Agriculture in Scotland in the Middle Ages

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Threshing and pig feeding from a book of hours from the Workshop of the Master of James IV of Scotland (Flemish, c. 1541)

Agriculture in Scotland in the Middle Ages includes all forms of farm production in the modern boundaries of Scotland, between the departure of the Romans from Britain in the fifth century and the establishment of the Renaissance in the early sixteenth century. Scotland has between a fifth and a sixth of the amount of the arable or good pastoral land of England and Wales, mostly located in the south and east. Heavy rainfall encouraged the spread of acidic blanket peat bog, which with wind and salt spray, made most of the western islands treeless. The existence of hills, mountains, quicksands and marshes made internal communication and agriculture difficult. The early Middle Ages were a period of climate deterioration resulting in more land becoming unproductive. Most farms had to produce a self-sufficient diet of meat, dairy products and cereals, supplemented by hunter-gathering. Farming was based around a single homestead or a small cluster of three or four homes, each probably containing a nuclear family. and cattle were the most important domesticated animal.

In the period 1150 to 1300, warm dry summers and less severe winters allowed cultivation at much greater heights above sea level and made land more productive. Arable farming grew significantly, but was still more common in low-lying areas than in high-lying areas such as the Highlands, Galloway and the Southern Uplands. The system of infield and outfield agriculture, a variation of open field farming widely used across Europe, may have been introduced with feudalism from the twelfth century Crops were bere (a form of barley), oats and sometimes wheat, rye and legumes. Hunting reserves were also adopted by Anglo-Norman lords and then by Gaelic ones. The more extensive outfield was used for oats. New monastic orders such as the Cistercians became major landholders, sheep farmers, particularly in the Borders, organised in granges.

By the late Medieval period, most farming was based on the Lowland fermtoun or Highland baile, settlements of a handful of families that jointly farmed an area notionally suitable for two or three plough teams, allocated in run rigs to tenant farmers, known as husbandmen. Runrigs usually ran downhill so that they included both wet and dry land. Most ploughing was done with a heavy wooden plough with an iron coulter, pulled by oxen, which were more effective and cheaper to feed than horses. Key crops included kale, hemp and flax. Sheep and goats were probably the main sources of milk, while cattle were raised for meat. The rural economy appears to have boomed in the thirteenth century and in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death was still buoyant, but by the 1360s there was a severe falling off in incomes to be followed by a slow recovery in the fifteenth century.

Early Middle Ages[edit]

Map of available land in early medieval Scotland.[1]

Scotland is roughly half the size of England and Wales and has approximately the same amount of coastline, but only between a fifth and a sixth of the amount of the arable or good pastoral land, under 60 metres above sea level, and most of this is located in the south and east. This made marginal pastoral farming and fishing, the key factors in the pre-modern economy.[2] Its east Atlantic position means that it has very heavy rainfall: today about 700 cm per year in the east and over 1,000 cm in the west. This encouraged the spread of blanket peat bog, the acidity of which, combined with high level of wind and salt spray, made most of the western islands treeless. The existence of hills, mountains, quicksands and marshes made agriculture and internal communication difficult.[3]

The early Middle Ages, from the fifth century to the tenth century, were a period of climate deterioration, with a drop in temperature and an increase in rainfall, resulting in more land becoming unproductive.[4] With a lack of significant transport links and wider markets, most farms had to produce a self-sufficient diet of meat, dairy products and cereals, supplemented by hunter-gathering. Limited archaeological evidence indicates that throughout Northern Britain farming was based around a single homestead or a small cluster of three or four homes, each probably containing a nuclear family, with kinship relationships likely to be common among neighbouring houses and settlements, reflecting the partition of land through inheritance.[5] The climate meant that more oats and barley were grown than corn.[6] The evidence of bones indicates that cattle were by far the most important domesticated animal, followed by pigs, sheep and goats, while domesticated fowl were very rare.[7] Missionaries from Ireland may have changed agricultural practice, bringing innovations such as the horizontal water mill and mould board ploughs, which were more effective in turning the soil.[8]

High Middle Ages[edit]

A monochrome, profile illustration of four oxen dragging a plough through a field. The ploughman walks behind, controlling the plough, while his colleague stands to his side, holding a long whip in the air.
A four-ox-team plough, redrawn from the Luttrell Psalter, an English illuminated manuscript, c. 1330

