them regranting land to new husbands if they remarried.



Transfers to: Inheritance Deathbed or Regrant to

custom via executors joint tenture

Wife 0 22 13

Husband 0 0 18

Son 37 24 2

Daughter 9 3 1

Grandchild or

great-grandchild 3 4 0

Sibling or nephew 1 6 0

Total 50 59 34

Inter-vivos Total

Transfers to: transfer

Wife 0 35

Husband 0 18

Son 5 68

Daughter 0 13

Grandchild or

great-grandchild 0 7

Sibling or nephew 2 9

Total 7 150

(*) Sources: NRO, NRS 19559 42D2, 14763 29D4, 19560 42D2, 13685 28D3, 14477 29C1, 14487 29C1, Hevingham Court Rolls, 1425-60, 1483-4, 1485-1509, 1509-45, 1547-58, and miscellaneous courts.

The second feature relates to the method of transfer. While inter-vivos transfers outnumbered inheritance by custom, it is clear that most family transfers actually took place near death or at death, rather than when the person surrendering the land was alive and well. Joint tenure and out-of-court land transfers were two privileges that made the transfer of land within the family in Hevingham a flexible affair; they also made it possible to avoid customary inheritance, if desired. They were not privileges that were available to customary tenants throughout England, although they were common in East Anglian manors. While joint tenures are in evidence from the first court rolls onwards, out-of-court transfers only become common in the fifteenth century.(16) This was a period when various new means of transferring customary land — joint tenures between groups of unrelated men, mortgage agreements and, most notably, wills — were also adopted by customary tenants.

Out-of-court land transfers in Hevingham had to be witnessed by three male tenants of the manor and reported at the next manorial court. Deathbed surrenders are a type of out-of-court land transfer in which it is recorded the landholder was languens in extremis, or languishing near death, but not all out-of-court transfers occurred at the deathbed.(17) This form of transfer allowed the tenant to retain control of the land right up to the time of imminent death, and then transfer it to whoever he or she wished: relative, non-relative, or the executor of the will. Joint land tenure worked in a similar way. Obviously, a tenant could choose to whom to grant joint tenure but, just as in any change in tenure, the regrant had to reported in court and a fine paid. Joint tenants had equal rights to the land they held and, in the event of death, the land passed to the survivor.

Deathbed surrenders and joint tenure offered more flexibility than manorial custom. They allowed the tenant to retain rights also allowed conditions, such as payment, to be attached to the transfer. True inter-vivos transfers between relatives, when the person giving up the land was alive and well, were rare.(18) The dominance of these flexible forms of land transfer over inheritance custom suggests that even when land was allowed to pass according to custom this was often a deliberate choice. By holding land in different ways, a man could engineer the provision of land for his wife and heir even in the event of sudden death. For instance, when William Andrews of Marsham died without making a will in 1509, he held a messuage and four acres jointly with his wife, and three acres on his own. The main holding therefore passed to his wife as joint tenant, and the three acres to his son, as customary heir.(19) We can conclude that the majority of inheritance strategies used by Hevingham’s tenants in this period were individually designed according to the tenant’s needs and wants, and in this sense they were certainly individualistic.

Both Sreenivasan and Richard Hoyle have recently argued that some residual rights of family property existed in the sixteenth century.(20) There is no evidence of family rights to land in Hevingham. While cases are recorded in the court rolls of people appearing to release their rights to a landholding that is being sold or has been sold by another individual, these rights can all be supposed or proven to arise from joint tenure, payment and mortgage agreements, and the provisions of wills. Rights to land lay with those named as tenants and thus could be single or joint, but not with the wider family circle of these tenants. If a named tenant surrendered land in the manor court, or was witnessed by other tenants to have surrendered rights to land out of court, his or her rights to that land were terminated. If this had not been so, the whole basis of the manorial land market would have been undermined. As almost all tenants participated in the market, it was in their interests that this was not the case.



While court rolls are unsurpassed as a record of customary land transfers, wills provide more detail about wider patterns of inheritance. In this section, wills and other sources are utilized to flesh out the picture provided by court roll land transfers. The collection of wills used includes all those surviving from the parishes of Brampton, Corpusty, Hevingham, Marsham, Saxthorpe and Scottow, between 1440 and 1579, registered at the three ecclesiastical probate courts based in Norwich.(21) All of these parishes are situated in or near Hevingham manor. The analysis is further restricted to the 189 wills made by men to allow patterns of devolution to be compared more easily.

Like court rolls, wills present a number of interpretational problems. Will-making was not universal and testators are not a representative sample of manorial tenants, let alone the population as a whole. When adult male burials recorded in parish registers were cross-referenced with the wills for the period 1560-79, the rate of will-making among adult men was found to be 12.5 per cent in the parish of Saxthorpe and 27.4 per cent in Scottow.(22) To obtain information about the level of testators’ wealth, the wills made between 1522 and 1562 were compared with the wealth assessments of residents of the six parishes in the Muster Survey of 1522. The distribution of wealth in the Muster Survey is highly skewed: among those assessed, the majority are assessed as possessing less than 2[pounds sterling] worth of goods and freehold land. In contrast, will-making is spread relatively evenly across a wide range of levels of wealth. This suggests that, on the one hand, will-making was by no means restricted to the wealthier sections of the landholding community. Out of the 137 people assessed on less than 5 [pounds sterling], 29 made wills in the same parish. However, on the other hand, because wealthier people, assessed on 5 [pounds sterling] or more, were fewer in number, testators made up a higher proportion of this group. Out of the 30 people assessed on 5 [pounds sterling] or more, 18 made wills in the same parish. This method of cross-referencing is open to numerous errors as a result of changes in wealth over lifetime and mobility between parishes, but examination of the wills themselves reveal that many testators were not wealthy. We can accept as a general conclusion that the wills reflect a broad spectrum of wealth, but they are not representative of the polarized wealth structure that was typical of these rural communities.(23)

Another significant problem in using wills to study inheritance patterns is that wills do not necessarily mention land, even if the will-maker was a landholder. As we have seen, wills were not the only way that land could be passed on at death. In fact, to ensure the provisions in a will were carried out with regard to customary land, the land had to be surrendered to the executor or intended receiver of the bequest via the manorial court.(24) The question that is of importance here is not how many people failed to mention land in their wills, but how representative the nature of bequests of land in wills is of the general pattern. Are wills unrepresentative because they were only used to bequeath land when a particularly complicated or unusual arrangement was being made?

To shed light on this question, the wills were compared with the inheritance strategies of fifty tenants of Hevingham manor, reconstructed in as much detail as possible using the court rolls, Marsham’s parish register, wills and taxation returns. The basic pattern in these two alternative sources is remarkably similar. Out of the 88 wills and 27 inheritance strategies in which both land and sons are present, 64 per cent and 63 per cent respectively note the passage of land to one or more sons. There was some variation, however. Of the wills mentioning sons and land, 15 per cent passed land on to more than one son, while the same was true of only 7 per cent of the inheritance strategies. And while 57 per cent of wills containing bequests of land to sons required the son to pay a cash price for the land, such requirements were found in only 47 per cent of inheritance strategies in which sons received land.(25) The former contrast is largely the result of including the parish of Scottow in the sample, where will-making was particularly common and partible inheritance strategies were frequently adopted,(26) while the latter may simply result from differences of recording, as wills were more likely to record payment agreements than court-roll land transfers. We can conclude that the difference between inheritance patterns of land shown in wills and those generally used by Norfolk tenants was not great.

Out of the 189 wills, 137 mentioned bequests of land. The incidence of bequests of land does not appear to have been greatly affected by the 1540 Statute of Wills. Before 1540, 71 per cent of men’s wills include bequests of land; after that date, the figure is 75 per cent. Due to the practice of splitting holdings, of devolving them to more than one person through time and, less frequently, of bequeathing land jointly to two people, the number of bequests greatly exceeds the number of wills. Including requests for land to be sold, there were 224 bequests of land in the 137 wills. The most common beneficiaries of bequests of land were widows, who received 36 per cent of bequests. They were closely followed by sons, who received 31 per cent. Bequests of land to other relatives were much rarer. Daughters and sons-in-law received only 6 per cent of bequests of land.(27) Even if we assume that named people who received bequests of land but whose relationship was not stated were in fact relatives, bequests to daughters and more distant relatives together made up only 17 per cent of bequests of land,(28) and were slightly outnumbered by requests for land to be sold. Bequests were only counted as other specified relatives and non-relatives. From the point of view of keeping land in the family, it appears that men felt an obligation to provide their widows and sons with land, but were more likely to sell land than to pass it on to other categories of relatives.

