Rethinking the Great Transition: Community and Economic Growth in County Durham, 1349-1660

ISBN : 9780192849878

Peter L. Larson
240 ページ
153 x 234 mm

This case study of two rural parishes in County Durham, England, provides an alternate view on the economic development involved in the transition from medieval to modern, partly explaining England's rise to global economic dominance in the seventeenth century. Coal mining did not come to these parishes until the nineteenth century; these are an example of agrarian expansion. Low population, favourable seigniorial administration, and a commercialised society saw the emergence of large farms on the bishopric of Durham soon after the Black Death; these secure copyhold and leasehold tenures were among the earliest known in England. Individualism developed within a strong parish and village community that encouraged growth while enforcing conformity: tenants had freedom to farm as they wished, within limits. Along with low rents, this allowed for a swift expansion of agricultural production in the sixteenth century as population rose and then as the coal trade expanded rapidly. The prosperity of these men is reflected in their lands, livestock, and consumer goods. Yet not all shared in this prosperity, as the poor and landless increased in number simply by population growth. Through reformation and rebellion, these and other parishes prospered without experiencing severe disruption or destruction. In north-eastern England, agrarian development was an evolution and not a revolution. This study shows England's economic development as a single narrative, woven together from a collection of regional experiences at different times and at different speeds.


1 Development and Capitalism
2 Villages and Parishes
3 Life, Marriage, Death, and the Household
4 The Foundation of the Agrarian Economy
5 Agrarian Development
6 Standards of Living in an Age of Transition
7 The Expanding and Evolving Economy
8 Individuals and Communities
Appendix A: Landholding Database
Appendix B: Baptism, Fornication, Marriage, and Funeral Databases
Appendix C: Probate Inventories


Peter L. Larson received his PhD from Rutgers in 2004 and holds MA degrees from Durham University and the Catholic University of America. He is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida and has been chair of the History Department since 2016. He is the author of Conflict and Compromise in the Late Medieval Countryside: Lords and Peasants in Durham, 1349-1400 (2006). His research centres on the social and economic history of County Durham in the late medieval and early modern periods.