Proposal preview

Expropriated Peasants. Rural credit, indebtedness and land seizure in the Middle Ages

A major factor in the development of agricultural capitalism was the dispossession of the peasantry. Sooner or later, in most of western Europe, peasants were expropriated from their lands, which were subsequently concentrated in larger holdings, owned and managed by rich farmers, urban landlords or lords.Expropriation took many forms, one of which was the seizure of peasant land through indebtedness, given as a guarantee of loans received or sold in order to repay the creditor. The importance and extent of rural credit in the Middle Ages, as well as the generalization of peasant indebtedness have long been known. However, the consequences of insolvency and non-payment, and in particular the seizure of the debtor’s assets, have been less studied. In fact, the confiscation and legal sale of the debtor’s goods in order to pay the creditor and settle the debt gave rise to a wide circulation of effects and properties in two circuits: a very dynamic second-hand market, only recently attracting the attention of historians and important for historical awareness of material culture and consumption patterns, and an equally very active peasant land market, both of plots and holdings, which has been a significant research focus for histo¬rians for a number of years. In this session we plan to compare different practices, situations and logics, and draw more general conclusions about the role of rural credit and indebtedness and on the peasant land market in medieval European societies.

Organizer(s)

  • Antoni Furio University of Valencia antoni.furio@uv.es Spain
  • Phillipp R Schofield Aberystwyth University prs@aber.ac.uk UK

Session members

  • Mattheu Arnoux, EHESS
  • Carlos Laliena, University of Zaragoza
  • Amos Nadan, Tel Aviv University
  • Antoni Furio, University of Valencia
  • Phillipp R Schofield, Aberystwyth University
  • Jaco Zuijderduijn , University of Lund

Discussant(s)

  • Antoni Furio University of Valencia antoni.furio@uv.es
  • Phillipp R Schofield Aberystwyth University prs@aber.ac.uk

Papers

Panel abstract

A major factor in the development of agricultural capitalism was the dispossession of the peasantry. This process started earliest and is best known for England and the Low Countries, but it also occurred in other countries, including Mediterranean Europe. The expropriation took many forms, one of which was the seizure of peasant land through indebtedness, given as a guarantee of loans received or sold in order to repay the creditor. The importance and extent of rural credit in the Middle Ages, as well as the generalization of peasant indebtedness have long been known. We have good information on the forms and modalities of this rural credit. However, the consequences of insolvency and non-payment, and in particular the seizure of the debtor’s assets, have been less studied. Such topics will constitute the main focus for participants in this session.

1st half

Markets, tenures and grain annuities in Normandy (12th-15th centuries)

Mathieu Arnoux

The monetary conversion of annuities in kind into cash payments is a classic theme in the economic history of the medieval European countryside and is considered a marker of the commercialization of the economy. In Normandy, however, the chronology does not confirm this evolution: Leasings (firma), attested since the end of the 11th century, are paid in money from this period on and the use of money to settle transactions is widespread from the 12th century. The existence of payment in kind for certain royalties and the frequency of rents payable in grain measures raises the issue of a credit market linked to the urban grain trade. The contracts implemented in this market are annuity sales, the price expressed in grain measures. Credit in cereals pledged on land shows that cereal markets strongly bound to urban economies were, for the elites, an alternative to expropriation of rural land heritages.

The monetary conversion of annuities in kind into cash payments is a classic theme in the economic history of the medieval European countryside and is considered a marker of the commercialization of the economy. In Normandy, however, the chronology does not confirm this evolution: Leasings (firma), attested since the end of the 11th century, are paid in money from this period on and the use of money to settle transactions is widespread from the 12th century. The existence of payment in kind for certain royalties and the frequency of rents payable in grain measures raises the issue of a credit market linked to the urban grain trade. The contracts implemented in this market are annuity sales, the price expressed in grain measures. Credit in cereals pledged on land shows that cereal markets strongly bound to urban economies were, for the elites, an alternative to expropriation of rural land heritages.

