Rentes

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Rentes were a recurring payment that could be derived from the sale, or lease of property, or by inheritance. They formed a significant part of the economic infrastructure of Guernsey and Jersey for many years.

Background

There are two main reasons for the creation of rentes. Both arise from the fact that the economy of the islands was for many years based on agriculture, and the produce of the land.

In a time before banks, a purchaser of a property had no external source of credit. The remedy was for him to assign a part of what he produced each year to the seller. For example, if Sieur Phoenix Marquand bought land from Sieur Nicolas Robin, he might pay a certain amount in cash and the rest of the selling price would be expressed in a rente - a portion of what his land produced to be paid each year (or each quarter etc.). This could be anything from a chicken, to a lamb. However there developed a usual practice for the rente to be denominated in the form of wheat (French Froment). This would be an amount measured in Quarters (Quartiers), Bushels (Boiseaux) and Denerels (Denerels) in Guernsey, or Cabots and Sixtonniers in Jersey.

Rentes could start out as significant sums, equivalent to a modern mortgate, but sometimes could be small amounts which property owners had been forced to borrow to see themselves through bad harvests or other difficult times. Rentes were often paid in the autumn, when the crops had been gathered in, and the borrow would visit his creditors, pay his dues and have their receipt recorded in a Rente book, many of which have survived because they were well bound volumes designed to last many years.

Additionally the law of inheritance in the islands was for many years based on a restricted primogeniture. That is to say the eldest son had right to a larger share (his preciput), but not the whole of the inherited property. To avoid a farm or estate being broken up, and thus made economically unviable, the eldest son (or whoever took over the farm) would buy back, or lease, his sibling's land in exchange for a rente. Those leaving property through a partage or will could also leave rentes.

The important thing to note is that a rente is an interest in land, and is counted as real property. It could be inherited and sold on (depending on the terms of its creation). It could thus pass from generation to generation.

The Royal Court would set the value of wheat each year which meant that the rente could be paid in cash as well as kind.

Effects of Rentes

The positive effect of Rentes was that the wealth of the land was distributed among more that just the landowners themselves. They provided a source of capital, and income for many islanders.

The disadvantage was that land could become burdened by the weight of successive rentes, although it was possible to redeem a rente by payment of an agreed sum. It would also be the case that a rente would diminish in value over time due to inflation.

Rentes gradually disappeared until the system died out in the latter part of the 20th century, those remaining at the time being worth only nominal sums.

References

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