The structure, development, and politics of the Kent grain trade, 1552–1647

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Abstract

During Tawney's century, Kent was London's principal coastwise supplier of grain. This trade was concentrated in the ports of Milton, Faversham, and Sandwich, and largely controlled by merchant-oligarchs living in them, who played a pivotal role in fostering the development of market integration and regional agrarian specialization. In periods of shortage, urban merchants prioritized their own commercial interest, and the subsistence needs of their own resident poor, at the expense of the county's rural poor, and in opposition to policies advocated by their guardians on the county bench. The regional politics of dearth need to be analysed at least as much in terms of vertical as of horizontal fissures in the social structure, and against the background of the politics of plenty, for over-dependence on the London market provoked protest from producers following good harvests and hardened their attitudes to the poor when the situation was reversed. Some forms of popular protest usually assumed to embody plebeian critiques of the failures of local justices should in fact be read primarily as expressions of the unity that often bound governors and their client-poor in opposition to the rival subsistence claims of other little commonwealths.

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