An alternative perspective on the devolution of land is can be gained by considering bequests from the point of view of daughters and sons rather than from that of their dying fathers. Out of 135 daughters mentioned in wills that also included bequests of land, only 6 received land from their fathers. As we have seen, sons fared much better. Nevertheless, of the 180 sons mentioned in wills that included bequests of land, only 73, less than half of the total, received land. Of the sons who did not receive land, 47 came from families in which another son had received land. But the majority of sons who did not receive land, 60 out of the 107, had fathers who mentioned land in their wills, but chose not to bequeath it to any of their sons. It is possible that some of these sons received land from their fathers by other means. However, cross-referencing Marsham and Hevingham wills with the Hevingham court rolls shows that it was very unusual for men to mention land and sons in their wills, bequeath no land to the sons, but pass it to them by other means.(29) More common was the strategy of giving land to the widow, who passed it to one of the sons after her death. Nevertheless, the widow could also choose to sell the land or, if she remarried, to grant it to her new husband. Bequests by men in wills that specified widows should pass land to one or more sons after her death have been counted in the above figures as bequests of land to sons as well as widows. It is therefore impossible to avoid the conclusion that many fathers, despite possessing land, did not pass it to their sons.

Four quite different reasons why a man might fail to bequeath land to any of his sons can be suggested. First, as described above, he might have passed all his land to his widow, trusting that she would provide as well as she could for their children, bequeathing them land or not as circumstances dictated. Secondly, he might have needed to sell his land at death out of poverty, to avoid burdening the widow or children with unpaid debts.(30) Thirdly, if land was easy to buy and sell, the sale of land and its transformation into cash might have been an attractive strategy even for a somewhat wealthier man. Moreover, cash was more easily divided between the widow and children, each of whom could then do what he or she wished with the money, including purchasing a new landholding.(31) Finally, the son may not have wanted the land, especially if he was expected to make payment for it or was already established as a landholder.(32) While the first two reasons are largely determined by poverty and necessity, the last two assume the existence of an active land market and the relatively easy availability of land. Because land was not always passed within the family, it was also relatively easy to find land to purchase in Norfolk.

By concentrating on family land transfers and bequests in wills, we neglect those tenants who acquired land from outside the family. To balance the picture, the history of all the customary tenants of the manor in 1540, 51 tenants in total, was traced backwards to see how they had first acquired their main landholding. Only 18 tenants had received land from a parent or close relative, and at least 2 of these still had to pay for the privilege. A further 5 were widows of tenants. Another 5 had acquired land by marrying widows, and 2 had married daughters of tenants, both receiving land from their wife’s widowed mother. Of the rest, 3 were sons of previous tenants who had purchased land from non-relatives, while 18 had no known relatives in the manor and had evidently purchased their land.(33) The landholding histories of Hevingham’s tenants demonstrate the importance of land purchase, as opposed to inheritance and other non-payment transfers, in setting up new landholding households.

The situation was not static over time. As we have seen, the number of family land transfers increased in the mid-sixteenth century. Table 3 splits the period 1440 to 1580 in two, before and after 1530. The dividing point of 1530 was not chosen at random. Payment agreements recorded in Hevingham’s court rolls, suggest that there was a significant change around this time. After 1530 the number of land transfers slumped and the price of land per acre rose rapidly. In the period 1513-28 the price of land per acre averaged at 27s. 8d.; in 1529-43 it rose to 48s. 8d.; and by 1544-58 it had leapt to 114s. 4d.(34) Land was becoming more difficult to acquire as the sixteenth century progressed and this is reflected in the wills. The proportion of wills in which the only son received land, and in which more than one son received land rose markedly after 1530. The number of sons who were required to make payment for that land also increased. As land became more difficult to acquire on the open market, sons and fathers were more keen to keep land in the family. That sons often had to pay for this land was simply a reflection of the continued need to provide for widows and daughters. With so much of their wealth tied up in the value of their land, this was the only way that many dying men could ensure adequate future provision.(35)



1440-1529 1530-79

No. of men with sons and land 40 48

Sons given no land 20 12

Sole son given land 7 16

Only one son given land 11 9

More than one son given land 2 11

Total in which son/s get land 20 36

Son/s to make payment for land 9 23

1440-1529 1530-79

(%)([dagger]) (%)([dagger])

No. of men with sons and land — —

Sons given no land 50 25

Sole son given land 18 33

Only one son given land 28 19

More than one son given land 5 23

Total in which son/s get land 50 75

Son/s to make payment for land (45) (64)

([dagger]) Percentages are calculated as the proportion of wills mentioning sons and land, except for `Son/s to make payment for land’, which is calculated as the proportion of wills in which sons received land.

(*) Sources: Wills from the parishes of Brampton, Corpusty, Hevingham, Marsham, Saxthorpe and Scottow registered in the Norwich Consistory Court, Norwich Archdeaconry Court and the Norfolk Archdeaconry Court, located at the Norfolk Record Office.

The picture that emerges from the wills, as from Hevingham’s court rolls, is that inheritance strategies in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century north-east Norfolk were extremely flexible. While the majority of testators who had land and sons passed land on to one or more sons, many did not. There is little evidence of a strong family-land bond. While some families retained the same landholding for several generations, this was not the general pattern. Nor does Hevingham fit the model of dual inheritance patterns suggested by Ian Blanchard for a number of late medieval manors in Derbyshire and Somerset. Blanchard found that while purely agricultural families went to great lengths to keep land in the family, avoiding the permanent sale of land, families who were by-employed in industrial activities were more commercially orientated and exhibited much less stable landholding histories over time.(36) Patterns of family mobility in Hevingham, crudely indicated by the turnover of surnames, show that a number of families remained resident for the whole of the period studied. Hevingham court rolls between 1444-60 and 1483-1558 record a total of 103 different surnames of men who both held land and served on the manorial jury. While 8 of these surnames remained in the manor for more than ninety years, these families do not stand out as a uniform group. They included yeomen farmers such as the Bisshops, husbandmen such as the Marshams and smallholders such as the Wakes. Members of the Wake family, as well as the more substantial families of the Morses and Mollets, are known to have been worsted weavers. Nor is there anything to set these families apart from those that held land in Hevingham for one generation or less, as they also included yeomen and smallholders, worsted weavers and pure agriculturists. The lack of a consistent pattern further underlines the degree of choice available to Norfolk tenants in the treatment of land. There is little evidence that sentimental attachment to particular family landholdings, or even particular village communities, was the general rule among the tenant population as a whole. While a further 15 families remained in the manor for 61-90 years and 27 for 31-60 years, 48 family surnames were present in the manor for only 5-30 years, and 5 for less than 5 years. If we assume generations of approximately thirty years, just over half of the surnames remained in the manor for a generation or less.(37)

Rather than being determined by unchanging tradition, Norfolk tenants appear to have designed their inheritance strategies according to individual circumstances and need. The decision of whether to keep land in the family was at least partly determined by the price of land in the market. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, when land was relatively easy to acquire, sons often purchased a new landholding before their father’s death, or were happy with a cash bequest in the knowledge that they could purchase land with it. Only after 1530, when the price of land began to increased rapidly, did the tendency to keep land in the family become more marked. Does this type of behaviour towards land, the absence of a strong family-land bond, suggest that Norfolk tenants in this period were not predominantly peasants? Certainly it is not typical peasant behaviour to buy and sell land so actively. But in reality the treatment of land tells us little about these people’s underlying values. It cannot be said that parents did not care about their sons if they did not bequeath land to them. Parents may have already helped their sons to acquire land or have given them cash bequests instead. Or, tenants may have been too poor and chose to sell the land to pay off debts rather than burden their sons with indebtedness. And, although an active land market suggests that market structures and legal devices were well developed, it provides no direct information about the type of agriculture practised, whether subsistence- or market-orientated. Instead, the pattern of land transfer demonstrates that Norfolk tenants had the right to buy and sell land, and that they used this right. To do so they must have been relatively geographically mobile and willing to participate in the market. In order to put this behaviour towards land into context, the next two sections will compare it with evidence from the pre-1440 period and from English manors where no significant land market was present.



