A Social History of the English Countryside by G. E. Mingay

By G. E. Mingay

Strains the increase and fall of rural England from the center a long time to the second one global warfare and the character of the alterations that have happened.

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Estates were diminished by forfeitures and fines, and the great lords themselves began to find their traditional way of life too expensive as well as obsolete, a costly display of magnificence without real advantage or justification. Castles were abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin, or were converted to less defensible but more comfortable mansions. As the magnates declined in power and independence so the lesser landowners became less reliant on 19 A SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE their patronage and rose in wealth and importance, climbing upwards through marriage, through successful exploitation of their demesnes, through the expanding political role of the House of Commons, and through royal office or local administration as Justices of the Peace.

Some minor services lingered on into modern times as obsolescent appendages to farm leases, but at least by the eighteenth century, and usually much earlier, such irksome obligations as the performing of carriage services and the making of gifts of produce at Christmas and Easter were normally commuted into money payments. Commutation of personal services, abolition of unfree status, and the alienation of demesnes did much in the later middle ages to improve the conditions of peasant farmers. Villein tenure was transformed wholesale into copyhold with money rents, and from at least the middle fifteenth century the protection of the equity courts, and even of the common law, was extended to copyholders.

In due time, however, the fall of population had the effect of easing the land-hunger of the previous age; and with more land, higher wages, commutation and manumission, the common people entered into the so-called golden age of the fifteenth century. The experience of individuals, of course, even of whole communities, might well not conform to the broad pattern of economic trends. Local and personal factors were always of significance. And at any time in the medieval period life for many was inevitably nasty, brutish and short.

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