In the period 1150 to 1300, warm dry summers and less severe winters of the Medieval Warm Period, allowed cultivation at much greater heights above sea level and made land more productive.[9] Arable farming grew significantly, but was still more common in low-lying areas than in high-lying areas such as the Highlands, Galloway and the Southern Uplands.[10] The feudalism introduced under David I, particularly in the east and south where the crown's authority was greatest, saw the placement of lordships.[11] Land was now held from the king, or a superior lord, in exchange for loyalty and forms of service that were usually military.[12] Barons, who held feudal tenures, had the right to hold baronial courts, which could deal with matters of land ownership.[13] However, the imposition of feudalism continued to sit beside existing system of landholding and tenure and it is not clear how this change impacted on the lives of the ordinary free and unfree workers. In places, feudalism may have tied workers more closely to the land.[12] The predominately pastoral nature of Scottish agriculture may have made the imposition of a manorial system, based on the English model, impracticable in some areas.[12] Obligations appear to have been limited to occasional labour service, seasonal renders of food, hospitality and money rents.[14] They usually included supplying oxen for ploughing the lord's land on an annual basis and the much resented obligation to grind corn at the lord's mill.[15]

The ruins of Penshiel Tower, East Lothian, a sheep grange of Melrose Abbey

Hunting reserves were also adopted by Anglo-Norman lords and then by Gaelic ones, creating large tracts of land reserved for the leisure of the aristocracy and nobility.[16] These were less rigorously enforced than in England, where the taking of wood and game were strictly forbidden, and all royal forests were on land already in the king's hands.[17] The introduction of new monastic orders such as the Cistercians in this period also brought innovations in agriculture. Their monasteries became major landholders, sheep farmers and producers of wool for the markets in Flanders, particularly in the Borders. These were organised in granges, monastic farms run by lay brothers of the order.[8] Granges were theoretically within 30 miles of the mother monastery, so that those working there could return for services on Sundays and feast days. They were used for variety of purposes, including pastoral, arable and industrial production. However, to manage more distant assets in Ayrshire, Melrose Abbey used Mauchline as a "super grange", to oversee lesser granges.[18] Some abbeys like Melrose had large amounts of land and very large numbers of sheep, probably at least 12,000 in the late thirteenth century.[19]

The system of infield and outfield agriculture, a variation of open field farming widely used across Europe, may have been introduced with feudalism[20] and would continue until the eighteenth century.[21] This expanded from the use of small enclosed fields, which continued from the prehistoric era. The infield was the best land, close to housing. It was farmed continuously and most intensively, receiving most of the manure. Crops were usually bere (a form of barley), oats and sometimes wheat, rye and legumes. The more extensive outfield was used for largely for oats. It was fertilised from the overnight folding of cattle in the summer and was often left fallow to recover its fertility. In fertile regions the infield could be extensive, but in the uplands it might be small, surrounded by large amounts of outfield. In coastal areas fertiliser included seaweed and around the major burghs urban refuse was used. Yields were fairly low, often around three times the quantity of seed sown, although they could reach twice that yield on some infields.[20] The main unit of land measurement in Scotland was the davoch (i.e. "vat"), called the arachor in Lennox. This unit is also known as the "Scottish ploughgate." In English-speaking Lothian, it was simply ploughgate.[22] It may have measured about 104 acres (0.42 km2),[23] divided into 4 raths or eight "oxgangs", the area that eight oxen were said to be able to plough in one year.[24]

Late Middle Ages[edit]

Rig and furrow marks at Buchans Field, Wester Kittochside

By the fourteenth century most farming was based on the Lowland fermtoun or Highland baile, settlements of a handful of families that jointly farmed an area notionally suitable for two or three plough teams, allocated in run rigs to tenant farmers, who were usually known as husbandmen[15] or bonders. The average amount of land used by a husbandman in Scotland, a husbandland, was 26 acres, or two oxgangs.[25] They would also have had a share of hay meadow and common pasture.[4] Below the husbandmen, lesser landholders and free tenants,[26] were the cottars, who often shared rights to common pasture, occupied small portions of land and participated in joint farming as hired labour. Farms also might have grassmen, who had rights only to grazing.[26] Pasture was often accessed by shieling-grounds, with shelters made of stone or turf, used for the grazing of cattle in summer. These would often be distant from the main settlements in the Lowlands, but might be relatively close in the more remote Highlands.[27]

Runrigs, were a ridge and furrow pattern, similar to that used in parts of England, with alternating "runs" (furrows) and "rigs" (ridges).[28] They usually ran downhill so that they included both wet and dry land, helping to offset some of the problems of extreme weather conditions. Most ploughing was done with a heavy wooden plough with an iron coulter, pulled by oxen, which were more effective on heavy soils and cheaper to feed than horses.[15] They were usually pulled by a team of eight oxen,[29] which would have taken four men to operate and only covered half an acre a day.[30]

