Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Robert F. Berkhofer III

Second Advisor

Dr. Thomas L. Amos

Third Advisor

Dr. Rand H. Johnson

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Based on extensive archival research, this thesis analyzes the socio-economic position occupied by fourteenth-century tinners in Cornwall, England. The tinners represented a privileged group of laborers in the later Middle Ages, and the records of their stannary courts provide a unique glimpse into their lives. the evidence from these records show that the stannaries of Cornwall experienced a transformation of the structure of labor after the Black Death out of tin production and into agriculture. The result was a shift from a system overwhelmingly dominated by independent prospectors, dependant on credit for survival, to one which included large-scale operations owned by wealthy entrepreneurs and worked by wage laborers.

This thesis demonstrates that the tinners experienced difficulties in everyday life, in their laboring conditions, and in attaining economic success. The difficult nature of their life and labor caused them to seek work elsewhere after the plague, when opportunities for peasants were more abundant. Faced with a shortage of laboring tinners, those creditors who had formerly exploited tin production through lending began to exploit directly the mineral wealth of Cornwall by forming large-scale operations and hiring laborers. The significance of these changes goes far beyond the Cornish tinner, as they represent the rise of capitalist elements such as the motivation of profit, the use of currency, and entrepreneurs who own the means of production and purchase the labor of a free work force.

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