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Title: The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century
Author: Tawney, Richard Henry, 1880-1962
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                     THE AGRARIAN PROBLEM IN THE
                         SIXTEENTH CENTURY

                         AGRARIAN PROBLEM
                         IN THE SIXTEENTH


                           R.H. TAWNEY

       "_And if the whole people be landlords, or hold the Lands so
        divided among them, that no one Man, or number of Men,
        within the Compass of the Few or Aristocracy, overbalance
        them, the Empire (without the interposition of force) is a
        Commonwealth._"--HARRINGTON, _Oceana_.

                         _WITH 6 MAPS_



                         BURT FRANKLIN

                        New York 25, N.Y.

                        _Published by_

                         BURT FRANKLIN

                     514 West 113th Street

                       New York 25, N.Y.


                    _Printed in U.S.A. by_
                      SENTRY PRESS, INC.
                       New York 19, N.Y.



                   PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY

                           OF THE



This book is an attempt to trace one strand in the economic life of
England from the close of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the
Civil War. As originally planned, it included an account of the
relations of the State to trade and manufacturing industry, the growth
of which is the most pregnant economic phenomenon of the period. But I
soon found that the material was too abundant to be treated
satisfactorily in a single work, and I have therefore confined myself
in the following pages to a study of agrarian conditions, whose
transformation created so much distress, and aroused such searchings
of heart among contemporaries. The subject is one upon which much
light has been thrown by the researches of eminent scholars, notably
Mr. Leadam, Professor Gay, Dr. Savine, and Professor Ashley, and its
mediæval background has been firmly drawn in the great works of
Maitland, Seebohm, and Professor Vinogradoff. The reader will see that
I have availed myself freely of the results of their investigations.
But I have tried, as far as the time at my disposal allowed, to base
my picture on original authorities, both printed and manuscript.

The supreme interest of economic history lies, it seems to me, in the
clue which it offers to the development of those dimly conceived
presuppositions as to social expediency which influence the actions
not only of statesmen, but of humble individuals and classes, and
influence, perhaps, most decisively those who are least conscious of
any theoretical bias. On the economic ideas of the sixteenth century
in their relation to agrarian conditions I have touched shortly in
Part III. of the book, and I hope to treat the whole subject more
fully on some future occasion. If in the present work I have given, as
I am conscious that I have, undue space to the detailed illustration
of particular changes, I must plead that one cannot have the dessert
without the dinner, and that a firm foundation of fact, even though as
tedious to read as to arrange, is a necessary preliminary to the
higher and more philosophical task of analysing economic conceptions.
The reader who desires to start with a bird's-eye view of the subject
is advised to turn first to the concluding chapter of Part III.

One word may be allowed in extenuation of the statistical tables,
which will be found scattered at intervals through the following
pages. In dealing with modern economic conditions it is increasingly
recognised that analysis, to be effective, must be quantitative, and
one of the disadvantages under which the student of all periods before
the eighteenth century labours is that for large departments of life,
such as population, foreign trade, and the occupations of the people,
anything approaching satisfactory quantitative description is out of
the question. The difficulty in the treatment of agrarian history is
different. Certain classes of manorial documents offer material which
can easily be reduced to a statistical shape. Indeed one difficulty is
its very abundance. The first feeling of a person who sees a
manuscript collection such as that at Holkham must be "If fifty maids
with fifty mops--," and a sad consciousness that the mop which he
wields is a very feeble one. But historical statistics should be
regarded with more than ordinary scepticism, inasmuch as they cannot
easily be checked by comparison with other sources of information, and
it may reasonably be asked whether it is possible to obtain figures
that are sufficiently reliable to be used with any confidence. Often,
no doubt, it is not possible. The strong point of surveyors was not
always arithmetic. The forms in which their information has been cast
are sometimes too various to permit of it being used for the purpose
of a summary or a comparison. Even when figures are both accurate and
comparable the student who works over considerable masses of material
will be fortunate if he does not introduce some errors of his own. The
tables printed below are marred by all these defects, and I have
included them only after considerable hesitation. I have tried to
prevent the reader from being misled by pointing out in an appendix
what I consider to be their principal faults and ambiguities. But no
doubt there are others which have escaped my notice.

It remains for me to express my gratitude to those whose kind
assistance has made this work somewhat less imperfect than it would
otherwise have been. I have to thank the Warden and Fellows of All
Souls College, the Senior Bursar of Merton College, the Clerk of the
Peace for the County of Warwick, and the Earl of Leicester for
permission to examine the manuscripts in their possession. The maps
illustrating enclosure are taken from the beautiful maps of the All
Souls estates; my thanks are due to the College for allowing me to use
them, and to Mr. W. Tomlinson, of the Oxford Tutorial Class at
Longton, for helping me to prepare them for reproduction.
Circumstances preventing me from working in the Record Office, I was
so fortunate as to secure the co-operation of Miss Niemeyer and Miss
L. Drucker, who have transcribed for me a large number of surveys and
rentals. How much I owe to their help will be apparent to any one who
consults my footnotes and references. Among those who have aided me
with advice and information I must mention Professor Vinogradoff,
Professor Unwin, and Professor Powicke, the late Miss Toulmin Smith,
Mr. Kenneth Leys, Mr. F.W. Kolthammer, Lieut.-Colonel Fishwick, Dr.
G.H. Fowler, and the Hon. Gerard Collier. Especially great are my
obligations to Mr. R.V. Lennard and Mr. H. Clay, who have read through
the whole of the following pages in manuscript or in proof, and who
have helped me with numberless criticisms and improvements.

In conclusion I owe two debts which are beyond acknowledgment. The
first is to my wife, who has collaborated with me throughout, and
without whose constant assistance this book could not have been
completed. The second is to the members of the Tutorial Classes
conducted by Oxford University, with whom for the last four years it
has been my privilege to be a fellow-worker. The friendly smitings of
weavers, potters, miners, and engineers, have taught me much about
problems of political and economic science which cannot easily be
learned from books.

MANCHESTER, _April 1912_.



INTRODUCTION                                                              1




    (_a_) THE CLASSES OF LANDHOLDERS                                     19

    (_b_) THE FREEHOLDERS                                                27

    (_c_) THE CUSTOMARY TENANTS                                          40


    (_a_) THE VARIETY OF CONDITIONS                                      55

    (_b_) THE CONSOLIDATION OF PEASANT HOLDINGS                          57

         PEASANTS                                                        72

III. THE PEASANTRY (_continued_)--

        CULTIVATOR                                                       98

IV.  THE PEASANTRY (_continued_)--

    (_e_) SIGNS OF CHANGE                                               136

        ALLOTMENTS                                                      139

        PEASANTRY                                                       147



    (_a_) MOTIVES AND CAUSES                                            177

    (_b_) THE GROWTH OF THE LARGE LEASEHOLD FARM                        200

            AUTHORITIES                                                 213


    (_a_) THE REMOVING OF LANDMARKS                                     231

    (_b_) THE STRUGGLE FOR THE COMMONS                                  237

            DISPLACEMENT OF TENANTS                                     253

    (_d_) THE AGRARIAN CHANGES AND THE POOR LAW                         266


    (_a_) THE TENANTS AT WILL AND THE LEASEHOLDERS                      281

    (_b_) THE COPYHOLDERS                                               287

    (_c_) THE UNDERMINING OF CUSTOMARY TENURES                          301



             IMPORTANCE OF THE  PEASANTRY                               313

    (_b_) LEGISLATION AND ADMINISTRATION                                351

    (_c_) SUCCESS AND FAILURE OF STATE INTERVENTION                     377

II. GENERAL CONCLUSIONS                                                 401

APPENDIX I                                                              410

APPENDIX II                                                             422

INDEX                                                                   437


     BEDFORDSHIRE (1590)                     _To face page_             163

     MIDDLESEX (1597)                          "     "                  172

       IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE (1590)               "     "                  221

          (about 1590)                         "     "                  221

     IN NORTHAMPTONSHIRE (1590)                "     "                  222

     LEICESTERSHIRE (1620)                     "     "                  223



Any one who turns over the Statutes and State Papers of the sixteenth
century will be aware that statesmen were much exercised with an
agrarian problem, which they thought to be comparatively new, and any
one who follows the matter further will find the problem to have an
importance at once economic, legal, and political. The economist can
watch the reaction of growing markets on the methods of subsistence
farming, the development of competitive rents, the building up of the
great estate, and the appearance, or at any rate the extension, of the
tripartite division into landlord, capitalist farmer, and landless
agricultural labourer, the peculiar feature of English rural society
which has been given so much eulogy in the eighteenth century and so
much criticism in our own. From a legal point of view the great feature
of the period is the struggle between copyhold and leasehold, and the
ground gained by the latter. Before the century begins, leases for
years, though common enough on the demesne lands and on land taken from
the waste, are the exception so far as concerns the land of the
customary tenants. When the century closes, leasehold has won many
obstinately resisted triumphs; much land that was formerly held by copy
of court roll is held by lease; and copyhold tenure itself, through the
weakening of manorial custom, has partially changed its character. The
copyholders, though still a very numerous and important class, are
already one against which the course of events has visibly begun to
turn, and economic rent, long intercepted and shared, through the fixity
of customary tenure, between tenant and landlord under the more elastic
adjustments of leasehold and competitive fines, begins to drain itself
into the pockets of the latter. Politically, one can see different views
of the basis of wealth in conflict, that which measures it by the number
of tenants "able to do service" contending with that which tests it by
the maximum pecuniary returns to be got from an estate, and which treats
the number of tenants as quite a subordinate consideration. The former
is the ideal of philosophical conservatives, is supported, for military
and social reasons, by the Government, and survives long in the North;
the latter is that of the new landed proprietors, and wins in the South.

And its victory results in much more than a mere displacement of
tenants. It means ultimately a change in the whole attitude towards
landholding, in the doctrine of the place which it should occupy in the
State, and in the standards by which the prosperity of agriculture is
measured, drawing a line between modern English conceptions and those of
the sixteenth century as distinct as that which exists between those of
the Irish peasantry and Irish landlords, or between the standpoint of a
French peasant and that of the agent of a great English estate. The
decline of important classes alters the balance of rural society, though
the Crown for a long time tries to maintain it, and the way is prepared
both for the economic and political omnipotence which the great landed
aristocracy will exercise over England as soon as the power of the Crown
is broken, and for the triumph of the modern English conception of
landownership, a conception so repugnant both to our ancestors and to
the younger English communities,[1] as in the main a luxury of the
richer classes. If it had not been for the undermining of the small
farmer's position in the sixteenth century, would the proposal[2] to
enfranchise copyholders have been thrown out in 1654, and would the
enclosures[3] of the eighteenth century have been carried out with such
obstinate indifference to the vested interests of the weaker rural
classes? Would England have been unique among European countries in the
concentration of its landed property, and in the divorce of its
peasantry from the soil?

    [1] See the land legislation of the Australasian Colonies.

    [2] The Instrument of Government (December 1653) established a
    franchise qualification of rent or personal estate to the value
    of £200. This certainly would have enfranchised a large number
    of copyholders and leaseholders, some of whom were much better
    off than the small freeholders. For an estate of £299, 15s. 4d.
    left at death by a tenant "Husbandman" see _Nottingham Borough
    Records_ under the year 1599 (vol. iv. pp. 249-252). It was made
    up as follows: "Money in purse and his clothes, £15; value of
    beasts, £74; corn sowne in fields, £35; value of furniture in
    hall, £2, 13s.; in parlour, £5, 14s., and other miscellaneous
    possessions." For wills of husbandmen and yeomen see _Surtees
    Society_, vol. lxxix., pp. 181-182, 263-264, 294, 310. For the
    restoration of the franchise to the freeholders, see Gardiner,
    _The Commonwealth_, iii. 78.

    [3] Hammond, _The Village Labourer_, 1760-1832. One may add--if
    English statesmen had studied the history of customary tenures
    in England, would they have deferred until 1870 legislation
    protecting tenant right in Ireland? See Lord Morley's
    description of the Irish cultivator "as a kind of copyholder or
    customary freeholder" (_Life of Gladstone_, vol. ii. p. 281).

From a wider point of view the agrarian changes of the sixteenth century
may be regarded as a long step in the commercialising of English life.
The growth of the textile industries is closely connected with the
development of pasture farming, and it was the export of woollen cloth,
that "prodigy of trade," which first brought England conspicuously into
world-commerce, and was the motive for more than one of those early
expeditions to discover new markets, out of which grew plantations,
colonies, and empire. Dr. Cunningham[4] has shown that the system of
fostering the corn trade, which was embodied in the Corn Bounty Act of
1689, and which was a principle of English policy long after the reason
for it had disappeared, was adopted in a milder form in the reign of
Elizabeth with the object of checking the decline in the rural
population. Again, new agricultural methods were a powerful factor in
the struggle between custom and competition, which colours so much of
the economic life of the period, and, owing to this fact, they produced
reactions which spread far beyond their immediate effect on the classes
most closely concerned with them. The displacement of a considerable
number of families from the soil accelerated, if it did not initiate,
the transition from the mediæval wage problem, which consisted in the
scarcity of labour, to the modern wage problem, which consists in its
abundance. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
municipal[5] authorities were engaged in a prolonged struggle to
enforce their exclusive economic privileges against the rural immigrant
who had lost his customary means of livelihood and who overcrowded town
dwellings and violated professional byelaws; while the Government
prevented him from moving without a licence, and when he moved,
straitened[6] his path between the Statute of Inmates on the one hand
and the House of Correction on the other. Observers were agreed that the
increase in pauperism[7] had one capital cause in the vagrancy produced
by the new agrarian régime; and the English Poor Law system, or the
peculiar part of it providing for relief of the able-bodied, which
England was the first of European countries to adopt, came into
existence partly as a form of social insurance against the effect of the
rack rents and evictions, which England was the first of European
countries to experience. Whatever uncertainty attaches to the causes and
effects of the agrarian problem, there can be no doubt that those who
were in the best position to judge thought it highly important. If it is
not a watershed separating periods, it is at least a high range from
which both events and ideas descend with added velocity and
definiteness. To the economic historian the ideas are as important as
the events. For though conceptions of social expediency are largely the
product of economic conditions, they acquire a momentum which persists
long after the circumstances which gave them birth have disappeared, and
act as over-ruling forces to which, in the interval between one great
change and another, events themselves tend to conform.

    [4] Cunningham, _Growth of English Industry and Commerce, Modern
    Times_, Part i. pp. 85-88, 101-107, 540-543.

    [5] See _e.g. Records of the Borough of Reading_, vol ii. pp.
    36, 94, 156; vol. iii., 131, and those of Leicester, Norwich,
    Nottingham, and Southampton, _passim_; also below, pp. 275-277.

    [6] "Mr. Secretary Cecil said, ... If we debar tillage, we give
    scope to the Depopulator, and then, if the poor being thrust out
    of their houses go to dwell with others, straight we catch them
    with the Statute of Inmates; if they wander abroad, they are
    within the danger of the Statute of the Poor to be whipt"
    (D'Ewes' _Journal of the House of Commons_, 1601, pp. 674-675).

    [7] See below, pp. 273-275.

A consideration of these great movements naturally begins with those
contemporary writers who described them. Though the books and pamphlets
of the age contain much that is of interest in the development of
economic theory, their writers rarely attempted to separate economic
from other issues, and economic speculation usually took the form of
discussions upon particular points of public policy, or of a casuistry
prescribing rules for personal conduct in difficult cases. Such a
difficult case, such a problem of public policy, was offered by the
growth of competitive methods of agriculture. The moral objections felt
to the new conditions caused them to be a favourite subject with writers
of sermons and pamphlets, and made the sins of the encloser, like those
of the usurer, one of the standbys of the sixteenth century preacher.
There is, therefore, a considerable volume of writings dealing with the
question from the point of view of the teacher of morality. At the same
time the political significance of the movement, and the fact that the
classes concerned were important enough to elicit attempts at protection
on the part of the Government, called forth a crop of suggestions and
comments like those of More, Starkey,[8] Forest,[9] the author of the
Commonwealth[10] of England, and, at a later date, Powell[11] and
Moore.[12] Further, the new agricultural methods were explained by
persons interested in the economics of agriculture, such as
Fitzherbert,[13] Tusser,[14] Clarkson,[15] who surveyed the manors of
the Earl of Northumberland in 1567, Humberstone[16] who did the same for
those of the Earl of Devonshire, and Norden.[17] The accounts of
surveyors, a dull but indispensable tribe, are reliable, as they are
usually statements of facts which have occurred within their own
experience, or at any rate, generalised descriptions of such facts. The
same may be said of the evidence of John Hales, who was employed by the
Government in investigating the question, and who had to explain it in
such a way as to convince opponents, and to get legislation on this
subject through a bitterly hostile Parliament. The description given by
writers like Latimer,[18] Crowley,[19] and Becon[20] are valuable as
showing the way in which the movement was regarded by contemporaries;
but they are mainly somewhat vague denunciations launched in an age when
the pulpit was the best political platform, and their very positiveness
warns one that they are one-sided and must be received with caution.
Still, they mark out a field for inquiry, and one may begin by setting
out the main characteristics of the agrarian changes as pictured in
their writings.

    [8] E. E. T. S., _England in the Reign of King Henry the
    Eighth_, Part II.: "A Dialogue between Cardinal Pole and Thomas
    Lupset, Lecturer in Rhetoric at Oxford, by Thomas Starkey,
    Chaplain to the King," edited by J.M. Cowper (date of
    composition about 1538).

    [9] E. E. T. S., as above, Part I. (Appendix). _The Pleasant
    Poesye of Princelie Practise_, by Sir William Forest (date of
    composition 1548).

    [10] _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_, edited by
    Elizabeth Lamond (date of composition 1549; the author was
    almost certainly John Hales).

    [11] Powell, _Depopulation Arraigned_, 1636.

    [12] _The Crying Sin of England in not Caring for the Poor,
    wherein Enclosure such as doth unpeople Towns and Common Fields
    is Arraigned, Convicted, and Condemned by the Word of God_, by
    John Moore, Minister of Knaptoft, in Leicestershire, 1653.

    [13] Fitzherbert, _Boke of Husbandry_, 1534. _Surveyinge_, 1539.

    [14] Tusser, _Five Hundred Points of Husbandry._

    [15] _Northumberland County History_, vol. i. p. 350 and passim.

    [16] Surveys _temp._ Philip and Mary of various estates
    belonging to the Earl Devon (_Topographer and Genealogist_, i.
    p. 43).

    [17] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_ (1607).

    [18] Sermons by Hugh Latimer, sometime Bishop of Worcester
    (Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Co.).

    [19] Crowley, Select Works (E. E. T. S., 1872).

    [20] Becon, _Jewel of Joy_. Extract quoted in England in the
    reign of King Henry the Eighth (Part I., p. lxxvi.).

The movement originates, they agree, through the covetousness[21] of
lords of manors and large farmers, who have acquired capital in the
shape of flocks of sheep, and who, by insisting on putting the land to
the use most profitable to themselves, break through the customary
methods of cultivation. The outward sign of this is enclosing, the
cutting adrift of a piece of land from the common course of cultivation
in use, by placing a hedge or paling round it, and utilising it
according to the discretion of the individual encloser, usually with the
object of pasturing sheep. This is accompanied by land speculation and
rack-renting, which is intensified by the land-hunger which causes
successful capitalists,[22] who have made money in trade, to buy up
land as a profitable investment for their savings, and by the sale of
corporate property which took place on the dissolution[23] of the
monasteries and the confiscation of part of the gild estates. The
consequence is, first, that there is a scarcity of agricultural produce
and a rise[24] in prices, which is partly (it is supposed) attributable
to the operations of the great graziers who control the supplies of
wool, grain, and dairy produce, and secondly and more important that the
small cultivator suffers in three ways. Agricultural employment is
lessened. Small holdings are thrown[25] together and are managed by
large capitalists, with the result that he is driven off the land,
either by direct eviction, or by a rise in rents and fines, or by mere
intimidation. At the same time the commonable[26] area, consisting of
the common waste, meadow, and pasture of the manor is diminished, with
the result that the tenants who are not evicted suffer through loss of
the facilities which they had previously had for grazing beasts without
payment. There is, in consequence, a drift into the towns and a general
lowering in the standard of rural life, due to the decay of the class
which formerly sent recruits to the learned professions, which was an
important counterpoise to the power of the great landed proprietors, and
which was the backbone of the military forces of the country.[27]

    [21] "For looke in what partes of the realm doth growe the
    fynest and therefore dearest woll, there noblemen and gentlemen,
    yea, and certeyn abbotes, holy men no doubt, not contenting them
    selfes with the yearely revenues and profytes, that were wont to
    grow to their forefathers and predecessours of their landes, nor
    being content that they live in rest and pleasure nothinge
    profitting, yea much noyinge, the weal publique, leave no
    grounde for tillage, thei inclose al into pasture; thei throw
    doune houses; they plucke downe townes, and leave nothing
    standynge, but only the churche to be made a shepehouse" (More's
    _Utopia_, Book I., p. 32, Pitt Press Series).

    [22] "The Grazier, the Farmer, the Merchants become landed men,
    and call themselves gentlemen, though they be churls; yea, the
    farmer will have ten farms, some twenty, and will be a
    Pedlar-merchant" (_King Edward's Remains: A Discourse about the
    Reformation of many Abuses_). "Look at the merchants of London,
    and ye shall see, when by their honest vocation God hath endowed
    them with great riches, then can they not be content, but their
    riches must be abrode in the country, to bie fermes out the
    handes of worshipful gentlemen, honest yeomen, and poor
    laborynge husbands" (_Lever's Sermons_, Arber's Reprints, p.

    [23] "Do not these ryche worldlynges defraude the pore man of
    his bread, ... and suffer townes so to decay that the pore hath
    not what to eat, nor yet where to dwell? What other are they,
    then, but very manslears? They abhorre the names of Monkes,
    Friars, Chanons, Nounes, etc., but their goods they gredely
    gripe. And yet where the cloysters kept hospitality, let out
    their fermes at a reasonable pryce, noryshed scholes, brought up
    youths in good letters, they doe none of all these thinges"
    (Becon, _Works_, 1564, vol. ii. fols. xvi., xvii.).

    [24] "A proclamation set fourthe by the King's Majestie with the
    assent and consent of his dear uncle Edward, Duke of Somerset
    ... and the said cattell also by all lyklyhode of truth should
    be more cheape beynge in many men's handes as they be nowe in
    fewe, who may holde them deare and tarye the avantage of the
    market" (Brit. Mus. _Lansdown_, 238, p. 205). See also E. E. T.
    S.: "Certayne causes gathered together, wherein is showed the
    decaye of England only by the great multitude of shepe" (date
    1550-1553), and _The Commonweal of this Realm of England,
    passim_, especially pp. xlv.-lxvii. It is worth noting that
    Hales, who was quite conversant with the effect on general
    prices of an increase in the supply of money, thought that the
    rise which took place in his day was in some measure due to
    monopolists. He describes his third Bill as ensuring that "ther
    wolde have byn within fyve yeares after the execution therof
    suche plentie of vitteyll and so good cheape as never was in
    England" (_Commonweal_, p. lxiii.).

    [25] Proclamation as before: "Of late by thynclosinge of landes
    and erable grounds, many have byn drevyn to extreme povertie,
    insomuche that wheareas in tyme past, tenne, twentie, yea in
    some places C. or CC. Chrysten people hathe byn inhabytynge ...
    nowe ther is nothynge kept but sheepe and bullocks. All that
    lande, whiche heretofore was tilled and occupied by so many men,
    is nowe gotten by insaciable gredyness of mynde into one or two
    men's handes, and scarcely dwelled upon with one poore

    [26] "There be a manie a M cottagers in England, which, havinge
    no land to live of theire owne but their handie labours, and
    some refreshinge upon the said commons, yf they were sodenly
    thrust out from that commoditie might make a great tumult and
    discorde in the commonwealth" (_Commonweal of England_, pp.

    [27] See below, pp. 341-344.

The picture drawn by the literary authorities suggests questions, some
of which have been satisfactorily cleared up and some of which are still
obscure. Dissertations as to method are usually more controversial than
profitable, and we do not propose at this point to give any detailed
account of the order in which these problems have been taken up by
previous scholars, to pass any judgment upon the different kinds of
evidence which they have used, or to offer any estimate of the value of
their conclusions. If we are at all successful in our presentation of
the subject, the reader will discover for himself the nature of the
evidence upon which we have relied, and where we differ from and agree
with the treatment of other writers. All we can attempt here is to give
a short statement of some of the principal issues which demand
attention, a statement which does not pretend to be exhaustive, but
which may serve to indicate the more salient features of the ground over
which we shall travel.

As to the counties mainly affected by the agrarian changes there is now
substantial agreement. The work of Mr. Leadam[28] and Professor Gay[29]
seems to have put the geographical distribution of the movement towards
enclosure, or at least of those enclosures which produced hardships,
upon a fairly firm basis. We can say with some confidence that it mainly
affected the Midlands and eastern counties, from Berkshire and
Oxfordshire in the south to Lincoln and Norfolk in the north-east, and
that it was least important in the south-western counties of Cornwall
and Devon, and in the south-eastern counties of Kent and Essex, much of
which had been enclosed before the sixteenth century began, and in the
northern counties of Lancashire, Westmoreland, Cumberland,
Northumberland, and Durham, though, by the end of the sixteenth century,
parts of the two latter counties, at any rate, were considerably
affected by it. Again, the same authors have offered a statistical
estimate of the extent of the movement which, while it is manifestly
defective, and while it can only be used with great caution to support
arguments as to the practical effect of enclosures, does offer some
guide to the imagination, and is, at least, a valuable check on the
conjectures made by contemporaries without any statistics at all and on
a basis merely of their personal impressions. Finally, the difficult
question of the security of copyhold tenants as against the landlords
who desired to evict them seems to have been put in the right
perspective by the evidence which Dr. Savine[30] has adduced to prove
that, in the case of copyholds of inheritance, a plaintiff who could
show a clear title could get legal redress.

    [28] Leadam, _Domesday of Enclosures_.

    [29] _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xiv. and vol. xvii.;
    _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xvii. See also Gonner,
    _Common Land and Inclosure_, pp. 132-152.

    [30] _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xix. See below, pp.

On the other hand, certain points must still be pronounced highly
obscure. The first is a simple one. The agrarian changes are usually
summed up under the name of "Enclosure." But what exactly did enclosing
mean? Contemporary writers represent it as almost always being carried
out by lords and large farmers against the interests of the smaller
tenantry. But there is abundant proof that the tenants themselves
enclosed; and as they can hardly be supposed to have been forward in
initiating changes which damaged their own prospects, ought we not to
begin by drawing a distinction between the piecemeal enclosures made by
the peasantry, often after agreement between neighbours, from which they
hoped to gain, and the great enclosures made by lords of manors from
which the peasants obviously lost? Further, different authorities assign
different degrees of importance to different aspects of the movement.
Mr. Johnson[31] holds, for example, that the enclosure of the common
waste, as distinct from the enclosure of the arable fields, was
relatively unimportant. Such a view, however, is not easily reconciled
with the constant complaints which relate clearly to the enclosing of
common wastes and pastures and with the state of things depicted in the
surveys.[32] Again, the writings of the period speak as though the
movement were mainly one from arable to pasture farming. But this was
questioned as long ago as the first thorough study of the question--that
of Nasse[33]--and the doubts which he threw on their view of the problem
are supported by Mr. Leadam by means of the statistics which he has
drawn from the returns of the Commission of 1517, though his conclusions
are in their turn disputed by Professor Gay. In fact no one who examines
the picture given by the Commissions and by surveys and field maps can
help feeling that the word "enclosing," used by contemporaries as though
it bore its explanation on its face, covered many different kinds of
action and has a somewhat delusive appearance of simplicity.

    [31] Johnson, _The Disappearance of the Small Landowner_, p. 40.

    [32] See below, pp. 218-221 and 237-253.

    [33] Nasse, _The Land Community of the Middle Ages_ (translated
    for the Cobden Club by Colonel Ouvry, 1871), pp. 81-91: "With
    regard to the proper agricultural character of these movements
    they are represented commonly as having been caused by an
    exclusively pure pasture husbandry, which expelled the tillage
    husbandman. Different circumstances, however, and witnesses show
    us closely that this, for the most part, was not the case." The
    discussion between Mr. Leadam and Professor Gay is contained in
    the _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. xiv. See also
    Miss Davenport, _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xi., and
    below, pp. 223-228.

Moreover, who gained and who suffered by the enclosures, and to what
extent? If the movement deserves to be called an agrarian revolution, it
was certainly one which left a great many holders of small landed
property intact, and perhaps even improved their position. Otherwise we
can hardly account for the optimistic description of them, or of some of
them, which is given in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries by writers like Harrison,[34] Norden,[35] and Fuller,[36] or
for the part which this class played in the Civil War. Nor can we say
with confidence how the statistical evidence derived by Mr. Leadam and
Professor Gay from the reports of Royal Commissions should be
interpreted. The comparative smallness of the percentage of land which
the Commissioners returned as enclosed has led to the view[37] that the
importance of the whole movement was grossly exaggerated by the writers
of the period, who created a storm in a tea-cup over changes which
really affected only an inconsiderable proportion of the whole country.
If this is so, it is not easy to explain either the continuous attention
which was paid to the question by the Government, or the revolts of the
peasantry, or the strong views of reasonable and fair-minded men with
first-hand knowledge, such as John Hales.

    [34] _Elizabethan England_, edited by Lothrop Withington, with
    introduction by F.J. Furnivall, p. 119.

    [35] J. Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_.

    [36] Thomas Fuller, _Holy and Profane State_.

    [37] Gay, _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xvii., p. 587:
    "Hysterical and rhetorical complaint ... condemned by its very

There is obscurity not only as to the details, but as to the outlines of
the movement. Different views have been expressed as to its origin,
duration, and points of maximum intensity. Professor Ashley[38] puts the
period of most rapid change from about 1470 to 1530. But these dates
cannot be taken as in any way fixed. The greatest popular outcry[39]
against enclosing occurred about the middle of the sixteenth century, in
the years 1548 to 1550. As Miss Leonard[40] has shown, there was much
enclosing in the seventeenth century, and about 1650[41] there was a
crop of pamphlets against it similar in tone to the protests which
occurred almost exactly a century before. It is especially difficult to
determine how far back the movement should be carried. The first
statute[42] against it, that of 1489, is an obvious landmark. But has it
not been too readily accepted as an earlier limit? Hales[43] said that
most of the "destruction of towns" had taken place before the beginning
of the reign of Henry VII. The allusion to enclosing in the
Chancellor's[44] speech to Parliament in 1483 shows that the movement
must have already obtained considerable dimensions. Rous[45] had
petitioned Parliament on the subject of depopulation in 1459, and in his
History, which was published sometime between that date and 1486, he
returned to the charge with a detailed account of the destruction of
villages in his own county of Warwickshire. More convincing than either,
the records of Manorial Courts[46] prove that the consolidation of
holdings and collisions between the interests of commoners and
sheep-farmers were quite common early in the fifteenth century. One may
perhaps pause to remark that the question of the antecedent conditions,
out of which the rapid agricultural changes of the sixteenth century
arose, is a very important one, and the more important the more
far-reaching those changes are thought to have been. It is surely
incredible that the conversion of land to pasture, the growth of large
pasture estates, and the eviction of customary tenants, should have
occurred to the extent described, unless considerable minor changes
preceded them, and without some premonitory rumblings to suggest the
coming storm. In economic affairs new lines of organisation usually
start on a small scale before they attain dimensions sufficiently
striking to attract attention; and one would expect to be able to trace
the leading motives of the agrarian changes of the Tudor period far back
in the fifteenth century and even earlier, and that they would throw
light on the nature of the subsequent movements. There is, further, some
difference of opinion as to the causes which forced the agrarian problem
to the front. Some contemporary authorities attribute it mainly to the
growth of the woollen industry,[47] and in this they have been followed
by most subsequent writers. On the other hand, the direct evidence
supplied by price statistics seems to be not altogether reliable,[48]
and in any case the woollen industry had been steadily growing for a
hundred years before the complaints as to enclosure become general. This
has led Dr. Hasbach[49] to argue that the change in agricultural methods
was due less to the high price of wool than to the low price of grain,
which was artificially reduced by the restrictions imposed on export
under the Tudors, and which he holds to have produced such a fall in
rent as to result in the adoption of pasture-farming. Other writers have
emphasised the revolutionary effect of the general depreciation in the
value of money[50] and the consequent growth of commercialism in the
relations between landlord and tenant.

    [38] Ashley, _Economic History_, vol. i. Part II., p. 286:
    "There were two periods of rapid change ... namely from c. 1470
    to c. 1530, and again from about 1760 to 1830. After about 1530
    the movement somewhat slackened."

    [39] See below, Part III., chap. i.

    [40] _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xix. See also Gonner,
    _Common Land and Inclosure_, pp. 153-186. Professor Gonner is no
    doubt right in saying that "the view which regards inclosure ...
    as taking place mainly at two epochs, in the sixteenth and
    eighteenth centuries respectively ... gives an almost entirely
    false presentation of what occurred."

    [41] Moore. _The Crying Sin of England in not Caring for the
    Poor_, 1653, and _A Scripture Word against Enclosure_, 1656.
    Moore's pamphlets provoked rejoinders, viz., _A Vindication of a
    Regulated Enclosure_, by Joseph Lee, 1656, _Considerations
    concerning Common Fields and Enclosures_ (1654, Pseudonismus),
    and _A Vindication, of the Considerations concerning Common
    Fields and Enclosures, or a Rejoynder unto that Reply which Mr.
    Moore hath pretended to make unto those Considerations_ (1656,

    [42] 4 Henry VII. c. 19.

    [43] "For the chief destruccion of Townes and decaye of houses
    was before the begynnynge of the reign of King Henry the
    Seventh" (The defence of John Hales, quoted p. lxiii. of Miss
    Lamond's edition of _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_).

    [44] Camden Society, 1854, lii.

    [45] J. Rossus, _Historia Regum Angliæ_ (T. Hearne).

    [46] See below, pp. 161-162.

    [47] See _e.g._ More's _Utopia_ quoted above, and Pauli, _Drei
    volkswirthschaftliche Denkscriften aus der Zeit Heinrichs VIII.
    von England_. It is suggested that if the council will only fix
    the price which stappellers and clothmakers are to pay for raw
    wool, "it shall cause the pasturers of sheep to open their
    enclosures and suffer the more earth to be wrought by works of

    [48] See the discussion between Mr. Leadam and Professor Gay on
    the wool prices of Thorold Roger in _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._,
    New Series, vol. xiv. The best account of the price movements of
    the sixteenth century is contained in _Studien zur Geschichte
    der Englischen Lohnarbeiter_, Band I., by Gustaf F. Steffen.

    [49] Hasbach, _A History of the English Agricultural Labourer_,
    pp. 31-33.

    [50] See below, pp. 197-200 and 304-310.

Finally, one may ask what was the effect of legislation against
pasture-farming and evictions, and of the frequent administrative
interference by which the Governments of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries tried to check them. On a first view, at any rate, the whole
history of the policy pursued in this matter, with one short interval
from the autumn of 1549 to 1553, constitutes surely one of the most
remarkable attempts to control changing economic conditions by
Government action which has ever been made. Whether successful or
unsuccessful, it throws much light on the ideas of the period with
regard to the place in the State which should be occupied by the
landholding classes, on the relative advantages from a political
standpoint of large and small farming, and on the administrative
machinery of Government. The opinion generally[51] adopted seems to be
that the Acts forbidding conversion were entirely ineffective, and that
the Government, if sincere, was outmanœuvred by the Local
Authorities, whose duty it was to administer the laws, and whose
interest lay in preventing their administration. Much evidence may be
cited in support of this view. On the other hand, we have clear proof of
the Council interfering on some occasions with apparent success; and
further, it seems necessary to discriminate between the policies of
different periods. One cannot argue, for example, that because the
statutes protecting the poorer classes were not carried out by the
rapacious oligarchy of adventurers which governed England from the fall
of Somerset to 1553, therefore they were never used effectively in the
reigns of Henry VIII., of Elizabeth, or of the first two Stuarts. Nor
would one be right in assuming the existence in the sixteenth century of
the identity of interest and policy between the great landlords and the
Government which characterised the period from 1688 to 1832. One's
conclusion on the whole question must depend less on direct evidence as
to the success of the particular measures, which, in the nature of
things, is not easily obtainable, than on the opinion which one forms of
the degree of importance which the statesmen of the period assigned to
the class of small cultivators, and of the ability of the Central
Government to get its policy executed.

    [51] e.g. by Hasbach, _op. cit._ p. 37. Gay, _Trans. Royal Hist.
    Soc._, vol. xviii. Contrast Miss Leonard, Trans. _Royal Hist.
    Soc._, vol. xix. On the subject of the policy of the State
    towards the agrarian problem, see below, Part III., chap. i.

Such are some of the questions which are suggested by even a cursory
survey of the agrarian problem. There are others which are less
susceptible of summary statement, but which involve issues that are of
some importance for the interpretation of economic history. Granted that
it was inevitable that the subsistence husbandry of the mediæval village
should give way to capitalist agriculture, in what light are we to
regard the changes by which that great transformation was brought about?
Ought we to think of the open field system as altogether incompatible
with any improvement in agricultural technique, as the miracle of
squalid perversity which it has appeared to some writers both of our own
and of earlier ages, and as requiring the bitter discipline of pasture
farming and evictions to shake it out of its deep rut of custom, and to
make room for more progressive methods? Or are we to view it as
permitting a good deal of mobility, and as already slowly developing a
less rigid and cumbrous organisation when it was partially overwhelmed
by rapid, and for the mass of the peasantry disastrous, changes? What
place ought the agrarian revolution of the sixteenth century to be given
in that transition from mediæval to modern conditions of agriculture
which, starting in England, has spread eastwards through almost every
European country, and which is beginning to-day even in India. How far
does it compare and contrast with the enclosures of the period
succeeding the fall of the Stuarts, and with the analogous developments
which have taken place on the continent, and how far does it present
special features peculiar to itself? What were the relations between it
and other aspects of national life? Have the economic changes which took
place in the world of agriculture any reflex in the social and political
changes occurring in the century which divides the Reformation from the
Civil War? How far did the redistribution of property which they
effected contribute to the decline in the condition of the poorer
classes which, according to most writers, took place in the sixteenth
century, and to the creation of the commercial aristocracy whose
influence becomes so pronounced after the Restoration? What was the
result of these material developments in the realm of legal and economic
ideas? Ought we to minimise the communalism of the mediæval village? Or
should we think of the agrarian revolution of the sixteenth century as
really a new and decided movement in the direction of economic
individualism, a long step towards the growth of modern ideas of land
ownership and of the right of the individual to follow unfettered his
own discretion in matters of economic enterprise, which gather weight at
the end of the seventeenth, and come to their own at the end of the
eighteenth, century?

We cannot pretend to answer these questions. We leave them as riddles
for the reader, with the words which a sixteenth century economist
prettily prefaces to his analysis of the chief economic problems of his
age:--"And albeit ye might well saye that there be men of greater witte
then I; yet fools (as the proverb is) speake some times to the purpose,
and as many headdes, so many wittes ... and though eche of theise by
them selves doe not make perfitte the thing, yet when every man bringeth
in his guifte, a meane witted man maye of the whole (the best of everie
mans devise beinge gathered together) make as it were a pleasant garland
and perfitte."[52]

    [52] Preface to _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_ (ed.

In the following pages we shall deal with our subject in the following
order: Chapter I. of Part I. will describe the chief classes of tenants
as they are set out in rentals and surveys, and in particular the
freeholders and customary tenants who formed the bulk of the
landholders. Chapters II., III. and IV. will discuss in some detail the
economic positions of the customary tenants both before and during the
sixteenth century, the reasons for supposing that there had been a
considerable growth in the prosperity of many of them before our period
begins, and the gradual modification in the customary conditions of
rural life, as illustrated both by the growth of competitive payments on
those parts of the manor which were least controlled by custom, and by
the attempts made by the peasantry themselves to overcome by enclosure
the difficulties attaching to the methods of open field cultivation.
Chapter I. of Part II. will examine the reason which led to more rapid
changes in agricultural methods in the sixteenth century, and the growth
of the large leasehold farms upon which these changes can be most easily
traced. Chapters II. and III. will discuss the reaction of these changes
upon the peasantry and the question of the nature and security of their
tenure. Chapter I. of Part III. will explain their political and social
importance and the policy of the State towards them. In Chapter II. we
shall endeavour to offer a summary of our main conclusions.



    "What comyn folke in all this world may compare with the comyns
    of England in riches, freedom, liberty, welfare, and all
    prosperity? What comyn folke is so mighty, so strong in the
    felde as the comyns of England?"--_State Papers, Henry VIII._,
    vol. ii. p. 10.

    "My thynketh that as the wise husbandman makethe and maynteyneth
    his nursery of yonge trees to plante in the steede of the olde,
    when he seeth them begynne to fail, because he will be sure at
    all tymes of fruyte: so shulde politique governours (as the
    kynges maiestie and his councell mynde) provide for thencrease
    and mayntenance of people, so that at no tyme they maye lacke to
    serve his highnes and the commenwelthe."--_The defence of John
    Hales agenst certeyn sclaundres and false reaportes made of



(a) _The Classes of Landholders_

If an Englishman of ordinary intelligence had been asked in the reign of
Henry VIII. to explain the foundations of national prosperity, he would
probably have answered that the whole wealth[53] of the country arises
out of the labours of the common people, and that, of all who labour, it
is by the work of those engaged in tillage that the State most certainly
stands. True, it cannot dispense with handicraftsmen and merchants, for
ours is an age of new buildings, new manufactures, new markets. The
traders of Europe are already beginning to look west and east after the
explorers; there are signs of an oceanic commerce arising out of the
coastwise traffic of the Middle Ages; and Governments are increasingly
exercised with keeping foreign ports open and English ports closed. But
whether any particular artisan or trader is a profitable member of the
commonwealth is an open question. Too many of the manufactures which men
buy are luxurious[54] trifles brought from abroad and paid for with good
English cloth or wool or corn or tin, if not with gold itself--articles
whose use sumptuary legislation would do well to repress. As for
merchants,[55] if like honest men they give their minds to navigation,
well and good. But theirs is an occupation in which there is much room
for "unlawful subtlety and sleight," for eking out the legitimate
profits earned by the labour of transport, with underhand gains filched
from the necessitous by buying cheap and selling dear, for speculations
perilously near the sin of the usurers who traffic in time itself.
Outside the circle of a few statesmen and financiers, the men of the
sixteenth century have not mastered the secret by which modern societies
feed and clothe (with partial success) dense millions who have never
seen wheat or wool, though London and Bristol and Southampton are
beginning to grope towards it. Looking at the cornfields which are
visible from the centre of even the largest cities, they see that a
small harvest means poverty and a good harvest prosperity, and that a
decrease of a few hundred acres in the area sown may make all the
difference between scarcity and abundance. A shortage in grain, which
would cause a modern State to throw open its ports and to revise its
railway tariff, sets a sixteenth century town[56] breaking up its
pastures and extending the area under tillage. No man is so clearly a
"productive labourer" as the husbandman, because no man so unmistakably
adds to the most obvious and indispensable forms of wealth; and though,
in the system of classes which makes up the State, there are some whose
function is more honourable, there is none whose function is more
necessary. In most ages there is some body of men to whom their
countrymen look with pride as representing in a special degree the
strength and virtues of the nation. In the sixteenth century that class
consisted of the substantial yeoman. Men speak of them with the same
swaggering affection as is given by later generations to the sea-dogs.
The genius of England is a rural divinity and does not yet rule the
waves; but the English yeomen have "in time past made all France
afraid."[57] They absorb most of the attention of writers, both on the
technique and on the social relations of agriculture. They are the
feet[58] upon which the body politic stands--the hands which, by
ministering to its wants, leave the brain free to act and plan. Let us
begin by trying to see how the landholding classes were composed.

    [53] Pauli, _Drei volkswirthschaftliche Denkschriften aus der
    Zeit Heinrichs VIII. von England_: How to reform the Realme in
    setting them to work, and to restore tillage. "The whole welth
    of the body of the realm riseth out of labours and workes of the
    common people."

    [54] _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_ (Lamond), p. 63:
    "And I marvell no man taketh heade unto it, what nombre first of
    trifles cometh hether from beyonde the seas, that we might
    either clene spare, or els make them within oure owne Realme,
    for the which we paie inestimable treasure every yeare, or els
    exchange substanciall wares and necessaries for them." E. E. T.
    S., _England in the Reign of King Henry VIII._, Part II., p. 84:
    "Craftys men and makers of tryfullys are too many." Harrison in
    _Elizebethan England_ (Withington), p. 15: "O how many trades
    and handicrafts are now in England whereof the Commonwealth hath
    no need!" &c.

    [55] _e.g._ the prayer for merchants in Edward VI.'s _Book of
    Private Prayer_: "So occupy their merchandise without fraud,
    guile, or deceit."

    [56] _Coventry Leet Book_, Part III., pp. 679-680.

    [57] See Smith, _De Republica Anglorum_, Lib. I. c. 23: "These
    are they which in the old world got that honour to Englande ...
    because they be so manie in number, so obedient at the Lorde's
    call, so strong of bodie, so hard to endure paine, so courageous
    to adventure ... these were the good archers in times past, and
    the stable troops of footmen that affaide all France that would
    rather die all, than once abandon the knight or gentleman their
    captaine," and Harrison in _Elizabethan England_ (Withington),
    pp. 11-13.

    [58] E. E. T. S., _England in the Reign of King Henry VIII._,
    Starkey's Dialogue, Part II., p. 49: "To the handes are
    resemblyd both craftysmen and warryarys.... To the fete the
    plowmen and tyllarys of the ground, beycause they, by theyr
    labour, susteyne and support the rest of the body."

The manorial documents supply us with much information about the
landholders, and though we cannot say what proportion[59] they formed of
the population, we ought to be able to say with some certainty the
relative numbers of different classes among them. In the surveys and
rentals of the period persons holding land may usually be divided
roughly according to the nature of their tenure into three
groups--freeholders, customary tenants, and leaseholders. This
classification[60] of course is an elastic and tentative one, which
raises almost as many questions as it settles. The customary tenure of
one part of the country differs very much from the customary tenure of
another part. Customary tenants include copyholders and the vast
majority of tenants at will, who are holding customary land, and who are
often entered under the latter heading merely because the surveyor did
not trouble to set out their full description. But tenancy at will is
sometimes used to describe the condition, not only of the holder of
customary land, but also of men who are mere squatters on the waste or
on the demesne, and who are not protected in their holdings by any
manorial custom. Again, it is not always easy to draw a line between
copyhold and leasehold. On a manor where the custom is least favourable
to the tenants' interests the former shades into the latter. There is
not much difference, for example, between a lease for thirty-three years
and a copyhold for life. Again, the classification is one of tenures not
of tenants. In parts of England, it is true, it does divide individual
tenants with almost complete exhaustiveness and precision. In most
districts, for example, the free tenant usually holds freehold land and
nothing else, the customary tenant customary land and no other. But in
East Anglia there is no such simplicity of arrangement, no such
permanence of tenurial compartments. Many free tenants hold land which
is said to be bond or villein or customary land; many customary tenants
hold free land; many of both have added to their holdings by leasing
parts of the demesne or of the waste, and though in this respect the
Eastern counties are exceptional, it is in them often impossible to say
in what class any individual should be placed.

    [59] In this essay we are concerned only with the landholders,
    not with the wage workers. The relative number of persons
    holding land and of agricultural labourers without land is an
    important question on which it is not easy to get light. The
    surveys and rentals, a species of private census invaluable in
    giving information about the holders of property, tell us only
    the number of householders, and as the labourers employed in
    agriculture (like many of those employed in manufacturing
    industry) usually lived on the premises of their masters, they
    do not enable us to calculate the number of those living
    entirely by their labour. Still, since they include all tenants,
    whether holders of a cottage only or holders of land in
    addition, they enable us to say what proportion of heads of
    families held land, and what proportion had none, or none except
    a garden. This is of some importance. A tenant holding even as
    much as fifty acres can hardly have employed more than two or
    three agricultural labourers, and most tenants held less than
    this; so that in those places where the cottagers form a small
    proportion of the whole population we may conclude that a large
    proportion of the villagers were landholders (for the figures on
    this point see the tables given below).

    Unfortunately, we do not possess for the sixteenth century even
    such a loose estimate as was made by Gregory King at the end of
    the seventeenth. In 1688 he calculated that there were 16,560
    families of nobles and gentlemen, 60,000 families of yeomen,
    150,000 of farmers--presumably on lease--400,000 cottagers and
    poor, 364,000 labouring people and out-servants, obviously a
    very rough calculation, the most remarkable feature of which is
    the large number of yeomen. Poll Tax returns might give us the
    kind of information we require, since they included, or were
    meant to include, the whole population above a certain age,
    irrespective of whether they held land or not, and sometimes
    divided them roughly into classes. Thus on sixteen manors in the
    Norfolk Hundred of Thingoe the return to the Poll Tax of 1381
    showed a population of 870 male and female inhabitants over
    fifteen years of age, of whom 9 were set down as knights, 53 as
    farmers, 102 as artificers, 344 as "labourers" (laboratores),
    362 as "servants" (servientes). If, as is not improbable, the
    first four classes held land (the labourers being serfs working
    on the demesne), and the last consisted of farm and household
    employees who did not, this would put the landholding classes on
    these manors at a little more than half the total population
    over the age of fifteen. But this return was probably falsified
    to escape the tax; see Powell, _The East Anglian Rising_, App.
    I., and Oman, _The Great Revolt of 1381_. The figures published
    by Dr. Savine (_Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History_,
    vol. i., pp. 223-226) of the monastic population show that on
    the eve of the dissolution there were residing in 22 houses in
    Leicester, Warwick, and Sussex, 255 "hinds" and 76 "women
    servants," presumably employed on the demesne farm, which gives
    an average to each farm of about 11 hinds and about 3 women
    servants. In the Kentish Nunnery of St. Sexburge, Sheppey, the
    demesne farm employed a carter, a carpenter, two cowherds, a
    thatcher, a horse keeper, a malter, three shepherds. Best,
    describing his farming arrangements in Yorkshire in 1641
    (_Surtees Society_, vol. xxxiii.), states: "Wee kept constantly
    five plowes goinge, and milked fowerteene kine, wherefore wee
    had always fower men, two boyes to go with the oxeploughe, and
    two good lusty mayde-servants." These were in each case only the
    permanent staff, and their comparatively small numbers suggest
    that much work must have been done by men who worked on their
    own land and only occasionally helped on the demesne, _i.e._
    that the proportion of landholders to non-landholders was high.
    This conclusion agrees with the evidence of the surveys, which
    show that, especially in the East of England, many of both the
    free and the customary tenants' holdings were so small that they
    could hardly have made a living out of them without working as
    wage-labourers as well, and also with other indications as to
    the classes in rural society; _e.g._ out of 3780 persons
    mentioned in Worcestershire recognizances, 1591-1643, as either
    "labourers," "husbandmen," or "yeomen," 667 are entered as
    labourers, 1303 as husbandmen, 1810 as yeomen, the latter
    designation always, and the second usually, implying a holder of
    land (J.W. Willis Bund, _Kalendar of the Sessions Rolls_,
    1591-1643, Part II.) On the other hand, conditions varied
    enormously from place to place. Where there was a considerable
    body of small landowners the number of hired labourers tended to
    be small, the work of cultivation being done by the holder and
    his family; _e.g._ we read of a manor in the seventeenth century
    where thirteen freeholders farmed 580 acres with the aid of only
    ten men-servants and shepherds before enclosure, and six or
    seven afterwards (Joseph Lee, _A Vindication of a Regulated

    Some of the surveys supply us with extreme cases of the opposite
    kind, where the whole manor consists of two or three holdings or
    of even one great estate, and where almost the whole of the
    population must have been working for wages; these illustrate
    Harrison's complaint that in many places "The land of the parish
    is gotten up into a few men's hands; yea, sometimes, into the
    tenure of one or two or three, whereby the rest are compelled
    betimes to be hired servants unto the others, or else to beg
    their bread in misery from door to door" (Withington's edition
    of _Elizabethan England_, p. 21). A protest made to the Council
    from Norfolk in 1631 against its policy of trying to keep down
    prices by insisting that all corn should be sold in the open
    market points out that in "the woodland and pasture part" of the
    country there are "a great many handicraftsmen which live by
    dressinge and combinge of wool, carding, spinning and weaving,
    etc., and the Townes there commonly very great consisting of
    such like people and other artificers with many poor, and none
    of them all ordinarilye having any corn but from the market." As
    to the "champion part" of the county, the document divides the
    rural population into three classes: "1. Tilth masters that have
    corn of their own growing and sell it to others. 2. Labourers
    that buy it at an under-price of them unto whom they worke. 3.
    Poore people that are relieved by good orders in every towne"
    (_Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1907). But the case of Norfolk was exceptional, owing
    to its position as the chief seat of the textile industries.

    On the whole I am inclined to think that though the process of
    commutation which went on from 1350 onwards can hardly be
    explained except on the supposition that there was a
    considerable population of persons who held little land and were
    ready to eke out a living by working for wages, yet in the
    sixteenth century even the wage-working heads of families
    usually held a certain amount of land (even if only a garden) as
    well. This agrees with what we are told by contemporaries of the
    scarcity of wage-earners (see below, pp. 99-102). One may add,
    that in view of this, the fixing of maximum wages bears a
    somewhat different colour from that often given it. It was only
    practicable, one is inclined to say, because so few persons
    depended entirely on wages for a living. The social problem in
    the sixteenth century was not a problem of wages, but of rents
    and fines, prices and usury, matters which concern the
    small-holder or the small master craftsman as much as the
    wage-earner. The "working classes" were largely small property
    holders and small traders.

    [60] The summary statement given above is liable to be
    misleading. The reader will find a fuller discussion of the
    questions arising in connection with it below in Part II., chap.

Nevertheless, in spite of many marginal cases, we may perhaps find in
the surveyors' classification a map of the broader features of the
country through which we are to travel. Property holders, profit makers,
and wage-earners are to-day inextricably confused, but to the economist
who writes on our social problems 200 years hence it will not be
altogether useless to know that his predecessors did in practice draw
rough distinctions between these classes, and formed estimates of the
numbers of each. Much of the agrarian problem of the sixteenth century
turns on the question of the legal interest in their holdings enjoyed by
different classes of tenants, and though we cannot hope to escape the
pitfalls which await compilers of even the humblest census, a
preliminary survey of their distribution in a few counties may not be
altogether without value. The following figures are taken from the
surveys and rentals of 118 manors.[61] The majority were made in the
reign of Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Elizabeth. There are included,
however, three from the latter half of the fifteenth century and three
from the years between 1630 and 1650. Under the heading of customary
tenants are grouped copyholders and tenants at will, as well as those
who are called customary tenants in the rentals and surveys.

    [61] They include also tenants on the lands belonging to
    Cockersand Abbey, lying in many different parts of Lancashire,
    in 1503. For the sources from which this table is constructed
    and its defects, see Appendix II.

Scanty as they are, these figures show that there is the very greatest
variety in the distribution of different classes of tenants in different
parts of the country, and remind us that we must be careful how we
generalise from the conditions of one district to those of another. When
all localities are handled together, customary tenants form nearly
two-thirds of the whole landholding population, freeholders about
one-fifth, leaseholders between one-eighth and one-ninth. But in parts
of the Midlands and in parts of the West the leaseholders are much more
numerous than they are elsewhere; in Leicestershire they form over
one-fifth, and are almost as numerous as the freeholders, while if we
isolate the five Somersetshire and Devonshire manors which above are
combined with those of Wiltshire, we find that in them the leaseholders
exceed the freeholders by nearly two to one. Again, in Northumberland
the preponderance of customary tenants (where they form 91 per cent. of
the landholding population) over the two other classes is much more
marked than it is in Wiltshire, and in Wiltshire it is greater than it
is in the three Midland counties and in East Anglia. That customary
tenants should overwhelmingly preponderate in Northumberland is
intelligible enough. If the single great manor of Rochdale be removed,
they preponderate almost as much in Lancashire. In those two wild
counties mediæval conditions survive long after they have begun
elsewhere to disappear. There has been no growth of trade to bring
mobile leasehold tenures in its train, or to accumulate the wealth which
the peasants need to enfranchise their servile tenancies. But why should
they be so much more numerous in the southern counties than they are in
the twenty-two Midland villages, where one would suppose the conditions
to be much the same? Here, as often hereafter, we raise a question only
to leave it unanswered.


                          | Total. | Free-  |Customary|Lease-  |Uncertain.|
                          |        |holders.| Tenants.|holders.|          |
Northumberland,           |   474  |     26 |    436  |    12  |          |
  six manors              |        |        |         |        |          |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Lancashire,               |        |        |         |        |          |
  seven manors, and lands |        |        |         |        |          |
  belonging to Cockersand |        |        |         |        |          |
  Abbey                   |  1280  |   217  |    451  | 334[62]|    278   |
                Total     |  1754  |   243  |    887  |   346  |    278   |
                          |        |(13.8%) | (50.5%) |(19.04%)|   (15%)  |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Staffordshire,            |   356  |    44  |    272  |    23  |     17   |
  six manors              |        |        |         |        |          |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Leicestershire,           |   618  |   134  |    311  |   124  |     49   |
  nine manors             |        |        |         |        |          |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Northamptonshire,         |   531  |   100  |    355  |    66  |     10   |
  seven manors            |        |        |         |        |          |
                Total     |  1505  |   278  |    938  |   213  |     76   |
                          |        |(18.1%) | (62.3%) |(14.2%) |    (5%)  |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Norfolk,                  |1011[63]|   316  |    596  |    53  |     50   |
  twenty-five manors      |        |        |         |        |          |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Suffolk,                  | 353    |   176  |    146  |    25  |      6   |
  fourteen manors         |        |        |         |        |          |
                Total     |1364[63]|   492  |    742  |    78  |     56   |
                          |        |  (36%) | (54.3%) | (5.7%) |  (4.1%)  |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Wiltshire, Somerset,      |        |        |         |        |          |
  and Devonshire,         |        |        |         |        |          |
  thirty-two manors       |  1102  |   149  |    817  |   136  |          |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Hampshire,                |  259   |     8  |    251  |        |          |
  two manors              |        |        |         |        |          |
                          |        |        |         |        |          |
Ten other manors          |        |        |         |        |          |
  in the south of         |        |        |         |        |          |
  of England              |  219   |    43  |    158  |    12  |      6   |
                Total     | 1580   |   200  |   1226  |   148  |      6   |
                          |        |(12.6%) | (77.2%) | (9.3%) |  (0.3%)  |
          Grand total     |6203[63]|  1213  |   3793  |   785  |    416   |
                          |        |(19.5%) | (61.1%) |(12.6%) |  (6.7%)  |

    [62] The Lancashire figures are unduly weighted by those of the
    single large manor of Rochdale, where, in 1626, there were 612
    tenants. If this manor be omitted, there remain only 19
    leaseholders on the other Lancashire manors. Like
    Northumberland, Lancashire seems to be (as one would expect) a
    county of customary tenants.

    [63] There is an error of 4 in the Norfolk figures which I have
    been unable to trace and correct.

Yet there is one point emerging from these figures of which the
explanation can hardly be in doubt. It will be noticed that in Norfolk
and Suffolk combined the proportion of freeholders is about double what
it is in the country as a whole. In the former county they form more
than one-third of all the landholders, and in the latter they are almost
equal to the other two classes together. The number of peasant
proprietors in Suffolk is indeed quite exceptional, and is one of the
most remarkable facts revealed by the surveys, drawing an unmistakable
line between the land tenure of the east and that of the south-west and
the northern border. In Wiltshire and Northumberland it is not uncommon
to find villages where no freeholders at all are recorded. In Norfolk
and Lancashire it is the exception for them to be in a majority. But on
half the Suffolk manors summarised above they are the largest class
represented, and on some they stand to the other landholders in a
proportion of two, three, and even four to one. Is it fanciful, one may
ask, to turn from the sixteenth century to the dim beginnings of things,
to that first and greatest survey in which the land of England was
described so that not an ox or an acre escaped valuation, and in which,
before freehold tenure had been hammered into any precise legal shape,
Suffolk and Norfolk abounded more than all other counties in _liberi
homines_ and _sochemanni_? Though a longer time separates these
documents from Domesday[64] than separates them from us, perhaps it is
not altogether fanciful. Rural life, except for one great catastrophe,
has been very permanent. Unlike rural life to-day, it has been most
permanent in its lower ranges. How ever often manors may have changed
hands, there has been little to break the connection with the soil of
peasants whose title is good, no change at all comparable to the buying
out of small freeholders which took place in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. It may well be that the main outlines of the
social system which the Domesday commissioners found already laid in the
east of England crop out again after the lapse of between four and five
hundred years. It may well be that Suffolk is a county of small
freeholders in the days of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, because it was a
county of free men and socmen in the days of William I.

     [64] In Domesday Book 35 per cent. of all the tenants in Suffolk
    are _liberi homines_, 32 per cent. of all those in Norfolk are
    either _liberi homines_ or _sochemanni_. See Vinogradoff, _The
    Growth of the Manor_, note 24 to chap. iii. Book III. (p. 376);
    Maitland, _Domesday Book and Beyond_, p. 23; Seebohm, _The
    English Village Community_, map opposite p. 85. Domesday also
    gives a large number of _liberi homines_ and _sochemanni_ in
    Leicestershire. In the table given above the Leicestershire
    manors come after Suffolk and Norfolk as having the third
    largest proportion of freeholders, viz., 21.6 per cent. The
    return of freeholders supplied to the Government in 1561
    (Lansdowne MSS. V., 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15) appear to be
    considerably understated, probably because only the more
    substantial men were thought worth mentioning. They are as
    follows: Beds 282, Berks 166, Essex 880, Notts 189, Oxon. 198,
    Herts 363, York 787, Lincoln 444. The large number in Essex is

(b) _The Freeholders_

In spite of the constant complaints of the sixteenth century writers
that one effect of the agrarian changes was the decay of the yeomanry,
we shall not in the following pages be much concerned with the
freeholders. In our period the word "yeomen" was ceasing to be given the
narrow semi-technical sense which it possessed in Acts of Parliament and
legal documents, and was beginning to acquire the wide significance
which it possesses at the present day. To the lawyer the yeoman meant a
freeholder,[65] "a man who may dispend of his own free lande in yerely
revenue to the summe of 40s. sterling," and if the word yeoman was used
in its strict legal sense, the decay of the yeomanry ought to have meant
a decline in the numbers of freeholders, such as occurred on a very
large scale two and a half centuries later. But in this matter it seems
that popular usage was more elastic than legal definition, and, except
when the significance to be given it is defined by the context, the word
itself is not an accurate guide to the legal position of those to whom
it is applied. Writers on constitutional questions were careful to
observe the stricter usage, because the 40s. freeholder occupied a
position in the State, both as a voter and in serving on juries, from
which persons who, though much wealthier, were not freeholders, were
excluded. But the word yeoman was used, in speaking of agricultural
conditions, to describe any well-to-do farmer beneath the rank of
gentleman, even though he was not a freeholder. Thus Bacon[66] writes
quite vaguely of "the yeomanry or middle people, of a condition between
gentlemen and cottagers or peasants." Those who insisted that the
military power of England depended on the yeomanry can hardly have meant
to exclude well-to-do copyholders;[67] not only copyholders but even
villeins[68] by blood were sometimes described as yeomen; and, in fact,
even writers who, like Sir Thomas Smith,[69] use the word most clearly
in its strict legal sense on one page, allow themselves to slip into
using it in its wider and more popular sense on the next, when the
social importance of the class and not its legal status is uppermost in
their minds.

    [65] Smith, _De Republica Anglorum_, Lib I., c. 23.

    [66] _History of King Henry VII._ (Lumley), pp. 70-72. He makes
    his meaning quite clear by saying "tenancies for years, lives,
    and at will, whereupon much of the yeomanry lived, were turned
    into demesnes."

    [67] _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xvii. (Savine, "Bondmen
    under the Tudors").

    [68] _Ibid._

    [69] Smith, _De Republica Anglorum, loc. cit._

Nor is there much evidence that the freeholders suffered generally from
the agrarian changes of the sixteenth century. It is true that there are
some complaints from freeholders as to the loss of rights of pasture
through the encroachments of large farmers upon the commonable area,
some cases of litigation between them and enclosing landlords. But,
since their payments were fixed, there was no way of getting rid of them
except by buying them out, and though this method, which was so
important a cause of the decline of the small freeholder in the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, was occasionally employed to
round off a great estate, it seems to have played a comparatively
unimportant part in our period. There is no sign of any large diminution
in their numbers, such as would have been expected if the movement had
affected them in the same way as it did the customary tenants.

Indeed, if the accounts of contemporary writers may be trusted, it would
appear that their position was actually improved in the course of the
century. Though even among quite small men one occasionally finds a
tenant by knight[70] service, the vast majority of freeholders held in
free socage, owing fealty and suit of court, and paying a money rent,
sometimes combined with the old recognitions[71] of dependent tenure,
such as a gillyflower, a red rose, a pound of pepper, or a pound of
cummin. But while on some manors some outward form of feudalism, such as
homage and fealty, were still maintained, the decay of feudal relations
in the middle order of society had combined with economic causes to
better their condition, and the time was already not far distant when
those who held by the more honourable tenure of knight service would
insist on its being assimilated to the humbler and less onerous tenure
of the socager. The agricultural services of the socage tenants had long
disappeared. There are many instances of work on the demesne being done
in the sixteenth century by copyholders; but there is in our records
only one manor where it was exacted from the freeholders, and other
obligations were tending to go the way of the vanished predial labour.
Suits of court might be owing, and set down as owing in the surveys, but
one may doubt very much whether they were often enforced. Owing to the
fall in the value of money the fixed rent of the socager often yielded
only a small income to the lord of the manor, and in a good many cases
these payments had disappeared altogether before the end of the century,
or were so unimportant as to be hardly worth the trouble of collecting.
Surveyors for this reason were often little interested in them, and,
while recording the acreage held by the customary tenants and
leaseholders with scrupulous accuracy, did not always trouble to set out
in detail the holdings of a class which was financially so
insignificant, with the result that sometimes the freeholders shook
themselves loose from all payments and services altogether. Nor, had the
surveyors been as careful as the heads of the profession would have had
them be, would they always have been successful in dealing with this
very independent class. They may protest that "next[72] under the king"
the freeholders "may be said to be the lord's," but freehold lands have
a way of getting mislaid[73] to the despair of manorial officials, as
copyhold lands do to-day. When escheats occur, the holding cannot be
found; when rents are overdue, distraint is impossible, because the
bailiff does not know on whom to distrain. The suggestion that, as long
as rents are paid and services discharged, the lord has any interest in
the property of his freehold tenants, rouses instant resentment, and it
would seem that by our period, at any rate in the south of England, the
connection of the freeholders with the manor was a matter rather of form
and sentiment than of substance. In fact freehold has almost assumed its
modern shape.

    [70] MSS. of Earl of Leicester at Holkham. Billingford and
    Bintry MSS. No. 9 (Manor of Foxley, 1568).

    [71] _e.g. ibid._, Sparham MSS. No. 5, a freeholder pays "a
    pounde of cumming seede and a gillyflower" (_c._ 1590). R.O.
    Rentals and Surveys, Duchy of Lancaster, Portf. 6, No. 15: "nyne
    golden threads of vi.d." (1568). R.O. Land Rev. Misc. Bks., 182,
    fol. 1: a tenant "holds freely a cottage paying a red rose."

    [72] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_, Book I., pp. 4-5, to
    which the farmer answers: "Fie upon you. Will you bring us to be
    slaves? Neither lawe, nor reason, nor least of all religion, can
    allowe what you affirme."

    [73] _Op. cit._, Book III. Here is a bitter cry from the bailiff
    of a manor (Merton Documents, No. 4381). "Good sir let me
    entreat you yf the Colledge determyne to make survey this spring
    of the lands at Kibworth and Barkly to send Mr. Kay or me word a
    month or 3 weeks before your coming that we may have Beare and
    other necessaries, and I desire you to gather up all evidences
    that may be needful for the Lordshipp, for all testimony will be
    little enough, the Colledge land is so mingled with Mr. Pochin's
    freehold and others in our towne. There ys an awarde for
    keepinge in of the old wol (?) close in our fields for (from ?)
    Mr. Pochin's occupation, very needfulle for the ynhabitannts yf
    that awarde can be founde at the colledge where yt was loste."
    (For the remainder of this letter see Appendix I.) The Crown
    suffered especially, see Norden, _Speculum Britanniae_, Part I.,
    pp. xl.-xliii. of introduction (Camden Society): "In many of his
    Majesty's manors, free holders, their rents, services, tenures
    and landes ... become strange and unknown ... and when escheates
    happen the lande that should redound to his Majesty cannot be
    found." In the common entry in manorial surveys under the
    heading of freeholders of "certain lands" we should probably
    take the word "certain" to mean "uncertain."

In assuming its modern shape it has made this particular strand in rural
life harder to unravel. By escaping from the supervision of the manorial
authorities the freeholders escape at the same time from the economic
historian, and since the facts of their position go so often
unrecorded, we can speak of it with much less confidence than we can
about that of the leaseholders and customary tenants. Out of over one
hundred manors which we have examined, there are only twenty-two where
it is possible to ascertain with any accuracy the acreage held by the
freeholders, and, even on these, one too often meets cases in which the
extent of the holding is either unknown to the surveyor, or in which he
does not think it worth while to record it. Our results, such as they
are, are set out in the table on pages 32 and 33.[74]

    [74] For the sources and defects of this table see Appendix II.

Combining the information supplied by these figures with that obtained
from other sources, we can form a rough idea of the agrarian conditions
under which the freeholders live. They are, in the first place, a most
heterogeneous class, including on the one hand men of considerable
wealth and position, and on the other mere cottagers. If we could trust
the statistics given above we should have to say that the latter
enormously outnumbered the former. But our impression is that, though,
no doubt, a large number of freeholders were extremely small men, the
preponderance of the latter was not nearly so marked as is suggested by
the table. For one thing, it is difficult to reconcile it with the
accounts given us of the substantial yeomen by the writers of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For another thing, it is in dealing
with the larger freeholders that the inclination of surveyors to omit
any estimate of the extent of the land is strongest, because it is
naturally in their case that an estimate is most difficult to form.
Probably, therefore, if we could obtain for the freehold tenancies
figures even as full as we can for those of the customary tenants, we
should find that the proportion holding between twenty and forty acres
was considerably larger than these partial statistics would suggest.

In the second place, though we very rarely have direct information as to
the proportion of their holdings used as arable, meadow, and pasture,
such as is often supplied for other classes of tenants, we may say with
some confidence that it is extremely improbable that their agricultural
economy differed from that of the neighbouring copyholders,[75] and that
the backbone of their living, except when the plots were so small as
merely to supply them with garden produce, was therefore in almost every
case tillage. If in any way they departed from the practice of their
neighbours who were not freeholders, they did so probably only in being
somewhat more alert and enterprising, somewhat more ready to use their
security to break with custom and to introduce innovations. It is clear
that many of them were very far from being tied down to the stagnant
routine which some writers would have us believe is inseparable from all
small scale farming. Often, indeed, they had enough initiative to
realise the advantages of improved methods of cultivation, and on
several manors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the
freeholders agreed with each other to survey their lands and separate
them, so that they could be cultivated in severalty.[76] In many cases,
again, they extended their holdings, which were sometimes large and
sometimes mere patches of a few acres, by acting as farmers for the lord
of the manor and leasing[77] the demesne or part of it. Above all they
had nothing to fear from the agrarian changes which disturbed the
copyholder and the small tenant farmer, and a good deal to gain; for the
rise in prices increased their incomes; while, unlike many copyholders
and the tenant farmers, they could not be forced to pay more for their


                                           15 and under 20 Acres. |
                                      10 and under 15 Acres. |  . |
                                  5 and under 10 Acres. |  . |  . |
                          2-1/2 and under 5 Acres. |  . |  . |  . |
                           Under 2-1/2 Acres. |  . |  . |  . |  . |
                Houses or Cottages only. |  . |  . |  . |  . |  . |
           Total Number of Tenants. |  . |  . |  . |  . |  . |  . |
   ----------------------------+    |    |    |    |    |    |    +
   Norfolk, six manors         | 139|  25|  33|  12|  17|  9 | 10 |
   ----------------------------|    |    |    |    |    |    |    +
   Suffolk, four manors        |  85|  27|  18|  10|  11|  2 |    |
   ----------------------------|    |    |    |    |    |    |    +
   Staffordshire, three manors |  24|   7|   4|   2|   3|  1 |    |
   ----------------------------|    |    |    |    |    |    |    +
   Lancashire, three manors    |   9|    |   1|   3|   1|  1 |  1 |
   ----------------------------|    |    |    |    |    |    |    +
   Northants, four manors      | 116|  10|  11|   4|  13|  9 |  5 |
   ----------------------------|    |    |    |    |    |    |    +
   Wiltshire, one manor        |   6|    |    |    |  2 |    |    |
   ----------------------------|    |    |    |    |    |    |    +
   Leicestershire, one manor   |  11|   1|   2|   2|   1|    |  1 |
       Total, twenty-two manors| 390|  70|  69|  33|  48| 22 | 17 |

                                                   120 and over.| .|
                                          115 and under Acres.|.| .|
                                        110 and under Acres.|.|.| .|
                                      105 and under Acres.|.|.|.| .|
                                    100 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.| .|
                                   95 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                                 90 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                               85 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                             80 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                           75 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                         70 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                       65 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                     60 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                   55 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
                 50 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
               45 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
             40 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
           35 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
         30 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
       25 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
     20 and under Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.| .|
  --------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |  +
  Norfolk             |2| |2|1|2| | | | | | | | | | |1|2| | | | |23|
  --------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |  +
  Suffolk             |1|1|3| | | |2|1| | | | |1| | | | | | | | | 8|
  --------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |  +
  Staffordshire       |1|2| |1|1| | | | | | | | | | | |2| | | | |  |
  --------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |  +
  Lancashire          | | | | | | |1| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | 1|
  --------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |  +
  Northants           |1|1|4|2|3|2| | |3| | | | | | | | | | | |3|45|
  --------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |  +
  Wiltshire           | | | | |1| |1| |1| | | | | | | | | | | |1|  |
  --------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |  +
  Leicestershire      |1| | | | |1| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | 2|
         Total        |6|4|9|4|7|3|4|1|4| | | |1| | |1|4| | | |4|79|

    [75] See below, pp. 105?-115.

    [76] See _e.g. Northumberland County History_, vol. ix. p. 327,
    below, pp. 157-?158, and _Calendar of Proceedings in Chancery,
    temp. Eliz._ B, b. 1, 58, Ll. 10, 62.

    [77] Smith, _De Republica Anglorum_, Lib. I., c. 23: "These be
    for the most part fermors unto gentlemen." _Elizabethan England_
    (Withington), p. 120. "Yeomen" frequently occur in the sixteenth
    and seventeenth centuries as lessees of the Merton Manors.

The apparent immunity of the freeholders in the face of movements which
overwhelmed other groups of tenants suggests indeed that economic
causes alone, which all classes, whatever the legal nature of their
tenure, would have experienced equally, are not sufficient to explain
the sufferings of the latter. The situation in our period is not like
that which arose in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when
widening markets throw all the advantages of increasing returns on the
side of the large wheat farmer, and the yeomanry sell their holdings to
try their fortunes in the rapidly growing towns. The struggle is not so
much between the large scale and small scale production of corn as
between corn growing and grazing. The small corn grower, provided he has
security of tenure, can still make a very good living.[78] From the
point of view of the economist all the smaller men, whether freeholders,
leaseholders, or customary tenants, are in much the same position. The
decisive factor, which causes the fortunes of the former class to wax,
and those of the two latter to wane, is to be found in the realm not of
economics but of law. Leaseholders and many copyholders suffer, because
they can be rack-rented and evicted. The freeholders stand firm, because
their legal position is unassailable. Here, as so often elsewhere, not
only in the investigation of the past but in the analysis of the
present, the trail followed by the economist leads across a country
whose boundaries and contours and lines of least resistance have been
fashioned by the labour of lawyers. It is his wisdom to recognise that
economic forces operate in a framework created by legal institutions,
that to neglect those institutions in examining the causes of economic
development or the distribution of wealth is as though a geographer
should discuss the river system of a country without reference to its
mountain ranges, and that, if lawyers have wrought in ignorance of
economics, he must nevertheless consult their own art in order to
unravel the effect of their operations.

    [78] See below, pp. 105?-115.

From the larger standpoint of social and political organisation the
freeholders constituted an element in society the very nature of which
we can hardly understand, because our modern life offers no analogy to
it. We tend to draw our social lines not between small properties and
great, but between those who have property and those who have not, and
to think of the men who stand between the very rich and the very poor,
the men of whom our ancestors boasted as the "Commons of England," as
men who do not own but are employed by owners. Independence and the
virtues which go with independence, energy, a sober, self-respecting
forethought, public spirit, are apt to become identified in our minds
with the possession of wealth, because so few except the comparatively
wealthy have the means of climbing beyond the reach of the stream of
impersonal economic pressure which whirls the mass of mankind this way
and that with the violence of an irresponsible Titan.

The sixteenth century was poor with a poverty which no industrial
community can understand, the poverty of the colonist and the peasant.
It lived in terror of floods and bad harvests and disease, of plague,
pestilence, and famine. If one may judge by its churchyards, it had an
infantile mortality which might make even Lancashire blush under its
soot. Yet (and we do not forget the black page of the early Poor Law) it
was possible for men who by our standards would be called poor to
exercise that control over the conditions of their lives which is of the
essence of freedom, and which in most modern communities is too
expensive a privilege to be enjoyed by more than comparatively few. Such
men were the freeholders. They formed a class which had security and
independence without having affluence, which spanned the gulf between
the wealthy and the humble with a chain of estates ranging from the few
acres of the peasant proprietor to the many manors of the noble, which
was not too poor to be below public duties nor too rich to be above
them, which could feel that "it is a quietness to a man's mind to dwell
upon his owne and to know his heire certaine."[79] Look for a moment at
the jolly picture drawn by Fuller,[80] who wrote at the very end of the
period with which we are dealing:--

"The good yeoman is a gentleman in ore whom the next age may see
refined, and is the most capable of genteel impressions when the Prince
shall stamp.... France and Italy are like a die which has no points
between cinque and ace, nobility and peasantry.... Indeed, Germany hath
her boors like our yeomen; but by a tyrannical appropriation of nobility
to some few ancient families their yeomen are excluded from ever rising
higher to clarify their blood. In England the temple of honour is closed
to none who have passed through the temple of virtue.

"He wears russet clothes, but makes golden payment, having tin in his
buttons and silver in his pocket. He is the surest landmark whence
foreigners may take aim of the ancient English customs, the gentry more
floating after foreign fashions.

"In his house he is bountiful both to strangers and poor people. Some
hold, when hospitality died, she gave her last groan among the yeomen of
Kent. And still at our yeoman's table you shall have as many joints as
dishes; no meat disguised with strange sauce; no straggling joint of a
sheep in the midst of a pasture of grass, but solid, substantial food.

"He hath a great stroke in the making of a knight of the Shire. Good
reason, for he makes a whole line in the subsidy book, where, whatsoever
he is rated, he payeth without regret, not caring how much his purse be
let blood, so it be done by the advice of the physicians of the state.

"In his own country he is a main man on juries; where, if the Judge open
his eyes on a matter of law, he needs not to be led by the nose in
matters of fact.... Otherwise (though not mutinous in a jury) he cares
not whom he displeaseth, so he pleaseth his own conscience.

"In a time of famine he is the Joseph of the country and keeps the poor
from starving ... and to his poor neighbour abateth somewhat of the high
price of the market. The neighbour gentry court him for his
acquaintance, which either he modestly waveth, or thankfully accepteth,
but in no way greedily desireth.

"In war, though he serveth on foot, he is ever mounted on a high spirit,
as being a slave to none, and subject only to his own Prince. Innocence
and independence make a brave spirit, whereas otherwise one must ask his
leave to be valiant on whom one depends. Therefore if a state run up all
to noblemen and gentlemen, so that the husbandmen be only mere
labourers or cottagers (which one calls but 'housed beggars'), it may
have good cavalry, but never good bands of foot.... Wherefore to make
good infantry it requireth men bred not in a servile or indigent
fashion, but in some free and plentiful manner."

    [79] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_.

    [80] Fuller, _Holy and Profane State_. The concluding paragraph
    is obviously copied from Bacon's _History of King Henry VII._

The ancestors of the yeomanry had suffered much in the anarchy of the
fifteenth century, when the violent ejection of freeholders seems to
have become almost as common[81] as it had been in the evil days before
the reforms of Henry II. But the Tudor monarchy had put an end to that
nightmare of lawlessness, and in any society governed by law this body
of small property-owners was bound to be a powerful element, even though
they had no occasion for making any concerted use of their power, as
during the greater part of our period they had not. One must not, of
course, exaggerate their importance, or forget that, though a special
dignity was attached by opinion to all freeholders, they included in
reality men of various economic positions. Many of them must have been
quite poor. In the eastern counties, where they are most numerous, they
frequently own not more than three or four acres apiece, and can hardly,
one would suppose, have supported themselves without working for wages
in addition to tilling their holdings. Nevertheless the part which they
played in the routine of rural life was an indispensable one, and the
very diversity of the elements which they included made them a link
between different ends of the social scale. It was from the more
substantial among them that the government was most anxious to recruit
the military forces. The obligation of serving the State as voters and
upon juries fell upon the 40s. freeholders. The security of their tenure
caused them to be the natural leaders of the peasantry in resisting
pressure from above. No efforts of Elizabeth's Government could induce
the yeomanry of the North[82] Riding to abandon the old religion; and
when tenants and lords fall out over common rights and enclosures, it is
often the freeholders--though on occasion they enclose themselves--who
speak[83] for the less independent classes and take the initiative in
instituting legal proceedings. The upward movement which went on among
this class in many parts of England meant a change in the distribution
of material wealth which necessarily involved a corresponding change in
the balance of social forces and in the control of political power. To
Harrington,[84] who sought in the seventeenth century to find in
economic causes an explanation of the revolution through which the
country had passed, it seemed that the seeds of the civil war had been
sown by the Tudor kings themselves in the care which they showed for the
small proprietor. In destroying feudalism to establish the monarchy,
they had raised a power which was more dangerous to the monarchy than
feudalism itself. They had snapped the bond between landlord and tenant
by the Statute of Retainers. They had given the tenant security by
forbidding depopulation. Most important of all, by encouraging
alienation they had caused an enormous transference of property from the
upper to the middle and lower middle classes. "The lands in possession
of the Nobility and Clergy of England till Henry VII. cannot be
estimated to have over-balanced those held by the People less than four
to one. Whereas, in our days, the Clergy being destroyed, the Lands in
possession of the People over-balance those held by the Nobility at
least nine in ten." But property is political power individualised and
made visible. The destruction of the monarchy was only the political
expression of an economic change which had begun in the reign of Henry
VII. "He suffered the balance to fall into the power of the people....
But the balance being in the People, the Commonwealth (though they do
not see it) is already in the nature of them." We need not accept
Harrington's view in its entirety in order to appreciate the
significance of the change which he describes. Certainly the yeomanry
were growing in political power, and were strong in that spirit of
self-respect and pride in their order, which, when, as too often, it is
confined to a single class, means social oppression, but which, when
widely diffused throughout society, is the mother of public spirit and
political virtue. The long discipline of tiresome public duties which
they had borne throughout the Middle Ages had formed them into a body
which was alive to political issues and conscious of political
influence, and which, when participation in public affairs became not
only a duty but a right, would use their power to press urgent petitions
from one county after another upon the King and upon the Parliament, or
by riding up from Buckinghamshire to protect Hampden at Westminster in
1642, or by fighting behind Cromwell in Cambridgeshire, or by fighting
for the King in the West. Compared with the bulk of the population, they
were a privileged class and stood by their own; it was they who restored
the franchise to the 40s. freeholders in 1654 and refused to extend it
to the copyholders. But the tenure of much of the land of England by men
with whom, however poor, no landlord or employer could interfere, set a
limit to the power of wealth, and made rural society at once more alert
and more stubborn, a field where great ideas could grow and great causes
find adherents. Political and religious idealism flourish bravely in a
stony soil. What makes them droop is not poverty, but the withering
shadow cast by complete economic dependence.

    [81] Paston Letters, I. 12, II. 248. Plummer's edition of
    Fortescue, _On the Governance of England_, Intro., p. 21.

    [82] Atkinson's _Quarter Sessions of the North Riding of
    Yorkshire_, lists of recusants.

    [83] _e.g. Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. iii. (quoted
    below, pp. 251-253), and Selden Society, _Select Cases in
    the Court of Star Chamber_, vol. ii., _Inhabitants of Thingden_
    v. _Mulsho_; also Holkham MSS., Burnham Documents, Bdle. 5, No.
    94 (quoted below, p. 245 _n_.).

    [84] Harrington's works, 1700 edition, p. 69 (_Oceana_), pp.
    388-?389 (_The Art of Law-giving_). See also Firth, _The House
    of Lords during the Civil War_, pp. 28-?32.

From such degrading subservience the freeholders, "slaves to none," were
secure. As it was, they often left substantial fortunes to their
children, and by the middle of the sixteenth century were already
following the examples of their social superiors in entailing[85] their
lands. One can quite understand therefore that there is nothing
inconsistent between the glowing accounts of their prosperity at the end
of the century given by Harrison and his lamentation over the decline
of the rural population, or between the well-attested sufferings of the
small cultivator in the sixteenth century and his equally well-attested
importance in the seventeenth and early eighteenth. The explanation is
that the freeholders, though most important politically, did not form
the larger proportion of those substantial yeomen whose decay was
lamented. The day of their ruin was to come. But for the next two
centuries they were safe enough, and, if anything, gained on the class
immediately above them, whose lands they bought or leased, into whose
families they married, and with whose children their own competed in the
learned professions, laying, as the historian of Suffolk[86] said, "such
strong, sure and deep foundations that from thence in time are derived
many noble and worthy families." Nothing in the life of the period
caused more pride than the prosperity of this solid body of small
property-owners, and the contrast which it offered to the downtrodden
peasantry of the Continent. No loss has been sustained by the modern
world greater than their disappearance.

    [85] It is stated by good authorities that between 12 Ed. IV.,
    when the collusive action known as a common recovery used to
    evade the Statute _de donis conditionalibus_ was confirmed by a
    judicial decision (Taltarum's case), and the introduction into
    settlements of "Trustees to preserve contingent remainders" by
    Sir Orlando Bridgeman and Sir Geoffrey Palmer under the
    Commonwealth, the tieing up of lands in one family was
    impossible (_e.g._ Johnson, _The Disappearance of the Small
    Landowner_, pp. 11-?13). But in 1538 Starkey's Dialogue speaks
    strongly of the practice of entailing lands. "This faute sprange
    of a certayn arrogancy, whereby, wyth the entaylyng of landys,
    every Jake would be a gentylman, and every gentylman a knight or
    a lord" (E. E. T. S., _England in the Reign of Henry VIII._,
    Part II. pp. 112?-113, and pp. 195?-196.)

    [86] Reyce, _Breviary of Suffolk_, p. 58, quoted _Victoria
    County History, Suffolk_.

(c) _The Customary Tenants_

Important, however, as the freeholders were from a social and political
standpoint, they were in most parts of England far inferior in point of
numbers to those described as "customary tenants." It is with the latter
class that we are mainly concerned, and leaving the leaseholders on one
side for examination later,[87] we may summarise shortly certain
features in their position. The number of customary tenants varied from
one manor to another, according to the extent to which in different
districts farmers holding by lease had been substituted for them, and on
some by the middle of the sixteenth century there were none at all. But
there are many indications that, down to the end of that century at any
rate, and probably much longer, they formed over the great part of
England the bulk of the landholding population. Of the revenues of 74
manors held by monastic[88] houses in 1535, £116 came from free, and
£1310 from customary, tenants. On 81 of the 118 manors analysed above
they are the most numerous class. When all the different districts are
grouped together, they amount to about 61 per cent. of all landholders,
and even this figure does not give an adequate idea of their numerical
importance. As we have seen, Norfolk and Suffolk are quite peculiar in
the multitude of freeholders they embrace, while the large number of
leaseholders on one extensive Lancashire manor unduly weights the
figures for that county. On the Midland manors 62 per cent., in
Wiltshire, Devonshire, and Somerset 77 per cent., in Northumberland 91
per cent. of all those holding land are customary tenants. No doubt the
area of land held under lease was growing in the course of the
sixteenth, and still more in the course of the seventeenth, century, and
its growth is an extremely important movement, of which something will
be said later. But it seems true to say that, down to the end of the
sixteenth century, both in numbers and payments, though not in prestige
and influence, the customary tenants, as distinct from the freeholders
and leaseholders, were by far the most important class in the
agricultural life of the country.