Studies of court rolls from medieval Norfolk and Suffolk demonstrate that the tenant land market was not a new phenomenon in the fifteenth century.(38) It was in existence from the time of the earliest court rolls onwards. Family land transfers were consistently outnumbered by transfers between non-relatives. William Hudson has shown that out of the 753 land transfers recorded in Hindolveston’s surviving court rolls between 1309 and 1326, 10 per cent were customary inheritances, 18 per cent were other family transfers and the rest were transfers between non-relatives, while Richard Smith found very similar proportions in Redgrave between 1305 and 1319. In Martham, Janet Williamson found the proportion of family land transfers was even lower, at `less than 20 per cent’ in the surviving courts between 1290 and 1300. With regard to the west of the region, Mark Bailey notes that `the majority of completed land transactions in early fourteenth-century Breckland were inter vivos and involved peasants with no known familial relationship’.(39)

Hevingham’s thirteenth-, fourteenth- and fifteenth-century court rolls have been studied by Campbell.(40) He kindly provided me with his transcriptions of these courts, thus making it possible to compare land transfers across the earlier and later periods. This is shown in Table 4. It should be noted that the absolute number of land transfers and the area of land transferred are shown for reference only. The large and variable numbers of missing courts mean that these figures cannot be directly compared between periods. Strong similarities with the later period can be seen. The land market is active; transfers between nonrelatives outnumber those between relatives; yet family transfers are more important with regard to the area of land transferred. However, two important differences stand out for the earlier period: the size of land transfers, and the nature of family land transfers. While the land market is very active in terms of the number of transfers, probably more active than in the later period, the size of these land transfers is on average very small. The average size of land transfers in the period before the Black Death is under 1 acre, compared to 4 acres in the period 1444-60, and 7.7 acres in 1544-58.(41) Secondly, before the Black Death, transfers by inheritance custom were the most important form of family land transfer and, with the exception of a glitch in the late fourteenth century, they remained so until the mid-fifteenth century.(42)



1274-99 1328-43 1381-99

No. of transfers 230 119 128

% no relationship 63 75 64

% inheritance custom 17 13 15

% inter-vivos family 13 9 16

% other same surname 8 3 5

No. of acres 219 74 175

% no relationship 29 49 41

% inheritance custom 50 45 19

% inter-vivos family 19 3 37

% other same surname 2 2 3

1400-16 1425-44

No. of transfers 158 220

% no relationship 69 87

% inheritance custom 21 5

% inter-vivos family 7 5

% other same surname 3 3

No. of acres 267 380

% no relationship 46 82

% inheritance custom 34 11

% inter-vivos family 13 5

% other same surname 7 1

(*) Source: Bruce M. S. Campbell, transcriptions of Hevingham court rolls.

The pattern of land transfers displays little overt evidence of a further important contrast between the nature of landholding in the earlier period and later periods, the existence of serfdom. However, the great majority of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century land transfers recorded in Table 4 took place between unfree tenants: tenants who were subject to the restrictions on freedom of movement and action, and the ability to accumulate wealth, that were characteristic of serfdom.(43) For instance, servile tenants could not make wills without their manorial lord’s permission, because by law their property, goods as well as land, belonged to the lord. The rare survival of villein wills in court rolls does not suggest this permission was frequently given.(44) Additionally, although on the surface it appears the obligations of tenure lay with the named tenant or tenants, the nature of serfdom meant that in fact the obligations extended to the tenant’s whole family. Servile status was inherited `by blood’ and the tenant’s children were liable to servile dues, such as chevage, for living outside the manor, or merchet, for a woman’s marriage.(45) Not every child was actually charged these fines,(46) but this does not undermine the point that they were liable to be charged because of their father’s tenure and status. Thus, although land could be bought and sold in the name of a single owner, servile land tenure was in effect family tenure.

With regard to the land market and inheritance, we can observe three distinct phases in Hevingham between 1274 and 1558. The first is before the Black Death. It was marked by land transfers of very small average size, by family land transfers that were few in numbers but disproportionately large in area, with definite family land transfers accounting for over 45 per cent of the land transferred, by the dominance of inheritance custom over intervivos family transfers and, of course, by serfdom. The years between 1349 and 1425 were ones of flux, about which it is difficult to generalize. Serfdom was disintegrating. However, by 1425 a new pattern had emerged, which remained in force until the late fifteenth century. Serfdom had largely disappeared. The land market remained active, with an increase in the average size of a piece of land being transferred. The proportion of family land transfers reached a low point. This was also the time when demesne land and vacant holdings were leased or granted out by manorial lords in greatest quantity. Thus, in Hevingham between 1444 and 1460, the lord granted out 35 per cent of the land area acquired by tenants and recorded in the court rolls, and 25 per cent between 1483 and 1497. In the other periods this figure never came above 7 per cent.(47) Consequently, non-family land was plentiful. The third phase starts in the early sixteenth century, and is well established by mid-century. It is marked by a resurgence in the importance of family land transfers and a further increase in the average size of land transfers. Unlike the medieval period, however, inter-vivos family transfers now predominate over customary inheritance.

This changing pattern of land transfer can be explained by two overriding factors, the availability of land and the end of serfdom. The decline in population that followed the outbreak of plague in 1348 increased the amount of land available for survivors. The leasing out of demesne land added to the supply of land from the early fifteenth century onwards. With land readily available, although never free for the taking, family land transfers fell to unprecedentedly low levels in the fifteenth century. Yet this was not a permanent decline in the family-land bond. A combination of engrossment and population increase in the late fifteenth century and first half of the sixteenth century soaked up the supply of land, making it more difficult to acquire, and by the mid sixteenth century the family-land bond had returned to its former strength.

The effect of serfdom and its disappearance on land-exchange patterns was more subtle. In the pre-Black Death period, servile land tenure restricted the forms of land transfer a tenant could undertake. As a result, the flexibility of inheritance strategies so evident after the mid-fifteenth century was absent. Instead, tenants relied on inheritance by custom, which at least conferred strong rights to their heirs. The relaxation of tenurial restrictions that accompanied the end of serfdom widened tenants’ scope in designing inheritance strategies. A variety of forms of land transfer, such as out-of-court land transfers (including deathbed transfers), joint tenancies between unrelated parties, and payment agreements, were used with increasing frequency.(48) It might be suggested that these devices were not used before the end of serfdom because they were not known, rather than because serfdom had restricted their use.(49) However, it can be argued that they had not developed or were not widely adopted in the earlier period, precisely because serfdom made rights to land uncertain, and thus the use of such devices inadvisable.

Additionally, the end of serfdom increased tenants’ average wealth. Under serfdom the high level of rents, dues and other payments owed by servile tenants ensured that they remained relatively poor. They could rarely afford to buy large pieces of land. More wealthy individuals, townsmen, clerics and gentlemen, could not or would not participate in the customary land market because of the servile status that customary land conferred. Therefore, the land market consisted of the exchange of a multitude of minute pieces of land between relatively poor men and women, with larger holdings almost exclusively exchanged by inheritance. After the disappearance of serfdom many formerly servile tenants rapidly increased the size of their landholdings and their general level of wealth. Additionally, townsmen, clerics and gentlemen now participated in the manorial land market and purchased customary land.(50) In the fifteenth century the effect of these changes was muted by the amount of land on the market, but in the sixteenth century the effect was clear: it simultaneously increased both the average size of a piece of land exchanged and the price of land.

Neither the land market nor inheritance patterns were unchanged over time. They changed as a result of both economic and socio-legal trends. Because of the freedoms afforded to the tenants in matters of land exchange, especially after the end of serfdom, the land market in Hevingham sensitively reflects these broader trends.



The situation found in the manor of Hevingham was not universal in medieval or sixteenth-century England. Many English manors had no significant land market before the Black Death, if land market is taken to mean permanent transfers between unrelated tenants. Land-exchange between family members dominated, and the overall volume of land transfers was lower. Even after the end of serfdom, the land markets of many manors were muted in comparison to Hevingham. Such manors are common in studies of the social and economic history of rural medieval England: for instance, in the work of George Homans, Rodney Hilton, P. D. A. Harvey, Rosamond Faith, Barbara Harvey, Christopher Dyer and Cicely Howell.(51) As these manors occur most frequently in the Midlands, they will be characterized here as the `Midland’ type, while those with active land markets in the medieval period are described as `East Anglian’. This scheme is not meant to suggest that only these types of manors are found in each region. `Midland’ manors are found in East Anglia: for example, Birdbrook in northern Essex and possibly Hunstanton in northwest Norfolk.(52) The situation varied within the Midlands. While some manors, such as Kibworth Harcourt, had no significant land market in the pre-plague period, others, such as Halesowen, experienced considerable land-exchange activity.(53) Nevertheless, as outlined below, even Halesowen’s land market cannot be equated with that found in pre-plague `East Anglian’ manors.

