Inferring pennylands from rentals

Inferring pennylands from rentals


The Caithness Summary text file describes ‘standard rentals’ and how they can serve as a useful form of validation when other data fails. In other counties I have always stopped short of calculating assessment values on the basis of rents alone. However, we have such a wealth of rental evidence for certain church properties in Caithness that I have here broken that rule. The following table offers the evidence – with inferred values in the rightmost column.


1557 data from Sutherland Book III No 97 or OPS II, II pp 610-611 (OPS repeats data under individual parishes)

1559 data from OPS II, II pp 611-613 (OPS repeats data under individual parishes)

1564 data from RMS IV (1669)


The 1557 rental contains up to 12 different items of render – though no Caithness farm paid against every category. It is tempting to compare farms against items other than sheaves of oats and hallows of straw. Bolls of ‘horse corn’ are the next most promising item of render and the second table below tests if there is consistency here also.


Table 1

GA = ‘garbas avenarum‘ or ‘aitscheaves’ = sheaves of oats

SS = ‘sarcinas straminum’ or ‘hallowes of stray’ = bundles of straw


Farm Parish 1557












Value if known Multiplier


Inferred value
Force (Forss) Thurso 96 96     96 96   (x 8) (12d)
Ballze Reay 32 32     32 32   (x 8) (4d)
Stambustar (Stemster) Reay 64 64     64 64   (x 8) (8d)
10d Wick Wick 80 80     80 80 10d x 8  
N. Kilimster Wick 144 144     144 144 18d x 8  
S. Kilimster Wick 144 144     140* 144 18d x 8  
9½d Scrabuster Thurso 152 152     152 152 9½d x 16  
Mekle Wlgrame (Olgrinmore) Halkirk     48 48 48 48   (x 8) (6d)
Stanstill Bower     28 28 28 28 3½d x 8  
Deren (Durran) Olrig     64 64 64 64   (x 8) (8d)
Dorare (ex Thurso parish) Halkirk         16 16   (x 8) (2d)
13½d Brymms Thurso         96** 96** 13½d    


* This is probably just an error for 144.

** Also occurs in 1560 – OPS II, II p 613.


There are 12 properties listed here. I omit Lythmoir and Owest because, although the former was 6d, I have little other data – and none for Owest.

For 6 properties the value is either stated or we know it from other sources.


Of the 12 properties there are 4 where we can prove the going rate was 8 sheaves of oats and 8 hallows of straw per pennyland. This going rate is shown (without brackets) in the ‘Multiplier deducible’ column.

For a fifth property (Scrabuster) the going rate was 16 of each per pennyland – i.e. double.

A sixth property (Brims) does not fit the pattern since it appears to have been taxed as a 12d unit.


For the remaining 6 properties it seems reasonable to assume that they, too, had a going rate of 8 sheaves of oats and 8 hallows of straw per pennyland.

These figures are shown (in brackets) in the ‘Multiplier deducible’ column. The inferred pennyland values are shown in brackets in the last column. In the parish tables derived values are always shown in brackets.


In Table 2 I have omitted sheaves of oats and hallows of straw. Instead I have included bolls of ‘horse corn’ because this item also suggests a going rate per pennyland.


The ‘Multiplier deducible’ column indicates where we can tell how many bolls of ‘horse corn’ were exacted from each pennyland. If in brackets this means that the multiplier is a plausible, but unproven, deduction.


‘HC’ = Bolls of Horse Corn

‘Match?’ = ‘Yes’ indicates whether the inferred value in Table 1 is supported by the data in Table 2.


Table 2

f = firlots (4 firlots = 1 boll, so 7 firlots = 1¾ bolls)

Farm Parish 1557 HC 1559 HC 1564 HC Value if known Multiplier Deducible Inferred value in Table 1 Match?
Force (Forss) Thurso 6   6   (x ½) (12d) (Yes)
Ballze (Baillie) Reay 1   1     (4d) No
Stambustar (Stemster) Reay 4   4   (x ½) (8d) (Yes)
10d Wick Wick 5   5 10d x ½   Yes
N. Kilimster Wick 9   9 18d x ½   Yes
S. Kilimster Wick 9   9 18d x ½   Yes
9½d Scrabuster Thurso   9½d x 1   Yes
Mekle Wlgrame Halkirk   3 3   (x ½) (6d) (Yes)
3½d Stanstill Bower   7 f 7f 3½d x ½   Yes
Deren (Durran) Olrig   4 4   (x ½) (8d) (Yes)
Dorare (ex Thurso parish) Halkirk     1   (x ½) (2d) (Yes)
13½d (Half) Brymms Thurso     6** 13½d      


** Also occurs in 1560 – OPS II, II p 613.


Table 2 reinforces the conclusions from Table 1. For 4 properties, (where we know the pennyland values), the multiplier is ‘½’ – i.e. each pennyland paid ½ boll ‘horse corn’. If we then carry that rate to the other properties, we can see there are another five properties where the data fits, and which agree with the conclusions of the first table. Just as in Table 1 Scrabster behaves differently and is effectively double the going rate at 1 boll per pennyland. In Table 2 (as in table 1) Brims suggests it was paying as a 12d property. The only property that is inconsistent is Ballze (Baillie) in Reay parish which we could expect to pay 2 bolls ‘horse corn’.



