Patterns of colonization, contraction and crop rotation on the demesne arable on some Bishopric of Winchester manors in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
Clarke, Carolyn A.
This thesis examines the patterns of colonization, contraction and crop rotation on the arable of eight demesnes of the Bishopric of Winchester in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The late thirteenth century is characterized by an expansion oath in the population and in the economy. But in the fourteenth century the population growth suffered several serious checks in the form of famines and plagues. The economy was also affected to a lesser extent. These changes had their effects on agriculture. During the buoyant thirteenth century the bishops of Winchester, absentee landlords holding about fifty manors in seven counties of England, began to exploit their demesnes, and new land was broken to the plough in an expansion of the frontiers of the arable. From the evidence resulting from an examination of eight selected sample manors in forty-two sample years spanning the century and a half from 1244 to 1397, some conclusions are drawn about the patterns in which land was colonized. By the thirteenth century most of the available waste land had been used, and so colonization took the form of small reclamations on the edge of the arable, with a few larger clearances resulting in the creation of whole fields. The period of colonization ended about the third quarter of the thirteenth century. There followed over a century of contraction of the demesne arable. Declining soil fertility, the waning of the buoyant economy, and the curtailment of the population growth, all combined to make the abandonment of land inevitable. Land was discarded in the same method by which it had been added: small sections excised from the perimeters of the arable. Whole fields were seldom abandoned. The bulk of the contraction occurred before the Black Death, but abandonment continued to the end of the fourteenth century and beyond at a slower pace. The crops grown on the demesne arable and the rotation of those crops were not affected either by colonization or by contraction. The crop rotation dominated the arable; the fields were arranged to serve it. The simplicity or complexity of the pattern of crop rotation on the various sample demesnes did not change the importance of crop rotation on the arable. The period of direct demesne exploitation by the bishops of Winchester lasted over two centuries. It was brought into being by the newly expanding economy of the thirteenth century and succumbed to the combination of falling soil fertility, shrinking population, and the end of the economic expansion in the fourteenth century. Note:Page 214 is missing in the original thesis.