English rural society underwent fundamental changes between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries with urbanisation, commercialisation and industrialisation producing new challenges and opportunities for inhabitants of rural communities. However, our understanding of this period has been shaped by the compartmentalisation of history into medieval and early-modern specialisms and by the debates surrounding the transition from feudalism to capitalism and landlord-tenant relations. Inspired by the classic works of Tawney and Postan, this collection of essays examines their relevance to historians today, distinguishing between their contrasting approaches to the pre-industrial economy and exploring the development of agriculture and rural industry; changes in land and property rights; and competition over resources in the English countryside. These case studies further highlight the regional diversity of medieval and early-modern England by focusing on the mixed economies of south-western, western and northern England, and the role of coastal and urban communities within the rural economy.Custom was a contested set of rules based upon historical precedent which governed the behaviour of village communities, and a key theme of Tawney's Agrarian Problem was the 'struggle between custom and competition'.
This collection of essays reconsiders the role of custom in medieval and early-modern England by arguing that it often facilitated the commercialisation of rural society in this period rather than hindering it, thereby offering an alternative to the landlord-tenant approach. Commercialisation was often aided by custom because it enabled tenants to accumulate wealth and engage with market forces in ways that were previously impossible. Although custom may have featured prominently in popular politics, it was also frequently articulated to benefit the commercial and industrial interests of lords. Instead of concentrating on a particular period or century, Custom and Commercialisation has an intentionally broad chronological span, ranging from the thirteenth century through to the eighteenth, exploring the interactions between custom and commercialisation at a key stage in the economic development of English rural society. The contributors include: James P. Bowen, John Broad, A.T. Brown, Christopher Dyer, John Gaisford, Tom Johnson, David Rollison, Simon Sandall, Alexandra Sapoznik, William D. Shannon, Sheila Sweetinburgh, and Andy Wood.