The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study

By Stuart J. Borsch | Go to book overview
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FOUR
THE IMPACT OF THE PLAGUES
ON THE RURAL ECONOMY
OF ENGLAND

THE ENGLISH LANDHOLDING SYSTEM
IN COMPARISON WITH THE EGYPTIAN

In contrast to their Egyptian counterparts, English landholders had a much more direct economic interest in the welfare and management of their estates. This was due to several key structural differences. England's landholders retained their estates on a long-term basis, usually hereditarily, and therefore had a much longer financial time horizon, even if that horizon might seem short and inefficient by modern standards. Planning for the future revenue of their lands, even two or three years down the road, was long-term for Egyptians of the time. England's landholders were far more involved in the economic management of their estates. Granted, there was an intermediate body of reeves, bailiffs, and other stewards. Yet the estate managers and cultural filters in England formed a much thinner barrier than that faced by the Mamluk or amir in Egypt.

English landholders were far more likely to live in their manor houses or, failing that, they would at least visit their rural estates. Many of the Mamluk landholders by contrast had never even seen their estates. The notion of a rural manor did not exist in medieval Egypt. Estates in England were more geographically concentrated than those in Egypt. Again, there were exceptions, where several English landlords shared control of a village area. But on a relative scale, these exceptions were not significant.1 This geographical concentration allowed England's landlords easier access to, and control of, their landed domains. The scattering of estates in Egypt (carried out by Sultan Muhammad al-Nasir in 1315) was specifically intended to prevent local landed power from establishing bases from which to foment rebellion. All of these factors meant that English

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