    [87] See below, pp. 200?-213 and 283?-287.

    [88] _Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History_, vol. i.
    Savine, _English Monasteries on the Eve of the Dissolution_, pp.

Among the customary tenants, however, there are certain important
subdivisions. There are in the first place, differences of legal status.
Though villeinage by blood had been disappearing rapidly for several
generations, partly through manumission on payment of a fine to the
lord, partly through the absorption of migrating villeins into the
growing industries of the towns, a certain number of villeins by blood
lingered on into the sixteenth century. Dr. Savine[89] has estimated
that there were at least as many as 500 villein families in 1485, and as
many as 250 in the reign of Elizabeth; and the fact that they occur
occasionally on our Norfolk[90] manors, and rather more often on those
in Wiltshire[91] and Somersetshire, suggests that his list could be
considerably extended on further investigation. Even in 1561 a borough
surrenders an apprentice on the ground that he is a runaway villein.[92]
Even in 1568 it is worth while in leasing[93] a manor to a farmer for
the lord to reserve to himself the villeins upon it, together with other
forms of property like quarries and advowsons.

    [89] _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xvii.

    [90] R.O. _Misc. Bks. Land Rev._, vol. 220, fol. 220, Brisingham
    (Norfolk) 1589: "Alice Bartram, the widow of W. Bartram, the
    lord's villain by blood, took by surrender of said William for
    term of life on 4 Feby., remainder to Roger Bartram, lord's
    villain by blood." Holkham MSS., Titleshall Documents, Terrier
    of Godwick, 1508: "Also five roods of the Prior in the hands of
    Thomas Frend, native."

    [91] Among the 742 customary tenants on the manors belonging to
    the Earl of Pembroke surveyed in 1568 there appears to be 7
    _nativi domini, i.e._ villeins by blood, viz., 1 at Washerne
    (Wilts), 2 at Stooke Trister and Cucklington (Somerset), 4 at
    Chedeseye (Somerset), of whom one has been manumitted.

    [92] _Selected Records of Norwich_ (Tingey), vol. vi. p. 180:
    "Robert Ryngwoode brought in a certain indenture wherein Lewis
    Lowth was [bound] to hym to serve as a prentys for seven years.
    And Mr. John Holdiche cam before the Mayor and other Justices
    and declared that the said Lewis is a bondman to my lord of
    Norfolk's Grace, and further that he was brought up in husbandry
    untyl he was xx year old. Whereupon he was discharged of his

    Note the way in which Statute law is used to compel the
    agricultural labour which the vanishing jurisdiction of lord
    over serf is ceasing to be able to enforce.

    [93] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Manors of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_, Manor of Chilmerke: "Johannes Reve tenet per
    indenturam totum illud capitale messuagium excepta et omnino
    reservata omnia wardas, maritagia fines ... nativos," &c.

One cannot, therefore, take the almost sanctimonious abhorrence of
bondage expressed by the writers of the period quite at its face value.
On the other hand, though villeinage by blood was still worth recording,
since it offered an impecunious lord an opportunity for arbitrary
taxation, and still sufficiently irksome for the rebels under Ket[94]
(influenced perhaps by some dim memory of the German peasants'
programme) to set its abolition among their demands, its practical
importance was slight, and it was quite compatible with a good deal of
prosperity on the part of those who were legally bondmen. How completely
out of date it was by the middle of the sixteenth century is best shown
by some of the cases in which attempts were made to enforce it. When the
Earl of Bath[95] seizes £400 from a family on the ground that the
members are his villeins, and is pursued by them for nine years from
one court to another, or when a lord[96] of a manor is compelled by a
royal commission appointed for the purpose of investigating the matter,
to repay the value of the beast taken from a man who is proved by the
court rolls to be his villein, and the latter, having received it back,
declines to stop proceedings unless he be paid heavy compensation in
addition, one must see rather a proof of the practical disappearance of
villeinage than of its survival. Its occasional enforcement is clearly
regarded as something outrageous; it is a freak of arbitrary despotism,
which has hardly more historical significance than the seizure of the
Derby winner as a copyhold heriot would have at the present day. Public
opinion, even the opinion of those engaged in estate management,
condemns such attempts unreservedly, and when they come to the ears of
the authorities they strain the law on the side of the bondmen.

    [94] Russell, _Ket's Rebellion in Norfolk_, p. 49: "We pray that
    all bond men may be made free, for God made all free with his
    precious blood shedding." The German peasants in the articles
    drawn up at Memmingen in 1525 demanded the abolition of serfdom
    "since Christ hath purchased and redeemed us all with his
    precious blood." The Christian appeal is a common one; see

    [95] Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Requests_,
    John Burde and another v. The Earl of Bath. The quarrel dragged
    on from 1535 to 1544, when the plaintiff's goods were restored.
    (In 1551, however, when all bad landlords were raising their
    heads, his house and cattle were again seized.)

    [96] _Ibid._, Netheway _v._ George, 1534. For other cases see
    Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Star Chamber_.
    Carter _v._ Abbot of Malmesbury (vol. i., 1500), and Selby _v._
    Middlemore (vol. ii., 1516-1522). Mr. Leadam's remarks (int.
    cxxix.) show that a man who was legally a villein might be
    economically very prosperous: "Thomas Carter ... was charged 40
    marks for his enfranchisement. He kept a man-servant. He rode on
    horseback. He gave a feast to celebrate his freedom. He was even
    on friendly terms with the gentlemen of the Abbot's household."
    See also Savine, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xvii. Lord
    Stafford actually tried to seize the Mayor of Bristol and his
    brother as bondmen!

This change from servile to free labour, begun some two centuries
before, and virtually completed in the reign of Elizabeth, is a high
landmark in the development both of economic and political society. It
is a long step towards modern industrialism on the one hand and the
modern all-inclusive state on the other. By sapping the organisation of
society on the basis of tenure, and thus making room for the more
elastic relationships of the wage-contract, it prepared the way for new
methods of production and for the growth of new centres of economic
power. The refusal of the courts to allow that the lord of a manor had,
_qua_ lord, a theoretical right to dispose of the persons and chattels
of his unfree tenants, meant the final triumph of the common law in
regions with which for four centuries after the Norman Conquest it had
not dared to interfere. Henceforward, while the German peasant is driven
afield to gather snails and wild strawberries for his lord, is plundered
and harried and tortured without hope of redress, his English brother
is a member of a society in which there is, nominally at least, one law
for all men. His liberty may be more in shadow than in substance, yet
the shadow is itself an earnest of greater things. To us who know the
misery of many of the poorer classes in the sixteenth century the boast
that "if any slaves or bondmen come here from other realms, so soon as
they set foot on land they became so free of condition as their
masters," may read like a bitter mockery. But it is something that the
boast should be made, and when England is confronted with the greatest
moral issue of the modern world, that boast will stand her in good
stead.[97] She owes some acknowledgment to the nameless serfs who fled
from farm and homestead, till villeinage, in spite of the law, bled
gradually to death.

    [97] Hargreave's speech in Somersett's case (1771-1772, Howell,
    _State Trials_, xx.) is based largely on precedents drawn from
    villeinage: "Though villeinage itself is obsolete ... those
    rules, by which the claim of it was regulated, are not yet
    buried in oblivion.... By a strange progress of human affairs
    the memory of slavery expired now furnishes one of the chief
    obstacles to slavery attempted to be revived.... The law of
    England, then, excludes every slavery not commencing in England,
    every slavery, though commencing there, not being ancient and
    immemorial. Villeinage is the only slavery which can possibly
    answer to such a description, and that has long expired by the
    death or emancipation of all those who were once the objects of
    it. Consequently there is now no slavery which can be lawful in

Having said so much we must hasten to guard ourselves, by adding that
the final disappearance of serfdom in this country neither involved any
radical conversion of opinion, nor prevented the classes who depended
solely on their labour from being, on occasion, cruelly oppressed. It
would be a mistake to see in the attitude of the governing classes
towards villeinage a symptom of humanitarian feeling for the rights of a
helpless class, such as prompted the emancipation movement of the last
century. How little humanitarianism influenced economic policy in
relation to those who were too powerless to be dangerous, is shown by
the sanguinary statutes relating to the destitute, and in particular by
the extraordinary legalisation of slavery in the Act[98] of 1547, by
which a confirmed vagrant might, when captured, be made a bondman for
life. Nor must we think of the disappearance of legalised serfdom as
effecting a great improvement in the lot of the ordinary wage-worker.
Those who benefited by it were not so much the workers for wages, as the
landholding peasants. The wage-labourer, who was tied to his parish by
the Statute of Artificers almost as completely as the serf had been by
the custom of the manor, can hardly have seen much difference between
the restrictions on his movement imposed by the Justices of the Peace
and those laid on him by the manorial authorities, except indeed that
the latter, being limited to the area of a single village, had been more
easy to evade.

    [98] 1 Ed. VI., c. 3. Possibly, however, the penalty of bondage
    was regarded as a step towards greater leniency, as the
    punishment of "incorrigible rogues" had hitherto been death.

Even if we confine our attention to the landholding peasants, to whom
the advantage (for they were quick to seize it) was certainly real
enough, we may doubt whether they did not lose almost as much by the
intrusion into agriculture of competitive commercial forces as they
gained by the final disappearance of a claim which had always been held
in check by the custom of the manor, and which, since the ravages of the
Great Plague, had been steadily circumscribed by commutation. The truth
is that the sharp antithesis drawn by modern commercial societies
between serfs and the free labourers on whose slowly straightening backs
our civilisation is uneasily poised, and emphasised as though it marked
a line between hopeless oppression and unqualified liberty, requires to
be supplemented by categories derived from a wider and more tragic range
of experience than was open to our forefathers. There are more ways of
living "at the will of a lord" than were known to Glanvill and Bracton,
and the utility of the contrast in the sphere of legal analysis does not
save it from being but a thin abstraction of the countless forms of
tyranny which spring from the world-old power of one human being to use
another as his tool. That dependence on the uncontrolled caprice of a
master whom one hates to obey and dare not abandon, which, by whatever
draperies it may be veiled, is still the bitter core of serfdom,[99] is
compatible with the most diverse legal arrangements; with wage labour
as with forced services, with tenure by a competitive money rent as well
as with tenure by personal obligations, with freedom of contract as well
as with inherited status, with protection by the national courts as well
as with its absence.

    [99] More's remarks on the lot of the wage-workers of his day
    have a refreshing note of reality. The Utopians are "not to be
    wearied from earlie in the morning to late in the evenninge with
    continuall worke, like labouringe and toylinge beastes. For this
    is worse then the miserable and wretched condition of bondemen.
    Whiche nevertheless is almooste everywhere the lyfe of workemen
    and artificers, saving in Utopia" (More, _Utopia_, Pitt Press
    Edition, pp. 79?-80).

When we turn over the pages in which the writers of the sixteenth
century declare that bondage is contrary to "the Christian religion
which maketh us all in Christ breathren, and in respect of God and
Christ _conservos_,"[100] and congratulate themselves on its
disappearance, we must not doubt their sincerity, but we may envy their
inexperience. We must remember that a condemnation of villeinage was
quite compatible with a policy of great severity towards the
wage-labourer, and was in fact not unconnected with it, since the latter
had almost everywhere stepped into places and functions formally held by
the bondman. Villeinage disappeared in England earlier than on the
continent of Europe, not for the ethical reasons given by Fitzherbert
and Smith and Norden, but because the growth of a commercial
organisation of agriculture had made its maintenance both useless and
impossible. The intellectual conversion did little more than follow on
the economic change to make a virtue of necessity. The personal
rightlessness of the villein and the hateful incidents of villeinage,
such as chevage, merchet, and leyrwite, had had their utility in the
fact that they kept him at the disposal of the manorial authorities as
an instrument of agriculture. With the substitution of hired labour for
the cultivation of the demesne by the services of bond tenants, their
maintenance lost its attractiveness. No employer wants to retain a
permanent staff, if there are "hands" whom he can take on and put off at
pleasure. Villeinage ceases but the Poor Laws begin.

    [100] Smith, _De Republica Anglorum_, Lib. III., ch. 8. See also
    Fitzherbert, _Surveying_ (1539): "How be it, in some places the
    bondmen continue as yet, the which me seemeth is the greatest
    inconvenience that now is suffered by the law." Norden, _The
    Surveyor's Dialogue_ (1608): "Which kinde of service and
    slavery, thanks be to God, is in most places of this Realme
    quite abolished and worne out of memory.... Truly I think it is
    a Christian parte so to do [_i.e._ manumit bondsmen], for seeing
    we be nowe all as the children of one father, the servants of
    one God, and the subjects of one king, it is very uncharitable
    to retain our brethren in bondage, sith, when we were all bond,
    Christ did make us free."

Much more important than this difference of legal status are
differences in the tenure by which customary tenants hold their lands.
Under the name of customary tenants are grouped together all holders of
lands which pass by surrender and admission in the court of the manor,
and which are subject to the custom of the manor as evidenced by the
records of the court. But not all these lands are held by exactly the
same title. Some are held by copy of court roll according to the custom
of the manor, on the terms set out on a copy of the entry of admission.
Others are held without a documentary title, and are often said to be
occupied at the will of the lord, or at the pleasure of the lord, or by
grant or permission of the lord or of the court, their essential feature
being that the tenant does not possess any instrument recording the
transaction, but has, if necessary, to appeal to the records of the
court or even to its mere memory.

One must hasten to add, however, that these classes are not mutually
exclusive. A copyholder is a tenant at will, though qualified by the
addition of the words "by copy of court roll according to the custom of
the manor." It not seldom happens that in rentals and surveys he is
simply described as a tenant at will, and that the fact that he has a
copy is not recorded. A tenant at will is usually (though not always) a
customary tenant, and, when he is, he can appeal to the custom with as
good a right as a copyholder, though of course the fact that his title
is not in his own keeping may prejudice him if the manorial authorities
want to get rid of him. "All[101] copyhold land," it was said, "is
commonly customary, but all customary land is not copyhold," and one may
accept the statement with the reservation that "commonly" must not be
taken to mean "always," for it is quite usual in parts of England for
land which by no stretch of imagination can be called customary land,
for example, part of the lord's demesne, to be let by copy of court
roll. The fact that "tenant at will" was sometimes used as a compendious
phrase for "copyholder," and that both are sometimes described simply as
"customary tenants" without further definitions, makes it impossible to
offer any accurate estimate of the relative number of those holding by
copy and those holding at will. It may, however, be of interest to give
an analysis of the entries as they appear in a group of manorial
documents. It is as follows[102]:--


    |                              |Total| "Copy-  |"Customary|"Tenants  |
    |                              |     |holders."| Tenants."| at Will."|
    |                              |     |         |          |          |
    |Northumberland                | 436 |   362   |     45   |     29   |
    |Lancashire                    | 451 |   295   |    156   |    ...   |
    |Staffordshire                 | 272 |   170   |    ...   |    102   |
    |Leicestershire                | 311 |   157   |    ...   |    154   |
    |Northamptonshire              | 355 |   253   |    931   |     91   |
    |Norfolk                       | 596 |   536   |     45   |     15   |
    |Suffolk                       | 146 |    53   |     82   |     11   |
    |Wilts and Somerset            | 817 |   786   |    ...   |     31   |
    |Hampshire                     | 251 |   251   |    ...   |    ...   |
    |Ten other manors in the south |     |         |          |          |
    |  of England                  | 158 |    87   |     45   |     26   |
    |     Total                    |3793 |  2950   |    466   |    377   |

    [101] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_. He continues: "For in
    some places of this Realme Tennants have no copies at all of
    their lands or tenements, or anything to show for that they
    hold, but there is an entry made in the Court Books, and that is
    their evidence."

    [102] See Appendix II.

These figures, one must repeat, are merely a summary of the entries in
surveys and rentals. Probably they underestimate the number of
copyholders, as we know that copyholders were sometimes entered as
tenants at will or as customary tenants for the sake of brevity, while
it is not probable that tenants at will who had not got copies were
often written down as copyholders. One may suspect that this, rather
than any difference of custom, is the explanation of the relatively
small number of those who are returned as copyholders in Lancashire,
Staffordshire, Leicestershire, and Suffolk. Still, these figures do show
the enormous preponderance of copyholders among the customary tenants,
and show it all the more certainly if the number of copyholders is to be
taken, as is probable, as the minimum. And this agrees with what we know
from the incidental references of the writers of the time. Of 1000
tenants on the great ecclesiastical manor of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire
"the most part" were said by Archbishop[103] Sandys in 1582 to be
copyholders. Harrison[104] in 1587 spoke of copyholders as those "by
whom the greatest part of the realm doth stand and is maintained." At
the beginning of the seventeenth century Coke[105] could say that the
third part of England consisted of copyhold. Copyholders, it is true,
are far from being all of one type; for the essence of their tenure is
that it depends on the custom of the manor which varies from place to
place, and when we come to consider how far they have security against
eviction these differences are of crucial importance. Still, in spite of
the varieties of copyhold tenure, it is useful to know that to the bulk
of the population in the sixteenth century landholding meant holding by
copy of court roll according to the custom of the manor. No account of
the agrarian changes can stand for a moment which does not give full
weight to the fact that, in most parts of England, the copyholders
greatly outnumber all other classes of tenants.

    [103] Archbishop Sandys to Queen Elizabeth, Saturday 24 November
    to 4 December, 1582 (quoted by E. Arber, _The Story of the
    Pilgrim Fathers_, pp. 61-?64).

    [104] Harrison in _Elizabethan England_ (Withington), p. 120.

    [105] Quoted by Nasse, _The Land Community of the Middle Ages_
    (Ouvry's trans.). I have not been able to trace the reference.

The numerical predominance of the customary tenants and among those of
the copyholders, together with the disastrous effects upon them which
are ascribed by most of our authorities to the agrarian changes of the
sixteenth century, makes a somewhat detailed examination of their
position essential. In particular it is important to try to bridge the
gap between the agricultural system of the sixteenth and that of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, out of which it emerged, and of
which it continued to bear unmistakable traces. The problem is really a
twofold one, partly legal and partly economic. First, what was the legal
nature of copyhold tenure, and how did it arise out of mediæval
villeinage? Secondly, there is the question, which for us is more
important, of the type of agriculture which prevailed among the mass of
the people. The economist wants to know whether the customary tenants
were large cultivators or small, whether they included considerable
capitalists and mere cottagers or whether their holdings were of a
fairly uniform pattern, whether they farmed mainly for subsistence or
for the market, whether they lived entirely by tillage or were pasture
farmers as well, whether they were tied down by custom or showed any
signs of being influenced by the agricultural innovations of our period.

Of these two questions the first has been investigated much more
thoroughly than the second. We shall return to it later in considering
how far the copyholder had security of tenure, and enjoyed legal
protection against the lord who wished to evict him. But we may say at
once that we accept in substance the argument of those who hold that
most copyholders are the descendants of villeins holding villein land,
that copyhold tenure is, in fact, villein tenure to which the courts
from the end of the fourteenth century have gradually extended their
protection, and that the puzzling differences between the position of
one group of copyholders and another are due to differences in manorial
custom which were followed and upheld by the courts. This not only is
the traditional view, in the sense of being that which is implied in the
insistence of contemporaries that copyhold originated in base tenure,
and that copyholders were tenants "whom the favourable hand of time hath
much enfranchised,"[106] but also seems to be that which best fits the
situation of the copyholder as we find it in the sixteenth century.

    [106] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_.

This line of development is suggested, though it is not proved, by the
mere preponderance of copyholders. In looking for the antecedents of so
numerous and widely spread a class we can only find them in the tenure
of the mass of the people in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,
that is in villein tenure. Further, we do not find in villein tenure any
such fundamental distinction between customary tenure which was
protected and base tenure which was not, as has been sometimes
postulated as an explanation of the qualified legal security possessed
by copyholders 200 years later. On the contrary, the tenure of the
villeins is marked by the same variety of customary conditions as
appears in that of the copyholders, with the difference that, when once
copyhold has taken root, these customs are enforced by the courts. The
same conclusion is borne out by the survival of ancient formulæ among
the terms by which the conditions of the copyholders are recorded in
the surveys. It is quite common for copyholders in the sixteenth century
to be described as occupying "bond"[107] or "native" land; sometimes one
finds a whole list of them set down under the rubric "holding[108]
native lands by copy of court roll." The last thing, of course, which
occurred to the writer of these entries was any legal theory as to the
origin of copyhold tenure. All he was concerned to do was to describe
the holdings in the way which was most precise and left least room for
possible disputes. Clearly, he must have had it in his mind that lands
which in his day were let by copy of court roll were lands which were
known generally in the village as bond lands, and which in earlier
documents were described as being occupied in villeinage.

    [107] _E.g._, R.O. Rentals and Surveys Gen. Ser., Portf. 27, No.
    32, Dunstall (Suffolk): "Bond land held by copy of court roll,
    13s. 4d. Of holders of 3 bond pightells, 5s. 4d." MSS. of Earl
    of Leicester at Holkham, Tittleshall Books, No. 62, Langham Hall
    (Norfolk): "Redditus assissæ native tenentium. ... John Rose per
    copiam, 4d." R.O. Rentals and Surveys Gen. Ser. Portf. 14, No.
    70, Barton (Staffs.): "T. Collinson 1 messuage 1/4 virgate land
    de bond ... by copy 2 Hen. viii."

    [108] MSS. of Earl of Leicester at Holkham, Billingford and
    Bintry MSS., No. 9, Foxley: "Native tenentium per copiam rotuli

One may approach the question in another way, by looking at the
circumstances of those exceptional manors on which the tenants at will
are more numerous than the copyholders, and which are instructive just
because they represent a variation from the general type. A case in
point is the Manor of Knyghton in Wiltshire. On the majority of the
manors held in that county by the Earl of Pembroke the copyholders are
far the most numerous class, and on some they are the only class, among
the customary tenants. At Knyghton,[109] however, there are no
copyholders; all the customary tenants hold at the will of the lord, and
when one examines the position and methods of agriculture more closely,
one finds that they display several signs of being in other respects
more antiquated and conservative than is the case in other parts of the
same country; for example, all the holdings are either virgates of
twenty-four acres or some fraction and multiple of a virgate, which is
not at all common on other Wiltshire manors, and implies an unusual
approximation to the conditions of the peasantry two centuries before.
Is it unreasonable to conclude that this is a case of arrested
development, and that Knyghton is a manor on which the tenants at will
have never turned into copyholders, because for one reason or another it
has lain outside the main stream of agricultural development?

    [109] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Manors of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

The connection with copyhold tenure of some of the characteristic
obligations and disabilities of villeinage points in the same direction.
In spite of the general commutation of services into money payments,
which Mr. Page's statistics show to have taken place before the middle
of the fifteenth century, one still finds the attenuated records of
labour rents surviving for many generations after the direct management
of the demesne by manorial officials has been abandoned, and passing
with the rest of the farm equipment to the farmer who takes it on lease.
In Norfolk and Suffolk they seem indeed to have disappeared almost
altogether, which is what one would expect in view of the fact that
those counties were the Lancashire and West Riding of the period, and no
doubt, even when labour services were still exacted, the farmer relied
mainly upon hired labour. But it would be a mistake to regard the
tenants' works as everywhere so trifling as to be of no economic
importance. Often, it is true, they are inconsiderable. At South
Newton,[110] for example, though the uncertainty which had been one of
the marks of villeinage still survived among the copyholders in the
shape of the duty of "gift carriage," the transport of such timber as
was wanted to the lord's house at Wilton, the purely agricultural
services were unimportant, and the tenants of every yardland had only to
mow the farmer's meadow and to carry his hay. At Cuxham,[111] in
Oxfordshire, on the other hand, the authorities were still getting
twenty-eight boonworks in autumn from the copyholders at the end of the
fifteenth century. On a Northumbrian[112] manor belonging to Tynemouth
Priory down to the dissolution of the monasteries "every tenant did lead
to the castle in the prior's time one load of hay, mow three several
dayworks of hay, rake one daywork and sheare three severall dayworks in
the corn in harvest every year." At Washerne,[113] in Wiltshire, the
copyhold tenants' labours were in 1568 still quite an important affair:
each holder of one virgate of twenty acres "shall plough three half
acres for the lord's winter seed and shall harrow them, and also the
aforesaid tenants shall wash and shear the lord's sheep ... and further
each of them shall mow one acre of meadow ... and gather hay thence and
prepare it.... Each of the said tenants shall reap one acre of wheat and
he must bind the crop and carry it. Also each of them shall reap one
acre of barley." On a Lancashire[114] manor in 1628 every plough hand is
obliged to do two days' work in the year with a team on the demesne, and
two days with a labourer. Such elaborate obligations as appears at
Washerne are, it is true, the exception. But they show that in the
middle of the sixteenth century there were still backwaters where the
remnants of agricultural services were a not inconsiderable burden; and
if their comparative lightness marks the progress from villeinage to a
wage system, their survival as clearly shows that villeinage was the pit
from which copyhold tenure was digged.

    [110] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Manors of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

    [111] Merton Documents, 5902.

    [112] _Northumberland County History_, vol. viii., p. 220 (one
    may add that in parts of Northumberland the labourers are still
    called "bondagers"; Mr. Clay tells me that in the Calder valley
    farmers still use "daywork" as a unit for measuring fields). See
    also _Calendar of Proceedings in Chancery, temp. Eliz._, D. d.
    2, 44, for a suit by a farmer to recover services due from

    [113] Pembroke Surveys.

    [114] _Chetham Society Miscellanies_, vol. iii.

More striking still, perhaps, is the persistence of disabilities of
another kind. The old marks of personal bondage, chevage, merchet,
leyrwite, liability to tallage, and the rest have almost disappeared.
But traces of them are still found clinging to the copyhold tenants.
Copyholders pay a fixed sum to be free of tallages.[115] They pay salt
silver instead of the salt with which they had once been obliged to toil
to the lord's manor-house; they are forced to act as the lord's reeve,
and collect his rents, heriots, and strays. In one curious instance one
finds something very like a tallage[116] being taken at the beginning
of the seventeenth century, though of course that is not what it is
called. The tenants are simply collected and told that they must help
the lord to pay for an estate which he has bought, by giving him three
years' rent apiece, that, if they do, no more gifts will be demanded
during his lifetime, and that, if they do not, he will refuse to renew
holdings as they fall in. Even merchet, the most hateful of all the
incidents of villeinage, is something more than a mere memory. As late
as 1620 the tenants of Holt[117] in Denbighshire thought it worth while
to point out to the crown surveyor that "they are freed from payment of
any sum of money upon the marriage of their daughters," and even in 1654
Leyrwite and childwite were still being paid by the heiresses of
copyhold tenants on some of the Warwickshire[118] manors.

    [115] Pembroke Surveys, Estoverton and Phipheld: "Tenentes de
    Estoverton reddunt annuatim pro pannagio et tallagio ... ivs."
    For salt silver, _ibid._, South Newton. For liability to serve
    as Reeve, _ibid._, Paynton.

    [116] _Chetham Society Miscellanies_, vol. iii.: "I would wish
    you to call the tenants first all together and to signify unto
    them that my father and I have gone through with Mr. Ireland for
    Warrington, and the summe we are to give is above £7000; and
    this was done making no doubt that towards it every one of them
    being tenants would by their assistance enable us to finish
    it.... If they faile in this, they may provoke us to sharp
    courses, especially mee, who have had a purpose to take the
    third part of every living as it falls."

    [117] Wrexham Free Library, _Ancient Local Records_, vol. ii.
    MS. transcript by A.N. Palmer, "Survey of the Town and Liberty
    of Holt."

    [118] Savine, _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xix.

It will not, therefore, be surprising to find that the humble origin of
copyhold tenure has left marks upon it in other ways as well, and, in
particular, that though the copyholder is not without legal protection
when the lord tries to get rid of him, that protection is often of a
somewhat shadowy and ineffective kind. His title is a customary one, and
mighty as custom still is, it has for centuries been growing gradually
weaker. Its weakening is at once an advantage and a disadvantage to the
peasantry. It relieves them of odious obligations and leaves them
greater room to push their fortunes. It lowers a protecting barrier and
exposes them to the dissolving forces of competition.



(a) _The Variety of Conditions_

When one turns from what legal historians have said on the origin and
development of copyhold tenure to consider the economic position of this
class of tenants, one finds oneself in a region of much greater
uncertainty. The legal historian may speak of the copyholders as
constituting, in spite of minor differences, a fairly well-defined
class. The economic historian cannot. He finds, on the contrary, the
widest difference between the economic conditions of tenants holding
their land by copy of court roll, not only, as would be expected, in
different parts of the country, but on the same manor. In the thirteenth
century to say that a man is a villein tells us something at least about
his economic position, at any rate when the general features of the
manor on which he is a villein are known. He will probably have a
standard holding of a virgate or half-virgate; he will have rights in
the common meadow land and in the common waste; he will do work on the
lord's demesne. In the sixteenth century tenure is no clue to economic
status, and to say that a man is a copyhold tenant tells us nothing at
all about the extent of his holding or the sort of husbandry which he
pursues. The vast majority of copyhold tenants are peasants, men who
make a toilsome living from their land with the help of their families
and a few hired servants. But in England by our period the line between
class and class has ceased to coincide with differences of title; if
copyhold tenure is born of a humble stock, yet it has risen so much in
the world that the upper classes are not ashamed to hold out a hand to
welcome it; and among copyholders are found the names not only of many
small freeholders, but also of gentlemen and knights.[119]

    [119] _Crondal Records_, edited by Baigent, Part I., p. 159; the
    Crondal customary of 1567. Among the copyholders appears a
    knight and four gentlemen.

Among the peasants who form the bulk of the population there is, again,
the greatest diversity. Sometimes the copyholders are simply emancipated
villeins, who have commuted most of their services, and who hold by copy
instead of at the will of the lord, but whose economic condition has
hardly changed at all. Thus in Northumberland[120] the holdings of the
copyholders on several manors reflect very accurately the distribution
of land between the bondage tenants in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries; the holdings have grown slightly in size, but they have
apparently a more or less continuous individual existence from the
earliest times. In parts of Wiltshire,[121] on the other hand, though
not in all parts, there is no possibility of establishing any connection
between the virgate and semi-virgate of the fourteenth century villeins
and the acreage held by the copyholders two hundred and fifty years
later; both in size and number the holdings are markedly different. In
Norfolk and Suffolk ancient class divisions have often been obliterated
altogether, and bond and free lands are interlaced in the holdings of
the customary tenants in quite inextricable confusion.

    [120] _Northumberland County History, e.g._ Surveys of High
    Buston (vol. v. p. 208); Acklington (vol. v. p. 372); Birling
    (vol. v. p. 201), and figures of eight townships in
    Tynemouthshire, vol. viii. p. 230.

    [121] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of the Lands of William, First
    Earl of Pembroke_.

Again, there is the greatest variety in the methods of agriculture.[122]
Everywhere among the copyhold tenancies arable land predominates to an
extent which is in marked contrast to the frequent preponderance of
pasture land on many of the demesne farms. But to some tillage seems to
be their sole livelihood, while others are very considerable
sheep-farmers. Some are cultivators on quite a big scale, well outside
the Board of Agriculture's interpretation of a "small-holder" to-day,
with 80, 90, 100, or even 200 acres of land. Often they are better off
economically than many freeholders, and when Harrison and Sir Thomas
Smith classify[123] copyholders in general with "day labourers and poor
husbandmen," they must surely have been either speaking loosely, or else
thinking not of their economic but of their legal position. But others
hold only 5, 10, 15, or 20 acres, so that arithmetical averages of the
size of their holdings are very little guide to the real distribution of
land. Yet it would not be true to say that such inequality is universal,
for in the same county one finds some manors on which the holdings seem
all to be cut to a regular standard pattern, and others where the
variety of size is almost infinite, while in the North striking
divergences of area seem to be as much the exception as they are the
rule in the South and the East. On some manors, again, the copyhold
tenants have enclosed land and hold much in severalty; on others nearly
all of it lies in the open fields. Some have extensive rights of common,
while on other manors such rights are non-existent, or are too
insignificant to be recorded by surveyors.

    [122] See below, pp. 105-115.

    [123] Smith, _De Republica Anglorum_, Lib. I., c. 24. Harrison,
    _Elizabethan England_ (edited by Withington), p. 13.

In fact the impression given by the surveys is that of a condition of
things which is very far from being stationary, but in which, on the
contrary, much shifting of property and many changes in the methods of
cultivation have been going on, and in which the legal position of the
peasants is no guide at all to their economic characteristics. The task
of finding a manor to serve as a pattern and standard for the rest,
which is hard enough in the thirteenth century, is a sheer impossibility
in the sixteenth, and the student works with a deep sense of the danger
of sacrificing fidelity to simplicity of statement.

(b) _The Consolidation of Peasant Holdings_

But difficult as it is to reduce to any order the very diverse economic
conditions of the customary tenants at the beginning of the sixteenth
century, the task, at any rate in outline, has got to be faced. And this
involves a short account of movements which take us some way back into
the Middle Ages. No one can understand the contrast between the
conditions of the Irish peasantry in 1850 and their condition to-day
without knowing something of the agencies which have been at work in the
interval, of the Fair Rent Courts, the Congested Districts Board, and
the Land Purchase Acts; no one can appreciate the changes which are
taking place in rural France without having taken at any rate a glance
at the position of the peasantry before the Revolution, and at the Code
Napoleon. Certainly the substantial alteration which overtook agrarian
relationships in many parts of England between 1500 and 1640 is
unintelligible if it is regarded as a wave suddenly appearing in a calm
sea, a revolution by means of which commercial relationships of
sometimes an almost modern elasticity developed quite rapidly in village
communities of an almost mediæval immobility. To understand the agrarian
problem of the sixteenth century we must know the sort of framework on
which the new forces worked, and the sort of tendencies of which they
were the continuation.

Moreover, the history with which we are concerned is primarily the
history of the peasants as landholders, and only secondarily the history
of their personal condition. Generalisations about the disappearance of
villeinage and the substitution of hired labour for the working out of
rents in labour services do not help us much here. Speaking broadly, it
is no doubt true that, in spite of the survival of many vestiges of the
old order, wage-labourers are as normally the means of cultivating the
demesne at the end of the fifteenth century as servile tenants are at
the end of the thirteenth. But significant as this change is for the
history of the wage-earning classes, it does not by itself seem to throw
much light on the characteristic features of the sixteenth century
problem, the substitution of large tenancies for small, the displacement
of small holders, and the undermining of the customary routine of the
open field village. Certainly the two movements are connected; equally
certainly that connection is not a direct or obvious one. The change in
the personal condition of the peasantry is not by itself the key to
changes in the use and distribution of property. Why should it be? In
Prussia the abolition[124] of villein services in 1807 was carried out
by a decree which had as its object not a diminution, but an increase,
in the number of small tenants; and it is not self-evident that an
alteration in the method of cultivating the lord's demesne must have
produced changes in the disposition of the customary holdings in
fifteenth and sixteenth century England.

    [124] Edict of October 9, 1807, Clauses 10, 11, 12. See Cobden
    Club, _Systems of Land Tenure in Various Countries_: Morier's
    Essay on Germany.

The very variety in the economic conditions of the peasantry which makes
generalisation so difficult is, however, itself a significant feature,
because it is in marked contrast with the comparative uniformity which
existed among great masses of them in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries. It suggests that even in agriculture custom has to some
extent been broken down by commercial enterprise, and that commercial
enterprise has had the natural result of accentuating inequality in the
possession of property. It warns a student of the agrarian changes of
the sixteenth century that he has not only to explain the way in which
the small cultivator lost ground then before the large estate, but also
how it was that his economic position differed in many cases so much
from that of the villein of two hundred years before, and that it may
very well be that the answer to the latter question will throw light
upon the former.

Let us put ourselves in the position of a jury catechising some "aged
man" about the year 1500, catechising him not about boundaries, or
rights of common, or manorial customs, but about the general changes in
the distribution of property in his village. If surveys and court rolls
may be trusted, there is one thing that he could hardly fail to tell us,
and that is that for as long as he can remember there has been a great
deal of buying and selling of land by the customary tenants, a great
many changes in occupancy, and on the whole a tendency for those changes
to result in the concentration of several holdings in fewer and larger
tenancies. "Virgates which in grandfather's time," he would say, "used
to belong to A., B., C., and D. now belong to A. alone. Men who used to
occupy one holding each, now occupy two or three; when they cannot buy
they lease, and some have bought so much that they sublet part of their
holdings to others. Indeed there is not much sense in talking about
virgates or half-virgates at all. Once each of them had a separate
holder; once Durrant's shottes belonged to Durrant, Gunter's mead to
Gunter, Parry's croft to Parry, Hawkins' meade to Hawkins, Woolmer's
lande to Woolmer, Blake's tenement to Blake. To-day, though the old
names remain, they are no guide to the families holding the land.
Frankling has bought Durrant's and Gunter's and Blake's, Vites has
bought Parry's, while Pynnole's and Pope's and Hawkins' and the rest of
Blake's holdings have all passed into the hands of Blackwell."[125]

    [125] The instance is taken from a map of the manor of Edgeware
    now in the All Souls muniment room. The map was made in 1597.
    But many earlier examples can be found of land being known by
    the name of one of its early holders, long after it had passed
    into the possession of some one else.

One thing at any rate is clear. If frequent changes of occupancy point
to a free land-market, then such a free land-market has existed for a
long time among the customary tenants; and if a keen demand for land
among the peasantry is a proof that small men are thriving, and see
their way to thriving still more by adding to their properties, then
there is a good deal of this healthy land hunger in English villages
before the age of the Tudors. We read to-day of how the French peasant
will pinch himself and his family to add a few acres to his little
estate, and we take it as an indication that small cultivation has a
firm root in France, and that rural life is on the whole enterprising
and prosperous. Certainly such a state of things is in marked contrast
with the stagnation prevailing in the lower ranges of village society in
countries where great estates pass almost intact from generation to
generation between the tall palings of family settlements, with the
small man, who would get land if he could, staring helplessly through
the bars. Now, at any rate in the fifteenth century, England belonged
very markedly to the first type, not to the second; to the type where
there is much buying and selling of land in small plots by small
cultivators, not to the type where land is locked up and rarely comes
into the market, rarely at any rate into a market where it can be bought
by the small peasantry. This mobility of land is of much significance
when we come to consider the breaking down of customary rules before the
forces of competition, and the formation of great estates out of the
holdings of the customary tenants. Let us consider it in more detail,
first from the point of view of the changes in the economic basis of
rural life which it produces, and secondly from the point of view of the
process by which those changes were brought about. We will for the
present leave on one side the demesne farm and the land held on lease,
and look only at the customary land which forms the backbone of the
copyholders' estates.

The first source of information to which we turn consists of the surveys
and rentals, in which the holdings of the tenants are set out in detail.
To those accustomed to the picture of village life contained in the
records of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the surveys of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries present certain features which at once
arrest attention. For one thing, there is a much greater inequality
between the holdings of different customary tenants on the same manors
than is usually found among the holdings of virgators and semi-virgators
two centuries before. For another thing, some of their holdings are very
much larger than anything we find belonging to the same class of tenants
at an earlier date; occasionally, indeed, they can only be described as
enormous, running into 150 or 200 acres of land; often they amount to 80
or 90. In the third place, the number of customary tenants is, on the
whole, much smaller than it was 200 years before, and that even on
manors where there has been an increase in the area cultivated by them.
The latter fact is significant, and we shall return to it later. But
before doing so, let us ask the meaning of the growing inequality in the
holdings of the customary tenants and of the great increase in the size
of some among them.

Great as is the variety of conditions visible on a thirteenth century
manor, it is on the whole true to say that this variety usually conforms
to a rough rule or principle. One can find on the same manor families
whose holdings differ very largely in size, from the 25 to 40 acres
occupied by the holder of a virgate, the 12 to 16 acres of a
semi-virgator, to the 2 or 3 acres or less occupied by a cottar. But
normally each individual holds much the same amount of land as other
individuals of the same class; one holder of a virgate has about as much
as another holder of a virgate, one holder of half a virgate about as
much as his fellow, one cottager about as much as another cottager.
There are in fact different grades, but for each grade there is what may
be called a standard area of land, a unit of agrarian organisation, and
though that standard area varies a good deal in different parts of the
country it is usually fairly easy to discover what it is on any one
manor. Outwardly, at any rate, village life is organised, and the
distribution of property is settled in the main by the authority of
custom, rather than by commercial forces acting directly upon the

Now after the middle of the fifteenth century it is common to find quite
a different condition of things from this. There are, it is true, manors
where holdings preserve their primitive equality down to the very end of
the sixteenth century, especially manors in backward parts of the
country, where the influence of commerce has been little felt;
especially also manors where the demesne farm, instead of being leased,
has been retained in the hands of the lord. But in the South of England
these are the exception. The rule is that with regard to the area held
by the customary tenants there is no rule at all. On the same manor
copyholders may be cultivating anything from a quarter of a virgate to
two, three, four, or even more virgates; if their holdings are expressed
in acres they may be holding anything from 1 acre to 100 or 150.
Economically, indeed, customary tenants are often not a class at all, if
the essence of a class is common characteristics and a similarity of
economic status, though in the face of certain dangers they will act as
one. On many manors the nature of their tenure is the only common link
between them, and the nature of their tenure is compatible with the
greatest economic variety.

This variety is most noticeable when we examine a large number of manors
one by one, since, when the figures of many different manors are added
together, their distinctive features are liable to be concealed in the
aggregate. Still, to get some idea of the scale on which the peasants
carried on their agriculture, it is perhaps worth examining the
following table[126] of the holdings of 1600 odd customary[127] tenants
on fifty-two manors.

    [126] For the sources from which this table is constructed, and
    its defects, see Appendix II.

    [127] On three small manors I have included some tenants who may
    possibly be freeholders or leaseholders.

This table enables us, in the first place, to make a comparison between
the economic positions of groups of tenants in different parts of
England. It will be seen that the "predominant rate"--what we may call
the predominant acreage--varies considerably. In Wiltshire it is between
20 and 25 acres, and, including the next two columns, 36 per cent. of
all the tenants hold something between 20 and 35 acres. In
Northumberland the predominant acreage is between 30 and 35, and nearly
one half the tenants, 41 per cent., hold between 30 and 40 acres.
Elsewhere the most common holding is a good deal smaller. In Lancashire
(if we omit the cottagers, nearly all of whom come from one manor) the
predominant acreage is between 10 and 15 acres, though a great many
persons hold between 5 to 10 acres. In Staffordshire the largest group
of tenants is that holding under 2-1/2 acres, and more than one-half of
them hold less than 10 acres. In Norfolk and Suffolk the same state of
things obtains, but in a more pronounced form. Little emphasis need be
laid on the large number of cottagers there, nearly all of whom are
found on a single semi-urban manor, that of Aylsham. But it is clear
that the mass of the peasantry in those counties are very small holders
indeed. When the cottagers are left on one side, 22 per cent., about
one-fifth, of the landholders have under 2-1/2 acres; 54 per cent., more
than one-half, have under 10 acres. It is fortunate for them that
Norfolk and Suffolk are the home of the woollen industry.

In the second place, let us notice a fact which is more relevant to our
immediate purpose. That fact is the great variety in the scale of
landholding obtaining between different tenants in the same part of the
country. In this matter, again, some counties present a marked contrast
to others. In Northumberland the uniformity in the size of the holdings
of the tenants is much more marked than the variety. About two-thirds
of them appear in the four columns representing holdings from 30 to 50
acres. Only six hold more than 50, and though on one manor there are ten
tenants holding less than 2-1/2 acres, there are, apart from these,
comparatively few holding under 25 acres. On all the manors which have
been examined in this county there is, in fact, a regular standard
holding in the sixteenth century, which varies from 30 to 45 acres on
different manors, but which on the same manor varies hardly at all. But
Northumbrian agriculture is always several generations behind that of
the South and East, and when we turn to Wiltshire, or to East Anglia, or
to the nine manors given at the bottom of the table, we find a condition
of things in which there is much greater irregularity. The line extends
farther at both ends than it does in Northumberland. There are more
individuals and fewer clusters. The grouping of holdings round certain
standard patterns is much less marked. If we look at all the manors
together, we find that the four most populous columns contain almost
exactly one-half (49.1 per cent.) of the whole population, exclusive of
cottagers without land. In Northumberland the corresponding columns
contain two-thirds, in East Anglia, Lancashire, and Staffordshire rather
less, on the nine manors in the South and Midlands about one-half, in
Wiltshire a little over one-third. Again there are more large holders
and more very small holders in the South and East, than there are in
Lancashire and on the Northumbrian border. In Lancashire and
Northumberland 4.4 per cent. of the tenants, exclusive of cottagers,
have holdings of more than 50 acres. In Suffolk and Norfolk the
corresponding figure is 8.5 per cent., in Wiltshire 16.9 per cent., on
the nine other manors 14 per cent.


                                                   30 and under 35 Acres. |
                                               25 and under 30 Acres. | . |
                                           20 and under 25 Acres. | . | . |
                                       15 and under 20 Acres. | . | . | . |
                                   10 and under 15 Acres. | . | . | . | . |
                                5 and under 10 Acres. | . | . | . | . | . |
                         2-1/2 and under 5 Acres. | . | . | . | . | . | . |
                           Under 2-1/2 Acres. | . | . | . | . | . | . | . |
    Cottages or Houses with or without  . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . |
      Gardens                           . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . |
             Total Number of Tenants. | . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . |
|--------------------------------|  . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . |
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Ten manors in Northumberland   |  96|   | 10|  1|  2|  1|  3|  1| 12| 27|
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Four manors in Lancashire      | 168| 38| 14| 19| 29| 35|  7|  4|  7|  7|
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Three manors in Staffordshire  | 103|  8| 21| 16| 14|  6| 10| 11|  3|  1|
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Two manors in Northamptonshire | 255| 30| 53| 24| 22| 22| 13| 22|  5| 10|
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Three manors in Leicestershire | 129| 13| 17|  6|  6| 8 |  3|  3|  5|  1|
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Five manors in Suffolk and     |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
|   eight manors in Norfolk      | 391| 52| 77| 40| 69| 28| 26| 19| 14| 5 |
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Seven manors in Wiltshire and  |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
|   one manor in Somersetshire   | 156|  3|  5|  7| 12|  8|  7| 27| 16| 14|
|                                |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
| Nine other manors in the South |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
|   of England                   | 366| 23| 58| 27| 52| 29| 31| 16| 22| 12|
|      Total                     |1664|167|255|140|206|137|100|103| 84| 77|

TABLE IV _(cont'd)_

                                                          120 and over.| .|
                                            115 and under 120 Acres.| .| .|
                                         110 and under 115 Acres.| .| .| .|
                                      105 and under 110 Acres.| .| .| .| .|
                                   100 and under 105 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .|
                                 95 and under 100 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .|
                               90 and under 95 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
                            85 and under 90 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
                         80 and under 85 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
                      75 and under 80 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
                   70 and under 75 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
                65 and under 70 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
             60 and under 65 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
          55 and under 60 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
       50 and under 55 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
    45 and under 50 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
 40 and under 45 Acres.| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
 35 and under      .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
        40 Acres   .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
+----------------| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .| .|
|Northumberland  |13|10|10|  |  | 1| 1| 2| 1|  | 1|  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|                |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|Lancashire      | 2|  |  |  | 2|  |  | 1|  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  | 1| 2|
|                |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|Staffordshire   | 2| 2| 2| 2|  | 1| 1|  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  | 1| 2|
|                |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|Northamptonshire| 3| 7| 2| 5| 2| 7| 2| 2| 2| 2|  |  |  |  | 2|  |  | 4|14|
|                |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|Leicestershire  |10| 7| 8| 7| 7| 6| 2| 4| 1| 2| 1| 1| 2|  |  |  | 1| 1| 7|
|                |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|Suffolk/Norfolk | 9| 4| 2| 4| 7| 3| 3| 1| 1| 1| 1|  | 1|  | 2| 1|  | 4|17|
|                |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|Wiltshire/      |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|  Somersetshire |10|12| 5| 7| 2| 4| 3| 4| 1| 2| 1|  | 2|  |  |  |  |  | 4|
|                |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
|South of England|11|10|13| 3| 6| 7| 6| 3| 5| 4| 4| 1| 2| 4|  | 1| 1| 7| 9|
|                |60|52|42|28|26|29|18|17|11|11| 8| 2| 7| 4| 4| 2| 1|18|55|

In the non-commercial, non-industrial North there is something like
economic equality, something like the fixed equipment of each group of
tenants with a standard area of land which is one of the first things to
strike us in a mediæval survey, and, as we shall see later, manorial
authorities for a long time insist on that rough equality being
maintained, because any weakening of it would disorganise the
old-fashioned economy which characterises the northern border. In the
industrial East and South this uniformity existed once, but it exists
now no longer. Wiltshire is humming with looms; Norfolk and Suffolk are
linked to the Continent by a thousand commercial ties, and will starve
if the clothiers lose their market. The mighty forces of capital and
competitive industry and foreign trade are beginning to heave in their
sleep--forces that will one day fuse and sunder, exalt and put down,
enrich and impoverish, unpeople populous counties and pour Elizabethan
England into a smoking caldron between the Irish Sea and the Pennines;
forces that at present are so weak that a Clerk of the Market can lead
them and a Justice of the Peace put a hook in their jaws. It is natural
that mediæval conditions of agriculture should survive longest in the
North. It is natural that they should survive least where trade and
industry are most developed, and where men are being linked by other
bonds than those of land tenure. But we must not comment until we have
examined the text more closely. We would only draw attention to the
contrast between the South and the North, to the contrast also between
the great diversity in the size of the peasants' holdings in the
sixteenth century, and the much greater uniformity two or three hundred
years before.

This contrast gives a clue to certain features of village life which are
distinctive of our period, and at the risk of wearying the reader one
may illustrate it from the circumstances of particular manors. At
Cuxham,[128] in 1483, there are, in addition to tiny holdings of a few
acres or of fractions of acres, holdings of one-quarter of a virgate,
of half a virgate, of one virgate, of four virgates. At Ibstone[129] in
the same year there are two tenants at will holding one virgate each,
one tenant holding five tofts and three crofts, while the rest hold
little except cottages and gardens. At Warton[130] in Lancashire, there
are in the reign of Henry VIII., in addition to various holdings
expressed in terms of acres, four holdings of half a bovate, two of
three-quarters of a bovate, seven of one bovate, two of one and a
quarter bovates, four of one and a half bovates, four of two bovates,
one of two and a quarter bovates, one of three bovates. At Barton[131]
in Staffordshire, in 1556, the typical holding is one virgate of 24
acres. But though this forms the nucleus of the copyholders' properties
a good many of them have acquired so much extra land, and a good many
apparently have parted with so much of the land which they once held,
that though 24 acres is still the predominant holding, the majority of
the tenants hold something more or something less than this. At
Byshopeston,[132] in 1567, there are men holding half a virgate, two
virgates, three virgates, four virgates, six virgates. At Knyghton[133]
there are holders of anything from a half to two and a half virgates.

    [128] Merton Documents, Rentale de Cuxham (Nos. 5902 and 5905).

    [129] Merton Documents, Rentale de Ibston (No. 5902).

    [130] R.O. Rental and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 19, No. 7, f.

    [131] R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 14, No. 70.

    [132] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

    [133] _Ibid._

Looking at this grouping of holdings, one is tempted at first sight to
say that the virgate has ceased to be a unit of open field tillage, and
has become merely a common form, an idea which is laid up in the minds
of surveyors, and which is produced automatically, even when it
corresponds to nothing in the fluid world of agriculture. This, however,
would be an error. On the contrary, the conservatism[134] of rural
arrangements is such that yardlands, bovates, virgates, and oxgangs,
continue to do duty in circumstances which seem quite incongruous, and
to be used, not only in theory, but in practice, to apportion rights
over arable, meadow, and pasture, long after holdings have been
redistributed in such a way as altogether to destroy the former equality
of shares. On the Leicestershire manors of Barkby[135] and Kibworth[136]
holdings were set down in terms of yardlands in 1636, though the
condition of things in which a yardland or half yardland formed one
tenant's holding had long since given way to one in which the smaller
holders occupied a few acres and the wealthier 2-1/2, 3, and 3-1/2
yardlands. Still, though the continuance of these measures even into the
eighteenth century should be noted, there is no reason why we should use
them, and the modern reader will perhaps get a better idea of the
growing heterogeneity in the economic conditions of the customary
tenants if the distribution of their property is expressed in terms of

    [134] The inconvenience of reckoning in yardlands is noticed by
    a writer in the seventeenth century: "The tax of land is after
    the yardland; a name very deceitful by the disproportion and
    inequality thereof, the quantity of some one yardland being as
    much as one and a halfe or two in the same field, and yet there
    is an equality of taxes" (Joseph Lee, _A Vindication of a
    Regulated Enclosure_, 1656).

    [135] Merton Documents, MS. book labelled Kibworth and Barkby,

    [136] _Ibid._

Our first example comes from Malden[137] in Surrey. It shows on a small
scale the tendency towards concentration of property in larger parcels.
In 1452 there were on that manor one holder of 24 acres, three holders
of 16 acres, two holders of 15 acres, and families holding 10, 8, 6, 5,
2 acres respectively. That 16 acres had been the normal holding is
fairly obvious; it is obvious also that though this normal holding is
still traceable, it is on the way to being obliterated. Later specimens
of a similar kind come from Ashfield[138] in Suffolk and Ormesby[139] in
Norfolk. In 1513 there were on the former manor tenants holding 7, 10,
15, 21, 22, 36, 37, 45, 107, 121 acres, and all intermediate sizes. On
the latter, in 1516, the holdings were much smaller, but they were still
more various in area, ranging from 2 to 31 acres. One or two of the
Wiltshire and Somersetshire manors surveyed for the Earl of Pembroke in
1567 offer examples of the reverse state of things in which the tenants'
holdings were all cut out to a standard pattern. At Washerne,[140] for
example, a manor where the demesnes were not leased but retained "in
the hand of the lord," nearly all the copyholders had exactly 20 acres
each. But this is an exception which proves the rule. At Estoverton[141]
there were some tenants holding 69, 48, 38 acres of arable, and others
with 12, 10, 9, 3, and 2 acres. At Donnington[142] there were holders of
63 and 52 acres in the fields and holders with only 8 or 9 acres. At
South Brent[143] the divergence between large and small customary
tenants is more striking still. One occupies about 90 acres, several
others over 50, while the vast majority hold less than 30 acres in
holdings which are hardly ever of the same size. At Crondal[144] we find
in 1567 exactly the same inequality in the area cultivated by different
tenants, exactly the same combination of very large with very small
holdings. Taking one tithing only of that manor--that of Swanthrop--we
are met by tenants holding 112, 104, 66, 58, 47, 44, 30, 27, 25, and 3
acres. Finally, let us take two extreme instances. They are drawn from
the closing years of the sixteenth century; but their inclusion may be
justified by the fact that they reveal in a pronounced form the
tendencies which we have seen at work elsewhere a century and a half
before, and that they offer a peculiarly clear example of larger
customary holdings formed out of the aggregation of several smaller
ones, since the names of the previous tenants are stated by the
surveyor. On the two Middlesex manors of Edgeware[145] and
Kingsbury[146] all relics of the state of things which had presumably
existed there, as on other manors, two or three centuries before, the
state of things in which there were groups of men holding virgates or
half virgates, has disappeared so entirely as to leave no traces behind.
On the former the thirty-eight copyholders occupy holdings of almost any
size between 1 rood and 130 acres; out of the 722 acres of copyhold land
as much as 254, a little over one-third, are in the hands of two large
tenants. On the latter there is, _mutatis mutandis_, the same story; out
of the twenty-seven copyholders thirteen hold less than 15 acres, eight
hold more than 30, and of those eight two hold more than 100 acres

    [137] Merton Documents, Rental of Malden.

    [138] R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 14, No. 85.

    [139] _Ibid._, Portf. 22, No. 18.

    [140] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

    [141] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

    [142] _Ibid._

    [143] _Ibid._

    [144] _Crondal Record_, Part I. (Baigent), pp. 210-221.
    Customary of 1567.

    [145] All Souls Documents, Map and Description of the Manor of
    Edgeware (1597).

    [146] _Ibid._, Map and Description of the Manor of Kingsbury

These examples are drawn from 12 different counties.[147] Let us see
more exactly what they suggest. They suggest that, quite apart[148] from
any movement on the part of lords of manors to throw the holdings of the
customary tenants into large farms and to evict their holders, quite
apart from any external shock such as was given to the organisation of
village life by the change from tillage to pasture on the part of lords
and their farmers, there has been going on an internal change in the
relation of the customary tenants to each other. So far we have been
concerned only with the result of that change, not with the process by
which it is brought about. The result, as evidenced by the surveys, is
the consolidation of several holdings, or parts of holdings, into fewer
and larger tenancies, the appearance of a class of well-to-do peasants
by whom such larger tenancies are held, and a widening of the gap
between the most prosperous and least prosperous. Customary tenants hold
3 or 4 virgates, 80 or 90 or 100 acres, and their holdings are composed
of holdings and parts of holdings which formerly belonged to several
different tenants. Customary tenants even become the landlords of other
customary tenants. At Yateleigh[149] one copyholder has as many as
twenty sub-tenants, and it is not at all uncommon for the surveyors of
the sixteenth century to record the names both of owners and occupiers
in estate and field maps. There can hardly be a clearer proof of the
re-arrangement of property which has been going on among them than the
fact that some of them hold more land than they can cultivate themselves
and sub-let it to smaller men, who become their sub-tenants.

    [147] Similar examples could be adduced from Northamptonshire
    and Leicestershire, were it worth while, _e.g._ at Duston in
    Northants in 1561 there were tenants holding 2 virgates, 1-3/4
    virgates, 1-1/2 virgates, 1/2 virgate, 1/4 virgate (R.O. Rentals
    and Surveys, Portf. 13, No. 23). At Desford in Leicestershire,
    _temp._ Hen. VIII., one finds the same division and aggregation
    of virgates (R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Duchy of Lancs., Bdle. 6,
    No. 7).

    [148] See below, pp. 72-75.

    [149] _Crondal Records, loc. cit._

May one not say, in fact, that by the beginning of the sixteenth century
the rough equality which had once existed between the holdings of
different groups of customary tenants is fast disappearing, and that by
the middle of that century it has, in some parts of the country,
disappeared altogether? The village community is often no longer made up
of compact groups of holders with more or less equal holdings, more or
less equal rents and services, more or less similar economic positions.
Even as early as the time when the great agrarian changes which
contemporaries summed up under the name of "enclosing" begin to produce
legislation on the part of governments and riots among the peasantry,
its appearance of a systematic adjustment of property and obligation is
already far on the way to disappearance. Its members still hold shares
in the open fields, and are still bound by a common routine of
cultivation, save in so far as that routine has been undermined in the
ways to be described below. But it is easy to be deceived by the
external shell of organisation into thinking of village life at the end
of the fifteenth century as being much more homogeneous than it really
was. After all there are shareholders and shareholders. There is very
little similarity in economic interest or social position between the
artisan who buys a £5 share in a Bolton spinning-mill and a capitalist
who invests £5000 in the same concern. There was hardly more, one may
suspect, between the copyholder who cultivated a few acres and the
copyholder who held 100 or 200 acres and sublet part of his holding to a
poorer neighbour, though the lands of both were intermixed, though both
held of the same manor, though both were nominally bound by the same
custom. This comparison says more than we mean; for, with few
exceptions, the inequality in the holdings of the peasantry revealed by
the manorial documents is not so great that it cannot be spanned by
enterprise and good fortune. Looking back from a world in which the mass
of mankind have no legal interest in the land which they cultivate or
the tools which they use, what strikes the modern reader most in the
sixteenth century is not the concentration of property, but its wide
distribution. Nevertheless, even in these petty rearrangements of
holdings there is a meaning. They are the beginning of greater things.
To appreciate their importance we must obliterate from our minds our
knowledge of later developments, and regard them as the innovation which
they are. We must remember that they are the economic foundation of a
prosperous rural middle class.

(c) _The Growth of a Land Market among the Peasants_

If the surveys were our sole source of information it would not be easy
to say how this regrouping of holdings has been brought about. Even the
surveys, however, do not leave us quite in the dark. They suggest that
it has taken place very largely through the play of commercial forces
within the ranks of the customary tenants themselves, through the eager
purchasing of land which we noticed as one feature of rural life at the
close of the Middle Ages, and through the growth of a cash nexus between
individuals side by side with the rule of custom. This is a factor in
the break up of the mediæval condition of landholding upon which
sufficient emphasis has perhaps not always been laid. The pre-occupation
of the writers of the sixteenth century with the special problem of
their own day, when the existence of a class of well-to-do copyholders
was taken as something needing no explanation, and their decay before
the growth of the great leasehold estate occupied the attention of all
interested in agricultural problems, caused the significance of the
development of these thriving peasants to be forgotten in the agitation
and regrets which accompanied their depression, and naturally
concentrated interest on the changes introduced by lords and great
farmers, through which that depression was mainly caused. In every age
prosperity is taken as a matter of course, and, in defiance of all
experience, mankind reserves its surprise for distress.

But the special phenomenon of the growth of large customary tenancies
which we have been considering can hardly be explained except as a
result of enterprise among the tenants themselves. The piling up of
customary holdings in the hands of one individual is quite a different
thing from the adding of customary holdings to the demesne which the
lord retained or leased to a farmer. It means a transference of
property, but a transference not from a customary tenant to the lord or
the lord's farmer, but from one customary tenant to another. It suggests
that before the "enclosing movement" of the sixteenth century brought
its crop of evictions, economic forces had long been at work to break up
the village community into large holders and small. When in 1452 John
Blackman, copyhold tenant of Maiden,[150] holds Keyser's, Key's, and
Skinner's tenements, it can only mean that Keyser, Key, and Skinner have
parted with their tenements to John Blackman. The lord may have put
pressure upon them to sell, but the customary land is not diminished, it
is simply rearranged; the result is not an addition to the manorial
demesne, but the appearance of a copyhold tenant with a great deal more
land than his neighbours. The cases in which the existence of more than
one survey of the same manor enables us to contrast the condition of the
customary tenants at different dates make it quite clear that this
aggregation of holdings was a well-marked movement which went on quite
apart from any encroachment by manorial authorities on the customary
land. Some time between 1340 and 1454 two virgates at Castle Combe,[151]
which at the earlier date were in separate hands, have been formed into
one holding. And naturally, the later we come, the more marked the
change which we find. At Aspley Guise[152] in 1275 the forty customary
tenants each held almost exactly half a virgate. In 1542 one finds among
the tenants at will and copyholders three occupants of the original half
virgate, one tenant with 30 acres, two tenants with 60 acres each, three
tenants with 75 acres each. These large holdings have plainly been
formed by the aggregation of half virgates in fewer hands and into
parcels of two, three, four, and five half virgates apiece. This case is
a very clear one, because nearly all the holdings are multiples of the
original standard, even the rent being calculated from this basis.

    [150] Merton Documents, Rental of Maiden, 1496.

    [151] _History of Castle Combe_ (Scrope).

    [152] For information as to Aspley Guise I am indebted to the
    kindness of Dr. H.G. Fowler of Aspley Guise, who has allowed me
    to see the material which he has collected for a history of the

Elsewhere the aggregation of small customary holdings into large is
equally marked, but it has not been carried out with such a nice regard
to the maintenance of the original units. In the tithing of South[153]
Newton, part of the Manor of South Newton in Wiltshire, there were in
1315 seven holders of a virgate, each of whom occupied 23 acres,
seventeen holders of half a virgate with 12 acres each, and eight
cottagers. When the manor was surveyed in 1567 the customary tenants,
though fewer in number, cultivated a good deal more land than they had
two and a half centuries before, so that there is no question of their
holdings having been merged in the demesne. But the land was very
differently distributed between them. Of the ten copyholders then
remaining only one held the original virgate. Of the rest there were
holders of 59, 65, 80, and 96 acres, of 7, 13, and 15 acres, and of
various acreages between these wide limits. The symmetry of the earlier
arrangement has entirely vanished. Instead of a cluster of small
cultivators organised in three well-defined layers, we have a chain
stretching from a mere cottager up to a petty capitalist. A very similar
change has taken place on the Manor of Crondal.[154] If one compares,
for example, the arrangement of holdings on the tithing of Swanthrop in
1287 and 1567, one finds that the rough symmetry which existed at the
former date has altogether disappeared by the latter. In 1287 there were
eight persons holding virgates, seven holding half virgates, two holding
quarter-virgates, and four whose holdings are not expressed in virgates.
By 1567 all this has been altered. There are tenants holding 100, 66,
58, 47 acres; there are three with less than 10 acres, and there are
five with holdings of various sizes between these limits, but in no case
reducible to any common measure. How could such a transformation come
about, unless, as was suggested above, there was much buying and selling
of land, much rudimentary commercialism inside and behind the decent
cloak of routine which seems to be spread over our villages? Is not this
explanation forced upon us when we examine the holdings of the larger
peasants and find them made up of pieces bought from one and leased
from another, pieces taken from the waste or from the lord's demesne or
from the common pasture? And if it is correct, does it not point, on the
one hand, to a good deal of enterprise among the small holders, and
since enterprise can hardly exist without a certain level of prosperity,
to a good deal of prosperity; and, on the other hand, to movements which
in time are likely to dethrone custom altogether and put competition in
its place?

    [153] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_ (Straton).

    [154] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), pp. 111-116, and 210-222.

To these questions we shall return later. But happily we are not
restricted to inferential argument for our knowledge of these internal
changes in the economy of village life before the sixteenth century. We
have the court rolls of manors, and the court rolls are full, from a
very early date, of transactions which show how the state of things
which has been described was being brought about. In examining the
evidence which they offer of the shifting of property among the
peasantry we shall have to go some way back, and we shall do well to
begin with a distinction and a warning--a distinction between the legal
framework of rural life and its economic tendencies, and a warning that
we shall have to deal with a somewhat tiresome mass of detail, which the
general reader can avoid by turning to the summary at the end of this

In the picture of the mediæval manor which is usually offered us the
features which receive most emphasis are its systematic apportionment of
works and services, its regulation by binding customary rules, its
immobility and imperviousness to competitive and commercial influences;
in short, its character as an organisation in which even the details are
settled by custom. In the "typical manor," as it appears in some
accounts, the main lines are drawn with almost photographic sharpness.
There are the free holders on the free land, the bond tenants each with
his virgate or half virgate of bond land, and the officers and servants
of the lord, a system the parts of which are knit together by the lord's
need of extracting labour services to cultivate his demesne. Now that
the internal economy of a thirteenth century manor displays to a very
remarkable degree the authority of custom in all its arrangements is
not, of course, denied; and it is specially proper to emphasise it when
we are contrasting it with modern agriculture, or when we are regarding
it from the standpoint of law. But this is only one aspect of it, and if
we assume that the economic relationships between the different members
of it always followed the same grouping and ran on the same lines as the
legal ones, we are likely to ascribe to them a simplicity and a hard and
fast character which, we may be quite sure, they never possessed in real
life, and to miss those very innovations which throw most light on
economic development.

True of such development early rentals and surveys show little trace.
But let us remember the purpose for which they were prepared. The
manorial officials were concerned with getting in an income, not with
supplying information about the methods of agriculture or the
cross-relations between one tenant and another, except in so far as they
affected the manorial revenue. The source of the income was the holding,
not the holder; or, rather, it did not matter to them who the landholder
was, whether he was one individual or another, or whether he was a
partnership of half-a-dozen individuals, provided that the land, however
held, yielded the customary services and payments. The nearest analogy
would be an apportioned tax which a Government divides between different
localities, each locality having to raise a certain sum, but making its
own arrangements as to what individuals shall pay. It is the virgate
which pays rents, which mows the lord's meadow, reaps the lord's fields,
carries the lord's messages, pays a stoup of honey and a churchshot of
white corn; and as long as the meadow is mowed and the message carried,
the question what individual holds the virgate is quite a subsidiary one
for the bailiff, and one which the tenants can arrange among themselves
much as they please. Each half virgate at Cuxham[155] has got to do two
boonworks or pay 4d. But the manorial economy is not at all disturbed by
the fact of one tenant holding not half a virgate, but a virgate and a
half; for he has to do, or pay some one else to do, six boonworks and
pay 2s. if he does not. A half-hide at Bramshot[156] has to make
half-a-dozen different payments in money and kind; but there is another
to prevent John, Stephen, Roger, and William clubbing together to work
it and arranging the payments among themselves as they please.

    [155] Merton Documents, No. 5902, Rental of Cuxham, 1483:
    "Johannes ... pro uno messuagio et una virgata terræ et dimidia
    xxiiis. et 6 precaria in autumno vel 2s.... Thomas Lee, Rector
    ecclesiæ ibidem pro uno tofto ... et una virgata terræ 18s. et 4
    precaria in autumno vel 16d."

    [156] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), p. 96, Rental of 1287:
    "Johannes filius Fabri, Stephanus Draghebreck, Rogerus de
    Hallie, et Willelmus le Hart ... tenent j dimidiam hidatam
    terræ. Reddendo inde per annum 5s. ad festum S. Mich. et xixd.
    de Pondpany et ad festum Beati Martini viii gallinas de
    chersetto, et ii gallinas contra Natale, et x ova contra Pascha,
    et facient in omnibus omnia sicut Willelmus de Haillie." P. 125:
    "William, son of Gonnilda, and Galfrid Levesone, John, son of
    Matilda, and Emma, a widow, hold one virgate of land containing
    27-1/2 acres on paying and doing as the said Robert of
    Estfelde." There are many similar entries.

Clearly in these circumstances a rigid classification of holdings by the
manorial authorities is quite compatible with a great deal of diversity
in the arrangements made with each other by the holders, and we are
likely to miss a good many innovations if we look at the manor only
through the eyes of officials and as a revenue-producing concern.[157]
We must no more expect to get from them an exhaustive account of the
exact individuals at any one time using the land, or of the scale on
which farming is carried on by the peasants, than we expect the
shareholders' list of a limited company to tell us who has the spending
of the dividends. The shares stand in A.'s name, but the interest may go
to A.'s married daughter. The holding stands in the name of Thomas in
the books of the manor, but it may be that part or all of it is worked
by Walter. To put the case in another way, to the lord and his steward a
manor is primarily a business, a business on which various obligations
can be imposed and from which various profits can be extracted. But it
is also a village community consisting of peasants whose economic
relations are by no means exhausted in the interest which the lord takes
in them as part of its stock, and who have economic dealings which are
important when we begin to inquire into changes in the distribution of
peasant property. The number of the holdings and the amount of payments
and services may remain quite unaltered, and yet at the same time if one
individual begins to acquire several shares his property will grow at
the expense of other persons. Precisely because it is new, the
appearance of such small capitalists is not readily traceable in the
stereotyped forms used by the manorial officials. Precisely because it
is new, it is of the greatest economic significance. It shows what may
be called, by contrast with later developments, the old agrarian régime,
producing the new type of well-to-do peasant who is one of the
protagonists in the class struggles of the sixteenth century.

    [157] Vinogradoff, _Villainage in England_, pp. 250-251: "The
    general arrangement admitted a certain subdivision under the
    cover of an artificial unity, which found its expression in the
    settlement of the services and of the relations with the lord."

And this upward movement is no mere matter of conjecture. That behind
the stiff legal framework of the manorial organisation there was a
tendency for property to pass into the hands of the more prosperous
tenants, and that there was a sort of primitive commercialism even at a
time when commercial ideas had little influence over the methods of
agriculture, becomes evident if we examine the elements out of which the
small properties of the fourteenth century are composed. The gradual
formation of a class of wealthy peasants took place in three ways,
through the buying up by well-to-do men of parts of their neighbours'
properties, through the colonising by villages of the unoccupied land
surrounding them, and through the addition to the customary holdings of
plots which had at one time been in the occupation of the lord, but
which, for one reason or another, he found it more profitable to sell or
lease to his tenants. Even before the end of the thirteenth century it
is by no means unusual to find land changing holders pretty rapidly both
by transfer and by lease. The customary land passes in the manorial
court; the outgoing tenant surrenders it, and the incoming tenant is
formally admitted by the steward. When a peasant leaves the manor or
dies without heirs, the other tenants offer a sort of small land-market,
and bid for his land or part of it to add to their own. Hence holdings
or fractions of holdings change hands with some frequency at the court
customary, the well-to-do, who can afford to take more land, offering
the lord an increased rent to obtain a share in a holding the possession
of which has for some reason lapsed. In the court rolls of the
Lincolnshire manor of Ingoldmells,[158] for example, there are many such
transfers, six sales occurring in successive courts held in 1315 and
1316. At Crondal,[159] in 1282, a tenant has for some reason given up
his holding; the rest of the community dart on it like minnows on a
piece of bread; and it is at once split up among as many as ten other
tenants, who find sureties for the continuance of the normal services.
At Hadleigh,[160] in 1305, a tenant sells part of his land to be built
upon. At Castle[161] Combe, in 1367, a villein enters by licence of the
lord on two virgates of land and a separate pasture.

    [158] _Ingoldmells Court Rolls_ (Massingberd), October 1315 to
    June 1316.

    [159] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), pp. 152-153. Court Roll of
    1282. "Hugh Sweyn gives to the lord 15d. that he may be able to
    hold 2-1/2 acres of arable land of the tenement formerly Richard
    Wisdom's, paying therefor yearly 15d. of rent: sureties for the
    services being Gilbert Swein and Roger Carter." Nine other
    tenants take fractions of Richard Wisdom's holding in the same

    [160] _Victoria County History of Suffolk_, "Social and Economic
    History" (Unwin). Professor Unwin has some suggestive remarks on
    similar developments in other parts of the county.

    [161] _History of Castle Combe_ (Scrope), p. 162: "Johannes
    Pleyslede, nativus domini, cepit de domino unum messuagium et
    duas virgatas terrae tenendas in bondagio, secundum
    consuetudinem manerii ... Reddit etiam annuatim sex denarios pro
    quadam pastura vocata le Hatche, et pro via ad eandem."

Such examples of what may be called petty land speculation could be
multiplied almost indefinitely, and point to a good deal of mobility in
rural society even in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. At
the same time one can see signs of relationships of a more complicated
character tending to establish themselves between the tenants, and
breaking up the symmetry of the manorial arrangements. There is a marked
tendency for holdings not to remain intact but to be split up among
different holders. Sometimes this takes place in the ordinary course of
transference from father to son. The virgate held by the former is
divided, for example, into two cotlands, each of which is held by one
child,[162] or the heir to a holding divides it with his mother.[163]
More frequently one is left to infer the actual process of division
from the way in which the Rentals describe holdings as being occupied by
groups or partnerships[164] of tenants, who share the land between them,
each being responsible for a part of the rents and services owing from
the virgate. Such an arrangement does not imply that there is any
partnership in actual cultivation, any partnership in the modern sense
of the word. It means, on the contrary, that the different parts of the
holding are divided among several different cultivators, and that its
apparent unity is quite artificial, simply a fiscal expression to enable
the authorities to see that it renders its share of payments and

    [162] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), p. 129, Rental of Dupehale
    (Dippenhall) 1287: "Edmunde de Bosco and William de Bosco hold 2
    cotlands which were formed out of one virgate of land which Adam
    de Bosco formerly held."

    [163] _Ibid._, p. 153: "Margery Palmer comes and surrenders into
    the hands of the lord a virgate of land with a house in Crondal,
    and Galfrid her son comes and gives to the lord 6s. 8d. to have
    seizin thereof, upon this condition, that the said Margery have
    the third part, and two pieces more, of the aforesaid tenement,
    for the term of her life."

    [164] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), p. 117, Rental of Yateleigh,
    1287: "John de la Perke and Thomas Squel hold one virgate of
    land containing 22 acres, on payment therefor of 2s. 10d. on the
    Feast of St. Michael and 7-1/2 for Pondpany, and one stoup of
    honey, and 75 eggs, and shall perform all services like Thomas
    Kach.... Walter le White and Osbert de la Knelle hold one
    virgate of land containing 29-1/2 acres.... Roys de Pothulle and
    John le White hold one virgate of land containing 29 acres."

Again there is much leasing and sub-letting of land by the more
prosperous of the customary tenants. Like labourers who hold allotments
to-day, they often find it convenient to hire extra land and at the same
time to let out parts of their own holdings, which may be inconveniently
situated, or hard to work, or for some other reason not worth retaining.
Thus in Lancashire the Clitheroe[165] court rolls show many fines being
paid in the early fourteenth century for permission to "tavern," that is
simply to lease, land. In 1351 there are several tenants on the manor of
Sutton[166] in Hampshire who have leased cotlands from the larger
customary tenants. At Crokeham on the neighbouring manor of Crondal[167]
we hear as early as 1287 of one tenant paying 12d. for his holding
"through the rents of" another customary tenant, who stands as an
intermediate landlord between him and the manorial authorities. On this
manor, indeed, sub-letting of land proceeded very far, and had created
by the middle of the sixteenth century exactly the result which one
would have expected, the existence, namely, of a considerable number of
subtenants holding land from the copyholders and known by the name of
Hallmote[168] tenants. Nor is mere subtenancy the most elaborate of the
arrangements which arise among these Lilliputian capitalists. The
peasants deal in land, and naturally they employ land agents to act as
brokers for their bargains. When "Robert Bagges surrenders one bovate of
villein land into the hands of the lord for the use of Symon Clerk, and
the same Symon forthwith surrenders the aforesaid bovate to the lord for
the use of William Flaxman, and William Flaxman pays 12d. to enter
thereupon,"[169] may we not say that we have the whole machinery of land
speculation, seller, middleman, and client, complete?

    [165] _Court Rolls of the Lordships, Wapentakes, and Demesne
    Manors of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster_ (edited by W. Farrer).
    Halmote of Colne, 1323: "Thomas le Harper for taverning 3 acres
    of land, 6d. Roger ... for the same of 2 acres of land, 4d.,"
    and _passim_.

    [166] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), p. 140: "John Thomas holds a
    messuage and a 'ferdell' of land, excepting one cotland and a
    perch.... Thomas le Freyn holds of the above a cotland and a

    [167] _Ibid._, p. 134: "William de Suche gives to the lord 12d.
    yearly, to be allowed to hold 6 acres through the rents of Hugh
    of Wyggeworthale."

    [168] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), pp. 159-383. Customary of
    1567. The name does not necessarily imply subtenancy in any way,
    the Hallmoot being simply the court of the manor. At Yateleigh
    one copyholder, Richard Allen, held about 263 acres, of which
    about 126 were held from him by 21 subtenants (pp. 258-265 and

    [169] Footnote in _The Rebellion of Wat Tyler_, by Petruschevsky
    (Russian), p. 210: "Ricardus Flaxman qui de domino tenuit in
    bondagio unum messuagium et II. bovatas terræ et xvi acras terræ
    de Forland quæ quondam fuerunt Johannis Colyn ad terminum xx.
    annorum ex dimissione prædicti Johannis per licenciam curiæ,
    venit hic et reddidit in manus domini prædictas duas bovatas
    terræ et acras di' terræ et prati ad opus Willelmi Dolynes
    deduct' prædicto messuagio." Duchy of Lancaster Court Rolls,
    Bdle. 32, No. 307, and _ibid._, p. 211: "Robertus Bagges redd'
    in manus domini l bovatam terræ in bondagio ad opus Symonis
    Clerk Tenend 'sibi et suis, etc. Et idem Symon instanter redd'
    in manus domini prædictam bovatam terræ ad opus Willelmi Flaxman
    sibi et heredibus suis secundum consuetudinem manerii, et dat ad
    ingressum xiid." Duchy of Lancaster Court Rolls, Bdle. 33, No.
    324: "Instanter" is remarkable.

So far we are on safe ground. But it is not easy to describe the sort of
conditions in which this petty commercialism, this emergence of peasants
richer and more prosperous than their fellows, takes place. Clearly it
implies the existence of small stores of capital, of some surplus over
the consumption of the current year, which its fortunate possessors can
use as a starting-point for further acquisitions; nor ought this to
surprise us, for the usurer who traffics in his neighbours' misfortunes
by lending money or corn at exorbitant rates, is by no means an
unfamiliar bugbear in the mediæval village. Clearly, again, we must not
look for some single _primum mobile_ to explain how such small capitals
could be brought into existence. With all its apparent homogeneity the
manorial population had, from the beginning of things, included people
some of whom were in so much better a position than others for building
up considerable properties as to make it no matter for astonishment
that, as time went on, they should improve their advantage and attract
more than their share of any increase in wealth which might take place.
The appearance in the fourteenth century of a rural middle class is,
indeed, much less remarkable than the extreme slowness of its
development in the more backward parts of the country. For one thing,
even the strictest equalisation of shares could not prevent the holder
of exceptionally fertile land from being better off than his less
fortunate fellow. Since services and rents were based on the
requirements of the demesne, with a view to their rough apportionment
among all the peasants, and were not adjusted, like modern competitive
rents, so as to sweep away the surplus arising on superior sites, the
occupants of the latter could build up, under the ægis of custom, the
nucleus of a very considerable property.[170] For another thing, the
mere fact that the village was subordinated to a lord, who exploited it
by means of officers and servants, supplied village society with an
upper layer of people who had larger opportunities than the mass of the
peasantry for improving their position. Stewards, bailiffs, and greaves
were frequently rewarded for their services with grants of land for
which only a nominal rent was asked, and of course the most obvious way
of using their advantage was further to increase it by adding to their
properties. In a somewhat similar position to these were the peasants
who were let off easily because their labour was not needed for the
lord's estate. It is quite a mistake to think of the mediæval villager
as a man pinned down to subsistence level by the economic pressure which
grinds, as in a mortar, the poorest classes in modern society. Of course
individuals were cruelly oppressed, and when the harvest failed whole
communities, as in India to-day, must sometimes have been blotted out at
a blow. But the whole story of the extraordinary upward movement which
took place among the peasantry in the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries is unintelligible, unless we admit that the legal
rightlessness of the villein was, in fact, quite compatible with a good
deal of economic prosperity. His liability to the manorial authorities,
though in law unqualified, was in reality a liability limited, on the
one hand, by the rule of custom, and, on the other, by the fact that he
worked, not for an ever hungry world-market, but for a by no means
insatiable local demand. Since services were adjusted to holdings, not
to holders, a family of five or six persons usually did not send more
than one or two to work on the lord's estate, and the remainder had
opportunities for economic advancement, which necessarily became greater
as the growth of population made the weight of the lord's requirements
less exacting.[171] Moreover, the rudimentary specialisation of
industrial employments, which can plainly be seen going on in the
villages of the fourteenth century, brought into existence the man who
was half peasant, half artisan or tradesman, and who could employ the
money which he made in trade to carry on his husbandry on a larger scale
than his neighbours. Such, for example, were the smiths, carpenters,
turners, shoemakers, tailors, butchers, walkers, websters, and shearmen,
who appear so constantly in Poll Tax returns.[172] When a weaver is
able, though a villein, to leave 3000 marks to his heirs,[173] the
village capitalist has plainly come upon the scenes. Nor must we forget
that, however self-contained some manors may have been, there were
others whose proximity to a chartered town or to a seaport acted as a
magnet to draw rural conditions out of the rut of custom. Among the
serfs who bought permission to emigrate, there were some who, having
made money as town craftsmen, strayed back to their "villein nest," and
acquired considerable properties with their hardly amassed wealth, like
the Italian or Austrian peasant of to-day, who, after years spent in the
sunless tenements and restaurants of New York, returns at last to be the
envy of Calabrian and Tyrolese villages. From several sides at once,
therefore, from those who socially rank above the mass of the
population, from the peasant who combines trade and husbandry, from the
enterprising serf who sets out to make his fortune at a distance, forces
are at work to build up the considerable holdings that are the basis of
the well-to-do peasantry of the future.

    [170] See below, pp. 115-121.

    [171] See _E.H.R._, vol. xv. pp. 774-813; Vinogradoff's review
    of Page's _The End of Villeinage in England_.

    [172] Powell, _The Revolt in East Anglia_, Appendix I.; and
    Putnam, _The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers_, pp.

    [173] Scrope, _History of the Manor and Barony of Castle Combe_.
    p. 233.

But while these causes were always operating on individuals, the most
potent influence in forming a class of prosperous peasants was, no
doubt, the spread of commerce and its reaction on agriculture. Its
effect is shown by the fact that it is just in those parts of the
country where trade is most highly developed, and where, therefore, the
use of money and the growth of wealth encourage speculation of all
kinds, that the commercialising of landed relationships, and the
appearance of a middle class, arises earliest and spreads furthest. The
change is specially noticeable in the Eastern counties, which, from an
early date, are the home of industry. Examples of the extreme variety
and irregularity in the holdings of the customary tenants on the manors
of Suffolk in the sixteenth century, which we have already contrasted
with the arrangements in the backward parts of the country such as
Northumberland, begin to make their appearance at a very early date in
that county of fisheries and manufactures. At Hadleigh,[174] where the
woollen industry has set money in circulation, the processes both of
splitting up the customary holdings, and of letting two or three of them
to a single tenant, is conspicuous at the beginning of the fourteenth
century, and has completely altered the distribution of property which
existed a century before. At the little fishing village of
Gorleston[175] at the end of the thirteenth century each of the former
tenancies was divided up among several tenants, sometimes three or four,
sometimes eight or ten, and once as many as twenty. At Hawstead, in the
same county, the free tenants have let off part of their holdings and
added to them by leasing additional land in its place. In short,
whenever trade becomes a serious factor in rural life, one finds a very
general tendency for new arrangements of land to grow up side by side
with the customary holdings, which are the backbone of the manor,
because it is from them that the lord extracts his services for the
cultivation of the desmesne. As long as the necessity for labour
services continues, the number of holdings does not undergo any
appreciable alteration, but the number of holdings ceases to be a guide
to the number of holders.

    [174] _Victoria County History of Suffolk_, Unwin's article on
    Social and Economic History.

    [175] _Ibid._

It is clear that the organisation of the manor is compatible with a good
deal of shifting of property among the customary tenants, and that an
alteration in its arrangements begins at a comparatively early date,
without any external shock and through the desire of such tenants as can
afford it to buy and lease land from other tenants who are less well
off. If such a tendency were at all general, it would explain the
gradual aggregation of larger holdings into fewer hands, and the
appearance of considerable inequality in economic status among members
of the village community whose legal position was the same. Sometimes,
indeed, the authorities of the manor think that the process is going on
too fast, that tenants have forgotten that, though they deal in land as
though it were their own, it is really the lord's, and that they must
not jeopardise the rents and services which he expects from it by
alienating it without his permission. Sometimes a day of reckoning
comes, when "tenants having more than one customary tenement" are "to
show cause why they should not be excluded from the other tenements but
one, unless license be granted them."[176] But in view of the multitude
of transactions which come before us, we can hardly doubt that licence
was nearly always granted if the purchaser or lessee was thought by the
steward to be substantial enough to make the land do its duty,[177] and
that tenants who wanted to buy and sell, lease and let, had very little
opposition to expect from the lord or his steward.

    [176] _Merton Documents_, "A table of the Matters, Orders, and
    Customs Conteyned in Severall Courts of the Manor, 1563": "Daye
    given to all ye tenants of ye manor to remove and expell their
    undertenants by Michaelmas that shall be in ye yeare 1563, upon
    paine of every delinquent forfeiting 20s." "Daye given to the
    aforesaid tenants having above one customary tenement to be here
    at ye next court to shew," etc., as above. See the Customary of
    High Furness quoted below, p. 101; also Hone, _The Manor and
    Manorial Records_, pp. 177-178, Court Rolls of Payton, Oxon.:
    "And the aforesaid Laurence Pemerton, in his life time,
    substituted Walter Milleward as his subtenant ... contrary to
    the custom of the Manor without license; therefore let him have
    a talk thereon with the King's officer before the next court."

    [177] This is the meaning of entries of two names as "sureties"
    when land changes hands. See _Crondal Records_, Court Rolls of
    1281 and 1282, _passim_.

