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Managing the lord's estates

Stewards, Lords and People: The Estate Steward and His World in Later Stuart England - D. R. Hainsworth

The power, wealth, and status of the English nobility historically has been tied to their control of the land. Yet by the seventeenth century, these nobles were less and less involved with the daily management of their lands, with many required by their offices or preferring for social reasons to spend their time in London. Filling this gap between ownership and management was the estate steward, a longstanding position that assumed a growing importance in a changing world. In this book, Roger Hainsworth provides an examination of the various roles that these stewards played during the late seventeenth- and early-eighteenth centuries, detailing the myriad and sometimes surprising range of responsibilities these men were called upon to undertake.

As Hainsworth, demonstrates, one of the things that distinguished the estate steward from the other servants in his employ was his status. Unlike the other members of his staff the seventeenth-century estate steward was someone from the upper classes, even a member of the lord's family. This reflected the status that estate stewards possessed, as their role in essence was to serve as the lord's proxy in managing his estate. The range of duties was diverse, extending from recruiting tenants to maintaining the churches in the local parish. Their main role, however, was to serve in essence as the lord's business manager, working to maximize the profits from the state and ensuring that the absentee owner was provided with the resources he needed while he was elsewhere. This was a position of extraordinary responsibility, and one that helps explain why the relationship between the estate steward and the lord was more familial than simply that of employer and employee.

Clearly written and well researched, Hainsworth's book is a superb study of the estate steward and his role in late Stuart England. Through his exploitation of several correspondence collections between stewards and their employers, he illuminates the multifaceted functions these people played in the era. This is history at its finest, one that can be read with interest by students of the era as well as those interested in the operation of the great estates that have so captivated the popular imagination.