There has long been an awareness of the contrast between the types of manors and landholding patterns found in the Midlands and East Anglia.(54) Not until a recent article by Razi, however, have detailed studies of the two regions been compared.(55) Razi contrasted his own study of the manor of Halesowen in the West Midlands with Redgrave in Suffolk, as studied by Smith. Halesowen was, by `Midland’ standards, a highly commercialized and loosely administered manor.(56) Yet in the pre-plague period it differed from Redgrave in many ways. Halesowen had a lower proportion of smallholders, a less active land market with more emphasis on temporary leases than permanent alienations, and a much higher proportion of family land transfers: 83 per cent of the land area involved in land transfers between 1260 and 1348 was exchanged between family members, as compared to 46 per cent in Redgrave between 1305 and 1319. Redgrave had a population density seven times higher than Halesowen and displayed evidence of much higher population mobility.(57) Razi is more interested in family forms than patterns of landholding per se, arguing that in the pre-plague period families in the Midland region were functionally extended, while in East Anglia they were nuclear; nevertheless, he makes some interesting speculations about the reasons for the differences between the two regions, suggesting that they were due to `different economic and demographic conditions’, and, furthermore, that the nuclear structure of the peasant family in East Anglia `was probably also due to the weakness of manorial organisation and control, which facilitated the mobility of the rural population and the early development of the peasant land-exchange system’.(58)

The following section expands upon these observations of regional difference, placing a stronger emphasis on the nature of land tenure and the persistence of regional differences over time.(59) Table 5 characterizes the main differences between `Midland’ and `East Anglian’ manors with regard to landholding and inheritance. An exploration of these differences illuminates the nature of the family-land bond in a way that studies of neither region can on their own, suggesting that the strength of the family-land bond had more to do with the type of manorial administration and less to do with the personal choice of tenants than has usually been assumed.





1. splitting of landholdings manorial customs

restrict splitting


2. type of manorial impartible inheritance

inheritance custom for sons

3. make-up of standard-sized holdings

landholdings persist

4 other restrictions on other restrictions quite

the land market common and fines

generally higher

5. presence of land market little or no land market

6. commonest form of copyhold for lives

customary tenure in

sixteenth century

7. family-land bond if son available, son

always receives land

from parents

`East Anglian’

1. splitting of landholdings no restrictions on

splitting holdings

2. type of manorial partible inheritance for

inheritance custom sons relatively common

3. make-up of no standard-sized

landholdings holdings

4 other restrictions on restrictions rare and

the land market fines generally lower

5. presence of land market active land market

6. commonest form of copyhold of inheritance

customary tenure in

sixteenth century

7. family-land bond son/s do not always

receive land from


A common restriction imposed on tenants in `Midland’ manors was that standard-sized landholdings could not be split. This is demonstrated by the fact that standard-sized holdings — virgates or yardlands — are ubiquitous in `Midland’ manors, but virtually non-existent in `East Anglian’ manors, where holdings are simply measured in acres and rods, and no particular holding size dominates.(60) The presence of manorial policy hostile to the splitting of holdings is explicitly stated in some studies, for instance, those by Barbara Harvey, Christopher Dyer and Phillipp Schofield, and implicit in others, such as Howell’s study of Kibworth Harcourt.(61) The presence of half- and quarter-virgates indicates that some splitting was allowed, perhaps with the manorial lord’s permission. But this has very different implications to the piecemeal splitting of holdings that took place in `East Anglian’ manors where, in the medieval period, the average size of a piece of land exchanged in the tenant land market was under one acre. Selling pieces of land of this size allowed tenants to raise money in times of need without alienating the bulk of their landholding.(62) Likewise, people with relatively meagre resources could buy small pieces of land. This type of flexibility in action was not possible on `Midland’ manors.

Another facet of manorial lords’ hostility to the splitting of landholdings was the predominance of impartible inheritance for customary tenants. There is good reason to believe that impartible inheritance was imposed on tenants by manorial administrations and did not originate in peasant choice.(63) Dyer shows that on the estates of the Bishop of Worcester partible inheritance predated impartibility and heavy serfdom, and that partible inheritance was commonly practised among free tenants in the Midlands.(64) Additionally, when possible, customary tenants seem to have formulated partible strategies, accumulating extra pieces of land to pass on to non-inheriting sons to ensure they would not be completely landless.(65)

The inability to split holdings in a piecemeal fashion restricted the scope for a land market in `Midland’ manors, and here lies much of the explanation of the lack of land-exchange activity in the pre-plague period. `Midland’ manors were not totally without land markets. Some land fell outside the standard holdings, such as reclaimed wasteland (assarts) and small cottage properties, and this could be exchanged more freely. But it is undeniable that the scope of the land market was reduced by having the majority of tenant land tied up in monolithic, standard-sized landholdings. Further to this, some manors placed additional restrictions on tenants’ land-exchange activities. Permanent alienations, sales of land outside the family, might be banned outright.(66) Transfers to non-relatives might be fined more heavily, as was the case in Halesowen and Launton, or result in an increase in rental payments, as in the manors of the Abbey of Westminster.(67) Heriot, a fine paid at the death of a tenant, tended to be a heavier burden in `Midland’ manors.(68) Finally, tenants might be required to be resident within the manor, or within the lord’s jurisdiction.(69)

Despite the differences between `Midland’ and `East Anglian’ manors, they experienced a similar transformation in the fifteenth century. The proportion of land transfers within families declined, the overall volume of land transferred increased, and the level of rents and fines decreased. Yet contrasts remained between the patterns of land exchange in the two regions, as shown in Table 6.(70) Although `Midland’ manors experienced unprecedented levels of land-exchange activity in the mid-fifteenth century, the number of land transfers was lower than that found in Hevingham. This remained true in the early sixteenth century. Obviously the amount of customary land in a manor affects the number of transfers. Halesowen, for instance, was considerably larger than Hevingham, meaning that the contrast was actually greater than it appears at first glance.(71) Furthermore, although the proportion of transfers that could be identified as taking place within the family was similar in all of the manors, the proportion of inter-vivos transfers between nonrelatives was much higher in Hevingham. Part of the explanation for this is the higher proportion of grants of land being made by manorial lords in the `Midland’ manors. These grants indicate that the demand for land was very low. Tenants could not find people to replace them and therefore their land was returned to the lord, who in turn granted it out when a new tenant could be found. Even if land was only held by the lord for a few months, these transfers are significant because they demonstrate that tenants could not sell their land. If Hevingham is typical, it appears that both quantitatively and qualitatively, the tenant land markets of `East Anglian’ manors remained markedly more active, even in the fifteenth century. The differences apparent in the pre-1348 period were not erased by the flux of the fifteenth century, but survived to have an impact on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century situation.



I. No. of transfers Inter-vivos transfers

between non-relatives

Hevingham (1444-60) 169 121

Kempsey (1440-59) 140 34

Whitstones (1440-59) 42 14

Hanbury (1440-59) 63 5

Hampton (1450-69) 49 9

Halesowen (1441-60) 103 30

Islip (1440-59) 62 12

Launton (1440-59) 18 5

II. No. of transfers Inter-vivos transfers

between non-relatives

Hevingham (1513-28) 114 76

Hevingham (1529-44) 96 61

Kempsey (1521-40) 50 12

Whitstones (1520-40) 20 2

Hanbury (1520-40) 22 0

Hampton (1510-30) 22 5

Islip (1520-39) 26 4

I. Grants by the


Hevingham (1444-60) 16

Kempsey (1440-59) 42

Whitstones (1440-59) 13

Hanbury (1440-59) 20

Hampton (1450-69) 26

Halesowen (1441-60) 40

Islip (1440-59) –

Launton (1440-59) –

II. Grants by the


Hevingham (1513-28) 2

Hevingham (1529-44) 1

Kempsey (1521-40) 4

Whitstones (1520-40) 0

Hanbury (1520-40) 1

Hampton (1510-30) 9

Islip (1520-39) –

(*) Sources: Christopher Dyer, Lords and Peasants in a Changing Society: The Estates of the Bishopric of Worcester, 680-1540, (Cambridge, 1980), 302, for Kempsey, Whitstones, Hanbury and Hampton; Zvi Razi, `The Myth of the Immutable English Family’, Past and Present, no. 140 (Aug. 1993), 29, for Halesowen; Barbara Harvey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates in the Middle Ages, (Oxford, 1977), 324, for Islip and Launton. Sources for Hevingham, as above. Note that the Hevingham figures are for fifteen-year periods only. Grants by the lord of non-demesne land, which were excluded from Table 1, have been added to the total number of transfers.

