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The Character of English Rural SocietyEarls Colne, 1550-1750$
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Henry French and Richard Hoyle

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780719051081

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719051081.001.0001

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The character of rural change

The character of rural change

(p.1) 1 The character of rural change
The Character of English Rural Society

H. R. French

R. W. Hoyle

Manchester University Press

This book aims to explore the general questions of land, landlordism and agrarian capitalism. Through a detailed examination of a single village in north Essex, Earls Colne, it asks how rural society operated and how land was used in the two formative centuries after 1550. Before turning to that study, this chapter reviews three influential but contrasting explanations of change over those centuries. One, Marxist in its inspiration, was re-formulated most recently by the American historian Robert Brenner. The second, very different interpretation, is Alan Macfarlane's hypothesis about English Individualism, which explicitly rejects the idea of ‘the Great Transformation’. The third view, espoused by English rural historians over the past century, charts the decline of the small owner-occupying farmer between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Keywords:   land, landlordism, agrarian capitalism, Earls Colne, rural society, Robert Brenner, Alan Macfarlane, English Individualism

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