After all the picture is one which we ought not to have any difficulty
in understanding, if once we get rid of the idea, born of our melancholy
modern experience, that the buying of land in small parcels is for the
small man the road to ruin, a luxury in which none but the well-to-do
can afford to indulge. We have all heard much of the iniquities of the
English system of land transfer, and have contrasted its cumbersomeness,
its expense, its uncertainty, with the facilities for buying small plots
offered by methods like those of France, where sales and mortgages are
entered in a public registry, which any one has the right to inspect.
But we need not look to the Continent or the British Dominions to see a
market for real property working freely and smoothly. In our period by
far the most general form of tenure was one customary tenure or another,
and whatever the disadvantages of customary tenure may have been--and
they were many--they had one great compensating advantage. Customary
holdings could be transferred easily, cheaply, and with certainty, by
surrender and admission in the court of the manor. Since there was no
doubt that the freehold was in the lord, there was no expensive
investigation of titles to eat up the prospective profits of the
purchaser, and the Court Rolls offered a record, one is tempted to say a
register, of the nature of the interest which a tenant had had in any
holding from time immemorial. Of course the adjustment of the respective
claims of lords and tenants raised very knotty problems, and these will
be examined later. But, as long as they were in abeyance, the fact that
peasant holdings could be transferred so readily contributed to the
breaking up in the regularity of manorial arrangements, to the passage
of land from one family to another, and to the formation of larger
properties out of small.[178]

    [178] Since writing the above I have seen that the same view of
    the advantages of copyhold (the descendant of villein) tenure is
    taken by Dr. Hasbach, who quotes an eighteenth century writer to
    the effect that copyhold as compared with freehold land had the
    advantage of "the greater certainty of its title and the
    cheapness of its conveyance" (Hasbach, _A History of the English
    Agricultural Labourer_, pp. 72-73).

Such petty transactions among the peasantry were not, however, the only
way in which substantial peasant properties came into existence. In
addition to the transference of land from one tenant to another there
were other causes working to produce much the same results. The first
was the continuous taking in of plots of waste land by tenants who got
permission from the manorial authorities to make encroachments upon it.
The second was the abandonment of the system of cultivating the demesne
by the labour rents of the tenants. Long before the enclosing of the
common waste by lords of manors and farmers had become a very serious
grievance--that it was a grievance at an early date is proved by the
Statute of Merton[179]--one finds arrangements being made for bringing
unused land under cultivation. Sometimes this movement goes on on a very
large scale indeed; the Abbey of St. Albans gets a licence from the King
in 1347 to "improve its wastes aforesaid and to grant and let them for
their true value to whomsoever of their tenants comes to take
them;"[180] and about the same time 500 acres of waste in the forest of
High Peak[181] are let by the Crown to three tenants, much to the
disgust of the neighbouring commoners. Usually the encroachments on the
waste take place piecemeal. The process by which piece after piece was
clipped off it and added to the tenants' holdings is shown very clearly
in Rentals and Court Rolls. Occasionally it goes on without sanction; a
tenant surreptitiously draws into his holding an extra piece of land for
which he pays nothing, and is only found out when he has occupied it for
some time. But this is rare, for such encroachments are a source of
profit to the lord, both in the payment made for the original permission
to make them and in the rent coming from them, and the steward is
therefore careful that they should be made through the court and entered
in detail on the rolls of the manor. Thus at Ashton-under-Lyne,[182] in
1422, both freeholders and customary tenants had made large intakes of
wood and waste and were paying for some of them as much as 13s. 4d. and
10s. The Halmote Court of Colne[183] in 1324 shows many tenants paying a
few pence for acres and half acres of waste. At Yateleigh,[184] in 1287,
almost every one of the fifty-three customary tenants held, in addition
to his land in the open fields, land taken from the waste amounting in
the aggregate to 37 acres, while some possessed no land at all except
that which they had thus reclaimed. In the tithing of Aldershot,[185] on
the same manor, one tenant held 52 acres in encroachments. At
Crokeham[186] another held 63-1/2 acres in addition to the standard half
virgate of customary land; another, at Southwood,[187] 16 acres.

    [179] 1235, c. 4. One may remark, however, that the power which
    a single freeholder had had before 1235 to prevent the breaking
    up or enclosure of common pastures, even when he had more than
    was sufficient for his own beasts, was a genuine hardship for
    the lord, for other freeholders, and for the customary tenants;
    see the remarks in Pollock and Maitland (_History of English
    Law_, vol. i. p. 612).

    [180] _Gesta Abbatum Monasterii St. Albani_, vol. iii. pp.
    120?-121, quoted by Petruschevsky, _op. cit._, pp. 179?-180.

    [181] _Victoria County History_, Derbyshire, vol. ii. p. 170.

    [182] Glover, _History of Ashton_, p. 355. "Richard the Hunte
    ... for an intake 3d. ... Thomas of the Leghes for the one half
    of the intake in Palden Wood 13s. 4d. The same Thomas of the
    Leghes for an intake besyde Alt Hey 10s."

    [183] _Court Rolls of the Lordships, etc., of Thomas, Earl of
    Lancaster_ (Farrer). Halmote of Ightenhill, 1324, January 18:
    "John de Briddeswail for entry to half an acre of waste in
    Habrincham, 6d., for the same yearly, 2d." Same court, May 7,
    1324.: "Richard le Skinner for entry to 4 acres of waste in
    Sommerfordrod, 6d., for the same yearly, 6d.," and _passim_. In
    the north of England there seems to have been very much
    colonising of the waste, perhaps because original settlements
    were small. See Turner, _History of Brighouse, Rastrick, and
    Hipperholme_, pp. 66?-67, and _Trans. Rochdale Literary and
    Philosophical Society_, vol. vii., Rochdale Manor Inquisition.

    [184] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), pp. 116?-120, _e.g._ "Robert,
    son of Peter de la Pierke, holds one acre of encroachment land
    on paying 4d."

    [185] _Ibid._, pp. 123-?127.

    [186] _Ibid._, pp. 131?-134. "Richard Wysdon holds half a
    virgate of land containing 16 acres.... The same holds 63-1/2
    acres, which were in his ancient occupation, and were found to
    be over and above his said virgate, and (included) in many

    [187] _Ibid._, pp. 122-?123: "William of Southwoode holds 16
    acres of encroachments and other detached pieces."

The process of nibbling away the waste was, in fact, very general, and
was a natural and inevitable one. The lord gained by leasing part of it
to be broken up and cultivated, while, so long as sufficient land was
left for grazing, the tenants gained by getting land which they could
add to their holdings, and on which the growing population could settle.
It must be remembered that the area under cultivation was everywhere an
island in an ocean of unreclaimed barrenness which cried out for
colonists.[188] In the Middle Ages land was abundant and men were
scarce; the land wanted the people much more than the people wanted the
land. Moreover, with the simple methods of cultivation prevailing, the
number of persons which a villein's holding could maintain was strictly
limited, and the tendency to "diminishing returns," with the consequent
difficulty of maintaining a growing population on the same area, must
have come into play very soon and very sharply. Surveyors[189]
appreciated this, and pointed out on some manors that unless the
tenants' holdings were enlarged they could not make a decent living and,
what was more important to the authorities, could not perform the
customary services. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that at a
comparatively early date the manorial population began to overflow the
boundaries of the customary land and to occupy the waste, with the
result that the area under cultivation grew, in some cases,
enormously.[190] We can hardly be mistaken in supposing that this was
the chief cause of the remarkable difference in the amount of land which
strikes one when one compares some of the surveys of later and earlier
dates. In any case the result was to increase the opportunities
possessed by the more prosperous tenants, who could afford to rent
additional land, of adding to their holdings, and thus to produce a
growing inequality in the distribution of property among them.

    [188] Thorold Rogers _(Agriculture and Prices_, vol. i. p. 34:
    "Not much less land was regularly under the plough than at
    present") thinks otherwise. But (i.) modern agriculture has many
    ways of using land besides keeping it "under the plough"; (ii.)
    we know that in the eighteenth century large tracts now
    cultivated were barren heaths, and it is difficult to believe
    that these had been cultivated in the Middle Ages.

    [189] See below, p. 189. The instances there quoted are later
    than the period with which we are now dealing, but as they
    mostly come from Northumberland, a very conservative county,
    they are perhaps to the point.

    [190] _e.g._ at South Newton in Wiltshire (see p. 74), tithing
    of Swanthrop in Crondal, where the area of the tenants' holdings
    was in 1287 about 360 acres, and in 1567 about 607 acres, and
    tithing of Crondal, where the area of the tenants' holdings was
    in 1287 about 181, and in 1567 about 284. But these figures are
    not altogether satisfactory; and sometimes one finds a
    reduction, _e.g._ at Dippenhall (from about 287 acres at the
    earlier date to about 275 at the later date). The plague
    relieved the pressure of population, and thus removed one
    incentive for breaking up the waste; on the other hand, it left
    the survivors much better off, and thus more able to increase
    the scale of their husbandry. But until we know much more about
    the growth of population we shall not make much of general
    comparisons of this kind.

If the instances which have been given above are at all typical of the
state of things on many manors, the economic rigidity of rural life in
the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries must have been a good
deal less than is often suggested. The legal forms are stiff and
unchanging, but the life behind them is fluid, and produces all sorts of
new combinations and arrangements which make legal forms a better index
of what was a hundred years before than of what at any moment is. In
particular one finds considerable movement going on before the Great
Plague. The more fully manorial records are explored, the more difficult
does it seem to generalise about the effects of that great catastrophe.
One cannot say that it was the beginning of the commutation of labour
services into rents, for on some manors they were partially commuted
before it, and on some they were not entirely commuted till nearly two
centuries later. One cannot say that the leasing of the demesne was due
to the Plague; for where the labour supply was small, parts of it were
leased already,[191] and after the Plague the authorities of different
manors met the crisis in different ways, sometimes beginning by letting
the demesne only to return later to the older system. It may be
suggested, however, that its influence has been somewhat exaggerated by
those authorities who would have us regard it as the watershed of
economic history. No doubt the Great Plague was the single most
important event in the economic history of the fourteenth century, just
as the Irish famine of 1846 was the single most important event in the
economic history of Ireland in the nineteenth century. But neither the
Irish famine nor the Plague had the effect of sweeping economic
development on to wholly new lines. What they both did was enormously to
accelerate tendencies already at work. The customary tenants were buying
and leasing land from each other before the Plague, and before the
Plague some lords were leasing out their demesnes, but on a small scale.
After the Plague the death of many holders and the poverty of many
survivors caused land to come into the market on a vastly greater scale
and at a cheaper rate, with the result that the aggregation of holdings,
the beginnings of which have been described as above, proceeded with
vastly increased rapidity. That this was the case immediately after the
Plague is shown by the familiar entries[192] as to the transference of
holdings which have lost their cultivators in the Court Rolls. The
movement seems to have continued, however, long after the immediate
effects of the Plague had passed away, and to have resulted on some
manors in the fifteenth century in something which might almost be
called free trade in land. One finds a readiness to buy and sell
customary holdings which belies the idea of the manor as a rigid
organisation in which little room was left for changing contractual
arrangements, and one finds also the natural result of the rising
commercialisation of land tenure in the grouping of several holdings
under one tenant, in the appearance of the practice of some tenants
sub-letting lands to others, and in general in the passing of property
from the economically weak to the economically strong, which naturally
does not go on rapidly till there is a market in which they both can

    [191] _e.g._ at Hadleigh in 1305 (_Victoria County History_,
    Suffolk, Unwin's article); at Crondal in 1287 (_Crondal
    Records_, p. 110); at Ormsby in 1324 (Massingberd, _History of

    [192] _e.g._ Scrope, _Castle Combe_, p. 164. Court Rolls of
    1357: "Johannis filius Johannis Payn venit et finem fecit cum
    domino per 12d. pro ingressu habendo in illo messuagio et
    virgata terræ quæ Johannis le Parkare quondam tenuit.... Et
    dictum tenementum concessum est ei ad tam parvam finem eo quod
    dictum tenementum est ruinosum et decassum; et existebat in manu
    domini a tempore pestilentiæ pro defectu emptorum." Massingberd,
    Ingoldmells Court Rolls for years 1349?-1352. Gasquet, _The
    Great Pestilence_. Page, _The End of Villeinage in England_.

At the same time by the beginning of the fifteenth century another force
of great importance was beginning to operate. The increase in the size
of the customary tenants' holdings, and the growth of a class occupying
much more land than the ordinary villein tenancy, was brought about not
only by encroachment on the waste and the aggregation of holdings, but
also by the transference to the tenants of that part of the manorial
land which has been the lord's demesne. The process by which the demesne
ceased to be cultivated by villein labour, and became frequently an area
subject to the more elastic arrangements of leasehold tenure, has been
often described, and we shall have to return to it later in speaking of
the development of the large capitalist farm. Here it is sufficient to
point out that, the abandonment of the primitive system, by which the
tenants worked out their rents in labour on the demesne, had two
consequences which are of great significance in the development of the
villein into the prosperous peasantry of the fifteenth and early
sixteenth centuries.

In the first place, it meant that one great force making for equality
between the holdings of different tenants was removed. The system which
gave each customary tenant on a manor what may be called a standard
holding was surely an artificial one, in the sense that it bears the
mark of deliberate arrangement, and is not one which would tend to be
established by the play of economic forces. As we have seen, economic
forces did begin to impair it at an early date. Its persistence is more
remarkable than its disappearance, and why had it persisted? Partly, no
doubt, because the idea that each full household should be equipped with
a standard holding was part of the original organisation of the village
community, upon which the feudal superstructure had been imposed, and
which it used as a machine for grinding out its revenue. Partly also
through the needs of that superstructure itself. As the tenants were the
instruments by which the demesne was cultivated, and as the demesne
could not be cultivated unless the tenants were adequately equipped with
the means of livelihood, the rough equality which existed between their
holdings, though arising from the communal arrangement of village life,
and not deliberately imposed from above, had, nevertheless, been, in
fact, a quite necessary condition for the working of the lord's private
estate. A settled relation between holdings and services was a
convenience to the manorial authorities, and in this sense the work done
on the demesne was a force tending to keep the tenants' holdings fixed,
as it were, on a scale which did not easily allow of much
variation.[193] When the demesne ceased to be cultivated by labour
services, what had been from the point of view of the manorial officers,
though not from that of the villagers, the chief practical reason for
maintaining equality between the different holdings disappeared, and the
inequality which economic forces were tending to produce developed more

    [193] The view that the equality of holdings was the creation
    not of the communal needs of the peasantry but of deliberate
    arrangement by the authorities, seems to be untenable in face of
    the evidence of early records showing that freeholders as well
    as the servile peasantry held roughly equal shares (see
    Vinogradoff, _Villainage in England_, Essay II., chap. iv. and
    chap. vi). On the other hand, the apportionment of services to
    holdings tended to stereotype the existing arrangement. A late
    example which displays both elements, that of authoritative
    pressure and that of communal organisation, is supplied by the
    Customary of High Furness (R.O. Duchy of Lancs. Special
    Commissions, No. 398): "As heretofore dividing and portioning of
    tenements hath caused great decay, chiefly of the service due to
    her Highness for horses, and of her woods, and has been the
    cause of making a great number of poor people in the lordship,
    it is now ordered that no one shall divide his Tenement or
    Tenements among his children, but that the least part shall be
    of the ancient yearly rent to her Highness of 6s. 8d." See
    below, p. 101.

In the second place, when labour rents were commuted into money, the
demesne was often added to the tenants' holdings, with the result of
still further destroying their symmetry, by the opportunity which was
given to men with money to buy up parcels of land. This movement went on
so unobtrusively that its significance is liable to be overlooked. In
reality, however, it was a change of very great importance, scarcely
less important than the decay of villein services and disabilities which
was the other side, the personal as contrasted with the agrarian side,
of the same break up of the old system of cultivation. One must remember
that the lord's demesne formed a very large part of a great many manors,
often no doubt the most fertile and desirable part. One may recall again
that there are other European countries in which the sharp distinction
between the demesne and the holdings of the peasants was maintained in
full mediæval vigour almost to our own day. In Prussia,[194] for
example, a Royal Decree, the Decree of 1807, was needed to break it
down, and to allow the land held by lords of manors to be bought by the
small cultivator. What the partial obliteration of this line meant in
fourteenth and fifteenth century England was that a great deal of land,
land on which the peasantry, one would suppose, had often turned
covetous eyes, was thrown into the market for families who could afford
it to buy and lease, that for a century or so after the Plague great
estates were being broken up into small, instead of small being
consolidated into great, that for a century or so the land market turned
in favour of the small man as much as it afterwards turned against

    [194] Edict of October 9, 1807, Clause 1.

    [195] Compare a document, _temp._ Hen. VIII., quoted by Gonner,
    _Common Land and Enclosure_, p. 155 n., which states that
    whereas landlords at one time could not find tenants, now the
    case is altered and tenants want landlords.

Of course the leasing of the demesne was not universal; nor, when it
was leased, was it always divided up among the tenants. Often it was
transferred _en bloc_ to a single farmer, and became the nucleus of the
large leasehold farm whose management we shall examine later. Sometimes
it was first divided up and later consolidated again, with results
disastrous to the interests which had grown up upon it. But the
existence in the sixteenth century[196] of many small demesne tenancies
is a proof that a common way of treating it was to divide it up among
the peasants; and if we cast our eyes back over the records of the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we can find many examples to show how
such a state of things was brought about. Sometimes small plots of the
demesne are leased for terms of years. At Tykeford, in 1325,[197] the
surveyor found that 48 acres of demesne which were then in the hands of
the lords used to be leased to the tenants. The bailiff's accounts of
the manor of Amble[198] in Northumberland show that in 1328 "the
forlands" were let out to the bondage tenants, and in 1337 four of the
latter got leases of from 2 to 4 acres of demesne at Acklington.[199] In
1436 at Ambresbury[200] 2 carucates were leased to various tenants for a
term of years, as well as 8 acres of meadow and 400 acres of pasture;
and at Winterborne[201] 2 carucates, 6 acres of meadow, and 300 acres of
pasture were leased in the same year. But in the fifteenth century the
leasing of the demesne was constant, and there is no need to multiply
examples which can be found in almost every survey of the period. Where
the land was not leased it was quite usual for it to be held by copy.
This was a common practice in the fifteenth century in the south-west of
England. The surveyor[202] who, in 1568, gave an account of six manors
in the Western counties, found that in all of them the Barton or demesne
had been split up among the customary tenants for very many years and
was held by them as copyholders. The same thing happened on the manors
of the Earl of Northumberland, where the tenants' holdings were
increased by pieces taken from the lord's demesne and divided equally
among them. It happened at South[203] Newton in Wiltshire, where in 1567
a good deal of the Barton land was held by the tenants, who were
copyholders, on the same terms as the rest of their customary holdings;
at Stovard,[204] and Childhampton,[205] and Estoverton,[206] where the
customary tenants held "Bordland." Very probably those pieces of the
demesne which on some manors were held by copy of Court Roll, had
originally been let on lease in the way described above. The difficulty
of distinguishing them was very great, since normally they would lie in
the open fields scattered among the strips which formed the customary
holdings, in such a way that the movement of a balk obliterated the
difference. It is not surprising, therefore, that in spite of the
efforts of the lord's officials, they should constantly have lost their
identity. The remarkable thing is that they retained it so often, and
that surveyors were able to pin down a couple of acres among 30 or 40
others as not being, like the rest, customary land, but as having at one
time, perhaps several generations before, been parts of the lord's
demesne which it is "good to revyve and keep in memory that it should
not hereafter decay, but that at all tymes it may be devyded from the

    [196] For the use of the demesne in the sixteenth century see
    below, pp. 200?-213.

    [197] Dugdale,_Monasticon_, vol. v., Survey of Tykeford.

    [198] _Northumberland County History_, vol. v., Amble: "4s. 8d.
    de forlands dimissis diversis tenentibus." "4 acres leased by
    the Prior for 8 years to Roger at 8d. per acre."

    [199] _Ibid._, vol. v., Acklington.

    [200] Hoare, _History of Wiltshire_, Hundred of Ambresbury.

    [201] _Ibid._

    [202] Humberstone, _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i. p. 43.
    See below, pp. 208?-209.

    [203] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_ (Straton).

    [204] _Ibid._

    [205] _Ibid._

    [206] _Ibid._

    [207] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i., Survey of the
    Manor of Whitforde in the County of Devon.

With these words, so suggestive of the blurring of lines which in
previous ages were sharply drawn, we may pause to consider where we
stand. Our argument has aimed at showing the large changes which have
taken place in the position of the peasantry as landholders before the
agrarian revolution of the sixteenth century begins. We have not been
able to give any quantitative measurements of the developments. But we
have seen enough to understand the direction in which economic forces
are setting. The substitution of hired labour for villein services, and
the formation of a middle class of considerable landholders out of the
occupiers of virgates and semi-virgates who formed the bulk of the
population on most mediæval manors, are changes which have taken place
quietly and which have nothing sensational about them. But the growth of
relationships based on a cash nexus between individuals, which they both
imply, has effected a very real alteration in rural conditions, an
alteration which is in a small way like that occurring to-day when the
discovery that a quiet village possesses mineral wealth or is a
convenient holiday resort puts money into circulation there, causes
farming lands to be cut up into plots which are bought by the savings of
speculative tradesmen, and adds a new tangle of commercial relationships
to the slowly moving economy of village life. Speculation in land on a
small scale begins among the more prosperous villeins at an early date,
as the inevitable result of an increase in prosperity and of the land
hunger of a growing population. It is immensely accelerated through the
impetus which the plague, by emptying holdings of their occupants, gives
to the formation of something like a land market, and the result is that
the holdings of the more fortunate grow and the holdings of the less
fortunate diminish. As a consequence, there is in many fifteenth century
villages the greatest variety in the economic conditions of the
peasantry. Except where commercial forces have been held in check by the
remoteness of the township from centres of trade, or where the needs of
the manorial authorities oblige them to resist any subdivision of
holdings for fear it should lead to the loss of services, the
comparative uniformity characteristic of their holdings in the
thirteenth century has disappeared, and the equality in poverty of the
modern agricultural labourer has not yet taken its place. Though the old
Adam of economic enterprise seems to be banished by the insistence of
stewards and bailiffs that holdings which are responsible for certain
works shall be treated as an indivisible unity, he sneaks back, even in
the mediæval manor, in the shape of agreements among the peasantry,
agreements which break that unity up by way of exchange, of sale, of
leasing, and sub-letting. By the end of the fifteenth century the
different elements in rural society are spread, as it were, along a more
extended scale, and there is a much wider gap between those who are
most, and those who are least, successful.

Taken together these changes mean, on the whole, an upward movement, an
increase in the opportunities possessed by the peasantry of advancing
themselves by purchasing and leasing land, more mobility, more
enterprise, greater scope for the man who has saved money and wishes to
invest it. They mean that custom and authority have less influence and
that class distinctions based upon tenure are weakened. But the upward
curve may turn and descend; for they imply also a tendency towards the
dissolution of fixed customary arrangements and of the protection which
they offer against revolutionary changes, a tendency which in the
future, when great landowners and capitalists turn their attentions to
discovering the most profitable methods of farming, may damage the very
men who have gained by it in the past. In the next two chapters we shall
glance at the first point, and pause at greater length upon the second:
first, the economic condition of the mass of the peasantry before the
great agrarian movements of the sixteenth century begin; secondly, the
signs of coming change which may react to their disadvantage. We shall
try to maintain the standpoint of an observer in the early years of the
sixteenth century. But economic periods overlap, and Northumberland is
still in the Middle Ages when Middlesex is in the eighteenth century. So
we shall not hesitate to use evidence drawn from sources that are in
point of time far apart.


THE PEASANTRY (_continued_)

(d) _The Economic Environment of the Small Cultivator_

It was the argument of the previous chapter that the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries saw the emergence from the mass of manorial tenants
of a class of wealthy peasants who bought and leased their neighbours'
lands, added to their property parcels taken from the waste and demesne,
and by these means built up estates far exceeding in size the normal
villein holding. The change from labour services to money rents left the
peasantry with time for the management of larger holdings, and the
spread of a money economy increased their means of acquiring them. Cheap
land and easy transfer favour the movement of property from one man to
another. In the manorial courts transfer was easy, and, especially after
the Great Plague, land was cheap. It is not necessary to take sides in
the much debated question of the economic conditions of the fifteenth
century, in order to hold that, on the whole, such changes made the
greater part of it a period of increasing prosperity among the small
cultivators. To support this view one could quote Fortescue's[208] proud
description of the well-being of the common people. One could point out
that in the dark days in the middle of the sixteenth century the
peasants themselves looked back to the social conditions of the reign of
Henry VII.[209] as a kind of golden age, and clamoured for their
restoration. One could cite a good many examples pointing to an upward
movement. Large estates are left at death by men who are legally
villeins. Villeins, especially in the eastern counties, buy up freehold
land and found considerable properties. A bond tenant in Lincolnshire
marries into a knight's family. Bond tenants are found leasing the
manorial demesne in one block and farming estates of several hundred
acres. Nor must we forget that the peasants of the sixteenth century are
often very substantial people, and that even when the taint of personal
villeinage is still upon them.

    [208] Fortescue on the Governance of England (Plummer), chapter
    xii.: "But oure commons be riche, and therefore thai give to
    thair kynge, at somme times quinsimes and dessimes, and ofte
    tymes other grate subsidies."

    [209] Russell, _Ket's Rebellion in Norfolk_, p. 48 foll.; see
    passage quoted below, pp. 335?-337. For the sentences
    immediately following, see Scrope, _History of the Manor and
    Barony of Castle Combe_, p. 233: "A serf ... is said to have
    left at his death in 1435 chattels estimated at 3000 marks or
    £2000." Massingberd, Ingoldmells Court Rolls, int. xxix.;
    Davenport, _History of a Norfolk Manor_, p. 53.

But isolated instances of this kind, suggestive though they are, are not
likely to carry conviction unless they agree with what we know of the
general economic situation. Economists who live after the days of Samuel
Smiles will hesitate before they base optimistic conclusions as to the
conditions of any class on cases of good fortune among individual
members of it. We should be false to the spirit of our period if we did
not recognise that the economic ideal of most men, an ideal often
implied though not often formulated, was less the opening of avenues to
enterprise than the maintenance of groups and communities at their
customary level of prosperity. We shall have hereafter to speak of the
changes which overtook the English social system in the course of the
sixteenth century, in so far as they were connected with changes in the
methods of agriculture and of land tenure. Before we do so we may pause
for a moment to look at the village of the later Middle Ages as a social
and economic unit.

The foundation of its whole life is the possession by the majority of
households of holdings of land. Land is so widely distributed that the
household, all of whose members are entirely dependent for their living
upon work for wages, is the exception. Though this cannot be
statistically proved, it is rendered almost certain by several
converging lines of evidence. Turn first to the table on pp. 64 and 65,
which sets out the acreage of the customary tenants' holdings. It will
be seen that, when all the counties represented are grouped together,
the tenants who have only cottages form less than one-tenth of the total
number. In East Anglia and in Lancashire the proportion, it is true, is
considerably higher; but these counties are exceptions to the general
rule, and the cottagers usually have gardens, which, if they do not
amount to the minimum of four acres laid down by the Act of 1589, are
nevertheless not infrequently of one or two acres in extent. If we may
trust these figures, the typical family has a small holding of from two
and a half to fifteen acres. Our second line of evidence quite falls in
with this conclusion. It is clear from the tone of legislation that the
class of workers who depend solely on a contract of service is in
sixteenth century England not very large. Elizabethan[210] legislation
provides expressly for the needs of farmers by empowering Justices of
the Peace to apprentice unoccupied youths to husbandry, and to set the
unemployed to work in the fields. Even in the middle of the
seventeenth[211] century, when a strong movement has been at work for
one hundred and fifty years in the opposite direction, there are
complaints from pamphleteers that men who should work as wage-labourers
cling to the soil, and in the naughtiness of their hearts prefer
independence as squatters to employment by a master. Such comments throw
a flash of light on the way in which the peasants regard the
alternatives of wage labour and landholding. Sometimes they themselves
give us a glimpse into their mind on the matter. They tell us how they
face that most fundamental of economic problems, the Achilles' heel of
modern civilisation, the problem of so arranging their little societies
that as many persons as possible may enter life with some material
equipment for self-maintenance in addition to their personal strength
and skill. Here is an extract from a customary of the Lancashire manor
of High Furness[212] drawn up in the reign of Elizabeth:--

"As heretofore deviding and porcioning of tenements hath caused great
decay, chiefly of the service due to her Highness for horses and of her
woods, and has been the cause of making a great number of poor people in
the lordship, it is now ordered that no one shall devide his tenement or
tenements among his children, but that the least part shall be of
ancient yearly rent to her Highness of 6s. 8d., and that before every
such division there shall be several houses and ousettes for every part
of such tenement."

This seems a hard rule. Will it not result in the creation of a body of
propertyless labourers employed by a small village aristocracy? That
danger is appreciated, and is dealt with in the clauses which follow:--

"If any customary tenant die seized of a customary tenement, having no
son but a daughter, or daughters, then the eldest daughter being
preferred in marriage shall have the tenement as his next heir, and she
shall pay to her younger sister, if she have but one sister, 20 years
ancient rent, as is answered to her Majesty; and if she have more than
one sister she shall pay 40 years ancient rent to be equally divided
among them....

"For the avoiding of great trouble in the agreement with younger
brothers, it is now ordered that the eldest son shall pay to his
brothers in the form following:--If there is but one brother, 12 years
ancient rent; if there are two brothers, 16 years ancient rent to be
equally divided.

"If there be three or more, 20 years ancient rent to be equally divided.

"Whereas great inconvenience has grown by certain persons that at the
marriage of son or daughter have promised their tenement to the same son
or daughter and their heirs, according to the custom of the manor, and
afterwards put the tenement away to another person; it is ordered that
whatever tenements a tenant shall promise to the son or daughter being
his sole heir apparent at the time of his or her marriage, the same
ought to come to them according to the same covenant, which ought to be
showed at the next court."

    [210] Statute of Artificers, 5 Eliz. c. 4.

    [211] See below, pp. 277?-279, and _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 784,
    pp. 322?-323. Presentment by the grand jury, Worcestershire,
    1661, April 23: "We desire that servants' wages may be rated
    according to the statute, for we find the unreasonableness of
    servants' wages a great grievance, so that the servants are
    grown so proud and idle that the master cannot be known from the
    servant except it be because the servant wears better clothes
    than his master. We desire that the statute for setting poor
    men's children to apprenticeship be more duly observed, for we
    find the usual course is that if any are apprenticed it is to
    some paltry trade, and when they have served their
    apprenticeship they are not able to live by their trades,
    whereby not being bred to labour they are not fit for husbandry.
    We therefore desire that such children may be set to husbandry
    for the benefit of tillage and the good of the Commonwealth."
    See also Britannia Languens (1680) for remarks on the scarcity
    of labour even at the end of the seventeenth century.

    [212] R.O. Duchy of Lancaster, Special Commissions, No. 398.

The motive of the first rule is a mixed one. Its object is partly to
obviate the risk that the Crown, which is lord, of the manor, may lose
its services if holdings are too much subdivided, partly to prevent the
appearance of a class which has too little land for a living. The motive
of the other rules is to ensure that the custom of primogeniture, which
obtains among the customary tenants on this manor, shall not result in
the creation of a propertyless proletariat. Holdings are not to be
divided. But the payment to other members of the family of a sum ranging
from about one-half to more than the whole of their capital value is
made a charge upon them, and with that money they can purchase land
elsewhere, or take, like the French peasant girl, a considerable _dot_
to their husbands. Sue,[213] the daughter of Old Carter, the rich
yeoman, whose security for the marriage-portion "shall be present
payment, because Bonds and Bills are but Tarriers to catch fools, and
keep lazy knaves busy," was a match for whom gentlemen's sons were
willing enough to compete.

    [213] See Dekker's _The Witch of Edmonton_. I have ventured to
    assume that in this play "yeoman" is used in its wide
    non-technical sense.

These groups of from ten to a hundred households which constitute the
ordinary village of southern and middle England, form small democracies
of property holders, who are of course under the authority of a lord,
but whose subjection does not prevent them from exercising considerable
control over the management of their own economic affairs, nor impose
any effective bar on those individuals who have the means and capacity
to advance themselves. We can watch them arranging[214] the course of
agriculture, deciding when the pastures at Wolsyke and Willoughbybroke
are to be "broken," imposing fines on those who encroach on the several
pasture land, throwing open the Pesefield on Holy Thursday to the
village horses, shutting them out of Street headlands for fear of the
"stroyinge of Korn," making charitable provision for gleaners who cannot
work, punishing those who ought to work but in their depravity would
rather glean. We can observe how the wide distribution of land gives an
opportunity to a humble family to better itself by judicious husbandry
and well-calculated purchases. True, the peasant's land is no longer
held in approximately equal shares as generally as it had been in the
thirteenth century. The growth of a money economy, the withdrawal of the
levelling pressure of villeinage, the growth of population, has in the
more progressive parts of the country left a gap into which
individualising commercial forces wind themselves in the way which has
already been described. But these changes are important mainly as
precursors of more extensive innovations. As yet they have done little
more than make tiny breaches in the wall of custom. They have enabled
individuals to rise from the general level into positions of comparative
affluence. They have not proceeded so far as to enable the successful to
exercise a decisive direction over the economic affairs of their
fellows. Though Northumberland is exceptional in the way in which down
to the very end of the sixteenth century it preserves its system of
standardised holdings, it is none the less true that all the petty land
speculation, whose operations we have traced above, has not the effect
of producing any very large changes in the distribution of property. If,
when compared with its condition two hundred years before, the village
of our period shows remarkable irregularity, it offers precisely an
opposite aspect to the observer who compares it as it is then with its
condition two hundred years later. The gaps which have appeared between
the holdings mark the disintegrating influence of economic enterprise;
but they are gaps which enterprise can span, and the graduation of
holdings from the two or three acres of the humblest to the fifty or
sixty acres of the most prosperous, together with the abundance of
unoccupied land, supplies a kind of staircase along which in the country
the younger son can travel from the position of a labourer to that of a
small holder, as he does in the towns from apprentice to
master-craftsman. From this point of view the characteristic
_morcellement_ of holdings, so bitterly denounced by economists who,
like Arthur Young, approached the problem from the point of view of the
large farmer, was a positive advantage. It meant that land could be
bought and sold, as it were, retail. It meant that the labourer could
begin with one strip of land of half an acre, and add other strips to it
as he worked his way up. It meant that even the humblest peasant usually
had some live-stock of his own; for even the smallest customary holding
usually carried with it rights of common. Such conditions are, of
course, no safeguard against poverty. No doubt there were plenty of
people like Widow Quin, whose "leaky thatch is growing more pasture for
her buck goat than her square of fields."[215] But they are a safeguard
against destitution, and indeed against any complete loss of

    [214] See _e.g. Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 5567, pp. 106-?107, and
    below, pp. 159-?162.

    [215] Synge, _The Playboy of the Western World_.

Let us turn to a part of England where something like the open field
system survives to this day, and ask the inhabitants what they think of
it. In the so-called Isle of Axholme there are still common fields with
intermixed strips. Here is the evidence[216] which a body of labourers
there sent into a Select Committee of Parliament in 1899: "We, the
undersigned, being agricultural labourers at Epworth, are in occupation
of allotments or small holdings, varying from two roods to three acres,
and willingly testify to the great benefit we find from our holdings.
Where we have sufficient quantity of land to grow two roods each of
wheat, barley, and potatoes, we have bread, beans, and potatoes for a
great part of the year, enabling us to face a long winter without the
dread of hunger or pauperism staring us in the face." One of the tests
by which the economic prosperity of a community may be measured is its
success in preventing the appearance of a residual population, which
cannot fit itself into the moving mechanism of industry without
ceaseless friction and maladjustments. In most villages before extensive
evictions begin that mechanism moves very slowly; property is widely
diffused, and the residuum must have been small. That there was often
distress through bad harvests and pestilence is certain. But was there
much of the economic helplessness, more terrible than physical distress
itself, which is the normal lot of most of the propertyless wage-earners
of the modern world? We hesitate to say. Hesitation on such a point may
perhaps be counted to our peasants for righteousness.[217]

    [216] Quoted by Slater, _The English Peasantry and the Enclosure
    of Common Fields_, pp. 58?-59. He remarks "a labourer ... begins
    with one 'land,' then takes a second, a third, and so on," and
    quotes Mr. Haggard's statement that the "Isle of Axholme ... is
    one of the few places ... in England ... truly prosperous in an
    agricultural sense."

    [217] Customs like those of High Furness, together with the
    complaints as to the scarcity of agricultural labour, make one
    reflect on a fundamental question of economics, viz., the
    average age of marriage and its relation to the distribution of
    property and organisation of industry. It is well known that the
    age of marriage is influenced by (among other things) the age at
    which maximum earning power begins, _e.g._ to-day it is lower
    for the unskilled labourer than for the artisan, for the former
    reaches his prime earlier than the latter; lower for the artisan
    than for the professional man, because the latter takes longer
    than the former in getting together a practice or rising from a
    low initial salary. The difference is not primarily due to
    differences of thrift or foresight as between different classes,
    but to the fact that the deferring of marriage, which is prudent
    in (say) a lawyer, who does not reach his full earning power
    till thirty-five or later, is imprudent in (say) an engineer who
    has all the experience he needs at twenty-six or twenty-seven,
    and still more imprudent in the labourer, who reaches his full
    earning power at twenty-one or twenty-two, and in whom it falls
    off rapidly after he has passed the prime of life. When a large
    number of agricultural and industrial workers (in the sixteenth
    century probably a majority) were small landholders or small
    masters, did the fact that they had to wait for the death of a
    parent to succeed to their holding, or (in towns) for the
    permission of a guild to set up shop (_i.e._ to reach their
    maximum earning powers) tend to defer the age of marriage? If
    the possibility of this being the case is conceded, ought we to
    connect the slow growth of population between 1377 and 1500 (on
    which all historians seem to be agreed) with the wide
    distribution of property, and ought we to think of the
    considerable increase in the landless proletariate which took
    place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as tending in
    the opposite direction? In the absence of statistics we cannot
    answer these questions. But I am inclined to argue that they are
    at any rate worth investigation. (i) Contemporary opinion shows
    that in the eyes of sixteenth century writers the problem of
    population was a problem of underpopulation. The prevalent fear
    is "lack of men" for military purposes. Starkey's Dialogue
    speaks of it as "a consumption of the body politic," and
    suggests as remedies to allow priests to marry, to forbid
    gentlemen to employ more serving men than they are able to "set
    forward" to matrimony (on the ground that "men whych in service
    spend theyr lyfe never fynd means to marry"), to endow with a
    house and a portion of waste land at a nominal rent persons who
    marry, to exempt from taxation all persons who have five
    children and less than a hundred marks in goods, to tax
    bachelors 1s. in the pound, and give the proceeds to "them which
    have more children than they be wel abul to nurysch, and partely
    to the dote of poor damosellys and vyrgins" (Part II. p. 8).
    Hales (p. lv. of Miss Lamond's introduction to _Commonweal of
    England_) speaks of depopulation in a similar strain, as also
    does Harrison forty years later. There are some complaints as to
    excess of population in 1620 (see below, pp. 278?-279), but
    these do not become general till the very end of the seventeenth
    century (see Defoe, _Giving alms no charity_). (ii) The position
    of a son who acquires a holding when his parent dies is
    analogous to that of an apprentice who cannot set up as a master
    till given permission by the proper authorities. It is quite
    plain that in the eyes of the ordinary man in the sixteenth
    century one of the advantages of a system of compulsory
    apprenticeship was that it prevented youths marrying at a very
    early age. _E.g._ an Act (2 & 3 Philip and Mary) forbids the
    admitting of any one to the freedom of the city of London before
    the age of twenty-four, and enacts that apprentices are not to
    be taken so young that they will come out of their time before
    they are twenty-four. The reason alleged for this rule is the
    distress in the city of which "one of the chief occasions is by
    reason of the overhasty marriages and over soon setting up of
    householdes by the young folke of the city ... be they never so
    young and unskilful." A petition of weavers states (_Hist. MSS.
    Com._, C.D. 784, p. 114): "Whereas by the former good laws of
    their trade no one could exercise the same until he had served
    an apprenticeship for seven years and attained the age of
    twenty-four, now in these disordered times many apprentices
    having forsaken parents and masters ... refuse to serve out
    their time, but before they are eighteen or twenty years old
    betake themselves to marriage." One may contrast the
    extraordinary reduction in the age of marriage of the people of
    Lancashire brought about by the early factory system, with its
    armies of operatives who had nothing to look forward to but the
    wages earned immediately on reaching maturity (Gaskell,
    _Artisans and Machinery_, 1836, and _The Manufacturing
    Population of Great Britain_, 1833), and compare the results
    usually ascribed to the wide distribution of landed property in
    France. See also the remarks of Slater on the effect of the
    eighteenth century enclosing (_The English Peasantry and the
    Enclosure of the Common Fields_, p. 256), and Hasbach, _History
    of the English Agricultural Labourer_, pp. 120 n. 138-?139, 178.
    Young ascribed "a great multiplication of births" to the fact
    that "the labourer has no advancement to hope" (_Suffolk_, 1797,
    p. 260); Duncombe, "The practice of consolidating farms ...
    tends to licentiousness of manners" (_Herefordshire_, p. 33). A
    witness before the Select Committee on Emigration, 1827, stated,
    "The labourers no longer live in farm houses as they used to do,
    where they were better fed and had more comforts than they now
    get in a cottage, in consequence there was not the same
    inducement to early marriage" (_qu._ 3882). In the absence of
    direct statistical evidence all we can say is (i) that when
    persons look forward to entering on property or setting up as
    small masters their point of maximum earning power is later than
    it is when they can earn the standard rate of the trade at
    twenty-two or twenty-three; therefore (ii) that the average age
    of marriage is likely to be higher in a society composed largely
    of small property owners than in one composed largely of a
    propertyless proletariate.

In the second place, let us examine the use which the peasants make of
their holdings. Modern writers tell us that among the conditions
necessary to the prosperity of a class of small holders the most
important are a wise choice of the kind of farming to be pursued, a
sound organisation of credit, cheap marketing, and rural bye-employments
to back agriculture. Modern writers who are not English would probably
add a tariff on imported agricultural produce. In our period the type of
cultivation pursued by the large farmer was undergoing rapid changes.
That of the peasantry was hardly a matter of choice. It was dictated by
the necessity, under which most villages still lay, of being largely
self-supporting in the matter of corn supplies, a necessity recognised
and crystallised in the customary routine of village husbandry. The
preponderance of arable farming among the peasantry is illustrated by
the table[218] on page 107, which should be contrasted with that given
on pages 225?-226.

The figures in this table do not pretend to complete accuracy. But they
indicate the distribution of land between different uses with sufficient
correctness to show the sort of agriculture followed by the small holder
of our period. They prove unmistakably that his standby was the grain
crops grown on the open fields.[219] Students of rural conditions will
be quick to recognise the contrast which the picture offers to the
economy of the modern small holder. In our own day the breaking up of
large farms into smaller tenancies has proceeded furthest in those parts
of the country which are most suitable for pasture. The occupier of a
holding of less than 70 or 80 acres usually relies mainly on stock
farming in one form or another, and on the growing of vegetables and
fruit. Corn-growing he leaves to much larger men, and, when he does grow
grain, he does so mainly to provide fodder and straw for his beasts. In
the sixteenth century almost exactly the opposite was the case. In so
far as the large farmer with 200 or 300 acres can be said to have had a
specialty, it was not corn-growing but sheep and cattle grazing. The
small man relied mainly, though not entirely, upon tillage, and though,
even in his case, pasture farming assumed increased importance as the
century went on, grazing was chiefly a supplement to arable farming. To
this statement there are of course certain exceptions. Though villages
where the customary tenants hold more pasture than arable are rare, they
are not unknown, and occasionally one finds one where large numbers of
tenants of the most diverse economic conditions, with pasture holdings
ranging from 6 to 100 acres, have no arable at all. Sometimes such an
arrangement is to be accounted for by the fact that a part of the
demesne lands of the manor, which happens not to be suitable for
tillage, has been divided up among the population of younger sons and
labourers who have no holdings in the open fields. In the neighbourhood
of considerable towns, again, there was a market[220] for vegetables and
dairy produce which gave an impetus to this side of agriculture, and the
home counties poured butter and cheese, fowls, eggs, and fruit into
London, as France and the Channel Islands do at the present day. Still,
to speak broadly, the small holder of the sixteenth century, unlike the
small holder of the twentieth, was before all things interested in
arable farming, and interested in rights of pasture chiefly as a
necessary adjunct to it.


  |Manors     |               |              |             |              |
  |(excluding |               |              |             |              |
  |houses,    |               |              |             |              |
  |orchards,  |  total area.  |    arable.   |   meadow.   |  pasture.    |
  |garths,    |               |              |             |              |
  |_&c._).    |               |              |             |              |
  |           | ac. ro.   po. | ac. ro.  po. |ac. ro.  po. |ac. ro. po.   |
  |four in    |               |              |             |              |
  |northumber-|               |              |             |              |
  |land and   |               |              |             |              |
  |one in     |               |              |             |              |
  |lancashire |1730  3  13-1/4|1533  2 32-3/4| 98  1  6-1/8| 98  3   14   |
  |           |               |              |             |              |
  |seven in   |               |              |             |              |
  |wiltshire  |               |              |             |              |
  |and one    |               |              |             |              |
  |in dorset  |3963  2    0   |3636  3    0  |124  3    0  |202 (in close |
  |           |               |              |             |    plus      |
  |           |               |              |             |    consid-   |
  |           |               |              |             |    erable    |
  |           |               |              |             |    rights of |
  |           |               |              |             |    pasture   |
  |           |               |              |             |    not       |
  |           |               |              |             |    expressed |
  |           |               |              |             |    in acres).|
  |four in    |               |              |             |              |
  |midlands   |               |              |             |              |
  |(bedford,  |               |              |             |              |
  |leicester, |               |              |             |              |
  |northants, |               |              |             |ac. ro. po.   |
  |stafford)  |2092  3    2   |1670  2   17  | 167 3 32    |254  0   33   |

    [218] See Appendix II.

    [219] It must be remembered, however, that there was pasture on
    the one field which every year lay fallow, and that the amount
    of this does not appear in the figures given below.

    [220] Camden Society, Norden, Speculum Britanniæ, Part I.,
    Intro.: "And these commonly are so furnished with kyne that
    their wives twice or thrice a week conveyeth to London mylke and
    butter, cheese, apples, pears, frutmentye, hens and chickens,
    baken, and other country drugs ... and this yieldeth them a
    large comfort and relief."

Corn-growing in England has been for the last hundred years a branch of
farming so completely surrendered to the large capitalist, that it is
not easy to realise a state of things in which the typical corn-grower
was a man with less than 60 acres, and a man who could make a good
living from a holding of that size. To understand the economics of his
position we must think away the conditions which have in the last
century made it intolerable. Or rather we must think away all except
one. That one was the perennial problem of agricultural credit. In this
matter, certainly, the poorer among the peasantry suffered as their
successors all over the world suffer to-day. They were apt to be in the
grip of the moneylender. Cheap land, as the modern colonist knows, is of
little avail to the man who has not the capital needed to stock it, and
to carry over the interval between harvest and harvest, when his
receipts fall off but his expenses continue. In the endless arguments
which took place on the ethics of moneylending at a later date, it was a
common complaint that village financiers drove a hard bargain with the
peasants whom misfortune compelled to resort to them. In a backward
village the only man with capital to lend might be the local
corn-dealer, brewer, or maltster, the large farmer who held the lord's
demesne, or the lord of the manor himself and his agent. Like an
American farmer in the grip of an "elevator," the peasant who wanted
money for his crops had often to sell them to a dealer[221] who gave a
ridiculously low price for them, and then made an enormous profit by
holding them till the price of corn rose, or by sending them to a market
where there was a scarcity. Lords[222] of manors, it was said, helped
their tenants out of temporary difficulties by advancing them small
sums, and then used their advantage to screw extra labour on the demesne
out of them. Manor courts[223] in the Middle Ages had fined villagers
for usury, but one may suspect that these were capitalists too potent
for them to control, and one does not wonder at the headshakings of the
prudent Fitzherbert over the man whose method of farming compels him to
be a borrower. The form which charity and co-operative effort took
points in the same direction. Hospitals[224] and monasteries advance
money to buy seed. Well-to-do men aid their relatives by stocking their
farms for them. Gilds[225] make loans of cattle and sheep, and the last
legacy of a philanthropic parson to his parishioners is money with which
to buy a cow for the poor. How far the charitable and corporate
organisation of loans succeeded in keeping the small cultivator out of
the clutches of the usurer, and how far the dissolution of the
monasteries and the confiscation of part of the Gild lands deteriorated
their condition by placing them more at his mercy, are questions which
deserve consideration but which we have not sufficient evidence to
answer.[226] In forming any estimate, however, of rural conditions, the
hand to mouth economy of the poorer peasants, and their consequent
helplessness in the face of any unexpected catastrophe, such as an
unusually bad harvest, a cattle plague, and (in the fifteenth century)
the destruction of crops by civil disturbances, must not be forgotten.
In that age less capital was needed to stock a holding than in our own,
but it was scraped together with even greater difficulty. On the very
eve of the dissolution of the monasteries there were some remote manors
where "Money was so scantie that coigned leather went bargaining between
man and man,"[227] and where corn rents were substituted for money
because the tenants had no money in which rent could be paid.

    [221] See _The Death of Usury or the Disgrace of Usurers_, 1594:
    "It is a common practice in this country, if a poore man come to
    borrow money of a maltster, he will not lend any, but tells him,
    if he will sell some barley, he will give him after the order of
    fore-hand buyers; the man being driven by distresse sells his
    corn far under foote, that when it comes to be delivered he
    loses halfe in halfe, oftentimes double the value. I have heard
    many of these fore-hand sellers say that they had rather allow
    after 20 pounds in the hundred for money, than to sell their
    fore-hand bargaines of corn. These are most extreme usurers."

    [222] _A Discourse upon Usurie_, by Thomas Wilson, 1584: "A lord
    doth lend his tenants money, with this condition that they shall
    plough his land, whether doth he commit usurie or no? I do
    answer that if he does not pay them for their labour, but will
    take the benefit of their labour for the use of his money, he is
    an usurer."

    [223] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 2319, p. 27: "Juetta ... is a
    usuress, and sells at a dearer rate for accommodation."

    [224] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 7881, p. 129, St. Saviour's
    Hospital gives "20d to a poor man to buy seed for his land."

    [225] _Victoria County History_, Suffolk, "Social and Economic
    History": "The gild let out in one year 8 cows and 4 neats at
    19d. each." For the parson's cow, see _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd.
    784, p. 46.

    [226] On the subject of the monasteries see Gasquet, _Henry
    VIII. and the English Monasteries_, chap. xxii., and _passim_.

    [227] For reference see below, p. 198, n. 2.

On the other hand, before the great agrarian changes of the sixteenth
century began, and in those parts of the country which were least
affected by them, the economic environment was in other respects
favourable to the class of which we have been speaking. As far as
corn-growing is concerned, _petite culture_ flourishes most readily when
the methods of production are primitive and trade little developed. It
is not necessary to point out that, in the sphere of production, the
conditions which have given its present tremendous advantage to
large-scale corn-growing are the fruit of the last century, and that in
our period there were neither machinery nor expensive manures to require
the outlay of large capital, and to make arable farming almost a branch
of factory industry. Moreover, there is reason to believe that the
growth of prosperity among the peasants had been accompanied by an
improvement in the technique of cultivation. Not to mention the part
which they took in enclosures, of which we shall speak later, there
were, at any rate by the beginning of the seventeenth century, certain
exceptional parts of the country where it was said[228] that in good
years from thirty-two to eighty bushels of grain were raised to an
acre, instead of the ten which Walter of Henley had thought a fair
return in the thirteenth. We may believe this or not as we like;
probably we should discount it by at least one-half. But even the
average peasant, who could not possibly make his land perform these
prodigies, was buttressed by the natural protection of unpassable roads,
which tended to make every village, even almost every landholding
family, more or less self-sufficing in the matter of food supplies. A
highly organised corn trade is as unfavourable to the existence of small
corn-growers as a wide market is to the small master-craftsman, because
it sets a premium upon the qualities needed for business
management--qualities often quite different from those needed for
effective farming--and thus (in the absence of co-operation) plays into
the hands of the capitalist, who buys and sells in bulk and can pick his
market. To the mass of the peasantry in our period the commercial side
of agriculture offered no problem, because for the mass of the peasantry
it did not exist. The wealthier among them, it is true, did grow corn
for the market, and sent their supplies far afield through the hands of
middlemen, much further sometimes, if we may believe contemporaries,
than Customs Officials should have allowed. In certain parts of England
rudimentary industrial specialisation had made a regular corn trade a
necessity. In Norfolk,[229] for example, where manufactures and
agriculture had drawn apart to an extent unknown elsewhere, a rough
local division of labour was concentrating the woollen industry in that
part of the country most suitable for grazing, and was bringing together
a huge population of wage-earners, who depended for their food supplies
on the grain produced by the "tilth masters" in "the champion part of
the country," and whose needs baffled the traditional policy of trying
to prevent corners by checking the transport of corn. But down to the
very end of the eighteenth century, and still more under the Tudors,
there was a large body of small landholders who pursued their way
undisturbed by market fluctuations because they grew wheat almost
entirely for subsistence. To a foreign observer[230] English agriculture
in the reign of Henry VII. seemed "not to be practised beyond what is
required for the consumption of the people." Between the two extremes of
capitalist farmer and hired labourer, the poles between which the needle
of the Government's policy as to prices uneasily oscillates, there
stands the man whose family consumes the product of his land, and who
rarely puts his small supplies on the market, because, if he tries to do
so, "he loseth[231] the labours of himself, his horse and carte, and
husbandry at home," and "is in hazard to pay deare for a place to
chamber it till the next market day." Such a man, if entirely occupied
in tillage, did little more than supply the wants of his own household;
if a sheep farmer as well, he worked up the wool in his own home in the
manner enjoined on thrifty housewives by Fitzherbert. From the point of
view of national welfare his security was purchased by the distress in
which the difficulty of moving corn supplies involved the wage-earner.
The constant local famines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
should remind us that the more self-sufficing a country's agricultural
economy, the narrower the margin there is likely to be between the
landless classes and starvation. But with them for the present we are
not concerned, and if we confine our attention to the landholding
peasantry we can see that to them the backwardness of trade was a
positive advantage. The risk of spoiling good farming by ineffective
marketing was not one which faced the small holders of our period.

    [228] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_. He is speaking of parts
    of Somersetshire. "Now I say if this sweet country of Tandeane
    and the western part of Somersetshire be not degenerated,
    surely, as their land is fruitful by nature, so doe they their
    best by art and industrie ... they take extraordinary pains in
    soyling, plowing, and dressing their land.... After the plough
    there goeth some 3 or 4 with mattocks to break the clods ...
    they have sometimes and in some places foure, five, six, eight,
    yea tenne quarters in an ordinary acre." For Walter of Henley's
    figures see Maitland, _Domesday Book and Beyond_, pp. 437-438.
    Gregory King at the end of the seventeenth century estimated the
    average yield "in a year of moderate plenty" at a little more
    than 11 bushels (Rogers, _History of Agriculture and Prices_,
    vol. v. pp. 92 and 783). I quote Norden not as giving what was
    general, but to show what it was thought could be done.

    [229] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1907.

    [230] Camden Society, 1857, _An Italian Narration of England_.

    [231] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1907.

Moreover, in estimating the causes which in the fifteenth century
favoured a growth in their prosperity, we should not overlook that it
was a period in which commercial policy encouraged the corn-grower. In
the series of compromises which were struck between the interests of the
farmer and those of the consumer the scale during the greater part of
it was tilted in the direction of the former, and when success had
caused his holding to grow to a size which made trade in grain
inevitable, he dealt in a market which the Government tried to turn in
his favour. That section of the industry which supplied the market
obviously gained by freedom of export and by import duties upon foreign
wheat, though the fact that England was largely a corn exporting country
made the latter less important than the former. From 1437 to 1491 free
export of wheat was permitted, subject to the obligation to obtain an
export licence when prices in the home market rose above a certain
point. In 1463 the same policy was carried furthur, and an Act was
passed restricting its importation. Such a commercial[232] policy was no
doubt adopted mainly in the interests of the great landed proprietors.
But that the prosperity of the small cultivators was to some extent
bound up with the Government's encouragement of corn-growing can hardly
be doubted. Competent observers in the sixteenth century gave its
abandonment by the Tudors as one cause of the subsequent decline in the
condition of the peasantry, and a return to it as one remedy for their

    [232] See below, p. 197.

If the peasantry were favoured in the fifteenth century by a state of
things in which the small corn-grower's position was still unshaken, did
they not also gain by the beginnings of industrial expansion and by the
pasture farming that accompanied it? That a man who was mainly dependent
upon tillage might also be a grazier upon a considerable scale, is shown
by the following table of the animals kept by the customary tenants on
six[233] manors in the south of England.

       I.            II.                   III.                 IV.

    Manors.  Customary Tenants.  Sheep kept by Customary   Other Beasts
                                         Tenants.           (minimum).

       6             112                   7440                 793

    [233] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Manors of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_; _cf._ R.O. _Land Rev. Misc. Bks._, 182, fol. 1,
    Rental of the late Priory of Launde (Leicestershire, 1539),
    where there are tenants paying for common pasture for about 430

One must not, of course, forget that a certain number of beasts were
indispensable to arable farming. Perhaps one-third or one-half the
cattle in column IV. should be written off as simply part of the
corn-grower's necessary equipment. The sixteenth century small holder,
who keeps plough beasts, is no more a grazier on that account than his
twentieth century successor, who uses his grain for fodder, is a
corn-grower. But, when this has been remembered, we may perhaps allow
these figures to remind us that in the agriculture even of the small man
there was room for considerable diversity, and that in the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries it was probably much more diversified than it had
been two centuries before. So much is said in the writings of our period
of the harm done by the great grazier, that we perhaps do not always
sufficiently realise that the customary tenants both then and long
before were often themselves graziers on a considerable scale. They
raise stock, and are interested in the woollen trade as well as in the
corn-growing. Ultimately, when time enough had elapsed for the
profitableness of sheep farming to supply lords of manors with a motive
for clearing away interests which interfered with the formation of sheep
runs, the movement for laying down land to pasture did result in
evictions and rack-renting. But, looking at the fifteenth century as a
whole, may we not say with some confidence that the growth of the
woollen industry must have brought increasing prosperity to many
villages? Though it is not till almost the last decade that complaints
of enclosing become sufficiently clamorous to attract the attention of
the Government, the spread of woollen manufacturers into rural districts
was going quietly on throughout the whole century, and benefited the
peasants both by the lucrative bye-employment which they offered to both
sexes, and by the alternative to arable farming which the demand for
wool supplied in the shape of sheep-grazing. The large number of sheep
kept by the customary tenants of many manors in the south of England,
and the increase in the complaints as to the over-stocking of commons
contained in the Court Rolls of the fifteenth century, show that they
were not slow to seize the opportunity, and that the great pasture
farms, which aroused the indignation of More and Latimer, had their
precedent in the small flocks of thirty or forty sheep which had long
been run by the peasantry upon the common wastes or pastures. It would
seem that, as so often happens, the new departure was first made on a
small scale by small men, and chat it was not until some time had
elapsed that its wholesale adoption by large capitalists plunged them in
distress. The movement towards pasture-farming as a special branch of
agriculture is one that proceeds gradually for a hundred years, before
the demand for wool becomes sufficient to produce the body of capitalist
graziers whose interests come into sharp collision with those of the

But after all, the profits arising from favourable economic
circumstances may be of very little advantage to the mass of
cultivators. They may simply be handed on to the landlord in the shape
of increased rents. At a time when, both in Ireland and Scotland, rents
are being fixed by public tribunals, we are not likely to forget that
the profitableness of agriculture has no necessary connection with the
prosperity of tenants. Trade may be increasing, and the return from the
land may be growing, and yet those things may profit the farmers and
peasants very little, unless they have some security that they will not
see them drained away in increased payments for their land. It is
important, therefore, to consider how far rents were competitive and how
far they were customary, how far the tenants held the surplus due to
economic progress, and how far it passed to the landlord.

Some light is thrown on the general situation by the following


  |   Manor.            |                Rents.                           |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1295-1308                            1568      |
  |1. South Newton     |  £13 19 3-1/2                        £14 4 8     |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1347         1421       1485         1628      |
  |2. Ingoldmells      |  £61 9 4    £71 10 3     £72 6 8     £73 17 2    |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1287                                 1567      |
  |3. Crondal          | £53 7 0                             £103 2 8-3/4 |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |4. Sutton Warbling- |                                                  |
  |     ton            |   1351                                 1567      |
  |                    | £5 17 4-3/4                          £8 10 4     |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1295                                  1542      |
  |5. Aspley Guise     | £7 8 4                               £10 5 10    |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1248          1567                    1585      |
  |6. Birling          | £9 2 6-1/2   £14 9 4                  £14 9 4    |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1352         1478          1567      1580      |
  |7. Acklington       | £18 13 2     £19 13 11     £19 13 5   £20 0 5    |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1483                                 1505      |
  |8. Cuxham           | £9 9 3                                £8 9 3     |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1483                                 1600      |
  |9. Ibstone          | £4 8 10                              £3 15 0-1/2 |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1498          1567           1585    1702      |
  |10. High Buston     | £3 12 0       £3 12 0        £3 12 0  £12 0 0    |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1539                                 1608      |
  |11. Amble           | £22 14 6                              £16 0 5    |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    | "The reign of King Henry VII."         1529      |
  |12. Malden          |              £4 9 10                  £4 6 7     |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |   1527          1588           1607              |
  |13. Kibworth        | £23 6 7       £26 15 1       £19 14 5            |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1304-5        1348-9       1373-4     1461      |
  |14. Standon         | £21 17 3      £23 8 0     £23 2 2-1/2 £33 3 3-1/2|
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1317-8        1445-6         Henry VIII.        |
  |15. Feering         | £29 10 9-1/2  £32 14 10      £16 2 6-1/2         |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |                                  38-39 Henry VI. |
  |                    |  1321        Henry VI.               (1460)      |
  |16. Appledrum       | £7 0 11      £10 11 6             £13 14 10-1/2  |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1357                                    1501    |
  |17. Minchinhampton  | £41 14 4                               £41 19 9  |
  |      (works)       |  £4 18 0                                         |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1280          1441           1547               |
  |18. Langley Marish  | £20 16 5-1/2  £24 0 0        £45 3 5-3/4         |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  Henry VI.      1521          James I.           |
  |19. Lewisham        | £8 11 7      £23 1 6-1/2    £90 3 3              |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |20. Cuddington. For |  Edward III.(?) 15th century(?) James I.         |
  |    terms of Easter |  £6 4 2-3/4                                      |
  |     and Michaelmas |                                                  |
  |   (for whole year) |  £12 8 5-1/2(?) £15 16 7       £9 19 8-3/4       |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |21. Isleworth       |  1314-15       1386-7         1484-5             |
  |      (Michaelmas)  | £21 16 10     £23 3 10-1/4   £18 18 0            |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |22. Wootton (free   |                                                  |
  |    and customary   |  1207                         1607               |
  |    tenants)        | £9 11 2                      £13 19 0-1/2        |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1271-2                       1547               |
  |23. Speen           | £6 13 9-3/4                   £17 4 2            |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1303-4        1314-15         1478-9            |
  |24.  Schitlington   | £29 13 0-1/2  £30 4 10     £58 11 9 (exclusive of|
  |                    |                                      ferm of land|
  |                    |                                      and ferm of |
  |                    |                                      manor).     |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |25. Cranfield (rent |                                                  |
  |  of vill including |  1383-4        1474-5         1519-20            |
  |  ferm of lands)    | £68 15 2      £63 19 10-1/4  £72 2 1-3/4         |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1325-6                       1482-3             |
  |26. Holywell        | £12 18 2                     £22 7 8             |
  |                    |                                                  |
  |                    |  1536                         1803               |
  |27. Farleigh        | £4 9 9                       £4 15 5             |

    [234] For the sources and defects of this table see Appendix II.

It will be seen that, in spite of some considerable increases, many
rents were comparatively stationary during long periods of time.
Moreover, in all probability, they were more stationary than is
suggested by the statistics given above. For at the earlier dates there
were works the value of which usually does not appear among the money
rents. As time went on, more land was brought under cultivation and the
demesne was leased; and though an attempt has been made to exclude the
latter factor, it is not always possible to do so with certainty. The
later figures, therefore, are, if anything, a more exhaustive account of
the tenants' burdens than the earlier, and the small difference which
exists between them on several manors is for this reason all the more

These figures, it will be said, if they prove anything, prove too much.
Do we not know that one of the grievances of the peasantry in the
sixteenth century was the rack-renting of their holdings? Have we not
the evidence of Fitzherbert, Latimer, and Hales to prove it? To these
questions one must answer that it is certainly true that lords of manors
did make a strenuous effort to get from their tenants increased payments
for their holdings, and that the success which in many cases they
achieved was one great cause of the decline in the condition of the
peasantry. The matter, however, is not so simple as it appears. In
respect of their liability to be competitively rented, some parts of the
lands of a manor stood on a different footing from others; and again,
fixed rents of customary lands were quite compatible with movable fines.
An attempt will be made in subsequent chapters[235] to illustrate both
the rack-renting of those parts of a manor where the rent was least
controlled by custom, and the upward movement of the fines charged on
the admission of tenants to their holdings. These figures of stationary
or almost stationary rents must not, therefore, be taken as giving a
full account of the relations between the customary tenants and the
manorial authorities, as though there was no other way in which the
latter could compensate themselves. Subject to this qualification,
however, they do indicate that, at any rate on the customary holdings
which formed the kernel of the manor, there is for a very long period
little rack-renting. They suggest that the tenants' payments have a
fixity which would make Arthur Young tear his hair. They fall in line
with the statements of authorities like Fitzherbert and Norden as to the
difficulty experienced by the manorial officials in forcing up rents of
assize, that "are as in the beginning, neither risen nor fallen, but doe
continue always one and the same." And this fixity of rents is a factor
in the prosperity of the peasantry which can hardly be over-estimated.
When not neutralised by exorbitant fines, it means that any surplus
arising on the customary tenements as the result of growing trade, or of
the fall in the value of money, or of improved methods of agriculture,
anything in fact which is in the nature of economic rent, is retained by
the tenants. Secured by the custom of the manor, as by a dyke, against
the competitive pressure which under modern conditions transfers so much
of the fruits of progress into the hands of the owners of land and
capital, they enjoy an unearned increment which grows with every growth
in economic prosperity, and have an interest in their holdings almost
similar to that of a landlord who is burdened only with a fixed
rent-charge like the English land tax. One of the best established
generalisations of economics, ground into the English people by thirty
years of misery, is that the effect of agrarian protection is to make a
present to landlords. But agrarian protection itself wears a different
complexion when the rise in rents which it produces is not transferred
to a small and wealthy class of absentee owners, but retained by
thousands of men who are themselves cultivating the soil.

    [235] See below, pp. 139-147 and 304-310.

Lest such a picture should seem to be drawn too much in the spirit of
the economic theorist, let us make its meaning more precise by pointing
out that the retention of the unearned increment by copyhold tenants was
a fact of which the manorial authorities were perfectly well aware, and
the results of which they were sometimes at pains to estimate
arithmetically by setting side by side with the actual rent paid the
rent which the holdings would fetch if put up to competition. Four
examples may be given. At Amble,[236] in 1608, the surveyor gives the
rent of the customary tenants as £16, 0s. 5d., and "the annual value
beyond rent" as £93, 4s. 4d. On the great manor of Hexham[237] in the
same year the rents of the 314 copyhold tenants amounted to £126, 4s.
8-1/4d.; the "value above the oulde Rentes" was £624, 4s. 1d. In the
various townships of the manor of Rochdale[238] part of the land was
rack-rented. But a great deal of it was held at payments which left the
tenant a substantial margin between the rent which he paid to the king
and the letting value of the land, a margin which varied from 2d. an
acre in parts of Wardleworth, to 6d. an acre in parts of Wardle, 8d. an
acre in Walsden, and 10d. an acre in Castleton. On the manor of
Barkby[239] in Leicestershire the difference was still more striking.
The rents paid by free and customary tenants together amounted in 1636
to £11, 8s. 7-1/2d.; the value of their holdings was put by the
surveyor at £215, 1s. 6d. And, of course, the fact that these rentals
come from the very end of the sixteenth, and the beginning of the
seventeenth, centuries, makes the evidence which they offer of the
inability of manorial authorities to insist on copyhold rents keeping
pace with the rising value of land, when they had every motive to
enforce such correspondence if they could, all the more significant. For
a century they have been screwing up rents wherever they can, and here
are tenants, who, as far as rents go, put 6d. in their own pockets for
every 1d. they give to the landlord. Let us repeat that these figures,
striking as they are, would, if taken by themselves, give a misleading
impression of the position of the copyhold tenants. Even when the lord
of a manor cannot break the barrier opposed by manorial custom to a rise
in rents, he may be able to dip his fingers in the surplus by raising
the fines charged on admission; he may be all the more exacting in
screwing the last penny out of those holdings where the rent is not
fixed by custom. But though we must not forget the other side of the
shield, though the very fixity of rents on many manors should make us
scrutinise other conditions very carefully, we must not forget either
that a tenant whose rent is unaltered for 200 or 250 years, a tenant
who, after a period of sweeping agrarian changes in which a bitter cry
has gone up against the exactions of landlords, is paying a fifth, or a
sixth, or even an eighteenth of what could be got for his holding in the
open market, is a tenant whom most modern English farmers would envy.
Whatever his other disadvantages he has at any rate one condition of
prosperity. He will not be eaten up by rack-renting. No wonder that such
a man can accumulate capital and buy up land to add to his holding. No
wonder that he can sublet parts of it at a profit. No wonder that in the
day of agrarian oppression the wealthier peasantry stands stubbornly
against it, that they can carry cases from one court to another, and
that there are manors where they boast that "20[240] of them would
spend 20 score pounds" in fighting an unpopular landlord. On the whole,
the individual cases of enterprise and prosperity among the customary
tenants of the fifteenth century do fit into the view that the economic
environment was favourable to the peasantry. They may be regarded as
symptoms, not exceptions.

    [236] _Northumberland County History_, vol. ii.

    [237] _Ibid._, vol. iii. pp. 86?-94. On this manor at the time
    of the survey, though the distinction between the old rent and
    the "cleare yearly value above the old rent" was noted, the
    latter seems to have been tapped by a rise in rents ("cleere
    improved rent above the ould rent").

    [238] _Rochdale Manor Inquisition_, 1610, by H. Fishwick
    (_Trans. of the Rochdale Literary and Scientific Society_, vol.

    [239] Merton Documents, MSS. Book labelled "Kibworth and Barkby,
    1636." For another illustration of fixed copyhold rents, see
    Maitland, _English Hist. Review_, vol. ix.: The History of a
    Cambridgeshire Manor.

    [240] Quoted, Leadam, "The Security of Copyholders in the
    Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries" (_English Historical Review_,
    vol. viii. pp. 684-?696). The case in question was that of the
    inhabitants of Thingden _v._ John Mulsho.

Here, perhaps, we should stop. What manner of men these were in that
personal life of which economics is but the squalid scaffolding; what
stars threw for them their beams on that tremendous whirlpool of
religion and politics into which Europe was plunging, we cannot say. Of
the hopes and fears and aspirations of the men who tilled the fields
which still give us in due season their kindly fruit, we know hardly
more than of the Roman plebs, far less than of the democracy of Athens.
Yet these men too had their visions. Their silence is the taciturnity of
men, not the speechlessness of dumb beasts.

That the peasantry as a class were no politicians was a natural
consequence of the position which they had occupied throughout the
Middle Ages. On a small number among them, in the Eastern counties a
large number, the State had for centuries showered duties and
obligations with a lavish hand, and the freeholders, though they must
often have cursed the tediousness of suit of court, and jury service,
and Parliamentary elections, turned that tiresome discipline to good
account in the days when the Stuarts had contrived to make politics to
thousands of heavy-handed obstinate people throughout England a matter
not only of money but of conscience. The non-participation of the bulk
of the peasantry in the same large interests was not due to poverty, for
often the copyholders were wealthier than the freeholders who listened
to Pym and Hampden on that first great election campaign in 1640, and
left their farms to fight for King or Parliament. Nor was it due to
timidity or lack of spirit, for, as we shall see later, they frequently
asserted themselves in the course of the sixteenth century in their own
characteristic way of agrarian strikes.[241] It was rather that the
centre of their interests and their social horizon were different. The
freeholders from an early date had been brought into contact with the
chief institutions of the organised political state. Since the twelfth
century they had been protected in their holdings by the courts, and had
learned through that cunning procedure which was the fruit of Henry
II.'s[242] sleepless nights, that though often one cannot do much with
the law, one can do even less without it. Since the thirteenth century
they, along with their social superiors, had returned members to
Parliament, and had acquired that facility in grumbling at taxation
which is the beginning, though not, as is so commonly supposed, the end,
of political wisdom. Thus they became a body in whose eyes the Law,
Parliament, the State, loomed up, though for ages dimly enough, as a big
something which it is well to have on your side, something which
requires, like the new fangled arquebuses, to be carefully handled,
something which, if neglected, may give you a surprising shock, but if
treated with proper respect may teach manners even to your landlord. Of
course your first duty is to him. You ride and fight for him readily
enough as your fathers did. But still, you do it because you have said
you will, not because he has said you shall, and though London lawyers
are a pack of knaves, it is good to know that the law will, if
necessary, make him see the difference.

    [241] See below, pp. 329-331.

    [242] Bracton, f. 164 b.: "Succuritur ei per recognitionem
    Assisæ novæ dissesinæ multis vigiliis excogitatam et inventam"
    (quoted Pollock and Maitland, _History of English Law_, vol. i.
    p. 125 n.).

But the freeholders have been for centuries a privileged class, and
those of the peasants who are copyholders, a far more numerous body, are
in a very different position. Your fathers were villeins, who hung on
the words of the upstart manorial officials, who "had no right to know
at night what they should do on the morrow,"[243] who never had the
bitter satisfaction of grumbling that they got no return for the wages
paid to the knights of the shire, who had no redress from the King's
Courts if threatened with eviction. Of course you are not in the same
position now. Your blood has been purged of the servile taint for
generations. The lawyers have been competing for your business, and so
the Court of Chancery has invented a new procedure to protect you in
your holding. "When thieves fall out...." Still, it is better to run no
risk of offending your superiors, for the law is a chancy thing, and
your title (you keep the copy under lock and key and refuse to show it
to the new surveyor lest he should twist it into meaning what it
doesn't) is none too clear.[244] Deep down in your mind, beneath the
prosperity of to-day, there are dim memories of old, unhappy, far-off
things, and your shoulders slouch at their recollection. _Weh dir dass
du ein Enkel bist!_ The bailiff has invented a pedigree as long as your
arm to prove that your great-grandfather was a villein, and had no
business to have bought his freedom for the preposterous reason that the
money with which he bought it was the lord's all along. The toadying
beast is even trying to curry favour by saying that your copyhold is for
life only, and that your fine is uncertain. True, there are plenty of
ancient inhabitants who will swear in the manor court that your family
has lived in the village before the present lord was ever heard of. But
it is easy to bully and cajole them into silence. Were not Walter and
Hugh turned adrift, "weeping bitterly," because money had to be found to
pay the young lord's debts? As a copyholder, then, you are much less
conscious of the State than if you are a freeholder, because in the
matter which interests you most, the security of your holding, you have
for centuries had no dealings with the State at all. Your idea of
Government is a vague reverence for a King who sits far away in
Westminster with a crown on his head and his judges about him, and who
governs his kingdom as a good lord--not like yours--governs his manor.
For the rest you are a non-political animal, who take little interest in
affairs of State, because in the past the State has taken so little
interest in you. When your fathers made London tremble in the great days
of 1381 (you can see from your hay-stack the hill where they were
hanged, hanged "like dogs"[245]) what they demanded was fair rents and
freedom from villein services. When you went out with Ket in 1549 you
asked the same, and, untaught by their experience, you begged that the
King would see that you had the fair play which his Justices of the
Peace, who are your landlords, will never allow you.[246] When King and
Parliament come to blows, you curse both impartially, remain neutral as
long as you can, and only turn out when they begin driving the village
beasts. Your sentiments are pithily expressed in the motto which a local
wit has devised for the village banner: "If you take our cattle, we will
give you battle."[247]

    [243] Bracton, Lib. iv. cap. 28, f. 208.

    [244] _Northumberland County History_, vol. iii., Pt. V., pp.
    86-?104, Survey of Hexham (1608): "Their fines they pretend to
    be certain, viz. one year's rent at everye change of tenant, but
    not herritable. They have there, for certaine, very ancient
    evidences and Court Rolls, but they woulde not show them unto
    us, nor any of their coppies." See also Appendix I. No. IV.

    [245] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Part VII., pp. 49?-50 (1596): Some
    information concerning those intending the rebellion in
    Oxford.... "And Steer said that there was once a rising at
    Enscombe Hill by the commons, and they were persuaded to go down
    and were after hanged like dogs. 'But,' said he, 'we will never
    yield, but will go through with it!'"

    [246] See below, pp. 334?-337.

    [247] Warburton's _Rupert_, iii., 118 (quoted Gooch, _English
    Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century_, p. 112).

If, however, the peasantry are on the whole uninterested in the larger
problems of government to which the world has agreed to confine the word
politics, this is not because they are incapable of self-help, or
destitute of any conception of public expediency. It is because the
framework of their lives has for ages been different from that of the
freeholders, because the centre round which their social interests
revolve is even more localised than it is to the freeholders, because
what matters to them most is not the law of the land but the custom of
the manor. We shall have hereafter[248] to discuss the vexed question of
the legal position occupied by the copyholders in the sixteenth century.
But we may pause for a moment to point out here the decisive part which
custom had played, and still played in our period, in moulding the lives
of the mass of the peasantry, because unless this is firmly grasped we
cannot understand their mental horizon. It is the custom of the manor
which gives them their social environment and their conception of public
order. The commonest name for all those who hold neither freely nor by
lease is "customary tenants," men whose title is rooted in custom. When
the courts begin to interfere to protect copyholders, they introduce
that sweeping innovation under the guise of enforcing customary
conditions. They do not say "copyholders can be evicted." Nor do they
say "copyholders cannot be evicted." They say, "Tell us what the custom
of your manor is, and if it is one which does not seem to a plain man
too unreasonable, we will enforce it." When tenants and landlords fall
out, it is always to custom that the tenants appeal. When the peasants
ask the Government for assistance, they do so by demanding the
observance of their "old customs."

    [248] See below, pp. 287?-310.

Let us look at the custom of the manor more closely. The phrase has, of
course, misleading suggestions for modern ears. We tend to think of
custom as something indefinite and inconclusive; something which is not,
like the law (we speak of what should be), the embodiment of reason;
something which fetters progress and is the opposite of freedom;
something which is mere habit, and very likely a "bad habit" at that.
All this is true in a sense. It is the way in which in the sixteenth
century an enterprising landlord looks at the custom which ties his
hands. But it is not the way in which it is regarded by the peasants.
The custom of the manor does not mean to them a mere feeble acquiescence
in existing conditions, mere inertia. It is not a negative, but a
positive thing. It is no more inconsistent with progress to observe the
custom, than it is inconsistent with progress to keep out of gaol by
observing the law. For the custom is simply the law of the village. Like
the main rules of the common law, it comes down from a dim age that is
beyond the memory of man. Like law it is enforced by a court, the court
of the manor. Like law it can be altered (and in some respects and on
some manors often is altered to meet the new conditions of our period)
by the proper authority, which again is the court of the manor. Of
course it is not law in the fullest sense. From one standpoint it is the
antithesis of law, the law of the King's Courts, which, till the end of
the fourteenth century, has taken no cognizance of the customary
tenures, though since that time the Court of Chancery, by intervening to
enforce the custom of the manor in respect of copyholds, has been
breaking down the opposition. Still, for the mass of the peasantry, even
in the sixteenth century, custom is a bigger, more important, thing than
the law of the national courts. It is with custom that the first
decision will lie.

Again, the custom of the manor is not at all a vague or indefinite
thing. That it reposed partly on the Court Rolls, partly on the memory
of ancient inhabitants, we can see from the frequent appeals which are
made to both of them. But it certainly is no mere nebulous tradition. On
the contrary, it is often most rigorous in its precision. It lays down
boundaries and numbers stocks and stones. It adjusts and readjusts
agricultural arrangements. It enters into the details of social life
with a bold hand. Let us reflect, to take an example, on the customs of
High Furness, parts of which have been quoted above. Here we have a
whole village agreeing about matters which do not at first sight seem,
like the use of pastures or the fixing of boundaries, of a specially
public character. The term on which a man's property is to be
distributed among his descendants, this, if anything, one might expect
to be left to his own discretion, once the succession of an heir to
maintain the rents and services due from the holding had been provided
for. The rules quoted above go much further than this. They settle
exactly what proportion of a man's property is to go to his different
children, male and female, from the eldest down to the youngest. Imagine
a Parish Council to-day distributing the wealth of deceased parishioners
with the object of seeing that the whole of the younger generation shall
obtain some kind of start in life, and you will have an analogy to what
is done by the prudent men of High Furness.

Or take another example, where the points handled are of a somewhat
different kind. Here are the customs of the manor of Bushey,[249] as set
out in 1563 by twenty customary tenants in response to an inquiry by the

"In primis to the fyrste article we saye that no copyholder at the tyme
of his death dying seased of twoo copyholdes hathe paid any more than
one quycke heriott by the tyme of any remembrance, or before, to our

"Item to the seconde we saye that the lorde oughtte to have the second
beste for hys herryott and the heyer the beste.

"Item to the thyrde we saye that the copyholder that doth surrender his
copyholde ought not to paye any herryott upon the surrender of his
copyholde except yt be in extreme of deathe.

"Item to the fourth we saye that lords of the mannor have never demanded
nor any copyholder payde any more for their ffyne than one yere's rente
of the lande.

"Item to the fyfth we saye that the widdowe upon the deathe of her
husbande shall have the thyrde parte of the rente of the lande, but not
the thyrde part of the lande except yt be surrendered to her by her

"Item to the syxth we saye that the copyholder may sell hys underwoode
and stocke upp by the roote the same wytheout lycense of the lorde.

"Item to the seventh we saye that the copyholder may fell tymber for
reparacion or otherwyse to sell the same to hys use and profyt; so hathe
yt byn used by our tymes and by all tyme beyond the memory of man.

"Item to the eytthe we saye that the copyholder may make a grante of hys
copyholde for three yeres wythoute the lord's lycense, and the lorde to
take nothing for the same.

"Item to the nineth we saye that the tenants maye take surrender bothe
within the manor and without the manor.

"Item to the tenth we saye that we cannot answer for that we knowe not
every man's lande.

"Item to the eleventh we saye that every copyholde is not heryottable.

"Item to the xiith we knowe not where the Courte Rolles, Rentals, or
customaryes of the manor are remayning or in whose custodye.

"Item to the xiiith we saye that we knowe not of any deutyes or rentys
withdrawn from the lordshippe.

"Item to the xiiiith we saye that we never knewe nor hearde any heryott
payde for freeholde at the dethe of the freholder.

"Item to the fyfteneth we say that the freholder hathe never payde
relief at alienacion, but at deathe only.

"Item to the xvith we saye that a copyholder dying his heir being wythin
the age of xiiii yeres the custody of the body and lande oughte to be
comytted by the lorde to the nexte of the kyn to whom the inheritance
may not dyscende."

     [249] I take them from the MSS. Court Rolls of the Manor of Bushey,
     kindly lent me by the late Miss Lucy Toulmin Smith.

In themselves these customs are not in any way remarkable, except
perhaps for the uniform favour which they show to the interests of the
tenants. They might be paralleled from those of scores of other manors.
What is worth noticing is the precision of the rules laid down. The
relations between the lord and the tenants are settled with the
definiteness of a sort of great collective bargain.

It would be going beyond the scope of this essay to enter upon the large
question, on which so much learning has been expended, of the respective
parts played in manorial origins by the communal organisation of
villagers for the purpose of self-government in their agrarian affairs,
and by the authoritative pressure of superior authorities for the
purpose of using the village as the basis of a financial and political
system. But one may point out that facts such as have been quoted above
in illustration of the rule of custom cannot easily be fitted into any
theory which regards the economic arrangements of the manor as the
result simply of a system imposed from above, and which treats the
customary rights of the peasants as the outcome of concessions made by
lords from time to time in their own interests, the revocation of which
involved no larger difficulties than necessarily surround the alteration
of practices sanctioned by long use. However much the organisation of
village life may have been stereotyped by the pressure directed upon it
by the desire of the manorial authorities to extract rents and services
on an unvarying plan, one cannot trace it altogether to its
subordination to such external forces, because the custom of the manor
acts as a restriction which impedes the free action of lords themselves
and their agents, even when they are most anxious to break through its
meshes. This is seen more clearly perhaps in the sixteenth century than
in earlier periods, for the very reason that the sharp collision of
interests between lords and tenants makes it more possible to
distinguish those parts of manorial custom which represent the economic
interests of the tenants, from those which represent the power of the
manorial authorities imposed upon them. Under the latter heading would
fall the rules as to heriots and reliefs, rules forbidding waste, rules
requiring tenants to pay "for the rushes which they gather on the lord's
common,"[250] or to perform the surviving remnants of labour services,
while a rule such as that of High Furness, forbidding the division of
holdings to such an extent as to prevent the discharge of services or
the obtaining of an adequate living by the occupier, may be regarded as
a compromise in which the interests of both lord and tenant receive
consideration. Under the former may be placed the custom which fixes
rents, and, on some fortunate manors like Bushey, fixes fines to be paid
on admission, sanctions the sub-letting of copyholds and the felling of
timber, and allots rights of pasture to each arable holding. Not all of
these, of course, stand upon the same footing of importance. The right
to cut wood is much less essential than the right to graze cattle. But
some of them, at any rate, like rights of common pasture, seem to be
bound up with the very existence of the village as an agricultural
community, and all of them are dictated by the interests of the peasants
in protecting themselves against encroachments, as clearly as are those
of the first type by the desire of lords to make the manor a source of
profit to themselves. It is scarcely possible to account for the
obstacles put by manorial customs in the way of changes which would
benefit the lord and be detrimental to the tenant, except on the
supposition that they are rooted in something more indestructible than
the mere concession of privileges which long use has solidified and
hardened; something which can only be found in the fact that they are an
essential part of the life of the village, to which the lord himself, as
a condition of extracting revenue from it, is almost bound to conform.

    [250] Aldeburgh, _temp._ Henry VIII., R.O. _Misc. Bks. Treas. of
    Receipts_, vol. clxiii. See Appendix I., No. II.

This brings us to our original point, the way in which the whole social
environment of all the tenants, except the freeholders, who do not need
the protection of custom, and the leaseholders,[251] who cannot get it,
is dependent upon the custom of the manor. Fraught with modern
associations as it is, the phrase "collective[252] bargain" is perhaps
the nearest we can get to expressing what the custom of the manor means
to the peasants themselves. Of course it is much more than this. The
custom has the sanction of immemorial antiquity. The phrase "time out of
mind" is no mere piece of idle rhetoric. The stable self-perpetuating
conditions of economic life create a sort of communal memory, in which
centuries are focussed. There were villages where, in the reign of
Elizabeth, the effects of the Great Plague[253] were still dimly
remembered. But regarding the matter from the point of view of the
practical working of village life, we shall not be far wrong if we think
of the peasants as a body of men who are more or less organised, and of
the custom as a system of common rules which regulates the relations
between them and the lord. And it is evident that the custom of the
manor, at any rate in our period, is a safeguard of the tenants'
interests rather than of those of the manorial authorities. It is not
only that the changes which followed the Great Plague have set the
peasants free from the most irksome customary restrictions, but,
further, that, in the sixteenth century, it is the lord who wants to
make innovations and the tenants who resist them, and that it is
therefore the latter who stand to gain most by clinging to custom. The
custom sets up a standard by which encroachments can be opposed, by
which the village as a whole can put a solid barrier in the way of
change, by which blacklegging (in the shape of one man taking a holding
over the head of another) can be prevented. Competitive forces have, it
is true, been gradually undermining custom, and by the sixteenth century
an increasing number of tenants have the terms on which they take their
holdings settled by the higgling of the market without reference to any
authoritative rule. Nevertheless, as far as the copyholders, who are the
kernel of the manor, are concerned, competition is held in check by the
fact that, on certain fundamental matters, there is a common
understanding between the peasants, which is recognised by the lord
himself. The manorial authorities cannot bargain with the tenants one by
one. They have to deal with the villagers as men who are "organised,"
who are members of a society, who know what they have to expect in the
way of heriots and rents and fines, and who will be supported by village
opinion in resisting innovations. On occasion the peasants will strike.
On occasion they will force their landlord to arbitration.[254] One
might almost say that the customary tenants are trade unionists to a
man. Again, who shall determine what the custom is? The court rolls will
throw light on certain points, and occasionally we find lords appealing
to them successfully in order to upset the tenants' claims. But on many
matters there is no guide but tradition; the exponents of tradition are
the ancient inhabitants; the lord has to ask them to expound it, as he
does the tenants of Bushey. Can we doubt that this was a powerful check
on autocratic action on his part? Lords come and go. But the custom of
the manor endures, and probably loses nothing in the telling.

