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Aspects of agrarian society in Brent Marsh, Somerset, 1500-1700

Aspects of agrarian society in Brent Marsh, Somerset, 1500-1700
Patricia E. C. Croot


School of History, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UNITED KINGDOM.


This study examines 16 adjacent parishes in the Somerset Levels which illustrate important aspects of agrarian history in the early modern period. Land use in the Levels allowed a type of farming whereby small farmers could produce a surplus and participate in progressive, commercial farming, while the manorial structure and the secure copyhold tenure aided the tenants and supported the development of a group of landholders living on rents and other unearned income. Economic and tenurial independence, plus an absence of resident gentry, produced a parallel independence in religious and political thought and action.

The Introduction describes the settlements, topography, markets, population, the distribution of wealth, and non-agricultural occupations.

Chapter 2 considers the manorial structure and landholders, the formation of sub-manors, customary tenure, the level of fines, forfeiture, manor courts and the position of manorial lords, and the increasing use of copyholds as investments.

Land use and husbandry are then described, including field systems, different types of husbandry and the farming systems followed.

The incomes of small farmers are calculated; commercial leasing, sub-letting, and incomes from rent are considered, together with the role of small farmers in the economy and in agricultural change.

Chapter 5 discusses the transmission of land and goods through pre-mortem transfer, disposal of free and copyhold land, and disposal of personal property by will. The payment and economic effects of legacies are also considered.

The position of women under both common law and manorial custom is then treated, showing the responsibility given to women as their husbands' successors, financial advantages of marriage, women In economic and social life, and the economic effects of widow's right.

Chapter 7 describes the involvement of countrymen in events of the 17th century, the growth of political divisions in local society, the end of religious uniformity, and the generation of deep commitments which led to armed rebellion under Monmouth.