Economic History of Europe in Modern Times

By Melvin M. Knight; Harry Elmer Barnes et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT OF FRANCE SINCE 1789

As late as 1789 the serf still constituted a fairly important element in the rural population of France, especially of the northeast. Of greater importance were the censiers, "who held land by an ancient fixed quit-rent or cens. The most favoured among them might owe cens and nothing else but a fixed payment, akin to the fine in English copyhold tenure, made when land subject to cens changed hands at death. As cens and fine had usually been fixed generations or even centuries back, and as the purchasing power of money had steadily fallen, the burden was singularly tolerable."1 In addition to the censiers and free peasant proprietors, a land tenure known as métayage was common in pre-revolutionary France. Under this system a division of the crop between the cultivator (métayer) and the landlord occurred, and in many cases, under the guise of such tenure, ancient feudal obligations of a most oppressive nature were exacted. Tenant farming, unrelated to the restricted tenures of the censiers and the metayers, had likewise gained a foothold; but large estates were relatively unimportant as compared with England. The decay of serfdom in France, it should be remembered, was not followed by a general concentration of landholdings; therefore the small peasant proprietor could flourish.

The structure of French agriculture was only slightly influenced by the Revolution. The rough edges were smoothed down; inconsistencies in land tenure were removed; but agricultural technique was little changed. The abolition of serfdom was accomplished by the Revolutionary Governnient without much difficulty. The censiers, who had occupied such a unique position in the agricultural history of

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1
Clapham, op. cit., pp. 13-14.

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