    [251] Some copyholders, who held land which was not "customary
    land" but part of the demesne or the waste, were not protected
    by custom either: for a discussion of this point see below, pp.

    [252] See below for an example from Crondal, p. 295.

    [253] MS. Transcript by A.N. Palmer of "The Presentment and
    Verdict of the Jury for the Manor of Hewlington," 1620 (Wrexham
    Free Library, _Ancient Local Records_, vol. ii.): "Which decay
    (as by the ancient records appeareth) did growe by reason of the
    great mortalitie and plague which in former tymes had been in
    the reign of Edward III., and also of the rebellion of Owen
    Glendower and trouble that thereupon ensued."

    [254] _Victoria County History of Gloucestershire_, Social and
    Economic History, p. 146. For agrarian strikes see below, pp.

If, then, we ask what the custom means to the peasantry, we must think
not of the "forbidding, stale, and meagre ways," which is what the word
custom too often suggests in the twentieth century, but of the phrase
"ancient customs and liberties," which is so common in the charters of
Boroughs. The custom of the manor is a body of rules which regulates the
rights and obligations of the peasants in their daily life. It is a kind
of law. It is a kind of freedom. And since it is the custom which most
concerns the mass of the peasantry, it is not the state, or the law, but
the custom of the manor which forms their political environment and from
which they draw their political ideas. They cannot conceive the state
except as a very great manor. Their idea of good government is the
enforcement of an idealised customary.[255]

    [255] See below, pp. 338?-340.

Having said this we can say little more. There is no standard by which
we can measure civilisation, and if we knew more than we do, the village
life of the sixteenth century--and England is all villages--would still
be a mystery to us. Yet, before returning to the humbler task of
examining economic conditions, we may perhaps summarise the sort of
impressions formed of the peasants by those who knew them in their own
day, impressions no doubt as misleading as a traveller's sketches of
modern England, yet, like a traveller's sketches, possessing a certain
value, because they show the points which an intelligent outside opinion
selects for emphasis.

One is encouraged in one's belief in the comparative prosperity of a
large number of the peasantry in the earlier sixteenth century by the
comments which the writers of the periods pass upon it, even after a
decline has already begun. The picture we get is of an open-handed,
turbulent, large-eating and deep-drinking people, much given to
hospitality and to merriment both coarse and refined; according to
modern standards very ignorant, yet capable of swift enthusiasm,
litigious, great sticklers for their rights, quick to use force in
defence of them, proud of their independence, and free from the grosser
forms of poverty which crush the spirit. The latter feature strikes
everybody. Foreign visitors[256] notice with amazement the outward signs
of wealth among the humbler classes. English writers, though their tone
becomes sadder and sadder as the century proceeds, are never tired of
boasting of it. Even in the eighties of the sixteenth century, when many
of the peasants are much worse off than they had been a hundred years
before, Harrison, though he paints in dark colours the ruinous effects
of the agrarian changes, describes their hearty life with good-humoured
gusto. "Both the artificer and the husbandman are sufficiently liberal
and very friendly at their tables, and when they meet they are so merry
without malice, and plain without inward Italian or French craft and
sublety, that it would do a man good to be in company among them....
Their food consisteth principally of beef and such meat as the butcher
selleth. That is to say, mutton, veal, lamb, pork. In feasting also the
latter sort, I mean the husbandmen, do exceed after their manner,
especially at bridals, purifications of women, and such odd meetings,
where it is incredible to tell what meat is consumed and spent, each one
bringing such a dish, or so many with him, as his wife and he consult
upon, but always with this consideration that the lesser friend shall
have the better provision." The peasants themselves have a good conceit
of their position, and all unmindful of the whirligig of time and its
revenges, contrast it with that of their class in France, where women
labour like beasts in the fields, where men go in wooden shoes or no
shoes at all, where the people drink water instead of ale, eat rye bread
and little meat, and have not even the heart, like honest Englishmen, to
rob the rich who oppress them, and that in the most fertile realm in all
the world;[257] "Caytives and wretches, lyvyng in lyke thraldome as they
dyd to the Romaynes, and gevynge tribute for theyr meat, drinke, brede,
and salte, which for theyr wayke personayges and tymorous hartes I may
compare to the pigmies who waged battayle against the Cranes, so that I
dare let slip a hundred good yeomen of England against five hundred of
such ribaldry."[258] Apart from the utterances of these good Jingoes,
stray glimpses show us a people which not only is materially prosperous,
but is also bold in action, and can produce men of high moral ardour. In
the twentieth century the rural population is a bye-word for its
docility. Its ancestors in the sixteenth were notorious for their
restiveness. Hales, who knew and loved them, makes one of the characters
in his dialogue[259] suggest that men at arms should be used to put down
the disturbances made by them and by the unemployed weavers, only to
answer, through the lips of another, that to call in the military will
be the best way to make them riot all the more:--"Marie, I think that
waye wold be rather occasion of commotions to be stirred than to be
quenched, for the stomakes of Englishmen would never beare that, to
suffer such injuries and reproaches as I knowe suche (_i.e._ the men at
arms) use to do to the subjects of France."

    [256] Harrison in _Elizabethan England_ (Withington), p. 114,
    quoting one of "the Spaniards in Queen Mary's days." "These
    English have their houses made of sticks and dirt, but they fare
    commonly so well as the king."

    [257] Fortescue, _On the Governance of England_, chaps. iii. and
    xiii. The Scots, he thinks, are only one degree less
    faint-hearted than the French. "Thai ben often tymes hanged for
    larceny, and stelynge off good in the absence off the owner
    theroff. But ther hartes serve them not to take a manys gode,
    while he is present, and woll defende it."

    [258] Coke, _Debate of Heralds_. See also the quotation,
    Froude's _Henry VIII._, vol. i. chap, i., from a State Paper of
    1515: "What comyn folke in all this world may compare with the
    comyns of England, in riches, freedom, liberty, welfare, and all
    prosperity? What comyn folke is so mighty, so stronge in the
    felde, as the comyns of England?"

    [259] _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_ (Lamond), p. 94.

These humble people have their idealisms. They produce martyrs for the
new religion and for the old, Lollards who suffer persecution for
upholding the Wycliffite tradition in the quiet villages of
Buckinghamshire, Catholics who follow Aske in that wonderful movement of
northern England, the last of the crusades, in 1536, or fall in
Devonshire thirteen years later before the artillery of Herbert. Nor are
they altogether cut off from the springs of learning. For at the
beginning of the sixteenth century the upper classes have not yet begun
to covet education for themselves sufficiently to withhold it from the
poor. Bequests[260] show that the sons of well-to-do peasants may have
been among those godly yeomanry whom Latimer[261] described as once, in
happier social conditions than those amid which he preached,
frequenting the older universities, and the records of some sixteenth
century grammar-schools tell a similar story. Among the first twenty-two
names on the register of Repton[262] there are five gentlemen, four
husbandmen, nine yeomen, two websters or weavers, a carpenter, and a

    [260] _Victoria County History_, Berkshire, ii., 208. In 1558 a
    yeoman leaves his son a portion of land worth £10 a year "for
    his keepinge and learninge in Oxford for five years nexte." On
    the same page there is a case of a man described as a "yeoman"
    who is tenant by copy of Court Roll.

    [261] Latimer's _Sermons_. The first sermon preached before King
    Edward, March 8, 1549 (Everyman Series, p. 86): "We have good
    statutes made for the commonwealth, as touching commoners and
    enclosures; many meetings and sessions; but in the end of the
    matter there cometh nothing forth. Well, well, this is one thing
    I will say unto you; from whence it cometh I know, even from the
    devil. I know his intent in it. For if ye bring it to pass that
    the yeomanry be not able to put their sons to school (as indeed
    universities do wondrously decay already); I say ye pluck
    salvation from the people and utterly destroy the realm. For by
    yeomen's sons the faith of Christ is and hath been maintained
    chiefly." See also _A Supplication of the Poor Commons_ (E. E.
    T. S.): "This thing causeth that suche possessioners as
    heretofore were able and used to maintain their own children ...
    to lernynge and suche other qualities as are necessary to be had
    in this Your Highness Royalme, are now of necessitie compelled
    to set theyr own children to labour, and al is lytle enough to
    pay the lorde's rent, and to take the house anew at the end of
    the yere." The children of yeomen had no doubt been educated
    mainly for the Church, and some attained high position (_Surtees
    Society_, vol. lxxix. pp. 263-?264, for the son of a yeoman
    becoming a Bishop, and vol. li. No. 53, the son of a yeoman
    becoming subdeacon of York, vol. lxxix. pp. 176?-177, for a
    yeoman's son sent to school for fifteen years). But in the
    fifteenth century this was not always so, v. Leach, _Educational
    Charters_, p. 41, for a school founded in Yorkshire, a county
    which "produced many youths endowed with light and sharpness of
    ability, who do not all want to attain the dignity and elevation
    of the priesthood, that these may be better fitted for the
    mechanical arts and other concerns of this world." A case of
    hostility to the education of the poorer classes based on the
    idea that education should be reserved for "gentlemen" is given
    _ibid._ p. 470, where the notorious Lord Rich and other
    gentlemen argue "as for husbandsmen's children, they were more
    meet ... for the plough and to be artificers than to occupy the
    place of the learned sort. So that they wished none else to be
    put to school, but only gentlemen's children." Cranmer retorted,
    "Poor men's children ... are commonly more apt to apply their
    study than is the gentleman's son delicately educated ... the
    poor man's son by painstaking will be learned, when the
    gentleman's son will not take the pains to get it, ... wherefore
    if the gentleman's son be apt to learning let him be admitted;
    if not apt, let the poor man's child being apt enter in his

    [262] _Repton School Register_, 1564-?1910. One of the
    husbandmen kept his boy at school for ten years. The average
    school life of the sons of seven yeomen was between six and
    seven years; one stays for twelve years, going to school at five
    and staying till seventeen. If one may judge by the attitude of
    most modern parents ("I went to the mill when I was ten, and why
    shouldn't Tommie?"), these men must have been pretty comfortably

But by that time much had changed, and for seventy years before these
documents begin the peasantry in many parts of England had had sterner
things to think of than the schooling of their children.


THE PEASANTRY (_continued_)

(e) _Signs of Change_

So far attention has been concentrated upon those phenomena which
suggest that, before the great agrarian changes of the sixteenth century
begin, there has been a period--one may date it roughly from 1381 to
1489--of increasing prosperity for the small cultivator. We have
emphasised the evidence of this upward movement which is given by the
growth among the peasantry of a freer and more elastic economy. We have
watched them shake off many of the restrictions imposed by villeinage
and build up considerable properties. We have seen how the custom of the
manor still acts as a dyke to defend them against encroachments, and to
concentrate in their hands a large part of the fruits of economic
progress. In the century from the Peasants' Revolt to the first Statute
against Depopulation, in spite of the political anarchy which disfigures
it, there is, as it seems to us an interval between one oppressive
régime and another, between the leaden weight of villeinage and the
stress and strain of the gathering power of competition. In that happy
balance between the forces of custom and the forces of economic
enterprise, custom is powerful, yet not so powerful that men cannot
evade it when evasion is desired; enterprise is growing, yet it has not
grown to such lengths as to undermine the security which the small man
finds in the established relationships and immemorial routine of
communal agriculture.

There is, however, we need hardly say, another side to the picture, and
to that other side we must now turn. We must examine again from another
point of view some of the ground over which we have already travelled,
and we must modify the opinions which we have formed by bringing a fresh
range of facts into perspective. The piecemeal changes which have been
going on in the internal organisation of so many manors look forward as
well as back, and are of significance as throwing light on the larger
innovations of the later period. For one thing, they mean the appearance
among the customary tenantry of persons who are in a small way
capitalists, and who supply a link between the great farmer of the
sixteenth century and the agricultural organisation of earlier periods.
The emergence out of the mediæval peasantry of prosperous cultivators,
occupying two or three times as much land as their grandfathers, is a
proof that holdings of a considerable size can be managed successfully,
and the farmers of the demesne are often drawn from among them. For
another thing, the inequality which has appeared among the holdings of
different tenants implies the growth of a state of things in which
innovations in the customary methods of agriculture are much more likely
to be made than they were when all the tenants were organised in fairly
well-defined classes. The smaller among them are still practising
subsistence farming when the larger are producing on a considerable
scale for the market, are acquiring capital, are extending their
holdings, are even becoming landlords themselves. There arises therefore
a divergence of agricultural methods and economic interests between
them, which is quite compatible with the fact that both large and small
tenants stand in the same legal relationship to the lord of whom they
hold. The enterprise which the former show in their dealings with land
and in encroaching on the routine of manorial cultivation cannot fail to
have a powerful influence in preparing the way for the individualistic
movement which sweeps over agriculture in the sixteenth century, and
from which the peasants, as a class, suffer so severely. The freedom
with which parcels of land change hands must inevitably weaken the
connection between the family and the holding, and result in leaving the
least successful without any land at all. The difficulty of maintaining
a peasant proprietary without restricting the alienation of land is one
which is familiar to modern Governments, and there is clear
evidence[263] that, even before the evictions of the sixteenth century
began to attract attention, a decline in the number of customary tenants
was brought about on a good many manors by the mere process of the
well-to-do buying up the poorer men's holdings.

    [263] I am inclined to think that an investigation of the
    manorial records of the fifteenth century would show a
    considerable decrease in the number of customary tenants, not as
    a result of evictions, but simply as a consequence of one man
    buying out another and forming one larger holding out of two or
    more smaller ones. The evidence for this is as follows: (1) When
    several holdings pass to one man there must be a diminution
    unless more land is brought under cultivation. Such an
    agglomeration of holdings has been shown to be very frequent.
    (2) A comparison of fifteenth and sixteenth century surveys with
    those of an earlier date shows a marked diminution in the number
    of customary tenants (a) before complaints as to enclosure
    become loud, and on manors where there is no trace of enclosing
    by lords or large farmers; (b) on manors where more land is
    cultivated by the customary tenants than at an earlier date.
    Thus at Haversham there were 52 tenants of all kinds in 1305, 35
    in 1458, 14 in 1497 (_Victoria County History_, Gloucestershire,
    vol. ii. pp. 61?-62). On six Northumbrian manors, where there is
    no sign of evictions on a large scale, there were 82 customary
    tenants in 1294, and 37 in 1567, and where intermediate surveys
    enable one to narrow the limiting points, one finds that there
    has been a considerable diminution before the end of the
    fifteenth century. On the four tithings, of South Newton,
    Childhampton, Stovord, and Little Wishford, which made up the
    manor of South Newton, customary tenants numbered at the
    beginning of the fourteenth century 32, 7, 13, 13, and in 1567
    10, 3, 7, 1, the average holding having grown from 10-1/2 to
    about 43 acres (Roxburghe Club, _Pembroke Surveys_). At Sutton
    Warblington there were in 1351, 28 customary tenants, and in
    1568 there were 7, while the average acreage of each tenant's
    holding had increased enormously (_Crondal Records_, Baigent).
    At Dippenhall and Swanthrop, two tithings of the manor of
    Crondal, the customary tenants numbered 40 in 1287, 24 in 1568,
    while the average size of their holdings had risen from between
    18 and 19 to just under 35 acres. At Aldershot the number of
    customary tenants during the same period fell from 48 to 37
    (_ibid._). Such figures are of course full of pitfalls. In the
    North border warfare reduced the population, and the effects of
    the Great Plague have to be considered. The great growth in the
    size of holdings does, however, suggest that a diminution in the
    number of customary tenants may have occurred without any
    encroachments being made by lords on the customary land, and
    merely through one tenant buying up the land of another.

Such movements prepare the way for greater changes: petty capitalism is
naturally followed by capitalism on a larger scale. It is surely at
first sight somewhat surprising that the noticeable upward movement in
the condition of the rural population, which coincides with the
disappearance of villeinage and the growth of copyhold tenure, should
have been followed by the marked depression which all observers agree to
have occurred in the following century. Why should a class which has
displayed such remarkable signs of vigour and enterprise find such
difficulty in holding its own? An answer to this question cannot be
given till after a consideration of the new causes at work in the
sixteenth century. But may it not be that their position had to some
extent been undermined by the very changes which at first improved it,
and that the enterprise of the larger customary tenants, while it added
to their prosperity as long as they led the way in it, tended to weaken
the customary relations and the customary methods of agriculture which
had protected the small man, and to leave him at the mercy of
competitive forces which he could not control? Such an undulating line
of development, in which the small producer gains temporarily from the
expansion of markets and improved technical methods which ultimately rob
him of his independence, can be paralleled from the later history both
of agriculture[264] and of manufacturing industry. It seems to us to
offer a thread which connects the capitalist farmer of the sixteenth
century with the prosperous peasantry of the fifteenth. When there is
much buying and selling of land among the peasantry, much colonising of
new plots taken from the waste and the demesne, we should expect to see
the influence of competition beginning to override that of custom; we
should expect to see the paring away of communal restrictions to make
room for individual arrangements of a more elastic nature. In the
remainder of this chapter we shall approach this problem by considering
two movements--the growth at an early date of competitive rents on those
parts of manors where custom was weakest, and the enclosing of land by
customary tenants themselves. The former offers a precedent for the
rack-rents and excessive fines of which so much is heard in the
sixteenth century, the latter at once an analogy and a contrast with the
enclosures carried out by lords of manors and capitalist farmers, which
we shall discuss in Part II.

    [264] Thus the yeomen seem to have increased in prosperity at
    the end of the eighteenth and in the early nineteenth century
    (though at the same time large classes of agrarian workers were
    suffering terribly), because the rise in prices made
    corn-growing a gold-mine. The collapse came probably after 1815
    (see Johnson, _The Disappearance of the Small Landowner_, chap.

(f) _The Growth of Competitive Rents on New Allotments_

The development of competitive rents is a subject which must always
possess a peculiar fascination for the historical economist, inasmuch
as the distribution of wealth depends to no small degree upon the manner
in which the surplus gains wrung from nature are shared between
different classes. The wealth which, under a régime of great estates and
leasehold tenure, accrues to a tiny body of landlords, is, in a
community of small freeholders, retained by the cultivating tenant, and,
when the tenure of land is such that custom sets a barrier to a rise in
rents, is divided between owner and occupier in a way which prevents the
former from absorbing the whole advantage of superior sites, or the
latter from being reduced to working for bare wages of management. The
causes which determine the allocation of rents must always be of crucial
importance for an understanding of economic conditions, and any change
which augments them, diminishes them, or varies the degree to which
different classes participate in them, is likely in time to produce a
substantial alteration both in the economic configuration of society and
in the possession of social privileges and political power. In modern
times, it is true, the enormous area from which food-stuffs are drawn,
and the relatively small space upon which manufacturing industry can be
concentrated, has made the differential payments accruing to the
landowner from varieties of soil and situation almost trifling compared
with the surpluses drawn from finance and manufacturing industry by the
infra-marginal capitalist and entrepreneur. Such "quasi-rents" are,
however, a comparatively modern phenomenon. In our period the basis of
wealth was land, and a crucial question is that of the manner in which
incomes drawn from land were determined. We have seen that in the
sixteenth century custom still ruled the payments made by most of the
copyhold tenants. But at that time there were many complaints of
rack-renting, and though we must leave till later an inquiry into their
justification, it will help us if we take a glance at the new forces,
which, even in the Middle Ages, were beginning to operate on the margin
of cultivation.

The gradual extension of cultivation over the waste lands surrounding
the village fields, and the not infrequent addition of parts of the
lord's demesne to the tenants' holdings, was obviously the occasion, as
it took place, of a number of new agreements between the payer and
receiver of rents, which might or might not repeat the conditions of
existing contracts. When new land was broken up for tillage an attempt
seems in some cases to have been made by the manorial authorities to
assimilate its treatment, as far as payment was concerned, to that of
the existing customary holdings. The basis of the rent paid was a
comparison between the areas of the encroachments and the ordinary
holding of a customary tenant; the payment was so many ploughlands'[265]
worth, and sometimes the corresponding services were extracted from
them. On the other hand, the mere fact that the land was new land, which
did not come into the original scheme of manorial finance and
organisation, tended to make it the point from which new relationships
could spring. For one thing, it was the natural starting-point for the
process of substituting money rents for labour. When the customary
holdings offered a sufficient supply of labour for the cultivation of
the demesne, the manorial authorities naturally preferred to take the
payments for additional land in the shape of money rather than in
services of which they already had sufficient. Services are sometimes
exacted for the new encroachments, but they are the exception; and the
assimilation of the payments for these new holdings to those made for
the customary holdings was either not seriously attempted or was
unsuccessful. One can quite understand that, even if the lord wanted
labour services from those parts of the waste which were broken up and
added to the cultivated area, he might not be able to get the
improvements made on the old terms. Quite apart, therefore, from the
process of commutation, the growth of money rents developed as a natural
accompaniment of the growth of population.

    [265] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), p. 132?-133, Rental of 1287:
    "The same Hugh holds certain encroachments on payment of 3
    ploughlands' worth, 3 hens, and 3d. at the said term." "Emma of
    Wyggeworthhall ... holds certain encroachments on payment
    therefor 11s. 6d. and one ploughland's worth." These documents
    throw much light on the whole process of the extension of
    cultivation over the waste.

The second point is more important. It is that the rents paid for the
new holdings taken from the waste differed from such money payments as
were made for the customary holdings, in that they were not to the same
extent dominated by custom, but were to a much greater extent influenced
by competition. This contrast is the tiny seed of great changes, and may
be illustrated by an example drawn from the south of England at a
comparatively early date. At Yateleigh,[266] one of the tithings of the
manor of Crondal, the absorption of the waste by the customary tenants
went on with great rapidity even in the thirteenth century, and in the
rental drawn up by the steward in 1287 we find the rents and services
paid for the customary holdings and the rents paid for the encroachments
set down side by side. The latter fall into a definite scheme which can
be picked out at a glance. With a very few exceptions the rent charged
for an acre of land taken from the waste is always 4d., and this is the
basis for all other payments for the varying portions of waste occupied
by the tenants. A two acre piece pays 8d. For a piece of 9-1/2 acres the
payment is still about 4-1/4d. per acre, the awkward sum of 3s. 4-1/2d.
The rents and services of the customary holdings, however, cannot be
reduced to any such simple and uniform plan of adjusting rent to
acreage. In the first place all of them, whatever their size, are liable
to an initial charge of 9-1/2d., called "Pondpany." In the second place
there is only the roughest correspondence between the amount of land
held by a tenant and the payment which he makes. A holding of 22 acres
pays 2s. 10d., but so does a holding of 32 acres, while one of 29 acres
pays 2s. 2d. Holdings of 12-1/2, of 16, and of 18-1/2 acres all make
exactly the same payment of 2s. In short, though it would not be quite
true to say that the payment made bears no relation to the size of the
holding, the relation which it bears is not at all definite and precise.
It is a general relation applying rather to groups of holdings roughly
marked off from others by broad differences in extent, not to individual
holdings. There is no standard price per acre at all, such as appears in
a modern land market, and such as exists for the land taken from the

    [266] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), pp. 116?-120.

What is the reason of this remarkable contrast between the rents of
pieces of land lying quite near to each other and held by the same
tenants, which causes the payment for one set of holdings, the
encroachments, to be adjusted uniformly to the area held, and the other,
the customary holdings, to be rented apparently without any economic
plan at all? The answer is that the payments for the encroachments and
the payments for the customary holdings, if they are both to be called
rents, are rents of very different kinds. The payments made for the
customary holdings are not based directly on the economic value of the
land, but on the value of commuted services, and all the holdings,
though of unequal size, are liable to much the same services. All make a
general payment of 9-1/2d., because that sum is the value of some
payment in kind or service which they had made before the money payment
took its place. Holdings of 32 acres and 22 acres, just as holdings of
12-1/2 and 18-1/2 acres, make the same payments, because the labour
rents had been only very roughly adjusted to the size of the holdings,
and these payments are commuted labour rents, not rents fixed by putting
up an acre for leasing and taking what can be got for it. It is of
course quite true that services and the size of holdings were connected,
and that therefore the money rents which took the place of services and
the size of holdings were connected also. But the connection is rough,
arrived at by apportioning between holdings the labour services needed
to cultivate the demesne, without distinguishing precisely differences
of a few acres in the size of different holdings, and the subsequent
money rents are not adjusted to the acreage because they express the
roughness of the original apportionment.

Now clearly these considerations did not apply to the rents paid for the
encroachments which were taken from the waste. The greater part of them
had never been liable to labour services at all. Each acre stood by
itself, as it were, as simply a piece of cultivatable land of a certain
area, not part of a complex on which certain obligations had been
imposed. Each, therefore, gets a market value, based on what will be
given for it, much sooner than does the land making up the customary
holdings, which are not exposed to the levelling influence of the market
because they are bound together by their place in the social
organisation of the manor. Hence it is on this land, the land leased
piecemeal from the waste by tenants who were prosperous enough to afford
the extra outlay, that one gets the appearance of something like true
competitive rents, because it is here that commercial influences have
freest play and are least checked by their subordination to custom. In
the same way, when the tenants at Brightwalton[267] do the full quota of
work demanded, the rent of their customary holdings is abated
accordingly. But not so the rent of the new land which was once part of
the waste: in fixing its rent the lord is not checked by any collective
sense on the part of the village community; he has a free hand and will
make the best bargain he can.

    [267] Camden Society, 1857. Rental and Custumal of the Manor of
    Brightwalton. Under the heading virgators it is said, "If they
    do the full day's work set out above each of them ought to have
    his rent reduced 12d." Under the heading of villeins holding
    assarted land it is said, "Be it known that no customary tenant
    shall have any reduction of rent of the lands which he holds by
    way of assart or in the common of Greeneholt for any office or
    work to be done for the lord."

Thus, at a very early date, a fringe of leasehold land forms itself
round the manor in addition to the ordinary customary holdings. Because
it is on the margin of cultivation the initial rent is low, and because
the land is leased the rent can be raised. Exactly the same thing
applies to the leasing of the demesne, and sometimes even to the land
which one tenant hires from another, because here also the element of
competition enters to adjust rents in accordance with supply and demand
and with little regard to the influence of custom. When the greater part
of the demesne is still cultivated by the labour of villeins, and only
small plots are leased to the tenants by way of experiment, the bailiff
balances one method against the other, and recommends the resumption of
the land which "would pay better in the hands of the lord."[268] On some
manors, it is true, demesne land seems to have been merged inextricably
in the customary holdings, and to have been held later, like them, by
copy of court roll.[269] But the manorial authorities were anxious to
keep it separate precisely because it was recognised that if kept
separate it could be let at a competitive rent. Thus the charter which
was granted to the little borough of Holt[270] in Denbighshire, in 1413,
provided that the tenants should pay for "every burgage 12d., for every
curtilage 12d., for every acre of land belonging to their free burgages
12d., and for every acre of land which was wont to be of the lord's
demesne two shillings." And though, during the confusion of the
following century, much of the rent appears not to have been collected,
the Crown, of whom the burgesses hold, does not forget that a high rent
was due from the demesne, and one hundred and fifty years later requires
them to bring up their payments for it to the level fixed in 1413. At
Castle Combe, in the middle of the fifteenth century, one finds the
steward of the manor watching the land market with a view to getting the
best price that he can for the demesne, and speculating whether "any man
will ferme the parkis and the conyes at any better price above X marks
than yt ys now."[271] The same tendency towards competitive rents can be
seen equally well in the case of the land leased by one tenant from the
holdings of others, which for one reason or another have been
surrendered to the lord. Thus at Mildenhall,[272] in 1381, a villein
pays for his land nearly 1s. 6d. an acre, a very high rent, which is at
once explained when it is seen that his holding consists of pieces of
land held on a ten years' lease from the holdings of five or more other
tenants. Elsewhere one can almost see the bidding up of rents going on.
For what else can happen when the demesne lands of a manor are leased
to four tenants who, in turn, make their profit by leasing them again to
the other tenants,[273] or when a villein pays £6 to enter on two acres
of arable land,[274] or when land is worth 3s. 6d. an acre after the
rents and services have been discharged from it to the lord,[275] so
that the holder who cares to sublet can reap a substantial profit on the

    [268] Camden Society, _Inquisition of the Manors of Glastonbury
    Abbey_, Brentmarsh, 1189. A tenant holds "1 acre de terra
    arabili in dominico, utilius esset quod esset in manu domini."

    [269] _e.g._, on the Devonshire, Somerset, and Cornwall manors
    surveyed by Humberstone _temp._ Phil, and Mary (_Topographer and
    Genealogist_, vol. i.).

    [270] MS. Transcript by A.N. Palmer of the Survey of the Manor
    of Holt, 1620 (Wrexham Free Library, _Ancient Local Records_,
    vol. ii.).

    [271] Scrope, _History of the Manor and Barony of Castle Combe_,
    p. 258 (1440?-1550).

    [272] _Victoria County History_, Suffolk. I quote the writer's
    remarks in full. "The bailiff's accounts for the manor begin in
    that very year [1381], and the one striking feature in them is
    the system of leases which appears to have gradually displaced
    other kinds of tenure since the time of the pestilence. A few
    are for forty years, but most are for ten or six years.... The
    land so leased is not mainly demesne land. It belongs largely to
    villein tenements that have fallen into the lord's hands, and
    the process of consolidation described had already taken place
    at Mildenhall. The land held by John Kelsynd on a ten years'
    lease includes, for example, '3 acres of Frere's, Hayward's and
    Willway's tenement in Bradinhawfield, 1 acre of Holmes' tenement
    in Suttonfield, 5 acres of Zabulo's tenement in one piece at
    Lambwash,' and the rent of the whole 22 acres is 31s. 1d., or
    nearly 1s. 5d. an acre, an extremely high rent for land not
    stated to be meadow or pasture."

    [273] Scrope, _History of the Manor and Barony of Castle Combe_,
    p. 203.

    [274] Massingberd, _Ingoldmells Court Rolls_, Introduction, p.

    [275] _Ibid._

The truth is that, at any rate by the middle of the fifteenth century,
the rents of different parts of a manor are being settled on quite
different principles. They are not all customary rents, as they tended
to be at an earlier date, nor are they all competitive rents, as they
tend to be to-day. The latter are growing because of the improved
economic position of the tenants, which enables them to hire or purchase
land over and above their customary holdings, and their growth has been
greatly accelerated by the enormously increased opportunities for land
speculation which were offered when the Great Plague brought thousands
of acres into the land market. It is in the demand put forward by the
men of Essex in 1381,[276] "that no acre of land, which is held in
villeinage or serfdom, may be had at a higher rent than 4d.," rather
than in the reference to the already decaying labour services, that
there is a warning of troubles to come. But long after that, as we have
already seen, a great deal of land is still held by rents which are
customary and little influenced as yet by the play of competition. We
have, in fact, what is almost an illustration of modern theories of
rent, with this difference, that though the condition of competitive
rents being charged appears as the margin of cultivation is lowered,
custom at first prevents the owners of land from taking advantage of
their position and asking the full competitive rents from the holders of
the superior sites, so that part of the surplus is for a long time
enjoyed by the tenants. Such a state of things is clearly a precarious
one. When the tenements of Hugh and Thomas are being rack-rented there
will obviously be a strong temptation to cause Walter's to follow suit,
and if the custom is a barrier to a rise in rents, but not to a rise in
fines, to make heavy fines do on the latter what high rents do on the
former. If it had been given to our peasants to happen on some monstrous
mediæval Ricardo, would they not have wondered how long such an
intermingling of payments fixed by custom and payments fixed by
competition was likely to continue, and have foreseen, what actually
occurred in the sixteenth century, an attempt, though not always a
successful attempt, to force up the payments for customary holdings to
something like the maximum which the condition of agriculture would
allow? They would have said:--"This fellow fears not God, neither
regards he man. He is a usurer, a great taker of advantages, an
oppressor of his neighbour. We will beat him, and put him in our stocks,
and maim his cattle. Nevertheless in the bottom of his foul mind there
is some glimmering of sense, and we will give heed to his warning. The
devil brings it, but it may be that God sent it. The Court shall recite
our good customs once more, and our young men shall look to their bows.
Weapon bodeth peace."[277]

    [276] Stubbs, _Constl. Hist._, vol. ii. p. 479, n. 5.

    [277] The word "usury" denoted in the Middle Ages and in the
    sixteenth century not merely exorbitant interest on a loan, but
    any oppressive bargain, including the raising of prices, the
    beating down of wages, and the rack-renting of land (see _e.g. A
    Discourse on Usurie_, by Thomas Wilson, 1584). The phrase "a
    great taker of advantages" comes from a complaint by the people
    of Hereford against an unpopular divine who lent money at
    interest and rack-rented land (_S. P. D. Eliz._, cclxxxvi. Nos.
    19 and 20), and the phrase "weapon bodeth peace" from an account
    of an agrarian dispute in Lancashire--it is the sort of grim
    joke that stubborn and humorous people would appreciate--in _L.
    and P. Henry VIII._, vol. xiii., Pt. II., p. 535. "On Sunday
    night Wheateley sent his daughter to bid him to come to Parson's
    Close to mow Mr. Tempest's meadow there. Had heard that whoever
    should mow the meadow should be beaten off the ground, and sent
    to ask if he should bring a weapon. Wheateley sent word again
    'howe weapon boded peace, therefore bring his weapon with him.'
    Brought his bow and shafts."

(g) _The Progress of Enclosure among the Peasantry_

While competitive conditions are creeping forward on those parts of the
village lands which have been most recently taken in, even more
momentous changes are occurring on the customary holdings themselves. By
the end of the fifteenth century we are walking through fields that are
being cut up with the hedges which give the dullest English landscape
the trim beauty of a garden. For a century and a half, while in the
great world the new state rises on the ruins of the Middle Ages, while
Tudors give way to Stuarts, and Stuarts browbeat and are browbeaten by
ever more impatient Parliaments, in courts customary and sometimes in
noisier assemblies not without arms, we shall be discussing whether
those hedges are to stand or fall. The great enclosing movement has

Like most great economic changes it has begun quietly and for a long
time men are doubtful whether it is a great change at all, and, if it is
mischievous, in what exactly the mischief consists. Nor indeed does the
mass of the population, who feel the new conditions most, ever become
quite clear on this point. Events are too various and move too swiftly
for them. They see that great men enclose with little regard to the
interests of their poorer neighbours. They curse them for their
enclosures,[278] and believe with the faith of an age which has
re-discovered the Bible, that they, like greedy Ahab, the father of
enclosers, will be cursed. When the encloser should call on God to
witness his deed the devil's name starts to his lips. His cattle are
struck by lightning, and his children do not live to reap the fruits of
his iniquity. But the peasants enclose themselves, and though they feel
the difference between one sort of enclosing and another, they are
simple men who cannot make the matter plain to lawyers and
commissioners, and when things reach a certain point they will fight it

    [278] For the popular attitude towards enclosures see below, pp.
    313?-340, and Leland (quoted Hone, _The Manor and Manorial
    Records_, p. 117): "The Duke of Buckingham made a fair park by
    the Castle of Thornbury, Gloucestershire, and took very much
    fair land in, very fruitful of corn, now fair lands for
    coursing. The inhabitants cursed the Duke for those lands so
    enclosed." I cannot refrain from quoting the following passage
    (_Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. iii): "To the Right Honble.
    House of Parliament now assembled, the Humble Petition of the
    Mayor and Free Tenants of the Borough of Wootton Basset in the
    Countie of Wilts, Humble sheweth to this Honourable House" [that
    their common has been seized and enclosed by the lord of the
    manor, who] "did divers times attempt to gaine the possession
    thereof by putting in of divers sorts of cattle, in so much that
    at length, when his servants did put in cowes by force into the
    said common, many times and present upon the putting of them in,
    the Lord in his mercy did send thunder and lightning from
    heaven, which did make the cattle of the said Francis Englefield
    [the lord of the Manor] to run so violent out of the said
    ground, that at one time one of the beasts was killed therewith;
    and it was so often that people that were not there in presence
    to see it, when it thundered would say, Sir Francis Englefield's
    men were putting in their cattle into the land, and so it was,
    and as soon as those cattle were gone forth, it would presently
    be very calm and fair, and the cattle of the towne would never
    stir, but follow their feeding as at other times, and never
    offer to move out of the way." For the allusion to invoking the
    devil, see Moore, _The Crying Sin of England_, &c. It was said
    that the grantees of monastic estates died out in three
    generations (Erdeswick, _Survey of Stafford_, ed. Harwood, p.
    55). The same was said of enclosers (Moore, _op. cit._).

In every age there are words which are sufficiently definite to become a
battle-cry, and yet which contain so many shades of meaning and are
susceptible of such varying interpretations, that those who seem to
differ most profoundly really differ because they are using the same
word to express quite different ideas. Such a word was enclosing. For
many years it was a burning question--with statesmen, with preachers,
with the mass of the peasantry. But those who tell us exactly what it
meant are few, and they tell us hardly more than is sufficient to show
that it meant several different things in different connections. The
picture of enclosure which carried Ket's followers against the walls of
Norwich was that immortalised two centuries later in Goldsmith's
"Deserted Village"; a vision of village cornfields turned into dreary
expanses of pasture, where sheep grazed amid ruined homesteads and
cattle were stalled in the mouldering churches.[279] When the scientific
agriculturists of the age eulogised enclosures, they thought of a more
orderly and productive cultivation arising in place of the intolerable
"mingle mangle" of the open fields. The Levellers, who in the
seventeenth century carried on the agitation against enclosure, had no
objection to such as took place "only or chiefly for the benefit of the
poor."[280] The panegyrists of enclosing like Fitzherbert and Norden
denounced[281] lords who made enclosure an occasion to rack-rent and
depopulate. The Justices of Nottinghamshire[282] complain to the
Government that enclosure drives people into the already overburdened
towns, but they are careful to explain that enclosures of less than five
acres in size improve agriculture without depopulating the country. The
Government itself under Elizabeth sets its face against the enclosures
which produce evictions, but nevertheless expressly sanctions the
exchanging of strips, which is desired chiefly in order that small
enclosures may be made.[283] In this phase of the eternal quarrel
between the plain man and the technical expert both the technical expert
and the plain man were right, and needed only a definition to unite
against the avarice and oppression which snatched a golden harvest from
their confusion. It is the tragedy of a world where man must walk by
sight that the discovery of the reconciling formula is always left to
future generations, in which passion has cooled into curiosity, and the
agonies of peoples have become the exercise of the schools. The devil
who builds bridges does not span such chasms till much that is precious
to mankind has vanished down them for ever.

    [279] See the ballad of Nowadays (1520):

        "Envy waxeth wonders strong,
        The Riche doth the poore wrong,
        God of his mercy sufferith long
        The Devil his workes to worke.
        The Townes go downe, the land decayes;
        Of cornefeldes playne layes,
        Gret men makithe now a dayes
            A shepecote in the Church.

        The places that we Right holy call
        Ordeyned ffor Christyan buriall
        Off them to make an ox-stall
        These men be wonders wyse;
        Commons to close and kepe,
        Poor folk for bred to cry and wepe;
        Towns pulled down to pastur shepe,
            This ys the newe gyse."

    [280] "The Leveller's Petition" (Bodleian Pamphlets, 1648, c.
    15, 3, Linc.).

    [281] Fitzherbert, _Surveying_: "I advertise and exhort in God's
    behalf all manner of persons, that ... the lords do not heighten
    the rents of their tenants or cause them to pay more rent or a
    greater fine. A greater bribery and extortion a man cannot do
    than upon his own tenants, for they dare not say him naye, nor
    yet complain." Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_, Book III.:
    "Lords should not depopulate by usurping enclosures, a thing
    hateful to God and offensive to man."

    [282] _Victoria County History, Nottinghamshire_, vol. ii. p.

    [283] 39 Eliz. c. i.

One such distinction, however, we must draw at once. Enclosure is
usually thought of in connection with the encroachments made by lords of
manors or their farmers upon the land over which the manorial population
had common rights or which lay in the open arable fields. And this is on
the whole correct. This is what the word would have suggested to nine
men out of ten in our period: this aspect of the movement was the most
rapid in its development and the most far-reaching in its effects. But
there was another side to it which was at once earlier in point of time
and productive of quite dissimilar results. There is abundant evidence
to show that the open field system of agriculture, with its intermingled
strips and its collective, as opposed to individual, rules of
cultivation, was undergoing a gradual dissolution from within even
before the larger innovations of great capitalists gave it a shock from
without. At the very time when the peasantry agitated most bitterly they
were often hedging and ditching their own little holdings and nibbling
away fragments of the waste to be cultivated in severalty. It is, of
course, true that the effect of enclosure by the lord of a manor or
large farmer was usually very different from that of enclosure by the
customary tenants. The latter was a slow process of attrition, which
went on quietly from one generation to another, often no doubt after
discussions in the manorial court. The former was frequently an
invasion. But though their social effects were dissimilar, from a
technical point of view they were both part of the process through which
cultivation at the discretion of the individual was substituted for
cultivation in accordance with common customary rules. Enclosing by
lords and large farmers was not so much a movement running counter to
existing tendencies, as a continuation on a larger scale and with
different results of developments which in parts of England were already
at work. Great changes are best interpreted in the light of small, and
it will therefore be worth our while to look shortly at the sort of
enclosing which was being carried out by the peasantry themselves.

First, one may review briefly what is told us by those who wrote on the
technique of agriculture. Fitzherbert[284] and Hales in the sixteenth
century, Norden and Lee in the seventeenth, make it quite plain that,
apart from enclosures carried out by lords of manors, a movement is
going on among the tenants which is also known by the name of enclosure.
It has as its object the formation of compact fields out of the
scattered strips, and the substitution of closes surrounded by hedges
for rights of grazing over the common pasture, meadow, and waste. It
has as its effects a great increase in the output of wheat,
opportunities for better grazing and stock-breeding, and a consequent
rise in the value of land; the improvement being partly due to
psychological[285] reasons, to the fact that a man who has a free hand
will put more labour into the land than one who is fettered by customary
rules, partly to technical causes such as the better draining and
cleaning of land which the enclosure of arable ground makes possible,
the greater security offered against damage done by straying cattle, the
improvement in the quality of pasture when it is no longer liable to be
eaten bare by the beasts of a whole township. The method by which such a
change takes place is re-allotment. The construction of
hedges--enclosing--is simply the machinery by which the new lines of
demarcation between one man's land and another's are drawn and kept
firmly in their place; and though the word _enclosure_ gives a vivid
picture of the alteration which is produced in the appearance of the
country, _re-allotment_ or _redivision_ of land describes much better
the process by which it is brought about. The ideal form of it is
described by Fitzherbert.[286] All the landlords in a village must come
to an agreement that their tenants should exchange their holdings with
each other. An exact statement of the area of land in tillage and
pasture held by each tenant must then be made. When this has been done,
every man is "to change with his neighbour, and to leye them (_i.e._ the
acres, which were formerly scattered) together, and to make him one
several close in every field, to leye them together in one field and to
make one several close for them all; and also another several close for
his portion of his common pasture, and also his portion of his meadow in
a several close by itself, and all kept in several both winter and
summer. And every cottager to have his portion assigned to him according
to his rent." Such enclosure does not, it is contended, interfere
unfairly with any one's vested interests. It makes a spatial
rearrangement of property, but it does not alter its economic
distribution. It does not result in evictions or depopulation. It simply
converts rights exercised jointly over a larger area into rights
exercised individually over a smaller one. The map is dissolved into
scattered pieces, but it is put together again; and when it is put
together all the pieces are still there. The tenants part with shares in
the common fields, meadows, and pastures, to get smaller fields,
meadows, and pastures to themselves. The latter are more valuable than
the former. What is lost in extension is gained in intension.

    [284] Fitzherbert, _Book of Husbandry_. Norden, _op. cit._: "One
    acre enclosed is worth one and halfe in common." _Commonweal of
    this Realm of England_, p. 56. Lee, _A Vindication of a
    Regulated Enclosure_.

    [285] _Commonweal of this Realm of England_, p. 49: "That which
    is possessed of many in common is neglected of all."

    [286] Fitzherbert, _Surveying_, chap. xl.

But this account is an ideal one, a description of the most excellent
way, not necessarily a description of what is being actually done. For
that we must turn to the surveys. In the picture of agriculture which is
given by the surveyors one can see the open field system of cultivation
at almost every stage of completeness and disintegration at different
places. On many manors there is hardly any sign of the scattered strips,
which make up the individual tenant's holding, coalescing into
compactness, hardly any sign of encroachments upon either the common
pasture or the meadow or the waste. Elsewhere one finds that though the
bulk of the land still lies in the open fields, and though the greater
part of the meadow and pasture is undivided, a considerable proportion
has been enclosed by the tenants and is held in severalty. Elsewhere one
finds the common meadow split up and the arable enclosed, the arable
enclosed and the waste unenclosed, or all of them enclosed more or less
completely. It would be of great interest and importance to determine
the relative preponderance of enclosure by the tenants in different
parts of the country, and to see how far the districts where this type
of enclosure by consent had been commonest were identical with those
where the reports of the Royal Commissions of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries show that depopulating enclosures made least way.
Very probably it would be found that the latter movement went on least
rapidly where the former had proceeded furthest, and that where the
tenants themselves had from an early date substituted enclosed for open
field husbandry, as apparently they had in Kent, Essex, Cornwall, and
parts of Devonshire[287] they had least to fear from that kind of
enclosure which was accompanied by encroachments on the part of manorial
authorities, and which seems to have produced most dislocation in the
Midlands and Eastern counties. But this is a suggestion which our
material is too scanty either to confirm or disprove. Enclosure by
consent did not cause popular disorder; and therefore we cannot say,
taking the country as a whole, how far enclosure on the part of the bulk
of the smaller tenants had proceeded. We can only give cases which show
that on some manors it had advanced very far, and which bear out the
evidence of the writers on agriculture as to there being a well-defined
movement away from open field husbandry on the part of the peasants
themselves, without attempting to determine its extent or its
geographical distribution.

    [287] _Commonweal of this Realm of England_, p. 49. _Victoria
    County History_, Essex. I am inclined to say "almost certainly"
    rather than "very probably" (see below, pp. 167 and 262?-263).

Look, first, for example, at the picture given by the Commission of
1517. Thanks to Mr. Leadam,[288] we are able to say what the average
acreage of the enclosures in each county represented was, what
proportion of the enclosures was due to lords of manors, lay or
ecclesiastical, and what proportion was due to the tenants. Now it is
generally, though not universally, true that the enclosures reported to
this Commission fall into two main types. The first consists of
considerable enclosures carried out mainly by lords of manors. The
second consists of smaller enclosures carried out mainly by other
classes. Thus the five districts where the average size of the
enclosures made is largest are Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire,
Yorkshire North Riding, Yorkshire West Riding, Yorkshire East Riding,
where it is 129, 96, 84, 77, 62 acres respectively, and in these the
proportion of the enclosures which is due to the lords of manors is high
also--72 per cent., 52 per cent., 79 per cent., 92 per cent., 64 per
cent. Contrast with the position in these counties that obtaining in
Berkshire, in Salop, and in London and its suburbs. In Berkshire the
average size of an enclosure is 32 acres, in Salop 18, in London 10, and
in these districts the lords play a much smaller part in enclosing.
They are responsible for 42 per cent. of the acreage enclosed in
Berkshire, 12 per cent. of that enclosed in Salop, 3 per cent. of that
enclosed in the vicinity of London. Does not this suggest that in parts
of the country--we cannot yet say what parts--there is much small
enclosing by small men?

    [288] _Trans. R. H. S._, New Series, vol. vi., and _The Domesday
    of Enclosures_.

Turn next to the story told by the surveys. Though Wiltshire is on the
whole a country of recent enclosure, there was a certain amount of
several farming on the part of the customary tenants on the Wiltshire
manors in the middle of the sixteenth century. Out of 4128-1/4 acres
held by them on eight manors the surveys show that 202-1/4 acres lie in
closes.[289] This is a very small proportion, only 5 per cent., and
suggests that on most of them the holdings lay in the open fields, and
that, as a general rule, the common utilisation of meadows and pastures
still obtained. On one, however, as much as 132 acres out of 1103, or
just under 12 per cent. were enclosed, and at best these are minimum
figures which do not accurately represent how far the movement had gone;
for, though a surveyor would not describe unenclosed land as enclosed,
he might very well class enclosed land with other land of the same
description, for example as meadow or pasture, and omit to state that it
was occupied in severalty. On some Staffordshire[290] manors again there
are similar tentative beginnings of enclosure, and a similar
impossibility of determining its actual extent. Then, too, there are
manors where the greater part of the land still lies in the open fields,
but where enclosure has proceeded a little further. At Salford,[291] in
Bedfordshire, eight of the tenants have enclosed about 51 acres, which
they hold separate from, and in addition to, their holdings in the open
fields, in amounts varying from 2 to 17 acres. At Weeden Weston,[292]
in Northamptonshire, the three largest tenants (apart from the farmer of
the demesne) hold "in several ground enclosed" 28 acres. In addition to
this, part of the manor called "the mere land," the exact nature of
which is obscure, has been broken off and split up among all the
fourteen tenants, some holding only 2 or 3 acres, others holding 15 or
20 acres. Finally, as examples of manors where enclosure by the
customary tenants was carried furthest, we may take those of
Edgeware[293] and Kingsbury in Middlesex. From the admirable maps of
these two manors, which were made in 1597, no one could even guess that
the open field method of cultivation had ever existed there. The land of
each of the numerous tenants lies in fields, often quite small fields,
which are separated from each other by hedges. Instead of the "spider's
web" of the older method we have the irregular chessboard of modern

    [289] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of the Manors of William, First
    Earl of Pembroke_. The manors are South Newton, Washerne,
    Donnington, Knyghton Estoverton and Phiphelde, Wynterbourne
    Basset, Byschopeston, and South Brent and Huish (the last in
    Somersetshire.) The manor where most is enclosed by the
    customary tenants is Donnington.

    [290] _e.g._, R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 14,
    No. 70, Barton (3 & 4 Ph. and Mary): "J. Whiting ... 1 close of
    7 acres by copy ... J. Whiting ... 1/2 virgate ... 1 intake of 2
    acres by copy."

    [291] All Souls' Maps (survey on back of map of Salford).

    [292] _Ibid._, Weedon Weston.

    [293] _Ibid._, Edgeware and Kingbury. All these four instances
    come from the last decade of the sixteenth century.

These instances tell us nothing of the origin, extent, or distribution
of the movement which they represent. They are useful merely as offering
concrete specimens of enclosure on the parts of free and customary
tenants, which confirm what is told us by the surveyors. There was
certainly a well-defined trend away from the methods of common field
agriculture taking place in the course of the sixteenth century and
before it on the part of the peasantry. We can, however, go further than
this; and premising that in the infinite variety of rural conditions in
different parts of the country any classification must be somewhat
arbitrary, we can distinguish two main elements in the movement.

In the first place there is among the tenants on some manors something
like a deliberate movement towards the substitution of "several" for
open field husbandry. This was a change which occurred almost
spontaneously when the economic interests of the majority of tenants
were pushing in the same direction, and can be seen affecting both
pasture, meadow, and arable holdings. The Commission[294] of 1517 found
that in certain places land had been enclosed neither by individual
landlords, nor by individual tenants, but by "the village," and the
manorial documents give us a clue to what such entries mean. In the
surveys of the sixteenth century we not infrequently find that meadows
and pastures which were originally occupied in common have been split up
among the tenants, so that each has the exclusive occupation of a few
acres, the share which each tenant takes being proportioned more or less
exactly to his holding of arable in a manner which precludes the idea
that the change can have taken place by piecemeal individual
encroachments, or in any way except by an intentional redistribution of
land, in which the interests of all the tenants received
consideration.[295] Such a division of meadow and pasture is paralleled
by cases in which the re-allotment of arable holdings is carried out
both by freeholders and by copyholders almost exactly in the manner
prescribed by Fitzherbert. Thus at Ewerne,[296] in Dorsetshire, the
customary tenants got permission from the lord to make enclosure on the
open fields; appointed persons to "extend and tread them out," and then
united the dispersed strips into compact holdings, so that "the more
part of the manor was enclosed, and every tenant and farmer occupied his
land several to himself." At Mudford, in Somersetshire, the tenants were
found by the surveyor in 1568 to be contemplating the same step. A
similar course was taken in the early seventeenth century on several
Northumbrian manors, of which Cowpen[297] may be taken as a typical

    [294] _e.g._ Whitecote (Salop) 40 acres, and at Wyndeferthing
    (Norf.) 25 acres are enclosed by the _villata_ (see Leadam,
    _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. vi.).

    [295] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Pembroke Manors_. At Washerne
    nineteen out of twenty-one customary tenants held separate
    pieces of meadow and pasture, the largest 7-1/2 and the smallest
    3-1/2 acres, but usually almost equal. At Donnyngton, twelve out
    of thirty-two customary tenants had pieces of land "extractum de
    communia." R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Duchy of Lancaster, Bdle.
    3, No. 29, Agarsley (Staffs., 1611).; here the pasture appears
    to have been divided up among the copyholders, but there are
    considerable inequalities in their shares.

    [296] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i.

    [297] _Northumberland County History_, vol. ix. In this case
    enclosure was carried out by the freeholders. But the procedure
    is similar to that at Ewerne. The allusion to "justice and
    right" shows what the reason for the intermixing of strips had

The procedure followed by the freeholders of that township was to get
their land surveyed by an expert, to divide it into two great portions,
and to agree that each man should have an allotment in one or other of
the two divisions proportionate to the holding which he had occupied in
the open fields, due regard being had to the quality as well as the
acreage of each holding, "so that some have not all the best ground and
others all the worst, but that each man have justice and right." Such
instances may prove to be exceptional in the sixteenth century; it is
our impression that they were, and that the attempts which the peasantry
made to overcome the difficulties associated with the open field system
of cultivation more often took the form of individual exchanging of
strips, than of a formal agreement to abandon one method of cultivation
and to adopt another. But, even though exceptional, they are of some
interest as offering complete examples of changes which have been going
on more generally on a smaller scale and in a less systematic manner.
They afford a striking contrast to the enclosing by the manorial
authorities which we shall examine in a future chapter, and offer an
analogy to the enclosures which were carried out in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. They resemble the latter in being a deliberate
attempt to make a clean sweep of the old system of open field
agriculture. They differ from them in being the outcome of voluntary
agreement among the tenants, not of legislation.[298]

    [298] We know why lords wanted to enclose much better than we
    know why tenants wanted to enclose. Here is a petition from a
    freeholder (_Northumberland County History_, vol. v. undated):
    "To the Right Honourable Earl of Northumberland, William Bednell
    ... gent., humbly prayeth: That where the said village of Over
    Buston is held in common ... it would please your good lordship
    to consent that partition may be made of the same, and that also
    there may be convenient exchange of the arable lands lyinge in
    the common fields there to be rateable reduced into severall by
    the same partition for the reasons under-written.

    "First, for that the common and pasture of the said village
    lying open, unfenced upon the common and fields of Wordon and
    Bilton, wherein are many tenants and great number of cattle, the
    profits of the same are continually by them surcharged, and your
    lordship's tenants prevented.

    "By reason hereof divers quarrels and variances have happened,
    and daily like to ensue between the tenants of both towns, by
    chasing, rechasing, and impounding of their cattle damage
    fezant, which cannot be kept out but by perpetual staffherding,
    to the great charge of your honour's poor tenants.

    "Your lordship's tenants being four in number, unprovided to
    keep able horses by reason of the want of convenient pastures
    and meadow, may be enabled by this particion for that purpose.

    "Inclosure would greatly strengthen the said village, and your
    lordship's tenants, against the incursions of Scotts and foren
    ryders, which otherwyse, lying open, cannot be defended by the
    number there, who are forced to watch generally together every
    night, to their great charge and endurable toil.

    "This breeding betterment to the soil and ease to your
    lordship's tenants will augment your honour's revenue there,
    avoid forren commoners, prevent contentions, enable your
    lordship's tenants to do your honour their requisite service,
    and bind your orator to pray that your lordship live long in
    happy state."

Much more general, however, than enclosure by agreement of the whole
township, is the enclosure which takes place through the initiative of
individual tenants, who, without any common agreement as to a policy of
enclosure being reached by the village community as a whole, make
sporadic encroachments on the common pasture or waste, and consolidate
their arable holdings by exchanging strips with their neighbours. Our
best information on the first point is obtained from the manorial court
rolls. The court was the guardian of the customary methods of
cultivation. How far it could maintain them against a lord or his farmer
who wished to break them down, and how far it was merely his mouthpiece,
is a difficult question, which we need not at present discuss. Certainly
it did occasionally uphold the common rule of the township even against
the lord; certainly the mere fact that when that rule is uncertain the
lord refers the matter to the court in the form of a series of questions
which it is to answer, gave the tenants the opportunity of building up a
kind of case law which can hardly have failed to act as a brake upon
arbitrary action by the manorial authorities. But however impotent it
may often have been when confronted by an enclosing lord of the manor,
its rules set very effective limits to the discretion exercised by
tenants in their agricultural arrangements, and it checked enclosing by
individuals for several reasons. It was of the essence of the open field
system of tillage, and of the joint use of common meadows and pastures,
that unauthorised encroachments by a single tenant should be an
inconvenience to his neighbours. If made on the arable, they might
interfere with the customary rotation of crops, and would certainly
diminish the area of land available for the village cattle on the
fallows and after harvest. If made on the common waste, they threw the
village economy into confusion by upsetting the arrangements under
which each holding could place so many beasts to be grazed there. "It
is both law and reason," wrote a surveyor grieved by such aggression on
the part of a large tenant, "that every tenant of like land and like
rent have like portion in all things upon the common pasture."[299] The
court, as the upholder of manorial custom, was occupied with discovering
and checking breaches of it. On manors where there was not sufficient
grazing land to allow of each tenant pasturing as many beasts as he
pleased, it fixed "the stint" which each was allowed to turn out on the
common. It decided whether rights of pasture were confined to old
tenements or whether they could be extended to cottages recently
erected. It made rules as to what fields should be sown with what crops.
It would fine a man "for refusing to consult his neighbours touching the
common affairs of the township."[300]

    [299] _Northumberland County History_, vol. v. The Surveyor of
    Buston (1569).

    [300] _Ibid._

Such action does not, of course, necessarily imply any highly developed
communal organisation of village life. When four householders to-day
bring an action against a fifth who has interfered with "ancient
lights," they act simply as individuals who are temporarily united in
defence of a common interest, and when a court customary fines a man for
over-stocking the common pasture, it is possible to argue that there is
no more in its action than the temporary alliance of individuals to
suppress a nuisance. Yet such a view of the matter is incomplete. The
common interest is there in both cases; but in the case of the village
community it is a permanent, not merely a passing, ground for
co-operation; and if we must take to heart the warnings given by some
legal historians not to see communism where there is only joint action,
we must also insist that common action, which is in effect communal
action, is quite possible without those who act either possessing, or
feeling the need of possessing, any definite status.[301] It is perhaps
not too presumptuous to suggest that the very precision with which the
lawyer applies his keen analysis of juristic conceptions to remove the
misconceptions of the lay mind, is sometimes an obstacle to the
understanding of forms of organisation created by the daily routine of
men quite unversed in the law. An employers' association or a trade
union to-day in an industry which is not highly organised is, during
two-thirds of its life, a mere collection of individuals. But in an
emergency it can show very effectively that it is the organ of a common
will. It is surely rather hard to deny the peasantry some measure of
corporate management of common interests because they cannot answer
questions as to the legal nature of a corporation, because they do not
express their communal arrangements by the use of terms of art which
they would not have understood. The economist, at any rate, will look at
practice rather than theory. He will be inclined to doubt whether the
villagers were any clearer as to the basis of their associated action
than the mass of trade unionists were between 1875 and 1906. But he will
see that, like trade unionists, they do in fact habitually act together
and act effectively for the regulation of their common interests. No
doubt such action was often mere adherence to a customary rule. But it
is possible again to draw the antithesis between custom and organisation
too sharply. After all custom does not work by itself. Especially in
times of change, like the sixteenth century, it only works in so far as
men make it work. On some manors it is frequently changed by the court,
and clearly, when it is changed, we have not automatism but deliberate

    [301] For references to the discussion on this point, see below,
    p. 244.

But the power of a rule is not recognised till it is broken, and it is
just these collisions between the plan of cultivation upheld by the
court and the interests of individual tenants, which show how prevalent
are the small enclosures made by the latter. They begin very early and
are increasingly frequent throughout the fifteenth century. Let us make
the picture more precise by giving one or two instances. In 1405 some
customary tenants at Forncett[302] are fined 2s. 2d. because "they have
made enclosures of their lands within the manor against the custom of
the manor, on account of which action the tenants of the manor are not
able to have their common there." In 1418 the court at Castle[303] Combe
presents that three tenants "have sown the common fields and kept them
several without the licence of the lord, when they ought to be common,
to the common damage." At Ingoldmells,[304] in 1437, the court impounds
the sheep of some tenants who have "entered upon the fields of Burgh and
occupied the common there, where they have no common." At Coventry[305]
from the middle of the fifteenth century, and at Southampton[306]
throughout almost the whole of the century and a half following,
continuous war was waged by the Court Leet against those who "oppressed
the common" by over-stocking it with more than their authorised quota of
beasts. Yet, in spite of elaborate and ever-changing regulations which
were made as to the number which any person might place upon it, in
spite of bye-laws requiring them to be delivered personally or through a
servant into the charge of the town herdsman, ruling off aged animals
which were past work, and imposing heavy fines on offenders, the
constant references in the documents of the sixteenth century to pieces
of land which are held by customary tenants in severalty show that this
sporadic individualising of part of the manorial area had to a great
extent broken down the customary routine of cultivation, even on manors
where no extensive enclosures were carried out by the manorial

    [302] Davenport, _History of a Norfolk Manor_, p. 80.

    [303] Scrope, _History of the Manor and Barony of Castle Combe_,
    p. 236.

    [304] Massingberd, _Ingoldmells Court Rolls_, p. 276.

    [305] M.D. Harris, _Coventry Leet Book_, vol. ii., pp. 445, 456,
    510, and elsewhere.

    [306] Hearnshaw, _Court Leet Records of Southampton, passim,
    e.g._ 1551: "Thomas Betts and Thomas Fuller continue to oppress
    the common with sheep, therefore they are fined 8s. each" (p.

So far we have spoken of the encroachments by tenants on the common
pasture. The growth of several occupation could occur there with less
disturbance than on the arable holdings, because, if the pasture was a
large one, the clipping off of a corner might leave the other tenants
with more than was sufficient for their cattle. But enclosure made by
one tenant on the open arable fields created a disturbance which was
immediate and obvious. Indeed, if his holding lay in scattered strips,
separated from each other by the strips of his neighbours, how could he
enclose at all? He would at once come into collision with their demand
that his holding should lie open for grazing purposes after harvest.
Moreover, even from his own point of view, enclosure could hardly
pay, for he would have to put hedges round each of 30 or 40 or 50 acre
and half acre plots. One would expect, therefore, that individual
tenants would be slow to undertake the hedging and ditching of their
arable holdings; and this expectation is on the whole confirmed by the
impression which one gets from the surveys and from the accounts of
contemporaries.[307] On the tenants' arable land enclosure has not
proceeded by the middle of the sixteenth century as far as on their
pasture and meadow. Yet, even in this matter, the tendency is perhaps to
exaggerate the stability of agricultural conditions. Even on the arable
fields themselves individual tenants set themselves to overcome the
obstacles in the way of enclosure, and they do so in the only way they
can, by attempting first of all to consolidate their strips into larger
holdings. This tendency is revealed most clearly by the open field maps.
The picture of mediæval agriculture, to which Mr. Seebohm has accustomed
us, is one in which holdings were made up of strips which lay scattered
over the open fields at a considerable distance from each other. In the
sixteenth century this condition of things survived in its entirety on
many manors and partially on most. But, side by side with it, there is
going on a process by which the strips coalesce into larger bundles, so
that one tenant's pieces of land, instead of being far apart, very often
lie next to each other, forming blocks of several acres. Those who make
maps show the change by putting brackets round the contiguous
strips.[308] Written surveys, instead of describing parts of holdings
with the words "lying between the land of A and the land of B," call
attention to the new condition of things, which is still sufficiently
unusual to deserve remark, with the words "lying together."[309]
Sometimes in the maps one finds twelve or twenty strips bracketed as
belonging to one man; sometimes the surveys state that 16 or 20 acres
lie together. But even 10 acres is a big field, quite big enough to
repay the cost of hedging and ditching. When sufficient strips have
become contiguous to form a close of this size one great obstacle to
enclosure has been removed. Unity of cultivation has been added to unity
of ownership. The difficulty that enclosure will probably, though not
necessarily, mean the exclusion of the other tenants' beasts after
harvest still remains. But an individual tenant will no longer find
enclosure impossible if he can persuade his neighbours to acquiesce in
it. In fact he does sometimes persuade them, and in the midst of fields
which are still open one finds here and there blocks which have been

    [307] _e.g._ _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_, p. 56:
    "And weare it not that oure grounde lieth in the common fieldes,
    intermingled one with another, I thincke also oure fieldes had
    been inclosed, of a common agreement of all the townshippe,
    longe ere this time."

    [308] See opposite, the map of part of Salford.

    [309] Merton Documents, No. 5209, Rental of Ibstone (about
    1600): "Item, Thomas Skott holdeth ix acres as it is estymed
    lieinge together in Tillage." "John ... holdeth 16 acres of
    Lande lieinge together in Redfield."



BUCKSHIRE (1580.)]




Nor can we doubt that this process of forming strips into blocks took
place through deliberate action on the part of tenants, though we need
not assume that the probability of its leading to enclosure was always
foreseen. The amalgamation of the scattered parts of a single holding
had sufficient advantages to commend it without any further change, and
enclosure may often have been an afterthought. How could this
amalgamation come about? It would naturally take place by a process of
exchange[310] between tenants. As we have seen, the tenants were from an
early date buying and selling, leasing and sub-letting, parts of their
holdings. What could be more reasonable than that in doing so they
should have regard to the situation of the plots which they acquired,
and so arrange their bargains as gradually to substitute a few larger
blocks for many scattered strips? This hypothesis (for it is only a
hypothesis) receives a certain amount of confirmation from a curious
fact to which attention was called for the first time by Professor
Unwin.[311] It occasionally happens that we find the very tenants who
sell and let part of their holdings are buying and leasing parts of
other holdings from their neighbours. Thus, at Gorleston,[312] in
Suffolk, a customary tenant sublets about half his holding of 12 acres
to as many as eight other persons, and at the same time acquires plots
of land from another eight holdings himself. At Crondal[313] Richard
Wysdon adds enormously to his half-virgate by encroachments, and at the
same time sublets 2-1/2 acres to Hugh Sweyn. Henry Simmond enters on
land belonging to the same Richard Wysdon, and in turn transfers 8 acres
of his holding to Matilda Huthe. What is relevant to the question in
these transactions is not the mere sub-letting and selling of land.
That, as we have seen, was common enough. The noticeable thing is that
the same tenant who surrenders part of his holding acquires part of the
holdings of other people. After the transactions are completed he holds
about as much land as before, only it is differently arranged. May it
not be that the desire that it should be differently arranged was one of
the motives of the double transaction, and that in this way he sought to
substitute for his dispersed strips a compacter and more manageable
holding? Is he not like a shareholder who sells out Canadian Pacifics
and invests in Consols, in order to have his property more directly
under his own eye? At any rate such an explanation would account for the
undoubted fact that in the sixteenth century holdings are much more
compact than they are in the thirteenth century. But whether it is
correct or not the growth towards compactness is a fact, and a fact
which makes possible the enclosure of holdings in the open fields.

    [310] Exchanges are not uncommon, _e.g._ Roxburghe Club,
    _Pembroke Surveys_, Manor of South Brent and Huish: "Note that
    the same Thomas with leave of the Court has exchanged the said
    acre lying near Appleworth with John Moore, customary tenant of
    the lord, for one acre lyinge in Holmefield." Mr. Kolthammer has
    called my attention to a case (Ashford Court Rolls, 1605), in
    which a tenant gives up a number of half acre strips lying
    between the lands of another, and receives in exchange some
    strips of the latter which lie between his own.

    [311] _Victoria County History_, Suffolk, Social and Economic

    [312] _Victoria County History_, Suffolk, Social and Economic

    [313] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), pp. 134, 149, 152, 154-155.

It is plain from these and similar instances that there was a
well-defined movement from the fourteenth century onwards which made for
the gradual modification or dissolution of the open field system of
cultivation, and that it originated not on the side of the lord or the
great farmer, but on the side of the peasants themselves, who tried to
overcome the inconvenience of that system by a spontaneous process of
re-allotment, sometimes, but not always, in conjunction with actual
enclosure. On one manor it proceeded by the piecemeal encroachments of
individuals, on another by the deliberate division of the common meadow
or pasture, on a third by the voluntary exchanging by tenants of their
strips so as to build up compact holdings, on a fourth by the
redistribution of the arable land. It was a spontaneous movement in the
sense of being initiated by the tenants and not merely forced upon them.
The economic, as distinct from the legal, arrangements of the village
community were much less rigid than some of the books about it would
suggest. The open field system of cultivation was, in fact, already in
slow motion in several parts of England, when the impact of the large
grazier struck it, enormously accelerated the speed of the movement, and
diverted it on to lines which were new and disastrous to the bulk of the
rural population.

This aspect of the enclosures, though not overlooked by contemporaries,
has perhaps hardly received the emphasis which it deserves from modern
writers. For one thing, a recollection of it explains certain apparent
contradictions, the difference in the views expressed by different
writers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as to the social
effect of enclosures, the disagreement between Mr. Leadam and Professor
Gay as to whether enclosing was or was not usually followed by
conversion to pasture, the strange statement of Hales[314] that "the
chief destruccion of Townes and decaye of houses was before the
beginning of the reigne of Kynge Henry the Seventh." The latter remark
can hardly have been true of the great and sudden evictions which caused
rioting and depopulation, and evoked the long series of statutes which
begin in 1489. It may well have been a curt summary of the impression
produced by a century of gradual consolidation and piecemeal enclosures
carried out by the smaller cultivators. It would seem, again, to be the
case that while landlords usually enclosed with the object of putting
sheep where men had been, the tenants of customary holdings enclosed
simply for the sake of better arable farming, or for the more convenient
employment of meadow and pasture land. That is why Hales could make
himself detested by landlords as the chairman of the only effective
committee of Somerset's ill-starred Enclosure Commission, and at the
same time say that certain kinds of enclosure are "very beneficiall to
the commonweal." That is why Fuller and Moore a century later could damn
enclosure in one sentence and qualify their verdict in the next. That is
why Moore's numerous critics could repudiate his aspersions with some
acrimony, and nevertheless admit that "when townes are in the hands of
one or few men ... enclosure doth produce depopulation."[315]

    [314] "The defence of John Hales agenst certyn sclaundres and
    false reaportes made of hym" (Appendix to Miss Lamond's
    introduction to _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_, p.
    liii.). Two things make the effect of the fifteenth century
    enclosures obscure. First, the pamphlets on popular grievances
    which begin in the sixteenth century were hardly possible before
    the general use of the printing press. Second, in the sixteenth
    century people appealed to the Tudor government for protection
    because it was strong enough to give it. In the fifteenth
    century there was no Government to preserve order, let alone
    protect the poorer classes. Even if there were, therefore,
    extensive enclosures producing depopulation, we might very well
    hear little of them. But, while confessing ignorance, I think
    Hales' statement compatible with the view expressed above and on
    page 138, note 1, that the fifteenth century was a time when the
    consolidation of holdings was going forward slowly through the
    small speculations of the peasants.

    [315] _A Vindication of the Considerations concerning Common
    Fields and Enclosures_ (Pseudonismus).

For another thing, the prevalence of small enclosures suggests that the
view of those who represent the agriculture of the period as needing a
violent shock to rouse it from a state of intolerable inefficiency can
only be accepted with considerable qualification. We know that by the
middle of the sixteenth century in certain counties, notably Kent,
Essex, and Devonshire, the common field system of cultivation was
already the exception and not the rule. We know, too, that though in
parts of these counties its absence may have been due to differences in
the original forms of settlement and clearance, it had elsewhere
disappeared within historical times. We may conjecture that the reason
why it decayed sooner in Kent and Essex than elsewhere was the fact that
the neighbourhood of those counties to London and the sea, and to the
commercial routes from the Continent, caused the influence of commerce
and of a money economy to be felt there sooner than in the Midlands,
with the natural result of accelerating economic and agrarian changes,
and that in the examples quoted above we have the same process of
individualisation in the method of agriculture going on quietly
elsewhere in a way which would sooner or later have brought about a
similar result to that which had already occurred in those two
progressive districts. At any rate these rearrangements suggest a good
deal of adaptability among the tenants who carried them out, and not the
condition of organised torpor which some writers profess to find in the
unenclosed village. That communal cultivation was incompatible with
swift change may be granted. Of that fact its survival into almost our
own day is a sufficient proof. That it prevented improvements altogether
must be denied; and though no doubt to large farmers and impatient
surveyors the petty operations of the smaller tenants seemed intolerably
dilatory and wasteful, the student who looks at them in an age which has
some experience of economic revolutions may well doubt whether rapid
technical progress cannot be bought too dear, and regret that the
gradual movement towards more rational methods of farming on the part of
the small man was so soon overtaken by one over which the small man
could exercise no effective control. Now, as then, land agents shake
grave heads at the wastefulness of sacrificing the well-ordered dignity
of a great estate to the encouragement of undercapitalised, untidy,
higgledy-piggledy small holdings, and prove by arithmetic that the
labourer has more comforts for less work. Now, as then, in those
countries where the peasant tradition has not died altogether away, the
unreasonable creature prefers starving on land which is his own, though
it be but a tiny patch where he sweats from dawn to dark.

If it be objected to the view which we have taken of the slow spread of
enclosure among the peasantry that they were notoriously opposed to
enclosing, we must answer by repeating that there was nothing
inconsistent in approving one kind and detesting another. After all
there is no curse attached to landmarks, but only to the man who removes
his neighbour's. Even in an open field village no one had a
conscientious objection to fences in general; it all depended on where
the fences were put. The object of enclosure was to shut in, or to shut
out, or to do both. The villagers were not unwilling that an agreement
should be reached whereby each man should shut his own beasts in a close
of pasture, and shut out the beasts of other people from his arable
after harvest. On the contrary, it was sometimes a grievance[316] that
enclosure was not allowed. What they objected to was that one man should
exclude others without compensation from rights of pasture or from their
arable holdings. Moreover, provided that enclosure took place by
consent, the advantages of it were overwhelming. When the superior[317]
value of enclosed over unenclosed land was so marked that the former was
sometimes assessed to subsidies at a higher rate than the latter, a man
who, like many of our tenants, had money to spend on timber, would
naturally wish to enclose. The growth of pasture farming by large
graziers turned the minds of the smaller tenants in the direction of
enclosing for themselves, because this, paradoxical though it may seem
when the outcry against enclosure is remembered, was the most obvious
way in which they could protect themselves. The explanation is that the
system of open field cultivation and of common pasturage made it
peculiarly easy for one large shareholder to ruin the rest by letting
his cattle stray at large over the common, and even by encroachments on
his neighbour's strips. Its underlying principle had been the
apportionment of rights on a basis which was settled by the custom of
the manor, as opposed to the acquisition by individuals for themselves
of such rights as they could obtain by economic power, or by the
accumulation of capital. This was the meaning of the strict allotment of
grazing privileges by the establishment of a stint which each tenant, or
rather each tenement, was not to exceed. The limitation to the capital
which a man could acquire in the shape of stock--cattle and sheep--was
practicable as long as that capital was small. When it became large, as
in the sixteenth century it did, it was too powerful to be dammed up by
the rules as to cultivation enforced in the manorial court, and the
outward sign of this was the failure of the latter to prevent the
"overcharging" both of the common waste, and of the common pasture
formed by the field after harvest, with the beasts of the large grazier.
Hence in some places the enclosing of pasture or arable was used by the
tenants as a way of protecting themselves: at Mudford the tenants, at
Newham and Tughall the surveyor in the interests of the tenants, at
Southampton the Leet jury, were anxious[318] for enclosing, in order
that the weak barriers which the custom of the manor offered to the
farmers' or to neighbouring villagers' depredations might be
supplemented by a strong quickset hedge. What damaged the smaller
tenants, and produced the popular revolts against enclosure, was not
merely enclosing, but enclosing accompanied either by eviction and
conversion to pasture, or by the monopolising of common rights. When
some of the tenants became large capitalists, what the rest lost by
surrendering common rights might be more than compensated by the
security which they thus obtained of grazing their own beasts
undisturbed on a smaller area.

    [316] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i., Survey of
    Whitford: "I woulde wish that the same [the common] were divided
    among the tenants yielding some small rente ... the poore men
    with dyligence and labour woulde soon convert yt to amendement,
    and alter the nature thereof, but the ritche men will not
    consent to that, for yt is as good to them as theire several
    grounde or pasture. The poore are not able to store yt with
    cattle, nor to use the commodytie as they might do if welth
    woulde serve them. But the rytche do consume their own parts and
    their neighbouris also: and that is the cause they will not
    consent to the enclosure and partition thereof."

    [317] There is interesting documentary proof of the statements
    of surveyors. Warwickshire MSS. Quarter Sessions Records,
    Michaelmas, 1636: "Fforasmuche as this Courte is informed that
    Overhinton (?) in this countie consists of 30 yardlands, of
    which 22 are enclosed and 8 yardlands thereof residue in the
    possession of Thomas [surname illegible] do lie in the common
    fields, and whereas the same 8 yardlands lyinge in the comon
    fields have been heretofore rated equally and proportionablie in
    all levies with thother yardlands, the said 22 yard of inclosed
    land being worth xx [pounds], for every yardland and the seid
    other 8 yardlands being worth but after the rate of x the
    yardland, it is ordered that the said 8 yardlands shall from
    henceforth pay in all levies but after the rate of x pounds for
    every yardland and the said 22 yardlands after the rate of xx
    pounds for every yardland, unless the owners of the said 22
    yardlands shall att the next sessions uppon convenient notice
    hereof to them given shewe cause to the contrarie." The Justices
    do not understand the taxation of unimproved land.

    [318] See _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i., for Mudford;
    for Newham and Tughall, _Northumberland County History_, vol.
    i.; for Southampton, Hearnshaw, _Court Leet Records of

At the same time, though voluntary enclosing by the peasants was partly
a symptom of the overshadowing of small property by large, it was much
more than this, and was due partly to a change in their methods of
agriculture, and partly, perhaps, to a genuine progress in the technique
of cultivation. This is indicated by the enthusiasm of the expert
opinion of the period for "several" holdings, and by the qualified
praise of discriminating critics like Hales.[319] As we have seen
above, there were parts of England--for example, "the sweet country of
Tandeane," described by Norden--where cultivation was quite intensive in
character, and intensive cultivation naturally gave an impetus to the
individualising of arable holdings. Again, the advantage to the cattle
breeder of "several closes and pastures to put his cattle in, the which
would be well quicksetted, hedged, and ditched,"[320] was a commonplace.
It has been already pointed out that on many manors of Southern and
Eastern England the customary tenants were sheep farmers on a
considerable scale. The adjustment of common rights must always have
involved some difficulty: the fixing of so many head of beasts to each
tenement was obviously a rough and ready arrangement based on the idea
that the holding in the arable fields was the backbone of a man's
substance, and that therefore it might properly be taken as a standard
by which his rights of pasture and common could fairly be measured. The
problems which arose could be imagined, even if they were not described
for us at some length: "Where fields lie open and the land is used in
common, he that is rich and fully stocked (up to the limit allowed)
eateth with his cattle not his own part only, but also his neighbour's
who is poor and out of stock. Besides that, it is an ordinary practice
with unconscionable people to keep above their just proportion ... those
who have consciences large enough to do it will lengthen their ropes, or
stake them down so that their horses may reach into other men's
lots."[321] As long as the great bulk of the customary tenants relied
for a livelihood mainly on the subsistence farming of the arable land,
these practical difficulties were probably not felt very keenly, because
the comparatively few beasts which were kept could pick up a living
without overcrowding each other. But when the raising of stock became
almost as important as the cultivation of arable, the demand for more
pasture and for better pasture grew enormously, and in the face of the
competition for it the strict maintenance of the customary stint became
more difficult. On manors where 150 or 200 sheep were kept by almost
every tenant the motive either to enclose surreptitiously and in
defiance of the custom of the manor, or to divide and enclose meadow and
pasture by agreement, must have been extremely strong. Ought we not to
ask why the open field system survived so long, rather than why it
partially disappeared in the sixteenth century?

    [319] _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_, p. 49: "I meane
    not all inclosures, nor yet all commons, but only of such
    inclosures as turneth commonly arable lands into pastures; and
    violent inclosures, without recompence of them that have right
    to comen therein; for if land weare severallie inclosed, to the
    intent to continue husbandrie thereon, and everie man, that had
    Right to Common, had for his portion a pece of the same to
    himselfe enclosed, I thincke no harme but rather good should
    come thereof, yf everie man did agre theirto."

    [320] Fitzherbert, _Book of Husbandry_.

    [321] Pseudonismus, 1654, _Considerations concerning Common
    Fields and Enclosures_.

We may now summarise the argument of this part of our work. The manor,
as we see it from the middle of the fourteenth century onwards, is not
the rigid, motionless organisation which it is sometimes represented as
being. Though it is governed by custom, custom leaves room for the
growth of commercial relationships on the extending fringe of new land
over which the village spreads; for the withdrawal by the villagers of
part of their holdings from the common scheme of open field husbandry,
the division of meadows and pastures, the exchanging of strips, the
formation of closes like those represented in the map on the opposite
page, which a man can use as he pleases and over which the customary
routine of agriculture has no authority. This side of the enclosing
movement, more properly described as redivision and reallotment than as
enclosure, develops earliest in those parts of the country which, owing
to their geographical position, are particularly exposed to the
dissolving forces of trade and of a money economy. But with the
improvement in the condition of the peasantry and the growth of pasture
farming it spreads far afield, and by the middle of the sixteenth
century, quite apart from the large changes introduced by lords of
manors and capitalist farmers, it has effected a considerable alteration
in the methods of agriculture even of the more stationary inland
counties. Such piecemeal alterations are a gradual process; they are not
regarded unfavourably by the peasantry; and a balance between their
tentative individualism and the rule of communal custom is preserved by
the action of the manorial court. They are to be carefully
distinguished from the sweeping innovations of the sixteenth century,
which alone deserve the name of an Agrarian Revolution. But they are
closely connected with that revolution. For by making a breach in the
walls of custom they bring us to the edge of two great problems, the
growth of competitive rents, and the formation of large pasture farms
out of the holdings of evicted tenants.

We have spoken at length of the prosperity of the peasants, because it
is necessary to appreciate it in order to sympathise with the point of
view from which they and their contemporaries regarded the agrarian
problem. But evil days are coming upon the rural middle classes. Indeed
they have already come. There is by this time much anger against
depopulating landlords, much talk of the good customs of Henry VII.,
much murmuring lest men be brought to that slavery the Frenchman be in.
We must leave the light and follow them into the shadow.



     "The earth is thine, O Lord, and all that is contained therein;
     notwithstanding thou hast given the possession thereof to the
     children of men, to pass over the time of their short
     pilgrimage in this vale of misery. We heartily pray thee to
     send thy holy spirit into the hearts of them that possess the
     grounds, pastures, and dwelling places of the earth; that they,
     remembering themselves to be thy tenants, may not rack and
     stretch out the rents of their houses and lands; nor yet take
     unreasonable fines and incomes, after the manner of covetous
     worldlings; but so let them out to other, that the inhabitants
     thereof may be able to pay their rents, and also honestly to
     live, to nourish their families, and to relieve the poor: give
     them grace also to consider that they are but strangers and
     pilgrims in this world, having here no dwelling place, but
     seeking one to come; that they, remembering the short
     continuance of their life, may be content with that is
     sufficient, and not join house to house and field to field, to
     the impoverishment of others, but so behave themselves in
     letting out their tenements, lands, and pastures, that after
     this life they may be received into everlasting dwelling
     places; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."--_A Prayer for
     landlords, from a Book of Private Prayer, authorised and set
     forth by order of King Edward VI._

     "Nowe if I should demand of the gredie cormoraunts what they
     thinke should be the cause of sedition, they would saie:--'The
     paisent knaves be too welthy, provender pricketh them. They
     knowe not themselves; they knowe no obedience; they regard no
     lawes; they would have no gentlemen; they would have al men
     like themselves; they would have all things commune. They would
     not have us master of that which is our owne. They will appoint
     us what rent we shall take for our grounds.... They will caste
     down our parkes, and lay our pastures open.... They will compel
     the King to graunt theyr requests.... We wyll tech them to know
     theyr betters. And because they would have all in common, we
     will leave them nothing,'"--E. E. T. S., Crowley, _The Way to



(a) _Motives and Causes_

A common view of social development regards it as the outcome of
irresistible causes working towards results which can be neither
hastened nor averted, and treats the fact that events have followed a
certain course as in itself an indication that no other course was
possible. Whatever is has always been implicit in the past; the
established fact rules by the divine right of being the only possible
dynasty, and no scope is left for pretenders to contest or acts of
settlement to alter its legitimate title. It is not surprising that such
a theory should be peculiarly popular in interpreting economic history.
On their frontiers even the most different forms of social organisation
shade into one another. Each generation naturally sees in a strong light
those regions of the past which reproduce the features with which it is
familiar, and overlooks the existence of wide Hinterlands whose general
features are quite different. Since important classes, like important
individuals, find it difficult to believe in the truthfulness of any
picture where they do not occupy the greater part of the canvas, they
insensibly encourage a conventional interpretation of history, which
lends an air of respectable antiquity to the legal and economic
arrangements which favour them and which they favour, by treating such
arrangements as an essential characteristic of civilisation itself. In
reality, however, it is only by dragging into prominence the forces
which have triumphed, and thrusting into the background those which they
have swallowed up, that an appearance of inevitableness is given to
existing institutions, which satisfies the desire to see them as links
in an orderly chain of unavoidable sequences. Useful as the conception
of a continuous development is, it can easily be carried too far. It is
carried too far when it causes us to forget that a small alteration in
the lie of the land might have caused the stream to take quite a
different channel, and that the smoothly flowing waters of the plain are
the outcome of a series of crises in the higher regions, where the spur
of a mountain or a cleft in the rocks might easily have diverted their
course into other directions. If we must talk of social evolution, we
ought to remember that it takes place through the action of human
beings, that such action is constantly violent, or merely short-sighted,
or deliberately selfish, and that a form of social organisation which
appears to us now to be inevitable, once hung in the balance as one of
several competing possibilities.

Certainly the possibility that economic changes should have followed a
quite different line from that which they actually have can hardly fail
to strike the student of agrarian history. The facts, as we read them,
do not lend unqualified support to the idea that the growth, at the
expense of the little landholders, of great estates cultivated by hired
labour was the inevitable result of irresistible forces, or that the new
agricultural régime was a necessity on account of the sluggishness of
the old. To an observer of agrarian conditions living about the year
1500, who looked back over the conditions of the last century, all the
possibilities must have seemed to point in the direction of a continuous
improvement in the condition of the peasantry. It is evident that the
growth of prosperity among the small cultivators was leading from the
beginning of the fifteenth century to the gradual consolidation of
holdings, to keen competition for the use of land, and to increasing
individualism in the methods of agriculture. Though the movement caused
a diminution in the number of landholders, the diminution was very
gradual. It was not the result of a sudden revolution affecting large
numbers of tenants simultaneously; and even those who regarded enclosing
with hostility were favourable to the process of gradual redistribution,
which did not violate vested interests or cause any sensational
disturbance. The appearance of the country would have changed, and the
methods of cultivation would have improved. But there would have been no
great cause at work to displace the peasantry from the soil, with the
rapidity which entailed hardship, until a much later period than we are
now considering. Obviously, however, it was not these slow internal
changes in the manorial organisation which impressed observers. On the
contrary, though they are noticed by the writer who took a scientific
interest in agricultural questions, they are hardly mentioned by the
majority of commentators on the life of the period, who were interested
not in the technique of agriculture but in the social results of
changing methods. What aroused their alarm and produced rioting and
legislation was, as every one knows, a movement the distinctive feature
of which was that it was initiated by lords of manors and great farmers,
"the Graziers, the rich buchars, the men of law, the merchants, the
gentlemen, the Knights, the Lords,"[322] in short by the wealthiest and
most powerful classes, and that it was carried out frequently against
the will of the tenants, and in such a way as to prejudice their

    [322] Crowley, _The Way to Wealth_ (E. E. T. S.).