In the early modern period the most significant restrictions on the sale of customary land by a tenant were insecure or temporally limited tenure and the persistence of a higher level of fines. In fifteenth-century East Anglia, servile land tenure most commonly developed into copyhold of inheritance.(72) This was the established form of tenure in Hevingham by the sixteenth century. Typically, copyhold of inheritance allowed two valuable privileges or rights. First, it allowed tenants to grant or sell their land to `assignees’ or non-relatives, or to their customary heirs, as they chose. Secondly, there was no time limit placed on the tenure: it was indefinite because it was inheritable. Together, these rights meant that the tenant could sell an indefinite interest in the land. The manorial lord had the right to collect rent from the land and a fine every time the land was exchanged, but he had no right to choose his tenants and tenure could not be terminated without extraordinary measures. While entry fines might be variable, they had to be `reasonable’.(73) Ironically, therefore, copyhold of inheritance was valuable largely because it could bought and sold, rather than because it could be inherited.

The types of tenure that developed in the Midlands in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were rather different. Copyholds for lives, leases for definite terms and both customary and leasehold tenures held `at the will of the lord’ predominated.(74) It is not possible to go into the details of these types of tenure here, but the common features they shared were that they were either insecure or for a definite period of time. Thus, the lord retained the power to choose or veto new tenants when the tenancy ran out. Because there was no right of inheritance, even if heirs had first right of refusal when a new lease or copy was granted, entry fines might be set at market levels: they did not have to be `reasonable’.(75) This type of tenure meant that, on the one hand, sons of old tenants, particularly if they had been good tenants, stood a better chance of being given new tenancies than outsiders; however, on the other hand, if tenants were permitted to sell their tenancies, they had only an insecure or limited interest to sell, which was worth less than a secure and indefinite interest. Additionally, anyone who bought such land would normally have to pay a high entry fine to the lord and so, we can assume, would have paid a lower sale price to the former tenant.

This meant that in `East Anglian’ manors an outgoing tenant profited more than the lord by arranging a land exchange and selling his property. In `Midland’ manors the outgoing tenant received little or nothing, and the lord more. Unfortunately, no examples of sale prices of land on `Midland’ manors could be found. Sale prices were recorded quite frequently in the court rolls of north-east Norfolk. For example, in Hevingham a messuage and 30 acres of customary land was sold for 38 [pounds sterling] 13s. 4d. between two tenants in 1517. The buyer paid an entry fine of 10s. to the manor. In Blickling, a few miles north-west of Hevingham, a holding of just over 19 acres was sold for 50 [pounds sterling] in 1566. The entry fine was 3 [pounds sterling] 10s. 10 1/4d.(76) Entry fines in the Midlands were generally higher than in East Anglia. Dyer records entry fines per yardland of 3 [pounds sterling]-8 [pounds sterling] in the 1530s, while Howell notes entry fines of 14 [pounds sterling]-15 [pounds sterling] per virgate in Kibworth Harcourt by the end of the sixteenth century.(77) So it is possible to imagine why, even in the sixteenth century, after servile restrictions had ended, East Anglian tenants were keener to participate in the land market than their Midland equivalents: their land was more valuable because its tenure was more secure and the entry fines payable to the manor were generally lower.

In the Midland situation, with land-exchange activities severely limited in the ways listed above, it was inevitable that family land transfers were dominant. The implications go beyond land-exchange patterns, affecting the nature of peasant tenants’ overall inheritance strategies. Because a Midland tenant could not easily sell a landholding, or could not acquire a price reflecting the value of the landholding even if he or she was allowed to sell, there were few alternatives when it came to providing children with an inheritance. The customary heir could either receive the land or receive little or nothing. The flexibility so evident in Norfolk was absent. Given the choice of land or nothing, land was clearly preferable; hence the strength of the tradition of `keeping land in the family’. Thus, we encounter Midland manors, such as Kibworth Harcourt in Leicestershire and Highley in Shropshire, where it was normal for customary land to remain in the same families for long periods of time during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, passing by inheritance, as it had in this region during the medieval period, and where there was little evidence of buying and selling land outside the family.(78)

Historians have tended to see the stability of landholding and strength of inheritance patterns on `Midland’ manors in both the medieval and early modern periods as the result of families’ attachment to particular landholdings, the strength of the family-land bond and peasant mentality. But considering the contrast with East Anglia, it appears rather to be behaviour imposed by terms of tenure — terms that restricted and proscribed peasant behaviour towards land. The error lies in interpreting the land-exchange activities recorded in court rolls as if they record freedom of action. This is not to say that tenants did not strive to keep land within the family in `Midland’ manors. Whenever land was not freely available, that is, outside the fifteenth century, it is clear that this is what they did. But then they could do little else with the their land. The error is to say they did not want to buy and sell land: they did not have the choice to so, therefore, we cannot tell what they wanted or did not want. The crux of the matter is that the system does not originate in peasant mentality at all, but in manorial control. Although through the years it may have been adopted by peasant farmers as the traditional and socially acceptable form of behaviour, the strength of the family-land bond does not have its origins in peasant economy and culture, but in the nature of the manorial system and the form of land tenure.

This comparison between `Midland’ and `East Anglian’ manors then demonstrates that the lack of a tenant land-market correlates strongly with restrictive manorial administrations. The effect of this type of manorial administration was not limited to the medieval period, with heavy servile dues and other types of restrictions, but continued in the early modern period, with forms of copyhold and leasehold tenures that restricted tenant actions. In neither period can the actions of tenants towards their land in `Midland’ manors be interpreted as the outcome of personal choice.

Similarly strong effects of land-tenure systems can be observed elsewhere in the world. It will be remembered that Alan Macfarlane based his model of the ideal peasantry on nineteenth-and early twentieth-century Russia and Poland,(79) regions where the peasantry had been subjected to one of the most severe forms of serfdom known to history during the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Yet Macfarlane did not consider serfdom or land tenure as a significant factor in peasant society.(80) To take the example of Russia, under serfdom it was the manorial lord, his bailiff and the peasant commune (the male heads of household) that decided the distribution of land. After emancipation the state took the place of the manorial lord, regulating the peasant communes’ actions. In neither period did the right to sell land lie with the family or the individual.(81) To quote George Yaney, describing the peasant communes of late nineteenth-century Russia: `a household head was replaceable at the village’s discretion, he could be directed to use “his” lands as the village dictated, he could be deprived of “his” lands by the village’s decision if he did not do as the village expected and neither he nor the household members could choose his successor if the village actively opposed their choice’.(82) That there was no active peasant land-market in village lands in this situation says a great deal about the nature of land tenure and socio-property relations, and very little about the mentality of individual peasants.



The comparative material described in the previous four sections suggests that it is necessary to think more carefully about the origins of behaviour towards land. In particular historians should be aware of the many restrictions imposed on peasant tenants and the origins of these restrictions. I have stressed the importance of legal restrictions which encompass both serfdom, and other forms of land tenure. Given the characteristic position of peasants within the societies in which they exist, as powerless and subjected, and given the importance of rent and other manorial dues in transferring the wealth of the peasantry to their political superiors, one would expect such restrictions to be typical rather than exceptional in peasant societies.(83)

There were also other restrictions on land-exchange activities. Poverty was important, limiting the choices available to economic actors. Again, it can be seen as typical of the peasantry, given their powerless position and their financial obligations to landlord and state. Land shortage is another restriction and, as I have argued, the availability of land had a strong effect on peasant land-exchange patterns. However, peasantries did not always suffer from land shortage, and land shortage was not only suffered by peasants. Land shortage also led to the desire `to keep land in the family’ among the gentry and commercial farmers, who because of their wealth, often followed this strategy rather more effectively than peasants.

Where does this leave the concepts of the family-land bond and individualism? The family-land bond is useful as a purely descriptive term, describing the behaviour of passing land between relatives, of keeping land in the family. The difference between land transfers to family members and to non-relatives is an important dimension of land-transfer patterns and one that should not be ignored. The problem with the family-land bond as a term is that it is so often used, implicitly or explicitly, to imply emotion and choice. Thus, historians talk about the family attachment to land, and the desire to keep land in the family. As I have argued above, we should be very careful to establish the degree of choice that was available, before we assume any sentimental values were involved in the behaviour we can observe. Furthermore, the family-land bond has no place as a defining element of peasant society. It is possible to find peasants, small-scale subsistence-orientated agriculturists who buy and sell land frequently outside the family, and non-peasants, members of the gentry and commercial farmers, who never sell the land they inherited from their parents.

