Cotter (farmer)

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Cotter, cottier, cottar, Kosatter or Kötter is the German or Scots term for a peasant farmer (formerly in the Scottish highlands for example). Cotters occupied cottages and cultivated small plots of land. The word cotter is often employed to translate the cotarius recorded in the Domesday Book, a class whose exact status has been the subject of some discussion among historians, and is still a matter of doubt. According to Domesday, the cotarii were comparatively few, numbering fewer than seven thousand, and were scattered unevenly throughout England, being principally in the southern counties. They either cultivated a small plot of land, or worked on the holdings of the villani. Like the villani, among whom they were frequently classed, their economic condition may be described as free in relation to every one except their lord.

A cottar or cottier is also a term for a tenant renting land from a farmer or landlord.

Highland Cotters (including on the islands, such as Mull) were affected by the Industrial Revolution. Landowners realized they could make more money from sheep, whose wool was spun and processed into textiles for export, than crops. The landowners raised rents to unaffordable prices, or forcibly evicted entire villages. This resulted in the mass exodus of peasants and cotters, leading to an influx of former cotters into industrial centers, such as a burgeoning Glasgow.

A cotter house (Kotten) near Solingen, Germany - used as a vacation home today


The medieval German equivalent of the cotter was the Köttner/Kätner or Kossäte (also Gärtner (gardener)). The term Kossäte is derived from Low German and translates "who sits in a cottage".[1][2]

Cotter houses (Kate or Kotten) were detached houses near German villages, used as homes and workshops. Many of these Kotten/Cotter houses still remain.


The Polish equivalent of the cotter (at least through to the 19th century) was the Pachciarz krów. The term translates as "Cow tenant". One of the functions of the Pachciarz krów was to supply the landowner with milk and other bovine produce.


A cottier in Ireland (c.1700–1850) was a person who rented a simple cabin and between one and one and a half acres of land upon which to grow potatoes, oats, and possibly flax. The ground was held on a year-to-year basis and rent was often paid in labour. Usually, the land available to the cottier class was land that the owners considered unprofitable for any other use.

The cottier existed at subsistence level because of high rents and the competition for land and labour. The more prosperous cottier worked for his landlord and received cash after rent and other expenses were deducted. There was no incentive to improve a land holding, as any such improvement usually prompted a rent increase.

During the early decades of the nineteenth century, the situation for cottiers worsened considerably as the population continued to expand. This way of life was brought abruptly to a close by the effects of the potato blight, which resulted in death by starvation and disease of many peasants, with consequent depopulation, of the Great Famine of 1845–49. After the Famine, the cottier class almost completely disappeared.[3]

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 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cotter". Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 253. 

  1. ^ Werner Buchholz, Pommern, Siedler, 1999, pp.66-70, ISBN 3-88680-272-8
  2. ^ Joachim Herrmann, Die Slawen in Deutschland, Akademie-Verlag Berlin, 1985, pp.421ff
  3. ^ A Dictionary of Irish History, D.J.Hickey & J.E.Doherty, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1980. Pp. 98-99. ISBN 0-7171-1567-4

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