As the small capitalist prepared the way for the great, the two
movements were connected, and the simultaneous development of both of
them explains the rather puzzling mixture of approval and criticism
which is to be found in the comments of observers upon enclosing. But
their economic and social results were very different. No doubt the
incipient movement in the direction of reorganising national life on the
basis of industry involved a breach with the customary methods of
agriculture, which must in any case have caused a certain degree of
dislocation. The development of the textile manufactures, which for two
centuries were the chief source of English wealth, could not have taken
place without the production of cheap supplies of raw material, and the
growth of the towns was dependent on the saving of labour from
agriculture. But in such changes the element of time--the speed at which
the transition takes place--is all important, because upon it depends
the feasibility of social readjustments to meet the new situation. The
slow breaking up of the open field system, though it changed the
methods of cultivation, might quite conceivably have effected only such
a gradual diminution in the number of the small farmers, as to make the
absorption into industry of those displaced comparatively easy. In so
far as the changes of the sixteenth century were a social revolution,
and not merely a gradual development, this revolution was the result not
only of technical advances, but of the concentration of landed property
and the development of new relationships between landlord and tenant. It
is to the second of the two movements that we must now turn.

The new agrarian arrangements which we shall have to consider are called
by the name of enclosure, and we will discuss later what exactly
enclosure means in this connection. But there are enclosures and
enclosures, and we shall do well to begin by drawing some distinctions.
In the first place, then, the enclosing movement that will occupy us in
this chapter has very little resemblance to the enclosure which we have
considered in the last. It is carried out by great men, not by small. It
proceeds wholesale, not piecemeal. It does not consist in many little
cultivators rearranging their holdings by purchase, or sale, or
agreement, but in one great proprietor or his agent consolidating small
holdings into great estates. The new arrangements are imposed rapidly
and with a high hand from without. They do not arise gradually from
within through the spontaneous development of the peasants' needs and

Again, the new movement bears very little resemblance to the
rearrangements introduced by lords of manors, which, from an early date,
have gone by the name of enclosing. Such rearrangements have not been
few. People have talked about enclosing long before they have begun to
lament enclosures. Not to mention the encroachments on the waste
evidenced by the Statute of Merton, one finds the word "enclosure" used
in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to describe a variety of
agreements made between lords whose lands were contiguous, or between
lords and their free tenants, by which, instead of the parties concerned
using a given area in common as their pasture, each surrenders his right
of access to part of it, and obtains in return the right to use another
part in severalty. The Abbot of Malmesbury[323] and the men of
Niwentone come to an arrangement with Walter of Asselegge and the men of
that village, whereby the monastery agrees to follow the customary
routine in cultivating the land lying between Niwentone and Asselegge,
and not to common on the marsh at Cheggeberge, getting in return
exclusive rights of pasture over another marsh, and over the east field
of Niwentone. The Abbot and Monastery of St. Peter's[324] of Gloucester
make an agreement with Lord Thomas Berkeley whereby the former are "to
have and hold in severalty and enclose and approve at their will"
certain lands lying in Southfield "so that the said Thomas and his free
tenants may not ... claim or demand common, but be excluded from it for
ever," and in return covenant that the latter may "enclose and approve
their lands in all parts of the summit of the Pike of Coveleigh."
Similar arrangements are made between the Abbot of Glastonbury[325] and
a neighbouring landowner, between the Abbot of Cerne[326] and Robert of
Bloxworth, and between the City of Coventry[327] and the master and
brethren of the Trinity Gild of that town.

    [323] _Registrum Malmesburiense_, vol. ii. pp. 220-?221: "Quod
    ... dictus abbas de Malmesburia non debet de cetero colere
    terram de Niwentone ... nisi antiquitus consueverat coli. Et
    quod dictus Walterus de Asselegge habebit mariscum suum de
    Cheggeberge quietum a communia hominum de Niwentone. Dicti vero
    abbas et conventus Malmesburia habebunt mariscum suum iacentem
    ex Orientali parte stratæ publicæ quæ vocatur Fos quietum et
    exceptum a communia hominum de Asselegge. Habebunt etiam ...
    campum Australem in Niwentone quietum et exceptum a communia
    hominum de Asselegge. Omnes vero aliæ terræ ad dictas villas
    pertinentes ... erunt in pastura communi."

    [324] _Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Gloucestriæ_, i.

    [325] Hoare, _History of Wiltshire_, Hundred of South Domerham.

    [326] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 5567 (Report on the MSS. of Lord
    Middleton), pp. 61?-62. This agreement was made in 1231.

    [327] _Coventry Leet Book_ (edited by Mary Dormer Harris).

Whether it is a chance that such agreements seem to occur with special
frequency in the records of religious houses we cannot say. It is
possible that the perpetual character of a corporation made exclusive
enjoyment at once more desirable and more feasible; a great abbey, like
St. Peter's of Gloucester, could pursue a continuous and far-sighted
policy, and wait more than a generation to see the results of its
experiments. Nor is it possible to understand the motives for such
arrangements without information as to local conditions which is not
easily obtainable. Sometimes the object was simply to protect land used
for agriculture against the depredations caused by the game of a hunting
landlord. Sometimes it would seem to have been to allow of a variation
in the methods of agriculture, for example the sowing of a piece of land
which could not be sown as long as several persons had right of pasture
over it. Occasionally it was simply to realise an obvious convenience
dictated by the lie of the land, each party gaining more by the
exclusive use of pasture lying near to him, than he would lose by
surrendering rights of common over that part which lay at a distance.
Two points, however, are worth noticing. The first is the use of the
word "enclosure." Arrangements which go by the name "enclosure" are made
at a very early date by the manorial authorities, and the latter would
have been very much surprised to be told that they were inaugurating an
agrarian revolution. The second is the character of these enclosures.
They are in every way different from those which produced discontent in
the sixteenth century. Though they affected the routine of cultivation
they did not imply any abandonment of arable farming. Since they were
carried out mainly by an exchange of rights they did not prejudice the
tenants. Further, the disputes of which they were sometimes the result
were not disputes between the lord of a manor and his tenantry, but
between the lord and tenants of one manor and the lord and tenants of
another, the ground of the disagreement being the difficulty of
adjusting rights of common over the debatable land which must often have
lain between two manors, and the division of interests being, as it
were, a vertical, not a horizontal, division. In fact, these early
examples of enclosure throw light on the later movement only by way of
contrast. What we meet in our period is not isolated innovations of this
character, but a general movement spreading across England from
Berkshire in the South to Norfolk and Lincoln in the North-East, and
affecting especially the corn-growing counties of the Midlands, a
movement which meant a great extension of pasture-farming, a violent
collision of interests between the manorial authorities and the
peasantry, and a considerable displacement of population. Clearly some
new and powerful causes must have been at work to account for it.

In the third place, the movement which goes by the name of enclosing in
the sixteenth century has little similarity with the changes which
proceeded under the same name from about 1700 to 1850, and which went on
most swiftly in the reign of George III. It differs from them in method.
In the eighteenth century Parliament is supreme. It is simply a
committee of landlords and their hangers-on, and it makes Private Bill
legislation a very easy method of getting enclosure carried out. In our
period the Government, for reasons to be discussed later, sets its face
against most kinds of enclosing, and such enclosures as are made are
made in defiance of the law. It differs from them in motive. We must not
prejudge the question whether the enclosures of our period were made
mainly for pasture or for arable. But leaving this question on one side,
we can point to certain broad contrasts. The ostensible motive of the
eighteenth century enclosures is to improve the productive capacity of
the land by spending capital upon it. This is the reason alleged when
Private Bills are being promoted, and this is the aspect of the movement
which causes it to be eulogised by the agricultural experts. Of course
landlords were not philanthropists. As Mr. and Mrs. Hammond[328] have
demonstrated, there were often very sordid motives behind their
resounding platitudes on the advantage of throwing commons and small
holdings into large compact estates, and, even when these were not too
conspicuous, the interests of the smaller landholders were sometimes
treated with the most outrageous injustice. Still the general nature of
the movement was clearly in the direction of bringing under better
cultivation land which had hitherto not been used to its full economic
capacity. The price of foodstuffs after 1750 rose enormously, and the
rise in prices offered a golden harvest to any one who would prepare
land for producing larger supplies. The landlords of the eighteenth
century did not merely enclose. They improved as well. Part of their
increased rent rolls was interest on capital which they had invested for
the purpose. Now in the sixteenth century there is very little trace of
any movement of this kind. What improving is done, is done by the
peasants themselves. There is no sign of the great proprietors making
large capital outlays in order to render their estates more productive,
except in the way of the trifling expenditure entailed by fencing,
hedging, and ditching. They are by no means pioneers of agricultural
progress. Enclosing is profitable to them not because it enables them to
convert barren heaths into smiling corn-fields in the manner described
by Arthur Young, but because it enables them to use the land as they
please, to let it down to pasture when the price of wool is high, to
employ few labourers on it instead of many, and, possibly, to add to
their own estates part of their neighbours' holdings. They do not bring
under cultivation land which would otherwise lie waste. On the contrary,
very often they turn into a waste land which would otherwise be under
cultivation. Whether the picture which represents the eighteenth century
enclosures as the effort of an energetic and public-spirited class to
overcome old-fashioned prejudices by applying the resources of science
to agriculture is veracious or not, we need not now inquire. As far as
the century and a half from 1485 is concerned it is altogether out of

    [328] In their book, _The Village Labourer from_ 1760 to 1832.

The changes which we are about to describe have at once a social and an
economic reference. The former is the aspect which receives most
attention from contemporaries. They lament the decay of the peasantry,
the embittered relations between classes, the distress and discontent
caused by the new agrarian régime. They are usually not much concerned
with the economics of the situation. Economic issues are not yet
separated from questions of personal and public morality. To find subtle
reasons why it is unavoidable that a large number of persons should be
impoverished seems to them very like condoning a crime. Some excuses
only aggravate the offence, and if men are cursed with a neighbour who
insists on fulfilling economic laws by raising prices or taking usury,
they are less likely to discuss his conclusions than first to present
him for breaking the statutes and then to break his head for his bad
principles. So they judge the dominant movement by its fruits, and its
fruits seem very evil. But to us the economic problem is the primary
one. The occurrence of rapid changes in the structure of an old and
stable society implies either some radical revolution in the basis of
economic life, or some great change in men's conception of social
expediency, or, what is most likely, an economic and a spiritual change
occurring together. To understand its effect we must understand the sort
of economic environment from which it springs.

In the first place, then, the age of the Tudors is a commercial age, and
it becomes more commercial as the century goes on. No doubt it is only
of certain classes and in certain relations of life that such a
statement is true. The permanence of economic arrangements, which makes
Froude declare that at the end of the fifteenth century the model of the
upper classes was still the chivalry of the Arthurian legends, is seen
still more strikingly among the artisans and peasants, and it is only
very slowly and painfully that they are drawn into the net woven by the
growth of capitalist trade. But it is with the classes who respond to
the new movement that the power of the future, though not its graces,
lies, and it is through the widening of the influence of commerce and
commercial transactions that the economic developments most typical of
our period take place. The age is a commercial one in the sense that
much attention is given by Governments from the reign of Henry VII.
onwards to fostering the conditions which promote trade and industry.
This is not the place to discuss the meaning of Mercantilism or the
truth of Bacon's[329] epigram that Henry VII. "bowed the ancient policy
of this State from consideration of plenty to consideration of power."
Though in the reign of Henry VIII. the State is almost a religion, one
can easily exaggerate the influence of its interference even in that
much governed age. Nevertheless no one who looks at the Statutes, or the
Acts of the Privy Council, or the Domestic State Papers for the reigns
of Henry VII., Henry VIII., and Elizabeth, can fail to realise that much
of the time of Governments is occupied with devising measures which are
intended to hasten industrial and commercial development. There is a
settled habit of mind with regard to these matters which is quite
conscious of its ends, though its means may often be ill-chosen. Every
one is agreed that the encouragement of trade is the duty of the
Prince.[330] There is a real popular demand for the intervention of the
authorities, and they respond to it readily enough.

    [329] Bacon, _History of King Henry VII._

    [330] See _e.g._ Starkey's _England in the Reign of King Henry
    VIII._, p. 173 (E. E. T. S.): "Ye, and though our cloth, at the
    fyrst begynnyng, wold not be so gud peradventure, as hyt ys made
    in other partys, yet, in processe of tyme, I cannot see why, but
    that our men, by dylygence, myght attayne therto ryght wel;
    specially yf the Prince wold study thereto, in whose powar hyt
    lyeth chefely such thyngys to helpe." Also _The Commonweal of
    this Realm of England_ (Lamond), and Pauli, _Drei
    Denkschriften_, &c.

The age is a commercial one in the more fundamental sense that large
economic changes are initiated by classes and individuals. Foreign trade
grows enormously in the early years of Henry VIII., though certain
branches of it suffer a temporary set back at the end of the reign.[331]
The use of money, of which during the first quarter of the century there
was a shortage, begins in the middle of it to spread throughout all
classes. The industry which for the next three centuries is to be the
chief manufacture of England becomes firmly established. Under the
influence of widening markets, trade separates from trade.[332] Within
single industries there is an increasing subdivision of labour; many
links intervene between the group supplying the raw material and the
group which hands the finished article to the consumer; a special class
of capitalist entrepreneurs[333] appears to hold the various stages of
production together, to organise supplies, and to find markets. Side by
side with the development of manufacturing industry goes a development
in the organisation of finance. In the woollen industry men buy and sell
on credit. In tin-mining[334] and coal-mining[335] they sink shafts with
borrowed capital. The first joint-stock[336] companies are established
in the middle of the century with capitals of from £5000 to £20,000.
There is a regular money market in London, there are bill brokers,
arbitrage dealings between it and the Continent, adventurers who take
advantage of the increasing fluidity of capital to speculate on the
difference in the rates at which it can be borrowed in the Low Countries
and in England. By the end of the century London has partially ousted
Antwerp as the financial capital of Europe.[337]

    [331] Schanz, _Englische Handelspolitik gegen Ende der
    Mittelalters_, Band II., "Zoll und Handelstatistik," pp. 1?-156.

    [332] Unwin, _Industrial Organisation in the Sixteenth and
    Seventeenth Centuries_.

    [333] See _e.g._ the account of the East Anglian woollen
    industry in the _Victoria County History_, Suffolk (Unwin's
    article on "Social and Economic History").

    [334] G.R. Lewis, _The Stanneries_, pp. 214?-215, and quotations
    from Lansdowne MSS. 76, fol. 34, given there.

    [335] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 5567 (Report on the MSS. of Lord

    [336] W.R. Scott, _Joint-Stock Companies to 1720_, vol. ii.

    [337] For a description of "The Exchange and What It is," see T.
    Wilson, _Discourse upon Usurie_ (1584): his remark, "The second
    kind of bill ... may be called sicke and dry exchange, and is
    practised where one doth borrowe money abroad ... not meaning to
    make any real payment abroad, but compoundeth with the exchange
    to have it returned again," illustrates what is said above. See
    also Camden Society, _Dialogue or Confabulation of Two
    Travellers_ (1580): "The said Hans had provided £10,000 for the
    Prince of Condy upon five in the 100 at interest, and if I would
    have the like he would help me unto it. Then I ... pondered what
    benefit it would be to me to let it out again at ten in the
    hundred to some nobleman in England." Down to about 1560 at any
    rate the English Government was constantly in the hands of
    foreign capitalists. See Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, and
    Burgon's _Life of Gresham_.

In the second place, the social arrangements of England are such as to
make it certain that this increasing activity will react almost
immediately on agriculture and on agrarian relationships. There have
been countries where a sharp line has been drawn between trade and
agriculture, where the landowner could not engage in trade without
degrading himself, where the tradesman could not buy up the noble's
land.[338] But this has never been the case in England. In that
precocious island the Lombards had hardly settled in Lombard Street,
when Mr. Pole's daughters discovered that the fine shades flourished
their finest in country air, and there was a market for heiresses among
the English aristocracy long before Columbus had revealed to Europe the
Eldorado of the New World. From a very early date the successful
merchant has bought dignity and social consideration by investing his
savings in an estate. The impecunious gentleman has restored the falling
fortunes of his house by commercial speculations, of which marriage into
a merchant family, if not the least speculative, is not the least
profitable. At the beginning of the sixteenth century both movements
were going on simultaneously with a rapidity which was before unknown,
and which must be explained as the consequence of the great growth of
all forms of commercial activity. The rise of great incomes drawn from
trade had brought into existence a new order of business men whose
enterprise was not confined to the seaport and privileged town, but
flowed over into the purchase of landed estates, even before the
secularisation of monastic endowments made land speculation the mania of
a whole generation. Great nobles plunged into commerce, were granted
special trading privileges, and intermarried with the rising
middle-class families who were often better off than themselves. In all
ages wealth allies itself with wealth, and power with power. As soon as
the appearance of rich merchant families creates a fresh and powerful
interest in society, the old social system and the new[339] coalesce,
and each learns from the other--the merchant how to make a display as a
landed proprietor and a Justice of the Peace, the old-fashioned landlord
how to cut down expenses and squeeze the utmost farthing out of his
property in the best City manner. Even if the political and economic
environment had remained unchanged, the mere formation of commercial
capital and of a moneyed class could hardly have failed to work a slow
revolution in agrarian relationships.

    [338] _e.g._ Prussia before 1807.

    [339] For examples see A. Abram, _Social England in the
    Fifteenth Century_, especially Part II., chap, ii., "The Rise of
    the Middle Class," and Plummer's _Fortescue_, p. 17. In the
    _Cely Papers_ (Camden Society), p. 153, a correspondent of
    George Cely writes, "yowre sallys made withyn lesse than thys
    yere amountes above £2000 sterling."

But the environment did not remain unchanged; and as a consequence, in
economic affairs as in religion, the new order came, not gradually, but
swiftly and with violence, sapping ancient loyalties, confronting with
insoluble problems simple men who desired only to plough the land like
their fathers, holding out to the privileged orders that prospect of
suddenly increasing their wealth which is the most awful temptation from
which any class can pray--if it will pray--to be delivered. On the side
of politics a powerful motive for a change in the relations between
landlords and tenants was supplied by the Tudor peace. In the turbulent
days of the fifteenth century land had still a military and social
significance apart from its economic value; lords had ridden out at the
head of their retainers to convince a bad neighbour with bows and bills;
and a numerous tenantry had been more important than a high pecuniary
return from the soil.[340] The Tudor discipline, with its stern
prohibition of livery and maintenance, its administrative jurisdictions
and tireless bureaucracy, had put down private warfare with a heavy
hand, and, by drawing the teeth of feudalism, had made the command of
money more important than the command of men. It is easy to underrate
the significance of this change, yet it is in a sense more fundamental
than any other; for it marks the transition from the mediæval conception
of land as the basis of political functions and obligations to the
modern view of it as an income-yielding investment. Landholding tends,
in short, to become commercialised. The meaning of this movement is best
understood if one compares with the South and Midlands those parts of
England where to the very end of the sixteenth century the older
conditions survived. The surveys of many Northumbrian[341] manors reveal
throughout this period of rapid agrarian changes the continuance of a
very primitive condition of things. The holdings of the customary
tenants are often almost rigidly equal; there is hardly any change in
their numbers; son succeeds father, and grandson succeeds son, with only
the very slightest disturbance. The manorial officials, who in the South
were cursed as the agents of evictions and rack-renting, were in the
North much concerned with keeping tenants on the soil. At Acklington the
tenants, writes Clarkson, "must be helped and rather cherished for
service sake." At High Buston the holdings of the tenantry have been
increased in order that "they should the better live and do their
dutiful service to their Lord and master," and a freeholder is rebuked
for action which results in curtailing the commonable area on the ground
that "the tenants be but poor men and be not well horsed, as they are
bound by their copies." At Tughall[342] the surveyor complains bitterly
in 1567 that in time past, apparently a long time past, twenty-three
tenants had been reduced to eight by "such as nothing regard his
lordship's service, nor the commonwealth." To what are we to ascribe
this permanence of tenure among the peasants, this exceptional
solicitude for the maintenance of a numerous tenantry on the part of
surveyors? Partly, no doubt, to the fact that Northumberland lay apart
from the main stream of commercial life, and was as yet little affected
by the growth of the woollen industry. Mainly, however, it was the
result of the military importance of a numerous tenantry on the
Northumbrian border. In that wild corner which is neither England nor
Scotland, English and Scots, Scroopes and bold Buccleughs, gnash their
teeth at each other across the wan water of the Eden. In the long
northern evenings about Lammastide moormen win their hay with axes in
their belts and bows piled in the corner of the field, and customary
tenants are bound by their copies to provide horse and armour, and to
ride to the musters in person or by proxy. No wonder that while
elsewhere landlords pore over their accounts of wool or timber, in
Northumberland they should measure their wealth by the men whom they can
bring out when the summons goes, and insist on feudal obligations with a
rigour unknown in the South. When any night Scotch[343] raiders may come
storming over the marches, any night the red cock may crow up to the
very walls of merry Carlisle, a holding means not only a piece of land
that grows wheat and feeds sheep, but a horseman in harness; and the
dropping out of a holding, or its merging in that of some one else,
results in the weakening of the force on which the peace of the border
depends. As a consequence, there is nothing like free trade in land
between the tenants, such as developed in the South under the forms of
surrender and admission, and there is little incentive for the lord or
his officials to get rid of them. Such an exceptional state of things
comes to an end in Northumberland with the union of the two Crowns under
James I., and its termination is the signal for an attempt to break down
customary tenures on the part both of the Crown[344] and of private
landowners.[345] But it survives a century longer on the border than it
does elsewhere, and while it lasts it offers a standard by which may be
measured the extent and significance of the change which is overtaking
agrarian relationships in other parts of England, where commerce is more
developed, and where, since a tenant can no longer serve his lord by
fighting, a sheep may easily be more valuable than a man. With the
development of a strong central Government the military strength of the
great landlords was broken, though it blazed up in the Pilgrimage of
Grace and in the rebellion of 1569, and as a consequence they turned
their attention to getting the maximum economic return from the soil, or
to adding to their social dignity by parks, instead of maintaining a
large body of tenants upon it.[346]

    [340] See the Paston Letters, _passim_; and also the account
    given in _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 5567 (Report on the MSS. of Lord
    Middleton), 142?-145, of the marvellous doings of Sir Gylles
    Strangways in Dorsetshire as late as 1539; pp. 115?-117 contain
    a similar case of private warfare from the year 1477.

    [341] _Northumberland County History_, _e.g._ Amble (vol. v.),
    Acklington (_ibid._), High Buston (_ibid._), Birling (_ibid._);
    vol. viii. p. 230, figures as to eight manors in Tynmouthshire.
    At Birling out of ten names which appear in the surveys of 1567,
    eight reappear in 1616; at Acklington, out of eighteen names,
    nine reappear; at High Buston, out of four names, four reappear
    in 1616 and two in 1702. But in parts of the county there were
    rapid changes at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the
    seventeenth centuries; see below, pp. 257-258 and 260.

    [342] _Northumberland County History_, vol. i. p. 350: "In the
    ancient tyme the fermor of the demaines had the charge of the
    tenants of the said lordship as bailiff, with the fee of £3, 0s.
    5d. by year. Then was the town of Tughall planted with xi
    husbandmen well horsed and in good order, viii cottagers, iiii
    cotterells, one common smith for the relief and better aid of
    the said tenants and bailiff, being in number 23 householders,
    besides the demains, which are nowe by suche as nothing regard
    his lordship's service nor the commonwealthe brought to 8
    farmers only, to the great decay of his lordship's service and
    discommodity of the said commonwealth."

    [343] See _e.g._ the ballad of "Kinmont Willie," turning on an
    incident which occurred in 1596.

    [344] _Cal. S. P. D. James I._, vol. cxxxii., July 27, 1622.
    Letter to the Bishop of Durham to confer with the judges of
    Assize for the Northern Counties touching tenant-right or
    customary estate of inheritance claimed in those parts, ordering
    them to abide strictly by the King's Proclamation against
    tenant-right, or the holding of lands by border service, to
    countenance no claim founded thereupon, and to acquaint the
    tenants of his Majesty's pleasure therein, giving them no hope
    to the contrary. Apparently the instructions were not carried
    out, as in 1642 the Long Parliament was discussing the subject
    of the border tenures (Rushworth _Collections_, Pt. III., vol.
    ii. p. 86).

    [345] See below, pp. 257?-258.

    [346] The effect of the Tudor policy on the land system is
    excellently described by Harrington in _Oceana_, and also in
    _The Art of Law-giving_: "Henry VII. being conscious of the
    infirmity of his title, yet finding with what strength and
    vigour he was brought in by the Nobility, conceived jealousy of
    the like power in case of a decay or change of affections.
    _Nondum orbis adoraverat Roman._ The lords yet led country
    lives; their houses were open to retainers, men experienced in
    military affairs and capable of commanding; their hospitality
    was the delight of their tenants who by their tenure or
    dependence were obliged to follow their lords in arms. So that,
    this being the Militia of the nation, a few noblemen
    discontented could at any time levy a great army, the effect
    whereof both in the Barons Wars and those of York and Lancaster
    had been well known to divers kings. This state of things was
    that which enabled Henry VII. to make his advantage of
    troublesome times and the frequent unruliness of retainers;
    while, under pretence of curbing riots, he obtained the passing
    of such laws as did cut off these retainers, whereby the
    nobility wholly lost their officers. Then, whereas the
    dependence of the people on their lords was of a strict ty or
    nature, he found means to loosen this also by laws which he
    obtained upon a fair pretence, even that of Population. But the
    nobility, who by the former law had lost their officers, by this
    lost their soldiery. Yet remained to them their estates, till
    the same Prince introducing the Statutes for alienations, these
    also became loose; and the lords, less taken (for the reasons
    shown) with their country lives, where their trains were
    clipped, by degrees became more resident at court, where greater
    pomp and expense by the Statute of Alienations began to plume
    them of their Estates" (Harrington, _Works_, 1700 edition, pp.

The change meant an advance in civilisation among the upper classes, and
a tightening of economic pressure upon the peasantry. The feudal
seigneur had at his worst been a lawless tyrant, and at his best a
despotic parent. But he had governed his estate as the sovereign, often
the resident sovereign, of a petty kingdom, whose interests were
roughly identical with his own; and though his depredations were a
terror to his neighbours, his own tenants had little to fear from them,
for his tenants were the force on which his very existence depended. In
the new political conditions his occupation was gone, and his place was
taken by two types of landed proprietor who were at once more peaceable
and less popular. On the one hand, there emerges the landlord who is a
laborious and acute man of business, and who sets about exploiting the
material resources of his estate with the instincts of a shopkeeper and
the methods of a land-agent. Of this kind are the Willoughbys[347] in
the Midlands and the Delavales[348] in Northumberland. Often they are
sheep-farmers. When their land is rich in minerals they sink coal-pits
and mine for iron ore. The predecessors of the captains of industry of
two and a half centuries later, they employ labour on a large scale,
they open up trade across country by river, they higgle over port dues,
they experiment with new inventions, they clear away without mercy any
customary rights which conflict with their own. On the other hand, there
are the gentry who buzz about the Court, regard London as the centre of
the universe, and have periodically to be ordered home to look after the
affairs of their country-sides by a peremptory mandate from the
Government. When this type becomes prominent, in the reign of Elizabeth,
it most commonly spends its time in the interminable pursuit of
profitable sinecures, and in endeavouring to induce the City to believe
that thrice-mortgaged estates are a gilt-edged security. At its worst it
produces Sir Petronel Flash,[349] a figure as typical of the sixteenth
century as Squire Western is of the eighteenth. At its best it
patronises the arts, sets sail for a new world of drama and romance,
sighs over Vergil's Eclogues, and goes pricking, almost too graceful a
chivalry, through the fairy kingdoms of Spenser. But the men of
business, and the men of fashion, and the patrons of literature, are
alike in being the symptoms of a new economic and political system, a
system which has shorn landownership of the territorial sovereignty
which had gone with it, broken down the personal relations of landlord
and tenant, and, by turning agriculture into a business, has made it at
once more profitable and less strenuous for the former, more exacting
and less stable for the latter, than it had been when a lordlord was not
only a drawer of rents but a local sovereign, a tenant not only a source
of income but a dependent who was bound by a tie which was almost
sacramental. "It was never a merry world since gentlemen came up";
"never so many gentlemen and so little gentleness"; "the commons long
since did rise in Spain and kill the gentlemen, and since have lived
merrily there"; such are some of the blessings the new landlords would
hear from men who grumble to their mates between the spells of shearing
sheep and mowing hay. Those who have watched the uncouth, rough-handed
master of a backward industry, who has wrought among his workmen as a
friend or a tyrant, blossom, under the fertilising influence of
expanding markets, into the sedate suburban capitalist who sets up a
country house in the second generation and sends his sons to Oxford in
the third, and who scientifically speeds up his distant operatives
through the mediation of an army of managers and assistant-managers and
foremen, will not need to be reminded that economic changes which bring
civilisation to one class may often be fraught with ruin to another. The
brilliant age which begins with Elizabeth gleams against a background of
social squalor and misery. The descendant of the illiterate,
bloody-minded baron who is muzzled by Henry VII. becomes a courteous
gentleman who rhapsodises in verse at the Court of Gloriana. But all
that the peasants know is that his land-agents[350] are harsher. An
Earl of Pembroke has been given immortality by Shakespeare. But the
first of his name had founded the family on estates which had belonged
to the Abbey of Wilton,[351] and by his exactions had provoked the
Wiltshire peasants into rebellion. The Raleigh family--it was a
Raleigh's chance gibe at the old religion which set the West in a blaze
in 1549--had endowed itself with a manor torn from the see of
Wells,[352] as the Grenvilles had done with the lands of Buckland Abbey.
The gentle Sidney's _Arcadia_ is one of the glories of the age, and it
was composed, if we may trust tradition, in the park at the Herberts'
country-seat at Washerne,[353] which they had made by enclosing a whole
village and evicting the tenants. The dramatists who reflect the high
popular estimation of the freeholder[354] see nothing in the grievances
of Mouldy and Bullcalf except the disposition of an ignorant populace to
cry for the moon. Shakespeare's Cade, with his programme[355] of seven
half-penny loaves for a penny, and the three-hooped pot that shall have
ten hoops, is so far proposing only what an energetic mayor is quite
prepared to carry out before breakfast. His crowning absurdity, which
makes the stalls hiss and the pit cheer, is the promise that "all the
realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to
grass." A few months after these words were printed Cade came to life in
earnest. In the autumn of 1596 some Oxfordshire[356] artisans and
peasants organised a revolt against "the gentlemen who took the
commons," and from that year onwards to 1601 Parliament and the Council
had their hands full of the question of enclosures. Men feel the
contrast, even when it is only just beginning, and with natural
inconsistency sigh for the old order even while they are glorifying the
new. "Princes and Lords," wrote Henry VIII.'s chaplain[357] about 1538,
"seldom look to the good order and wealth of their subjects, only they
look to the receiving of their rents and revenues of their lands with
great study of enhancing thereof, to the further maintaining of their
pompous state; so that if their subjects do their duty therein justly,
paying their rents at time affixed, for the rest they care not (as is
commonly said) 'whether they sink or swim'"!

    [347] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 5567 (Report on the MSS. of Lord
    Middleton), especially the entries relating to the development
    of the coal trade.

    [348] _Northumberland County History_, vol. viii., p. 238, vol.
    ix. (under Cowpen). Robert Delavale apparently began life as an
    agent to the Earl of Northumberland, but he owned considerable
    property himself; in 1605 the whole of the lands of Cowpen were
    in his hands. He was an energetic encloser; see below, p. 260.

    [349] See Marston's _Eastward Ho!_

    [350] See the following extract (Lodge, _Illustrations of
    English History_, iii., 41). William Hammond to the Earl of
    Shrewsbury on the subject of raising money on the latter's
    estates from Palavicini, a moneylender: "Though his froward
    fortune hath made him unable to stand you almost in any steadde,
    hee hathe dealt with Mr. Maynard to aide him in the provision of
    this £3000 against the second of next month. He finds him very
    backwarde to disburse any money upon bond or any other security
    but lands; neither will he deal with lands in any way of
    mortgage for years or any long time, but only 2 or 3 months....
    Yf, therefore, it stands with your honour's good liking to make
    a conveyance of Kingston to Sir Horatio ... after the rate of
    £7000 ... and withal to passe it in this absolute sort that iff
    the money then laid out by them for your Honour's use bee not
    repaid on May day next, that they fully enjoy and possess the
    lands as their owne.... Hee saith besides that his surveyors
    have certified him £500 will bee the most the lands will ever
    yeald yerely rent, without racking and oppressions, which are no
    course for suche meane men as they be to take."

    [351] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Manor of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_, Straton's introduction.

    [352] _History of the Parish of Wiveliscombe_, by Hancock. For
    Walter Raleigh and the revolt of 1549, see the dramatic account
    given by Holinshed. The incident is described in Froude's
    _Edward VI._ For the Grenvilles and Buckland Abbey see _Trans.
    Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. vi. It ultimately came to Francis Drake.

    [353] Straton's introduction to _Surveys of Pembroke Manors_.

    [354] _e.g._ Heywood's _A Woman Killed with Kindness_, Act iii.
    sc. 1.

    [355] _Henry VI._, Part II., Act iv. scene 2. I am indebted for
    the reference to Professor Unwin. Part II. was first printed in

    [356] _Hist. MSS. Com._, MSS. of Marquis of Salisbury, Part
    III., pp. 49?-50: "The attorney-general to Mr. Robert Cecil.
    Some information concerning those that intended the rebellion in
    Oxfordshire. Bartholemew Stere, carpenter ... was the first
    person of this insurrection. His outward pretence was to
    overthrow enclosures, and to help the poor commonalty, that were
    like to perish for want of corn, but intended to kill the
    gentlemen of that county and take the spoil, affirming that the
    commons long since in Spain did rise and kill the gentlemen in
    Spain and sithen have lived merrily there. After that he meant
    to have gone to London and joined with the prentices ... and it
    was but a month's work to overrun England."

    [357] E. E. T. S., _England in the Reign of Henry VIII._, p. 85.

While the centralised government of the Tudors gave a new bias to the
interests of landlords by stripping them of part of their political
power, economic changes were hurrying the more enterprising among them
into novel methods of estate management. In the situation which
developed in the first fifty years of the sixteenth century they were
exposed to pressure from two sides at once. They stood to gain much if
they adapted their farming to meet the new commercial conditions. They
stood to lose much if they were so conservative as to adhere to the old
methods. The explanation of the agrarian revolution most generally given
by contemporary observers was that enclosing was due to the increased
profitableness of pasture farming, consequent upon the development of
the textile industries; and though a recent writer[358] has endeavoured
to show that most of the land enclosed was used for tillage, and that
therefore this explanation cannot hold good, there does not seem any
valid reason for disputing it. The testimony of observers is very
strong; they might be mistaken as to the extent of the movement towards
pasture, but hardly as to its tendency; and with scarcely an exception
they point to the growth of the woollen trade as the chief motive for

    [358] See the discussion between Mr. Leadam and Professor Gay
    in _Trans. Royal Hist. Society_, vol. xiv., new series.

Moreover, their evidence is confirmed by the proofs which we possess of
the expansion of the woollen industry at the end of the fifteenth
century. It is true that the figures collected by Thorold Rogers do not
enable any satisfactory correlation to be made between the rise in wool
prices and the progress of pasture farming. But they are statistically
much too unreliable to upset the direct evidence of eyewitnesses, being
based on various measures which are somewhat arbitrarily reduced to a
supposed common standard, relating to many different qualities of wool,
and being weighted in particular years by a preponderance of prices from
particular counties which are sometimes clearly not typical at all. The
figures of Schanz[359] as to the export trade in wool and woollen
cloths, are a sufficient proof of the growth in the output of wool, and
therefore in the growth of sheep-farming. They show that while the
export of unmanufactured wool fell off in the sixteenth century, that of
grey cloth grew enormously. In 1354 the export had been 4774-1/2 pieces,
from 1509 to 1523 it averaged 84,789 pieces a year, from 1524 to 1533,
91,394 pieces, from 1534 to 1539, 102,647 pieces, and from 1540 to 1547,
122,354 pieces, while in 1554 the total manufacture was estimated at
160,000 pieces of cloth and 250,000 pieces of hosiery. This expansion of
the manufactured cloth industry was only the culmination of a growth
which had been going on gradually for a hundred years. In 1464 the
Flemish manufacturers[360] were complaining that their market had been
invaded by English clothiers. Merchants like the Celys shipped enormous
consignments of wool from the Cotswolds to the Continent.[361] The large
number of sheep kept in England at the end of the fifteenth century was
the amazement of foreigners;[362] and English buyers groaned over the
high prices to which wool was driven by the competition of continental
buyers.[363] The revolution in the technique of agriculture when sucked
into the vortex of expanding commerce is, in fact, simply an early,
and, owing to the immobility of sixteenth century conditions, a
peculiarly striking example of that reaction of widening markets on the
methods of production, which is one of the best established of economic

    [359] Schanz, _Englische Handelspolitik gegen Ende des
    Mittelalters_, Band II., p. 18.

    [360] Abram, _Social England in the Fifteenth Century_, p. 33.

    [361] _Ibid._, pp. 40-41.

    [362] Camden Society (1847), _Italian Relation of England_.

    [363] Camden Society (third series, vol. i.), _Cely Papers_. In
    1480 the elder Cely writes: "I have not bought this year a loke
    of woll, for the woll of Cottyswolde is bought by the
    Lombardys;" and in the following year, "Ye avyse me for to buye
    woll in Cottyswolde, bot it is at grate prise, 3s. 4d. a tod,
    and gret ryding for woll in Cottyswolde as was any yere this vii

At the same time, the revolution was probably hastened by a change in
commercial policy, which, while encouraging the export trade in woollen
cloth, was after 1485 less favourable to the corn-grower. During the
greater part of the fifteenth[364] century the Government was forced by
the agrarian interests to allow freedom of export for grain except when
prices reached a certain height, after which point an export licence was
required. But the victory of Henry VII. produced a policy which was less
influenced by the traditional object of helping the corn-growing
landlords, and more favourable to commerce and the middle classes on
which the new monarchy rested. In 1491[365] the export of grain, except
with a special licence, was forbidden altogether, and in 1512 the
prohibition was repeated by Henry VIII. Though the administration of
such a policy must have been difficult, and its exact effect must be a
matter of conjecture, the view taken by some contemporaries,[366] that
it was a subordinate cause which stimulated the abandonment of old
agricultural methods and caused a good deal of land to go out of
cultivation, is at any rate intrinsically probable.

    [364] Cunningham, _Growth of English Industry and Commerce_,
    Early and Middle Ages, pp. 447-448. The statute sanctioning
    export without licence when the price was below 6s. 8d. was 15
    Hen. VI., c. 2, which was made perpetual by 23 Hen. VI., c. 5. 3
    Ed. IV., c. 2, forbade the importation of foreign corn except
    when the price reached 6s. 8d.

    [365] _Ibid._, Modern Times, Part I., p. 85.

    [366] _e.g. The Commonweal of this Realm of England_, pp.

If the expansion of the woollen industry offered a fortune to those who
adopted the new methods of estate management, the depreciation in the
value of money threatened with ruin those who did not. The agrarian
changes of the sixteenth century cannot be traced primarily to the
revolution in general prices which all European countries experienced,
because they had already proceeded some way before the full extent of
the movement in prices became apparent. Throughout the fifteenth century
the value of money, as far as can be judged from such statistics as we
possess, was fairly stable, and, if anything, somewhat appreciated.
During the first half of Henry VIII.'s reign there were complaints[367]
of the scarcity of the metallic currency. On the very eve of the
dissolution of the monasteries we find a religious house in
Northumberland reversing the movement which had been going on for two
centuries in most parts of the country, and actually commuting money
rents into payments in kind,[368] on the ground that the tenants could
not command the necessary coin. Such facts should warn us that England
was far from being a single economic community, and that the effects of
the cheap money penetrated into the more backward regions only very
slowly indeed. Nevertheless, in the more advanced parts of the country,
the tide turned soon after the beginning of the new century, though it
was not till the fourth decade of it that it became a mill-race in which
all old economic standards were submerged. The general course of the
movement, so far as it affected commodities in general use, is set forth
below. The figures are re-arranged from those supplied by Steffen,[369]
whose work is mainly based on that of Thorold Rogers.

    [367] See the whole question discussed in Schanz, _Englische
    Handelspolitik_, Band II., pp. 481-540.

    [368] _Northumberland County History_, vol. viii. p. 232. In
    1595 a dispute as to corn rents arose between the Earl of
    Northumberland and the Tynemouthshire tenants, the Earl
    insisting on payment by the Newcastle measure, the tenants
    demanding to pay by the Winchester measure, on the ground that
    they are so poor that "they are not able with horse, furniture,
    and geare to serve as their ancestors have done, as it appeared
    upon the late muster." Evidence given by an ancient yeoman
    before the Commission appointed to hear the case showed that the
    tenants had formerly paid in money, and that the change from
    money to corn had been introduced in the time of the last Prior
    for the sake of the tenants, not for the sake of the Priory.

    [369] Steffen, _Studien zur Geschichte der Englischen
    Lohnarbeiter_, Band I., pp. 254-255 and 365-366.


|         |  Wheat   |   Peas   |   Oats   | Barley  |
|         | per Qr.  |  per Qr. |  per Qr. |  Malt   |
|         |          |          |          | per Qr .|
|         |          |          |          |         |
|         |  s. d.   |  s. d.   |  s. d.   |  s. d.  |
|1401-1450|  5  9-1/4|  3  2-3/4|  7  9    |  4  3   |
|1451-1500|  5  6-1/4|  3  4-3/4|  6  6-3/4|  3  8   |
|1501-1540|  6 10-1/4|  5  1-3/4|  9  4-3/4|  4  5   |
|1541-1582| 13 10-1/2|  . . .   | 20 10-3/4| 10  5   |
|         |          |          |          |         |

|         |          |          |          |      | Eggs |
|         |  Oxen.   |  Sheep.  |   Pigs.  | Hens.|  per |
|         |          |          |          |      |Gross.|
|         |          |          |          |      |      |
|         |  s. d.   |  s. d.   |  s. d.   | d.   | d.   |
|         |          |          |          |      |      |
|1401-1450| 16  5-1/2|  2  1    |  7  6-3/4| 2    | 5    |
|1451-1500| 15  7-1/2|  1 10-1/4|  8  3-1/4| 2-1/4| 5-1/4|
|1501-1540| 22  9    |  2 10-1/4| 10  0    | 3    | 9    |
|1541-1582| 70  0-1/4|  6  4    |   . . .  | 4-3/4| . . .|
|         |          |          |          |      |      |

Though it would not be right, of course, to force these figures too
far, as one cannot be sure that they are in all cases typical, the
indication which they offer of a remarkable rise in prices beginning
soon after 1500 is in all probability substantially correct. The result
of this movement in dragging down the standard of comfort of the people
has often been noticed, and need not be emphasised here. But it is
important to observe that it had a very marked effect upon the
traditional methods of agriculture, because it supplied landowners with
a new incentive to squeeze the utmost possible income out of their
estates. Since they were buying everything dearer, they were under a
strong inducement to turn land to the most profitable use, and to revise
all existing contracts which prevented an advance in tenants' payments.
In the not unnatural confusion which surrounded the question of the
cause of the general rise in prices, this aspect of the agrarian
troubles failed very generally to be appreciated by contemporary
writers, who were inclined to argue that the higher prices were due to
the increased rents, instead of seeing that the increased rents were
themselves the consequence of the increased prices. But it was
emphasised in the middle of the century by the author of the
_Commonwealth of England_,[370] and at the end of it by Gerrard de
Malynes,[371] who puts the case with great power and perspicacity,
though he perhaps may be thought to exaggerate the importance of the
debasement of the currency. "Every man knoweth," he wrote in 1601, "that
by reason of the base money coined in the end of the most victorious
reign of King Henry VIII. all the forrain commodities were sold dearer,
which made afterwards the commodities of the realm to rise at the
farmers' and tenants' hands, and therefore gentlemen did raise the rents
of their lands and take farms themselves and made inclosures of
grounds, and the price of everything being dearer was made dearer though
plenty of money and bullion coming daily from the West Indies.... If we
require gentlemen to abate their rents, give over farms, and break up
enclosures, it may be they would do so if they might have all their
provisions at the price heretofore." Yet such a statement gives but a
faint indication of the revolutionary effect upon agrarian relationships
of the depreciation in the value of money. The modern reader, before
whose eyes all economic standards are fluctuating from day to day, can
hardly grasp the anarchy which it tended to produce in a world where
values, especially land values, were objective realities which had stood
unaltered for centuries together. The landlord sees his income slipping
from him, though his estate pays as much as before. The tenant finds his
landlord pressing for higher rents and fines, though the yield of the
land has not increased. Yet neither desires anything but to remain as
they were, and both are ignorant of the force which sweeps them out of
the ancient ways. For, in the wholesome manner of the age, they ascribe
all economic evils to personal misdemeanours, the unreasonableness of
merchants, the covetousness of gentlemen, the extortions of husbandmen,
and the real cause is an impersonal one, which carries them forward
against their will, like men "thrusting one another in a throng, one
driving on another."[372] It is easy to understand that it must have
been difficult to maintain customary payments and traditional methods of
agriculture against the screw which the rise in prices turned on the
landowning classes. Agricultural experiments were in the air, and with
experts explaining how to double the value of an estate by enclosure
without prejudicing the tenants, it is not surprising that landowners,
who saw their real incomes dwindling with the fall in the value of
money, should have adopted the principle of their advice and neglected
the qualifications.

    [370] _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_ (Lamond),
    especially p. 81: "Knight: What sorte is that which youe said
    had greater loss thereby then those men had profitte? Doctor: It
    is all noblemen, and gentlemen, and all other that live by a
    fixed rent, or stipend, or doe not maner the grounde, or do
    occupie no byinge or sellinge.... He that maie spend £300 a
    yeare by such revennewes and fees, may kepe no better porte then
    his father, or anie before him, that could spend but £200. And
    so ye maie perceave, it is a great abatement of a man's
    countenance to take awaie the third part of his livinge. And
    therefore gentlemen doe so much studie the Increase of theire
    landes, enhauncing of their rentes, and so take farmes and
    pastures into theire owne hands."

    [371] _A Treatise of the Canker of England's Commonwealth_

    [372] _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_ (Lamond), p.

(b) _The Growth of the Large Leasehold Farm_

The changed situation created by these causes had the effect of
producing a new policy on the part of landlords, which took different
forms according to the circumstances of different localities, but which
in the counties most deeply affected resulted in an increase in
pasture-farming and in an upward movement in the payments made by
tenants. The new régime seems to have affected first, as was natural,
that part of their estates which was most entirely under their own
control, and the disposal of which was least involved in other
interests, namely, the manorial demesne. It is not altogether easy to
construct a picture of the policy pursued by a typical enclosing
landlord from the accounts of contemporaries, who were more interested
in results than in the steps by which they were reached. According to
some of them, lords in the sixteenth century were resuming into their
own hands those parts of the demesne which had been let out, in order to
supply their establishments with produce without having to rely on the
markets when prices were rapidly rising. On some manors again, when the
demesne was "in the hand of the lord," considerations which were not
purely economic came into play; for example, one finds part of it being
turned into a park, which was at once profitable as a means of grazing
sheep, and prized for those motives of social amenity and ostentation
which have done so much to make the English countryside the admiration
of travellers, and so much to ruin the English peasantry. It was not
seldom that the confiscated estates of monastic houses were converted
into a pleasaunce or a deer-park by their new proprietors.

On the other hand, the manorial documents suggest that landlords were
usually rather parties to changes in the methods of cultivation than
themselves the agents who carried them out, because, at any rate in the
case of the larger landowners, the demesnes were usually leased. The
actual process of experiment and innovation took place on most manors
through the instrumentality of the lessee.[373] The large farmer, who on
many manors is found managing the demesne, is much the most striking
character in the rural development of the sixteenth century. His
fortunes wax while those of the peasantry wane. Gradually he thrusts
them, first copyholders and then yeomen, into the background, and
becomes in time the parent of a mighty line, which later ages,
forgetting poor Piers Plowman, whose place he has usurped, will look on
as the representative of all that is solid and unchanging in the English
social order. In our period he plays in the economics of agriculture the
part which was played in industry by the capitalist clothier, and his
position as the pivot of agrarian change is so important that it will
repay close attention.

    [373] This may seem inconsistent with the fact that in the
    statistics published by Mr. Leadam from the Inquisition of 1517
    most enclosures in most counties are entered as made by lords of
    manors. I do not think, however, that this is necessarily so.
    When it is stated that a lord of a manor has enclosed and
    converted to pasture, it may very well be meant that his agent
    did so with his consent. _I.e._ the distinction would appear to
    be not between the lord and the lord's farmer, but between the
    manorial authorities (lord and farmer) and the rest of the
    landholders. The phrase used in the Berkshire returns, "converti
    permisit," indicates what I take to have been the most general,
    though not, of course, the invariable, course of events.

In the first place, then, it is clear that the foundation of the large
farm was the practice of leasing the demesne for a term of years, which
was the normal way of disposing of it in the sixteenth century. In the
reign of Elizabeth the distinction between the demesne and the customary
tenancies still survived, and surveyors were at some pains to separate
them in order to prevent the demesne being merged in the customary
holdings. But the original meaning of the distinction had been almost
obliterated; the demesne was no longer the centre of the manorial
economy, as it had been when its produce maintained the lord's
household, and the labour of the customary tenants, in spite of the
survival of many services, no longer supplied the chief means of
cultivating it. On the whole, it would be true to say that on
ninety-nine manors out of a hundred the demesne was leased by the middle
of the sixteenth century, and on the majority of them probably at a much
earlier date. There are, of course, some exceptions. Certain manors the
lord makes his headquarters, and there the home farm is retained in his
hands, because it is required to supply his establishment. On other
manors the demesne or part of it can no longer be distinguished from the
holdings of the customary tenants, and is held by them by copy of Court
Roll in the same way as the "customary land." In certain parts of
England, again, the leasing of the demesne has not proceeded far,
because the demesne has always been relatively unimportant. On several
Northumberland manors, for example, the surveyor[374] could in 1567 find
no demesne at all, either because it had all been divided up among the
tenants, or because it had never existed. Nevertheless, in spite of
these exceptions, a lease for a term of years to a farmer or farmers is
the ordinary method of disposing of the demesne in the sixteenth
century. This is proved in a very satisfactory way by the investigations
of Professor Savine[375] into the disposition of the lands of monastic
houses in 1534. After an exhaustive inquiry relating to several hundred
manors he found that the cases in which the demesne was not leased were
an insignificant proportion of the whole. An examination of smaller
groups of manors tells the same story. Out of thirty-six[376] manors in
Wiltshire, Somersetshire, and Devonshire surveyed for the Earl of
Pembroke in 1568, it is possible to determine the use made of the
demesne on thirty-two, and on twenty-nine of them it was leased. Of
twenty-nine other manors examined at random at different periods in the
sixteenth and early seventeenth century every one was in the same
condition. There is no reason to distrust these instances on the ground
that they may represent a development occurring too late in the century
to be relevant to movements found in existence at the beginning of it,
because in several cases where the history of a manor can be traced
backwards, it is clear, as has been shown above, that the leasing of the
demesne was quite common at least from the middle of the fifteenth
century, and in parts of the country much earlier.

    [374] _e.g._ at Acklington (_Northumberland County History_,
    vol. v.), of which Clarkson the surveyor writes: "Neither is
    there any demaine lands or demaine meadows, but all is occupied
    together in husbandry"; at Birling (_ibid._): "There is no
    demaine land or meadow, with all their husbandlands and meadows
    appertaining to the same"; apparently also at High Buston.
    Compare Vinogradoff, _Villainage in England_, p. 316: "Villages
    without a manorial demesne ... are found ... where the power of
    the lord was more a political than an economical one" (Norfolk
    and Suffolk, Lincoln, Northumberland, Westmoreland, &c.). For a
    manor where the demesne is kept in the hand of the lord in 1568
    for the reason given above, see Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of
    Pembroke Manors_, Manor of Washerne.

    [375] _Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History_, pp. 153-154.

    [376] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

From the allusions made by contemporaries to the large farmer as one of
the mainsprings of the changes of the period, one is disposed to look
first at the demesne for the beginning of capitalist agriculture.
Whether, however, the method of cultivating the demesne differed much
from the cultivation of the customary holdings depended to a
considerable extent upon the terms on which it was leased, and, in
particular, upon whether it passed into the control of a single
considerable tenant. It would be a mistake to think that the economic
relationships which were established when the demesne ceased to be
cultivated by villein labour were all of one type, or in particular that
the demesne invariably passed into the hands of one holder. Mention has
already been made of the practice of adding the demesne lands, or part
of them, to the customary land held by copy of Court Roll, a practice
which obviously resulted in maintaining in the hands of small
cultivators land which might have gone to build up large properties.

Even when the demesne is leased it is not always leased to a single
large farmer. In reality the surveys of the sixteenth century reveal two
well-defined types of leasehold property subsisting on the lord's
demesne, sometimes on neighbouring manors. The first type has as its
distinctive feature that the lessees are a number, sometimes a very
large number, of small farmers, who have been given allotments on the
demesne and who hold them for various periods of years, sometimes for
life only, sometimes for eighty, sometimes for ninety-two or
ninety-nine, years. Many examples of this type of small leaseholder come
from the west of England. Thus at Ablode,[377] in Somersetshire, before
the demesne was leased out by St. Peter's to a large farmer in 1515, it
had already been leased to seventeen of the customary tenants. At
Paynton,[378] in 1568, the Barton land was held in small plots by
fifty-one leaseholders, at South Brent[379] by eighteen. But examples of
this arrangement are found all over England. At Higham Ferrers,[380] in
Northamptonshire, the demesne has been divided among nine tenants; at
Stondelf,[381] in Staffordshire, among thirty-one. At Shape[382] in
Suffolk and Northendale[383] in Norfolk the demesnes are added to the
holdings of the customary tenants. At Forncett,[384] in Norfolk, parts
of the demesne are in the same way leased out in small parcels in the
fifteenth century for gradually lengthening periods of years, though by
the beginning of our period they seem to have been held by copy in the
same way as the customary land. Elsewhere we get what appear to be
variations of the same system, in the form of sub-letting or of
joint-cultivation. At Castle Combe,[385] for example, the demesne lands
were leased in 1454 to four tenants, "with the intention that they
themselves should let to farm to all the tenants of the lord some
portion of those lands." On other manors groups of tenants seem to make
themselves jointly responsible for the rent required. It was not an
unknown[386] thing even at quite an early date for a whole village to
come forward and make a kind of collective bargain with the lord as to
the terms upon which they would take over the demesne lands, and when
the leasing of the demesne became the regular practice townships
sometimes stepped into the shoes of the bailiffs, and averted the entry
of the large farmer by leasing the lands themselves, and making their
own arrangements as to the way in which they should be utilised. One may
suspect, indeed, that such action took place in a good many cases when
the land was leased to many small tenants, as at Paynton and South
Brent, even though the intervention of the township is not expressly
stated. Sometimes, however, the communal character of the bargain is
quite beyond doubt. For example, at Cucklington,[387] on the manor of
Stooke Trister in Somersetshire, twelve tenants leased together at a
rent of £8 for forty years a sheep house with 250 acres of land. At
Chedsey,[388] in the same county, the whole of the demesne, which lay
mainly in small parcels of one or two acres, was held in 1568 on a
twenty-one years' lease by the tenants of the manor. At Caston,[389] in
Norfolk, we find an entry of rent which is paid by "the inhabitants of
the town of Scratby for certain lands occupied for their benefit." The
phrase "town lands," which appears not infrequently[390] in the surveys
and estate maps of the sixteenth century may perhaps be taken as
indicating the same conclusion. In what way exactly we ought to
interpret these arrangements--whether we should regard them as nothing
more than a summary expression of the fact that all the tenants have
severally rights over part of the estate, or whether we should conceive
of them as implying some higher degree of corporate action than this,
and as the outcome of a bargain struck with the lord by the village as a
village, is an interesting and difficult question,[391] to which we
shall recur later in speaking of rights of common. But we may mention
two points which suggest that there is in them a certain element of
practical communism to which legal historians sometimes do less than
justice. The first is that we occasionally find certain tenants acting
on behalf[392] of, one might almost say, representing, others. The
second is that in some cases the demesne lands are divided among them in
exactly equal[393] shares, so that, though every one has more land than
before, the relative sizes of their holdings are unaltered. The last
fact is a very striking one. It means, in the first place, that the new
land has been allotted on some common principle and by some formal
agreement. Clearly, if each tenant had bought as much land as he
pleased, we should have had not equality but inequality. It points, in
the second place, to the enduring strength of the ideas and interests
underlying the system of agricultural shareholding which is
characteristic of the mediæval village. We can understand a very
primitive system of agriculture designed to secure each household the
standard equipment needed to support it. But one would naturally suppose
that at the end of the Middle Ages, when new land which had hitherto
belonged to the lord was offered to the villagers, each would buy up as
much as he could without regard to the interests of his neighbours. It
is probable that in most cases, as in those quoted in Chapter III., this
is what happened. But in some instances it is not. The old economic
ideas which had governed the disposition of the ancient customary
holdings are applied to the new land which the cessation of demesne
cultivation by the lord throws into the market, and the villagers
re-allot it on the old plan. Even in its decay the mediæval land system
shows its vitality by meeting new situations with the ancient methods.

    [377] _Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Gloucestriæ_, vol.
    iii. App., pp. 291-295.

    [378] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

    [379] _Ibid._

    [380] R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Portf. 13, No. 34.

    [381] R.O. _Land Rev. Misc. Bks._, vol. clxxxv., ff. 70-74.

    [382] R.O. _Misc. Bks. Treas. of Receipts_, vol. clxiii., ff.

    [383] R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Roll 478, No. 3.

    [384] Davenport, _History of a Norfolk Manor_.

    [385] Scrope, _History of Manor and Barony of Castle Combe_, p.

    [386] Vinogradoff, _The Growth of the Manor_, note to chap. ii.,
    Book III., p. 370, and his quotations from Maitland: "The
    villains of Bright Waltham ... constituted a community which
    held land, which was capable of receiving a grant of land, which
    could contract with the lord, which could make exchange with the

    [387] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

    [388] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_.

    [389] R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 12, No. 52, p.
    10 d.

    [390] See the map of part of Salford, p. 163, and compare R.O.
    Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 27, No. 32 (Lavenham in
    Suffolk): "Of Township of Tuddenham Free land foldcourse, 6s.
    9d." _Ibid._, Portf. 13, No 21 (Colly Weston in Northants): "The
    inhabitants for bushy ground paying two years 11s. Item, in
    every third year they pay nothing." At Wymondham (R.O. _Aug.
    Off. Misc. Bks._, vol. ccclx., f. 91) one finds under the
    heading "Towne lands" 38 acres held by copy by the "feoffees of
    the Vill of Wymondham" (37 Eliz.) in Trust for the school.

    [391] See references quoted below, pp. 244-253.

    [392] _e.g._ Scrope, _History of Manor and Barony of Castle
    Combe_, p. 203. Extent of Manor, 1454: "Et notandum quod
    prædictae terræ dominicates cum pratis et pasturis supra
    specificatis dimittebantur ad firmam Ricardo Hallewey, Edwardo
    Yonge, Johanni Costyn, Willelmo Gaudeby, et Edwardo Noorth, ea
    intentione quod ipsi dimitterent ad firmam omnibus tenentibus
    domini aliquas portiones dictorum terrarum secundum magis et
    minus pro earum cultura, et reddunt pro firma inter se cxiiis.

    [393] R.O. _Land Revenue Misc. Bks._, vol. ccxxi., fol. 1.
    Survey of Manor of Brigstock (Northants) 4, James I. Here the
    demesne is held by twenty-two tenants, each having 8 acres, 3
    roods, and 1 acre of meadow. Mickleholme meadow (also demesne
    land) is held by five tenants, each having 1 acre. One finds on
    some Northumberland manors a growth in the size of customary
    holdings combined with the preservation of almost exact equality
    between them, which surely must be taken as proving that the
    increase in the area held grew, not by sporadic encroachments on
    the part of individuals, but by definite allotment on some
    communal plan. Thus at Birling there were in 1248 ten "bondi,"
    each holding 30 acres or one husbandland; in 1498 nine holding
    30 acres or one husbandland, and four holding one husbandland of
    30 acres between them; in 1567 ten customary tenants, each
    holding 33 acres; in 1616 the average holding has risen from 33
    to 42-1/2 acres, but there is still substantial equality, the
    largest holding amounting to 44 acres, 3 roods, 3-1/2 poles, and
    the smallest to 40 acres, 0 roods, 33 poles (I omit the facts as
    to the cottagers). In spite of two considerable additions to the
    land of the village, there is little change in the relative
    proportions of the tenancies. At Acklington there were in 1352
    thirty-five bondage holdings of 16 acres each, of which nine
    were vacant (presumably on account of the plague). In 1368 these
    nine vacant holdings were let to the other tenants for herbage.
    In 1498 there were eighteen tenants, of whom seventeen held two
    husbandlands apiece (_i.e._ 32 acres) and one, one husbandland
    (_i.e._ 16 acres). _Northumberland County History_, vol. v.

These small tenants were described as "farming the demesne," and their
existence may perhaps mark a sort of half-way house in the evolution of
the manorial demesne into the large leasehold farm. One may suspect
that that development was not at all likely to take place rapidly in the
circumstances of the fifteenth century. According to the generally
accepted view the practice of leasing part of the demesne, though
occurring at a very early date on manors where the labour supply was too
small for it to be cultivated by the villeins, received a great impetus
from the scarcity of labour which was produced by the Great Plague, and
went on side by side with the gradual commutation of labour services
into money rents. Of course one must not dogmatise about changes which
took centuries to accomplish, and which developed at very different
degrees of speed in different parts of the country. But the accounts of
particular manors supplied us by surveyors bear out the view that the
development of a class of small leaseholders took place as the result of
the abandonment of the old system of cultivating the demesne by means of
the works of the tenants organised under the supervision of the manorial
officials. "The lorde departed his habitation and caused his officers to
grant out parte of his landes to his tenants at will." "The medowes
lying in Hinton were the lordes' severall meadowes, which nowe are
divided among the tenants." "When the lorde departed his habitation, and
granted out the demesnes, the part was delivered and letten to the use
of the tenants." "One Sir John Taverney, Knight, dyd inhabit within the
said mannor, and kept great hospitalitie, and occupied the demesnes in
his own possession, which are large and greate, and now of late years
granted out by copye for terms of lyves among the tenants." Such
information, collected by a curious investigator[394] in the middle of
the sixteenth century from the lips of aged peasants in the west of
England, takes us back to a time when the leasing of the demesne was a
comparative novelty. Is it surprising that the landlord who leased for
the first time should prefer to do so on this small scale, should choose
to grant plots of land piecemeal for short terms of years rather than to
form a single farm? The practice was at first an experiment, an alarming
departure from accepted methods undertaken only through dire necessity.
A great catastrophe like the plague might make it profitable, but time
would naturally elapse before it was done systematically and on a large
scale. At the same time a class of farmers with sufficient capital to
manage several hundred acres of land could not come into existence at
once. The ordinary villein tenants, who were the first lessees on many
manors, could hardly jump immediately from farming twenty or thirty
acres to farming a whole estate, though those of them who as bailiffs
had previously been responsible for managing the demesne, and who seem
sometimes to have managed it as farmers for the lord, rather than as
hired servants, were certainly in a better position to do so.

    [394] Humberstone, _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i.
    (surveys _temp._ Phil. and Mary of various manors belonging to
    the Earl of Devon).

It would seem indeed that the question whether, when the sixteenth
century began, the demesne lands of a manor were leased to many small
tenants or to one or two large farmers, was decided largely by local and
personal conditions, and may fairly be described as a matter of chance.
When they lay in many scattered strips unified culture was impossible
till they had been consolidated, and therefore there was no particular
reason for leasing them to one tenant rather than to many; whereas, when
they were from the start in two or three great blocks, it was obviously
very improbable that they would be sub-divided. In those parts of the
country where sheep-farming was less profitable than elsewhere one
motive for introducing a single large farm was absent, while where the
demesne had already been leased in small plots the manorial authorities
might dislike to make an abrupt change affecting many households
disadvantageously. The general movement would appear, however, to have
been in the direction of longer leases and larger tenancies. Thus Miss
Davenport has shown that at Forncett the leasing of the demesne
began[395] in small parcels and for short periods from the end of the
fourteenth century, and gradually took place on a larger scale and for
longer periods as the practice became more familiar. The earlier leases
of the Oxfordshire manor of Cuxham[396] alternate between six and seven
years in length, and it is not till 1472 that the College owning it
appears to have granted a lease of as much as twenty years. Sometimes
one can see the system of leasing small parcels to many little farmers,
and that of leasing the whole demesne to one large farmer, coming into
competition with each other. A case in point comes from Ablode[397] in
Somersetshire. In 1515 the Abbot and Convent of St. Peter's, Gloucester,
leased the whole manor of Ablode to a farmer for eighty years. But at
the time when the lease was made the demesne lands and demesne meadows
were already occupied by the customary tenants. Accordingly the covenant
with the farmer provides that as soon as the other tenants' agreements
terminate, he shall have the reversion of their lands to use as he
pleases. Here the two types of demesne cultivation are seen merging into
one another, with the result that the large farm is consolidated out of
the small tenancies which preceded it.

    [395] Davenport, _History of a Norfolk Manor_, p. 57. When first
    leased in 1373 the demesne was leased as a whole, but this plan
    was abandoned. Early in the fifteenth century it was leased in
    small plots, at first for six or seven years, and then for
    twelve, twenty, or forty years. Finally parts of the demesne
    were granted to be held at fee farm.

    [396] Merton Documents, Nos. 3100 (lease of 1361 for seven
    years), 3002 (lease of 1420 for seven years); 2856 (lease of
    1424 for one year); 1874 (lease of 1472 for twenty years).

    [397] _Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Gloucestriæ_, vol.
    iii. App., pp. 291-295. The words are "Sed bene licebit præfatis
    ... substituere tenentes ad eorum bene placitum in omnibus illis
    terris dominicalibus supradictis modo in manibus tenentium
    ibidem existentibus, cum reversio prædicta inde acciderit."

At the beginning of our period these small demesne tenancies had already
disappeared from many manors, if they had ever existed on them, and the
normal method of using the demesne was to lease it to a single[398]
large farmer, or at any rate to not more than three or four. In spite of
the instances given above, in which the home farm and its lands were
split up among numerous small tenants, most of the evidence suggests
that the leasing of the demesne to a single farmer was as regular a way
of disposing of it in the sixteenth century as its cultivation by
manorial officials with the labour of villeins had been in the
thirteenth. The very slow development of the large farm in certain
parts of the country was due rather to the insignificance or absence of
the demesne on some northern manors than to the prevalence of any
alternative methods of utilising it. The terms on which the farmer took
over the land varied naturally in detail, but these differences are
unimportant. In a few cases he holds it by copy. Normally he is a
leaseholder, sometimes for life, more usually for a period of years
ranging from twenty-one to eighty. Again the lessee's interest may be
more or less inclusive. Sometimes only the demesne, including any
customary works upon it of the tenants which may survive, is leased.
Sometimes the lease includes the live-stock of the manor, which, or the
equivalent of which, the farmer must replace at the end of his term.
Sometimes the profits of the court are leased as well, though more
usually they are reserved, together with any income from fines, to the
lord. Sometimes there is an arrangement of great interest and importance
by which the whole body of manorial rights, including the income from
the courts, confiscation of straying beasts, and the rents of the
customary tenants, are leased to the farmer, who thus becomes the
immediate landlord of the other tenants.[399] The greater part of the
farmer's rent is by the middle of the sixteenth century paid in money.
But certain payments in kind[400] survive, and supply a link between the
vanishing subsistence cultivation, and the growing commercial economy.
Where money was scarce, tenants were sometimes allowed to pay in kind as
a concession to their interests, and some landlords still found it
convenient to receive part of their rent in grain, fowls, pigeons, fish,
or a fat bull, a practice which on college estates lasted down to the
very end of the seventeenth century. But the value of such payments was
carefully calculated in terms of money, and they were the exception.

    [398] Thus in 1535, on nineteen out of twenty-two manors owned
    by Battle Abbey, the demesne was farmed by a single tenant, on
    one by two, on one by three, while on one it was retained in the
    hands of the monks (_Oxford Studies in Social and Legal
    History_, vol. i.; _English Monasteries on the Eve of the
    Dissolution_, by A. Savine). On twenty-five manors out of
    thirty-two held by the Earl of Pembroke in 1568, the same
    unified management obtained (Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of
    Pembroke Manors_). Savine's remarks are to the point: "The lord
    of the manor seldom divided up the demesne into separate plots
    of land to be let to local tenants. Usually the demesne and its
    buildings, sometimes even together with the live and dead stock,
    passed into the hands of one farmer" (_ibid._).

    [399] As at Knyghton in Wilts in 1568 (Roxburghe Club, _Pembroke
    Surveys_), where the holdings and rents of the customary tenants
    appear in the farmer's lease, _e.g._ "Walter Savage ad
    voluntatem tenet ut parcellam dicti manerii l close etc. ... et
    reddit 56s. ad manus dicti firmarii."

    [400] Here is an example from a lease of 1562. The farmer pays
    "yearly to the lord for the aforesaid farm--

          10 quarters of corn, per bushel, 12d.               £4
          20 quarters of barley, per bushel, 8d.       106s. 8d.
          10 quarters of oats, per bushel, 3d.          26s. 8d.
          20 capons, per caput, 4d.                      6s. 8d.
          20 pigeons, per caput, 4d.                     6s. 8d.
          12 great fish called trouts, per caput, 3d.        3s."

     (Survey of South Newton, _ibid._).

The growth of large farms had proceeded so far by the middle of the
sixteenth century that in parts of the country the area held by the
farmer was about equal to that held by all the other tenants. On some
manors it was less; on others it was a great deal more. The average area
of the large farmer's land in Wiltshire seems to have been about 352
acres, and it is not unusual to find manors where there are only two or
three customary tenants, while on some there were none at all. Wiltshire
no doubt must not be taken as typical of all other counties, as the
acreage of the leasehold farms held by men who had capital to spend
could so easily be increased by drawing in great tracts from the rolling
stretches of Chalk Down. But elsewhere, though the acreage held by the
farmer of the demesne is less, 170 or 150 acres, and though one or two
of the larger copyholders control a great deal of land themselves, he is
still, compared with the bulk of the customary tenants, a Triton among
minnows. Arithmetical averages are, however, unsatisfactory, and a
better idea of the scale on which the large farmer carried on business
may be obtained from the following table:--


  |                                                         850-900 Acres.|
  |                                                       800-849 Acres.|.|
  |                                                     750-799 Acres.|.|.|
  |                                                   700-749 Acres.|.|.|.|
  |                                                 650-699 Acres.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                               600-649 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                             550-599 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                           500-549 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                         450-499 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                       400-449 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                     350-399 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                   300-349 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                                 250-299 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                               200-249 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                             150-199 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                           100-149 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                           50-99 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  |                      Under 50 Acres.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|.|
  | Eighteen farms on sixteen         | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
  |   manors in Norfolk               | |2|2|3|1| |3|1| |2|3| | | |1| | | |
  |                                   | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
  | Thirty-one farms on twenty-       | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
  |   three manors in Wiltshire       |4|2|4|4|3|4|3| |2|1|1| | | | | |1|2|
  |                                   | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
  | Eighteen farms on thirteen        | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
  |   manors in several counties      |2|3|3|1|3|2|1| | |3| | | | | | | | |
  |                                   +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
  |   Total, sixty-seven farms        | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
  |     on fifty-two manors           |6|7|9|8|7|6|7|1|2|6|4| | | |1| |1|2|

It will be seen that if all the farms are grouped together, rather more
than one half, thirty-seven out of sixty-seven, have an area exceeding
200 acres, and that the area of rather more than a quarter exceeds 350
acres. The figures must be read with the caution that they in some cases
certainly underestimate the real extent of the land used by the farmer,
as rights of common often cannot be expressed in terms of acres.

(c) _Enclosure and Conversion by the Manorial Authorities_

When we turn from the agricultural arrangements described in previous
chapters to examine these large farms, we enter a new world, a world
where economic power is being slowly organised for the exploitation of
the soil, and where the methods of cultivation and the standards of
success are quite different from those obtaining on the small holdings
of the peasantry. The advantage to the lord of the system of large
farms, compared either with the retention of the demesne in his own
hands, or with the leasing of it in allotments to small tenants, was
obvious enough for its extension to be no matter for surprise. The
utilisation of the produce of the demesne by the lord's household was
unnecessary when markets were sufficiently reliable to offer a regular
supply, and inconvenient when the landlord was an absentee. The division
of the estate among small tenants meant the creation or maintenance of
interests opposed to agricultural changes, and made it impracticable to
vary the methods of agriculture to meet varying demands, except by the
rather cumbrous process of a common agreement ratified in the manorial
court. The leasing of the demesne to a large farmer got rid of those
disadvantages. The lord was secured a regular money income, which was
considerably higher per acre than that got from the customary tenants;
and since the land was under the management of a single individual, who
was sometimes equipped with a good deal of capital, it was much easier
to try experiments and to initiate changes. When not only the demesne,
but the whole body of manorial rights, was included in the lease, the
property became of that most desirable kind, in which ownership is
attenuated to a pecuniary lien on the product of industry, without
administrative responsibility for its management.

Opportunities for new methods of cultivation were afforded by the
leasing of the demesne to a single farmer, which would lead us to look
at his holding as the place where agrarian changes were most likely to
begin, and to start from that in order to trace the effect of these
large properties on the small properties of the customary tenants. On
the one hand, any wide development of leasehold tenure involves a
certain mobility in rural society and a disposition to break with
routine. There must be a market for land, which again implies that some
class has accumulated sufficient capital to invest and has got beyond
mere subsistence farming. It naturally arises either when new[401] land
is brought into cultivation, or when the development of trade makes
farming for the market profitable, or when changes are being introduced
into the methods of agriculture, or when the value of land is uncertain
(for example, when it is thought that it may contain minerals),[402]
because in all these cases leasehold, being a terminable interest,
enables the owner of land to adjust his rent to the tenant's returns. On
the other hand, the landowner does not get the full advantage of the
elasticity in rent and management that leasehold tenure makes possible,
unless the tenant is a man of some substance, who can spend capital in
cultivating land on a large scale, in stocking a farm with sheep and
cattle, in carrying crops until the best market is found, and in making
experiments in new directions.

    [401] See pp. 139-?147.

    [402] See _Northumberland County History_, vol. ix., account of
    Cowpen, and _Victoria County History_, Lancashire, article on
    Social and Economic History. For the same reasons mills and
    fisheries were naturally the first parts of a mediæval manor to
    be leased for terms of years.

One can easily understand the reasons which favoured the large farm, if
one reflects on the change in economic environment, the outlines of
which have been already described. The most important economic cause
determining the unit of landholding is the nature of the crop to be
raised and the methods used in producing it; and the nature of the crop
depends mainly on the conditions of the market. Now in the sixteenth
century the market conditions were such as to leave room for a large
number of small corn-growers, because trade was so backward that a great
number of households farmed simply for subsistence. On the other hand,
even in the case of corn-growing, the size of the most profitable unit
of agriculture was increasing with the development of an internal corn
trade--a development which is proved by the strenuous attempts which the
Government made to regulate it through the Justices of the Peace; while
in the case of sheep and cattle grazing on the large scale practised by
the graziers of the period, there was obviously no question but that an
extensive ranch, which could be stocked with several thousand beasts,
was the type of holding which would pay best. That a class of capitalist
farmers of this kind was coming into existence in the sixteenth century
is indicated both by the complaints of contemporaries that small men
find farms taken over their heads by great graziers, who have made money
in trade; by the fact that the stock and land lease, a form of metayage
under which the working capital was supplied by the landowner, had given
way on many manors to the modern type of lease under which it is
provided by the lessee;[403] and by the way in which one farmer would
become the lessee of two[404] or more manors, a clear indication of the
existence of wealthy men who had money to invest in agriculture. It was
the substitution of such a class for the small leaseholders among whom
the demesne had often been divided, and their appearance for the first
time on manors where the demesne had been kept in the hands of the lord
until it was leased to one large farmer, which gave a rapid and almost
catastrophic speed to the tendency to enclosure which, as we have seen,
was already going on quietly among the small tenants, because it meant
the control of a growing proportion of the land by persons who had
capital to spend, and who, since they held their farms by lease, not by
copy, were under the pressure of competitive rents to adopt the methods
of agriculture which were financially most profitable. This in itself
was a new phenomenon, at least on the large scale on which it appeared
in the sixteenth century. In modern agriculture one is accustomed to
seeing the area sown with any crop varying according to movements in the
market price of the produce, so that on the margin of cultivation land
is constantly changing its use in response to changes in the world's
markets. But such adaptability implies a very high degree of
organisation, and when farming was carried on mainly by small producers
for their own households, the reaction of changing commercial conditions
on the supply was much slower, and cultivation was to a much greater
extent a matter of routine. It was the development of the large
capitalist farmer which supplied the link binding agriculture to the
market and causing changes in prices to be reflected in changes in the
use to which land was put.

    [403] Owing to the advantages which the small holding has for
    dairy purposes (personal attention to cattle, &c.), it is still
    the custom in parts of the country, _e.g._ Devonshire, for the
    large farmers to sublet small dairy farms out of their holdings,
    and to supply the lessee with all the stock, including the cows
    and the cottage. See Levy, _Large and Small Holdings_, chap. ix.

    [404] Several examples of this are to be found in the _Pembroke
    Surveys_. Contemporaries called it "the engrossing of farms."

The tendency which we should expect to find represented most
conspicuously upon the demesne farms is of course that enclosing of land
and laying of it down to pasture, which is lamented by contemporaries.
The word "enclosing," under which contemporaries summed up the agrarian
changes of the period, has become the recognised name for the process by
which the village community was broken up, but it is perhaps not a very
happy one. Quite apart from the difficulties which it raises when we
come to compare the enclosures of the eighteenth century, which were
made under Act of Parliament, with those of the sixteenth century, which
were made in defiance of legislation, it is at once too broad and too
narrow to be an adequate description even of the innovations of the
earlier period, too broad if it implies that all enclosures entailed the
hardships which were produced by some, too narrow if it implies that the
only hardships caused were due to enclosure. It selects one feature of
the movement towards capitalist agriculture for special emphasis, and
suggests that the hedging and ditching of land always produced similar
results. That, however, was by no means the case. Enclosure might take
place, as has been shown above, without producing the social
disturbances usually associated with it, provided that it was carried
out by the tenants themselves, and with the consent of those affected.
The concentration of holdings and the displacement of tenants might take
place without enclosure. On a desert island there is no need of palings
to keep out trespassers; and a manor which was entirely in the hands of
one great farmer was a manor where the maintenance of enclosures was
almost unnecessary. At the same time the word does describe one of the
external features which usually accompanied the agrarian changes. The
general note of the movement was the emancipation from the rules of
communal cultivation of part or all of the land used for purposes of
tillage or pasture. The surface of a manor was covered with a kind of
elaborate network of rules apportioning, on a common customary plan, the
rights and duties of every one who had an interest in it. A man must let
his land lie open after harvest; he must not keep more than a certain
number of each kind of beasts on the common; he must plough when his
neighbours plough, and sow when his neighbours sow. The effect of the
growing influence of the capitalist farmer was to clear away these
organised restrictions from parts of the manor altogether, and violently
to shake the whole system. Enclosing was normally the external symptom
of the change, for the practical reason that the simplest way of cutting
a piece of land adrift from the common course of cultivation, or from
the rules laid down for the use of the commonable area, was to put a
hedge round it, partly to keep one's own beasts in, partly to keep other
people's beasts out. The essential feature of the change was that land
which was formerly subject to a rule prescribing the methods of
cultivation became land which was used at the individual's discretion.

The agent through whom enclosing was carried out was usually the large
farmer. When the farmer leased only the demesne lands, and the demesne
lands lay in large compact blocks, not in scattered strips, he could
naturally practise the new economy of enclosure upon them without
colliding with any other interest, except in the cases where they were
divided into several tenancies; while if steps were taken to get rid of
the interests which the customary tenants had either in the open fields,
in the meadows, or in the common, the land lost by them was normally
added to the area which the farmer leased, and enclosed by him. In the
surveys of the period one finds manors in every stage of the transition
from open field cultivation to enclosure, and though such individual
instances tell us nothing of the extent of the movement, they offer a
vivid picture of what enclosing meant, and give the impression that
enclosure had usually proceeded further on those manors where the farmer
held the largest proportion of the land. The slowness of the movement
towards enclosure on the holdings of the customary tenants has already
been described. As a contrast to it one may look at the following table,
which sets out the condition of things on some demesne farms:--


    |           |            |             | 5         |
    | Number of | No signs   | Under       | per Cent. |
    | Demesne   | of         | 5 per Cent. | to 24     |
    | Farms     | Enclosure. | Enclosed.   | per Cent. |
    | Examined. |            |             | Enclosed. |
    | 47        | 12         | 9           | 7         |

    | 25        | 50         | 75          |           |
    | per Cent. | per Cent.  | per Cent.   | 100       |
    | to 49     | to 74      | to 99       | per Cent. |
    | per Cent. | per Cent.  | per Cent.   | Enclosed. |
    | Enclosed. | Enclosed.  | Enclosed.   |           |
    | 7         | ...        | 4           | 8         |

These figures are not offered as any evidence of the absolute area
enclosed in the counties represented. They may, however, perhaps be
taken as an indication that the demesne farm was usually that part of
the manor on which enclosure was carried out most thoroughly. Thirty-one
of the manors included in the table are in Wiltshire and Norfolk, and
where the conditions of things on the tenants' holdings can be compared
with that obtaining on the demesne, it is almost always the case that
the new economy has spread furthest on the latter. Neither in Wiltshire
nor in Norfolk had enclosure by the peasants themselves proceeded very
far in the latter half of the sixteenth century.

The conditions, however, on different manors varied so enormously that
much weight cannot be laid on these figures, and it is both more
important and more practicable to examine particular examples of the
ways in which the large enclosed estate was built up. In the first
place, then, one may say with some confidence that those parts of a
manor which lent themselves most readily to enclosing were the waste,
the common pasture, and the common meadow, while the enclosing of the
farmer's holdings of arable land took place more gradually, less
thoroughly, and with greater difficulty. Thus selecting from the manors
tabulated above those in which the quality of the land enclosed is
distinguished, and omitting those where it is merely stated to lie "in
closes," one finds that partial or complete enclosure of the arable has
been made on nine, of the meadow on eleven, and of the pasture on
twenty, manors. The explanation of this is to be found by recollecting
the characteristics of the organisation into which the farmer stepped.
The arable land which formed the lord's demesne was often scattered,
like the tenant's, in comparatively small plots over the three fields;
unity of ownership did not by any means necessarily imply unified
culture, and before these could be enclosed they had to be consolidated
into fewer and larger blocks. Moreover, if the object of enclosure was
conversion to pasture, it must be remembered that the enclosure of the
arable implied a very great revolution in the manorial economy. A farm
which was well equipped for tillage had barns, granges, agricultural
implements, which would stand idle if the arable land was enclosed for
pasture, and it was therefore natural that, as long as other land was
available in sufficient quantities for sheep-farming, such land should
be enclosed for the purpose, before the ordinary course of cultivation
on the arable land was abandoned. The common meadows and the common
wastes did not offer these obstacles to enclosure. Since the
individualising tendencies of personal cultivation did not operate upon
these parts of the village land, the method of securing equal enjoyment
of them had not been, as in the case of arable, to give each household a
holding consisting of separate strips scattered over good and bad land
alike, but to give each holder of an arable share access to the whole of
the pasture land. They were, therefore, usually not divided and
scattered to anything like the same extent, and it was thus much easier
for the rights of different parties over them to be disentangled, and
for the land to be cut up and enclosed "in severalty." Hence, where the
tenants are most numerous, and where there are fewest signs of change,
the effect of the large farmer is often seen in the withdrawal of part
of the common waste from communal use. If the growth of sheep farming
made the small tenants anxious, as in many cases it did, to acquire
separate pastures for their flocks, it can readily be understood that
the large farmer, who had more to lose and more to gain, was likely to
pursue the same policy unless checked by organised opposition. Normally
the change seems to have taken place by converting the right to pasture
a certain number of beasts in common with other tenants into the right
to the exclusive use of a certain number of acres. Instead of the whole
commonable area lying open to a number of animals "stinted" in a certain
proportion among the commoners, the stint is abandoned, and the basis of
allocation is found not in a fixed number of animals, but in a fixed
area of land, which forms the separate common of the individual farmer,
and which is naturally enclosed. Many examples of this division of
commonable land are found in the surveys, especially in connection with
the common waste of the manor, which enable us to trace the change from
collective to individual administration. Thus, to give a few instances,
at Winterbourne Basset[405] the farmer has all the meadow land except
one half-acre, and a separate close of 140 acres on the downs, where he
can graze nearly three times as many sheep as all the customary tenants.
At Knyghton[406] he has enclosed with a hedge part of the sheep's
common, no sheep at all being kept by the customary tenants. At
Massingham,[407] in Norfolk, where much of the demesne arable lies "in
the fields," there is an enclosed pasture containing 123-1/2 acres; and
on another farm of 203 acres, which has apparently been formed out of
the demesne, one finds 28 acres of arable "in the fields" and 65 acres
of "pasture enclosed," the remaining 80 acres lying "in the sheep
courses." The best picture of what the change meant is given by the two
maps[408] printed opposite. In No. III. the meadow, save for a small
piece used exclusively by All Souls, is common, each tenant presumably
being allowed to place so many beasts upon it. In No. IV. the meadow has
been divided up among the tenants, and instead of pasturing a limited
number of beasts on the whole of it, each can pasture as many beasts as
he pleases on part of it. It is not necessary to point out the
significance of this change from the point of view of the social
organisation of rural life. It means that communal administration of
part of the land has been abandoned and its place taken by use at the
discretion of the individual tenant.

    [405] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Lands of William, First Earl
    of Pembroke_. The farmer has four closes of meadow amounting to
    9 acres, one meadow of 2-1/2 acres, one meadow of 7 acres, one
    meadow of 8-1/2 acres. In addition to that and the hilly
    pasture, there is in his possession "unus campus noviter
    inclusus, qui aliquando seminatur, aliquando iacet ad pasturam,"
    and which "olim sustentare potuit 900 oves et catalla non

    [406] _Ibid._, "De terra montanea unde pars includitur cum sepe
    iuxta Crowcheston continens per estimationem 100 acres, et
    custodire potest supra prædictam 900 oves." Sometimes it is
    expressly stated that the farmer alone is to have a certain
    pasture, _e.g._ at Chalke (_ibid_): "Et etiam dictus firmarius
    habet ibidem unum montem vocatum a Doune et bene cognitum est
    quia circumcinctum est per sepem et bundas, et custodire potest
    600 multones quia nullus habet communiam in eo nisi firmarius
    solus, et continet per estimacionem 200 acres."

    [407] R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 24, No. 4, f.
    46 (_temp._ Hen. VIII.). "The fold course will carry 1800 sheep
    at £8 a hundred."

    [408] In All Souls' Muniment Room.

