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This volume revisits a classic book by a famous historian: R.H. Tawney's 'Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century' (1912). Tawney's 'Agrarian Problem' surveyed landlord-tenant relations in England between 1440 and 1660, the period of emergent capitalism and rapidly changing property relations that stands between the end of serfdom and the more firmly capitalist system of the eighteenth century. This transition period is widely recognised as crucial to Britain's long term economic development, laying the foundation for the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century. Remarkably, Tawney's book has remained the standard text on landlord-tenant relations for over a century. Here, Tawney's book is re-evaluated by leading experts in agrarian and legal history, taking its themes as a departure point to provide for a new interpretation of the agrarian economy in late Tudor and early modern Britain. The introduction looks at how Tawney's 'Agrarian Problem' was written, its place in the historiography of agrarian England and the current state of research. Survey chapters examine the late medieval period, a comparison with Scotland, and Tawney's conception of capitalism, whilst the remaining chapters focus on four issues that were central to Tawney's arguments: enclosure disputes, the security of customary tenure; the conversion of customary tenure to leasehold; and other landlord strategies to raise revenues. The balance of power between landlords and tenants determined how the wealth of agrarian England was divided in this crucial period of economic development - this book reveals how this struggle was played out. JANE WHITTLE is professor of rural history at Exeter University. Contributors: Christopher Brooks, Christopher Dyer, Heather Falvey, Harold Garrett-Goodyear, Julian Goodare, Elizabeth Griffiths, Jennifer Holt, Briony McDonagh, Jean Morrin, David Ormrod, William D. Shannon, Jane Whittle, Andy Wood. Foreword by Keith Wrightson
R. H. Tawney identified the insecurity of leasehold tenure and increasingly commercial landlord policies as part of the agrarian problem of the sixteenth century. He suggested that landlords converted their estates from customary to leasehold tenure so that the ‘fruits of economic progress’ would no longer be retained by the peasant cultivators but would instead enrich the great landowners. This chapter discusses one dispute over the conversion of customary tenures to leasehold which suggests a greater variety of outcomes than Tawney anticipated. Most importantly, perhaps, it stresses that leasehold tenures came in a variety of forms, some of which benefited tenants more than others. The dispute developed on Durham Cathedral estate during the Reformation when the newly created Dean and Chapter of Durham tried to grant commercial leases to the tenants they had inherited from the suppressed Durham Priory.
The Crown instructed the new Chapter to impose a 21-year lease on each agricultural property at the same fixed annual rent previously charged by Durham Priory. Two problems rapidly arose. First, many tenants refused to accept the new leases, believing that they held their farms by the customary tenure of tenant right as a result of their duty to perform military service on the Scottish border. To the tenants, tenant right meant low rents, security of tenure and the inheritability of their farms. In contrast, the Chapter argued that tenants who refused to take leases were mere tenants at will who held ‘without a documentary title’.