a1 Pembroke College, University of Cambridge
This article explores the uses made of common land in late sixteenth-century England by members of the landowning elite, focusing in particular on those who held manorial lordship. Other studies have focused on landlords’ efforts to enclose the commons, a process identified by some as a key element in the transition to capitalist farming. By contrast, this study shows that landlords made commercial use of common land, using it, for example, as a site on which to build new cottages or by putting large number of animals out to graze. As such, it suggests that the development of commercial farming and the exercise of common right were not mutually exclusive. Based on the evidence of equity court material relating to the Middlesex parish of Enfield, the article sheds light on the nature of relations between landlords and tenants and the strategies both groups adopted in their efforts to exploit and defend communal resources. When the two groups came into conflict, landlords had significant resources at their disposal with which to overcome opposition. Relations were, however, more complicated than this might imply. The politics of common right produced complex alliances based on shifting alignments of interest, and could unite or divide local society along both vertical and horizontal lines.
(Online publication July 29 2011)
* The initial research for this article was undertaken as part of my doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge. I am pleased to acknowledge the financial support of the University, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Versions of this article have been read in Cambridge, Exeter, and Reading: I am grateful to all those who provided comments. I am also grateful to Steve Hindle for his comments on an earlier draft of this article; and to the two referees (one of whom generously identified himself as Andy Wood) for their suggestions.