But while the pasture ground and meadow offered special facilities for
enclosure, there is abundant evidence that the farmer's arable land was
also in many cases enclosed. On some manors the whole of the arable
demesne lay together, and in that case there was no obstacle in the way
of enclosing it. More usually it lay in three pieces, one block in each
of the three great fields, and here again, when there was sufficient
motive for enclosure, enclosure was easily practicable. The only
arrangement which offered a really difficult problem was that in which
it was divided into acre and a half strips scattered about the manor at
a distance from each other. One finds cases in which such strips
numbered several hundred, but the impression given by surveys is that,
at any rate by the middle of the sixteenth century, such extreme
subdivision was exceptional, and that the consolidation of holdings by
means of exchange and purchase, which we have seen at work from an early
date on the holdings of the customary tenants, had often proceeded so
far on the demesne as to have rounded off the farmer's property into
comparatively few large holdings. As an illustration of the first steps
towards unification and enclosure we may take the manor of Sparham,[409]
in Norfolk, which was surveyed about 1590. Here the 189 acres which
compose the demesne, and which are leased to a farmer, are still much
scattered. They lie in seventy different pieces, most of which are quite
small, acres, half-acres, and roods. But even here there has been a
considerable amount of consolidation, and it has been followed by the
beginnings of enclosure. The 37-1/2 acres of pasture lie in five pieces
of 11, 9, 7, 5, 5-1/2 acres, all of which have been enclosed. The arable
is still intermixed with the strips of the other tenants in the open
fields. But on the arable itself consolidation and enclosure are
creeping forward. There are four strips lying together which comprise
6-3/4 acres. There is one enclosure, consisting of arable, wood, and
meadow, and containing 17 acres. The neighbouring manor of
Fulmordeston[410] offers an example of a state of things in which the
same tendency has worked itself out to completion. The 742 acres leased
by the farmer of the demesne are entirely enclosed. There are two woods
comprising 50 acres. There is an enclosure of 250 acres, 35 perches,
consisting of "Corne severall and Broome severall." There is a "great
close" of 130 acres, 1 rood, "longe close" of 57 acres, 3 roods, "Brick
kyll close" of 40 acres, 1 rood, "Brakehill close" of 24 acres, 1 rood,
a field of 106 acres called Hestell, and another of 83 acres, 2 roods.
But these different stages are best illustrated by maps[411] Nos. I.,
III., IV., V., and VI.

On No. III. it will be seen that there is a good deal of subdivision. On
Nos. IV. and V. the tenants whose strips separated parts of the demesne
from each other, have in many cases dropped out, so that the process of
aggregation is facilitated: on No. I. the concentration of the demesne
into a single large block is complete; though it is still unenclosed, it
offers no obstacle to enclosure: on No. VI. consolidation has
been followed by enclosure, conversion to pasture and depopulation.
Between the state of things on map No. III. and that on map No. VI.
there is the greatest possible difference. Yet there is no reason to
doubt that Whadborough had once been an open field village with tenants
who were mainly engaged in tillage. Map Nos. IV., V., and I. are, as it
were, the intervening chapters which join the preface to the conclusion.
Occasionally one can see the process of consolidation, which was the
necessary preliminary of enclosure, actually taking place. At
Harriesham,[412] in Kent, the parson held 3 acres of glebe land in two
pieces, one of them lying in the middle of a field belonging to another
tenant, who ploughed up its boundaries and added it to his own land.
Accordingly, to prevent uncertainty in the future, the owner of the
field and the parson executed a deed by which the latter surrendered his
claim to the detached pieces of land, and in return got three acres laid
out in a single plot. In view of the large blocks which are often held
by the farmer of the demesne, one cannot doubt that such consolidation
by way of exchange must have been a common arrangement.

    [409] MSS. of the Earl of Leicester at Holkham, Sparham
    Documents, Bdle. No. 5.

    [410] _Ibid._, Fulmordestone Documents, No. 59. Description of
    manor at bottom of map (1614).

    [411] In All Souls' Muniment Room.

    [412] Maps in All Souls' Muniment Room: "The description of the
    parsonage of Harriesham in the countie of Kent, with the glebe
    lands thereunto belonging." Note on back of map: "Memorandum
    that whereas there are and always have been 4 parcelles of land
    in Mr. Steed his fielde called Harriesham field belonging unto
    the parsonage of Harriesham, conteyninge by estimation three
    acres, whereof the one did lye along by the landes of Sir Edward
    Wootton, called the Cowe doune, the other ... abutteth on the
    said Cowe doune toward the east, the other boundes thereof not
    being certainly known by reason that they were plowed up by one
    Robert Brinkley, tenant of the whole field, and were laid out by
    Robert Brinkley as in the Platte doth appeare under the Redd
    colour; It is now covenanted by the said Mr. Steede and Mr.
    George Hovenden, incumbent there, by deed bearing date the 20th
    of July in the 17th year of the Queen's Majestie's reign, that
    nowe all that the said three acres shall from henceforth be
    possessed by the parson and his successors for ever in manner
    and form as it is nowe laid out in the platte in the yellow
    colour after the maner of a square" [here follow the

It remains to ask how far the type of economy pursued by the large
farmer differed from that of the smaller tenants, and in particular
whether there are signs of his specialising upon the grazing of sheep.
The most complete picture of the agricultural changes of the early
sixteenth century, not on the demesne farms alone, but on the holdings
of all classes of tenants as well, is given in the well-known
returns[413] made by the Commissioners who were appointed by Wolsey in
1517 to investigate enclosures, and these are supplemented by the
figures published by Miss Davenport[414] as to the relative proportions
or arable and pasture land on certain Staffordshire estates. The
interpretation of both of these sets of statistics is ambiguous. Mr.
Leadam uses them to show that much enclosing took place for arable, and
that therefore the statutes and writers of the period exaggerated the
movement towards pasture farming. Professor Gay thinks his conclusions
untenable, and that a proper interpretation of the Commissioners'
returns corroborates the view of contemporary writers that pasture was
substituted for tillage on a large scale. Two points emerge pretty
clearly from the controversy. The first is that there was a good deal of
redistribution of land with the object of better tillage, of the kind
which has been described above, and that probably the fact that the word
"enclosure" was used to describe this, as well as the conversion of
arable to pasture, was responsible for some confusion. The second is
that the predominant tendency was towards sheep-farming. To suppose that
contemporaries were mistaken as to the general nature of the movement is
to accuse them of an imbecility which is really incredible. Governments
do not go out of their way to offend powerful classes out of mere
lightheartedness, nor do large bodies of men revolt because they have
mistaken a ploughed field for a sheep pasture. Even if we accept Mr.
Leadam's statistical analysis of the report of the Commission of 1517,
his figures still reveal a great deal of conversion to pasture; and it
is clear that many cases on which his totals rest are open to more than
one interpretation.

    [413] Leadam, _Domesday of Enclosures_. For a discussion as to
    whether they suggest that enclosing took place for arable or
    pasture, see _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. xiv.

    [414] _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xi.

If the general correctness of the view of the sixteenth century
observers that there was a wide movement towards sheep-farming is
accepted, it ought to be represented more fully on the demesne farms
than elsewhere, because changes could be applied to them with much less
friction than to the lands in which the interests of other tenants were
involved. With a view to showing to what extent this is the case two
sets of figures are given below; the first is a table taken from Dr.
Savine's[415] work on _The English Monasteries on the Eve of the
Reformation_, and relates to the demesne lands of forty-one monasteries
which were surveyed for the Crown on the occasion of their surrender;
some were apparently in the hands of the monastery and some apparently
were leased. The second gives the approximate use to which land was put
by the farmers of the demesnes on forty-nine manors in the sixteenth and
early seventeenth centuries. They are subdivided in three groups, (_a_)
manors in Norfolk and Suffolk, (_b_) manors in Wiltshire and Dorsetshire
(one), and (_c_) manors in other southern and eastern counties, but
including one in Staffordshire and one in Lancashire. For purposes of
comparison the table given in Part I. Chapter III., illustrating the use
made of the customary holdings, is repeated here:--



    |Total Demesne Land of Forty-one|  Arable. | Pasture. | Meadow.  |
    |Monasteries.                   |          |          |          |
    |             Acres.            |  Acres.  |  Acres.  |  Acres.  |
    |             16780             | 6235-3/4 | 8691-1/2 | 1852-3/4 |
    |                               | (37.1%)  | (51.7%)  | (11.0%)  |


    |Total Acreage of   |       |        |       |       |               |
    |Sixty-five Farms on|       |        |       |       |               |
    |Fifty Manors.      |Arable.|Pasture.|Meadow.|Closes.| Indeterminate.|
    |(Fractions of      |       |        |       |       |               |
    |Acres omitted.)    |       |        |       |       |               |
    |          Acres.   | Acres.| Acres. |Acres. |Acres. |    Acres.     |
    |          16866    |  8302 |  6172  | 1528  | 624   |     240       |
    |                   |(49.2%)| (36.5%)| (9%)  |(3.6%) |    (1.3%)     |
    |                                                                    |
    |  COMPOSED OF (_a_) THIRTY-TWO FARMS ON                             |
    |                                                                    |
    | Total Acreage of  |       |        |       |       |               |
    | Thirty-two Farms. |Arable.|Pasture.|Meadow.|Closes.|Indeterminate. |
    |       Acres.      | Acres.| Acres. | Acres.| Acres.|    Acres.     |
    |        8812       |  4390 |  2928  |  754  |  500  |     240       |
    |                   |(49.8%)|(33.2%) | (8.3%)| (5.6%)|    (2.7%)     |
    |                                                                    |
    |      (_b_) SIXTEEN FARMS ON THIRTEEN MANORS IN                     |
    |                 NORFOLK AND SUFFOLK                                |
    |                                                                    |
    | Total Acreage of  |       |        |       |       |               |
    |  Sixteen Farms.   |Arable.|Pasture.|Meadow.|Closes.|Indeterminate. |
    |       Acres.      | Acres.| Acres. | Acres.| Acres.|    Acres.     |
    |        4361       |  2393 |  1707  |  261  |  ...  |     ...       |
    |                   | (52%) | (39%)  | (5.9%)|       |               |
    |                                                                    |
    |      (_c_) SEVENTEEN FARMS ON THIRTEEN OTHER MANORS                |
    |               MAINLY IN SOUTH AND MIDLANDS                         |
    |                                                                    |
    | Total Acreage of  |       |        |       |       |               |
    | Seventeen Farms.  |Arable.|Pasture.|Meadow.|Closes.|Indeterminate. |
    |       Acres.      | Acres.| Acres. | Acres.| Acres.|    Acres.     |
    |        3691       |  1519 |  1536  |  512  |  124  |     ...       |
    |                   |(41.1%)|(41.1%) |(13.8%)| (3.3%)|               |


    | Total Acreage of  |       |        |       |       |               |
    | Customary Holdings|Arable.|Pasture.|Meadow.|Closes.|Indeterminate. |
    | on Sixteen Manors.|       |        |       |       |               |
    |       Acres.      | Acres.| Acres. | Acres.| Acres.|    Acres.     |
    |        7786       |  6841 |  555   |  390  |  ...  |     ...       |
    |                   |(87.7%)| (7.1%) | (5.1%)|       |               |

    [415] _Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History_, vol. i. pp.

The figures in this table do not pretend to complete accuracy, but their
classification of the distribution of land between different uses is not
far wrong. Of the customary tenants' land about 87 per cent. is arable,
and 12 per cent. meadow and pasture. Of the farmers' land about 49 per
cent. is arable, 36 per cent. pasture, 9 per cent. meadow. The
proportion of pasture to arable is somewhat higher in the southern and
midland counties than it is in East Anglia; but the cases examined are
too few to allow of any conclusion being drawn from this fact. Without
pushing the figures in either table further than they will go, one may
suggest that they seem to imply, in the first place, that the large
farmer was by no means always a grazier, and that the writers of the
period who spoke as though all large-scale farming meant the conversion
of arable to pasture were guilty of some exaggeration. In a good many
cases the methods of cultivation pursued by the farmer of the demesne
differed from those of the customary tenants only in the fact that his
holding was larger; as a matter of fact the customary tenants on some
manors deserve the name of grazier better than the farmer of the demesne
upon others.

But they suggest, in the second place, that these cases were
exceptional, and that, on the whole, arable farming played a much more
important part on the holdings of the customary tenants than it did on
those of the farmers. The former subsisted mainly on the tillage of the
land in the open fields. The latter, though they had often much arable,
sometimes had none, or next to none at all, and relied to a far greater
extent on the opportunities for stock-breeding offered by pasture and
meadow land. These figures, however, include some derived from manors
where tillage was virtually the only sort of farming carried on, and
they do not give any idea of the arrangements prevailing on an estate
where pasture-farming had been pushed far. Taking from the fifty manors
dealt with above, the twelve which are most typical of the new régime,
one gets a very different picture--


    |            |         |         |          |         |   Other   |
    | Land Held. | Arable. | Meadow. | Pasture. | Closes. |(Wood, &c.)|
    |   Acres.   |  Acres. |  Acres. |  Acres.  |  Acres. |   Acres.  |
    |    4474    |   922   |   403   |   3065   |    71   |     13    |
    |            | (20.6%) |  (8.9%) | (68.3%)  |  (1.5%) |           |

Here arable forms only 23 per cent. of the whole area, while pasture and
meadow together form over 77 per cent. This swing of the pendulum from
arable husbandry to pasture-farming will not surprise us, if we remember
that at the time of the Domesday Survey, and, indeed, throughout the
Middle Ages, the area of land under the plough had been, when considered
in relation to the population, extraordinarily large. The economic
justification of ploughing land which no modern farmer would touch had
lain in the fact that the impossibility of moving food supplies had made
it necessary for each village to be virtually self-supporting, and had
thus prevented the specialisation of districts in different types of
agriculture. When the development of trade under the Tudors had combined
with the keen demand for wool to introduce a geographical division of
labour, the change was naturally all the more violent, because there
was, so to speak, so much lee-way to be made up, because so much land
was in tillage which had no special suitability for the production of
grain. Even so, between 1815 and 1846, the rich water meadows of
Oxfordshire were being ploughed up for corn. Even so, after 1879, the
collapse of corn-growing was all the more disastrous, because it had
been so long delayed.

One would expect the growth of large farms side by side with the
customary holdings, especially when the methods of agriculture employed
were so different, to result in a powerful reaction of the new interests
upon the old, and perhaps in a collision between them, even when no
deliberate attempt was made to alter the position of the tenants. And
this is what we are told in fact occurred. The customary tenants'
holdings and the demesne both formed part of one area, subject to
certain rights and privileges defined by the custom of the manor. Both,
for example, would lie open to the village cattle after harvest; both
were subject to the customary rotation of crops, and necessarily so when
the demesne was not separate but mixed with the customary holdings in
the open field; both had rights of common on the pasture or waste of the
manor. Moreover, the whole organisation of the economic side of manorial
life was based on the assumption that tillage was the most important
element in it. For example, the apportionment of rights over the waste,
the "stint" of animals to be grazed, assumed that no one partner would
require to graze more than a certain number, and broke down if he gave
himself up to cattle-breeding or sheep-farming, and multiplied his
beasts by five or ten. It would be natural, therefore, to look for a
straining and shifting of those rights as a probable consequence of the
existence side by side of two such different agricultural stages, and of
such different types of property. Formerly the respective interests of
the lord and the customary tenants had been harmonised by the fact that
the labour of the latter supplied the chief means of cultivating the
demesne, and that the demesne could hardly be a profitable concern if
the number of tenants or their standard of living declined very largely,
any more than a gold-mine can pay without gold-miners. But when the
demesne was largely used for pasture this consideration of course did
not apply, and in any case by the sixteenth century, although the
services of the tenants were still part of the means by which the
farmers found labour, they were probably an unimportant one. As is shown
by the smallness of the holdings on many manors, which were quite
insufficient by themselves to support a family, and by the evidence of
contemporaries, the farmer had a growing, though still small, labour
market into which to dip, and the rough agreement which had existed
between the interests of the manorial estate and those of the tenants
was therefore no longer existent. Thus a collision of interests, a
weakening of communal restrictions before the enterprise of the
capitalist farmer, the strengthening of some kinds of property and the
weakening of others, and the growth of new sorts of social relations in
the villages, were consequences to be expected from the increasing
predominance of the large farm, and especially of the large pasture

To sum up the arguments of the chapter. At the beginning of the
sixteenth century forces both political--the restriction of the
territorial sovereignty of the landlords--and economic--the growth in
the demand for wool--were working to produce a change in the methods of
agriculture; and at any rate by the middle of the century another
powerful motive was added by the fall in the value of money. The result
was that there was a movement in the direction of converting arable land
to pasture, and of enclosure, which affected all classes of landholders,
but which was carried furthest by the large farmers who leased the
demesne lands of manors, who could afford to make experiments, and who
were under a strong incentive to turn the land to its most profitable



(a) _The Removing of Landmarks_

The history of the agrarian problem in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries--indeed its history ever since--is largely the story of the
small cultivator's struggle to protect his interests against the changes
caused by the growth of the great estate. In that struggle there is much
that is detailed, tiresome, and obscure. The student hears very little
about general principles, very much of technicalities about the nature
of common appendant and common appurtenant, of stinted and unstinted
pastures, of gressums and fines, of copyholds for years, for lives, or
of inheritance, of land which is old enclosure that ought to stand, or
new enclosure that ought to fall. But at the centre of this maze of dry
and infinitely diverse details there is a real regrouping of social
forces going on, and a rearrangement, at once rapid and profound, of
economic and political ideas. We must no more picture the changes of our
period as mere matters of the technique of agriculture, than we must
think of the industrial revolution of two centuries later in terms of
spinning-jennies and steam-power. On the contrary, these very details
are the channel along which rural life is beginning to slip from one
form of economic organisation to another, the seed-plot in which new
conceptions of social expediency are being brought to maturity. In
numberless English villages between 1500 and 1600 large issues are being
decided which will profoundly modify the course of social development.
Is the communal administration of meadow and wastes to survive (as it
has survived in France and Belgium) or is it to disappear? Is England
to be a country of large cultivators working with many hired labourers,
or of small cultivators working with few? Is leasehold or copyhold to be
the predominant form of land tenure? When the final transition to modern
agriculture takes place, will England face the change with a population
the bulk of which has been rooted in the soil since the Middle Ages, or
will the middle classes in rural society have been already so far
undermined that opinion turns spontaneously to the great landlord as the
sole representative of agricultural progress? Of course the answer to
these questions was not given by 1600 or even by 1700; we must not
forget Arthur Young and the far more extensive enclosures of the
eighteenth century. But in our period development certainly took a
distinct bias away from one set of arrangements and in the direction of
another. The best standpoint from which to examine its course is found
by watching the reaction upon the tenants of the agricultural changes
which we have tried to summarise in the preceding sections.

The economic effect of the policy pursued by the large farmer depended
upon what proportion of the land he controlled, and in particular upon
the part of the manor upon which enclosure was made. He might enclose
only the land actually belonging to the demesne farm when he took it
over; or he might enclose parts of the waste or meadow over which other
tenants had rights of pasture; or he might enclose the holdings in the
open arable fields belonging to other tenants, for this purpose
evicting, or inducing the lord to evict, them. When only the demesne
lands were enclosed the other interests were sometimes little disturbed,
unless indeed the demesne had already been parcelled out among some of
the smaller tenants, a contingency to be considered later. But, even
when that was not the case, the conversion of the demesne to pasture and
its enclosure had two consequences which were not unimportant. On the
one hand, the wage-earning population of cottagers and younger sons, who
had found employment as hired labourers when the demesne was used for
tillage, were thrown out of work, and with the limited demand for labour
offered by a sixteenth century village, were obliged, one would
suppose, to join the armies of tramps who figure so largely in the pages
of the writers of the period. As the bailiffs accounts of some manors
show, the demesne farm had sometimes employed a quite considerable staff
of workmen of different kinds, and though no clear instance of a
reduction of the number of employees, consequent on the transition to
pasture farming, has come to light, one can occasionally compare the
demand for labour under the old régime and under the new in a way which
does something to substantiate the lamentations of contemporaries.[416]
It is this which gives point to their complaints as to the decay of
"hospitality." Hospitality in the sixteenth century does not merely mean
a general attitude of open-handed friendliness. When the Government
intervenes to enjoin hospitality, we are not to think that, even in that
age of grandmotherly legislation, it is going out of its way to insist
that every man shall provide his neighbour with a glass of beer and a
bed for the night. Hospitality has a quite precise meaning and a quite
definite social importance. It is, in the most literal sense,
housekeeping, and the household does not merely imply what we mean by
"the family," a group of persons connected by blood but pursuing often
quite separate occupations, and, except in the small number of cases
where property owned by the head of the family supplies a financial
basis for unity, possessing quite separate economic interests. It is, on
the contrary, a miniature co-operative society, housed under one roof,
dependent upon one industry, and including not only man and wife and
children, but servants and labourers, ploughmen and threshers, cowherds
and milkmaids, who live together, work together, and play together, just
as one can see them doing in parts of Norway and Switzerland at the
present day. When the economic foundations of this small organism are
swept away by a change in the method of farming, the effect is not
merely to ruin a family, it is to break up a business. It is analogous
not to the unemployment of an individual householder, but to the
bankruptcy of a firm.

    [416] The Shepe Book of Tittleshall Manor (Holkham MSS.,
    Tittleshall Books, No. 19), shows flocks of 500 to 1000 sheep
    being managed by a single shepherd, 1543?-1549.

On the other hand, even when they lost nothing else, the rest of the
landholding population was deprived of some of the rights of grazing
which they had exercised on the enclosed arable after harvest. If the
demesne formed a large proportion of the whole area of the village, or
if there was little other pasture, their loss, as the frequent
complaints of interference with "shack"[417] prove, might be a very
considerable one; for it meant that there might be no means of feeding
some proportion of the village beasts. Moreover, the mere presence of a
large capitalist who controlled a great part of the land, and converted
it to pasture or retained it as arable according to the price of wool
and wheat, prejudiced them in various indirect ways. The farmer of the
demesne seems at an early date to have had a bad name for hard dealings.
He was often a stranger, and therefore indifferent to the influence of
local customs and personal relationships. Where the manoral officials
had offered direct employment, he was a middleman with a high rent to
pay, and, like most middlemen, a channel for pressure without
responsibility. As the largest shareholder in the small agricultural
community, he could disturb its arrangements by altering his course of
cultivation, and, since he was the representative of the lord, he could
not easily be checked. Sometimes, indeed, a clause was inserted in his
lease expressly providing that he should not disturb the neighbouring
peasants.[418] But there are many cases in which there is no mention of
formal enclosing, and in which, nevertheless, it is complained that the
farmer persistently molests and harries the customary tenants. It was
the essence of the open field system of agriculture--at once its
strength and its weakness--that its maintenance reposed upon a common
custom and tradition, not upon documentary records capable of precise
construction. Its boundaries were often rather a question of the degree
of conviction with which ancient inhabitants could be induced to affirm
them, than visible to the mere eye of sense, and their indefiniteness
made the way of the transgressor extremely easy. Even the lord of the
manor sometimes found the large farmer too much for his vigilance. "John
Langford and his ancesters," the College of All Souls petitioned in
Chancery in 1637, "have for many yeares by vertue of several demises
farmed and rented of your oratours their said messuage and lands, and
used and occupied the same with their own lands, and during the time of
such occupation have pulled up, destroyed and removed, the metes, mere
londs, and boundaries of your oratours their said lands, and confounded
the same so that the same cannot be set forth.... Mr. Langford's lands
and grounds lying next adjoining unto the said oratours their
grounds,... the said John Langford hath extended his said cottages,
orchards, gardens, and curtilages thereunto belonging, to your oratours
their said grounds, and hath made hedges, ditches, fences and mounds
wherein and whereby he hath enclosed your oratours their said grounds
unto his own cottages and land, ... and intendeth so ... to keep from
your orators all the said land so encroached and enclosed."[419] When a
farmer would thus calmly expropriate the lord of the manor, it is not
surprising to find constant small disputes between him and the other
tenants, on the ground of his entering upon their holdings, or
"surcharging the fieldes by waye of intercommon and destroying the corn
of greane by drifte of cattle over the common of fieldes and suche
other."[420] Often, no doubt, the sporadic encroachments which provoked
quarrels with the other tenants appeared to the great grazier a natural
exercise of his obvious rights. Who should say where one man's land
began and another's ended? But it can hardly be doubted that such
irregularities were sometimes a deliberate attempt to worry the weaker
members of the village community into throwing up their lands, by making
profitable cultivation impossible. "If any man do sow any ground," ran
the direction given by a lord to the shepherd who looked after the
demesne farm on a Suffolk manor, "and the stifts of the field are
broken, and may not duly be taken and fed as heretofore they have been
used, then the said Tillot to feed off the said corn and drive his sheep
on that part of the ploughed land, and to forbid any particular man to
sow his ground or any part thereof whereby the sheep-walks may be
hindered."[421] Such an order points to the difficulty of adjusting the
different methods of cultivation pursued by the smaller tenants and on
the demesne. Though the complaints of the former were often indefinite
enough, it is probable that the very difficulty of defining what a large
capitalist might or might not do was in itself a substantial grievance.
The truth is that it was not easy for the great pasture farm, with its
flocks of sheep, to subsist side by side with the smaller arable
holdings of the other tenants, without a good deal of friction arising,
even in those cases in which no deliberate attempt was made to evict the
latter or to deprive them of their rights of common. The traditional
organisation of agriculture was based on the assumption that much the
same methods of utilising the land would be followed by all the tenants.
When that assumption broke down with the growth of large-scale
sheep-farming, there was naturally a collision of interests between the
great men who made innovations and the small men who adhered to the
customary rule.

    [417] _e.g._ Holkham MSS., Fulmordeston, Bdle. 6: "To the Right
    Honourable Sir Edward Cooke, Knight, Attorney General unto the
    King's Ma{tie}. Humblie sheweth unto your lordship yo{r} poore
    and dayley orators ... yo{r} worshippes tenants of the Manor of
    Fulmordeston cum Croxton in the Duchie of Lancaster, and the
    moste parte of the tenants of the same manor that whereas your
    said orators in the Hillary Terme last commenced suite in the
    Duchie Courte against Thomas Odbert and Roger Salisbury, gent.,
    who have enclosed their grounds contrary to the custom of the
    manor, wherby your wor. loseth your shack due out of the
    grounds, common lane or way for passengers is stopped up, and
    your worshipps' poore orators lose their accustomed shack in
    those grounds, and the said Roger Salisbury taketh also the
    whole benefit of theire common from them, keepinge there his
    sheepe in grazinge, and debarring them of their libertie there
    which for comon right belongeth unto them." For the rest of this
    document see Appendix I., and compare the following defence to a
    charge of breaking open an enclosure: "The owners of the said
    tenements, from time whereof there is no memory to the contrary,
    have had a common of pasture for themselves and their tenants in
    one close commonly called 'the new leasue,' in the lordship of
    Weston in the manner following; that is to say, when the field
    where the said 'leasue' doth lie, called Radnor field, lieth
    fallow, then through the whole year; and when the said field is
    sown with corn, then from the reaping and carrying away of the
    corn until the same be sown again ... and the said Thomas Dodd
    further said that he did break open the said close ... being
    fenced in such time as he ought to have common in the same, to
    the end that his cattle might take their pasture therein"
    (_William Salt Collection_, New Series, vol. ix., Chancery
    Proceedings, Bdle. 8, No. 9).

    [418] For complaints of tenants against the exactions, of
    farmers as early as 1413, see _Victoria County History_, Essex,
    vol. ii. p. 318. For a stipulation in the farmer's covenant, see
    the following: "Item a covenant conteyned in this lease that the
    said Thomas shall permit and suffer the customary Tenants
    peaceably to have and enjoy their estates, rights, grants,
    interests, and premises, without any lette, interruption, or
    contradiction of the said Thomas" (Roxburghe Club, _Pembroke
    Surveys_, Knyghton); and _Northumberland County History_, vol.
    v. p. 208, Buston: "The tenants of this town at the beginning of
    summer have their oxen allway grazed in Shilbottel wood, or else
    they were not able to maintain their tenements. It is therefore
    requisite that his lordship or his heire should have respect
    unto the want of pasture, that in any lease made by his lordship
    or his heire to any person of the pasture, the said Shilbottel
    wood, there might be a proviso in the said lease that the said
    tenants should have their oxen ground there, as they have been
    accustomed." Instances of the harrying of the peasants by the
    large farmers are to be found, _ibid._, vol. i. p. 350
    (Tughall), and p. 274 (Newham).

    [419] All Souls' Archives, vol. i. p. 203, No. 356.

    [420] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i., Survey of Mudford
    and Hinton. In this case the aggressor was not the farmer of the
    demesne, but a freeholder owning a third of the manor. To escape
    his depredations the tenants proposed "to enclose their common
    fieldes and to assign to Master Lyte and his tenants his third
    parte in every field by itself, and to extinguish his right of
    common in the rest."

    [421] _Victoria County History_, Suffolk, "Social and Economic

(b) _The Struggle for the Commons_

But sporadic encroachments are not the worst which the small man has to
fear. He may wake to find the path along which he drives his beasts to
pasture blocked by a hedge. When he goes to renew his lease or buy the
reversion of his copy, he may be told that his holding is to be merged
in a pasture farm. The great estate is not always built up by the mere
consolidation of pieces of land which are already united in ownership,
though spatially they may be separate. If it were there would be few
statutes and few riots; for the law looks with a favourable eye on such
attempts at improved cultivation, and the peasants have long been doing
on a small scale what the capitalist farmer does on a large. The great
estate is formed in another and less innocent way, by throwing together
holdings whose possession is separate, though spatially they may be
contiguous. It is the result of addition, not simply of organisation; of
addition in which the cyphers are the holdings of numerous small
tenants. In such a process the opposition between the interests of the
peasantry and those of the manorial authorities is brought to a head. If
one man is to run a hedge round a pasture, the pasture must first be
stripped of the rights of common which enmesh it. If sheep are to be fed
on the sites of ruined cottages, their occupants must first be evicted.
It is over the absorption of commons and the eviction of tenants that
agrarian warfare--the expression is not too modern or too strong--is
waged in the sixteenth century. Let us look at both these movements more

The obscurity to one age of the everyday economic arrangements of
another is excellently illustrated by the difficulty of appreciating the
part which common rights played in English husbandry before the
nineteenth century. It is not so long since it became a memory. There
are villages where the old men still remember--how could they forget
it?--the year when the commons finally "went in." Yet there is hardly a
feature in the plain man's view of the nature of a common which
corresponds to the reality as it was used by our ancestors, and as it is
used to-day by communities whose land system has followed a different
course of development from our own. He thinks of a common as land which,
like a municipal park, "belongs to the public," land which any one may
use and any one abuse. In the innocence of his heart he will even move
his local authority to put in a claim for its possession, and is very
much surprised when its solicitors tell him that he is fighting for the
rights of two or three mouldy tenements. Again, he thinks of a common as
a place of fresh air and recreation, not of business; as land for which,
at the moment, no serious economic use can be found; unprofitable
scraps, whose ineligibility has secured them a precarious immunity from
park-loving squires and speculative builders. In connection with
agriculture he thinks of it not at all--is not waste land the opposite
of land which is under cultivation? In one respect he is right. Our
existing commons are remnants--remnants which have survived the deluge
of eighteenth century Private Acts, mainly because they consist of land
too poor to pay counsel's fees. In all other respects he is wrong. In
the earlier period the word common implied common exclusiveness quite as
much as common enjoyment. The value of a common to the commoners
consisted precisely in the guarantee given them by custom that no one
might use it except holders of tenements which time out of mind had a
right thereto, and that no man might use it to a greater extent than the
custom of the manor allowed. And the modern man is especially wrong in
regarding commons as though they fell below the margin of economic
employment. Commons and common rights, so far from being merely a luxury
or a convenience, were really an integral and indispensable part of the
system of agriculture, a linch pin, the removal of which brought the
whole structure of village society tumbling down.

No one who reads the petitions and the legal proceedings of our period
can doubt that this was what the small cultivator felt. No one who
consults the surveyors can doubt that he was right. Yet, at first sight,
the importance attached to commons is certainly surprising. Is not the
outcry disproportionate to the grievance? To riot and rebel when you
lose grazing rights--is not this, it may be asked, rather like shooting
your landlord because he will not let you keep poultry? The answer is
perhaps a twofold one. The peasants' economy in the sixteenth century
was one in which, in many parts of England, the pastoral side of
agriculture played a very important rôle, and for which, therefore,
abundance of pasture land was very essential. As any one who has lived
in a Swiss châlet knows, a family which has sufficient cattle and goats
on a good mountain can, during half the year, be almost self-sufficing.
It has milk, butter, cheese, eggs, and meat. The only thing it really
misses is bread, and that it has the means of purchasing, even if it
does not, like the sensible people of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and
probably of most parts of England before the industrial revolution, bake
its own supplies at home or in a common public oven. Our sixteenth
century peasants do not keep goats, but they keep a great many horses
and cows, on some manors an average of 6 or 8 per holding; they keep a
great many sheep, sometimes 150 or 200 each; they meet depressions in
the corn trade by falling back on other sides of agriculture, and
sending to market miscellaneous produce which, in a time of rising
prices, sells well. But to do this successfully they must have plenty of
grazing land. A Swiss commune measures its wealth very largely by the
quality of its pasture, and will take pains to buy a good one, even
though it be a long distance from the village.[422] Can we doubt that
the same was true of many parts of England, and that Hales' husbandmen
who "could never be able to make up my lordes rent weare it not for a
little brede of neate, shepe, swine, gese, and hens,"[423] was typical,
not, it is true, of the more substantial men, but of many of the less

    [422] For an amusing example see Conway, _The Alps from End to
    End_, pp. 190-192.

    [423] _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_, p. 57.

But there was another and more fundamental reason for the importance
attached to rights of common, and for the disastrous re-action upon the
tenantry involved in their curtailment. It was that the possession of
pasture was not only a source of subsidiary income but also quite
indispensable to the maintenance of the arable holding, which was
everywhere the backbone of the tenants' livelihood. Ask a modern small
holder, and he will tell you that what he wants is a certain proportion
of grass-land to arable, in order that he may feed his horses without
having to resort to the hire of extra land, to the purchase of
foodstuffs, or to turning them out to pick up a living where they can by
the side of the road.[424] In the normal village community this was
secured by the apportionment of rights of pasture to each arable
holding, the tenants grazing their cattle on the common in the summer,
and only feeding them on their separate closes when the approach of
winter made shelter a necessity.[425] It is, therefore, a mistake to
think of the engrossing of commons by large farmers as affecting the
peasant only in so far as he was a shepherd or a grazier. On the
contrary, it struck a blow at an indispensable adjunct of his arable
holding, an adjunct without which the ploughland itself was
unprofitable; for to work the ploughland one must have the wherewithal
to feed the plough beasts. It is this close interdependence of common
rights with tillage which explains both the manner of their organisation
and the distress caused by encroachments upon them. Rights of common of
the most general type go with the tenement, not with the tenant, because
what is considered is the maintenance of a fully equipped arable
holding in the open fields, and for this end it is not necessary to
allow common rights to the population of younger sons, servants, or
others who do not hold one of these primary units of tillage. The
commoners are often "stinted," restricted[426] that is in the number of
beasts which they may put upon the pasture, because rights of grazing
have to be distributed among all the arable holdings, such holdings
being unworkable without them. Rights of common are often apportioned
among the tenants "according to the magnitude of their holdings," for,
of course, a large holding will need more plough beasts, and therefore
more pasture, than a small one. Their boundaries are accurately recorded
from this tree to that stone and such and such a hill, because otherwise
an invasion of foreigners with their cattle from a neighbouring village
may eat them up like locusts. To divide them up among the tenants may do
no harm provided the division is an equitable one, for each man will
still have his equipment of pasture, though in the form of a limited
area instead of in the form of a limited quota of beasts. To appropriate
common pastures without compensation may ruin a whole village; it is to
seize a piece of free capital without which cows and horses cannot be
fed, and thus it is virtually to confiscate the beasts, which are the
peasant's tools. When that is done he must either re-assert his rights,
or throw up his arable holding, or hire pasture for a money rent;
sometimes--a bitter thought--he must hire grass-land from the very man
who has robbed him.[427]

    [424] Ten acres of "turf" to forty acres of arable was the
    estimate of his requirements made to me by an Oxfordshire small

    [425] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i.: "The tenants of
    Landress have common in a certayne ground called King's Moore
    for all kinde of cattle, and every one of them may keep in the
    said moore as much of all kind of cattle in somer as their
    severall or ingrounde will beare in the wynter, whyche is a
    great relief to the poore tenants, for as they confesse they
    keep all their cattle there in the somer, and reserve their
    ingroundes untouched for the winter."

    [426] _e.g._ _Southampton Court Leet Records_ (Hearnshaw), pp.
    4-5, 1550: "Item we present that no burgers or comyners at one
    time comyn above the number of two beasts upon payne of every
    such defaulte 2s.; provided that iff any of them have two kyne
    or wenlings, he shall have no horse, and yf he have but one cow
    he may have one horse."

    [427] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i.--Rolleston
    (Stafford): "The said manor is ... well inhabited with divers
    honest men, whose trade of lyvinge is onlie by husbandry ... and
    have no large pastures or severall closes ... but have been
    alwaie accustomed to have their cattle and sometyme their
    ploughe beasts pastured in the Queen's Majestie's Park of
    Rolleston, for xxd., the stage ... without which aide and help
    they were neither able to maintain hospitallitie nor tyllage;
    and nowe of late yeares the fermor of the herbage hath advanced
    the stage to 6s. 8d., and yet the Quene's Majesties rent nothing

One must not, of course, unduly simplify the picture. Different villages
are very differently endowed with grazing land. On some there is a
common waste, and a common pasture in addition of superior quality, so
that the waste can be left to animals which will thrive on rough land.
On others there is not even a common waste, and the tenants have to do
the best they can on the stubble which lies open after harvest. Nor do
they all manage the apportionment of grazing rights in the same way. As
we have seen, there has been a movement towards the formation of
separate closes; and even when all the pasture is administered in
common, it may either be that each villager looks after his own animals,
or that the township, intent on seeing that the common is not
overstocked, appoints a common shepherd and a common cowherd, who drives
them all afield together "under the opening eyelids of the morn." Under
all such diversities, however, which can often be paralleled from the
practice of continental communes to-day, there is the fundamental fact
of the necessity of rights of pasture to successful tillage.
Fitzherbert's remark that "an husband cannot well thrive by his corne
without he have other cattle, nor by his cattle without corne,"[428] is
reiterated in different forms by other surveyors. When they tell us that
a common adjoining a town is a "great relief to the poor tenants," and
recommend that a special clause be inserted in a farmer's lease binding
him not to appropriate the pasture without which the tenants "were not
able to maintain their tenements," they are speaking of matters which
they understand far better than we possibly can, and must be believed.

    [428] Fitzherbert, _Book of Husbandry_.

The monopolising of commons by manorial authorities who wished to form a
large sheep-run can be traced through several stages, of which actual
enclosure is only one, and the climax rather than the beginning. It
usually begins with the overstocking of the common pasture by the owner
of great flocks and herds, and the consequent edging out of the small
man, though, of course, when the area is a large one, and when, as in
Wiltshire, there are great downs which are suitable for sheep, it may be
a long time before the latter feels the pinch severely. But the mere
overriding by a capitalist of the customary allotment of pasture rights
is usually only the first step. As long as matters are left in this
transition stage there is endless friction and disturbance, because each
party tries to oust the other, the great man swamping the pasture with
his beasts, and the peasants defiantly insisting that the recognised
stint shall be observed--a guerilla warfare in which the farmer's
servants are matched against the township's cowherd and the common
pound. Enclosing follows as a way of regularising the new arrangements,
by substituting a tangible and prickly boundary for an ideal limit.
Sometimes enclosure is demanded by the peasants and resented by the
well-to-do, who think that in the general squabble they will come off
best. More often it is carried out with a high hand by the farmer and
the lord, who, once they take seriously to cattle-breeding or
sheep-farming, have naturally no desire to have a limit set to their
investment in stock. Occasionally compensation[429] is given to the
dispossessed commoners in the shape of an abatement in their rents, or
of a fresh pasture in another quarter. In most of our documents,
however, there is little trace of any deliberate re-adjustment of
rights. We are simply told that "he holds the whole of the hilly
pasture," or that he has "a heath enclosed with a hedge," or that
grounds have been "enclosed contrary to the custom of the manor." We can
trace the effect in the small number of beasts which other tenants keep,
but we are left to conjecture how this state of things was reached. Our
impression is that in most cases the enclosing of commons was carried
out in the simplest and most arbitrary way, by the lord or the farmer
erecting a hedge round such part of the common pasture as he cared to
appropriate, and leaving the tenants to make good their demand that it
should be removed, if they could.

    [429] _Northumberland County History_, vol. v., Birling:
    "Allowed part of 25s. 4d. for focage of Orchard Medow and
    Mylneside Bank, because they are now enclosed within the lord's
    new Park, and this allowance shall be made yearly until the
    tenants of Byrling have and peacefully enjoy another parcel of
    pasture to the same value 11s. 8d." (Bailiff's Accounts, 1474).
    R.O. _Misc. Books Land Rev._, vol. ccxx., f. 236: "Divers
    parcels of land and pasture of the manor of Farfield, now common
    of 140 acres, now occupied by the tenants there as commons and
    given them in exchange in satisfaction of their old common
    imparked in the new Park, £6, 13s. 8d."

Could they make it good? The question of the degree to which different
classes of tenants could obtain legal redress for disturbance will be
discussed later. But we cannot leave this part of our subject without
considering shortly the standpoints towards disputes arising out of the
loss of rights of common, which were adopted by the peasantry and by
legal opinion. One may point out, in the first place, that their
standpoints were by no means the same. The contrast which we have
already ventured to draw between the considerable elements of practical
communism in the working arrangements of the village community and the
strict and (so we believe) correct interpretation of the law of the
King's Courts, which treats its members simply as holders of individual
rights which they on occasion exercise jointly, comes out very
strikingly in the different attitudes adopted towards rights of pasture.
If we must be careful not to see communism where there are really only
individual rights, we must also be careful not to see only individual
rights where there is in fact a considerable amount of communism.
However much it may be necessary to emphasise the "rough and rude
individualism"[430] latent in these arrangements, we must admit that for
the peasants themselves, who make and depend upon them, they contain
features which are not easily explained without the use of words which
the lawyers are reluctant to allow us--words implying some degree of
practical communism. We must remember that the custom of the manor is
itself a kind of law, and that though the lawyers who sit in the King's
Courts may cast their rules into a feudal mould, which attenuates rights
of common to mere concessions made by the lord to individual tenants,
yet the law of the village, the custom of the manor, to which the first
appeal is made, does treat them as containing a distinctly communal
element. In practice the whole body of customary tenants are found
managing their commons on a co-operative plan. They regulate their use
and re-adjust the regulations, sometimes at almost every meeting of the
court. As a community, they hire additional pasture and administer town
lands. As a community, they make arrangements for enclosure and even
sell part of their common--the common in which only individuals have
proprietary rights--to persons who undertake to invest capital in
improving it.[431] When all regulations fail and the enemy attempts to
evade their vigilance by a strategic appearance of benevolence, a town
sometimes returns to the charge with words glowing with what can only be
called the pride of common property, though the title to that property
may be of a very shadowy kind. "Whereas of late days," proclaimed the
Court Leet of Southampton in 1579, "there hathe ben a peice of our
common and heathe ditched and hedged and enclosed in and planted with
willows under the name of a shadow for our cattle, which have hitherto
many yeares past prospered verie well as the common was
before;--wherefore (therefore) we desire that it may be pulled down
again and levelled as before, for we doubt that in short time yt will be
taken from our common to some particular man's use, which were
lamentable and pitiable and not sufferable. For as our ancestors of
their great care and travail have provided that and like other many
benefits for their successors, so we thinke it our dutie in conscience
to keepe, uphold and maintaine the same as we found yt for our
posteritie to come, without diminishing any part or parcel from yt, but
rather to augment more to yt yf may be." We need not ask in what sense
the Southampton men had inherited the salt marsh from their ancestors,
or whether a lawyer would not have made short work of their claim to
leave it to posterity. It is enough to realise that they feel it to
belong to their town in a quite effective and intimate manner, that they
stint it, turn off intruders, guard it for their descendants, defend it,
if need be, with bows and arrows and pikes, and the other agricultural
implements of that forceful age. We know that people commit many crimes
in the name of posterity. But they do not usually think of bequeathing
to their grandchildren rights which have never had any existence for
themselves. We shall hardly understand all that was meant for a village
by the loss of its common pastures unless we allow for that feeling of
practical proprietorship, unless we confess that a society of
landholders becomes on occasions something very like a landholding

    [430] Pollock and Maitland, _History of English Law_, vol. i. p.
    606. For the questions concerning common rights see _ibid._, pp.
    594-624, and Maitland, _Domesday Book and Beyond_, pp. 340-356;
    Vinogradoff, _Villainage in England_, Essay II. chap, ii., and
    _The Growth of the Manor_, Book II. chap. iv. I have followed
    Vinogradoff's rather than Maitland's view.

    [431] For buying and selling of pasture see below, and for
    enclosure pp. 168-170. The following seems a clear case of more
    or less corporate action. Holkham MSS., Burnham, Bdle. 5, No.
    94: "Copy of an indenture between [here follows a list of names]
    of the same town and county, yeomen, as well on the behalf of
    themselves as of the rest of the comoners and freeholders of the
    said town of the one part, and Robert Bacon of [illegible] in
    the County of Norfolk, and Thomas Coke of Grays Inn in the
    County of Middlesex of the other part, that whereas heretofore
    Sir Philip [illegible] being lord and owner of the marshes
    hereafter mentioned ... did by his indenture of bargain and sale
    bearing date ... 1588, grant bargain and sell unto [list of
    names as above] all those marsh grounds lying and being in
    Burnham, to have and to hold the said premises to the parties
    last before mentioned and their heires to the use of them and
    their heires for ever, to the intent and purpose notwithstanding
    that the said parties last before mentioned there, being
    inhabitants in certain ancient messuages in the said Towne, and
    all other inhabitants of the said Towne there and afterwards for
    the tyme being in any of the ancient messuages and cottages in
    the said towne, for so long time as they shall be there
    inhabitinge and noe longer, according to the quantity of their
    tenures within the said Towne might depasture and feede the land
    as by the said deeds referring thereunto being had may more
    fully appeare; [it recites that the land] may by wallinge and
    embankinge the same be improved to more than a [illegible]
    value, and made fitt for arrable, meadowe, and pasture grounde,
    whereby tillage may be increased and his Majestie's subjects
    receive more employment thereby, and danger of drawing
    [drowning?] of their stock for their feedinge prevented [recites
    that Robert Bacon and Thomas Coke have undertaken to drain the
    land in return for receiving three parts of it and that the
    persons above mentioned] being the major parte of the parties
    interested in the said salte Marshes, and being enabled by the
    lawes and Statutes of this realm to contract and bargaine with
    any person or persons for the draining thereof" [now convey 3
    parts of the marshes to the above-mentioned Robert Bacon and
    Thomas Coke], June 8, 1637. The motive of this agreement was to
    get the low-lying meadows on the sea-coast drained. Drainage
    schemes were much in the air about this time, and any one who
    has seen the country near Holkham and Burnham will know how
    badly protection from the sea was needed. Two points are worth
    noticing: (i.) the tenants have no objection to surrendering
    part of their common if they get a _quid pro quo_; (ii.) they
    act as a single body. They buy land and they sell land and they
    can leave it to their heirs. Certain persons in the township act
    on their behalf, much as directors might act for a body of
    shareholders. Is it possible to speak of such arrangements
    simply in terms of individual rights? Are we not driven to think
    of the township as almost a landholding corporation?

But, in the second place, such communal aspirations are a matter of
feeling and custom, not of national law. It is hardly necessary to point
out that these words do not put an aspect of the case which could be
pleaded in court in a dispute as to common of pasture. At the touch of
the law, as has often been pointed out, the communal element, of which
Southampton makes so much, seems to crumble away. If, to the eye of the
peasants, a manor was a more or less self-conscious community with
considerable powers of controlling the administration of its pastures,
it was, to the eye of the common lawyer, a collection of individuals
bound together by their relation to the manorial authorities, but in
other respects able to enforce rights of common only in so far as those
rights could be shown to be enjoyed by one of the four[432] titles which
the law recognised. It is quite true that in practice the use of common
pastures extended to persons who could not plead one of those titles,
and that the economic working of the village often cannot be brought
inside the four corners of a legal formula. But when a right of pasture
is challenged by the lord of the manor, the tenant must show that his
right falls within them or lose his case. Of those four titles residence
in a manor was not one. The occupier who is the unit of English Local
Government to-day had, as such, no standing, because he was not, _qua_
occupier, a holder of one of the arable shares with which, primarily,
rights of pasture went. Again, a great number of cottagers and day
labourers, who were not holders of arable, but who in practice used the
commons for pigs, geese, poultry, and cows, were likely to be legally in
the same unprotected condition; so that it is obvious that, when
enclosing took place, there might be a considerable number of persons,
perhaps an actual majority of the villagers, who could not even raise
the question whether they could obtain redress or not, and that much
distress could be caused without any infringement of the law. Of those
who could bring their enjoyment of rights of pasture under one of the
categories which the law recognised, the freeholders were, of course, in
the strongest position. They could plead rights of common appendant to
their tenements; probably they could often plead common appurtenant, and
common in gross, common by a special personal grant, as well, and they
could enforce their rights both by self-help, in the way of throwing
down recent enclosures, and by the ordinary remedies of the Assize of
Novel Disseisin or an action of trespass.

    [432] Common appendant, common appurtenant, common in gross, and
    common par cause de vicinage. This classification is not found
    in Bracton, and appears to date from the late Middle Ages, see
    Vinogradoff, _Villainage in England_, Essay II., chap, ii., and
    the following case: _Coke's Reports_, Part IV., p. 60. Hill, 4
    Jac. I. in Communi Banco: "Robert Smith brought an action of
    Trespass against Stephen Gatewood, gent., quare clausum fregit
    ... cum quibusdam averiis.... Defendant pleaded a certain
    custom, 'quod inhabitantes infra eandem villam de Stixwood
    prædictam infra aliquod antiquum messuagium ibidem ratione
    commorantiæ et residentiæ suæ in eadem habuerunt et usi fuerunt
    et consueverunt habere com. Pastur ... pro omnibus et omnimodis
    bobus et equis et aliis grossis animalibus.' Unanimously
    resolved that the custom is against law. 1. That there are but
    four manners of common, common appendant, appurtenant, in gross,
    and by reason of vicinage, and this common _ratione commorantiæ_
    is none of them. 2. What estate shall he have, who is
    inhabitant, in the common, when it appears he hath no estate or
    interest in the house (but a mere habitation and dwelling) in
    respect of which he ought to have his common? For none can have
    interest in a common in respect of a house in which he hath no

Moreover, the Statute of Merton, which expressly allowed a lord to
enclose commonable land on condition that he left sufficient for the
free tenants, did not mean that a lord could arbitrarily cut down rights
of common to what he was pleased to think sufficient. If it had, there
would have been little enclosing of commons in the sixteenth century,
for by that time there would have been little common left to enclose.
The question "what is sufficient?" had to be answered by a jury, a jury
representing expert knowledge as to local customs and the agrarian
usages of the township. The jury could only answer it by taking account
of the size of the tenements and of the land available for commoning. In
fact, it found itself at once considering the custom of the manor, which
stinted rights of pasture according to the economic needs and resources
of different villages. Of the position of the customary tenants it is,
for reasons which will be given below, less easy to speak. Regarded from
the standpoint of the economic organisation of the manor, their rights
of pasture should have got protection as much as those of the
freeholders, for as holders of ancient tenements they required pasture
to enable them to carry on their tillage; and since they were, in most
parts of the country, by far the most numerous class, the aggregate of
their commonable area was much larger than was that of the free tenants.
According to the canon of interpretation supplied by Coke,[433] the
Statute of Merton would appear, at any rate in the latter part of the
sixteenth century, to have been construed as protecting them; and
Fitzherbert,[434] though he introduces an additional complication by
trying--trying, it seems, quite arbitrarily--to prove that rights of
pasture over the waste and rights of pasture on land which was not
technically part of the waste, ought to be treated differently, places
all tenants on an equal footing in respect of their claim to be left
"sufficient common."

    [433] Coke, Complete Copyholder, Sect. 53: "When an Act of
    Parliament altereth the service, tenure, or interest of the
    land, or other thing in prejudice of the lord or of the Customs
    of the Manor, or in prejudice of the tenant, then the generall
    words of such an Act of Parliament extend not to the copyhold;
    but when an Act is generally made for the good of the
    commonwealth, and no prejudice may accrue by reason of the
    alteration of any interest, service, tenure, or Custom, of the
    Manor, there usually copyhold lands are within the generall
    purview of such Acts."

    [434] Fitzherbert, _Book of Surveying_: "And as for that manner
    of common, me seemeth the Lord may improve himself of their
    waste grounds, leaving their own tenants sufficient common,
    having no regard to the tenants of the other lordship. But as
    far as all errable lands, meadows, leises, and pastures, the
    lordes may improve themselves by course of the common law, for
    the statute speaketh nothing but of waste grounds."

The treatment by the law of common rights, in the case both of
freeholders and of the customary tenants, seems to fit roughly into this
scheme, though the actual facts are somewhat more complex than it would
suggest. The cases show that the freeholders had a legal remedy if
enclosure deprived them of rights of pasture, and that this remedy was
used. A freeholder could say "these be the pastures ... which should be
my common ... after the tenure of my freehold;"[435] if he proved the
fact he got protection, and on manors where the freeholders were
numerous and the lord wanted to make very large enclosures, he had to
buy them out. It is true also that the freeholders[436] joined with the
farmer on some manors in enclosing commonable land, to the detriment of
the customary tenants, who apparently sometimes had to acquiesce in it.
They show again that a customary tenant could obtain protection for his
rights of common pasture both, at any rate in the sixteenth century,
from the Common Law Courts, and also, at an earlier date, from the Court
of Chancery, provided that he could show that such rights were attached
to his holding by the custom of the manor, a very important
qualification, to which we must return.[437] On the other hand, it is
certainly true that both freeholders and customary tenants suffered in
our period from a curtailment of common rights, in spite of the
qualified protection enjoyed by the latter and the complete protection
enjoyed by the former. We cannot, in fact, be content with a mere
summary of the legal position, for the law is not always strong enough
or elastic enough to cope with shifting economic forces. Or, rather, its
arm is short, and it can only grapple with those conflicts which are
sufficiently violent to force their way to Westminster.

    [435] _e.g._ _Coventry Leet Book_, vol. ii. p. 510.

    [436] _Genealoger and Archæologist_, vol. i., Manor of West
    Coker (Somerset): "The demesnes remayneth in one entier ferm,
    and is dymysed to one Sir John Seymour, knight, who being
    confederate with the freeholders of the manor, maketh such
    inclosers for his owne lucre, and suffreth the freeholders to do
    the same, nevertheless surcharge the common with their cattle,
    that in process of tyme yt wilbe the destruccion of the
    custumarye tenants."

    [437] For a discussion of the legal position of the copyholders
    see below, pp. 287-310.

Some light may be thrown on the kind of trouble of which our period was
full by two accounts which have come down to us of disputes concerning
rights of common pasture. At Coventry[438] there were in the fifteenth
century prolonged quarrels between the City and the Prior and Convent of
the Cathedral Church of St. Mary. In 1485 the Prior was accused by the
city authorities of wrongfully overcharging the common with sheep and
cattle, to the damage of the city. He replied by admitting the legal
rights of the other commoners, but by claiming that whereas they could
only pasture a limited number of beasts, "by the lawe of this lande the
lord of the waste soyle may surcharge and pasture there what nombre hym
lykes," and that therefore in overstocking the common he was only
exercising his rights. To this the city answered by a rather hesitating
appeal to custom, according to which the commoners never had been
stinted to a fixed number of beasts, and by pointing out that, if the
Prior was allowed to put as many beasts on the common as he pleased, he
was virtually confiscating the property of the other commoners. This
case brings out very clearly one weakness in the position even of the
free tenants. It was that, while they were protected by law against
attempts actually to deprive them of rights of common, the protection
might be held to be contingent on the lord or his farmer proceeding so
far as not to leave them sufficient, and was not available if the
encroachments only went so far as to diminish their common pasture.
There was a minimum which they could not lose: but above this minimum
their rights of pasture were elastic and compressible, and when, as in
this case, the pasture was so large as to make any numerical limit to
the number of beasts which they might graze unnecessary, the commoners
might be deprived of some part of their customary pasture without any
infringement of the law.[439]

    [438] _Coventry Leet Book_, vol. ii. pp. 445-446 and _passim_.

    [439] If the common was so large that it had been unnecessary to
    "stint" it, why did the city object to the lord putting
    additional beasts on? I take the situation to be that the
    Prior--probably tempted by the profitableness of sheep-farming
    in the latter part of the fifteenth century--diminished the
    pasture which the city could use, by putting on many more beasts
    than ever before, which, in the absence of a recognised "stint,"
    he was able to do without violating any custom, as he would have
    done if there had been a customary limit, as on many manors.
    Another aspect of the problem is illustrated by a story of a
    similar struggle at Wootton Basset,[440] a small borough in
    Wiltshire. Early in the seventeenth century the mayor and
    freemen of Wootton Basset petition Parliament to "enact
    something for us, that we may enjoy our right again." What they
    want is a restoration of certain rights of common which a
    powerful neighbour has taken from them. Their story--they seem
    to rehearse it with tears in their eyes--is a perfect Odyssey of
    misfortunes. According to them, the manor of Wootton Basset had
    passed in 1555 into the hands of Sir Francis Englefield, who
    enclosed a park containing 2000 acres, in which the free tenants
    had hitherto had rights of pasture, and had them without stint,
    owing to its great size. This wicked man showed them, however, a
    sort of contemptuous compassion. He left them 100 acres, with
    which they had to be content, and the rights over which they
    carefully apportioned, "to the Mayor for the time being two
    cowes feeding, and to the constable one cowe feeding, and to
    every inhabitant of the said Borough, each and every of them,
    one cowe feeding and no more, as well the poore as the riche."
    These rights of common were in practice vested in all the
    tenements in the town (not only, it would appear, the free
    tenements), and property was bought and sold subject to them.
    The occasion of the petition was that the grand nephew of the
    original grantee, having apparently got, by some means which the
    petitioners could not explain, the title deed of the common into
    his hands, set out to ruin those whom his ancestor had only
    robbed. He began lawsuits against the free tenants, excluded
    them from the 100 acres of common which remained to them, and
    put his own cattle on it. The suits, according to our story,
    were purposely deferred, and dragged on so long that one of the
    free tenants was actually made bankrupt by legal charges and the
    rest were impoverished, the common being used meantime by the
    plaintiff, Sir Francis Englefield.

    [440] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. iii. These are the
    people whom Heaven protected in the way described on p. 148
    note. Observe what this little community endured. (i.) Sir
    Francis Englefield, senior, seizes 1900 out of 2000 acres of
    their common. (ii.) Sir Francis Englefield, junior, seizes "the
    charter of our town ... and the deed of the said common." (iii.)
    He tries to seize the remaining 100 acres, and ruins them by
    lawsuits "for the space of seven or eight years at the least,
    and never suffers any one to come to triall in all that space
    ... that the said Free tenants were not able to wage law any
    longer, for one John Rous ... was thereby enforced to sell all
    his land (to the value of £500) with following the suits in law,
    and many were thereby impoverished." (iv.) He turns them out of
    their shops in the market-place, and introduces instead "a
    stranger that liveth not in the town." (v.) He appoints his own
    nominee as mayor, in defiance of the custom which requires him
    to appoint one of two men submitted to him by the jury. (vi.) He
    prevents his victims from signing this petition by threats of
    eviction. ("They are fearful that they shall be put forth of
    their bargaines, and then they shall not tell how to live,
    otherwise they would have set to their hands.")

These examples of struggles over rights of common pasture are
instructive in several ways. In the first place, they suggest that the
freeholders were regarded as having a better title than the rest of the
community, and that they led the movement to resist encroachments for
that reason. It is the free tenants who petition Parliament for redress,
and the free tenants who are sued. If they lose their case it is not
worth while, it seems, for the customary tenants to take any action. In
the second place, they show that the classes who have the best legal
title to right of pasture are not at all commensurate with the classes
who will lose if they are taken away. Whatever the legal rights of the
other tenants may be they have as much practical benefit out of the
common, and as great an interest in protecting it against encroachments,
as the freeholders have. When the shearing away of part of it makes it
necessary to limit the number of beasts to be kept there, the limitation
is applied to free and customary tenements alike without distinction,
and both classes of tenements are bought and sold on the understanding
that they carry with them a right of common pasture. In the third place,
the case of Wootton Basset is one of many examples of the way in which
poverty, ignorance of the law, and the practical difficulties of getting
justice against a powerful landlord, prevent humble litigants from
enforcing their legal rights. Finally, it reinforces what has been said
above as to the economic importance of rights of pasture. The
arrangements which are made at Wootton Basset when the first assault
upon the commons takes place show clearly that grazing land is thought
of as a quite indispensable adjunct to every man's holding, and its loss
is so disastrous to the community that they are ready to be slowly bled
to death by lawyer's fees, rather than be beggared at a blow by
submitting tamely without a contest.

(c) _The Engrossing of Holdings and Displacement of Tenants._

We have dwelt at some length on the loss of rights of common, because
the misleading modern associations of the word seem sometimes to prevent
a proper appreciation of the very important place which they occupied in
the agricultural economy of our period. It must be confessed, however,
that, in dealing with them first, we have reversed the order in which
grievances due to enclosure were set out by the writers of the time.
Though there are many bitter complaints against the enclosure of
commons, it was, notwithstanding this, less the loss of rights of
pasture than the consolidation of small tenancies into great farms,
which aroused public excitement, at any rate, in the southern and
midland counties. In the Statutes the words enclosure and depopulation
are again and again combined as though they were almost synonymous; and
if a contemporary had been asked to explain the special evils most
characteristic of enclosing, he would certainly have given the first
place to the "engrossing of farms" and "depopulation," the throwing
together of peasant holdings and the eviction of their tenants. We must
now examine this side of the movement. Did the displacement of tenants
through the concentration of properties take place on the large scale
suggested by the passionate outbursts of contemporary writers, or were
their complaints as to empty villages and ruined churches mere
rhetorical exaggeration? Again, what was the legal position of the
classes of people who suffered? Were they entirely without the
protection of the law, or did they fail to obtain legal protection
principally in consequence of ignorance and intimidation?

It is easy to understand the strong motives for throwing together
peasant holdings, if we keep our eyes on the picture of agricultural
arrangements given in the maps. It will be seen that the different
blocks of demesne land are often separated from each other by two or
three strips belonging to the smaller tenantry, and that if such strips
were removed they could be fitted together into a wide and unbroken
expanse of territory. The manorial authorities have often, it is clear,
been for a long time consolidating the demesne by exchange and purchase,
so as to avoid the wastefulness of having land scattered in a hundred
separate pieces, and the only obstacle to its complete unification
consists of strips and patches which are held by tenants who are for one
reason or another unwilling to sell, small spits and islands which stand
out of the surrounding sea. Clearly there is an enormous temptation to
make the tide flow over them as well, to complete the circuit by merging
them in the demesne. Look, for example, at maps Nos. III., IV., and V.
Here it is evident that there has been a good deal of consolidation.
Both the tenants and the lord of the manor have been forming their
strips into compact blocks. To unity of ownership has been added
something like spatial unity. Still the process is by no means complete.
There are awkward little pieces of land which interrupt the smooth
surface of the great estate, pieces which one will have to walk round,
where, if the demesne is used as arable, the demesne plough must stop,
where, if it is used as pasture, a fence must be erected to shut out the
demesne sheep. Or walk down a typical field and mark how the land is
held. Here are the strips which one would pass, if one travelled from
end to end of two parallel furlongs at West Lexham[441] in Norfolk in
the year 1575. They are copied in order from the map--

                 FURLONG A.           |              FURLONG B.
                         ac. ro. po.  |                      ac. ro. po.
   1. Will Yelverton,                 | 1. Rob. Clemente,
        Freeholder.                   |      Freeholder.
   2. Demesne             2   1  31   | 2. Demesne            0   2   4
   3. Demesne             0   1  7-1/2| 3. Demesne            1   0   3
   4. Will Yelverton,                 | 4. Demesne            1   0  39
        Freeholder.                   |
   5. Demesne             0   2   7   |  5. Demesne           0   1  24
   6. Demesne             1   3   0   |  6. Demesne           1   0  38
   7. Demesne             0   1  11   |  7. Demesne           0   1  22
   8. Demesne             0   2  10   |  8. Demesne           1   2  19
   9. Demesne             0   2  28   |  9. Will Lee, Freeholder.
  10. Glebe.                          | 10. Will Gell, Copieholder.
  11. Demesne             1   2  12   | 11. Demesne           1   1  39
  12. Demesne             3   0   0   | 12. Demesne           2   3  39-1/2
  13. Glebe.                          | 13. Demesne           2   1  25

These furlongs, though the predominance of demesne land in them makes
them not quite typical, illustrate sufficiently the awkward way in which
the great farmer's stretch of land is interrupted by the little property
of a freeholder or copyholder. The strips of Will Yelverton, Robert
Clement, Will Lee, and Will Gell must have been a constant eyesore to
the manorial authorities. Buy them out or evict them, and then the two
furlongs will consist of nothing but demesne land and glebe. They will
be two fields of quite a modern pattern and quite ready for enclosure.
Leave these tenants where they are, and they are a permanent obstacle to
unified management, all the more annoying because they are so petty.
They may even insist on the farmer observing the same course of
cultivation as themselves, and on turning their beasts to common on his
land after harvest! Is it not inevitable that, as soon as the lord is
pushed by economic forces into making his estate yield the maximum money
return irrespective of a numerous tenantry or of the ancient methods of
tillage, he should try in any way he can to get rid of what to him are
troublesome excrescences, that he should begin questioning titles,
screwing up rents, turning copyhold to leasehold?

If our hypothesis is correct we ought to be able to find manors where
the strips formerly held by tenants have been merged in the demesne, so
as to form a continuous expanse, in the hands of the lord or his farmer,
out of what was formerly a collection of fragments of separate holdings.
To see it verified, let us turn to another manor in the same county,
that of Walsingham,[442] which was surveyed in the reign of Henry VIII.
Here is a statement of the land which is "in the hands of the lord" in
the west field--


    1. In manus domine [sic] 1/2 acre of land of the tenement Marre.
    2.      "     "          1-1/2 roods of the tenement Furell.
    3.      "     "          1/2 acre land of the tenement Stanx.
    4.      "     "          1 acre, 1 rood land of the tenement Gryne.
    5.      "     "          3 roods land of the tenement Scot.
    6.      "     "          3-1/2 roods land of the tenement Townsend.
    7.      "     "          1/2 acre land of the tenement Byelaugh.
    8.      "     "          1/2 acre land of the tenement Wheteloffe.
    9.      "     "          1/2 acre land of the tenement Scutt.
    10.     "     "          1/2 acre land of the tenement Coyefor.
    11.     "     "          1 acre with the gravel pit.
    12.     "     "          3 roods land of the tenement Nedwyn.
    13.     "     "          1 acre land late of J. Cockerell.
    14.     "     "          3 roods land of the tenement Gilbert.
    15.     "     "          1 acre and 1 rood of the tenement Spotell.
    16.     "     "          3 roods land of the tenement Spotell.
    17.     "     "          3 roods land of the tenement Husbond.
    18.     "     "          1 acre of the tenement Rodengh.
    19.     "     "          1/2 acre land of the tenement Pymans.
    20.     "     "          3 roods of the tenement Scutt.
    21.     "     "          1 acre of decay of the tenement Spotell.

    [441] Holkham MSS., Map of West Lexham.

    [442] R.O. _Aug. Off. Misc. Bks._, vol. cccxcix., f. 201 ff.

Here one has a field divided into twenty-one strips. Of these strips
eighteen had at one time been in the occupation of separate individuals.
The picture is just what we are accustomed to in mediæval surveys. It is
illustrated sufficiently for our purpose by the map of part of Salford,
on page 163. But some time before this survey of Walsingham was made a
great change had taken place. The separate fragments had been taken out
of the hands of the tenants and combined in the hands of the lord; the
field is ready for conversion to pasture and for enclosure. How
extremely profitable it might be to substitute a single large farm for a
number of small holdings is proved by Manorial Rentals. Taking five
manors in Wiltshire in the year 1568, one finds that the rents paid by
the farmer of the demesne work out at 1s. 6d., 7-3/4d., 1s. 5-3/4d., 1s.
1-3/4d., 1s. 5-1/2d. per acre; those paid by the customary tenants at
7-1/2d., 5d., 1s. 0-3/4d., 5-3/4d., 5-3/4d. per acre.[443]

    [443] The manors are South Newton, Winterbourne Basset,
    Knyghton, Donnington, and Estoverton and Phipheld (Roxburghe
    Club, _Surveys of Pembroke Manors_).

The difference is, in itself, enough to explain a decided movement
towards an increase in the size of the unit of agriculture. But of
course a powerful incentive to such procedure was supplied by the
growth of pasture farming. In the days when the cultivation of the
demesne depended on the labour of the tenants there was obviously bound
to be a certain proportion between the land belonging to the former and
the land held by the latter, a proportion which might be expressed by
saying "no tenants, no demesne cultivation; no demesne cultivation, no
income for the lord." But when tillage was replaced by pasture farming
this economic rule of three ceased to work. On the one hand, the limit
of size imposed on the demesne farm by considerations of management was
removed or at any rate enormously extended, for many thousand sheep
could be fed by two or three shepherds. On the other hand, the economic
motive for preventing a decline in the number of small landholders was
weakened, because there was little use for their labour on a pasture
farm; while there was a great deal of use for their land, if only it
could be cleared of existing rights and added to it. We have, in fact,
an ordinary case of the depreciation of particular[444] kinds of human
labour in comparison with capital, of the kind to which the modern world
has become accustomed in the case of machinery--become accustomed and
become callous.

    [444] This, of course, is not inconsistent with a general
    appreciation, _i.e._ a general rise in wages and fall in the
    rate of interest.

We shall perhaps best give precision to our ideas of the sort of policy
which landlords were inclined to adopt, by taking a single concrete
instance, though of course conditions varied locally very much from
place to place. It comes from Hartley[445] in Northumberland, where
Robert Delavale was lord of the manor in the reign of Elizabeth. The
narrator is his cousin, Joshua Delavale--

     "Since which time" (_i.e._ 16 Eliz.), he says, "the said Robert
     Delavale purchased all the freeholder's lands and tenements,
     displaced the said tenants, defaced their tenements, converted
     their tillage to pasture, being 720 acres of arable ground or
     thereabouts, and made one demaine, whereon there is but three
     plows now kept by hinds and servants, besides the 720 acres. So
     that where there was then in Hartley 15 serviceable men
     furnished with sufficient horse and furniture, there is now not
     any, nor hath been these 20 years last past or thereabouts."

Here we get a complete example of the various steps which are taken to
build up a great pasture farm. The freeholders are bought out; the other
tenants are (it is to be inferred) evicted summarily; their houses are
pulled down; their land is thrown into the demesne; the whole area is
let down to pasture and managed by hired labourers, while the
land-holding population is turned adrift. It is worth noticing that the
word "enclosing" is not used. All the drastic changes that are usually
ascribed to enclosure can on occasion take place without it. Indeed, the
more drastic they are the less need is there to complete them by the
erection of fences, for the smaller the population left to commit

    [445] _Northumberland County History_, vol. ix. p. 124. For a
    similar case of evictions by Delavale, showing how they were
    carried out, _ibid._, pp. 201-?202: "There was in Seaton
    Delavale township 12 tenements, whereon there dwelt 12 able men
    sufficiently furnished with horse and furniture to serve his
    Majestie ... who paid 46s. 8d. rent yearlie a piece or
    thereabouts. All the said tenants and their successors saving 5
    the said Robert Delavale eyther thrust out of their fermholds or
    weried them by taking excessive fines, increasing of their rents
    unto £3 a piece, and withdrawing part of their best land and
    meadow from their tenements ... by taking their good land from
    them and compelling them to winne moorishe and heathe ground,
    and after their hedging heth ground to their great charge, and
    paying a great fine, and bestowing great reparation on building
    their tenements, he quite thrust them off in one yeare, refusing
    either to repay the fine or to repay the charge bestowed in
    diking or building.... The said seven fermholds displaced had to
    every one of them 60 acres of arable land, viz. 20 in every
    field at the least, as the tenants affirme, which amounteth to
    480 acres of land yearlie or thereabouts, converted for the most
    part from tillage to pasture, and united to the demaine of the
    lordship of Seaton Delavale."

If such a process were general or even common, we should certainly have
the materials of a social revolution. But was it? The much discussed
question of the effect of the agrarian changes on the numbers of the
rural population is one which it is not possible to answer with any
approach to accuracy, owing to the difficulty of obtaining a sufficient
number of continuous series of surveys and rentals. Those relating to
single years tell mainly results, when what we want to see is a process.
Nevertheless even single surveys are not altogether without value. They
show the distribution of land between different classes at a given
moment, and sometimes contain indications of the changes by which the
existing distribution was reached. In particular they show us the
relative areas of the demesne farm and of the land in the hands of all
other classes of tenants. And this has a certain interest. For since the
demesne farm on a manor where conditions approximated most closely to
those of the Middle Ages and had been least affected by more recent
changes, rarely contained more than half the whole manorial territory
and generally not so much, there is a _prima facie_ case for surmising
concentration of holdings and evictions when one finds two-thirds,
three-quarters, or even ninety per cent. of it in the hands of one large
farmer. It is, however, a very tedious task calculating the acreage held
by a number of different tenants, and this may perhaps excuse the small
number of instances which are given below. They are as follows:--


  |                       |     (I.)        |    (II.)    |               |
  |        Manor.         | Whole Area      | Area held   | Percentage    |
  |                       | Ascertainable.  | by Farmers  |     of        |
  |                       | [446]           | of Demesnes.| (II.) to (I.).|
  |Donnyngton             |     1523-1/2    |   418       |     27.8      |
  |Salford                |      856        |   295       |     34.4      |
  |Estoverton and Phipheld|     1160        |   484-3/4   |     41.0      |
  |Weedon Weston          |      715        |   301       |     42.0      |
  |South Newton           |     1365        |   632       |     46.3      |
  |Washerne               |     1249        |   707 (in   |     56.6      |
  |                       |                 |   hands of  |               |
  |                       |                 |    lord)    |               |
  |Knyghton               |      452        |   268       |     59.2      |
  |Bishopeston            |     1280        |   805       |     62.9      |
  |Gamlingay Merton       |      283-1/2    |   199-3/4   |     70.3      |
  |Winterborne Basset     |      708-1/2    |   532       |     75.1      |
  |Billingford            |      666        |   507       |     76.1      |
  |Gamlingay Avenells[447]|      531-3/4    |   420-1/4   |     79.0      |
  |Domerham[448]          |      960-1/2    |   824-1/2   |     85.8      |
  |Ewerne                 |      473        |   428       |     90.5      |
  |Burdonsball            |      190        |   190       |    100.0      |
  |Whadborough            |      469        |   469       |    100.0      |

    [446] In several cases the freeholders' lands are not stated in
    the survey, and are therefore not included in this table.

    [447] A few acres described as "held without title" are omitted.

    [448] I am not sure that there are not other lands in Domerham
    not included in the survey or in the demesne. If this is so, the
    proportion of the latter to the rest of the manorial land would
    of course be reduced.

It will be seen that on eight of these sixteen manors more than
two-thirds of the whole area, and on seven more than three-quarters, is
in the hands of one individual, the farmer of the demesnes. These
figures are at any rate not inconsistent with a considerable
consolidation of tenancies and displacement of tenants, though we cannot
say that they prove it.

Occasionally the surveys take us behind this presumptive evidence and
enable us to trace the building up of large farms out of small holdings.
For example, at Ormesby,[449] in 1516, the lord of the manor held 219
acres "late in farm" of six tenants. At Domerham,[450] some time before
1568, enclosure of land in the open fields and conversion of arable to
pasture had been carried out by the largest of the three farmers. The
process had been accompanied by depopulation; for in 1568 his farm
included pieces of land which had formerly belonged to four smaller
tenants, and the two large farms which he held had formerly been in
separate hands. It is probable that at Winterbourne Basset[451] somewhat
the same movement had taken place. In 1436 two carucates of land were
held by an unspecified number of tenants; in 1568 three customary
tenants are still found there, but three-quarters of the manor is in the
hands of a single farmer who has recently enclosed a field of 40 acres.
Elsewhere one can fill in the picture in somewhat greater detail. At
Tughall,[452] in Northumberland, the surveyor tells us in 1567, the
demesne lands had been let to a farmer, who acted as the lord's bailiff
and collected the rents and services of the other tenants. He used his
position to partition the manor so as to get rid of the intermingled
holdings, and at the same time so harassed the smaller tenants that they
were reduced from twenty-three to eight. At Cowpen[453] a similar
concentration of land was going on at the end of the sixteenth century;
first five tenancies were thrown into one, and then the whole manor
passed into the hands of one large farmer. At Newham,[454] near Alnwick,
we are told that a hundred and forty men, women, and children were
evicted simultaneously. At Seaton[455] Delavale, the Robert Delavale who
had depopulated Hartly, turned adrift seven families out of twelve. The
map of a Leicestershire manor which is reproduced opposite page 223 is
more eloquent than many lamentations. In "the place where the town of
Whadboroughe once stood" there was by 1620 not a single tenant left. The
whole of it formed one great expanse of pasture.

    [449] R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 22, No. 18.

    [450] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Pembroke Manors_.

    [451] _Ibid._, and Hoare, _History of Wiltshire_, Hundred of

    [452] _Northumberland County History_, vol. i. p. 350.

    [453] _Ibid._, vol. ix., Cowpen.

    [454] _Ibid._, vol. i. p. 275.

    [455] _Ibid._, vol. ix. pp. 201-202.

But these isolated instances are obviously worthless as a basis for
generalisation. The most that can be said of them is that they prove
that the writers who spoke of whole towns being depopulated were not
romancing. Nor are the statistics offered by contemporaries of any
practical help towards determining the social effects of enclosure.
Those who state, like Moore[456] (writing in the seventeenth century),
that they have seen "in some townes fourteen, sixteen, and twenty
tenants discharged of plowing," or, like the Dean of Durham,[457] that
"500 ploughs have decayed in a few years" and "of 8000 acres lately in
tillage now not 8 score are tilled," may have seen what they say. But
these figures are suspiciously round, and the cases are obviously
extreme ones, not samples. The one[458] writer who makes an estimate for
the whole country, putting the number of persons of all ages displaced
between 1485 and 1550 at 300,000, is rash enough to explain how his
estimate was reached, and his explanation shows that it was not even a
plausible guess.

    [456] Moore, _The Crying Sin of England_, &c.

    [457] Cal. S. P. D. Eliz., 1595-1597 (p. 347), quoted Gay,
    _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xvii.

    [458] "Certayne Causes gathered together wherein is shewed the
    decaye of England only by the great multitude of shepe" (E. E.
    T. S. date 1550-1553). "It is to understande ... that there is
    in England townes and villages to the number of fifty thousand
    and upward, and for every town and village ... there is one
    plough decayed since the fyrst year of the reign of King Henry
    VII.... The whiche 50,000 ploughs every plough was able to
    maintain 6 persons, and nowe they have nothing, but goeth about
    in England from dore to dore."

The returns collected for the Government seem at first to take us on to
surer ground. Investigations were made by Royal Commissioners[459] in
the years 1517-1519, 1548, 1566, 1607, 1632, 1635, and 1636. The returns
collected for twenty-three counties by the Commission of 1517, for four
counties by those of 1548-1566, and for six counties by that of 1607
have been printed. According to them, it would appear that between 1485
and 1517 about one-half per cent. of the total area of the counties
investigated was enclosed, and 6931 persons displaced, the corresponding
figures for the period 1578-1607 being 69,758 acres and 2232 evictions.
Both in the earlier, and in the later, period, the county which was
affected most severely was Northamptonshire, where 2.21 per cent. of the
county was returned as enclosed in the years 1485-1517, and in the years
1578-1607 4.30 per cent., the numbers displaced being respectively 1405
and 1444. If we like, we may adopt the conjectural estimates of
Professor Gay, and, assuming that the pace of the movement was the same
during the years for which we have not information as during those for
which we have, may say with him that from 1455 to 1607 the agrarian
changes affected about 2.76 of the whole area of twenty-four counties,
and displaced something between 30,000 and 50,000 persons.

    [459] For a discussion of the value of these reports see Leadam,
    _Domesday of Enclosures_, and _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New
    Series, vol. vi.; Gay, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series,
    vol. xiv. and vol. xviii.; Gay, _Quarterly Journal of
    Economics_, vol. xvii. (1902-1903). A useful summary of the
    evidence, with a map illustrating the probable geographical
    distribution of the movement, is given by Johnson, _The
    Disappearance of the Small Landowner_, pp. 42-54 and Map I.

The statistics which have been worked up by Mr. Leadam and Professor Gay
from the inquiries of the Government are extremely valuable as showing
the geographical distribution of the enclosing movement. It is most
powerful in the Midland counties, which were in the sixteenth century
the chief granary of the country, and its influence is least in the
South-West and South-East. In Somersetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall,
Suffolk, Essex and Kent the small enclosures[460] described in Part I.
had probably often been carried out by the peasants themselves at an
early date, with the result that those districts were, compared with the
open field villages of the Midlands, little disturbed. Those parts of
the country, in fact, where the peasantry have been most progressive,
are relatively unaffected by the changes of our period. They have been
inoculated and they are almost immune. On the other hand, one is
inclined to say that the figures are not of much value for other
purposes. In the nature of things they cannot be reliable, and, if they
were reliable, they would not really answer the most important questions
which are asked about the social results of the changes to which they
refer. Let us remember the methods by which they were collected. They
are taken from returns which are in the form of answers delivered to
commissioners by juries of peasants, juries which we know from the most
active of the commissioners to have been occasionally packed by the
local proprietors, and often intimidated,[461] and to have been examined
by the commissioners under the eyes of their landlords. It is hardly
necessary to point out that no evidence of even approximate accuracy
would be derived from an inquiry conducted in such a fashion at the
present day. Is it probable that it was obtained any more satisfactorily
in the sixteenth century?

    [460] It is a question how far there had ever been an open field
    system in some of these counties, _e.g._ Cornwall and Kent.
    There certainly were some open field villages of the ordinary
    pattern in Kent (see Slater, _The English Peasantry and the
    Enclosure of Common Fields_, p. 230). But Kent from an early
    date develops on its own lines, and does not go through the same
    stages of manorialism and commutation as other counties. Much of
    it seems to start at the point which they reach only in the
    sixteenth century. Cornwall again, though in the sixteenth
    century there were commons where the villagers pastured their
    cattle together (see accounts of Landress and Porpehan,
    _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i.), was largely a county of
    scattered homesteads and very early enclosure (for the
    "nucleated village" and "scattered homesteads," see Maitland,
    _Domesday Book and Beyond_, pp. 15-16), pointing to a different
    system of settlement from that of the counties where the open
    field system obtained. For enclosures in Devon and Somerset see
    Cunningham, _Growth of English Industry and Commerce_, Modern
    Times, Part II., App. B: "A consideration of the cause in
    question before the lords touchinge depopulation," and Carlyle's
    _Cromwell_, Letter XXIV. "Lest we should engage our body of
    horse too far into that enclosed country."

    [461] For intimidation see the case of Wootton Basset, quoted
    above, pp. 251-253, and below, pp. 302-304. Also Gay, _Trans.
    Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. xviii.; and Hales' defence
    (appendix to Miss Lamond's introduction to _The Commonweal of
    this Realm of England_).

Nor, if accurate, could these statistics really be used as a means of
disproving the accounts given by contemporary writers of the dislocation
produced by enclosure. That those accounts were highly coloured, no one
familiar with the methods which the age brought to the discussion of
economic questions will doubt. Professor Gay does well to warn us
against credulity. It is certainly a salutary discipline to turn from
the burning words of Latimer or Crowley to these official calculations,
and then, by a glance at the chapters of Dr. Slater and Professor Gonner
on the enclosures of the eighteenth century, to realise that even in
those parts of England where the cry against depopulation had arisen
most bitterly two centuries before, there were still thousands of acres
to be enclosed by some hundreds of Enclosure Acts. But if we must
discount the protests of authors to whom all large economic changes seem
to smell of the pit, we must not forget either that their views are
formed by the conditions of their age, and that it is just in the
conditions productive of this state of mind that even a moderate change
is likely to work with the most disastrous effects. We who reckon in
millions and count a year lost which does not see some new outburst of
economic energy, must be very careful how we apply our statistics to
measure the movements of an age where economic life differs not only in
quantity but in quality, where most men have never seen more than a
hundred separate individuals in the course of their whole lives, where
most households live by tilling their great-grandfathers' fields with
their great-grandfathers' plough. We must not be too clever--our
ancestors would have said too wicked--for our subject. We must not
accept an estimate of the amount of depopulation as an explanation of
its effects; for the two things are not in _pari materia_. Certainly we
must not argue that, because the returns collected by Royal Commissions
show that in the counties affected most severely less than one-twentieth
of the total area was enclosed, therefore the complaints of observers
must be taken as a hysterical exaggeration of slow and unimportant
changes. For one thing, summary tables are no measure of the distress
caused by eviction, till we know how the tables are made up. The
drifting away of one tenant from each of fifty manors, and the eviction
of fifty tenants from one manor, yield precisely the same statistical
results when the total displacement from a given county is being
calculated. But the former would be scarcely noticeable; the latter
might ruin a village. For another thing, the total area of a county is a
mere spatial expression, which is important to no one except
geographers. What mattered to the peasantry, and what matters to us, is
not the proportion which the land enclosed bore to the whole area of the
county, but the proportion which it bore to the whole area available for
cultivation. This, which is of course not ascertainable, is clearly a
very different thing.[462] It is no consolation to a family which has
been evicted from a prosperous farm to be told that it can settle on a
moor or a marsh, on Blackstone Edge or Deeping Fen. To argue that
enclosing was of little consequence, because so small a proportion of
the total land area was enclosed, is almost precisely similar to arguing
that overcrowding is of little consequence, because the area of Great
Britain divided by the population gives a quotient of about one and a
half acres to every human being in the country. The evidence of a
general trend of opinion during a century and a half--opinion by no
means confined to the peasants, or to the peasants' champions like
Hales, or to idealists like Sir Thomas More, or to the preachers of
social righteousness like Latimer and Crowley, but shared by Wolsey and
Thomas Cromwell in the earlier part of the century, Robert Cecil and
Francis Bacon[463] at the end of it--to the effect that the agrarian
changes caused extensive depopulation, is really a firmer basis for
judging their effects than are statistics which, however carefully
worked up, are necessarily unreliable, and which, when reliable, are not
quite the statistics required. When that opinion is backed by
documentary proof that from one village thirty persons, from another
fifty, from another the whole population, were displaced, though of
course we cannot say that such displacement was general, we can say that
it was not unknown, and that if contemporaries were guilty of
exaggeration (as they probably were), their exaggeration took the form
not of inventing extreme cases, but of suggesting that such extreme
cases were the rule. On the whole, therefore, our conclusions as to the
quantitative measurement of depopulation caused in the sixteenth century
must still, in spite of the researches of Mr. Leadam and Professor Gay,
be a negative one. In the first place, we cannot say, even
approximately, what proportion of the total landholding population was
displaced. In the second place, such figures as we do possess are not of
a kind to outweigh the direct evidence of contemporary observers that
the movement was so extensive as in parts of England to cause serious
suffering and disturbance.

    [462] Professor Pollard has good remarks on this point
    (_Political History of England_, 1547-1603, p. 29).

    [463] Wolsey was responsible for the Commission of 1517. For a
    letter of Cromwell to Henry VIII. on the subject of enclosure,
    and for the views of Cecil and Bacon, see below, pp. 273-274,
    279, 343, 387.

