“By the advancing of commerce… the worst evils of feudalism were mitigated”

In 1967, the present editor-in-chief of The Economist was born into an old family of Salopian landowners. On July 7, 1866, – a hundred and one years earlier – The Economist ran an article titled Influence of Entails on Agriculture. It began by stressing the feudal origin and character of the English law of primogeniture, settlement and entail – still in full force at that time:

Primogeniture and entails… were absolutely necessary to the maintenance of the feudal system. As rules of property such laws are wholly absurd. They run counter to every economical law applicable to the ownership and use of land. They are alike restrictive and unjust.

The author then reminded the reader of the transformative powers of entrepreneurship and trade, forcefully preaching to the choir:

…it was only by the advancing of commerce, and its accompaniment civilization, that …

…before breaking into invective reaching beyond the scope of discussion implied in the title:

…when the military functions and powers of the landed proprietors were superseded their political powers remained. They thus constituted the governing class, and down to 1832 the sole governing class, of this country. They made the laws with an almost exclusive regard to their own views of their own interests. Hence they became the social as well as the political rulers of the nation. They set the fashions in manners and morals, in education, social observances, equipages, and dress. The landed magnates patronised and petted the squires and lesser proprietors; the landowners generally – “the county families” – looked down with infinite disdain on persons engaged in trade or manufactures, though they might be ten times as rich and twenty times as intelligent as their aristocratic social superiors. Now all this power and all this influence was dependent upon the possession of a landed estate…

In 1866, Dr. William Minton Beddoes “of Minton and of Longville Castle” – the great-great-grandfather of The Economist‘s current editor-in-chief – was one of these “squires and lesser proprietors.” His first son, whose estate later passed to the editor’s grandfather, was listed in the 1919 edition of The County Families of the United Kingdom.

Whether they supported the laws and customs The Economist found odious is a separate question.

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