An assertion that keeping land in the family was the peasant choice leads us into a number of contradictory stances. It is ironic that the fifteenth century, when English peasants experienced great improvements in their legal status and wealth and, therefore, their freedom of choice, is seen as a period when peasant tradition (of keeping land in the family) is undermined or broken down. Should it not instead be seen as a period when manorial authority was undermined and peasants experienced an unprecedented opportunity to do as they wished? This contradiction is evidenced in the work of Howell. She suggests that peasants had a strong emotional, almost mystical, attachment to their family landholdings, and that for this reason they would not alienate land outside the family. Yet Howell observes that in Kibworth Harcourt in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, when land became freely available elsewhere, large numbers of peasants abandoned the family landholdings which they had held for generations.(84) We can assume that they did so to escape from serfdom and the particularly restrictive manorial regime found in Kibworth. It was serfdom and the shortage of land, not mystical family attachment, that had kept them there in the years before the Black Death. It should be noted that Howell is dismissive of this argument, stating `clearly, one cannot use the documents from this exceptional period to argue for or against peasant attitudes to hereditary land’.(85)

My objections to the concept of individualism are rather different. The idea of individualism is in some ways very useful. It is important to distinguish between behaviour that is active and involves individual choice, and that which is not. The objection is that individualism is a misleading label for this form of active behaviour. Individualistic or active behaviour can be used and is used in peasant societies to provide a more equitable division of property between family members than customary inheritance would provide. For instance, property might be divided between two or more sons in a village where impartible inheritance was customary, or land might be sold to provide equal cash bequests for all children. Proscribed or traditional peasant inheritance custom is sometimes highly individualistic, as in the case of impartible inheritance, and is rarely equitable. If sons inherit jointly, they often do so to the exclusion of rights for widows and daughters. The idea that individualism and the family-land bond are two sides of a coin, or opposite forms of behaviour is distortive, because when individual choice is available it can be used to keep land in the family, as well as alienate it. For this reason it is preferable to talk about flexibility in opposition to strict adherence to custom.

Similarly, it is more helpful to describe levels and types of market involvement than to use the term individualism with regard to economic activity. The East Anglian market in customary land provides a good example. The medieval land market was strikingly `peasant-like’. The pieces of land exchanged were tiny; the degree of activity closely related to the quality of the harvests; the participants were all small landholders. This contrasts with the sixteenth century, by which time transfers were much larger, the correlation between harvest quality and land market activity weaker, and the participants in the land market more varied, but generally wealthier. With this kind of contrast evident over time it seems unwise to classify all land markets as non-peasant or individualistic. Instead, it is helpful to differentiate between peasant and non-peasant markets.

Thus, market involvement and utilization of individual choice in treatment of land should not be equated with capitalism: they are quite compatible with peasant society. To take a nonEuropean example, in sixteenth-century China, peasant land was held by clearly defined contractual tenures. Land could be bought, sold and mortgaged by individuals, and much of the land’s crop was intended for market sale.(86) Yet few commentators would try to argue that rural China was capitalist in the twentieth century, let alone the sixteenth. The idea of the peasantry as unchanging, bound to the land by emotional sentiment for their farmholdings and isolated from market mechanisms should be abandoned. Inheritance patterns, fascinating as they are in their own right, are only an indirect indication of economic development and change; rather, we should define peasant societies according to their degree of market involvement. And here the sale of home produced goods, agricultural and otherwise, the purchase of goods from outside the household and the use of hired labour are far more significant than the market in land. This is an unromantic view of peasant society, but one that, in the last analysis, is far more flattering to historic and present-day peasantries, recognizing their ability to adapt and develop, even in the face of harsh financial and legal restraints.

(*) I owe many thanks to Richard M. Smith, not only for making careful comments on the first draft of this paper, but also for supervising the D. Phil. thesis upon which it is based.

(1) Eric R. Wolf, Peasants (Englewood Cliffs, 1966), esp. 12-17, 37-50; Teodor Shanin, `Introduction: Peasantry as a Concept’, in Teodor Shanin (ed.), Peasants and Peasant Societies, 2nd edn (London, 1988), 1-9; Daniel Thorner, `Peasant Economy as a Category in History’, ibid., 62-7; Frank Ellis, Peasant Economics: Farm Households and Agrarian Development (Cambridge, 1988), 5-6; Philip C. C. Huang, The Peasant Economy and Social Change in North China (Stanford, 1985), 3-6.

(2) Govind Sreenivasan, `The Land-Family Bond at Earls Colne (Essex) 1550-1650′, Past and Present, no. 131 (May 1991); R. H. Hilton, Bond Men Made Free: Medieval Peasant Movements and the English Rising of 1381 (London, 1973), 38; Rosamond Jane Faith, `Peasant Families and Inheritance Customs in Medieval England’, Agric. Hist. Rev., xiv (1966), 86. See also Cicely Howell, `Peasant Inheritance Customs in the Midlands, 1280-1700′, in Jack Goody, Joan Thirsk and E. P. Thompson (eds.), Family and Inheritance: Rural Society in Western Europe, 1200-1800 (Cambridge, 1976), esp. 113-14; also her Land, Family and Inheritance in Transition: Kibworth Harcourt, 1280-1700 (Cambridge, 1983); George Caspar Homans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (New York, 1960), esp. 3, 131-2; Zvi Razi, ‘Family, Land and the Village Community in Later Medieval England’, Past and Present, no. 93 (Nov. 1981), esp. 27.

(3) Alan Macfarlane, The Origins of English Individualism (Oxford, 1978). Macfarlane repeats these views in `The Myth of the Peasantry: Family and Economy in a Northern Parish’, in Richard M. Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle (Cambridge, 1984); see also Alan Macfarlane, The Culture of Capitalism (Oxford, 1987), postscript, 191-222.

(4) Bruce M. S. Campbell, `Population Pressure, Inheritance and the Land Market in a Fourteenth-Century Peasant Community’, in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and LifeCycle, 91.

(5) See Jane Whittle, `The Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′ (Univ. of Oxford D. Phil. thesis, 1995).

(6) Norfolk Record Office, Norwich (hereafter NRO), NRS 19559 42D2, 14763 29D4, 19560 42D2, 13685 28D3, 14477 29C1, 14487 29C1, Hevingham Court Rolls, 1425-60, 1483-4, 1485-1509, 1509-45, 1547-58, and miscellaneous courts.

(7) NRO, NRS 14759 29D4, Hevingham Rental, 1509; NRO, NRS 19560 42D2, Hevingham Court Roll, 1485-1509.

(8) See Faith, `Peasant Families and Inheritance Customs’.

(9) For instance, partible inheritance for sons occurs in the manors of Blickling: see NRO, NRS 10192 25A1, Blickling Court Roll, 1446-60; in Martham, Hakeford Hall in Coltishall, and probably Aylsham, Belaugh and Burgh, Cawston, Lessingham, Thurne and Worstead, see Bruce M. S. Campbell, `Population Change and the Genesis of Commonfields on a Norfolk Manor’, Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxxiii (1980), 184-5; also his `The Extent and Layout of Commonfields in Eastern Norfolk’, Norfolk Archaeology., xxxviii (1981), 21.

(10) Judith M. Bennett, Women in the Medieval English Countryside: Gender and Household in Brigstock before the Plague (Oxford, 1987), 144; Amy Louise Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England (London, 1993), 24-5.

(11) Women’s access to land is discussed in more detail in Jane Whittle, `Inheritance, Marriage, Widowhood and Remarriage: A Comparative Perspective on Women and Landholding in North-East Norfolk, England, 1440-1580′, Continuity and Change, xiii (forthcoming, 1998).

(12) Razi, `Family, Land and the Village Community’, 16-27; also his `The Erosion of the Family-Land Bond in the Late Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: A Methodological Note’, in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle. See also Christopher Dyer, `Changes in the Link between Families and Land in the West Midlands in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries’, ibid. Neither Razi nor Dyer consider the problem of over-enumeration.

(13) Zvi Razi, `The Myth of the Immutable English Family’, Past and Present, no. 140 (Aug. 1993), 24-5.

(14) Dyer argues that we should make a distinction between members of the nuclear family, who would have actually helped to cultivate the holding at some point, and more distant relatives: Dyer, `Changes in the Link between Families and Land in the West Midlands’, 310.

(15) Christopher Dyer, `Changes in the Size of Peasant Holdings in Some West Midland Villages, 1400-1540′, in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle, 284-5; Howell, Land, Family and Inheritance, 248-54; Sreenivasan, `Land-Family Bond at Earls Colne (Essex)’, 10.

(16) L. Bonfield and L. R. Poos, `The Development of the Deathbed Transfer in Medieval English Manor Courts’, Cambridge Law Jl, xlvii (1988).

(17) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 119-21.