(d) _The Agrarian Changes and the Poor Law_

The obscurity in which the statistics of depopulation are involved does
not prevent us from seeing that it played an important part in providing
an incentive to the organisation of relief on a national and secular
basis, which was the most enduring achievement of the social legislation
of sixteenth century statesmen. An influential theory of Poor Law
History regards the admission finally made in 1601 that the destitute
person has, not only a moral, but a legal, right to maintenance, as a
last fatal legacy handed to the modern state by the expiring social
order of the Middle Ages, a relic of villeinage which was given a
statutory basis at the very moment when a little more patience would
have shown that a national system of poor relief was not only
unnecessary, but positively harmful, in the new mobile society which the
expansion of commerce and industry was bringing into existence.
"Serfdom," says an eminent exponent of this view, "is itself a system of
Poor Law. The Poor Law is not therefore a new device invented in the
time of Elizabeth to meet a new disease. The very conception of a
society based on status involves the conception of a Poor Law far more
searching and rigid than the celebrated 43 Eng. cap. 2.... The
collective provision is appropriate to the then expiring condition of
status.... A wide diffusion of private property, not collective
property, is the obvious and natural method by which the unable-bodied
periods of life are to be met. With the disappearance of Feudalism we
might have expected that there would have disappeared the custom which
made the poor a charge upon the manor or parish of which they had
formerly been serfs. This, however, did not happen, and a history of
this survival of mediæval custom is the history of the English Poor
Law.... To sum the matter up:--In following the development of Poor Law
legislation, we watch society struggling to free itself from the fetters
of a primitive communism of poverty and subjection, a state of things
possessing many 'plausible advantages.' Legislation for the management
of the Poor often impeded, and only occasionally expedited, this
beneficent process.... It proceeded from ignorance of the true nature of
progress, and from a denial or neglect of the power of absorption
possessed by a free society."[464] It is obvious that in this passage
Mr. Mackay uses his interpretation of Poor Law origins to make a very
trenchant criticism upon the whole principle involved in the public
maintenance of the destitute. That principle was not introduced because
new conditions made its adoption indispensable. It survived from an
older order of things into a world in which the only serious causes of
destitution are personal and not economic, and in which therefore it is
quite inappropriate. To tolerate it is to drag for ever a clanking
chain, one end of which is fastened round the bleeding ankles of modern
society, and the other anchored in the hideous provisions of the Statute
of Labourers. Nor should we be wrong if we said that a similar theory,
though less lucidly expressed, has had a considerable influence upon
Poor Law practice. For the idea of a Poor Law as an anachronism which is
quite out of place in a developed economic society is implied more than
once in the celebrated report drafted by Senior and Chadwick in 1834,
and has passed from that brilliant piece of special pleading into the
minds of three generations of administrators. "A person," they state,
"who attributes pauperism to the inability to procure employment, will
doubt the efficiency of the cause which we propose to remove it,"
whereas "whenever inquiries have been made as to the previous condition
of the able-bodied individuals who live in such numbers on the town
parishes, it has been found that the pauperism of the greater number has
originated in indolence, improvidence, and vice, and might have been
avoided by ordinary care and industry. The majority of the Statutes
connected with the administration of public relief have created new
evils, and aggravated those which they were intended to prevent."[465]

    [464] Mackay, _History of the English Poor Law_, 1834-1898, pp.
    10-11, 16-17.

    [465] _Poor Law Commission Report of 1834_, pp. 264-277, 281.

A discussion of Poor Law theory and history falls outside the limits of
this essay. But in forming an estimate of the effects of the agrarian
changes which have been described above, it is perhaps not out of place
to consider the minor question of the connection between them and the
system of Poor Relief which took its final shape in the reign of
Elizabeth. Since the distress which the relief institutions of an age
exist to meet stands to its general economic conditions in the relation
of reverse to obverse, of effect to cause, of disease to environment,
much light is thrown on the economic difficulties most characteristic of
any period by ascertaining the type of distress with which relieving
authorities are most generally confronted. Equally important, any
student of Poor Law History, who is not the partisan of a theory, finds
himself constantly driven to look for an explanation of Poor Law
developments in regions which, at first sight, appear to lie far outside
his immediate subject, but where, in reality, is grown the grim harvest
which it is the duty of Poor Law authorities, often acting in complete
ignorance of its origin, to reap. Much wild theorising and some tragic
practical blunders might have been avoided, had it been more generally
realised that, of all branches of administration, the treatment of
persons in distress is that which can least bear to be left to the
exclusive attention of Poor Law specialists, because it, most of all
matters, depends for its success on being carefully adapted to the
changing economic conditions, the organisation or disorganisation of
industry, the stability or instability of trade, the diffusion or
concentration of property, by which the nature and extent of the
distress requiring treatment are determined.

When one turns to the age in which the Poor Law took shape, the first
thing to strike one is that the need for it arises, according to the
views expressed by most writers of the period, from that very
development in commercial relationships, that very increase in economic
mobility, which Mr. Mackay seems to imply should have made it
unnecessary. The special feature of sixteenth century pauperism is
written large over all the documents of the period--in Statutes, in
Privy Council proceedings, in the records of Quarter Sessions. The new
and terrible problem is the increase in vagrancy. The sixteenth century
lives in terror of the tramp. He is denounced by moralists, analysed
into species by the curious or scientific, scourged and buffeted by all
men. The destitution of the aged and impotent, of fatherless children
and widows, is familiar enough. It has been with the world from time
immemorial. It has been for centuries the object of voluntary
charitable effort; and when the dissolution of the monasteries dries up
one great channel of provision, the Government intervenes with special
arrangements[466] to take their place a whole generation before it can
be brought to admit that there is any problem of the unemployed, other
than the problem of the sturdy rogue. The distinction between the
able-bodied unemployed and the impotent is one which is visible to the
eye of sense. The distinction between the man who is unemployed because
he cannot get work and the man who is unemployed because he does not
want work, requires a modicum of knowledge and reflection which even at
the present day is not always forthcoming. The former distinction,
therefore, is not supplemented by the latter until the beginning of the
last quarter of the century.[467] In one respect, that of the Law of
Settlement, the English Poor Law does show traces of a mediæval origin.
In all other respects, so far from being a survival from the Middle
Ages, it comes into existence just at the time when mediæval economic
conditions are disappearing. It is not accepted at once as a matter of
course that the destitute shall be publicly relieved, still less that
the able-bodied destitute deserve anything but punishment. Governments
make desperate efforts for about one hundred years to evade their new
obligations. They whip and brand and bore ears; they offer the vagrant
as a slave to the man who seizes him; they appeal to charity; they
introduce the parish clergy to put pressure on the uncharitable; they
direct the bishops to reason with those who stop their ears against the
parish clergy. When merely repressive measures and voluntary effort are
finally discredited, they levy a compulsory charge rather as a fine for
contumacy than as a rate, and slide reluctantly into obligatory
assessments[468] only when all else has failed. And if we ask why the
obligation of maintaining the destitute should have received national
recognition first in the sixteenth century, we can only answer by
pointing to that trend away from the stationary conditions of
agriculture to the fluctuating conditions of trade, and in particular to
that displacement of the rural population, which we have already seen
was one result of enclosure. The national Poor Law is not a mediæval
anachronism. It is the outcome of conditions which seem to the men of
the sixteenth century new and appalling. Of these conditions the most
important are the agrarian changes.

    [466] 27 Hen. VIII., c. 25. Under this Act city and county
    authorities are to relieve impotent beggars "by way of voluntary
    and charitable alms." They are also for the first time given
    power to apprentice vagrant children.

    [467] 18 Eliz. c. 3 directed that a stock of wool, flax, hemp,
    iron, or other stuff should be provided in cities, corporate
    towns, and market towns. The important words which show the
    change of opinion are, "To the intente also that ... Roges ...
    may not have any just excuse in saying they cannot get any
    service or work."

    [468] 14 Eliz. c. 5.

Let us try for a moment to put ourselves in the position of a family
which has been evicted from its holding to make room for sheep. When the
last stick of furniture has been tumbled out by the bailiff, where, poor
houseless wretches, are they to turn? They cannot get work in their old
home, even if they can get lodgings, for the attraction of sheep-farming
is that the wage bill is so low. Will they emigrate from England like
the Scotch crofters? There are people who in the seventeenth century
will advise them to seek a haven with the godly folk who have crossed
the Atlantic, who will argue that England is overstocked, that "there is
such pressing and oppressing in town and country about farms, trades,
traffic, so as a man can hardly anywhere set up a trade but he shall
pull down two of his neighbours," and point out that "the country is
replenished with new farmers, and the almhouses are filled with old
labourers," that "the rent-taker lives on sweet morsels, but the
rent-payer eats a dry crust often with watery eyes."[469] But enclosures
have been going on for a century before the plantations exist to offer a
refuge, and in any case the probability of the country folk hearing of
them is very remote. Can a man migrate to seek work in another part of
the country? Not easily, for, apart from the enormous practical
difficulties, the law puts obstacles in his way, and the law is backed
up with enthusiasm by every parish and town in the country. There are
three possible attitudes which a State may adopt towards the questions
arising from the ebb and flow of population. It may argue, with the
optimists of 1834, that the mobility of labour is a good thing, a
symptom of alertness and energy, and that it will take place of itself
to the extent which is economically desirable, provided that no
impediments are placed in the way of those who desire to better
themselves by looking for work elsewhere. Or, while believing that it is
much to be desired that people should migrate freely from place to place
in search of employment, it may nevertheless reflect that the mere
absence of restrictions does not in fact stimulate such movement, and
therefore take upon itself its encouragement through the publication of
information and the registration of unemployed workers. Or,
subordinating economic to political considerations, it may hold that the
movement of a large number of unemployed persons up and down the country
is not an indication of a praiseworthy spirit of enterprise, but a
menace to public order which must be sternly repressed. We need hardly
say that this last view is the one characteristic of the sixteenth
century. The attitude towards the man on tramp in search of employment
is exactly the opposite of that which is held at the present day. He is
not less, but much more, culpable than he who remains in his own parish
and lives on his neighbours. He is assumed not to be seeking work but to
be avoiding it, and avoiding it in a restless and disorderly manner.
Hear what the worthy Harrison says when the State has already made the
provision for the unemployed a charge upon each parish:--"But if they
refuse to be supported by this benefit of the law, and will rather
endeavour by going to and fro to maintain their idle trades, then are
they adjudged to be parcel of the third sort (_i.e._ wilful vagrants),
and so, instead of courteous refreshing at home, are often corrected
with sharp execution and whip of justice abroad. Many there are which,
notwithstanding the rigour of the laws provided on that behalf, yield
rather with this liberty (as they call it) to be daily under the fear
and terror of the whip, than by abiding where they were born or bred, to
be provided for by the devotion of the parishes."[470] The village is
still thought of as the unit of employment. It is still regarded as
being equipped with the means of finding work for all its inhabitants,
as though there had been no movement towards pasture-farming to prick a
hole in its economic self-sufficiency. The presumption, therefore, is
against the man who leaves the parish where he is known to his
neighbours. He must prove that he is going to take up work for which he
is already engaged. He must get a licence from his last employer. As far
as the able-bodied are concerned the Poor Law is in origin a measure of
social police. Relief is thrown in as a makeweight, because by the end
of the sixteenth century our statesmen have discovered that when
economic pressure reaches a certain point they cannot control men
without it. The whip has no terrors for the man who must look for work
or starve. So every Sunday after church, while Parson's sermon is still
fresh in our minds, we board out our poor by rotation "among such
householders as will maintain them meat and work and such wages as they
shall deserve for the week following."[471] Heaven help us if the next
parish does not do the same!

    [469] Robert Cushman, "Reasons and Considerations touching the
    Lawfulness of Removing out of England into the parts of America"
    (printed by E. Arber, _The Story of the Pilgrim Fathers_).

    [470] Harrison in _Elizabethan England_ (Withington), chap. x.

    [471] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Marquis of Salisbury, Part VII., pp.
    160-161: "Orders agreed to by the Justices of the Peace for
    Cornwall at General Sessions for Bodmin the 5th and Truro the
    8th of April, 39 Eliz."

And the Poor Law is a police measure for the necessity of which the
agrarian changes are largely responsible. In spite of all the obstacles
in the way of migration, in spite of whip and courteous refreshment, men
do in fact migrate, and not only men, but women and children. By the
latter part of the century, at any rate, statesmen have begun to
understand that pauperism and vagrancy stand to the depopulation caused
by enclosure in the relation of effect to cause. The revolution in the
official attitude to the problem caused by this belated illumination is
as great as that which has taken place in the last ten years with regard
to unemployment. Once the new standpoint has been seized, though
opinion, and the opinion not only of the ruling classes, but of
burgesses and villagers, still treats the vagrant with iron severity, it
never quite relapses into the comfortable doctrine, the grand discovery
of a commercial age, that distress is itself a proof of the demerits of
its victim, and that Heaven, like a Utilitarian philosopher, permits
the existence of destitution only that it may make "less eligible" the
lot of "improvidence and vice." It is saved from this last error not by
the lore of economists, but because it regards economic questions
through the eyes of a sturdy matter-of-fact morality. It is sufficiently
enlightened to recognise that even among vagrants there is a class which
is more sinned against than sinning, a class of whom it can be asked "at
whose hands shall the blood of these men be required?"[472] It is
sufficiently ingenuous to answer by pointing to "some covetous man" who,
"espying a further commodity in their commons, holds, and tenures, doth
find such means as thereby to wipe many out of their occupyings and turn
the same unto his private gains."[473] Occasionally the effect of
enclosures is brought home to the encloser in a practical way, by
compelling him not only to pay a fine to the Crown, but also to make a
contribution towards the relief of the poor whose numbers he has

    [472] Harrison, _loc. cit._

    [473] _Ibid._

    [474] Camden Society, 1886. Cases in Courts of Star Chamber and
    High Commission, Michaelmas, 7 Caroli, Case of Archer. (The
    allusion in the text is to a precedent cited in this case.)

To see the way in which the relation between the problems of pauperism
and of agrarian depopulation is regarded, turn to the debates in the
House of Commons. In the year 1597, when both questions are acute (the
preceding year had seen a recrudescence of agrarian rioting), a member
or minister, probably Robert Cecil, is preparing notes for a speech[475]
on the subject in Parliament. What are the points he emphasises? They
are the high price of corn caused by bad harvests and the manipulations
of middlemen, the enclosing of land and the conversion of arable to
pasture, which naturally intensifies the difficulty of securing adequate
food supplies, "the decaying and plucking down of houses, ... and not
only the plucking down of some few houses, but the depopulating of whole
towns ... and keeping of a shepherd only, whereby many subjects are
turned without habitation, and fill the country with rogues and idle
persons." When Parliament meets in October, the House is at once busy
with different aspects of the same question.[476] Bills are introduced
dealing with forestallers, regrators, and engrossers of corn, with
vagrancy and pauperism, and with enclosures, and a committee is
appointed to consider the latter question. In the debates which follow
there is the usual division of opinion between the champions of economic
reform and the advocates of more, and more ruthless, "deterrence,"
between those who wish to legislate as to causes and those who are
mainly occupied with symptoms. Bacon, master as ever of the science of
his subject, insists with invincible logic that pauperism is one part of
the general agrarian problem, and he is supported by Robert Cecil. On
the other hand, the experts as to pauperism--we can imagine the county
justices fresh from their whippings and relief committees and houses of
correction, fresh, too, from enclosure and depopulation--complain that
their special subject is being overlooked in a general and dangerous
discussion on the economic causes of distress, and that the committee
"has spent all their travel about the said enclosures and tillage, and
nothing about the said rogues and poor." That this should have been the
popular line to take needs no explanation. A Parliament which dares
discuss not only how to manipulate the lives of the poor, but the
fundamental causes of their misery, is a Parliament which the eye of man
had not yet, has not yet, beheld. Compared with other representative
assemblies, compared with itself at a later date, the Elizabethan House
of Commons, debating in an age when it could be said that government was
"nothing but a certein conspiracy of riche men procuringe theire owne
commodities under the name and title of the Common Wealth," had the
grace to show some stirrings of compunction. If members who had grown
fat on the tragedy which they were discussing spoke of their victims as
members will speak, ministers at least were independent, and could
venture, like Cecil, to tell the House unpalatable truths. Of the two
Acts against enclosure, which were the result of this session's
deliberations, we shall speak later. What is worth noticing here is the
disposition, even in a Parliament composed of country gentlemen, to
emphasise the connection between the problems with which anti-enclosure
and anti-vagrancy legislation have to deal. It is summed up in the
eloquent peroration of a nameless member. "As this bill entered at first
with a short prayer, 'God speed the plough,' so I wish it may end with
such success as the plough shall speed the poor."[477]

    [475] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Marquis of Salisbury, Part VII., Nov.
    1597. "Notes for the present Parliament."

    [476] _D'Ewes' Journal_, pp. 551-555; see also Leonard, _The
    Early History of English Poor Relief_, pp. 73-75.

    [477] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Marquis of Salisbury, Part VII., pp.

What became of the families displaced from the soil between their final
eviction and that subsidence upon the stony breast of the Elizabethan
Poor Law, which, for some of them, was their ultimate fate? There is no
certain information to guide us. The tragedy of the tramp is his
isolation. Every man's hand is against him; and his history is
inevitably written by his enemies. Yet, beneath denunciations hurled
upon him by those who lived warm and slept soft, we can see two
movements going on, two waves in a vast and silent ebbing of population
from its accustomed seats. In the first place there is a steady
immigration into the towns on the part of those "who, being driven out
of their habitations, are forced into the great cities, where, being
very burdensome, men shut their doors against them, suffering them to
die in the streets and highways."[478] The municipal records of the
periods teem with complaints of the disorder, the overcrowding, the
violation of professional bye-laws, caused by rural immigration. The
displaced peasant is the Irishman of the sixteenth century, and, like
the Irishman, he makes his very misery a whip with which to scourge, not
alas! his oppressors, but men who often are not much less wretched than
himself. He turns whole quarters into slums, spreads disease through
congested town dwellings, and disorganises the labour market by crowding
out the native artisan. Gild members find themselves eaten up by
unlawful men who have never served an apprenticeship in the town, and
retort with regulations requiring the deposit of a prohibitive sum as an
entrance fee from all immigrants who want to set up shop, especially
from those wretches who are thought to have a large family of children,
at present snugly concealed in their last place of residence, but soon
to be surreptitiously introduced, a brood of hungry young cuckoos, if
once their parents get a footing in the town.[479] Borough authorities,
who see cottages "made down" into tenements in which pestilence spreads
with fearful rapidity, seek to stamp out the very possibility of
invasion by prohibiting the erection of new cottages or the subdivision
of old. To judge by their behaviour, the notorious Statute of 1662,
which codified the existing customs as to settlement, must have been one
of the most popular pieces of legislation ever passed by Parliament.
Town[480] after town in the course of the sixteenth century tries to
protect itself by a system of stringent inspection worthy of modern
Germany. Sometimes there is a regular expulsion of the aliens.
"Forasmuch as it is found by daily experience," declare the authorities
of Nottingham,[481] "that by the continual building and erecting of new
cottages and poor habitations, and by the transferring of barns and
suchlike buildings into cottages, and also by the great confluence of
many poor people from forrein parts out of this towne to inhabit here,
and lykewise by the usual and frequent taking in of inmates into many
poor habitations here, the poorer sort of people do much increase ... it
is ordered that no burgess or freeman on pain of £5 erect any cottage or
convert any building into a cottage in the town without license of the
Mayor, that no burgess or freeman, without a license, receive any one
from the country as a tenant, that every landlord be bound in the sum of
£10 to remove all foreign tenants who have entered in the last three
years before May 1st next." What most boroughs do for themselves is
finally, after many regulations have been made by the Common Council,
done for London by Parliamentary legislation. It is not a chance that
the end of Elizabeth's reign sees the first two Housing Acts, one[482]
in 1589, enacting that only one family may live in a house, the
other[483] applying to London alone, and forbidding the division of
houses into tenements, the receiving of lodgers, or the erection of new
houses for persons who are assessed in the subsidy book at less than £5
in goods or £3 in lands. The evicted peasants are beginning to take
their revenge. They have been taking it ever since.

    [478] Lansd. MSS. 83, f. 68, quoted Gonner, _Common Land and
    Enclosure_, p. 156 n.

    [479] _e.g. Nottingham Records_, vol. iv. pp. 170-171, Nov. 4,
    1577: "Any burgess that hath not been prentice to pay £10 and no
    pardon. _Records of Leicester_, vol. iii. p. 351, Oct. 17, 1598:
    "He is inhibited from dwelling in your corporation unless he
    finds bonds for £200 that neither his wife nor children shall be
    burdensome to the town." _Southampton Court Leet Records_, vol.
    i., Part I.: "One William Dye, undertenant to John Netley, dothe
    lyve idelly and hathe no trade.... He hathe 4 or 5 children in
    places from whence he came whom he will bring shortly hither, yf
    he may be suffered here to remayne, whom we desyer may be
    examined and removed from hence according to the Statute."

    [480] Some instances are given by Leonard, _Early History of
    English Poor Relief_, pp. 107-109.

    [481] _Nottingham Records_, vol. iv. pp. 304-307.

    [482] 31 Eliz. c. 7.

    [483] 35 Eliz. c. 6.

In the second place there is a general movement from the enclosed to the
open field villages. The families displaced by enclosure cannot easily
enter into industry, even if they wish to do so, for the avenue to most
trades is blocked both by the Corporations and by the statutory system
of a seven years' apprenticeship, which maintains professional standards
at the expense of an unprivileged residuum. What they do is to follow
the orthodox advice given to those who have lost their customary means
of livelihood. They proceed to colonise, and to colonise in such numbers
that they cannot easily be kept out. They settle as squatters on the
waste lands of those manors which have not been enclosed, and which,
before the waste is turned into a sheep-run, offer no obstacle to
immigration. That the possibility of using the manorial waste to
accommodate those who had no settled abode had occurred to statesmen as
one expedient for meeting the problem of the infirm and destitute, is
shown by the sanction expressly given in the Poor Law of 1597[484] to
the expenditure of parish funds on the erection of cottages on the waste
as residences for the impotent poor. In fact, however, the mobility of
labour was becoming such that it was impossible, even if it had been
desirable, to reserve those unutilised territories for the maintenance
of the impotent. In spite of bitter protests from the existing
inhabitants, refugees from other villages swarm down upon them in such
numbers that the Act requiring four acres of land to be attached to each
cottage cannot be observed, and the issuing of licences for the erection
of cottages on the waste for able-bodied men, who have come with their
families from a distance, becomes a regular part of the business of
Quarter Sessions.[485] Such a redistribution of the population solves
one problem only to create others. Stern economists in the seventeenth
century lament that the ease with which permission to build cottages on
the waste is obtained encourages the existence of an improvident and
idle class, which will neither work for wages nor make good use of the
land. "In all or most towns where the fields lie open and are used in
common, there is a new brood of upstart intruders as inmates, and the
inhabitants of unlawful cottages erected contrary unto law.... Loyterers
who will not usually be got to work unless they may have such excessive
wages as they themselves desire."[486] The opponents of enclosure answer
with some justice that, in effect, the open field villages are saddled
with the destitution caused by enclosing landlords, who first ruin their
tenants and then, like a modern Dock Company which relies on the Poor
Rate to save its wage-bill, leave them to be supported by those places
to which they are compelled to migrate.[487] The latter difficulty is
indeed a very serious one, which not only is the occasion of numberless
petitions[488] from villages who wish to be assisted by, or to avoid
assisting, their neighbours, but on occasion converts even the country
gentry into opponents of enclosure. "We further conceive," write the
Justices of Nottingham to the Council, "that if depopulation may be
reformed it will bring a great good to the whole Kingdom; for where
homes are pulled down the people are forced to seek new habitations in
other towns and countries, whereof those towns where they get a settling
are pestered so as they are hardly able to live one by another, and it
is likewise the cause of erecting new cottages upon the waste and other
places who are not able to relieve themselves ... which causes rogues
and vagabonds to increase."[489] In the elaborate book of Poor Law
orders published in 1631 the Government recognises the genuineness of
this grievance, and, to its direction that richer parishes should
contribute funds to the aid of the poor, adds a special rider pointing
out that such extra contributions would come with special
appropriateness from those places where there had been depopulation.

    [484] 39 Eliz. c. 3.

    [485] For petitions on this subject see _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd.
    784, pp. 81-82 (Wiltshire). The Warwickshire Quarter Sessions
    were much occupied with this, _e.g._ the following: "Trinity
    Sessions 1625. Fforasmuch as this Court was this present day
    informed ... by Sir Edward Marrowe, kt., and Thomas Ashley as
    the lords of the manor of Woolvey in this county ... that the
    said lords are content that William Wilcox of Woolvey in this
    countie shall build and erect a cottage for hys habitation hys
    wyfe and his small children uppon the waste within the said
    lordshippe, it is therefore ordered that the same being with
    consent of the lord as aforesaid that the same cottage shall be
    and continue," and later "which cottage the Court doth licence"
    (_Warwick Quarter Sessions MSS. Records_).

    [486] "Considerations Concerning Common Fields and Enclosures,"
    Pseudonismus, 1654.

    [487] Moore, _The Crying Sin of England in not Caring for the
    Poor_: "And now alas, saith the poor cottier, there is no work
    for me, I must go where I may get my living. And hence it comes
    to pass that the open fielden towns have above double the number
    of cottiers they had wont to have, so that they cannot live one
    by another, and so put the fielden towns to vast expense, in
    caring for these poor that these enclosures have made."

    [488] _e.g. Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 784, p. 95 (Wiltshire), pp.
    292 and 298 (Worcester).

    [489] See Appendix I., No. VI. Miss Leonard (_Trans. Royal Hist.
    Soc._, vol. xix.) prints this document as referring to Norfolk,
    which appears to be an error.

We may now summarise our view of the social effects of the changes
introduced by lords of manors, and by the capitalist farmers who manage
their estates. When the demesne land is enclosed and converted to
pasture, there is an appreciable diminution in the demand for labour,
and consequently an increase in unemployment. When the common rights of
tenants are curtailed, they lose not only an important subsidiary source
of income, but often, at the same time, the means of cultivating their
arable holdings. When their holdings are merged in the great estate of
the capitalist farmer, they are turned adrift to seek their living in a
world where most trades and most towns are barred against them, where
they are punished if they do not find work, and punished if they look
for work without permission, where "if the poor being thrust out of
their houses go to dwell with others, straight we catch them with the
Statute of Inmates; if they wander abroad, they are in danger of the
Statute of the Poor to be whipped."[490] Thus, quite apart both from the
eternal source of poverty which consists in the recalcitrance of nature
to human effort, and from those causes of individual destitution which
in all ages and in all economic conditions lie in wait for the
exceptionally unfortunate or the exceptionally improvident, for the
sick, the aged, and the orphan, there is an increase in the number of
those for whom access to the land, their customary means of livelihood,
is unobtainable, and consequently a multiplication of the residuum for
whom the haunting insecurity of the propertyless modern labourer is, not
the exception, but the normal lot. It is this extension of destitution
among able-bodied men, who have the will, but not the means, to find
employment, which is the peculiar feature of sixteenth century
pauperism, and which leads in 1576 to the most characteristic expedient
of the Elizabethan Poor Law--the provision of materials upon which the
unemployed can be set to work. The recognition that the relief of the
destitute must be enforced as a public obligation was not the
consequence of the survival of mediæval ideas into an age where they
were out of place, but an attempt on the part of the powerful Tudor
state to prevent the social disorder caused by economic changes, which,
in spite of its efforts, it had not been strong enough to control.

    [490] _D'Ewes' Journal._ Speech of Cecil, 1597.



(a) _The Tenants at Will and the Leaseholders_

We have said above that we cannot measure the extent of the depopulation
caused by enclosure, even for those years with regard to which figures
are supplied us by Royal Commissions. But, after all, it is happily less
important to arrive at an exact statistical estimate of the acres
enclosed and of the number of tenants displaced, than it is to get a
general view of the economic forces at work and of the structure of
legal relationships upon which they operated. Given the economic reasons
for the consolidation of holdings which were dominant in the sixteenth
century, they could hardly have failed to result in evictions on a
considerable scale, unless the tenants themselves had sufficient legal
security to hold their own. If they had such security, the statistical
analysis of displacements given above will fall into line with the
general situation and be a valuable comment upon it. If they had not,
then the figures, while a useful guide to the imagination, may stand
when they confirm, but hardly when they contradict, the picture given by
contemporaries. The accounts of the latter, though still not freed from
the charge of exaggeration, will be supported by what we know of the
general disposition of economic and legal forces. They probably heighten
the colour and sharpen the outlines, but their indication of tendencies
will be correct.

In discussing the position of the small cultivator in the sixteenth
century it was pointed out above that similarity of legal status was
compatible with the greatest economic variety, and in considering their
ability to resist attempted eviction it is essential to remember the
converse truth, that tenants who were economically in a similar position
were often from the point of view of tenure very different. Just as
writers of the time lump together all classes of well-to-do small
landholders under the name of yeomen, though the majority of them were
not legally yeomen at all, so they constantly speak of evictions,
ruinous fines, and rack-rents, without discriminating between the
different classes of tenants whose different legal positions make them
liable to suffer in very different degrees. One must remember, again,
that in the sixteenth century a man might be called a copyholder because
he held a copyhold tenement, but at the same time he might have, and
very often had, additional land which he had leased from the demesne or
from the waste, and in which his legal interest was quite different; he
might be a freeholder and at the same time be the farmer who leased the
lord's demesne, or he might be freeholder, copyholder, and leaseholder
in one, and even hold at the will of the lord other land which he had
been allowed to occupy "by grant of the court," for example part of the
manorial waste. Hence not only were the positions of tenants at will,
lessees, and copyholders considered as classes, different from each
other, but there was also a difference in the legal interest which
individuals had in different parts of the lands which they cultivated.
Even if the law gave protection to copyholders, a point to be discussed
later, they might suffer from the consolidation into large farms of
those parts of their lands which they did not hold by copy, and the more
they had gained in preceding years by adding to their holdings of
customary land by leasing part of the demesne and of the waste, the
heavier would be their loss when these additions were taken from them,
while those whose holdings consisted entirely of such encroachments
would be altogether ruined. Again, on those few manors where tenure at
the will of the lord had not crystallised into copyhold, the tenant's
position was even weaker than that of the lessee, for there was nothing
but a custom unenforced by legal documents to prevent his eviction.

There was thus opportunity for a considerable displacement of population
without any need of raising the difficult question of the degree of
security enjoyed by copyhold tenure. When a manor was occupied only by
tenants at will without copies, or when its demesne lands were leased
for short terms to a number of lessees, or when its waste had been
gradually taken in either by new settlers or by the customary tenants,
land could be resumed by the lord without any conflict save, in the
first case, with a custom which two centuries before had been powerful
but now was weak, and in the second case with a terminable interest. It
is not necessary to adduce instances to prove the liability of the
tenant at will or lessee to eviction, because the nature of their
interest makes it obvious that they could not claim to have complete
legal security. Examples of the first kind are, indeed, not very common,
owing to the fact that by our period tenure at will of the lord had in
most places hardened into copyhold, and their comparative rarity may
suggest that tenants at will who had not become copyholders had been
displaced on most manors by the beginning of the century. The case of
two Wiltshire manors may serve to illustrate their position. At
Knyghton[491] the whole manor was in 1554 leased to a farmer, and with
the manor the rents and service of six customary tenants holding at
will. At Domerham,[492] in 1568, almost the whole of the land was in the
hands of three large farmers, but "it has been granted to Richard
Compton, Thomas Pryce, John Pryce, and Robert Kynge, to sow of the above
said land every year 120 acres." In the second case the precariousness
of the tenants' position is obvious; they are mere squatters, who are
there, as it were, on sufferance. In the first case it has been
recognised and mitigated, as far as the farmer is concerned, by a clause
in his agreement binding him to leave the tenants in peaceable enjoyment
as long as they pay their rents. But they have no security as against
the lord, and are liable to immediate eviction if it proves more
profitable to add their holdings to the large farm. When tenants
commence an action against a lord for wrongful disseisin, it is
sufficient for him to answer that they are "but his tenantry at

    [491] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Pembroke Manors_.

    [492] _Ibid._

    [493] Leadam, _English Hist. Rev._, vol. viii. pp. 684-696.

Much more numerous, however, than the tenants at will, were the small
leaseholders who held part of the waste or of the demesne lands. A
glance at the table given on page 25 will show that they form about 12
per cent. of the whole manorial population therein represented. But in
parts of the country their numbers are far greater. In 1568 they form 20
per cent. of the landholders on four manors in Somersetshire and one in
Devonshire.[494] In two villages in Northamptonshire[495] they form
nearly two-thirds. On the great manor of Rochdale there are in 1626 as
many as 315 leaseholders to 64 freeholders and 233 copyholders.
Leaseholders possessed, of course, legal security during the period of
their leases, and these were in some cases for as long as ninety-two
years. But they, too, had not an interest in the land of the kind which
would enable them to offer any permanent barrier to the policy of
consolidating holdings. This fact, indeed, was the motive for the care
which surveyors showed in discriminating between those parts of the
tenants' holdings which were customary land and those which were made up
of pieces taken from the demesne or from the waste, as well as for the
desire to convert copyhold tenure into leases for years, which was often
shown in the sixteenth century by the manorial officials. For an example
illustrating the eviction of numerous small tenants who had leased the
demesne we may recur to the case of Ablode[496] which has been mentioned
above. The lease of that manor to a farmer made by the monastery of St.
Peter's in 1516 expressly provided that he should be allowed to get rid
of the lessees, to whom the demesne lands had previously been let, as
soon as their leases should have expired. Two other examples show the
same class encountering exactly the same difficulty under somewhat
different circumstances. The first, which relates to the waste, not to
the demesne lands, comes from a survey of the lordship of Bromfield and
Gale which was made by the Parliamentary surveyors in 1649.[497] "The
inclosures before mentioned," they say, "and all the rest of them within
the lordship of Bromfield and Gale, fall to the lord of the soyle,
because enclosed without license. For although by their fee farm estate
they [_i.e._ the tenants] may challenge freedome of commoning, it is by
the covenant of the grant as formerly and antiently was accustomed, so
that they must take a new grant of all (except some old inclosures which
are included in their fee farms), which is the custom of the lordshippe.
_And if they should enclose all their common, yet the lord would have a
third part._" The second illustration is given by a petition which some
leasehold tenants of Whitby Strand[498] promoted in the Court of
Requests in the year 1553. When the monastery of Whitby was dissolved,
its property passed first to the Crown, which disposed of it to the Duke
of Northumberland, who in turn sold it to Sir John Yorke. The sufferings
of the tenants may be told in their own words: "Which saide Sir John, of
his extort power and might and by great and sore threatenings of the
said tennants ... hathe gotten from them all the leases ... and
unreasonably hathe raised rents ... and in consideration also that the
said Sir John York is a man of power and might, landes, goodes and
possessions; greatly frendid.... Your poor oratours ... are not able to
sue against him," and petition the Court for redress. The reality of
their grievance is shown sufficiently by the fact that whereas, when the
estate was in the hands of the monastery, the total rents of twenty-six
tenants amounted to £28, 19s. 8-1/2d., an average of about £1, 2s. 1d.
per tenant, by the date of these complaints the rents alone, apart from
fines, had been forced up to £64, 9s. 9d., averaging per tenant £2, 6s.

    [494] _Ibid._, Paynton, Stooke Trister and Cucklington, Donyett,
    Chedseye, South Brent and Huish. The leases at South Brent are
    for ninety-two years.

    [495] They are Duston in 1561 (R.O. Rentals and Surreys, Portf.
    13, No. 23), and Paulspurie in 1541 (_ibid._, vol. ccccxix.,
    fol. 3).

    [496] See pp. 204 and 210.

    [497] MS. Transcript by A.N. Palmer of Survey of Lordship of
    Bromfield and Gale in Wrexham Free Library.

    [498] Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Requests_.

What is the conclusion to be drawn from these three examples? It is
surely the special precariousness in the conditions of the sixteenth
century of all those tenants whose livelihood lies mainly in land which
has been taken from the demesne or from the waste, which is, in fact, in
the words of Fitzherbert,[499] "a new thing that hath not gone by
custom," a thing which may "fortune to increase or decrease of rent." A
piece of demesne may have been let out on lease at a low rent in the
year following the great plague, or have been taken from the waste at an
even earlier date. It may have remained in the hands of one family for
a century without being resumed by the lord, and without any attempt
being made to increase the tenants' payments. It may have been cleared
and cleaned, hedged and ditched, by the sweat of generations. But, if
the manorial officials have done their duty, that land has been marked
as a "new thing," something for which no custom can be pleaded and which
no prescription can protect. When the lord wishes to alter the condition
of its tenure no vested interest can stand against him. He will throw it
into a large farm, or double the rent, and the tenants can say nothing;
for they are mere lessees, unprotected by the sanctity of manorial
custom, and to have his way he need only wait till their leases expire.
That this is no impossible supposition is shown by the records of the
manor of Hewlington.[500] In 1562 an inquiry was made into the rights of
the tenants there, who seem to have been lessees for the term of forty
years with a right of renewal to the heir. On investigation being made
by the officers of the Crown, to whom the manor belonged, it was found
that there was "a decay of the sum of one hundred and five pounds, six
shillings, yearly rent, which in ancient tymes had been answered for the
said landes"; which decay "as by the auncient records appeareth, did
growe by reason of the great mortalitie and plague which in former tymes
had been in the reign of Edward III. and also of the Rebellion of Owen
Glendower and trouble that therefrom ensued; ... by reason of which
mortalitie and rebellion the country was wasted, the Tenants and their
houses destroyed, insomuch that the then lords of the soyle were
constrayned by their stewards and officers to graunte the said landes at
a lesser rent than formerlie was paid for the same to such as could be
gotten to take it." Two hundred years after the great plague, its effect
in reducing the rents of a few tenants on the Welsh Border is
remembered: a commission calculates the sum due to the last penny, and
is then required and authorised "to revise the said decayed rent," a
fact which the jurors of the manor duly record in their presentment made
another sixty years later. No doubt the Crown has an unusually good
memory--_nullum tempus occurrit regi_. But what the Crown can do on
this grand scale the surveyors of smaller lords do on a smaller one. As
soon as the time has come when it is convenient to get rid of tenants,
nothing but the most unassailable title can stand against the proof that
such and such a plot of land was once part of the lord's demesne or of
the lord's waste. And this, one may suspect, was a great change, which
affected many families who thought themselves as safe as their
neighbours. For at least two centuries before enclosing became general
enough to cause alarm, the demesne and waste lands on one manor after
another had been nibbled away by small encroachments; for lords had been
glad to find an alternative to the cultivation of the former through
labour services, and the colonising of the latter, though sometimes a
source of complaint with commoners whose rights of pasture were
curtailed, was welcomed by the manorial authorities as a means of
improving lands which would otherwise be useless. Both together had been
in fact a sort of reservoir of land upon which any surplus population
could draw, and from which the more prosperous of the customary tenants
could lease additions to their holdings in the manner described above.
In our period the tendency is reversed. A lord is anxious to get rid of
the obstruction which the small farmer's lease offers to the
consolidation of holdings. He wishes to follow the advice of experts and
"reduce his demeans into one entier ferme."[501] Titles are questioned,
and the small lessee, whose interest is a terminable one and unprotected
by any manorial custom, is the first to suffer.

    [499] Fitzherbert, _Book of Surveying_, p. 32.

    [500] For reference, see p. 130, note 2.

    [501] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i., survey of Mudford
    and Hinton.

(b) _The Copyholders_[502]

But were the tenants at will and the leaseholders the only classes to be
evicted? No allusion has yet been made to the most difficult problem
which confronts the student of the sixteenth century agrarian
changes--the degree of protection enjoyed by the copyholders. If this
problem is the most difficult it is also one of the most important. As
far as can be calculated, the copyholders far exceeded in number upon
most manors all other classes of tenants together. Copyhold tenure was
the rule, and tenure at will and leasehold were generally the exception,
though the latter was an important exception. If all copyholders had
complete security, and were readily protected in their holdings by the
courts, there would be little sense in talking of an agrarian
revolution; for the changes, though they might still have caused much
individual suffering, could hardly have constituted anything like the
serious national danger which they were thought to be by many
contemporaries. Again, the copyholders were in a special sense the
kernel of a manor, the representatives of an ancient social system,
around which the newer relationships of leasehold were, so to speak,
comparatively modern accretions. It was with them and their business
that the manorial courts were concerned; a copyhold tenement could not
exist apart from a manor because surrender and admission in the manorial
court was essential to its recognition as copyhold; and the very name of
"customary tenants," by which copyholders were often described, suggests
the special antiquity and fixity of their position. Even in the
sixteenth century there were still manors where there were no tenants at
all except copyholders, and the mere shedding of the outer layers of
small leaseholders, who had sprung up around them, would have left the
organisation of such manors quite intact. It would have cut back recent
developments; it would not have shaken rural society very seriously.
One's view of the importance of the agrarian changes of the sixteenth
century will depend, therefore, to a great extent, upon the opinion
which is formed of the legal position of the copyholders.

    [502] In the following section on copyholders I have been guided
    largely by Dr. Savine's article in the _Quarterly Journal of
    Economics_, vol. xix.

The problem centres in the question to what extent a copyholder who was
threatened with eviction could obtain protection from the courts. It is
not at all easy to extract a definite answer on this point from the
writers of the period, whose views as to the degree of security enjoyed
by copyhold are often inconsistent with each other, and sometimes seem
to be inconsistent with themselves. The layman certainly thought that
copyhold tenants could be and were evicted, and this view seems to be
supported by Fitzherbert.[503] It is true that he draws a sharp
distinction between the customary land, the rent of which cannot be
altered, and the new intakes from the waste or the demesne, the rent of
which can be forced up at the lord's pleasure. But he expressly states
that copyhold tenants cannot get protection from the courts: "These
manners of tennants shall not plede nor be impleded of their tenements
by the king's writte"; and he implies elsewhere that the lord can
increase both rent and fines. Kitchin,[504] on the other hand, thinks
that the lord can never increase the amount of the admission fine; while
Coke,[505] in a well-known passage, emphasises the copyholder's security
as long as he makes no breach in the custom by failing in his services,
and points out that he can protect himself either by proceedings in
Chancery or by a writ of trespass.

    [503] Fitzherbert, _Book of Surveying_, p. 28.

    [504] Kitchin, _Court Leet_.

    [505] Coke, _The Complete Copyholder_.

It is not surprising, in view of the variety of opinion as to the
copyholders' status which obtained in the sixteenth century, that there
should have been much disagreement about it among historians. It seems
possible, however, at any rate to narrow the limits of conjecture by
ruling certain theories out of account. In the first place one can
hardly now accept the view put forward by Mr. Leadam,[506] that, at any
rate after 1467, all copyholders had complete legal security, as
complete, it would appear, as freehold, though guaranteed by different
remedies. He holds that copyholders who occupied customary land, and who
were "tenants at will according to the custom of the manor," could get
redress either by petition in the Court of the lord with an appeal to
Chancery, or by an action of trespass in the Common Pleas, the classes
who suffered from eviction being "tenants at will at Common Law," who,
though sometimes described as inferior copyholders, were not really
copyholders at all, because they did not occupy the lands set apart as
customary lands. This view, according to which the lord could clear off
his estate all the newer copyhold tenancies on the demesne or waste, but
was debarred by the courts from touching the tenancies on the customary
land of the manor, receives a certain support from the great pains
shown by the manorial authorities in distinguishing between the two.
But, while it rightly emphasises the special features of the tenure of
customary land, it is difficult to reconcile what we actually know of
the position of copyholders with this theory as to the complete security
of copyhold tenure. To the objection that contemporaries who could
hardly have been mistaken certainly supposed that copyholders suffered,
Mr. Leadam would, no doubt, answer that they were thinking of the
"inferior copyholders" who held pieces of the demesne or waste. But this
answer has got to meet difficulties which are really overwhelming. On
the one hand, the historical confirmation which Mr. Leadam seeks, by
trying to trace the distinction postulated back into the remote regions
of tenure in villeinage, can no longer be accepted now that the
difference between villeinage "regardant" and villeinage "en gros," on
which he relies, has been proved to refer not to differences in the
tenure by which the serfs held their lands, but simply to different
methods of pleading, which have nothing to do with the question of the
tenant's security, but merely with the form in which cases were argued
in the courts.[507] On the other hand, it cannot be made to fit the
facts of the copyholders' position in the sixteenth century. The truth
is that copyholders were not safe even on the sacred customary land
itself. It is quite certain that a great many copyholds were not
copyholds of inheritance, but copyholds for life, which returned into
the hands of the lord with the death of every tenant. It is certain
also, as will be shown later, that fines for admission to customary
holdings were on some manors raised enormously during the sixteenth
century. How can one reconcile these facts with the view that the lord
could make no alteration in the treatment of the customary land which
would jeopardise the copyholders' interest?

    [506] Leadam, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. vi.

    [507] Vinogradoff, _Villainage in England_, pp. 48-56.

Nor is it easy to accept the sharply contrasted theory of Professor
Ashley.[508] Where Mr. Leadam sees absolute security of tenure
guaranteed by the courts, Professor Ashley sees absolute insecurity
mitigated by a once powerful but now decaying custom. In the past, when
the lord's land had been dependent on labour services for its
cultivation, the last thing he wanted to do was to get rid of the
tenants, and therefore custom had made it a rule of practice, though not
of law, that first villein, and then copyhold, tenements should pass in
the manorial court from father to son. But just when this custom was on
the way to become law through the action of the courts in extending
protection to copyholders, changed economic conditions made pasture
farming much more profitable than tillage, and so supplied landowners
with a strong motive for breaking it down. In the struggle which
followed custom and public opinion were on the side of the tenants, but
the law was on the side of the landlords, and copyholders were evicted
without being able to obtain any legal redress, not merely through
ignorance or intimidation, but because no legal protection was offered
them by the courts. There is perhaps only one serious objection to this
ingenious theory. But that is insuperable. It is that in certain
circumstances, at any rate, the courts did in fact offer protection to
copyholders who were threatened with eviction. In the fifteenth century
a considerable number of cases came before the Court of Chancery. In the
sixteenth century the same business, which in view of the number of
copyholders must have been a lucrative one, came before the Common Law
Courts. The case of the year 1482,[509] which is quoted by Professor
Ashley to show the hesitation which the judges felt as to whether a
copyholder had any legal remedy, is really one of a long series in which
the courts considered the claims of copyholders, and which Coke must
have had in mind when he said, "Now copyholders stand upon a sure
ground: now they weigh not their lord's displeasure, they shake not at
every sudden blast of wind, they eat, drink, sleep securely ... let the
lord frown, the copyholder cares not, knowing himself safe, and not
within any danger."[510] To overlook that series of cases is really to
misread a change of the first importance, a change which almost amounted
to a legal revolution. Suppose that at the present day the courts were
to begin to protect the "tenant right" of workmen who have given their
lives to a trade by ruling that any man dismissed after fifteen years
continuous service should either be reinstated or receive compensation?
The change would be greater--but would it be much greater?--than the
momentous departure that was made by the judges who for the first time
decided that a man impleaded for a villein tenement should have an
action in Chancery. For centuries such actions could not be brought, and
if brought would have been simply sent back to the court of the manor
with the endorsement "our lord the king does not interfere in matters of
villeinage."[511] Now the tide is reversed. From 1439 onwards a stream
of equitable jurisdiction flows out from the Chancery to secure the
title of the very class which has hitherto had no legal title at all.
Tenure in villeinage becomes copyhold. Clearly the discovery of these
cases by Dr. Savine[512] must alter the whole standpoint from which we
view the struggle between lords and copyholders in the sixteenth
century. If one must reject the view of Mr. Leadam that copyholders on
customary land had complete legal security, one must also, it would
seem, reject the view of Professor Ashley that the courts never
interfered in their favour. Somehow or another one must reconcile a good
deal of insecurity with a good deal of protection, the complaints of
contemporaries that copyholders suffered from enclosures with the
equally indisputable fact that they were fairly often protected by the

    [508] Ashley, _Economic History_, Part I., vol. ii. pp. 274-282.

    [509] Coke upon Littleton, 60 b.

    [510] Coke, _The Complete Copyholder_.

    [511] Note-book of Bracton pl., 1237: "Dominus rex non vult se
    de eis intromittere" (quoted Vinogradoff, _Villainage in
    England_, p. 46, note 2).

    [512] On this point see _English Hist. Review_, vol. viii. p.

A way leading some distance through this apparent contradiction may,
perhaps, be found by recurring to that dependence upon manorial custom
which is the characteristic feature of copyhold. A copyholder is a
tenant by copy of Court Roll according to the custom of the manor, and
this custom is primarily what regulates his rights and obligations. The
custom must be an immemorial one; mere prescription is not custom; to be
binding it must have "been used time out of mind." Given such a custom,
it is this upon which the nature of the copyholder's tenure depends; and
it is noticeable that authorities who differ as to the practical outcome
of it, all agree that it is with custom that the first appeal lies. But
the custom of a manor is a particular and individual thing peculiar to
that manor, and determining the relations between lord and tenant there
and not elsewhere. In the words of a surveyor, "Their customs are not so
universall as if a man have experyence of the customs and services of
any mannor he shall thereby have perfect knowledge of all the rest, or
if he be experte of the customes of any one mannor in any one countie
that he shall nede no further enstruccions for all the residewe of the
mannors within that countie."[513] There are several different sets of
customs, and therefore several different sorts of copyhold. There are,
in fact, copyholders and copyholders, and there is no general law of
copyhold because its essence is to be local and peculiar. The first
question, therefore, which has got to be asked, when considering the
question of the legal security of copyholders, relates to the custom of
the manor on which they are found; for probably, if the parties go to
law, this is the first question which will be asked by the court. If it
is shown that in getting rid of a tenant the lord has broken the custom
of the manor, there is much likelihood in the sixteenth century that the
court will restore it. If this is not shown, there is little probability
that the court will go behind the custom in favour of the tenants, or
try to harmonise it with general principles of equity, except in so far
as it declines to take account of customs which are held to be
"unreasonable," a word too vague to be much protection to a tenant or
much hindrance to a lord. It is this tremendous importance of local
custom which causes it to be so minutely entered in manorial documents,
and which results both in the constant appeals which are made to it when
cases come before the courts, and in the careful recording of
contradictory opinions. Surveyors are at pains to emphasise the
difference between land which is customary land and land which is not,
because, while on the former the introduction of new conditions will be
followed by all sorts of friction and disturbance, on the latter the
tenants will have no case in opposing them. It is here that Mr. Leadam's
distinction between holders of customary land and holders of land taken
from the waste or the demesne becomes of real value. It is a particular
exemplification of a general rule, the rule that the appeal is always to
custom. The meaning of the distinction is not, as Mr. Leadam seems to
suggest, that copyholders on the former always had legal protection and
copyholders on the latter always had not. It is that the crucial
question is always, "What sort of custom are you under?" and that, while
on the customary holdings the custom _may_ be unfavourable to the
tenant's security, it is much more likely to be unfavourable on the
newer tenancies formed on land which, perhaps within the memory of
persons living, was indubitably the lord's own, not merely in the
general sense in which even the villein's land had been the lord's, but
in the practical sense that it was part of his demesne to use as he
pleased. In fact quite a common answer when copyholders bring an action
is the statement that the land in question is not ancient copyhold but
part of the demesne;[514] and when the Protector Somerset applied his
popular agrarian policy to his own estates he had to get Parliament to
pass a special Act to give the copyholders on his demesnes peculiar

    [513] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i. The surveyor is

    [514] _Calendar of Proceedings in Chancery in the Reign of Ed.
    VI._, vol. i. p. cxxxvii.: "To the Right Honourable Sir Richard
    Riche, Kt., Lord Riche and Lord Chancellor of England. In humble
    wise sheweth and complaineth unto your lordeshippe your daley
    orator Richard Cullyer of Wymondham ... yeoman, and John Cullyer
    his son," that whereas they "were admitted tenants (of 20 acres)
    to hold the same to them and their heirs ... and contynued
    seased of the said 20 acres as of fee, as tenants at will, by
    copy of Court Roll" now "Thomas Knyvett, Esq. ... of late
    claimed 10 acres of the said 20 acres to be the demeanes of the
    said manor." Knyvett (i.) answers, "The said lond ys and have
    been tyme out of mynde parcell of the demeanes of the moytie of
    the said manor of Cromwell." (ii.) Denies that "the premises
    have been used to be dymytted or be dymittable by copie of Court
    Roll for term of lyfe or lyves as in fee"; on the contrary "yt
    may appear that the same have been letten by term of yeres."

    [515] In 1548 an Act was passed "for the assurance to the
    tenants of graunts and leases made for the Duke of Somerset's
    demesne lands." It begins, "Whereas of truth noe custom or usage
    can or maye by the lawes of this realm be annexed or knytt to
    any meases, lands, tenements, or hereditaments letten by copye
    of Court Roll ... albeyt those words 'secundum consuetudinem
    manerii,' be rehearsed and expressed in the saide Court Rolle or
    coppie had or made, except that the same meases, lands,
    tenements, or other hereditaments, so letten be of olde
    customarie or coppieholde land, and have byn used by all the
    tyme whereof memory of man is not to the contrary to be letten
    or demysed by copie of court roll."

The significance of custom is shown in other ways as well. In the
numerous petitions in Chancery addressed by copyholders their demand is
constantly for a recital or confirmation of manorial customs, and the
same line is taken in the fewer cases which come before the Courts of
Common Law. Tenants who claim an estate of inheritance and a fixed fine
on admission refuse in a body to show their copies to the surveyors,
presumably for fear that, if they do, some excuse may be made to upset
the custom.[516] Tenants will perjure themselves as to the nature of the
custom of their manor in order to be thought to have estates of
inheritance. In the days when copyholders (if they exist at all) are
still very few and villeins many, men who are really villeins of St.
Peter's of Exeter come forward and swear falsely that they hold in
socage, "intending all to say that they hold and ought to hold _de
stipite in stipitem_, Anglice stock after stock";[517] but the falsehood
is exposed, and they are punished with a fine of 30s. The copyhold
tenants on the Northumbrian manor of Amble claim in the sixteenth
century that manorial custom requires that the next of kin of the whole
blood shall succeed his father, and that the fines shall be limited to
two years' rent. But the surveyors repudiate their claim, remarking that
"we cannot find that they have any such estate of inheritance."[518]
Elsewhere the copyholders are more fortunate, and succeed in inducing
the manorial authorities themselves to make formal admission of the
custom, or in proving its existence to the satisfaction of the courts.
In 1567 the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral, and the one
hundred and fifty-eight copyhold tenants on their manor of Crondal,
enter into a solemn covenant and bargain--may we not call it a
"collective bargain"?--whereby it is agreed that fixed rents, fixed
fines, and copyholds of inheritance, "shall be from henceforth for ever
accepted, reputed, deamed, and taken to be vearye trewe, just, certaine,
and auncient customs, rights, dewtyes, and useages, between the Lorde
and the Customarye tenants ...; and shall from henceforth stand,
contynewe, remayne, and be of perfect force and strength to conclude and
bynde the said Deane and Chapiter, their successors and assignees of the
said mannour and hundred and everye parte thereof for ever."[519] The
tenants at Elswick[520] go to law with the lord of the manor on the
question of the nature of their estates, and, on the records of a custom
requiring the admission of a son on his father's death being produced,
the custom is confirmed by the court. Even the Government of Elizabeth,
favourable as it was to the small man, would not intervene without first
being informed of the nature of the custom. When a tenant appeals to
them for protection, they refer the matter to the local justices, with a
request to "certifie their opinions of the poor man's right."[521] No
doubt once the Courts begin to interfere with the internal business of a
manor they tend to break down some of the peculiarities of local custom,
and to set up a general pattern of copyhold tenure by ruling out certain
customs as "unreasonable." Copyholders for life may not cut down
timber,[522] though perhaps copyholders of inheritance may. Two and a
half years' rent is held by the reign of Charles I. to be an
unreasonable fine, one and a half years' to be reasonable, and the heir
shall not forfeit his copyhold if he tenders such a sum when he demands
admission.[523] But the definition of what is meant by "unreasonable"
has been going on from that day to this, and is perhaps not yet
completed. In our period it was only just beginning. At any rate we
shall not be far wrong if we say that, speaking broadly, the crucial
question is always whether the custom makes it easy for lords to get rid
of tenants or whether it makes it difficult. If an ancient custom gives
the lord a free hand, he has little trouble in getting his way. If it
restricts him, the courts are likely to enforce the restriction, and
though the lord still has, of course, the option of extra-legal action
by way of persuasion, cajolery, or intimidation, the tenants are likely
to be protected by the law.

    [516] See pp. 122-123.

    [517] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 3218, p. 74. Inquisition of
    February 20, 1308.

    [518] _Northumberland County History_, vol. v. p. 282.

    [519] _Crondal Records_ (Baigent), Part I. p. 177.

    [520] _Northumberland County History_, vol. viii.

    [521] _Acts of the Privy Council_, vol. xiii. pp. 91?-92, 1581.
    The justices are to decide "if they thinke it agreeable with
    equite and justice that the poore man should be put in
    possession of the said landes."

    [522] Croke's _Reports_, vol. iii., Trin. 4 Caroli, Rot. dcciv.
    case 7. Custom that copyholder for life may cut down trees
    pronounced "a void and unreasonable custom and not allowable by
    law. For it is the destruction of the inheritance and against
    the nature of a copyholder for life. But peradventure there may
    be such a custom for a copyholder of inheritance."

    [523] _Ibid._, vol. iii., p. 198, case 8, Hill, 5 Car., Rot.
    125: "The question was whether a lord of a mannor may assess two
    years and a half value of copyhold land according to racked rent
    for a fine upon surrender and admittance, and for non-payment
    enter for forfeiture. And all the Court conceived that one year
    and a half of rent improved is high enough; and the defendant
    assessing two years and a half it is unreasonable, and therefore
    the plaintiff might well refuse the payment thereof." _Ibid._,
    vol. i. p. 779, case 13, takes the rule that unreasonable fines
    need not be paid back to 1600 ("It was holden _per curiam_ that
    if the lord demands an unreasonable fine of his coppyholder
    where the fine is uncertain, if he denies it, it is not any
    forfeiture of his copyhold"), but his judgment does not say how
    many years' rent is a reasonable fine. The _Calendar of Chancery
    Proceedings, temp._ Eliz., is full of petitions from tenants
    asking the court to declare fines excessive. The rule that a
    fine must not exceed two years' rent does not appear to have
    been accepted as binding till 1781 (_Grant v. Ashe, Douglas
    Reports_, 722?-723). But it is plain from the cases cited above
    that by 1600 it was recognised that some fines were
    unreasonable, and by 1630 that a reasonable fine should not
    exceed one and a half years' rent. The fact that the Chancery
    intervened to protect the equitable interests of copyholders
    earlier than the Common Law Courts leads one to suspect that
    there must be earlier cases than these of the Courts declaring
    fines unreasonable. But I have not found them.

The dependence of copyhold upon manorial custom offers an explanation of
the fact that the changes of the sixteenth century displaced
copyholders, although the courts would intervene when a custom which
gave them security was proved to exist. The most important questions
with regard to the custom which determined the copyholders' position
were two: first, whether he had by it an estate of inheritance, or
merely an estate for years, for life, or for lives; second, whether his
payments were fixed or unalterable, or whether they could be increased
at the will of the lord. If it was not an estate of inheritance his
holding returned fairly frequently into the hands of the manorial
authorities, who could either renew it on the old terms, or lease it at
an increased rent, or amalgamate it with a large farm. In the second
case, where payments were variable, lords could force a tenant to throw
up his land by placing a prohibitive burden upon it. The only way of
ascertaining with accuracy the real position of copyholders in our
period would be to show the relative proportions in which these four
arrangements are found upon each of many hundred manors. And this we
cannot yet do. The figures published by Dr. Savine[524] suggest that
manors on which copyholders possessed an estate of inheritance, and
those where they did not, were about equal in number, while manors on
which the fines were uncertain predominated over those on which they
were fixed in a proportion of more than two to one. Since it would seem
that the ability of the lord to demand what fine he pleased could be
used as a means of excluding a successor even when the copy was not
merely for life or lives but from father to son, his investigations
suggest that the copyholders' tenure was more often insecure than not.

    [524] _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xix.

To the examples which he has collected one may perhaps add certain
others, inadequate though they are in point of quantity. Taking
twenty-one[525] manors in the years 1568?-1573, of which three are in
Somersetshire, one in Devonshire, and seventeen in Wiltshire, one finds
that on only one out of the whole number was the copyholders' estate one
of inheritance. On one manor copies were granted for four lives or
less--it is expressly stated that they are not to be granted for
more--and on nineteen they are granted for three lives or less. On one
manor (that where the copyholders had estates of inheritance) the fine
was fixed by custom at a sum which is not stated, but which could not be
increased. On the remaining twenty the fine was a variable one, the
general formula being that land shall be given "for such fines as buyers
can fix by bargaining with the lord or his officers, both in possession
and in reversion," which means that they were to be fixed by the
higgling of the market. Turning next to two manors on the Welsh[526]
Border, which were in possession of the Crown, one is told that in the
reign of Elizabeth the royal officers granted the tenants leases for
years, renewable at the will of the tenant, and fixed the fine at two
years' rent, thus giving them what was virtually an estate of
inheritance. It is possible, however, that the Crown tenants received
more favourable treatment than did those on manors which were in
private hands. From Northumberland, again, there is a good deal of
evidence which it is difficult to summarise. Coke stated that "the
customary tenants upon the borders of Scotland ... are mere tenants at
will, and though they keep their customs inviolate, yet the lord might,
sans controll, evict them."[527] At the beginning of the seventeenth
century an order in Chancery ruled that none of the tenants of Lady
Cumberland,[528] who paid a fine on the death of lord and tenant, could
have an estate of inheritance; and we have clear evidence that the fines
paid by the copyhold tenants of the Earl of Northumberland[529]
increased very considerably in the course of the sixteenth century. On
the other hand such insecurity was not universal. A common rule on the
Northumbrian border seems to have given a copyhold for life, with a
tenant right of renewal to the heir, provided that a constant custom of
renewal could be proved.[530] On the Crown estates in the reign of
Elizabeth fines were fixed on conditions which varied from place to
place; sometimes they were at discretion, sometimes one year's rent,
sometimes two years' rent; and in 1609 the tenants of twelve
Tynemouthshire manors got the Courts to confirm a custom limiting their
fine to a definite sum, on six of them to £2 on the admission of a
descendant, and £4 on alienation, and on the remaining six to one year's
rent in the former case and two years' rent in the latter.[531] On
eleven out of thirteen manors in Norfolk[532] and Suffolk the fines are
uncertain; on one, Wighton, they are said to have been fixed at 4s. per
acre "by the space of 100 years at least"; on one, Aldeburgh, there is a
curious distinction between the fines paid for land "in the fields,"
which are at the will of the lord, and the fines paid for cottage
tenements, which are fixed at 2s. when the site is built upon and 1s.
when the site is not covered. Elsewhere when the fine is fixed the
ordinary payment seems to be usually two years' rent on descent, with
sometimes a small addition, sometimes a small deduction, when the
tenement is alienated during the tenant's life. Estates of inheritance
and fixed fines do not necessarily go together. The general situation on
the small number of manors for which information has been obtained is
set out below.[533] Table I relates to duration of tenancies, Table II
to the character of admission fines. In each table, line (_a_) gives Dr.
Savine's figures, line (_b_) our own, line (_c_) the total of both




  |         |            |Copyholds for   |              | Copyholds for  |
  |         |            | Years but with |              |Years but with- |
  | Manors. |Copyholds of|Right of Renewal|Copyholds for | out Right of   |
  |         |Inheritance.| (_i.e._        |Life or Lives.| Renewal(_i.e._ |
  |         |            |  virtually     |   Renewal    |virtually Leases|
  |         |            |  Copyholds of  |              |  for Years).   |
  |         |            |  Inheritance). |              |                |
  |(_a_)  82|     25     |       17       |      40      |      ...       |
  |(_b_)  60|     22     |        2       |      33      |       3        |
  |(_c_) 142|     47     |       19       |      73      |       3        |



  |         |                  |                    |  Partly Certain and |
  | Manors. |   Fines Certain. |  Fines Uncertain.  |  Partly Uncertain.  |
  |(_a_)  86|        28        |         58         |         ...         |
  |(_b_)  61|        25        |         35         |          1          |
  |(_c_) 147|        53        |         93         |          1          |

    [525] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Pembroke Manors_. The
    twenty-one manors are as follows: Washerne, South Newton, North
    Ugford, Brudecombe, Foughlestone, Chalke, Albedeston, Chilmerke
    and Rugge, Staunton, Westoverton, Remesbury, Stockton,
    Dichampton, Berwick St. John, Wyley, North Newton, Byshopeston
    (all in Wilts), Donyett, Chedseye, South Brent (all in
    Somerset), and Paynton in Devonshire. Estates of inheritance are
    found at Byshopeston, and also fixed fines. At Paynton copies
    are granted for 4 lives or less. The common formula for fines
    runs: "Pro talibus finibus ut emptores et captores cum domino et
    officiariis suis concordare vel barganizare possunt tam de terra
    in possessione quam in reversione."

    [526] MSS. Transcript in Wrexham Free Library by A.N. Palmer, of
    "The Presentment and Verdict for the Manor of Hewlington," 1620
    (in which the proceedings in the reign of Elizabeth are
    recorded), and "The Surveys of the Town and Liberty of Holt,"
    1620. At Hewlington it is stated that the Crown Commissioners
    made an arrangement with the tenants "that if the said tenants
    would relinquish these said pretended estates, revive the said
    decayed rents, and pay two yeres Rent of the landes to the late
    Queen for a fine, that then the said tenants and their heirs and
    assignes should have leases granted them for fortie years, and
    so from fortie years to fortie years in perpetuity." It is not
    expressly stated that the same arrangement was made at Holt, but
    it is to be inferred from the context that it was.

    [527] Coke, _The Complete Copyholder_.

    [528] _Northumberland County History_, vol. viii. p. 238.

    [529] See below, pp. 305?-306.

    [530] _Northumberland County History_, vol. viii. pp. 238?-239.

    [531] _Ibid._ For conditions on the Crown estates under
    Elizabeth see _S. P. D. Eliz._, vol. xii. pp. 69?-70: "Abstract
    of the Commission to the lord Chancellor ... for letting the
    queen's lands and tenements in Northumberland within 20 miles of
    the border and in the seigniories of Middleham and Richmond,
    Yorkshire and Barnard Castle, Bishopric of Durham," June 24,

    [532] The manors are West Lexham (Holkham MSS., West Lexham, No.
    87, Map), Sparham (_ibid._, Sparham Bdle., No. 5), East Dereham
    (R.O. Parliamentary Surveys, Norfolk, No. 1), Wighton (R.O.
    Special Commissions, Duchy of Lancs., No. 839), Stockton Socon
    (R.O. Parliamentary Surveys, Norfolk, No. 14), Aldeburgh (R.O.
    _Misc. Bks. Treas. of Receipts_, vol. clxiii.), Chatesham (R.O.
    _ibid._, vol. clxiii.), Dodnash (R.O. _ibid._, vol. clxiii.),
    Falkenham (R.O. _ibid._, vol. clxiii.), Stratford iuxta Higham
    (R.O. Duchy of Lancaster, Rentals and Surveys, 9/13), St. Edmund
    (R.O. Parliamentary Surveys, Suffolk, No. 14), Mettingham
    (_Victoria County History_, Suffolk), Mark Soham (_ibid._).

    [533] See Appendix II.

It will be seen that the degree of security enjoyed by copyholders
varies very greatly. When the copyhold is one of inheritance, it is
legally complete, unless the tenants incur forfeiture by breaking the
custom. An estate for life with right of renewal is virtually as good as
a copyhold of inheritance. Estates for life or lives are precarious.
Copyholds for years without right of renewal are scarcely
distinguishable from leases. On the whole, when these examples are added
to those of Dr. Savine, it would appear that copyholds for life or lives
were more usual than copyholds of inheritance, while fixed fines were
the exception and variable fines the general rule.

(c) _The Undermining of Customary Tenures_

The importance of the predominance of copyholds for lives for the
question of the degree of security enjoyed by the tenant is shown by the
efforts which were made by lords of manors, where copyholders had
estates of inheritance, to persuade them to give up their copies and
take leases instead. It is evident that in this course they encountered
a good deal of opposition. On manors, however, where the copyholds
escheated to the lord at intervals of one, two, or three lives, he could
substitute leases for a regrant of the copies, or throw the holdings
into a large farm, or retain them in his own hands. Though such action
might be thought harsh, it could hardly be prevented by the tenants,
since the lord could always hold the threat of eviction over their
heads. One finds some manors where the striking and exceptional
preponderance of small leaseholders suggests unmistakably that such a
conversion of copyhold to leasehold has taken place,[534] or where the
motive of the alteration is shown by the great rise in rents which has
followed it. One finds others where the struggle between copyhold and
leasehold is going on and is still undecided. In that struggle the
chances are against the copyholders, even though their interest is
protected by the law, for the law is less powerful than ignorance and
fear. How can our peasants, men "very simple and ignorant of their
estates,"[535] enter into the respective merits of copies and leases
with the powers of the manor, armed with professional advice and all
those indefinite but invincible advantages in bargaining which are given
by legal knowledge, social influence, and a long tradition of authority?
It is so easy to get caught in some legal trap. In the reign of Charles
I., the two hundred Crown tenants of the manor of North Wheatley, who
have suffered much in the way of rack-renting from the officers of their
impecunious lord, engage a lawyer to negotiate the renewal of their
leases of the demesne lands. The grant is made to him, as their
attorney; but, to their dismay, they find that he declines to fulfil his
bargain. He has "afterward, contrary to the Trust committed to him,
increased and raised the rent thereof upon the tenants, to his owne
privat benefitt."[536] The tenants of Hewlington succeed, as we have
seen, in inducing the Crown to recognise their estates of inheritance by
granting that their forty years' leases shall be renewable at the will
of the tenants. Then unexpectedly a servant of the Earl of Leicester
purchases one of the townships. The tenants, in an agony of
apprehension, "perceiving that they were like to have their said landes
and tenements after the expiration of their said leases taken from them,
and that they had no remedy by the course of the common law to helpe
themselves, preferred their Bill to be relieved in Equitie." Chancery
comes to their rescue. It decides that the covenant made by the Crown to
the effect that their leases should be renewable at the option of the
holder is binding not only on the Crown, but on all to whom it might
sell the lands in question. But their troubles are not yet finished. It
is one thing to get a judgment, another for the judgment to be carried
out. The purchaser is servant to a great man and can afford to be
dilatory and recalcitrant. We leave these villagers still petitioning
"His Highness and His Honourable Council and Commissioners of Revenue
that when it shall seem good unto them the said tenants may be admitted
to have their leases accordingly."

    [534] _E.g._ Ormesby in Norfolk, where in 1516 thirty-one
    tenants holding "in farm" formed the whole landholding
    population (R.O. Rentals and Surveys, Gen. Ser., Portf. 22, No.
    18). For a great rise in rents following a probable substitution
    of leases for customary tenures, see the case of Lewisham in
    Kent. On this manor in the reign of Henry VI. the rent of the
    tenants (tenure unspecified) was £8, 11s. 7d., 9 plougshares,
    and 6s. 2-1/2d. in the abbot's hand (R.O. Rentals and Surveys,
    Gen. Ser., Roll 361). In 1621 it was £23, 1s. 6-1/2d. (R.O.
    _Misc. Bks. Treas. of Receipt_, vol. clxxiv., fol. 1?34). In the
    reign of James I. we have full details. The rent of the free
    tenants was £17, 12s. 10-1/2d.; that of the tenants at will 9d.;
    that of tenants "per dimissionem" (_i.e._ lease-holders) £72,
    9s. 8-1/2d. (R.O. _Misc. Bks. Aug. Off._, vol. ccccxiv., f.
    33?34). It is unfortunate that we are not told how the bulk of
    the tenants held at the two earlier dates. But is it
    unreasonable to say that they were probably customary tenants,
    and that the introduction of leases was followed by a great rise
    in rents?

    [535] Survey of Town and Liberty of Holt, MS. transcript in
    Wrexham Free Library.

    [536] _S. P. D._, ch. i. vol. cli., No. 38. (See Appendix I.,
    No. iv.)

It is so easy to be intimidated by the fear of aggravating your
misfortunes. When an agent frightens some tenants by telling them the
unfavourable decision of the Court of Chancery as to the tenant right of
the copyholders on a neighbouring estate, do they answer, as they
should, that manorial customs vary, and that they will see what the
Courts say about their own? No, they make "Humble suit that your
lordship will be pleased to grant them leases for twenty-one years, and
they will pay, in lieu of their fine, double rent for every farm."[537]
Sometimes they live to repent their bargain. "I have persuaded one John
Wilson of Over-Buston," writes a manorial official to the Earl of
Northumberland, "to deliver me in his copy, and he is content to take a
lease at double rent."[538] A strange chance has left us a letter, in
which this very John Wilson, labouring horribly amid the intricacies of
grammar, expounds through one long, broken-backed sentence, what balm
such "contentment" brings. "To the Right Honourable the Earl of
Northumberland, the humble petition of John Wilson, his wife and 8 poor
children. Humbly complaining showeth ... your petitioner ... that
whereas your said petitioner and his predecessors being ancient tenants
to your honour, holding one tenement on ferme in Upper Bustone, by
virtue of copyhold tenure out of the memory of man, which copies both of
your said poor petitioners' great grandfather, his father's father, and
his own father are yet extant to be seen: and now of late your said
poor petitioner, being under age, helpless and none to do for him, and
forced (God knows) by some of your honour's officers to take a lease and
pay double and treble rent, in so much that your said poor petitioner,
his wife, and 8 poor children is utterly now beggared and overthrown,
unless your worthy good honour will be pleased to take a pitiful
communication thereof, or otherwise your saide poore petitioner, his
wife and poore children knows no other way but of force to give over
your honour's land, by reason of the deare renting thereof, and so be
constrained to go a-begging up and down the countrie."[539] Poor,
patient, stiff-fingered John Wilson, so certain that he has not been
treated fairly, so confident that his lordship cannot have meant him to
be wronged, so easily circumvented by his lordship's brisk officials! He
and his heavy kind are slow to move; but, once roused, they will not
easily be persuaded to go back. It was such as he that, at one time or
another in the sixteenth century, set half the English counties ablaze
with the grievances of the tillers of the soil.

    [537] _Northumberland County History_, vol. viii. p. 238.

    [538] _Ibid._, vol. v. p. 211. The rent was raised from 18s. to

    [539] _Northumberland County History_, vol. v. p. 210.

The significance of the predominance of variable fines is very evident
if one turns to examine the economic relations between lords and
copyhold tenants as they stood in the middle of the sixteenth century. A
manor on which there was a large number of customary tenants must have
often seemed from the point of the owner a rather disappointing form of
property, because the first fruits of economic progress tended to pass
into the hands of the tenants. The rents and services due from their
holdings were fixed by custom; meanwhile prices were rising with the
fall in the value of silver, and the result, as is pointed out by
Maitland, was that the economic rent or unearned increment of their
properties was intercepted by the copyholders, instead of being drained,
as under leasehold, into the pocket of the lord.

An explanation of what is meant can best be given by recurring to the
table of rents printed in Chapter III. of Part I. It will be recollected
that on the manors there represented the value of the rents got by the
lords from the customary tenants was often almost stationary. When the
enormous fall in the purchasing power of money is remembered, it is
clear that rentals must sometimes have very greatly depreciated, which
of course meant that the tenants retained the surplus due to economic
progress, a surplus measured by the difference between the "rents of
assize" and the full rack-rent for which the holding could be let if put
up to competition, and amounting sometimes to more than three-quarters
of the latter. At Wilburton, for example (to quote a fresh instance),
according to Maitland,[540] a virgate worth £7 or £8 only pays £1 in
rent. From the competitive rents of the open market the lord was
debarred by the custom of the manor. How could he tap the surplus? He
did so, it may be suggested, either by inducing the tenants to exchange
their copies for leases, or by raising the fines, when the fines were
not fixed by custom, so as to get in a lump sum what he could not get by
yearly instalments. In that case the tenant's surplus was on paper only;
he was exactly in the position of an investor in a stock of inflated
value, the high nominal interest of which has been capitalised in the
price paid for the shares. The probability that when fines were movable,
they were forced up in the sixteenth century so as to sweep away any
unearned increment accruing to the holders of customary land, is not
only suggested by the bitter denunciations launched against the practice
by contemporaries. It is also indicated by the manorial documents. May
not this be the explanation of what Maitland justly calls "the absurdly
high price" of £1261 paid in the reign of James I. by the purchasers of
Wilburton, a manor the yearly value of which was at the time only £33?
The suggestion is confirmed, as far as a few manors are concerned, by
the upward movement of fines revealed by the following table--


                              1567.                            1585.
   Acklington   £57, 3s. 8d. or £3, 3s. 4d.   £87, 10s. 0d. or £4, 17s. 2d.
                  per tenant.                   per tenant.
   High Buston  £11, 14s. 0d. or £2, 18s. 6d. £18,  0s. 0d. or £4, 10s. 0d.
                  per tenant.                   per tenant.
   Birling      £43, 7s. 6d. or £4, 6s. 9d.   £72,  0s. 0d. or £7,  4s. 0d.
                  per tenant.                   per tenant.


   1520-39, average fine per acre for each of 42 tenants  1s.  3d.
   1540-49,      "          "          "      28    "     2s. 11d.
   1550-59,      "          "          "      36    "     5s.  6d.
   1560-69,      "          "          "      29    "    11s.  0d.

    [540] Maitland, _English Historical Review_, vol, ix., "The
    History of a Cambridgeshire Manor."

    [541] _Northumberland County History_, vol. v.

    [542] Roxburghe Club, _Surveys of Pembroke Manors_. The manors
    are South Newton, Washerne, Donnington, Winterbourne Basset,
    Estoverton and Phipheld, Byshopeston (all Wilts), and South
    Brent and Huish (Somerset).

The figures show a steady upward movement during the third and fourth
decades of the century of a little over 100 per cent., a rather less
rapid rise between 1549 and 1559, and another rise of 100 per cent.
between 1559 and 1569. They are of course too small to be the basis of a
wide generalisation, but perhaps they may be held to offer some
documentary confirmation of a grievance which bulks large in the
literature of the period. The elasticity of fines at any rate corrects
the impression which would be formed of the tenants' position from
looking only at the comparatively stationary rents. The same tendency is
suggested by the details of individual copies. It was a not uncommon
practice for a tenant who was in possession and had an estate for life
to buy at a later date the right of his heir to succeed him. When this
was done we have an opportunity of comparing the fines paid at different
periods, and the complaints of contemporaries about unreasonable and
excessive fines become intelligible. This may be illustrated by a few
extreme instances taken from the manors of Estoverton and Donnington in
Wiltshire, and of South Brent in Somersetshire.

     Fine for Copy.    Fine for Reversion.

     1.  6/8 (1537)    £5           (1563)
     2. 40/?    "       £13, 6s. 8d. (1566)
     3. 54/4   "       £23          (1561)
     4. 60/?    "       £30          (1565)
     5. 20/?    "       £10          (1561)
     6. 20/?  (1529)    £40          (1563)
     7. 33/4 (1542)    £20          (1565)
     8. 66/8 (1522)    £20          (1563)
     9. 13/4 (1516)    £13, 6s. 8d. (1563)
    10. 40/?  (1513)    £40          (1565)
    11. 46/8 (1531)    £20          (1563)
    12.  6/8 (1545)    £20          (1565)
    13. 13/4 (1522)    £5, 6s. 8d.  (1558)
    14. £9   (1532)    £12          (1557)

Though these are extreme cases, a considerable rise is the rule and not
the exception. The advantage of the fixed rent is in fact neutralised
by the movable fine. Such figures give point to Crowley's outbursts,
"They take our houses over our heads; they buye our groundes out of
handes, they reyse our rents, they levy great, yea unreasonable
fines."[543] It is not surprising that the programme[544] of agrarian
reform put forward by the Yorkshire insurgents in 1536, and by the
rebels under Ket in 1549, should have contained a demand for copyhold
lands "to be charged with an easy fine, as a capon or a reasonable sum
of money." It is not surprising that the Court of Chancery[545] should
have been bombarded with petitions to declare or enforce customs
limiting the demands which a lord might make of an incoming tenant. It
is perhaps more surprising that, in those cases where the fine was by
custom uncertain, the rule that a reasonable fine was about two years'
rent should not have been enforced by judges at an earlier date and more
generally than it seems to have been. For in the sixteenth century,
though many old economic ideas are going by the board, public opinion
still clings to the conception that there is a standard of fairness in
economic dealings which exists independently of the impersonal movements
of the market, which honest men can discover, if they please, and which
it is a matter of conscience for public authorities to enforce. Even a
good Protestant who hates the Pope will admit that there is more than a
little in the Canon Law prohibition of usury,[546] and under usury, be
it noted, the plain man includes rack-rents, as well as interest on
capital and exorbitant prices. If to a modern economist the demand for
reasonable fines and rents savours of sentimentality and confusion, he
must logically condemn not only the peasants and their champions, but
the statesmen; not only Ket and Hales and More and Latimer, but almost
every member of every Elizabethan Privy Council. After all, all the
precedents are on the side of an attempt to enforce a standard which
shall be independent of the result which might be reached by higgling
between this landlord and that tenant. Prices are fixed, wages are
fixed, the rate of interest is fixed, though the money market is
becoming more and more elusive, more and more critical of old-fashioned
attempts at interference; the fines which freeholders must pay on
admission have been fixed for centuries. Now that copyhold has got the
protection of the Courts, it is not unnatural that tenants should ask
the State to do with regard to the bargain most affecting them what it
already does for bargains of nearly every other kind. It is not
unnatural that, even when the fine is not settled by custom at a
definite sum, they should demand nevertheless that the Courts should
sanction that establishment of a "common rule," which is the ideal of
the economically weak in all ages.

    [543] E. E. T. S., Crowley, _The Way to Wealth_.

    [544] See below, pp. 334-337.

    [545] _Calendar of Proceedings in Chancery in the Reign of
    Edward VI._ Bills to establish a fine certain on admission and
    alienation, to get protection against exorbitant fines, &c. are
    common. For popular complaints see E. E. T. S., _A Supplication
    of the Poore Commons_: "These extortioners have so improved
    theyr lands that they make of a xls. fyne xl. pounds," &c. For
    an actual instance see the following case. The tenants of
    Austenfield claim "that of ancient time all the customary
    tenants of the said manor of Austenfield were finable at fines
    certain, until of late years the lords moved by covetousness, by
    troubling and vexing their copyholders, drove many of them, for
    the buying of their quietness, to be at fines uncertain"
    (William Salt Collection, vol. ix. Chancery Proceedings. Bdle.
    12, No. 70).

    [546] Th. Wilson, _A Discourse upon Usurie_, 1584: "And
    therefore I would not have men altogether to be enemies to the
    Canon Lawe, and to condemn everything there written, because the
    Pope was author of them.... Naie, I will saie plainlie that
    there be some such lawes made by the Pope as be right godlie,
    saie others what they list."

Yet we shall miss the full significance of the movement which we have
examined, if we take their demands without analysis, and do not look at
the other side of the picture. There was much to be said on the side of
the manorial authorities, harsh as they often were. The criticism which
Norden,[547] with a surveyor's experience, makes upon the outcry against
the upward movement of fines, by pointing out that the whole scale of
prices and payments has been shifted by the depreciation in the value of
money, is perfectly justified. For money had depreciated, depreciated
enormously; and landlords, who were faced with swiftly rising prices on
the one hand and fixed freehold and copyhold rents on the other, were in
a cleft stick from which it is not easy to blame them for extricating
themselves as best they could. The truth is that if we content ourselves
with the supposition of an access of exceptional unscrupulousness on the
part of lords of manors which was favoured by contemporaries, we shall
misread the situation. The real facts were much more complex, much more
serious, much more interesting. A large impersonal cause, the flooding
of Europe with American silver, upsets all traditional standards of
payment. The first brunt is borne by those whose incomes are fixed, or
relatively fixed, the owners of landed property, and the wage-earning
classes. But all over the country thousands of new bargains are being
struck as leases fall in and copies are renewed. Each fresh contract is
the opportunity for a readjustment of relationships, for shifting the
burden from the shoulders where it rested. The wage-earners do this to
some extent, but not successfully; wages do not keep pace with prices.
The landlords do it much more effectively. But there is no mechanical
means of measuring what change is necessary in order to place them and
their tenants in the same position relatively to each other as they were
before. Once customary fines are thrown overboard, there is, unless the
Government interferes, no other standard except the full fine which can
be got in the open market, and, when the custom of the manor allows it
to be demanded, it is demanded. Thus the readjustment, as it were,
overshoots itself, and the economic rent, unearned increment, surplus
value--it is difficult to avoid phrases which modern associations have
made trite--only part of which represents the rise in the price of land
caused by the fall in the value of money, tends, instead of being, as
hitherto, shared between landlord and copyholder, to be transferred _en
bloc_ to the former. It is rarely in modern society that classes are
sufficiently definite and self-contained, rarely that economic changes
are sufficiently catastrophic, for a great shifting of income from one
to the other to be detected. Here we can see it going on before our
eyes. We can note the result. But in this matter the twentieth century
is not in a position to be critical of the sixteenth.

    [547] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_, Book I.: "_Surveyor._
    The tennant leaveth commonly one either in right of inheritance,
    or by surrender, to succeed him, and he by custome of the manor
    is to be accepted tenant, alwaies provided he must agree with
    the lord, if the custome of the manor hold not the fine certain
    as in few it doth.... _Farmer._ You much mistake it, for I will
    show by ancient court rolls that the fine of that which is now
    £20 was then but 13s. 4d., and yet will you say they are now as
    they were then? _Surveyor._ Yea, and I thinke I erre little in
    it. For if you consider the state of things then and now, you
    shall find the proportion little differing; for so much are the
    prices of things vendible ... now increased as may well be said
    to exceed the prices then as much as £20 exceede the 13s. 4d."

We may now sum up this part of our subject. The extreme lucrativeness of
sheep-farming, and the depreciation in the value of money, offered an
incentive to landlords to make the most profitable use which they could
of their property by amalgamating small holdings into large leasehold
farms, which were used mainly, though not entirely, for pasture. To
carry out this new policy they had to get rid of the small tenants. When
the tenants held at will, or were lessees for a short term of years,
lords could do this without difficulty. When they were copyholders for
one life or more, they could do it more slowly; but still they could do
it in time. When they were copyholders with an estate of inheritance,
lords had only two alternatives--to induce them to accept leases, or to
raise the fines for admission. The latter course enabled them to offer
the tenants the alternative of surrendering their holdings or paying the
full competitive price which could be got for them. And thus it caused
an almost revolutionary deterioration in their position. Hitherto the
custom of the manor had been a dyke which protected them against the
downward pressure of competition, and behind which they built up their
prosperity. Now the unearned increment was transferred from tenant to
landlord by the simple process of capitalising it in the fine demanded
on entry. The interest of the customary tenant, therefore, virtually
depreciated to the level of that of a leaseholder. The interest of the
manorial lord appreciated to the full and effective ownership of all
surpluses arising between the grant of one copy and the grant of the
next. Thus the differences in the degree of security enjoyed by
copyholders are to be explained by differences in manorial customs. Whom
custom helps the law helps; who by custom are without protection, are
without protection from the law, except in so far as it gradually builds
up a doctrine as to what is reasonable. Long after villeinage has
disappeared, copyholders still bear traces of having sprung from a class
of whom the law was reluctant to take cognizance, traces of being
nurtured in a "villein nest."



       "Lords spiritual and temporal, have it in your mind This
       world as it waveth, and to your tenants be kind."
                    --_The Proclamation of the Commons_, Gairdner,
                        _Letters and Papers of Henry VIII._,
                        xii. I. 163.

     "We must needs fight it out, or els be brought to the lyke
     slavery that the Frenchmen are in.... Better yt were therefore
     for us to dye like men, than after so great misery in youth to
     dye more miserably in age."--E. E. T. S., Crowley, _The Way to

     _Doctor._ "On my faithe youe trouble youreselves ... youe that
     be justices of everie countrie ... in sittinge upon commissions
     almost wekely."

     _Knight._ "Surely it is so, yet the Kinge must be served and
     the commonwealth. For God and the Kinge hathe not sent us the
     poore lyving we have, but to doe services therefore amonge our
     neighbours abroad."--_The Commonweal of this Realm of England._

     "We have good Statutes made for the Commonwealth, as touching
     commoners and inclosers, many meetings and sessions; but in the
     end of the matter there cometh nothing forth."--Latimer, _First
     Sermon preached before King Edward VI._, March 8, 1549.



