Today “The Fens” is largely a misnomer, as the area of eastern England is now largely flat, dry farmland. Until the early modern era,...

Today “The Fens” is largely a misnomer, as the area of eastern England is now largely flat, dry farmland. Until the early modern era, however, it was a region of wetland marshes. Eric Ash‘s book The Draining of the Fens: Projectors, Popular Politics, and State Building in Early Modern England (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017) describes how The Fens was transformed into the environment we know it as today. As Ash explains, the marshes supported a population that took advantage of the lush grasses produced by the regular flooding to engage in animal husbandry, with flood control managed locally through appointed commissions of sewers. In the late 16th century, however, a combination of environmental change and political shifts led the royal government to support proposals for large-scale drainage projects that would turn the wetlands into farmlands. Though the plans’ advocates argued that drainage would improve the value of the lands in the region, the locals resisted such efforts to disrupt their ways of life through a variety of legal and extralegal means. In response the crown moved from efforts to develop consensus for the plans to asserting royal authority in environmental management in order to start the projects, beginning by the 1620s the first of a series of efforts that over the course of the next half-century drained many of the fens in the region.

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