The going rate for a pennyland


Finally, an example of how consistent the notion of a ‘going rate’ could be. RMS VIII (481) 1623 (on an original of 1622) gives a rental for the bishopric estate of Mey (I have excluded from Myrelandnorthin onwards in the list because the renders are listed separately).


The first 4 properties are:

18¾d Mey

2d Hollandmey

1d Nessiter

2d in Stroma.

The total land-assesment value of this estate is therefore 23¾d.


Each farm pays a cash rent as follows:

18¾d Mey                   £15 1s 3d

2d Hollandmey           £4 3s 4d

1d Nessiter                  £2 1s 8d

2d in Stroma                £4 3s 4d

In addition the Mill of Mey pays 24 bolls victual at 8s 4d per boll – which, converted to cash, would be (24 x 8s 4d = 200s or) £10.


The total given in the printed RMS is £59 9s 7d but the above rents and cash conversion only come to £35 9s 7d. What has gone wrong?


A glance at the figures for Hollandmey, Nessiter and Stroma suggest there was a going rate of £2 1s 8d cash rent per pennyland. It is the rent for Mey itself which seems out of kilter. Has there been an error in transciption at some point? If we recalculated Mey’s rent on the basis of £2 1s 8d per pennyland (as is the case with Hollandmey, Nessiter and Stroma) the new total for Mey would be (18 x £2 1s 8d) + (¾ x £2 1s 8d)) or ((£37 10s) + (£1 11s 3d) or £39 1s 3d. If we then add the rents for Hollandmey, Nessiter and Stroma + the cash equivalent of the mill’s victual the sum is:

18¾d Mey                   £39 1s 3d

2d Hollandmey           £4 3s 4d

1d Nessiter                  £2 1s 8d

2d in Stroma                £4 3s 4d

Mill victual                 £10

Total                            £59 9s 7d – which is the total given in the printed text. The arithmetic proves the standard rate of £2 1s 8d per pennyland.


But the congruence does not stop there. The following non-cash items are included:


8 martas (marts or cattle for slaughter)

47½ bidentes (sheep)

95 capones (capons or castrated cockerels)

95 pultreas (hens)

23 bolls 3 firlots avenarum equorum (horse corn) interchangeably with 11 bolls 3 firlots 2 pecks farine (flour/meal)

380 garbas avenarum equorum (sheaves of horse corn)

380 sarcinas straminum (‘hallows of stray’, i.e. bundles of straw)

23s 9d pleuch-silver (‘plough-silver’, i.e. a cash conversion of an obligation to plough)

23¾ gallinas (‘halkhennis’ or hens to feed to the overlord’s hawks)

7s 11d huik-silver (‘huke-silver’, i.e. a cash conversion of an obligation to reap; a ‘huke’ is a reaping-hook or sickle.


The arithmetic is striking. Each pennyland renders:


2 sheep (23¾d x 2 = 47½);

4 capons (23¾d x 4 = 95);

4 hens (23¾d x 4 = 95);

1 boll horse corn ((23¾d x 1 = 23¾ bolls where 3 firlots = ¾ of a boll); (11 bolls 3 firlots 2 pecks farine (flour/meal) is half of 23 bolls 3 firlots)

16 sheaves of oats (23¾ x 16 = 380);

16 hallows of straw (23¾ x 16 = 380);

1s of plough-silver (23¾ x 1 = 23s 9d – where 9d is ¾ of 1s)

1 hawk-hen (23¾ x 1 = 23¾)

4d of huik-silver (23¾ x 4 = 95d = 7s 11d)


The arithmetic in rentals is seldom as tidy as this but it is striking how every item reinforces the idea of a standard rate per pennyland. The only item that doesn’t fit precisely is ‘8 marts’ but it is very close to being 1 mart for every 3d or half-davach.


The multiplier for sheaves of oats and hallows of straw is 16 – just as it was with Scrabster in Table 1 above.


It is clear that, in terms of rents and services, there was a ‘going rate’ per pennyland. Unfortunately there is not enough data, and it is not consistent enough, for us to use this evidence more than occasionally. In the parish tables I have used the inferred pennylands from the Tables above, but have gone no further. And it is only in Caithness that I have done this.


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