The Last Profits of Serfdom

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


BUT the fifteenth-century aristocracy was also nothing if not money-conscious. If servile villeinage was becoming meaningless as an attribute of peasant tenure, there were still other ways by which servile birth could be exploited financially. This could be done in the first place by manumitting a serf for cash, though such an act would have the disadvantage of removing the serf from the possibility of further exploitation on account of his status. Individual manumissions of course are found at least as early as the twelfth century, but in the days of financial difficulty for lords mass manumission was probably the best way of raising cash. The kings of France had already tried this at considerable immediate profit to themselves as early as 1246 and Elizabeth I was to have a final fling in 1575. In England there are indications of a mass manumission of the bondmen of the manor of Stratfield Saye (Hants) in 1364 for £55, but most evidence is of individual manumissions, and there is not enough of this to indicate more than that the sum paid must normally have made this road to freedom possible only for the wealthiest villeins.2


Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century Select Case Twelfth Century Urban Population Growth 
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Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1969

Authors and Affiliations

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

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