Early modern Scotland was a predominantly agricultural society. One-tenth of the produce of the fields was taken as ‘teinds’, a traditional church tax. The remaining nine-tenths had to provide food for the rural population, rents for the landlord, and seed corn for next year’s planting. To understand rural economy and society, we need to understand teinds.
During the sixteenth century, teinds were slowly secularised, with churchmen leasing them to laymen. In the seventeenth century, a fundamental reform of teinds was launched, enabling landlords to buy out the teind-holders altogether. Teinds could now be subsumed within a single payment of rent, two centuries earlier than in England.
Teind reform was economically complex and politically controversial. Teinds, as a tax on output, varied annually, whereas rents did not. We will trace the making of policy on teind valuation, and the subsequent spread of teind reform in the localities. Finally, we will relate this to other changes in early modern agriculture, and ask how far teind reform contributed to economic modernity in Scotland.