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Earls Colne, 1550–1750
Authors: H. R. French and R. W. Hoyle

This book uses a study of a north Essex village to make a contribution to our knowledge of England between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Earls Colne has been well known to historians as the parish of the seventeenth-century clerical diarist, Ralph Josselin, and was the subject of an extended research project by Alan Macfarlane in the early 1970s, which informed his study of English Individualism. Now, it is considered in the round with some surprising results. The authors test the theoretical perspectives of both Macfarlane and Robert Brenner, and reach new conclusions about the character of English rural society and the role that land played in it. The book asks fundamental questions about the ownership of land in early modern England and introduces a new methodology to examine these questions. In addition, it is also a study of a village with a resident gentry family — the Harlakendens — showing that the attempts by these new lords to re-mould the village after 1580 alienated many, leading to a series of well-documented power struggles. Ultimately, the book demonstrates that the Harlakendens failed to stamp their mark on the community, and their authority slowly ebbed away. In their place emerged an alternative power system dominated by copyholders and tenant farmers, who provide a rich gallery of village characters.

H. R. French and R. W. Hoyle

one grounded in the classic debates over land, agriculture and the character of rural society. It is not only that early modern society was rooted in the land. The significance of these debates also rests on a long historiographical tradition, which argues for the peculiarity of English landholding arrangements and asserts that because of them, England was the first industrial nation. The notion that English agricultural practices and institutions were superior to those of 2 The character of English rural society France can be traced back at least as far as

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by some of the other English villages that have been the subject of exhaustive historical study. Between the arrival of the Harlakendens at the Priory and the death of the last of that name in 1677, the politics of the parish were those of the relationship between the village and the big house. Particularly in the Harlakendens’ early days, there was a marked contrast between the villagers’ strong sense of their own interests and the new landlord’s 294 The character of English rural society desire to shape ‘his’ community. In many respects the Harlakendens lost

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The character of Earls Colne, 1722–50
H. R. French and R. W. Hoyle

for years; annual, oral contracts are much harder to discover. Their existence is illustrated by a suit in the Court of Requests of about 1612 in which Robert Partridge complained that Clement Turner of Earls Colne, weaver, owed him £16 (at £4 per annum) in arrears of rent for Curds Meadow, which he held from Partridge on a rolling annual contract: this was not enrolled in the court rolls. Informal agreements of this type were also used by Josselin.2 Yet, despite these unpromising prospects, subtenancy 252 The character of English rural society is something which

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the following year. This had the consequence that whilst it was a single parish, Earls Colne was divided jurisdictionally between the manor of Earls Colne and the former priory manor of Colne Priory. After 1536 (except for a short period, 1584–92), a single landowner held both manors, before 1584 the earls of Oxford, who converted the priory into a house, then, afterwards, the Harlakenden family of Colne Priory and their descendants. 52 The character of English rural society The village stood on the main highway running west from Colchester, eight miles east of

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of 15 acres or more have appeared. Fourteen of the twenty-five are in the hands of the descendants of the tenants of 1550. This is a land market that combines the features we identified earlier: one in which the inheritance of land was normal but in which there was also an active market in land. We can compare here the expe- 212 The character of English rural society Table 7.1 Fortunes of Earls Colne copyholds over 15 acres Experience over 50 years starting Transmitted through family line without growth Sold at least once, no growth Transmitted through family

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landholding elsewhere. Three examples of this will suffice. Richard Ennowes (d. 1589) appears in the court rolls as a modest copyholder. In fact he was also a household servant of the earls of Oxford, born about 1493, sufficiently intimate with the sixteenth earl (d. 1562) to be asked to depose in 1585 on the validity of the earl’s second marriage. He was one of a gang of men who mutilated the face of the earl’s cast-off mistress. Within Earls Colne he was the lessee of the demesne farm called Mills 180 The character of English rural society and he owned freehold lands

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court, a tenant was fined £10 for sub-letting a tenement without licence.1 Plainly, this was the constructive creation of manorial custom, involving the imposition on a manor of rules which the lord felt were justified by his self-interest but which were unknown to the tenants. Wiseman was also capable of some remarkably shabby behaviour, which rebounded on him eventually. In 1592 Chancery made a decree against 146 The character of English rural society him on behalf of two copyhold tenants whom Wiseman had refused to admit. These were the heirs of one Thomas

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.6 1523.5 1137.0 2831.1 6.0 53.8 40.2 100.0 Source: Computed from the 1598 survey, 446.00005, 447.00005. 110 The character of English rural society Croft, of 81/4 acres. A comparison of the names of the freeholders with those of the copyholders in Earls Colne reveals that fourteen of the freeholders also held copyhold lands but only in three instances did the freehold materially increase the acreage available to the copyholder. John Church held 623/4 acres of copyhold land and 61/2 acres of freehold. John Grene held 31/4 acres of copyhold land and 61/2 acres of

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years immediately following saw the extensive felling of woodland in Earls Colne. At about the same time the earl was toying with enfranchising copyholders as a way of raising money from his estates.6 84 The character of English rural society By 1573 Oxford was estranged from his wife and planning an extended tour abroad, which he left to Burghley to finance. On his return in 1576, Oxford fell out with Burghley about his marriage, and ran up debts of £5,700 on the lord treasurer’s credit.7 Felling timber was increasingly insufficient to fund the earl’s spending

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