Filed under ASOIAF Military Analysis, ASOIAF Political Analysis, ASOIAF Speculation
Tagged as A Dance with Dragons, A Song of Ice and Fire, Analysis, Frey, Hosteen Frey, Manderly, Roose Bolton, Stannis Baratheon, The Winds of Winter, TWOW, Westeros, Winds of Winter, Winterfell
Hi guys, thought i would fill you in a bit on crofting since I am a fan who happens to be a crofter (in the isle of Skye). While modern croftng came in to existence in Scotland in the 19th century that is simply because Scotland was the last place it crofting was left and it was formalised to try and protect the way of life.
Original crofting was a far more wide spread phenomenon (even if it had different names in different times and places). It is basically subsistence farming on a small area of (usually rented) land which feeds the family unit but doesn’t leave excess produce to sell for money and thus requires some other enterprise to pay the rent. This could be through fishing, cottage crafts or whatever but it was usually in service to the landowner. Such service could take different forms, including working on roads and fortifications or building boats but was generally military service. Most medieval agriculture which wasn’t on very good ground in formally Roman territory was probably in the style of crofting. As agricultural practices improved crofting was replaced by proper agriculture, but in the most remote areas with worse climates and such this could not happen.
So you have Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, some of northern Germany all poor ground for farming which never experienced advanced agriculture under the Romans. In all these places crofters would usually pay their rent (and supplement their income) through military service to their lord/jarl/chief upon whose land their crofts lay. This led to constant low intensity warfare and raiding in these places which meant they a) were experienced soldiers and b) remained relatively backward in civilisational terms. The poor food production of the area also leads to migrational impulses to get rid of excess population. The Vikings were “crofters”, as were the Saxon invaders of England, the Irish invaders of England and lowland Scotland and of course the Scottish Highlanders.
So looking at ASOIAF it easy to see where crofting is. The North is very much Medieval Scotland. The majority of it is sparse and barren land with a harsh climate. Its entire economy is almost certainly based on crofting. The clear exception to this is the more southern towns in the few more viable areas, especially Whiteharbour which is very much in the mould of the trading port of Glasgow. The “Clans” in the North are those groups clinging to the most outlying lands who have adpated least to southern ways, much like the Island clans in Scotland. The Iron Islands also have a crofting economy, however it is the Thralls doing the crofting while the Ironborn do all the fighting, making them even more experienced and bad ass fighters. One Imagines most of the Wildling tribes (and vale clans) are also crofters, except perhaps those from the furthest North where the climate is so bad there is no agriculture at all and they are still hunter-gatherers.
By using the term croft GRRM is reminding the reader of the Norths Scottish connection and also inferring that this is a very small settlement in harsh ground. A Crofting township (as they are known) is generally smaller than a village and would consist of 5-10 croft-houses for extended families quite widely spaced out with small areas of cultivated land around each one. There would then likely be a much larger shared common grazing for animals in the surrounding hills and possibly large shared buildings such as barns. It is also possible one of the lords household warriors would live in such a settlement, keeping the peace and gathering the menfolk together when the lord needed to call his banners. It is very similar to European medieval systems however the settlements are smaller and more widely spaced out, hence the long time it takes the North to muster.
In reality ever improving agricultural methods and the centralising powers of growing nations saw crofting become extinct in most places. The Exception was the highlands and Islands of Scotland, where the land was so bad and the people so fierce it wasn’t really worth it. The highlanders would be a severe destabilising influence in Scottish history, and once union with England occurred it also became the perfect place to stir up rebellion and find eager troops in the various British civil wars. With the crushing of the last such rebellion in 1745 the British government realised they could harness these people for their own ends and Highlander regiments were sent out to conquer a quarter of the world. Industrialisation changed things however, previously valueless land suddenly became worthwhile for sheep farming for wool to feed the voracious textile industry. Thus the Highland clearences happened, leading to the emigration of huge numbers of highlanders to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Those who stayed were given even worse ground to farm and lived in constant poverty.
Fortunately modern liberal ideas were beginning to come into being in the UK and the highlanders plight was noted. The crofting act came in and protected crofters from that moment on, preventing them from being cleared for no reason, setting fair rents and legislating for the governance of common grazings etc. Many people look on the Highland clearances as a terrible thing but they don’t realise that the same had happened everywhere else in Europe already, Scotland was just the one place it was stopped before it was too late.
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