The transformation of customary tenures in southern England, c.1350 to c.1500

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Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries the terms on which customary land was held in England were transformed from hereditary villein tenure into copyholds and leaseholds. Historians have been uncertain about the precise nature, pace and geography of this transformation, and, indeed, the variety and fluidity of tenurial forms has caused some bewilderment. This article argues that the original villein tenure was displaced by one of four broad categories of customary tenure, a process which began immediately after the Black Death of 1348–49, i.e. much earlier than previously assumed. These rapidly emerging tenures were more dignified and attractive than villein tenure, due to the removal of servile language from their conveyances, the growing practice of issuing of a ‘copy’ of the land transfer as proof of title, and the development of monetarized rent packages. The preference for life tenures in western and central England, and for heritable tenures in the south east and east, is already clearly identifiable by c.1400, and the reasons for these emerging regional patterns are analysed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-230
Number of pages21
JournalAgricultural History Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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