The Early Modern Era and the Scottish Agricultural Revolution

The Early Modern Era and the Scottish Agricultural Revolution

The early modern era in Scottish farming includes the Renaissance from the early 16th century and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century.

In the early modern era feudal distinctions declined. The barons and tenants-in-chief, who received their tenure directly from the king, merged and formed a new group, the lairds. They became the owners of large, long-established Scottish estates. With their household attendants, the Yeomen, they were the major landholding orders. Husbandmen (small landowners or ‘Masters of the House’) and free tenants also held property rights. During this time, many young people left home to become agricultural or domestic servants.

During the 1640s Scotland was invaded by the English, and this had a big impact on the Scottish economy. Although under the Commonwealth the country gained access to the English market, they were highly taxed. Custom duties with England were re-established during the Restoration. After the Union of 1707 landowners consciously attempted to improve agriculture and brought many changes. The English plow was introduced and so was haymaking. New crops were rye grass, clover, foreign grasses, cabbages and turnips. The run rig system and free pastures were replaced by enclosed lands, drilling, sowing and crop rotation were introduced. Marshes were drained and woods were planted. Lime was put down and roads were built. 1739 the potato was introduced to Scotland, which greatly improved the diet of the peasantry.

During the scarcity of the so-called Little Ice Age, which peaked towards the end of the 16th century, it became necessary to ship large quantities of grain from the Baltic. At the beginning of the 17th century famine was common, but this improved as the century progressed. In the last decade of the 17th century Scotland saw the last of the food shortages during the Seven Ill Years, which included four years of failed harvests.