(18) This contrasts with the findings of Bonfield for the manor of Preston in Sussex, 1562-1702: Lloyd Bonfield, `Normative Rules and Property Transmission: Reflections on the Link between Marriage and Inheritance in Early Modern England’, in Lloyd Bonfield, Richard M. Smith and Keith Wrightson (eds.), The World We Have Gained: Histories of Population and Social Structure (Oxford, 1986).

(19) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 146.

(20) Sreenivasan states that simple alienation or sale could not terminate hereditary family rights to a particular property: Sreenivasan, `Land-Family Bond at Earls Colne (Essex)’, 32. Richard Hoyle demonstrates that in some manors it was customary to allow relatives right of purchase before nonrelatives when selling land: Richard Hoyle, `Debate: The Land-Family Bond in England: Comment’, Past and Present, no. 146 (Feb. 1995), 155-7.

(21) The probate courts are the Norwich Consistory Court, the Norwich Archdeaconry Court and the Norfolk Archdeaconry Court. The wills registered in these courts are located at the Norfolk Record Office.

(22) In Saxthorpe, 3 out of the 24 adult males buried made wills; in Scottow, 17 out of 62 adult males buried made wills.

(23) Public Record Office, London, El01 61/16, Muster Survey of South Erpingham Hundred, Norfolk. The returns for South Erpingham include able-bodied men assessed as having `nothing’ in wealth: see Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 123-7, 196-224, for a more detailed discussion.

(24) Bonfield and Poos, `Development of the Deathbed Transfer’, 425.

(25) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 121-4, 144.

(26) Out of the 88 wills that contained references to sons and land, 31 were from Scottow; out of the 13 wills that included bequests of land to more than one son, 8 came from Scottow; out of the 20 wills that gave land to one son and denied it to others, only 3 came from Scottow: ibid., 148; see Table 3 below.

(27) Erickson found bequests of land to daughters were more common than this in Lincolnshire and Sussex, and much more common in Yorkshire: Erickson, Women and Property, 61.

(28) Of bequests, 4 were made to sons-in-law, 9- to male relatives other than sons or sons-in-law, 10 to named men whose relationship was not stated, 6 to daughters, 4 to other female relatives and 3 to named women whose relationship was not stated; there were 39 requests for land to be sold.

(29) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 146.

(30) Of the men whose wills mentioned bequests to their wives, 34 per cent of those classified as `poor’ gave all their land to their widows unconditionally, compared to 6 per cent of those classified as `middling’ and `wealthy’. Of the will-makers who mentioned sons and land, out of those classified as `poor’, 50 per cent failed to give any land to their sons, compared to 27 per cent of those classified as `middling’ and `wealthy’. Wealth classifications were determined by the value of bequests: ibid., 125.

(31) Out of the 88 wills mentioning sons and land, 13 request land to be sold for the performance of the will and bequeath sons cash rather than land; 12 of the 13 wills date from before 1530.

(32) Hoyle, `Land-Family Bond in England: Comment’, 169.

(33) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 157-9.

(34) Ibid., 110-16. Not all land transfers that involved payment had payment details recorded; nevertheless, the surviving court rolls of between 1444 and 1558 contain an average of between one and two payment agreements per year.

(35) The practice of sons being required to make payment for their parents’ land was not restricted to East Anglia: see Hoyle, `Land-Family Bond in England: Comment’, 169; Erickson, Women and Property, 69-70. Howell denies sons ever purchased their father’s land, but describes sons who had inherited land having to pay for their siblings’ cash inheritance portions, which is effectively the same thing: Howell, `Peasant Inheritance Customs in the Midlands’, 144-6.

(36) Ian Blanchard, `Industrial Employment and the Rural Land Market, 1380-1520′, in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle, esp. 241-8. Blanchard’s findings have been questioned by Smith and Razi: Richard M. Smith, `Some Issues Concerning Families and their Property in Rural England, 1250-1800′, ibid., 60; Razi, `Myth of the Immutable English Family’, 33-4.

(37) Almost all resident, non-gentry tenants who worked the land they held served as jurors. If men who did not serve as jurors are also included, there were 274 different surnames among landholders in the manor during this period: 131 were present for 5-30 years and 70 for less than 5 years.

(38) William Hudson, `The Prior of Norwich’s Manor of Hindolveston: Its Early Organisation and the Right of the Customary Tenants to Alienate their Strips of Land’, Norfolk Archaeology, xx (1921); Janet Williamson, `Norfolk: Thirteenth Century’, in P. D. A. Harvey (ed.), The Peasant Land Market in Medieval England (Oxford, 1984); Campbell, `Population Pressure, Inheritance and the Land Market’; also his `Population Change and the Genesis of Commonfields’; Richard M. Smith, `Families and their Land in an Area of Partible Inheritance: Redgrave, Suffolk, 1260-1320′, in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle; Mark Bailey, A Marginal Economy? East Anglian Breckland in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1989), 206-7.

(39) Hudson, `Prior of Norwich’s Manor of Hindolveston’, 203-4; Smith, `Families and their Land’, 157. Smith found 1,039 inter-vivos transfers, of which 202 were between relatives; there were 108 additional cases of customary inheritance. Thus, 9 per cent of transfers were customary inheritances and 18 per cent were inter-vivos family transfers: Williamson, `Norfolk: Thirteenth Century’, 75-6; Bailey, A Marginal Economy?, 206.

(40) Bruce M. S. Campbell, `Field Systems in Eastern Norfolk during the Middle Ages: A Study with Particular Reference to the Demographic and Agrarian Changes of the Fourteenth Century’ (Univ. of Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, 1975); see his `The Regional Uniqueness of English Field Systems? Some Evidence from Eastern Norfolk’, Agric. Hist. Rev., xxix (1981); also his `The Complexity of Manorial Structure in Medieval Norfolk: A Case Study’, Norfolk Archaeol., xxxix (1986); also his `Extent and Layout of Commonfields’. The transcriptions used here relate to courts dating from 1274 to 1443. The court rolls are located in the Norfolk Record Office.

(41) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 109. Average land transfers of a similar or smaller size in the pre-Black Death period are found in Gressenhall and Martham (Williamson, `Norfolk: Thirteenth Century’, 41, 76), in Hakeford Hall, Coltishall (Campbell, `Population Change and the Genesis of Commonfields’, 187), and in Redgrave, Suffolk (Smith, `Families and their Land’, 153).

(42) This was also true in Redgrave (Smith, `Families and their Land’, 157) and in Catton, just north of Norwich: H. E. Hallam, `Social Structure: Eastern England’, in H. E. Hallam (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, ii, 1042-1350 (Cambridge, 1988), 601.

(43) Christopher Dyer, Lords and Peasants in a Changing Society: The Estates of the Bishopric of Worcester, 680-1540 (Cambridge, 1980), 105-6; John Hatcher, `English Serfdom and Villeinage: Towards a Reassessment’, Past and Present, no. 90 (Feb. 1981), 10-14.

(44) F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, 2 vols., 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1968), i, 416; E. A. Levett, Studies in Manorial History (Oxford, 1938), 208-23; Bonfield and Poos, `Development of the Deathbed Transfer’, 413.

(45) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 36-9.

(46) Richard M. Smith, `Further Models of Medieval Marriage: Landlords, Serfs and Priests in Rural England, c. 1290-1370′, in Claudie Duhamel-Amado and Guy Lobrichon (eds.), Georges Duby: l’criture de l’histoire (De Boeck Universita, 1996), 164-8.

(47) In Hevingham most of this land was demesne. This land is not included in Tables 1 and 4, which include transfers between tenants only.

(48) On post-Black Death developments, see Bonfield and Poos, `Development of the Deathbed Transfer’; Richard M. Smith, `Coping with Uncertainty: Women’s Tenure of Customary Land in England, c. 1370-1430′, in Jennifer Kermode (ed.), Enterprise and Individuals in Fifteenth Century England (Stroud, 1991).

(49) On pre-Black Death developments, see Richard M. Smith, `Some Thoughts on “Hereditary” and “Proprietary” Rights in Land under Customary Law in Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth-Century England’, Law and History Rev., i (1983); also his `Women’s Property Rights under Customary Law: Some Developments in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries’, Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser., xxxvi (1986); Zvi Razi and Richard M. Smith, `The Origins of the English Manorial Court Rolls as a Written Record: A Puzzle’, in Zvi Razi and Richard M. Smith (eds.), Medieval Society and the Manor Court (Oxford, 1996).

