There were 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 Jacques Le Marquand bought land from 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). This could be anything from a chicken, to a lamb. However there developed a practice for the rente to be denominated in the form of wheat (French Froment). This would be an amount measured in Cabots and Sixtonniers.
Rentes could start out as significant sums, equivalent to a modern mortgage, 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 borrower 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.
The law of inheritance in the island was for many years based on a restricted primogeniture: the eldest son had right to a larger share, but not the whole of the inherited property. To avoid a farm or estate being broken up, and thus made unviable, the eldest son (or whoever took over the farm) would buy back, or lease, his siblings' land in exchange for a rente. Those leaving property through a partage or will could also leave rentes.
A rente was an interest in land, and was 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. A rente would also diminish in value over time due to inflation.
Rentes gradually disappeared until the system was abolished in the latter part of the 20th century, those remaining at the time being worth only nominal sums.
- Stevens, Joan, Old Jersey Houses Volume 1, Phillimore.