Public debt and crisis of the rural communities in the Kingdom of Aragon (15th century)

Carlos Laliena Corbera

As a result of implementation of state taxation, rural and urban communities resorted to credit markets in order to meet tax obligations in the late medieval kingdom of Aragon. Contracts allowed indefinite postponement of capital reimbursement by paying an annuity. Those annuities (censales) proliferated in the Crown of Aragon. The main goal was to finance royal fiscal claims. Rural communities' indebtedness was, moreover, a consequence of a mechanism by which lords transferred their debts to their vassals. That way, lords assigned annuities payment to their domains, and their vassals' possessions guaranteed tax obligations. Consequently, noble debts exceeded seigneurial incomes, and vassals had either to suffer judicial persecution by creditors or issue their own public debt in order to pay off their lords' interests, typically taking the second option. From 1380, communities began to experience trouble meeting payments. Solutions included a severe increase in direct taxation for peasant families.

As a result of implementation of state taxation, rural and urban communities resorted to credit markets in order to meet tax obligations in the late medieval kingdom of Aragon. Contracts allowed indefinite postponement of capital reimbursement by paying an annuity. Those annuities (censales) proliferated in the Crown of Aragon. The main goal was to finance royal fiscal claims. Rural communities' indebtedness was, moreover, a consequence of a mechanism by which lords transferred their debts to their vassals. That way, lords assigned annuities payment to their domains, and their vassals' possessions guaranteed tax obligations. Consequently, noble debts exceeded seigneurial incomes, and vassals had either to suffer judicial persecution by creditors or issue their own public debt in order to pay off their lords' interests, typically taking the second option. From 1380, communities began to experience trouble meeting payments. Solutions included a severe increase in direct taxation for peasant families.

Land, credit and peasant indebtedness in late Middle Ages. A comparison between Mediterranean Iberia and Central-Northern Italy

Antoni Furió

This paper addresses the link between rural credit, peasant indebtedness and land expropriation in comparative perspective, focusing on the Crown of Aragon and northern-central Italy. Peasant expropriation in the late Middle Ages was a major issue in Italian historiography during the 1970s and 1980s, which linked it to an urban strategy of territorial conquest. Urban landowners would, in effect, provide loans to peasants with a view to expropriating their plots, and integrating them into large farms (poderi), through sharecropping contracts (mezzadria). Conversely, in the Crown of Aragon, lenders did not seek debtors’ land, but the interests (annuities) of long-term loans. When a lender obtained the land of the debtor, this was not integrated in the holdings of the creditor, but immediately sold or leased out in long-term tenures (emphyteusis) to another peasant. The paper examines the collaterals or securities that guaranteed loans, both land and confiscated assets from insolvent debtors.

This paper addresses the link between rural credit, peasant indebtedness and land expropriation in comparative perspective, focusing on the Crown of Aragon and northern-central Italy. Peasant expropriation in the late Middle Ages was a major issue in Italian historiography during the 1970s and 1980s, which linked it to an urban strategy of territorial conquest. Urban landowners would, in effect, provide loans to peasants with a view to expropriating their plots, and integrating them into large farms (poderi), through sharecropping contracts (mezzadria). Conversely, in the Crown of Aragon, lenders did not seek debtors’ land, but the interests (annuities) of long-term loans. When a lender obtained the land of the debtor, this was not integrated in the holdings of the creditor, but immediately sold or leased out in long-term tenures (emphyteusis) to another peasant. The paper examines the collaterals or securities that guaranteed loans, both land and confiscated assets from insolvent debtors.

2nd half

Rural credit, indebtedness and land expropriation in Ottoman & Mandate Palestine

Amos Nadan

The growing literature on the peasantry of Ottoman and Mandate Palestine suggests that land registration promoted parcels of land as a better collateral for non-village lenders. Interest was not the only advantage received by these lenders who also gained linked transactions. Loans by peasants usually had to be repaid to lenders with crops and thereby lenders ensured a supply of crops for their businesses; usually, in such transactions, the lenders dictated below-market pricing of the commodities. Further, in case of default, the land was transferred to the lender who would then become the landlord of the defaulting peasant. Over time, ownership by non-villagers and tenancy through expropriation became a dominant force in Palestine. Customarily landlords received three-quarters of the produce, and a quarter, a “rubʿ”, was left for the tenant. The families of peasants who were expropriated tended to be the poorest in their village.

