FROM TRIBALISM TO THE LANDED GENTRY OF FLINTSHIRE By DOROTHY SYLVESTER The stately home or 'great house' in the setting of a country estate is a familiar unit in the British countryside. Yet although so much has been written about feudalism and the manor, attention to the historical succession and dated regional studies of the lordly estate are alike rare. By contrast, the village, hamlet, and farm have received extensive treatment. Yet the country estate offers intriguing pos- sibilities and problems. May this topographical and human entity have had roots in the tribal society of the Early Iron Age? How many of them claim prehistoric, Dark Age, or Norman origins? Of what significance was the rising curve of author- itarianism of their head, and what factors led to the decline and eventual collapse of rural authoritarian lordship? The historical succession is clear: tribal chieftain, Dark Ages thegn, manorial lord, and squire. The tenantry under a thegn or, later, a lord of the manor, were rigidly stratified, and in the Middle Ages the conduct of its affairs reached the high point of rural absolutism. Only as a result of the slow collapse of manorial law and customs did the way begin to clear for the freehold estate. However, in Flintshire the privatization of land began in the late thirteenth century. Some empty lands were available for occupation here and still more in northern Denbighshire. Where native Welsh land systems and cultivation persisted, the open erwau of the trefydd were exchanged to give compact holdings. Purchase, exchange, and prid (mortgage) all contributed to this process, and so were built up small holdings, farms, and where resources were available for purchase, new estates, all contributing to the new patterns of landholding. In due course, even new owners were accepted as 'squires' or gentry; their tenants were free men, and if they were employed on the estate it was as wage-earners. Many manors survived and flour- ished, but gone eventually were the manorial courts, the mill where all must grind their corn was no longer a compulsion, gone the demesne labour and many other trappings of medievalism. The private estate was born in an age when new concepts of freedom were at last shaping, human rights being evaluated, and the money supply increasing. They came about slowly. In some cases at least two hundred years were needed to accomplish the change, depending on many factors including local differences, of terrain, of economy, and of the social and political climate. But from 1300 the