Commons and Village Communities in the 'Tierra de Madrid' in the Ancient Regime (XIVth - XIXth Centuries)

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"The subject of this paper is to study the evolution of the common rights and resources in the rural area of a city in pre-industrial times. In order to fully understand the process of historical change experienced by the commons and rural communities situated around Madrid, it is necessary to undertake a long term analysis. Despite the fact that the fundamental transformation was centred upon the progressive exclusion from common use and the privatisation of the common land, there survived a number of communal rights and usages which, for the villagers, had an important economic and social significance. "Since the Middle Ages, the commons included in the 'Tierra de Madrid' (that is, the rural areas surrounding Madrid), played an important role for the villagers, providing them with vital resources such as pastures and fire-wood from the forest and also land for cultivation that enabled them to increase the productive area; those lands were managed directly by the peasants communities. "After the establishment of the 'Corte' in Madrid in 1561, and the subsequent demographic explosion in that city, there arose a number of different processes which transformed the agrarian environment. The availability of a large city market fuelled an increase in commercial production. In parallel to this, there was an intensification of the tendency to establish and increase vast land-holdings by the nobility ('señoríos') and by the ecclesiastical institutions, both of which were, by now, well-established in the city. These changes exerted a pressure on the village communities and on the commons which led to the privatisation of certain land resources but also provoked an adaptation of land usage and management which permitted the social and economic functionality of the commons. "In order to fully understand this evolution, one has to consider, first of all, the economic importance of the commons, by determining their components and the resources which they provided for the local peasants. Their quantitative evaluation permits an assessment of the significance they had within the agrarian system, in much the same way as their utility in maintaining peasants and their capacity for resistance against the large landownership of the urban groups. "A second level of analysis is that of the institutions who were given the task of managing the common land. Access and usage of the commons was determined by the fact that the potential user was a neighbour of the village (rights of vicinity); from this the importance to analyse the self-government municipal institutions of Madrid and of the surrounding villages. The rural communities had a key role to play in the management of the common, having as their prime objective to secure the continuance of their own community through the provision of resources which contributed to the subsistence of their members. The disintegration of the rural community caused the parallel erosion of the common lands, which developed in an uneven process throughout the diverse countryside and villages surrounding Madrid."



IASC, common pool resources--history, land tenure and use--history, economic development--history, agriculture--history, rules--history