(50) Whittle, `Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England from c. 1450-c. 1580′, 192-5; see also Dyer, Lords and Peasants, 314; Andrew Jones, `Bedfordshire: Fifteenth Century’, in Harvey (ed.), Peasant Land Market in Medieval England, 189-90; Paul Glennie, `In Search of Agrarian Capitalism: Manorial Land Markets and the Acquisition of Land in the Lea Valley c. 1450-c. 1560′, Continuity and Change, iii (1988), 23-30; R. H. Britnell, `Tenant Farming and Farmers: Eastern England’, in E. Miller (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iii, 1348-1500 (Cambridge, 1991), 619.

(51) Homans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century; R. H. Hilton, The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 1975); P. D. A. Harvey, A Medieval Oxfordshire Village: Cuxham, 1240 to 1400 (Oxford, 1965); Faith, `Peasant Families and Inheritance Customs’; also her `Berkshire: Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries’, in Harvey (ed.), Peasant Land Market in Medieval England; Barbara Harvey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1977); Dyer, Lords and Peasants (pre-plague court rolls do not survive for the manors of the bishop of Worcester studied by Dyer, but other factors suggest these manors were of the `Midland’ type as characterized below); Howell, Land, Family and Inheritance. Interestingly, in his search for English manors unaffected by tenant land markets, Macfarlane turns to northern England rather than the Midlands: Macfarlane, `Myth of the Peasantry’.

(52) For Birdbrook, see Phillipp R. Schofield, `Land, Family and Inheritance in a Later Medieval Community: Birdbrook, 1292-1412′ (Univ. of Oxford D. Phil. thesis, 1992); also his `Tenurial Developments and the Availability of Land in a Later Medieval Community’, Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xlix (1996). For Hunstanton, see Cord Oestmann, Lordship and Community: The Lestrange Family and the Village of Hunstanton, Norfolk, in the First Half of the Sixteenth Century (Woodbridge, 1994). It is not clear if Hunstanton was really as conservative as Oestmann has depicted it to be.

(53) For Kibworth Harcourt, see Howell, Land, Family and Inheritance, 237-53; for Halesowen, see Zvi Razi, Life, Marriage and Death in a Medieval Parish: Economy, Society and Demography in Halesowen, 1270-1400 (Cambridge, 1980); Razi, `Family, Land and the Village Community’; also his `Myth of the Immutable English Family’.

(54) For instance, G. C. Homans, `The Rural Sociology of Medieval England’, Past and Present, no. 4 (Nov. 1953); also his English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century.

(55) Razi, `Myth of the Immutable English Family’.

(56) Dyer, `Changes in the Link between Families and Land in the West Midlands’, 305-6.

(57) Razi, `Myth of the Immutable English Family’, 16-18.

(58) Ibid., 16, 20-1.

(59) The argument is not extended to family forms, but it is interesting that Razi implies that terms of tenure affected kinship relations and the nature of family households.

(60) There is some evidence of standard-sized holdings existing in East Anglia: see Bailey, A Marginal Economy?, 48-51; Barbara Dodwell, `Holdings and Inheritance in Medieval East Anglia’, Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xx (1967), 55-8; Hudson, `Prior of Norwich’s Manor of Hindolveston’, 192. However, the variety of `standard’ sizes, the fact that sizes were always given in acres, and their lack of permanency, stand in stark contrast to standard holdings in `Midland’ manors.

(61) Harvey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates, 212, 299, 308-9. Harvey also attests to the long-term survival of standard-sized holdings (287, 323-5). See also Schofield, `Land, Family and Inheritance’, 165; Dyer, Lords and Peasants, 106; Howell, `Peasant Inheritance Customs in the Midlands’; also her Land, Family and Inheritance. There is no record of customary holdings being split in Kibworth Harcourt: even the widow’s dower was impartible.

(62) See, for instance, Richard M. Smith, `Demographic Developments in Rural England, 1300-1348: A Survey’, in Bruce M. S. Campbell (ed.), Before the Black Death: Studies in the `Crisis’ of the Early Fourteenth Century (Manchester, 1991), 56. Howell argues that the exchange of very small pieces of land was insignificant and that only transfers of pieces of land large enough to support a family should be considered to constitute a land market: Howell, `Peasant Inheritance Customs in the Midlands’, 134-5. It is argued here that neither type of transfer is insignificant, but that each type has rather different implications.

(63) Faith, `Peasant Families and Inheritance Customs’, 85; Harvey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates, 210-13; Hallam, `Social Structure: Eastern England’, 603.

(64) Dyer, Lords and Peasants, 106-7.

(65) Harvey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates, 295-6; Razi, Life, Marriage and Death in a Medieval Parish, 50-1.

(66) Homans, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century, 196.

(67) For Halesowen, see Razi, Life, Marriage and Death in a Medieval Parish, 30; for Launton, see Harvey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates, 225; for increased rental payments, ibid., 301.

(68) In Norfolk and Suffolk, either heriot was paid instead of an entry fine by an heir taking over an inherited holding or no heriot was charged. In `Midland’ manors, heriot was paid, as well as an entry fine, and was due when land was sold or when a tenant died: L. R. Poos and R. M. Smith, `”Shades still on the Window”: A Riposte’, in Razi and Smith (eds.), Medieval Society and the Manor Court, 345-6; Levett, Studies in Manorial History, 197-8; Faith, `Berkshire: Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries’, 111; Dyer, Lords and Peasants, 285.

(69) Harvey, Westminster Abbey and its Estates, 275-6. Schofield found that tenants were expected to be able to work their own holding in person: Schofield, `Land, Family and Inheritance’, 166. Dyer notes that failing to live on a holding was in some cases a cause for forfeiture of the tenancy: Dyer, Lords and Peasants, 294.

(70) There are inevitable problems involved in making direct comparisons between manors, especially those studied by different historians. To make an accurate comparison it would be necessary to know the size of the land transfers, the area of customary land in the manor and the extent of any gaps in the court records; to use the same criteria to classify different types of land transfers; and to compare exactly the same time periods. None of these conditions is fulfilled here.

(71) Razi, `Myth of the Immutable English Family’, 17. The total land area of Halesowen manor was about 10,000 acres, although not all of this was customary land. There were approximately 566 acres of customary land in Hevingham.

(72) Eric Kerridge, Agrarian Problems in the Sixteenth Century and After (London, 1969), 37-40.

(73) Ibid., 39-40.

(74) 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), 6; Kerridge, Agrarian Problems, 35-7, 45, 86-7.

(75) Kerridge, Agrarian Problems, 40; Peter Bowden, `Agricultural Prices, Farm Profits and Rents’, in Joan Thirsk (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iv, 1500-1640 (Cambridge, 1967), 685.

(76) NRO, NRS 13685 28D3, Hevingham Court Roll (court held 28 Sept. 1517); NRO, NRS 11275 26A6, Blickling Court Roll (court held 29 Sept. 1566).

(77) Dyer, Lords and Peasants, 288-90. These fines were found on manors where demand for land was high; lower fines were found elsewhere at this date: Howell, Land, Family and Inheritance, 63. These fines had to be paid every seven years by all customary virgaters from 1594 onwards.

(78) Howell, Land, Family and Inheritance, esp. 241, 248-9. Customary tenure in Kibworth was converted to twenty-one-year leases renewable every seven years with right of inheritance in the late sixteenth century: ibid., 63; Gwyneth Nair, Highley: The Development of a Community, 1550-1880 (Oxford, 1988), esp. 65-7. Tenants in Highley held by copyhold or leases for three lives: ibid., 65.

(79) Macfarlane, Origins of English Individualism, 17-33.

(80) See R. H. Hilton, `Review: Individualism and the English Peasantry’, New Left Rev., no. 120 (1980).

(81) Steven L. Hoch, Serfdom and Social Control in Russia: Petrovskoe, a Village in Tambov (Chicago, 1986), 16, 124, 133-59; George Yaney, The Urge to Mobilize: Agrarian Reform in Russia, 1861-1930 (Urbana, 1982), 168-71; see also Roger Bartlett (ed.), Land Commune and Peasant Community in Russia: Communal Forms in Imperial and Early Soviet Society (London, 1990).

(82) Yaney, Urge to Mobilize, 171.

(83) Wolf, Peasants, 12; Shanin, `Introduction: Peasantry as a Concept’, 4: both recognize the subordination and subjugation of peasants as a defining characteristic.

(84) Howell asserts that customary land was `family land’ or `hereditary land’: see her `Peasant Inheritance Customs in the Midlands’, 113-14; also her Land, Family and Inheritance, 244; for the flight of villeins from the manor (ibid., 44-5,240-1,253).

(85) Howell, `Peasant Inheritance Customs in the Midlands’, 132.

(86) Evelyn Sakakida Rawski, Agricultural Change and the Peasant Economy of South China (Cambridge, Mass., 1972).

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