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From Gutsherrschaft to Grundherrschaft: Demographic, Monetary, and Fiscal Factors in the Late-Medieval Decline of English Manorial Desmesne Agriculture

Listed author(s):
  • John H. Munro

This study on the late-medieval decline of English manorial demesne agriculture is based on the Germanic paradigm of Gutsherrschaft and Grundherrschaft, which historians have utilized to explain the transformation of feudal agriculture, east of the Elbe River, from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The former is a manorial regime in which the lord derived his incomes primarily from the commercial exploitation of his demesne lands, using the compulsory labour services of servile tenants. The latter is a manorial regime in which the lord derived his incomes instead primarily from cash rents paid by largely free peasants. In East Elbia, the early-modern shift was from Grundherrschaft to Gutsherrschaft. Late medieval manorial England experienced a reverse shift: from Gutsherrschaft to Grundherrschaft. To explain this transformation, this paper employs a supplementary monetary and fiscal model to prove that the standard Ricardian demographic model is insufficient to explain these changes. My monetary model, based on my prior publications on the deflationary consequences of the first late-medieval bullion famine, from ca. 1375 to ca. 1420, demonstrates that all agrarian prices fell (in nominal terms), while the Ricardian model stipulates that the price fall was limited to grains, and further that the consequent rise in living standards would have led to rising livestock product and other agrarian prices. It also demonstrates that the rise in real wages (agrarian) was partly the result of deflation combined with institutional wage stickiness. My fiscal model demonstrates that the imposition of heavy fixed (specific and not ad valorem) taxes on exports of English wools, by so seriously injuring the chief consumers, the woollen draperies in the Low Countries, quickly led to sharply falling wool sales and (real) wool prices. With such a damaging price-cost scissors, English landlords found that the continued commercial exploitation of their demesnes based on grains and wool was no longer profitable, while leasing those lands to free peasants (abolishing most vestiges of serfdom) was very profitable, since the leasehold tenants had to pay rents whose real value rose during the era of this deflation (ca 1375 - ca. 1420).

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Paper provided by University of Toronto, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number tecipa-424.

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Length: 84 pages
Date of creation: 28 Feb 2011
Handle: RePEc:tor:tecipa:tecipa-424
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