Key crops included kale (for both humans and animals), and hemp and flax for cloth production. Sheep and goats were probably the main sources of milk, while cattle were raised primarily for meat.[31] The rural economy appears to have boomed in the thirteenth century and in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death, which reached Scotland in 1349 and may have killed a third of the population,[32] was still buoyant, but by the 1360s there was a severe falling off in incomes that can be seen in clerical benefices, of between a third and half compared with the beginning of the era, to be followed by a slow recovery in the fifteenth century.[33] Towards the end of the period average temperatures began to reduce again, with cooler and wetter conditions of the Little Ice Age limiting the extent of arable agriculture, particularly in the Highlands.[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Lyons, Anona May (cartographer) (2000), "Subsistence Potential of the Land", in McNeil, Peter G. B.; MacQueen, Hector L., Atlas of Scottish History to 1707, Edinburgh: The Scottish Medievalists and Department of Geography, University of Edinburgh, p. 15, ISBN 0 9503904 1 0 .
  2. ^ E. Gemmill and N. J. Mayhew, Changing Values in Medieval Scotland: a Study of Prices, Money, and Weights and Measures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), ISBN 0521473853, pp. 8–10.
  3. ^ C. Harvie, Scotland: a Short History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), ISBN 0192100548, pp. 10–11.
  4. ^ a b P. Fouracre and R. McKitterick, eds, The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 500-c. 700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), ISBN 0521362911, p. 234.
  5. ^ A. Woolf, From Pictland to Alba: 789 – 1070 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 0748612343, pp. 17–20.
  6. ^ A. MacQuarrie, Medieval Scotland: Kinship and Nation (Thrupp: Sutton, 2004), ISBN 0-7509-2977-4, pp. 136–40.
  7. ^ K. J. Edwards and I. Ralston, Scotland after the Ice Age: Environment, Archaeology and History, 8000 BC – AD 1000 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), ISBN 0748617361, p. 230.
  8. ^ a b S. M. Foster, "The topography of peoples lives: geography to 1314", in I. Brown, ed., The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature: From Columba to the Union, until 1707 (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 074862760X, p. 47.
  9. ^ a b J. Steane, The Archaeology of Medieval England and Wales (London: Taylor & Francis, 1985), ISBN 0709923856, p. 174.
  10. ^ G. W. S. Barrow, Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000–1306 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989), ISBN 074860104X, p. 12.
  11. ^ A. Grant, "Scotland in the Central Middle Ages", in A. MacKay and D. Ditchburn, (eds), Atlas of Medieval Europe (Routledge: London, 1997), ISBN 0415122317, p. 97.
  12. ^ a b c A. D. M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 052158602X, pp. 16–19.
  13. ^ J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0748602763, pp. 30–3.
  14. ^ G. W. S. Barrow, "Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the twelfth century", in D. E. Luscombe and J. Riley-Smith, eds, The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume IV. 1024-c. 1198, part 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), ISBN 0521414113, p. 586.
  15. ^ a b c J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0748602763, pp. 41–55.
  16. ^ S. M. Foster, "The topography of peoples lives: geography to 1314", in I. Brown, ed., The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature: From Columba to the Union, until 1707 (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 074862760X, p. 45.
  17. ^ A. D. M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 052158602X, p. 36,
  18. ^ J. Burton, J. E. Burton, and J. Kerr, The Cistercians in the Middle Ages (Boydell Press) ISBN 184383667X, p. 168.
  19. ^ D. A. Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery: Britain, 1066–1284 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), ISBN 0195220005, p. 39.
  20. ^ a b I. D. Whyte, "Economy: primary sector: 1 Agriculture to 1770s", in M. Lynch, ed., The Oxford Companion to Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), ISBN 0-19-211696-7, pp. 206–7.
  21. ^ H. P. R. Finberg, The Formation of England 550–1042 (London: Paladin, 1974), ISBN 9780586082485, p. 204.
  22. ^ G. W. S. Barrow, Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000–1306 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989), ISBN 074860104X, pp. 12–15.
  23. ^ G. W. S. Barrow, Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000–1306 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989), ISBN 074860104X, p. 15.
  24. ^ C. J. Neville, Native Lordship in Medieval Scotland: The Earldoms of Strathearn and Lennox, c. 1140–1365 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2005), ISBN 1851828907, 2005), p. 96.
  25. ^ G. W. S. Barrow, Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000–1306 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989), ISBN 074860104X, p. 18.
  26. ^ a b R. Mitchison, Lordship to Patronage, Scotland 1603–1745 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983), ISBN 074860233X, p. 82.
  27. ^ P. Dixon, "Rural settlement: I Medieval", in M. Lynch, ed., The Oxford Companion to Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), ISBN 0-19-211696-7, pp. 540–2.
  28. ^ I. D. Whyte and K. A. Whyte, The Changing Scottish Landscape: 1500–1800 (London: Taylor & Francis, 1991), ISBN 0415029929, p. 61.
  29. ^ R. McKitterick and D. Abulafia, eds, The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 1024-c. 1198 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), ISBN 0521853605, p. 590.
  30. ^ G. Donaldson, Scotland: the Shaping of a Nation (David & Charles, 2nd edn., 1980), ISBN 0715379755, p. 231.
  31. ^ J. T. Koch, ed., Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2006), ISBN 1851094407, p. 26.
  32. ^ R. Houston, Scotland: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), ISBN 019157886X, p. 73.
  33. ^ S. H. Rigby, ed., A Companion to Britain in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003), ISBN 0631217851, pp. 111–6.