Economic and Demographic Factors in the Decline of Serfdom

  • R. H. Hilton
Part of the Studies in Economic History book series


THERE is little doubt about the direction of the general longterm trend in the relationship between peasants and their lords after the middle of the fourteenth century. Rents and such incidents of villeinage as merchets and entry fines tended to fall in value. Money rent almost universally replaced labour rent. Conditions of customary tenure approached those of free tenure whether freehold or leasehold. Agricultural wages, which must have been an important element in many middling and poorer peasant family incomes, rose, particularly towards the end of the fourteenth century. On such estates as still maintained manorial demesnes worked for the lords, leasing out to farmers (often well-off peasants) became a general policy, particularly from the 1370s. A jury from the Durham Priory village of Heworth summed up the general situation in 1373: whereas before the first pestilence each tenant had a separate holding, each now had three.1 But whilst we too must be conscious of this important change in the ratio between cultivable holdings and the number of tenants available, we must also take into account many fluctuations and cross-currents in the situation which had an important bearing on the decline of serfdom.


Labour Service Wage Labour Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century Labour Legislation 
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  1. 2.
    G. A. Holmes, The Estates of the Higher Nobility in Fourteenth-Century England (1957) pp. 114–15.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. H. Hilton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BirminghamUK

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