The growing literature on the peasantry of Ottoman and Mandate Palestine suggests that land registration promoted parcels of land as a better collateral for non-village lenders. Interest was not the only advantage received by these lenders who also gained linked transactions. Loans by peasants usually had to be repaid to lenders with crops and thereby lenders ensured a supply of crops for their businesses; usually, in such transactions, the lenders dictated below-market pricing of the commodities. Further, in case of default, the land was transferred to the lender who would then become the landlord of the defaulting peasant. Over time, ownership by non-villagers and tenancy through expropriation became a dominant force in Palestine. Customarily landlords received three-quarters of the produce, and a quarter, a “rubʿ”, was left for the tenant. The families of peasants who were expropriated tended to be the poorest in their village.

Loss of livelihood, loss of land. Expropriation during Holland’s sixteenth-century agricultural transition

Jaco Zuijderduijn

Although recognized as important in explaining agricultural transitions, little is known about the expropriation of indebted peasants. Did expropriation contribute significantly to the disappearance of the traditional smallholder? The paper will initially focus on land, providing empirical evidence for the actual number of smallholders contracting mortgages in sixteenth-century Holland. The paper also discusses the number of mortgagors who lost land offered as collateral to their creditors, and the process of expropriation. Second, the paper will also discuss how creditors managed to expropriate other goods – livestock, crops, tools – in an attempt to seek compensation. The latter is important as previous research has indicated that local authorities expected creditors to accept personal property as compensation, and only in a later instance land. Was there a downward spiral of loss from livestock, crops and tools to land? Or could indebted peasants recover from losing personal property, and hold on to their...

Although recognized as important in explaining agricultural transitions, little is known about the expropriation of indebted peasants. Did expropriation contribute significantly to the disappearance of the traditional smallholder? The paper will initially focus on land, providing empirical evidence for the actual number of smallholders contracting mortgages in sixteenth-century Holland. The paper also discusses the number of mortgagors who lost land offered as collateral to their creditors, and the process of expropriation. Second, the paper will also discuss how creditors managed to expropriate other goods – livestock, crops, tools – in an attempt to seek compensation. The latter is important as previous research has indicated that local authorities expected creditors to accept personal property as compensation, and only in a later instance land. Was there a downward spiral of loss from livestock, crops and tools to land? Or could indebted peasants recover from losing personal property, and hold on to their real property?

Evidence for expropriation of peasant land in thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century England

Phillipp R. Schofield

In this paper, an attempt will be made to discuss some early indications of expropriation and its limits. There is plentiful evidence of an active land market in medieval villages by the end of the thirteenth century, and most likely for some time earlier. Fluctuation in the rate of buying and selling coincides with difficult harvest years and suggests a link between impecunious peasant sellers and wealthier peasant buyers. There is also some association of pre-existing indebtedness. In a period of partial commercial and market development, the extent to which expropriation proceeded to a significant structural redistribution of land and resources was constrained and even in those parts of the country where an early peasant land market was well-established, significant adjustment is not evident. Instead, impediments to expropriation, such as seigneurial control of peasant land and limited capacity for extensive capital accumulation, acted as constraints on significant accumulation and redistribution.

In this paper, an attempt will be made to discuss some early indications of expropriation and its limits. There is plentiful evidence of an active land market in medieval villages by the end of the thirteenth century, and most likely for some time earlier. Fluctuation in the rate of buying and selling coincides with difficult harvest years and suggests a link between impecunious peasant sellers and wealthier peasant buyers. There is also some association of pre-existing indebtedness. In a period of partial commercial and market development, the extent to which expropriation proceeded to a significant structural redistribution of land and resources was constrained and even in those parts of the country where an early peasant land market was well-established, significant adjustment is not evident. Instead, impediments to expropriation, such as seigneurial control of peasant land and limited capacity for extensive capital accumulation, acted as constraints on significant accumulation and redistribution.