Property Rights in the Merchant Society of London in the Late 1340s — the Second Half of the 13th Century
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Property Rights in the Merchant Society of London in the Late 1340s — the Second Half of the 13th Century
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Larisa Chernova 
Affiliation: Saratov State University
Address: Russian Federation, Saratov
On the basis of historical accounts (Cartularies, merchants’ wills) the article analyses some aspects connected with suburban property of the Aldermen of London, or “urban gentry”. This analysis allows to trace a number of ways and mechanisms to buy land and property in English counties used by the merchants, to find out the conditions of land ownership and the reasons which made the London merchants invest in this sphere. Study of sources makes it possible to conclude that the land interests of the Aldermen of London extended to different, even the most distant counties (including Yorkshire). Still, their main interest lay with the counties which traditionally “fed” London — Kent, Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and others. It was there most Aldermen preferred to have property. Meanwhile, some London merchants owned suburban property by the right of feud. Some leased land and other property in the counties. The development of lease relationships since the mid-XIVth century was caused by a number of reasons: the decline of the demesnial economy due to the low productiveness of corvee labor, lack of manpower due to the epidemics of plague, maladjustment to the market and weakening of economic ties between the peasants’ (villeins) holdings and the seigniory as a result of rent commutation. In the end of the 1340s-the second half of the XIVth century a significant part of the Aldermen bought land and owned it as property. Land interests of London gentry and the ways of their realization are vividly highlighted by the rich material contained in the Cartularies of London mercers and Aldermen of the second half of the XIVth century — Adam Fraunceys and John Pyel. The first suburban purchases of these merchants (Fraunceys’s in Middlesex and Essex, and Pyel’s in Northampton) date back to the period of “Black Death” and can be explained as a result of an epidemic scale of human losses, which led to land price crash, the desire to leave the town and provide victuals. The last factor became especially important within the frame of the XIVth century “agrarian crisis”, crop failure, epidemics and military conflicts which took place in the epoch concerned. It must be taken into consideration that since the XIVth century the engrossment of land took place all over England. Still, this process was most widely spread in the south and the west of the country, thus showing to what extent these regions had already been engaged into commodity relations. However, prestige considerations also played a very important role: engrossment of land was one of the means to achieve influence and power, as well as to impress the society, where noble origin and land ownership were traditionally highly valued. Moreover, in conditions of small-scale production and market tightness, surplus funds were permanently forced to drift into land ownership. The economic risk of the merchants’ profession added to their reasons for investing into this stable sphere. Using the debenture stock and mortgages of the representatives of the county nobility, purchasing run-down houses and overgrown land at a relatively low price, the merchants became the owners of manors, estates and land holdings, occupied with fields, meadows, pastures, forests, ponds, watermills and windmills, farms and housekeeping areas. The very structure of Adam Fraunceys’s and John Pyel’s possessions makes it possible to regard them as the early gentry of the XIVth century.
London, England, merchants of the 14th century, aldermen, “urban gentry”, land ownership, feud, lease, property
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