Assarting and governmental development in twelfth-century England: a study of the pipe roll evidence concerning illegal land clearance, 1154-1189

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Hill, Kevin
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Kenneth G. Madison
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The Department of History seeks to provide students with a knowledge of historical themes and events, an understanding of past cultures and social organizations, and also knowledge of how the past pertains to the present.

The Department of History was formed in 1969 from the division of the Department of History, Government, and Philosophy.

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From the time human beings began cultivating crops, the quest for fertile crop land has been a prime objective. Since antiquity, farmers expanded their fields by clearing trees within or along the edges of neighboring forests. Likewise, as the population of Europe grew during the medieval period, the expansion of arable land was an important activity. In England, much of the land was cleared in a piecemeal fashion, via the assarts of both small and large landholders. Land clearance was an economically and environmentally important activity for all levels of society, yet historians, including agricultural historians, have largely ignored the process. From T. A. M. Bishop's 1935 Economic History Review article "Assarting and the Growth of the Open Fields," to Charles Young's The Royal Forests of Medieval England, land clearance has been treated only tangentially.;Assarting had an important impact on the countryside of medieval England, but assarts and their economic and political ramifications have largely been neglected by historians. The study of assarting is essential to understanding the growth of government and the impact it had on the countryside. This study provides a broad examination of the Pipe Roll evidence concerning assarts on royal lands in England between 1154 and 1189, making a contribution not only to land history, but to our understanding of the development of medieval government and the Exchequer.;The evidence found in the Pipe Rolls indicates that illegal assarting in the Anglo-Norman era not only occurred more frequently than historians heretofore have believed, but that contrary to established notions, it was not truly discouraged by the crown's Forest Law; The engine driving the land clearance was a growing population and the need for food. The land was clearly worth the price of the fine to the assarters, and evidence suggests that the crown saw the infractions made by assarters as tolerable because of the income it drew from the fines levied on the cleared lands.

Tue Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2002