(a) _The Political and Social Importance of the Peasantry_

The changes which have been described in the organisation of agriculture
created problems which were less absorbing than those arising out of the
religious reformation and the relation of England to continental powers.
When we turn over the elaborate economic legislation of the reign of
Elizabeth, with its attempts to promote industry, to define class
relationships, and to regulate with sublime optimism almost every
contract which one man can make with another, we are tempted at first to
see statesmen giving sleepless nights to the solution of economic
problems, and to think of a modern bureaucratic state using the
resources of scientific administration to pursue a deliberate and
clearly conceived economic policy. But this is both to exaggerate the
importance which economic questions occupied in the minds of the
governing aristocracies of the age, and to credit them with a foresight
which they did not possess. If they are to be called mercantilists, in
England, at any rate, they wear their mercantilism with a difference; as
a vague habit of mind, not as a reasoned system of economic doctrines.
Their administrative optimism is the optimism of innocence as much as of
omnipotence; the fruit of a self-confidence which, in the name of the
public interests, will prop a falling trade, or cut down a flourishing
one, with a bland naïveté unperturbed by the hesitations which perplex
even the most courageous of modern protectionists. Though in several
departments of life--in commercial policy, in the regulation of the wage
contract, in the relief of distress--the main lines drawn by Elizabethan
statesmen will stand for two centuries, much of their legislation is
very rough and ready; much of it again is undertaken after generations
of dilatory experiments; much of it is devoid of any originality, and is
a mere reproduction on a national scale of the practice of individual
localities, a reproduction which sometimes does less than justice to the
original. If it is popular, it is popular because it tells men to do
what most decent men have been doing for a long time already, and when
it tells them to do something else it is carried out only with great
difficulty. If it is permanent, it is permanent not because
Parliamentary draughtsmen possess any great skill or foresight, but
because, before the rise of modern industry, all social relationships
have a great amount of permanence. Though there was much interesting
speculation on economic matters, economic rationalism was as a practical
force almost negligible; and since the only instrument through which it
could have achieved influence was the monarchy, its lack of influence
was perhaps politically fortunate. Sixteenth century England was too
busy getting the State on to its feet to produce a Colbert. Lath and
plaster Colberts built their card castles on the Council table of James
and Charles, and all was in train for the sage paternal monarchy which
was the ideal of Bacon. But a wind blew from strange regions beyond
their ken, and they were scattered before they could do much either for
good or evil, leaving, as they fled, a cloud of dark suspicion round all
those who would be wiser in the art of Government than their neighbours,
from which, in the lapse of three centuries, the expert has hardly
emerged. In spite of mercantilism, economic questions never became in
England the pre-occupation of specialists. In spite of the genuine
indignation roused by the sufferings of the weaker classes in society,
questions affecting them were questions which statesmen did not handle
for their own sake, but only in so far as they forced themselves into
the circle of political interests by cutting across the order, or
military defence, or financial system, of the country. Apart from these
high matters of policy most members of the governing classes were
inclined to answer petitions on the subject of economic grievances as
Paget did to Somerset: Why can't you let it alone? "What a good year ...
is victuals so dear in England and nowhere else? If they and their
fathers before them have lived quietly these sixty years, pastures being
enclosed, the most part of these rufflers have least cause to

    [548] Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_. Sir William Paget to
    the Lord Protector, July 7, 1549.

The subordinate place occupied by economic questions during our period
makes the attention which was given to the results of pasture-farming
all the more remarkable. Though to the statesmanship of the sixteenth
century the agrarian problem was one of the second order, it was, at any
rate till the accession of Elizabeth, the most serious of its own class,
and it was important enough to occupy Governments at intervals for over
a century and a half. The first Statute against depopulation was passed
in 1489;[549] an abortive Bill was introduced into the House of Commons
in 1656;[550] and between the two lies a series of seven Royal
Commissions, twelve Statutes, and a considerable number of Proclamations
dealing with one aspect or another of the enclosing movement, as well as
numerous decisions on particular cases by the Privy Council, the Court
of Star Chamber, and the Court of Requests. This reaction of the new
agrarian developments upon public policy is interesting in several ways.
It illustrates the growth of new classes and forms of social
organisation, the methods and defects of sixteenth century
administration, and the ideas of the period as to the proper functions
of the State in relation to an important set of questions, upon which
political opinion was in some ways nearer to our own than it was to that
of the age following the Civil War. Nor, perhaps, is it altogether
without importance from the point of view of general history. We need
not discuss how far the reaction of some recent historians against the
familiar judgments which contrast Tudor tyranny with the constitutional
revolutions of the seventeenth century as darkness with light, is likely
to be permanent. But it is perhaps safe to say that it is in the sphere
of social policy that their case is seen at its strongest. After all,
tyranny is often the name which one class gives to the protection of
another. To the small copyholder or tenant farmer the merciless
encroachments of his immediate landlord were a more dreaded danger than
the far-off impersonal autocracy of the Crown to which he appealed for
defence. The period in which he suffered most in the sixteenth century
was the interval between the death of the despotic Henry VIII. and the
accession of the despotic Elizabeth. Though the interference of the
Tudor, and--in a feebler fashion--of the Stuart, Governments to protect
the peasantry was neither disinterested nor always effective, its
complete cessation after 1642, and the long line of Enclosure Acts which
follow the revolution of 1688, suggest that, as far as their immediate
economic interests were concerned, the smaller landholders had more to
lose than to gain from a revolution which took power from the Crown to
give it to the squires. The writers[551] who after 1750 turned with a
sigh from the decaying villages which they saw around them, to glorify
the policy of the absolutist Governments of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, were received with the ridicule which awaits all
who set themselves against a strong current of interests and ideas. But
historically they were right. The revolution, which brought
constitutional liberty, brought no power to control the aristocracy who,
for a century and a half, alone knew how such liberty could be
used--that blind, selfish, indomitable, aristocracy of county families,
which made the British Empire and ruined a considerable proportion of
the English nation. From the galleries of their great mansions and the
walls of their old inns their calm, proud faces, set off with an
occasional drunkard, stare down on us with the unshakable assurance of
men who are untroubled by regrets or perplexities, men who have deserved
well of their order and their descendants, and await with confidence an
eternity where preserves will be closer, family settlements stricter,
dependents more respectful, cards more reliable, than in this imperfect
world they well can be. Let them have their due. They opened a door
which later even they could not close. They fostered a tree which even
they could not cut down. But neither let us forget that to the poorer
classes its fruits were thorns and briars, loss of their little
properties, loss of economic independence, the hot fit of the hateful
Speenhamland policy, the cold fit of the more hateful workhouse
system.[552] Those who would understand the social forces of modern
England must realise that long disillusionment. Even in the seventeenth
century there are whisperings of it. At the end of the Civil War there
were men who were dimly conscious that the freedom for which they had
fought involved economic, as well as political and ecclesiastical,
changes. "Wee the poor impoverisht commoners," wrote the leaders of a
little band of agrarian reformers to the Council of War in 1649, "claim
freedom in the common lands by vertue of this conquest over the King,
which is gotten by our joynt consent.... If this freedom be not granted,
wee that are the poor commoners are in a worse case than we were in the
King's day."[553] But from the reign of Henry VII. to the Civil War
official opinion was as generally in favour of protecting the peasantry
against the ruinous effects of agrarian innovations, as it was on the
side of leaving the landlords free to work their will in the two
centuries which succeeded. We must explain this state of mind, for it
certainly needs explanation; and this will necessitate our looking at
the movements of the peasants and at their place in the State. We must
estimate how far it was effective in practice; and to do this we must
say a few words about the administrative machinery of the Tudors and of
the first two Stuarts.

    [549] 4 Henry VII., c. 19.

    [550] Journal of House of Commons, December 19, 1656. See
    Leonard, _Trans. Royal Hist. Society_, vol. xix.

    [551] _e.g._ Price, _Observations on Reversionary Payments_,
    1773. See Levy, _Large and Small Holdings_, p. 41.

    [552] The general adoption of the "Test Workhouse" for the
    able-bodied, which dates from the Poor Law Reform Act of 1884,
    was the direct result of a one-sided reaction against the
    disastrous Speenhamland policy.

    [553] Camden Society, _Clarke Papers_, vol. ii. p. 217.

In almost all ages the first task of Governments is the preservation of
order. Though the economic ideas of the sixteenth century were very
different from those of the nineteenth, one of the reasons which made it
impossible for the statesmen of the period to leave the land question
altogether alone was the same as that which induced their successors to
deal with Irish land in 1870 and 1881. It was that agrarian discontent
created a permanent supply of inflammable material, which a spark might
turn into a conflagration. The years between 1500 and 1650 are the last
great age of the peasant uprisings which, in all countries of Western
Europe except France and Ireland, are incredible to-day as a romance of
giants, and hardly a generation in that stormy period elapsed without
one. Sometimes nothing more happened than a collision of justices and
gentry with angry mobs who were tearing down hedges and restoring common
to common again under mysterious figures who flit across the darkening
country-side with weapons in their hands and the eternal insurrection of
the New Testament on their lips--Jack o' the Style, Pyrce Plowman, and
that prophetic Captain Pouch, who "was sent of God to satisfie all
degrees whatsoever, and in this present work was directed by the Lord of
Heaven."[554] Sometimes the discontent swelled to a small civil war, as
it did in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire in 1536, and in the eastern and
southern counties in 1549. The Lincolnshire rising and the Pilgrimage of
Grace were, it is true, mainly motived by discontent with the attack on
the abbeys. But the explanation of their objects given by those
insurgents who were cross-examined by the Government makes it difficult
to agree with Professor Gay that only an insignificant part was played
in these movements by agrarian discontent. The truth is that we ought to
distinguish between the objects of different sections. The rebels of
1536 were not a class, but almost the whole society of northern England,
which suddenly rolls forward with all its members, spirituality and
laity, peasants and peers, in fervent motion together. The weaker side
of these great conservative demonstrations was that, though all classes
were united against the régime typified by Cromwell, all classes were
not moved to the same degree by the same grievances. Even when the old
religion was the cause that took the gentry into the field, the humbler
rebels were brought out as much by hatred of agrarian as of religious
innovations. The men of Lincolnshire marched under a banner embroidered
with a ploughshare, and laggards were spurred forward with the cry "What
will ye do? Shall we go home and keep sheep?"[555] In Cumberland the
four Captains of Penrith--Faith, Poverty, Pity, and Charity--marched in
solemn procession with drawn swords round Burgh Church, and then, having
heard Mass, led their followers, with the blessing of the vicar, on a
crusade to put an end to gentlemen and to withhold rents and fines.[556]
In the North generally the arrival of Aske's messengers was a signal for
the wholesale plucking down of new enclosures; a programme of agrarian
reform was included in the demands put forward at Doncaster; and Aske
himself told the Government at his examination that the practice of
letting out farms over the heads of poor tenants was one of the causes
of the rising.[557] A well-informed officer of State like Sir William
Paget seems to have thought that even the rebellion which took place in
Devonshire and Somersetshire in 1549, the causes of which were mainly
ecclesiastical, was partly also agrarian.[558] In that year, indeed,
nearly the whole of the southern counties, beginning in May with
Hertfordshire, from Norfolk in the east to Hampshire in the south and
Worcester in the west, were driven into riot by disappointment with the
ineffective Royal Commission appointed in the preceding year. In 1550
there were disturbances in Kent, and the Government anticipated their
appearance in Essex. In 1552 the Buckinghamshire peasants rose on
account of high rents and high prices. In 1554 Wyatt's[559] adherents
demanded that all pasture lands which had forcibly been seized by
persons in power should be restored. In 1569 an armed band pulled down
enclosures near Chinley[560] in Derbyshire, threatened to kill the
encloser, and rescued by force those of their number who were arrested.
Twenty-six years later, at a time of unusually high prices, even the
peasantry of Oxfordshire,[561] that most imperturbable of English
counties, planned "to knock down the gentlemen and rich men who made
corn so dear, and who took the commons." In 1607 in the Midlands, where
in the preceding decade enclosure and depopulation had created a
situation as acute as that of half a century before, there was a riot
which resulted in the appointment of a Royal Commission.

    [554] For Captain Pouch see Gay, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New
    Series, vol. xviii. For the other names Cooper, _Annals of
    Cambridge_, vol. ii. p. 40.

    [555] Gairdner, _Letters and Papers of Henry VIII._, vol. xii.,
    Part I., 70, 1537. Examination of R. Leedes: "The rebels ...
    were half inclined to go home. But Ralph Green ... encouraged
    them to go forward, saying, 'God's blood, sirs, what will ye now
    do? Shall we go home and keep sheep? Nay, by God's body, yet had
    I rather be hanged,'" and _ibid._: "The said Trotter says the
    meaning of the plough borne in the banner was the encouraging of
    the husbandman."

    [556] _Ibid._, vol. xii., Part I., 687, 1537. Confession of
    Barnarde Townleye, Clerk: "The beginners of the insurrection in
    Cumberland were the 4 captains of Penrith; Faith, Poverty, Pity
    and Charity, as the Vicar of Burgh proclaimed them at each
    meeting.... Conjectures that the intent was to destroy the
    gentlemen, that none should pay ingressums to his landlord, and
    little or no rent or tithe"; also _ibid._, Examination of Sir
    Robert Thompson, Vicar of Burgh: "On the Wednesday and Thursday
    the 4 captains followed examinand in procession with their
    swords drawn, and examinand said mass, which they called the
    Captains' mass."

    [557] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, vol. xii., Part I.,
    687: "They of Kirkby Stephen plucked down the new intacks of
    enclosures, and sent to other Parishes to do the like, which was
    done at Burgh, 28th January." For the Doncaster programme see
    below, p. 334. Aske said (_L. and P._, vol. xii., Part I., p.
    901) that the new farmers of monastic estates "let and tavern
    out the farms of the same houses to other farmers for lucre."

    [558] These particulars are taken from Strype, _Ecclesiastical

    [559] Gay, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. xviii.,
    which also gives an account of the Midland riot of 1607.

    [560] MSS. in possession of Charles E. Bradshaw Bowles, Esq., of
    Wirksworth, for a transcript of which I am indebted to Mr.
    Kolthammer. See below, pp. 327?-329.

    [561] _Hist. MSS. Com._, MSS. of Marquis of Salisbury, Part VI.,
    pp. 49?-50.

This was perhaps the last serious agrarian rising which England has
seen. But though henceforward the hatred of the new agrarian régime ran
for the most part underground, it had been burned too deep into the
minds of the people to be lightly forgotten, and more than once its
smouldering embers flickered up in occasional riots. In the first flush
of the army's victory over King and Parliament, when the shattering of
authority seemed for a moment to make all things new, not only the
political, but the economic, ideas of two centuries later burst for a
moment, as in an early spring, into wonderful and premature life. The
programme of the Levellers, who more than any other party could claim to
express the aspirations of the unprivileged classes, included a demand
not only for annual or biennial Parliaments, manhood suffrage, a
redistribution of seats in proportion to population, and the abolition
of the Veto of the House of Lords, but also "that you would have laid
open all enclosures of fens and other commons, or have them enclosed
only or chiefly for the benefit of the poor."[562] Theoretical
communism, repudiated by some of the Levellers, found its expression in
the agitation of the Diggers, those "true born sons and friends of
England" who, under Everard and Winstanley, set themselves, in the
spirit of an Owenite Community, to convert the waste land at Weybridge
into the New Jerusalem.[563] For to many earnest souls the day of the
Lord seems very near, and Israel must make ready against it, not with
anguish of spirit only, but with spade labour upon the barren earth. The
contrast between the prevalence of organised agrarian revolts in the
middle of the sixteenth century, dragging on in small sporadic
agitations for nearly one hundred years, with their comparative rarity
two hundred years later, when similar causes were at work to produce
them, marks the new grouping of social classes and economic forces which
was going on apace in our period. The intelligence of toiling England,
that for a century now has gone to build up a new civilisation in
factory and mine, in trade union and co-operative store, still lay in
the larger villages, its immemorial home. Discontent travelled across
the enclosing counties as it does to-day in a Welsh mining valley,
outcoursing oppression itself, like Elijah running before Ahab into
Jezreel. "If three or four good fellows would ride in the night with
every man a bell, and cry in every town that they pass, 'To Swaffham! To
Swaffham!' by the morning there would be ten thousand assembled at the
least; and then one bold fellow to stand forth and say, 'Sirs, now we be
here assembled, you know how little favour the gentlemen bear us poor
men.... Let us ... harness ourselves.'"[564] Good fellows and bold were
not wanting. "From that time forward no man could keep his servant at
plough; but every man that could bear a staff went forward."[565] Before
the appearance of almost universal leasehold tenure, standing armies,
and omnipotent aristocratic Parliaments, unrest among the rural
population might cause the Government a not inexpensive campaign, in
which the reluctant militia of yesterday were the enthusiastic rebels of
to-day, and there was not therefore much disparity between the
discipline and equipment of the forces engaged on either side. Both in
the mainly agrarian revolts in Norfolk, and in the mainly religious
revolts in Devonshire, the peasants fell, as they hoped they might, like
men, and it was the arquebuses of the foreign mercenaries which really
decided the struggle. Poor homeless hirelings, what could they know but
to clamour for their pay, and shoot better men than themselves?

    [562] The Humble Petition of thousands well affected persons
    inhabiting the city of London, Westminster, the Borough of
    Southwark, Hamlets, and places adjacent. In Bodleian Pamphlets,
    _The Leveller's Petition_, c. 15, 3 Linc. See also Gooch,
    _English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century_, pp.

    [563] Camden Society, _Clarke Papers_, vol. ii. pp. 215?-217.
    Winstanley's letter to Lord Fairfax and the Council of War
    begins: "That whereas we have begun to dig upon the Commons for
    livelihood, and have declared unto your excellency and the whole
    world our reasons, which are four. First, from the righteous law
    of creation that gives the earth freely to one as well as
    another, without respect of persons"; also Gooch, _op. cit._ The
    Owenite note may be more than a mere chance. Owen himself stated
    ("New View of Society"): "Any merit due for the discovery
    calculated to effect more substantial and permanent benefit to
    mankind than any ever yet contemplated by the human mind belongs
    exclusively to John Bellers." Bellers published his _College of
    Industry_ in 1696, and may easily have been acquainted with the
    story of the Diggers' agitation.

    [564] Russell, _Ket's Rebellion in Norfolk_, p. 8.

    [565] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, vol. xii., Part I.,
    201, Examination of John Halom of Calkehill, yeoman.

To understand the nature of a body at rest it is sometimes advisable to
look at the same body when it is in motion. The agrarian disturbances of
our period possess certain features which are of interest even to those
who are concerned primarily not with social politics, but with economic
organisation. In the first place, they mark the transition from the
feudal revolts of the fifteenth century, based on the union of all
classes in a locality against the central government, to those in which
one class stands against another through the opposition of economic
interests. In the Lincolnshire rebellion and in the Pilgrimage of Grace
the old spirit predominated. In the North of England the new agrarian
régime had not proceeded far enough to sap entirely the ancient bonds
between landlord and tenant, and the plunder of the monastic estates had
not yet set a commercial aristocracy in the seat of the old-fashioned
Catholic landlords. The commons of Westmoreland, who declare that they
will trust no gentlemen with their councils, nevertheless feel
sufficient confidence in Lord Darcy to write to him for his advice as to
how far they will be justified in insisting on reduced admission fines,
and in pulling down "all the intakes yt be noysum for poor men."[566]
Had the Catholic gentry generally been willing to sacrifice the rents
got from pasture-farming, these movements might have found leaders who
would have made them more formidable. As it was, even when hatred of the
religious changes or of some particular piece of legislation, like the
unpopular Statute of Uses, enrolled the gentry with the peasants, as in
Lincolnshire and Yorkshire in 1536, the incompatibility of the allies
was obvious, and the presence of the wealthier classes inspired distrust
among the rank and file, who saw in them the authors of their economic
evils, and who, though genuinely concerned at the painful destruction of
the social institutions of the old religion, were fighting mainly for
the maintenance of "old customs and tenant right," fair rents and
security of tenure. In spite of the temporary union of all classes in
1536, the insurgents tended to break up into two camps corresponding
roughly with the division between landlord and tenant. In Lincolnshire,
though the commons were influenced by the gentry so far as to demand the
repeal of the Act of Uses, "not knowing," as a witness said, "what that
Act of Uses meant," they showed their distrust of the upper classes by
refusing to allow them to discuss their future policy apart from the
general body of insurgents, while the extremists clamoured that "they
ought to kill some of the justices; also that if they hanged for this,
they would not leave one gentleman alive in Lincolnshire."[567] At
Richmond all lords and gentlemen were to swear on the mass-book to
maintain the profit of Holy Church, to take nothing of their tenants but
the usual rents, to put down Cromwell and not to go to London, on pain
of death if they refused.[568] For courts have strange arts of
seduction, and though London (thank Heaven) is not England now, it was
still less England then. The rough rhymes that ran through the North
contain the warning of all popular movements against the treachery of
leaders, the sad eternal warning which buoys the sands where so many
high endeavours have gone to wreck. "All commons stick ye together, rise
with no great man till ye know his intent. Keep your harness in your
hands, and ye shall obtain all your purpose in all this North land....
Claim ye old customs and tenant right, to take your farms by a God's
penny, all gressums and heightenings to be laid down. Then may we serve
our sovereign Lord King Henry VIII., God save his noble Grace.

        We shall serve our lands' lords in every righteous cause
        With horse and harness as custom will demand.
        Lords spiritual and temporal have it in your mind
        This world as it waveth, and to your tenants be kind.
        Adieu, gentle commons, thus make I an end:
        Writer of this letter, pray Jesu be his speed;
        He shall be your captain, when that ye have need."[569]

    [566] _Ibid._, vol. xi., 1080.

    [567] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, vol. xi., 975.

    [568] _Ibid._, vol. xii., Part I., 163.

    [569] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, vol. xii., Part I.,
    163. The Proclamation of the Commons; see also _ibid._, 138, the
    manifesto which says, "Ye shall have captains just and true, and
    not be stayed by the gentry in no wise."

The temporary solidarity which had drawn all classes into the Pilgrimage
of Grace, though it flickered up for the last time in the feudal revolt
of the northern earls in 1569, was absent altogether from the widespread
agitation of 1549 to 1550. Except in Devonshire and Cornwall, the
disturbances of those years were purely agrarian, a movement of tenants
against landlords. The Eastern rebels were for leaving "as many
gentlemen in Norfolk as there be white bulls";[570] the gentry responded
by rallying to the Government; and both in that country and in
Devonshire the military forces which put down the peasants were led by
the two most notoriously unpopular landlords in England, who had built
up their estates out of confiscated abbey lands, the Earl of Warwick and
Sir William Herbert. In the reign of Henry VII. the problem before
Governments had still been to prevent a great landlord from using his
authority over his tenants to make war on his neighbours or on the
State. Sixty years later it is to prevent tenants in several different
counties from combining against landlords. The landed classes recognise
the new spirit. They denounce the peasants as communists and agitators;
and when they get a free hand, as in the years from 1549 to 1553, they
insist on legislation which will make effective combination impossible.

    [570] Russell, _Ket's Rebellion in Norfolk_, Introduction, p. 8.
    The advice of John Walker of Griston.

In the second place, the way in which the agrarian agitations were
conducted is interesting as showing both the comparative prosperity and
independence of the English peasantry, even at a time when the fortunes
of many of them were declining, and the general conceptions of social
expediency held by what was regarded as the most representative part of
the English nation. It would be a mistake to think of the rebels who
joined these revolts as mere unorganised malcontents, with nothing to
lose. There is no resemblance at all, either in personnel or methods,
between the agrarian disturbances of our period and the riots of
starving agricultural labourers who burned ricks under Captain Swing in
the early nineteenth century. The peasants who formed the backbone of
the movements were often well-to-do men, who were fighting to keep their
land with the dreadful tenacity of small proprietors. They had arms and
were accustomed to their use. They had sufficient money to raise common
funds. They included among their number sanguine and pertinacious
litigants who, so far from being disposed to throw up their case at the
hint of the landlord's displeasure, were quite capable of making his
life one long lawsuit. The readiness of a class to make effective the
protection given it by the law in the face of the opposition of powerful
individuals, quenched, alas! too often by ignorance, and timidity, and
generations of dull oppression, is a very good test of its spirit and of
the practical freedom which it enjoys. In the sixteenth century, though
we certainly see many gross cases of intimidation, we also see tenants
appealing to the law courts and to the Government over the heads of
lords of manors. Such appeals are a proof of the helplessness of the
victims which has been commented on above. But they are also a proof of
the persistence and cohesion of some among them. For while in the
absence of oppression they would not have been necessary, in the absence
of a determination to resist oppression they could not have been made.
To enclose was in parts of the country to stir up a hornet's nest. There
was not much obsequiousness about the villagers of Thingden,[571] who
from 1494 to 1538 pursued their landlord through almost every Court in
the Kingdom. The leaders of the popular agitation were often the more
prosperous among the middle-classes. Sanders, the general in the
interminable struggle over the common lands of the city of Coventry
which began in 1460, was a member of the important craft of Dyers, and
had occupied the high civic office of Chamberlain.[572] At Louth[573]
the initiative among the commons was taken by a tailor and a weaver.
Ket[574] himself was a considerable landed proprietor as well as a

    [571] Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Star
    Chamber_, and Leadam, _E. H. R._, vol. viii. pp. 684?-696.

    [572] _Coventry Leet Book_, edited by M.D. Harris, vol. ii. 510
    and _passim_.

    [573] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, vol. xii., Part I.,
    380, The Examination of the Monk late of Louth Park: "Plummer
    and one James, a tailor, were the most quick and chiefest rulers
    of the company.... Melton, whom they named 'Captain Cobbles,'
    was the most chief and busy man among these commoners.... John
    Tailor, of Louth, webster, brought out of the house a great
    brand of fire, and the commons carried the books into the

    [574] _Hist. MSS. Com._, Cd. 2319, p. 75, Copy of Letters Patent
    (28 May, 4 Ed. VI.) granting to Thomas Audeley ... all that
    manor called Gunvyles Manor in Norfolk, parcel of the
    possessions of the said ... Robert Ket, in consideration "boni,
    veri, fidelis, et magnanimi servitii in conflictu versus
    innaturales subditos nostros proditores ac nobis rebelles in
    Com. nostro Norf.... quorum ... quidam Bobertus Kett existit
    capitanus et conductor."

The peasants' agitations took the form both of more or less organised
risings and of sporadic rioting, which aimed at ends varying from place
to place according to the grievances inspired by the varying conditions
of different districts. Everywhere there were the throwing down of
enclosures and the driving of sheep.[575] In Yorkshire the enclosures
which were pulled down seem to have been mainly intakes from the waste,
and in Norfolk and the Midlands enclosures of arable land which had been
converted to pasture. In Warwickshire the Earl of Warwick's park was
demolished, while in Wiltshire, where Sir William Herbert had acquired
the lands of Wilton Abbey, and enclosed a whole village in his new park
at Washerne, the peasants rose and tore down the palings.[576] In the
North generally the bitterest outcry seems to have arisen over the
excessive fines and "gressums" charged for the admission of
copyholders. In Cumberland[577] there was a general strike against the
payment of rents, and almost everywhere there were complaints of the
diminution in the area available for pasturing the beasts of commoners
through the enclosing by landlords of manorial wastes.

    [575] Sheep-driving in the sixteenth century was like
    cattle-driving in Ireland to-day; see Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry
    VIII._, vol. xii., Part I., 201: "When they first went to York,
    they drove one Coppyndale's sheep because he fled away, and sold
    them again to his deputy for £10," and the behaviour of the
    Norfolk rebels in 1549.

    [576] Gairdner, _L. and P._, xi., II., 186, and _Rutland MSS._,
    p. 36, quoted by Leadam: "There is a great number of the commons
    up about Salisbury in Wiltshire, and they have plucked down Sir
    William Herbert's Park that is about his new house ... they say
    they will not have their common grounds to be enclosed and taken
    from them."

    [577] Gairdner, _L. and P._, xii., I., 362: "Your rents and
    others cannot yet be collected."

Though it involves abandoning the order of events, let us illustrate by
a single example[578] the shape assumed by agrarian rioting, which has
not yet become a rebellion. In the summer of 1569, when Cecil and
Elizabeth were waiting anxiously for news from those northern counties
which "know no other prince but a Percy," there was much running and
riding, much sending for warrants and plentiful delay in their
execution, in the wild country between Chinley and Bakewell, whose
centre is the Peak, and whose principal gorge now carries the most
beautiful piece of railway line in England. The Derbyshire peasantry
seem to have been ill to deal with. A few years later some of those in
Glossopdale succeeded in setting the Earl of Shrewsbury at defiance,
and, when evicted from their farms, induced the Council to intervene to
insist on their reinstatement.[579] Just now those of them who lived in
the neighbourhood of Chinley were in a ferment over the enclosure of
some common land. The story is a curious one, and shows both the kind of
conditions under which agrarian discontent developed, and the way in
which it was associated in the mind of the Government with fears of
political disturbance. The Duchy of Lancaster, to whom the land near
Chinley belonged, had let a parcel of herbage called Mayston Field to
one Lawrence Wynter, his lease to begin as soon as that of the existing
tenant had expired. In that age of land speculation land changed hands
rapidly. On the same day as Wynter obtained the lease he sold it to a
certain Richard Celey. Celey transferred it to Godfrey Bradshaw, and
Godfrey Bradshaw got rid of it to his brother Anthony. The trouble began
when the land came into the hands of Godfrey Bradshaw. He started to
hedge and ditch it, which of course involved the exclusion of the other
inhabitants from the rights of pasture which they had hitherto enjoyed.
Accordingly the villagers, led by twelve of their number, of whom four
belonged to one family, removed the ditch, tore down the enclosure,
which consisted of "XLIII hundredth quicksetts willowes and willowe
stackes ... and did utterlye destroy and cutt the sayd stacks and quick
setts in pieces," proceeding at the same time, with the object of
protecting their own grazing land against encroachments, themselves to
divide up the land into smaller enclosures to be held by each man in
severalty. Godfrey Bradshaw then obtained warrants for the preservation
of the peace against the ringleaders, and at the same time induced the
lessor, who was Sir Ralph Sadler, the Chancellor of the Duchy, to
address a letter to them directing them not to interfere with any
houses, hedges, or ditches, which might in future be constructed round
the land. They received his communication, but massed in force with arms
on Chinley Hill, pulled down what still remained of Bradshaw's hedges,
and then proceeded to organise the nucleus of a very pretty agitation.
They gave part of the herbage, which was nominally in the occupation of
the unfortunate lessee, to one William Beard, on condition that, after
the manner of his betters in the good old days before the Tudors, he
should "maynteyn them geynst the Queenes Majestie," his support taking
the form of an agreement that he "should from tyme to tyme send them
Ydill ryotouse p'sons to assyste them in these yll doinges." They then
raised a fund, presumably by a levy on the inhabitants, called a meeting
in the forest of High Peak, and set off about the tenth of June to
Bakewell for a further conference, arranging in the meantime that some
one should burn Godfrey Bradshaw's house, and that while his enclosures,
if re-erected, should be pulled down, the other inhabitants should make
haste to divide up the disputed land into twenty-one separate parcels.
When the Bradshaws, having got their warrants, tried with the aid of the
village constable to execute them, their opponents ("the land was
grabbed from him, and he did what any decent man would do"[580])
threatened them with murder, and, on one of the party being actually
arrested, came very near to carrying their threat out. "The said p'tyes
... did ryotouslye assemble themselves together in great companies at
the town of Hayfield with unlawfull weapons, that is to saye, with
bowes, pytchefforkes, clobbes, staves, swords, and daggers drawen, and
ryotouslye dyd then and there assaulte and p'sue the sayd Godfrey and
Edward Bradshawe, and in ryotouse manner dyd reskewe and take from them
the body of the sayd Richard Shower, being attached; the Queenes
Officer, George Yeavely of Bawdon, then being p'sent commanding the
peace to be kepte." Having chased the enemy for some distance, they
camped on the contested territory, and kept a watchful eye and a firm
hand for any sign of the reappearance of the detested hedges. More
serious still in the eyes of the Government (and this, one suspects, was
their undoing), the leaders of this village revolution went so far as to
entangle themselves in high politics. At their examination they are
asked, "Whether dyd Reynold Kirke about May day last paste, and dyvers
tymes since and before, or any other tyme, confederate, consulte,
practise, or otherwise confer and talk with one Mr. Bircles of the
countye of Chester ... touching or concerning prophesis by noblemen, or
otherwise, and what books of prophesie have you or the said Bircles seen
or heard, and what is the effect thereof, and how often have you or he
perused, used, or conferred of the same, or about such purposes, and
with whom?" We do not know how they answered this question. It may be
that the anger of these Derbyshire peasants at their vanishing commons
was indeed a fraction to be set among weightier assets by schemers in
high places, and that the sinister Mr. Bircles had really talked with
them of matters more serious than the pulling down of hedges and the
baiting of enclosers, of things forbidden to the vulgar, of the
scattering of upstart officials, of the restoration of a Catholic
monarchy, of Mary, who in the previous year had made her irrevocable
plunge across the Border. It may be merely that all in authority had
that autumn an unusually bad attack of nerves. In 1569 the North was
full of prophets, both noble and other.

    [578] I take this story from a transcript kindly supplied me by
    Mr. Kolthammer of MSS. in the possession of Charles E. Bradshaw
    Bowles of Wirksworth.

    [579] Lodge, _Illustrations_, ii. p. 218.

    [580] Synge, _The Playboy of the Western World_.

It was not always the case, however, that agrarian discontent ended in
casual rioting of this kind. Of mere destructive violence there is,
indeed, in all the social disturbances of the period, singularly little.
There was a good deal in the routine of rural life, with its common
administration of land and dependence on a collectively binding custom,
to teach habits of discipline and co-operation. It must be remembered
that those who took the initiative in breaking the law were not the
peasants who pulled down enclosures, but the landlords who made them in
defiance of repeated statutes forbidding them. On the whole the
organised character of the action taken is more conspicuous than the
individual excesses, and if one is to look for a modern analogy to the
mixture of deliberation and violence which it shows, it must be sought
in an Irish fair rent campaign rather than in the bread riots of a
despairing urban proletariat. When the agitation was confined to
individual manors it occasionally took the form of agrarian trade
unionism. Tenants collectively decline to serve as jurors in the court
of the manor till their demands are granted.[581] They raise a common
purse.[582] They refuse to pay more than a certain rent. When more than
one manor is implicated different localities display a rough cohesion.
Whole communities seem to have joined the movement in 1536 and 1540 with
a certain formality. In Lincolnshire and Yorkshire townships were
brought out on the ringing of the town bell with the cohesion of a
well-organised trade union; Beverley[583] sent messages to the
Lincolnshire rebels under its common seal; and the part which was played
by the village officers in the movements of the peasantry is proved by
the Proclamation[584] which the Council issued in 1549, when disorders
were at their height, forbidding constables, bailiffs, and head-boroughs
to call meetings except for the purposes required by the law.
Hales,[585] as he rode through the South and Midlands in 1548, was
struck by the patience with which people waited for the Government to
take action, and attributed the disturbances of the ensuing year to the
despair caused by the victory of the local landlords over the
Commission, and to the rejection by Parliament of the Bills which he had
introduced. Even Ket's campaign in Norfolk, which ended in a sanguinary
battle, during the greater part of it was carried on with an orderliness
from which the Government which suppressed it might profitably have
taken a lesson. Nothing could have been more unlike the popular idea of
a _jacquerie_. The peasants enjoyed the enormous joke of making the
gentry look foolish a great deal more than cutting their throats, as
during the four weeks in which they were "playing" they might have done
without any difficulty.

          "Mr. Pratt, your sheep are very fat,
            And we thank _you_ for that;
          We have left you the skins to pay your wife's pins,
            And you must thank _us_ for that."[586]

    [581] Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Requests_
    (Leadam). Customary tenants of Bradford _v._ Francis: "The said
    stuard called ... the ... tenants of the manor to be sworn to
    enquire as they ought to doo, the which to do ... the said
    tenants ... obstinately and sturdily then and there refused, and
    said that unless the said defendent ... wold grante them
    forthwith and immediatelye that they should have and enjoy the
    commodity of the said three matters ... that they, nor any of
    them, wolde be sworn at that Court, but wolde depart."

    [582] Leadam, _E. H. R._, pp. 684-696. The tenants at Thingden,
    in their proceedings against Mulsho, "calle commen Councelles
    ... and make a commen purse among them, promising all of them to
    take parte with other, saying that xx. of them would spend xx.
    score pounds ayenet the said John Mulsho." The tenants of
    Abbot's Ripton "procured one common purse to be ordeyned
    together one common stock to thentent obstinately to defend
    their perverse and ffrowned appetitez." As to Rents, see _L. and
    P. Henry VIII._, xii., I., 154: "In many counties little or no
    ferms will they pay" (Darcy to Shrewsbury).

    [583] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, xii., I., 392.

    [584] Proclamation of July 22, 1549. Strype, _Ecclesiastical
    Memorials_, who remarks that these village officers, "in the
    places where these risings were, had been the very ringleaders
    and procurers by their example and exhortation."

    [585] _Commonweal of this Realm of England_ (Lamond), Appendix
    to Introduction, lviii.: "In dyvers places wher we were, and
    wher the people had just cause of Gryef, and have complayned a
    great many yeares without remedy, there have they byn very
    quiet, shewed themselves most humble and obedient subiectes
    taryenge the Kynges Maiesties Reformation."

    [586] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1905, p. 2.

These lines, pinned on the carcasses of an enclosing landlord's flocks
and herds, are a fair specimen of their humour. Men may well be merry
together, when they have seen hovering over the fields of an English
county, though but in a fleeting glimpse, the New Jerusalem where the
humble are exalted and the mighty put down; and there is no
inconsistency between such mundane gaiety and the long pent up passion
which on the lips of a nameless labourer burst into the cry, "As sheepe
or lambs are a prey to the wolfe or lion, so are the poor men to the
rich men."[587] There was much lecturing (the matter is easily imagined)
at the Oak of Reformation, and not on one side only, for the peasants
were tolerant compared with their betters, and a future archbishop was
allowed to address the insurgents on the evils of their ways; much
laying down of hedges and enclosures; much slaughtering of that beast of
iniquity, the man-devouring sheep. There was none of the massacring of
unarmed men which both Henry VIII. and Elizabeth ordered without
compunction when they thought the times required it, very little of the
"making the public good a pretext for private revenge," against which
the insurgents were warned by Parker. Though for months after the final
tragedy the badges of the justly-hated Warwick "were not so fast set up
but that they were as fast pulled down" from the city walls, the rebels
even in the heat of their early triumphs claimed only to be executing
the Protector's Proclamations, and, while indignantly repudiating the
name of traitors, showed a complete readiness to negotiate peaceably
with the Government. The whole movement was less a rising against the
State than a practical illustration of the peasants' ideals, a mixture
of May-day demonstration and successful strike embodied in one gigantic
festival of rural good fellowship. Its bloody termination was, as far as
can be judged, the result of two errors of judgment, one, a pardonable
one, on the part of Ket, the other, unpardonable, on the part of a
nameless member of the other party.[588] When all was over, and each man
reflected after his kind on the great days of Mousehold Heath, what the
camp followers, who attach themselves to every popular movement,
remembered was that for about a month they had filled their bellies at
other people's expense. "'Twas a merry world when we were yonder,
eating of mutton." But there were some who, as they saw Ket swinging on
the gallows before the City gates, were seized with the tumult of pity
and hoarse indignation which serves Englishmen, who are not good at
revolutions, in place of the revolutionary spirit. "O Kette," one
countryman was heard to say to another, "God have mercy upon thy soul;
and I trust in God that the King's Majesty and his Councell shall be
enformed once between this and Midsummer evening, that of their own
gentleness thou shalt be taken down and buried, not hanged up for winter
store; and set a quietness in the realm, and that the ragged staff shall
be taken down of their own gentleness from the gentlemen's gates in this
City, and to have no more King's arms but one within the City, under
Christ."[589] The Council, in its gentleness, thought otherwise. Ket
still creaked in his chains, and in the meantime other gallows were
rising for other rebels in Somerset, and Devon, and Cornwall.

    [587] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1905, p. 22.

    [588] Ket refused the pardon offered on July 31st on the ground
    that the insurgents had committed no offence requiring to be
    pardoned, and fighting followed. On August 23rd a pardon was
    again offered. While it was being read by a herald, a boy
    standing by insulted him "with words as unseemly as his gesture
    was filthy" (Holinshed), and was shot by one of the herald's
    retinue. Ket tried to pacify the anger of his followers at what
    they took to be treachery, but without effect.

    [589] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1905, p. 20.

What were the aims which at intervals between 1530 and 1560 set half the
counties of England in a blaze? Let us look at the peasants' programme
more closely. It will help us to see the agrarian problem from the
inside. Reduced to its elements their complaint is a very simple one,
very ancient and yet very modern. It is that what, in effect, whatever
lawyers may say, has been their property, is being taken from them. To
be told that social disorders take place because an envious proletariat
aims at seizing the property of the rich would seem to them a very
strange perversion of the truth. They want only to have what they have
always had. They are conservatives, not radicals or levellers, and to
them it seems that all the trouble arises because the rich have been
stealing the property of the poor. Here is part of a colloquy[590]
between Jack of the North beyond the Style, Robin and Harry Clowte, Tom
of Trumpington, Peter Potter, Pyrce Plowman, and divers other worthies.
As will be seen from the verses, they are birds of night--

      "JACK. Now for that Slaunder's sake,
    Companye by night I take,
    And, with all that I may make,
    Cast hedge and ditch in the lake,
    Fyxed with many a stake
    Though it was never so faste
    Yet asondre it is wraste.

           *       *       *       *       *

      HARRY CLOWTE. Gud conscience should them move
    Ther neighbours quietly to love,
    And thus not for to wrynche
    The commons styl for to pinch,
    To take into their hande
    That be other mennes land.

      JACK. Thus do I, Jack of the Style,
    Now subscrybe upon a tyle.
    This I do and will do with all my myght,
    For sclaundering me yet do I but right,
    For common to common again I restore
    Wherever it hath been yet common before.
    If agayne they enclose it never so faste
    Agayne asondre it shall be wraste.
    They may be ware by that is paste
    To make it agayne is but waste."

    [590] Printed by Cooper, _Annals of Cambridge_, vol. ii. p. 40.

To take into your hand what is other men's land, that is the grievance.
To restore common to common again, that is the obvious remedy, a remedy
which is not seriously opposed to the agrarian policy of most sixteenth
century statesmen. But the more far-seeing of the peasants realise what
their followers do not, that these troubles which are going on in so
many different parts of England cannot be dealt with by isolated bodies
of villagers, however good their cause may be. They require the
intervention of the Government. How the Government is to intervene they
lay down in two documents which are perhaps the only two popular
programmes of agrarian reform ever published in England since 1381. The
first, contained in two of the articles[591] drawn up at Doncaster in
1536, is short enough:--

"That the lands in Westmoreland, Cumberland, Kendall, Dent, Sedbergh,
Furness, and the abbey lands in Mashamshire, Kyrkbyshire, Notherdale,
may be by tenant right, and the lord to have, at every change, 2
years' rent for gressum, according to the grant now made by the lords to
the commons there. This to be done by Act of Parliament.

"The Statutes for Enclosures and Intacks to be put in execution, and all
enclosures and Intacks since the fourth year of Henry VII. to be pulled
down, except mountains, forests, and Parks" (a noticeable exception
which shows the composite character of the movement. In the South of
England the peasant did not spare parks).

    [591] Gairdner, _L. and P. of Henry VIII._, xi. 1246.

The articles[592] signed by Ket, Aldryche, and Cod in 1549 are a much
more elaborate affair. Here are the most noteworthy of them:--

"We pray your grace that where it is enacted for enclosing, that it be
not hurtful to such as have enclosed saffren grounds, for they be
greatly chargeable to them, and that from henceforth no man shall
enclose any more.[593]

"We certify your grace that whereas the lords of the mannors hath been
charged with certe fre rent, the same lords hath sought means to charge
the freeholders to pay the same rent, contrary to right.

"We pray your grace that no lord of no manor shall comon uppon the

"We pray that priests from henceforth shall purchase no lande neither
free nor bondy, and the lands that they have in possession may be letten
to temporal men, as they were in the first year of the reign of King
Henry VII.[594]

"We pray that reed ground and meadow ground may be at such price as they
were in the first year of King Henry VII.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that the payments of castleward rent, and blanch ferm and
office lands, which hath been accustomed to be gathered of the
tenements, whereas we suppose the lords ought to pay the same to their
bailiffs for their rents gathering, and not the tenants.[595]

"We pray that no man under the degree of a knight or esquire keep a dove
house, except it hath been of an old ancient custom.

"We pray that all freeholders and copyholders may take the profits of
all commons, and there to common, and the lords not to common nor to
take profits of the same.

"We pray that no feudatory within your shires shall be a councellor to
any man in his office making, whereby the King may be truly served, so
that a man being of good conscience may be yearly chosen to the same
office by the commons of the same shire.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that copyhold land that is unreasonably rented may go as it did
in the first year of King Henry VII., and that at the death of a tenant
or of [at] a sale the same lands to be charged with an easy fine, as a
capon or a reasonable [sum] of money for a remembrance.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that all bondmen may be made free, for God made all free with
his precious bloodshedding.

"We pray that rivers may be free and common to all men for fishing and

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that the poor mariners or Fishermen may have the whole profits
of their fishings, as porpoises, grampuses, whales, or any great fish,
so it be not prejudicial to your Grace.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that it be not lawful to the lords of any manor to purchase
land freely, or [and] to let them out again by copy of court roll to
their great advancement and to the undoing of your poor subjects.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that no man under the degree of ... shall keep any conies upon
any of their freehold or copyhold, unless he pale them in, so that it
shall not be to the common nuisance.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that your Grace give license and authority by your gracious
commission under your Great Seal to such commissioners as your poor
commons hath chosen, or to as many of them as your Majesty and your
Council shall appoint and think meet, for to redress and reform all such
good laws, statutes, proclamations, and all other your proceedings,
which hath been hidden by your justices of your peace, shreves,
escheators, and other your officers, from your poor commons, since the
first year of the reign of your noble grandfather, King Henry VII.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We pray that no lord, knight, esquire, nor gentleman, do graze nor feed
any bullocks or sheep, if he may spend forty pounds a year by his lands,
but only for the provision of his house."

    [592] Russell, _Ket's Rebellion in Norfolk_, p. 48.

    [593] Some doubt has been expressed as to the interpretation of
    these words. They should probably be read in the light of what
    was said above (Part I. chap. iv.) as to enclosures made by the
    tenants themselves. The rebels point out that a considerable
    number of people have spent capital on hedging and ditching
    their lands for the better cultivation of saffron, and therefore
    ask that, while other enclosures may be pulled down, a special
    exception may be made in favour of this particular kind of

    [594] Contrast the feeling in Protestant Norfolk with that of
    Cornwall and Devon in 1549, and of the North in 1536.

    [595] The grammar is bad, but the sense is clear enough. Lords
    must stop shifting on to tenants burdens which lords ought to

The programme of the peasants is partly political. The Northerners
insist that Parliament and the Crown must interfere, and the Norfolk
leaders ask for a permanent commission to do the work which the county
justices, who are interested in enclosing, have wilfully neglected. But
it is mainly economic. The State is to do no more than restore the old
usages, and the end of all is to be a sort of idealised manorial
customary enforced by a strong central Government throughout the length
of the land, free use of common lands, reduced rents of meadow and
marsh, reasonable fines for copyholds, free fisheries, and the abolition
of the lingering disability of personal villeinage. The most striking
thing about these demands is their conservatism. Almost exactly a
hundred years later agrarian reform will be demanded as part of a new
heaven and a new earth. Agrarian agitation will be carried on in terms
of theories as to the social contract, of theories as to the origin of
private property. Its leaders will be appealing to Anglo-Saxon history
to prove to the indifferent ears of a Government which has saved them
"from Charles, our Norman oppressor," that "England cannot be a free
commonwealth, unless the poore commoners have a use and benefit of the
land."[596] They will appeal also to a more awful sanction than that of
history. "At this very day," cries Winstanley,[597] "poor people are
forced to work for 4d. a day and corn is dear, and the tithing-priest
stops their mouths and tells them that 'inward satisfaction of mind' was
meant by the declaration 'the poor shall inherit the earth.' I tell you,
the scripture is to be really and materially fulfilled.... You jeer at
the name of Leveller. I tell you Jesus Christ is the head leveller."
Such communistic doctrines are always the ultimate fruit of the
breakdown of practical co-operation and brotherliness among men. To
human nature, as to other kinds of nature, a vacuum is abhorrent.

    [596] Camden Society, _Clarke Papers_, vol. ii. p. 217. Letter
    addressed by the Diggers, December 8, 1649: "To my lord generall
    and his Councell of War." The allusion to the usurping Normans
    occurs also (_ibid._, p. 215) in another letter in a statement
    of the reasons of the agitation: "Secondly by vertue of yours
    and our victory over the king, whereby the enslaved people of
    England have recovered themselves from under the Norman
    Conquest; though wee do not yet enjoy the benefit of our
    victories, nor cannot soe long as the use of the Common land is
    held from the younger brethren by the Lords of Mannours that yet
    sit in the Norman chair and uphold that tyranny as if the kingly
    power were in force still."

    [597] Winstanley: "The curse and blessing that is in mankind,"
    quoted Gooch, _English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth

But as yet the soil has not been ploughed by a century of political and
religious controversy, and there is little sign of these high arguments
in the social disturbances of our period. The earliest levellers[598]
get their name because they raze not social inequalities but quickset
hedges and park palings. What communism there is in the movement is not
that of the saints or the theorists, but the spontaneous doctrineless
communism of the open field village, where men set out their fields, and
plough, and reap, laugh in the fine and curse in the wet, with natural
fellowship. The middle-class terror of the appearance in England of the
political theories of the German Peasants' War, though it was forcibly
expressed by Sir William Paget[599] in remonstrating with Somerset's
policy in 1549, and though John Hales thought it worth while to
repudiate it, is not justified by any recorded utterances or programmes
which have come to us. There are, indeed, many verbal similarities
between the articles of Ket and those put out by the German peasants at
Memmingen in 1525, which suggest that some refugee from Germany had
carried them with him to the most Protestant county in England. Both,
for example, demand a reduction in rents, the abolition of villeinage,
and free fisheries. But the contrasts are much more striking, and are
due not only to the fact that the onerous villein services which
survived in Germany had become almost nominal in England, but to the
difference in the spirit of their conception, which leads one to appeal
to the New Testament and the other to the customs of the first years of
Henry VII. There is, in fact, the same broad difference between the
peasant movements in England and Germany as there is between the English
and German Reformation. In Germany the ecclesiastical changes spring
from a widespread popular discontent, and are swept forward on a wave of
radical enthusiasm, which carries the peasants (German Social Democrats
are metaphysicians to this day) into the revolutionary mysticism of
Münzer. In England changes in Church government are forced upon the
people by the State, and outside the South and East of England are
regarded with abhorrence. It is not until the later rise of Puritanism
that either religious or economic radicalism becomes a popular force. In
the middle of the sixteenth century the English peasants accepted the
established system of society with its hierarchy of authorities and
division of class functions, and they had a most pathetic confidence
in the Crown. What they wanted, in the first place, was fair
conditions of land tenure, the restoration of the customary
relationships which had protected them against the screw of commercial
competition. When they went further, they looked for an exercise of
Royal Power to reduce to order the petty tyranny of local magnates, and
to carry out the intentions of a Government which they were inclined to
think meant them well, "to redress and reform all such good laws,
statutes, proclamations, and all other your proceedings which hath been
bidden by your justices of your Peace ... from your poor commons." Such
movements are a proof of blood and sinew and of a high and gallant
spirit. They are the outcome of a society where the normal relations are
healthy, where men are attached to the established order, where they
possess the security and control over the management of their own lives
which is given by property, and, possessing this, possess the reality of
freedom even though they stand outside the political state. Happy the
nation whose people has not forgotten how to rebel.

    [598] A reference to the Levellers occurs in connection with the
    Midland Revolt of 1607, Lodge, _Illustrations_, iii. 320: "You
    cannot but have hearde what courses have been taken in
    Leicestershire and Warwickshire by the two Lord Lieutenants
    there, and by the gentlemen ... and lastlie howe Sir Anth.
    Mildmay and Sir Edward Montacute repaired to Newton ... where
    one thousand of these fellowes who term themselves levellers
    were busily digging, but weare furnished with many half-pikes,
    pyked staves, long bills, and bowes and arrows and stones ...
    there were slaine some 40 or 50 of them and a verie great number
    hurt" (January 11, 1607, the Earl of Shrewsbury to Sir John
    Manners, Sir Francis Leake, and Sir John Harper). The name
    Diggers seems to have cropped up about the same time, v. _Wit
    and Wisdom_, edited by Halliwell for New Shakespeare Society,
    pp. 140-141, for a petition from "the Diggers of Warwickshire to
    all other diggers," and signed "poore Delvers and Day Labourers
    for ye good of ye commonwealth till death" (quoted by Gay,
    _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. xviii.)

    [599] See below, pp. 367-368.

The social disturbances caused by enclosure, with its accompaniments of
rack-renting and evictions, were one cause which compelled the
Governments of our period to give attention to the subject. Though no
direct concessions were made to them, their lessons were not altogether
wasted, because it is plain that they impressed on the minds of
statesmen the idea that to prevent disorder it was necessary for the
State to interfere in favour of tenants. Rural discontent, which might
have been insignificant in an age of greater political stability,
derived a factitious importance from the circumstances of the sixteenth
century, when it might be exploited by a rebellious minority, which, for
all that most men knew, might really be a majority of the nation, by
Yorkist Plotters under Henry VII., religious enthusiasts under Henry
VIII., restorers of a Catholic monarchy, supported by a Spanish invasion
or a Franco-Scottish alliance, under Elizabeth. Governments so uncertain
of their popularity as these had a strong reason for protecting the
class which would be the backbone of a revolt. One way in which they
could secure themselves against the discontent of the disaffected
nobility was to encourage the yeomanry, who might act as a counterpoise.
The way in which self-preservation and a popular agrarian policy went
hand in hand is illustrated by Burleigh's cynical advice to Elizabeth to
make a practice of supporting tenants in any quarrel which might arise
between them and Catholic landlords.[600]

    [600] _Somers' Tracts_, vol. i., pp. 164-168: "For their
    tenantries, this conceit I have thought upon ... that your
    Majesty, in every shire, should give instruction to some that
    are indeed trusty and religious gentlemen, that, whereas your
    Majesty is given to understand that divers popish landlords do
    hardly use some of your people and subjects, ... you do
    constitute and appoint them to deal both with entreaty and
    authority, that such tenants, paying as others do, be not thrust
    out of their living, nor otherwise molested. This would greatly
    bind the commons' hearts unto you, on whom indeed consisteth the
    power and strength of your realm, and it will make them less, or
    nothing at all, depend upon their landlords."

But there were other causes as well working in the same direction. No
one who reads the writers by whom the agrarian problem is discussed can
fail to notice that the official view of the proper system of agrarian
relationships was on the whole favourable to the small man, and was,
indeed, not very different from that expressed in the demands of the
peasants themselves. Not, of course, that the authorities had any
intention of depressing landlords or raising peasants, but that the
whole established system of Government was based on a certain
organisation of social life, and that the Government tended to maintain
that organisation in maintaining itself and carrying on the work of the
State. For this attitude, which is in striking contrast with the policy
of the statesmen of the eighteenth century when faced with an analogous
problem, there were several practical reasons which we shall do well to
understand. In judging the motives of economic policy in past ages we
are even more apt to be misled by modern analogies than we are in
estimating its effects. We see that in our own day most of the
legislative protection accorded to those who are economically weak has
been produced by a combination of two causes, the political
enfranchisement of the wage-earning classes and the spread of
humanitarian sentiment. We know that in the sixteenth century the first
cause was absent and the second was feeble. The Macchiavellis of that
iron age were neither democrats nor philanthropists; and when they
avow a policy of protecting the weaker classes in society against
economic evils we are inclined to think with Professor Thorold Rogers
that they are merely hypocritical. But this analogy is a false light. To
be influenced by it is to confuse political power with its symbols, and
to forget that the economic importance of a class may be a more
effective claim to the interest of Governments than the ballot-box.
Under the Tudors there were strong practical reasons for protecting the
peasantry which are not felt to the same extent to-day. The modern State
has so specialised its organs that its maintenance is quite compatible
with the existence of the extremes of poverty, not only among the
exceptionally unfortunate, but among those whose position is not more
insecure than that of their neighbours. They may be able neither to
fight, nor to take part in public duties, nor to contribute much to the
Exchequer. But if their incompetence is a menace, it is a menace which
is not felt till after the lapse of generations, a menace the fulfilment
of which no single life is long enough to behold. For the State hires
specialists to fight, and specialists to keep order; indeed, the poorer
they are, the more cheaply it can obtain their services.[601] Its local
government is conducted mainly by specialised officials, and the
concentration of wealth makes possible a concentration of taxation. The
extension of political power has been accompanied by a subdivision of
political functions, which has diminished the importance of the
individual citizen, and turned him, as far as the routine of Government
is concerned, into a sleeping partner, whose consent is necessary, but
whose active co-operation is superfluous.

    [601] For the manner in which the British army is recruited by
    starvation, see Mr. Cyril Jackson's Report on Boy Labour to the
    Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress, Cd.
    4632, pp. 166-168.

Now we need not point out that this would be as fair a description of
large classes of persons in the sixteenth century as it is now, and that
the day labourer and handicraftsman who "are to be ruled and not to
rule"[602] were, as a class, far more completely beneath the
consideration of statesmen than they are at the present day. But we
are concerned with the landholding population, not with the landless
wage-earner, and in the slightly differentiated state of our period both
economic and political conditions made a decline in the standard of life
among a class so important as the peasantry a danger which might cause
the most authoritarian of Governments to be confronted with very grave
practical difficulties. It might find itself unable to raise an
effective military force. The States of Continental Europe had
introduced standing armies. But England relied mainly on the shire
levies, and the shire levies were recruited from the small farmers. Just
as the lord of a manor in the North of England, whose tenants held by
border service with horse and harness, was anxious to prevent the
decline in their numbers which landlords elsewhere were welcoming, so
the Government regarded with quite genuine dismay an agrarian movement
which seemed to threaten its military resources by impoverishing the
finest fighting material in the country. Shadow, Feeble, and Wart may
"fill a pit as well as better"; but to make good infantry it requires
not "housed beggars," but "men bred in some free and plentiful manner."
One Depopulation Statute after another recites how "the defence of this
land against our enemies outward is enfeebled and impaired."[603] In the
settlement of the North after the Pilgrimage of Grace the Government
took care to instruct its officials to see that the Northumbrian
tenants, on whom the defence of the border depended, "should be put in
comfort, that no more shall be exacted with gyrsums and like charges,
instead of which they shall be ready with horse and harness when
required."[604] In 1601 Cecil[605] crushed a proposal to repeal the acts
then in force against depopulation by pointing out that the majority of
the militia levies were ploughmen. And in the instructions for the
choice of persons to be enrolled in the trained bands which were issued
by the Government of Charles I., particular care was taken to
emphasise that they were not to be selected at haphazard, but were to be
drawn from the families of the gentry, freeholders, and substantial

    [602] Smith, _De Republica Anglorum_, Lib. I., chap. xxiv.

    [603] 4 _Henry VII._, c. 19.

    [604] Gairdner, _L. and P. Hen. VIII._, xii., I. p. 595.

    [605] _D'Ewes' Journal_, p. 674: "Mr. Secretary Cecil said, '...
    I think that whosoever doth not maintain the plough destroys
    this kingdom.... I am sure when warrants go from the Council for
    levying of men in the counties, and the certificates be returned
    unto us again, we find the greatest part of them to be
    ploughmen.'" See also on this point Appendix I., Nos. iv., v.,
    vi., and viii.

    [606] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_ (1909), p. 144.

This cogent reason for intervening to protect the peasantry was
supported by another which was not less convincing. The classes who
suffered most from enclosure were important from a fiscal, as well as a
military, point of view. In the simple economic life of that age the
connection between the output of wealth and the individual worker's
opportunities for production and standard of subsistence, if not more
important than to-day, was certainly more patent to observation. "The
hole welth of the body of the realm cometh out of the labours and works
of the common peple ... a riche welthy body of a realm maketh a riche
welthy king, and a poore feble body of a realm must needs make a poore
weak feble king."[607] In our period "_pauvre paysans pauvre royaume,
pauvre royaume pauvre roi_" was a statement not of any recondite theory,
but of an obvious economic fact, and one can hardly be mistaken in
supposing that part of the favour which sixteenth century Governments
were inclined to show the small farmer was due to the fact that the
methods of taxation in use made him important as a source of revenue. To
a State which relies largely for its supplies on a direct declaration of
income, it is indifferent whether the total assessable income is made up
of a few large or many small ones; indeed if the tax be a progressive
one, most will be got from the former. But look at the way in which
taxation is raised in the sixteenth century. The chief direct tax is the
subsidy. A typical subsidy, for example that of the first year of
Elizabeth,[608] is assessed partly on the capital value of property,
including farm and trade stock and household furniture, partly on the
yearly profits of land. When a village of small and fairly prosperous
cultivators is wiped out to make room for a large and sparsely populated
estate, will the Government get as large a revenue from direct taxation
as before? A modern reader may very well answer "Yes." The motive of
converting land to pasture is to increase the profits of agriculture. If
they are increased, does not this mean a corresponding increase in the
taxable wealth of the country? Now to inquire how far one can assume in
any age that the personal interests of landlords will lead to land being
put to its most productive use would take us far beyond the scope of
this essay, and it is unnecessary for our present purpose. For, as far
as our period is concerned, the answer is certainly wrong. Apart from
the subtler reactions of the agrarian changes upon social welfare, there
is then no such identity between the economic interests of the landlord
and the economic interests of the State. Speaking broadly, the former
consist in securing the largest net income, the latter in securing the
largest gross product. And these two things are by no means necessarily
found together. If a pasture farm managed by a shepherd and his dog is
substituted by an enclosing proprietor for several score of families
living by tillage, the rent roll of the estate can hardly fail to be
increased, for the value of wool is so high, and the cost of
sheep-farming so low, that the net income from which rent can be paid is
large. But subsidies are assessed on property, not only on income; and
on personal as well as real property. A rise in rents is quite
compatible with a falling off in the gross produce of the land, and the
conversion of an estate from arable to pasture, by displacing tenants,
means a diminution in the farm stock and household property which has
hitherto contributed towards the revenue.

    [607] Pauli, _Drei volkswirthshaftliche Denkscriften_, How to
    Reform the Realm in Setting Men to Work to restore Tillage: "The
    kynge and his lordes have nede to mynyster right ordre of common
    wele; or els they must needs destroy their own wealth by the
    very ordenaince of God, for they are upholden and borne upon the
    body. Yf they will be riche, they must first see all common
    people have riches."

    [608] 1 Eliz. cap. xxi. Prothero Statutes and Constitutional
    Documents, 1558-1625. Two subsidies of 1s. 8d. and 1s. were
    imposed on "every pound, as well in coin, ... as also plate,
    stock of merchandises, all manner of corn and blades, household
    stuff, and of all other goods moveable," and two subsidies of
    2s. 8d. and 1s. 4d. on the "yearly profits" of land.

Lest such a view should seem unduly theoretical, let us hasten to add
that it is one which is endorsed by the authority of contemporaries.
When subsidies are being debated in the House of Commons members
complain that, while the wealthy are under-assessed, the small men pay
more than their share.[609] Political writers from Fortescue[610] to
Bacon[611] emphasise the fact that the ability of the country to bear
taxation depends on the maintenance of a high level of prosperity among
the yeomanry. The yeoman is a man who "makes a whole line in the subsidy
book."[612] "The weight thereof," says a pamphleteer in 1647, "falls
heavily ... especially upon the yeomanry."[613] The occasional glimpses
which we get of harassed collectors trying in vain to screw taxes out of
small farmers, whom a rise in rents or a bad season has plunged in
distress, show the truth of their accounts. In the reign of Edward VI.
subsidies cannot be collected on the northern border owing to the
oppression to which some of the tenants have been subjected.[614] From
Norfolk in 1628 comes a still more melancholy tale. "The ffarmors and
such as use Husbandrye and tilth," write the Commissioners of the
subsidy to the Government, "from whom in times past was accustomed to be
drawne the greatest part of ye money leviable by way of subsidye,
present unto us their pitiful estates, growen into decay through the
base price and noe vent in these later years for their corne ... that
some of them doo owe unto their landlordes two yeares rent, many of them
one years.... All which considered we much feare that the collectors
shall not gather in the monye soe speedily as they would or we
desire."[615] The truth is that so much of the wealth of the country had
been in the hands of the more prosperous among the small cultivators
that any decline in their position was likely to place the Governments
of our period in financial straits. They regard it with the
self-interested apprehension which modern statesmen feel lest capital
should be "driven abroad." Hence there was a strong fiscal motive for
protecting the rural classes. Rebels who pointed out that "A man can
have no more of a cat but the skin; that is the King can have no more of
us than we have, which in a manner he has already,"[616] or tenants who
urged the Crown to protect them on the ground that "they paie your
Majesty subsidies, fifteens, and loans,"[617] were using language which
the impecunious Government of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
could understand much better than appeals to humanitarian sentiment. The
military, financial, and political importance of the yeomanry was, in
fact, great enough to make them one of the classes with whom the defence
and order of the country were identified, and therefore sufficient to
make them an object of solicitude to statesmen who were concerned with
national interests.

    [609] _D'Ewes' Journal_, p. 633. "Sir Walter Raleigh said ...
    'Call you this par iugum when a poor man pays as much as a rich,
    and peradventure his estate is no better than he is set at, or
    little better; when our estates, that be thirty or forty pounds
    in the queen's books, are not the hundredth part of our

    [610] Fortescue, _On the Governance of England_, chap. xii.:
    "The reaume off Ffraunce givith never ffrely off thair owne good
    will any subsidie to thair prince, because the commons thereoff
    be so pouere.... But owre commons be riche, and therefore thai
    give to thair kynge as somme tymes quinsimes and dessimes, and
    ofte tymes other grete subsidies."

    [611] Bacon, _History of King Henry VII._ (Pitt Press Series),
    pp. 70-71: "The more gentlemen, ever the lower book of

    [612] Fuller, _The Holy and Profane State_.

    [613] _The Standard of Equality in Subsidiary Taxes and
    Payments_, London, 1647.

    [614] _S. P. D. Ed. VI._, Addenda IV., p. 26: "Subsidies and
    duties must be levied on that border for your service, and they
    are loosed by oppression of your officers."

    [615] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1907, pp. 139-140.

    [616] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, xi. 1244. See the
    remarks about Cromwell: "Item, the false flatterer says he will
    make the king the richest prince in Christendom.... I think he
    goes about to make him the poorest."

    [617] See Appendix I., iv.

Economic policies are not to be explained in terms of economics alone.
When an old and strong society is challenged by a new phenomenon, its
response is torn from a living body of assumptions as to the right
conduct of human affairs, which feels that more than material interests
are menaced, and which braces itself anxiously against the shock. The
swift agrarian changes of the sixteenth century differ from the swifter
changes of the eighteenth, in that enlightened opinion is, on the whole,
against them, and that even the technical experts feel misgivings. If
the attitude of statesmen is to be explained by the practical reasons
which have already been given, the opposition of men like More, Latimer,
Crowley, Starkey, and Hales seemed to themselves a plain matter of
morals. In Germany Luther denounced the revolting peasants. In England
those who in ecclesiastical matters were poles apart united in a plea
for economic conservatism. Leading reformers preach and write against
enclosing; and terrified landlords complain that "none ever spake so
vilely as these so-called commonwealths."[618] Their understanding of
the technique of the agrarian changes is often deficient. Like the
Carlyles and Ruskins of a later age, they make Philistia merry with
their sad blunders over economic details. But it would be a mistake to
regard their views of the social effects of enclosing as abnormal or
sentimental. They are the last great literary expression of the appeal
to the average conscience which had been made by the old agrarian order,
the cry of a spirit which is departing, and which, in its agony, utters
words that are a shining light for all periods of change.

    [618] Letter to Mr. Cecill from Sir Anthony Auchar, quoted by
    Russell, _Ket's Rebellion, in Norfolk_, p. 202.

Several paths of argument lead to their position. There is the
traditional importance of tillage. It is a "foundation industry," an
industry from which four-fifths of the people directly or indirectly get
their living. English Governments have always shown it special favour.
Its maintenance is almost part of the common law[619] of the land. And
it is right that it should be so. For the partition which separates men
from starvation is thin, and if tillage fails how shall the people be
fed? The Government insists on a certain minimum area being under the
plough for exactly the same reason that the city of Coventry, when it is
in the grip of a bad harvest, decides to break up part of its common
pastures for wheat. All men are agreed that the price of food ought to
be fixed by authority, and one cannot control prices unless one can
control supplies. There is the argument from social functions. The State
is a community of classes. Between classes there must be inequality, for
each has a different function, fighting, or merchandise, or handicraft,
or husbandry. Unless there is inequality between classes no class can
perform its duties or (strange thought) enjoy its rights. But one class
must not encroach upon the livelihood of another. If we will not have
villein blood on the Council, neither will we let gentlemen take into
their hands the holdings of their tenants. For this means that one limb
of the body politic drains nourishment from another limb, and that men
drop into a superfluous residuum from which the State gets no profit.
And within a class there should be substantial equality. When one man
has the livelihoods of two must not another man go without any living at
all? There is the argument from economic morality. In every bargain
there is the possibility of oppression. The unscrupulous man makes the
most of this. He regards only his own profit. He is "a great taker of
advantages."[620] This is the sin of the usurer, the bodger, and the
tyrannous landlord, and of this bad trinity the last is the worst. To
oppress men by rack-renting land is particularly detestable. For though
in all contracts there is certainly (if only it can be found!) an
objective standard of value, yet a man may with reason be in doubt as to
what is fair price to charge for an article the value of which has not
been fixed by authority. But he can hardly be in doubt as to what is a
fair rent. The fair rent is the usual rent; equity is custom. There is
the argument from the very nature of the bond between tenant and
landlord. Tenure is no longer as sacred a thing as once it was, and,
even if it were, men who are legally the descendants of right-less
villeins could not easily appeal to its sanctity. But opinion feels that
there is something despicably sordid in using this particular relation
as a financial engine. Though surveyors' economics are as notorious as
lawyers' justice,[621] even one of that detested class can preface his
business-like account of western manors with words idealising the
conditions which have "knit such a knot of colaterall amytie between
the Lords and the tenants that the lord tendered his tenants as his
childe, and the tenants again loved the lord as naturally as the childe
his father."[622] The bond between landlord and tenant is perhaps,
indeed, the only economic relationship which has ever yet stirred the
affection of large masses of men. It has done so because it has been in
the past so much more than economic. The pitiful cry of that nameless
old man to whose care Shakespeare commits the blinded Gloucester, "O my
good lord, I have been your tenant, and your father's tenant, these
fourscore years," is the voice of an attachment which once was real. In
the sixteenth century the tie of tenure is still the symbol of greater
things, and the wrench which is given it by the partial commercialising
of agriculture seems to portend more ruinous innovations. Most men make
the State in the image of their own village, or city, or business. It is
perhaps not an unfair description of one side of the social philosophy
of our period to say that a manor is still a "little commonwealth,"[623]
the kingdom still the greatest of manors. If the lord holds from the
King, does not the tenant hold from his lord by as good a right? If the
tenant who encroaches on his neighbour's strips is checked by the
manorial court, should not the lord who depopulates half a village be
checked by the King in his High Court of Parliament? If gentlemen
oppress yeomen, how can they "live together as they be joined in one
body politic under the King?"[624]

    [619] Miss Leonard (_Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series vol.
    xix.) quotes Coke, _Institutes_, Book III., p. 105 (1644 ed.),
    and _S. P. D. Chas. I._, clxxxvii., No. 95: "The decay of
    tillage and houses of husbandry are the undoubted causes and
    grounds of depopulation, and a crime against the Common Laws of
    this Realm, and every continuance thereof is a new crime." But
    the words "against the Common Laws" are hardly to be interpreted

    [620] _S. P. D. Eliz._, vol. cclxxxvi., Nos. 19 and 20: "He is a
    great taker of advantages. He granted a lease to his brother,
    who dying a year past, he sued his brother's wife to overthrow
    the lease to the undoing of her and her children." For a strong
    expression of these views see _Hist. MSS. Com._, MSS. of Marquis
    of Salisbury, Part II., 1575, Nov. 20. Lord North to the Bishop
    of Ely: "My lord, it wilbe no pleasure for you to have hir
    Majestye and the Councell knowe howe wretchedly yowe live within
    and without your house, howe extremely covetous, how great a
    grazier, how marvellous a dayrye man, howe ritche a farmer, how
    grete an owner. It will not lyke yowe that the world knowe of
    your decayed houses, ... of the leases you pull violently from
    many, of the copyeholdes that yowe lawlesslye enter into, of the
    fre land that yowe wrongfully posese.... Yowe suffer no man to
    live longer under yowe than yowe lyke him."

    [621] Norden, _The Surveyor's Dialogue_, p. 1: "Farmer, I have
    heard much evill of the profession, and to tell you my conceit
    plainly I think the same both evill and unprofitable ... and
    oftentime you are the cause that men lose their land and
    sometimes they are abridged of such liberties as they have long
    used in mannors."

    [622] _Topographer and Genealogist_, vol. i.

    [623] Norden, _op. cit._: "And is not every mannor a little
    commonwealth, whereof the tenants are the members, the land the
    body, and the lord the head?"

    [624] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, xii., I., 98,
    Instructions to the Duke of Norfolk.

It is true that it is just these ideas which in our period are on their
trial, and that if one were to seek the watershed where the mediæval
theory of land tenure, as something contingent on the fulfilment of
obligations, parts company from modern conceptions of ownership, as
conferring an unlimited right to unconditional disposal by the owner,
one would find it in the century and a half between 1500 and the final
abolition of feudal tenures in 1660. The combination of forces both
economic and political making for a change of attitude is
unmistakable; on the one hand the severance of the personal relationship
of tenure through the development of the great leasehold farm, the
breaking up of the customary routine of cultivation through the
increasing dependence of agriculture on the market, the general revision
of contracts brought about through the fall in the value of money; on
the other hand the enormous redistribution of landed property through
the confiscation of monastic and gild endowments, the consequent
creation of a new aristocracy ready to apply commercial ideas to land
tenure, the desire of proprietors to escape from the obnoxious feudal
incidents and of the Crown to find some more lucrative substitute for
them. But the decay of the older conceptions goes on very slowly. The
Government is on the whole on the conservative side; for naturally it
has to work on the material to hand, and the best hope of maintaining
order lies in the preservation of fixed customary relationships between
the different classes in society. Its instinct is therefore still to
treat the control and disposition of land as to a special degree a
question of public policy, in regard to which landlords are bound
"rather to consider what is agreeable ... to the use of the state and
for the good of the commonwealth, than to seeke the utmost profit which
a landlord for his particular advantage may take among his

    [625] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. xxvii. p.
    129. Letter from the Council to William Harman, Esq.

(b) _Legislation and Administration_

This was its instinct. But can we say more than this? Can we say that
the presumption in favour of protecting the small landholder was
translated into any definite policy, and that such a policy was carried
out in practice? The answer to these questions is by no means easily
given. There is the difficulty of making any generalisation which will
cover the century and a half during which, from time to time, the
agrarian problem claimed public attention. True, this difficulty is not
so serious as might at first sight appear, or as it would be in an age
of swiftly changing ideas. The political historian may treat the Tudors
as one period and the first two Stuarts as another. But the economist
finds much the same views on economic matters obtaining under Charles I.
as under Henry VIII., and much the same administrative system to carry
them out. There is in our period no marked change in responsible opinion
upon the enclosing movement. The Commission which deals with the subject
in 1607 shows the same attitude as the Commission of 1517. Enclosers are
fined in 1637 as they have been fined in the reign of James I. But the
opinion which counts is not always responsible opinion. During the six
years which intervene between the death of Henry VIII. and the accession
of Philip and Mary the Government is in the hands of the great
landlords,--landlords who have built up their fortunes out of the spoils
of the monasteries, and whom no authority is strong enough to check. By
a curious chance the first head of the Government is a man who is an
agrarian reformer by conviction. But, when he falls, his colleagues
throw over his policy, and turn savagely to the work of crushing out the
very possibility of organised protest among the peasantry. These years,
the so-called reign of Edward VI., will be an exception to whatever
conclusions may be reached as to the policy of the State under the
Tudors and the first two Stuarts. Again, there is the difficulty, the
great difficulty, of saying how far the interference of Governments is
successful even when they honestly desire it to have effect. The modern
assumption, which is sometimes all too sanguine, is that a Law is being
carried out unless it is proved that it is not. For the sixteenth
century there are those who would say that we must assume that a Law is
not being administered unless it is proved that it is, and, though
scepticism is sometimes pushed to absurd lengths, one certainly cannot
build much on the letter of Acts of Parliament. But how exacting are our
tests of effective administration to be? All will agree that in our
period the mere enacting of a Statute causes and cures very little,
unless special efforts are applied to making it work. But is a
peremptory order from the Council to the Justices of the Peace, or to
the Council of the North, to redress this or that grievance among
tenants, a proof that the grievance will be redressed? Or must we be
content with nothing less than a record of cases actually handled? If
we decline to believe in the efficacy of any economic legislation about
which we have not a full list of decisions, we shall have little left to
rely on. The famous Statute of Artificers will look shaky, and so will
the legislation with regard to prices and quality. Perhaps a reasonable
view would be to look askance at mere Acts of Parliament, but to accept
action, or orders to take action, on the part of the executive
authorities, as a proof that the law is being applied in practice.

Of the Statutes prohibiting the conversion of arable to pasture we need
not, then, say much. The long series of Acts[626] which were passed
between 1489 and 1597 show little originality. They were at bottom
simply a series of great manorial customaries framed to apply to the
whole country, or to all parts of the country which were not expressly
excepted from their operation, an attempt to maintain the _status quo_
obtaining at any time by laying down for the whole country a common rule
of cultivation of much the same kind as had been in the past maintained
by local customs. They did not prohibit enclosure as such, but they
proceeded on the assumption that a fixed proportion of the land, usually
the average of a certain number of years preceding the Act, ought to be
under the plough, and that the small cultivator's farm accommodation
should be maintained or renewed at the expense of the landlord. They
differed only in the methods used to achieve this end. The Statutes
before 1550 usually insisted merely on the reconversion of pasture land
to tillage,[627] the re-edification of decayed houses of husbandry,[628]
and the limitation to 2000 of the sheep to be kept by any one
farmer.[629] They relied on most unpromising machinery. Like the ancient
Statute of Mortmain, they tried to make the feudal contract the means
for enforcing the law, by empowering superior lords to take half the
profits of mesne lords and tenants who infringed it. The Statutes after
1550 were somewhat bolder in their experiments. The most important
departure was the provision, first introduced into the Statutes of
1552[630] and 1555,[631] for the creation of permanent bodies of
Commissioners to do the work which, when most landlords were anxious to
enclose, no landlord would undertake. Under the Statute of 1555,
subsequently declared "too mild and gentle," but on the face of it a
drastic measure, the Commissioners were empowered both to bind over
offenders to rebuild decayed houses, to plough up pasture land, and to
fix the judicial rents which had been demanded by the peasantry and
suggested by certain reformers. It was repealed (together with the
Statutes of 1536 and 1552) in 1563, the Act[632] of that year confirming
the earlier Acts passed in the reign of Henry VIII., and requiring all
land which had been under the plough for four successive years since
1529 to be kept in tillage, on pain of a fine of 10s. per acre for all
land converted to pasture contrary to the Act. In 1589[633] a Statute
was passed for the protection of cottagers, prohibiting the letting of
cottages to agricultural labourers with less than four acres of land
attached. In 1593[634] it was thought that sufficient land was in
tillage to make the maintenance of legislation on the subject
unnecessary, and the clause in the Act of 1563, which forbade conversion
to pasture, was repealed. But the result seems to have been a
recrudescence of the movement for converting arable land to pasture,
with the result that in 1597[635] two more Acts were passed, both of
which adopted the expedient of setting up a special authority, apart
from the ordinary machinery of local government, to enforce the Act, by
empowering the Lord Chancellor to nominate bodies of Commissioners. The
first enacted that all houses of husbandry decayed within seven years
preceding the Act, and half of those decayed within seven years before
that, were to be rebuilt and let, the former with not less than 40
acres, and the latter with not less than 20 acres, of land. It also took
the significant step of expressly sanctioning the consolidation of
intermixed holdings by way of exchange between lord and tenants, or
between one tenant and another. The second applied only to twenty-five
counties, where, presumably, enclosing had proceeded furthest or was
most disastrous in its effects. It enacted that all land converted from
tillage to pasture since 1558 should be reconverted within three years,
if it had been under the plough for twelve years immediately preceding
conversion, and that land which had been in tillage for twelve years
preceding the Act should remain in tillage, the penalty for disobedience
being a fine of 20s. per acre. These two Acts escaped the general repeal
of the laws against depopulation which took place in 1624, and remained
on the Statute Book till the Statute Law Revision Act of 1863.

    [626] A useful list of these Acts, with a summary of their
    provisions, is given by Slater, _The English Peasantry and the
    Enclosure of Common Fields_, Appendix D.

    [627] 4 Henry VII., c. 19. All occupiers of twenty acres and
    more which have been in tillage during three years preceding the
    Act to maintain tillage.

    [628] 6 Henry VIII., c. 5, and 7 Henry VIII., c. 1. In parishes
    "whereof the more part was or were used and occupied to tillage
    and husbandry," any person who "shall decay a town, a hamlet, a
    house of husbandry, or convert tillage into pasture," and has
    not "within one yeere next after such wylfull decaye reedifyed
    and made ageyn mete and convenyent for people to dwell and
    inhabyte the same ... and therein to exercyse husbandry and
    tillage," forfeits one half of his land to the lord of the
    manor. Land converted to pasture must be tilled "after the maner
    and usage of the countrey where the seyd land lyeth."

    [629] 25 Henry VIII., c. 13.

    [630] 5 and 6 Edward VI., c. 5.

    [631] 2 and 3 Philip and Mary, c. 2.

    [632] 5 Elizabeth, c. 2.

    [633] 31 Elizabeth, c. 7.

    [634] 35 Elizabeth, c. 7.

    [635] 39 Elizabeth, c. 1 and c. 2.

The Statutes are evidence of a state of opinion. To judge how far that
opinion wrote itself on the world of affairs we must look elsewhere. Nor
are they in themselves very interesting. The genius of sixteenth century
statesmanship lay in administration not in legislation. It dwelt not in
Parliament but in the Council, and in those administrative courts, the
Court of Star Chamber, the Court of Requests, the Council of the North,
the Council of Wales, which were the Privy Council's organs. In studying
economic questions in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, one
is met at every turn by the apparatus of special administrative
jurisdictions, which was built up by the Tudors, and which fell to
pieces with the final rupture between the Crown and Parliament. On the
one hand, they supply the control and stimulus in matters of detailed
administration, without which all legislation designed to regulate
shifting economic relationships, or running counter to the prejudices of
a powerful class, is doomed to be ineffective. Are the Justices of the
Peace lax in carrying out the Statutes for the relief of the poor and
punishment of vagrants? The Council will remonstrate. Have they omitted
to assess wages and fix prices? The Council will let them know that
their neglect has been noted at headquarters and that it must be
corrected. Are capitalists in the clothing counties dismissing workmen
in times of trade depression? The Council will direct the justices to
read them a lesson on the duty of employers to their operatives and to
the State, and threaten them with a summons to Whitehall unless they
mend their ways. A stream of correspondence pours into London from the
Government's agents in the counties--returns as to the supplies of wheat
available for consumption, applications for permission to license the
export of food-stuffs, statistics as to prices, information as to
unemployment, information as to vagrancy based on a "day-count" of
vagabonds. The Council digests it, and sends out its mandates to
continue this and alter that, to raise wages or reduce prices, to
inspect granaries, punish middlemen, whip sturdy rogues, relieve the
poor. Bad means of communication, scanty and inaccurate intelligence,
incompetent local officials, prevent administration from running
smoothly; and as the Civil War approaches incompetence becomes
recalcitrance. Nevertheless the engine is a powerful one, and up to a
year or two before the meeting of the Long Parliament its throb is felt
throughout the country.

Such a system of centralised supervision, which can meet emergencies
with promptitude, and can adjust regulations to the varying needs of
different years and different localities, is a necessity in any society
where economic relationships are made the object of authoritative
control. Under the Tudors and first two Stuarts the Council does much
that is done to-day by several State departments--the Board of
Agriculture and Fisheries, the Board of Education, the Local Government
Board, the Home Office, as well as much that is left to Private Bill
legislation. But the Council is, of course, much more than an executive
organ. It is also a court of law. It does not only make rules, it
punishes people for breaking them. Sometimes it exercises jurisdiction
itself. More often, at any rate in the cases arising out of the economic
questions with which we are chiefly concerned, it issues an order, and
leaves the punishment of breaches of it to the Court of Star Chamber and
the Court of Requests. Into the controversy as to the constitutional
position of these courts we need not enter; we need only point out their
extreme importance as buttresses of the Government's control over
economic affairs. Both in personnel and procedure they were admirably
qualified to be the instruments of a thorough system of State
intervention in matters of industry and agriculture. Both of them were
committees of the Council, and in both the governmental predominated
over the judicial element, the two judges who attended the Court of Star
Chamber, and the Masters of Requests who sat in the Court of Requests,
being in the position rather of legal advisers or assessors than of
judicial authorities. In theory the former court dealt with criminal,
the latter with civil cases. But in an age when the majority of the
populace were armed, a dispute was extremely likely to terminate in a
riot, and in practice there were subjects on which complaints came
before either court indifferently. They dispensed with a jury. They took
account of equitable considerations which had no place in the common law
courts. They were guided by reasons of State, not by the letter of the
law, and would punish behaviour as contrary to public policy. For the
execution of their rulings they used not only the ordinary officers of
the law, the Justices of the Peace, but also special bodies of

Whatever may have been the abuses of this system of administrative
jurisdictions, one can easily understand that it was well fitted to deal
with the agrarian problem. It is seen at its worst in ecclesiastical
matters. It is seen at its best in protecting the poorer classes against
economic tyranny; and we shall fail to understand the popularity of the
Tudor Governments unless we lay as much emphasis on the good side as on
the bad. The Court of Requests in particular is a popular court, a court
which punishes the rich, a court which brings, in the words of the
aristocratic chronicler, "many an honest man to trouble and vexacion," a
court to which the poor "compleyned without number."[636] The notorious
difficulty of getting a verdict from a jury of tenants who are liable
to eviction means that a landlord can break the law with impunity. Here
are courts before which the intimidator can be intimidated; courts which
will handle him "on that sort, that what courage soever he hath, his
heart will fall to the grounde."[637] The enormous importance of
manorial custom in determining the fate of all classes of peasants,
except the freeholders, makes it certain that grave injustice will be
done to vested interests by any court which confines itself to the
strict letter of the law. The Council will direct that "such order be
taken in the matter as in justyce and equitie shall appertayn."[638] The
mere fact that its ruling is not simply the verdict of a court but the
command of the Government, increases the probability that it will
receive due attention from those whose duty it is to enforce it. The
landlord who has enclosed may be the very man who hears the peasant's
complaint. The Council will interfere to insist on the local authorities
taking "a more indifferent course."[639]

    [636] Hall's _Chronicle of Henry VIII._, p. 585 (Edition 1809),
    quoted by Leadam, introduction to _Select Cases in the Court of
    Requests_ (Selden Society).

    [637] Smith, _De Republica Anglorum_, Lib. III., chap. iv.

    [638] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. xiii. pp.

    [639] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. xxx. pp.
    36-37. A letter to the Council in the Marches of Wales,
    concerning the tenants of Aston in Montgomeryshire: "And if it
    be true, as they do inform us by their petitions, that
    examinations in a case concerning one of that Counsell should be
    taken by a kinsman of his owne and a clerk underneathe him, wee
    wyshe ... that you would have taken a more indifferent course,
    especially in a matter of commons, which, concerning many
    persons, doth easily give occasion of offence and scandal."

The activity of the Government in matters of land was not so incessant
as it was in the regulation of prices and the administration of the Poor
Laws; for its land policy was strongly opposed to the interests of the
country gentry who were its officials, and it had to proceed with
caution. If we except the first great Commission appointed by Wolsey in
1517, the periods in which it was especially energetic in dealing with
the land question were three, the years between 1536 and 1549, the years
from 1607 to 1618, the years from 1630 to 1636; and on each of these
three occasions there was some temporary cause to explain its peculiar
zeal--on the two first the revolts of the peasantry, and on the last the
rise in the price of grain, which suggested that an unduly small
proportion of the land was under tillage. Nevertheless it handles
individual cases with considerable frequency throughout the whole
period from 1517 to 1640. Usually it acts as a final court of appeal,
which intervenes only when other means of redress have broken down, and
it is sometimes at pains to explain to offended landlords that it does
not intend to debar them from asserting their rights at Common Law, if
they can. Its aim is to stop very gross cases of oppression, to prevent
the peasants being made the victims of legal chicanery and intimidation,
to induce landlords to take a larger view of their responsibilities, to
settle disputes by the use of common sense and moral pressure. It steps
in when the tenants are poor men who are being ruined by vexatious
lawsuits, or when enclosure is thought likely to produce disorder, or to
forbid a landlord to take action pending a decision by the courts. It
has to hear many cases touching copyholders and many touching commons;
for no one is quite certain as to the legal rights of copyholders, and
in the matter of commons there is a fearful gulf between law and equity.
Occasionally in the reign of Henry VIII., and even in that of Elizabeth,
it deals with cases of villeinage. But these, though more numerous than
might have been supposed, are nevertheless rare, for the principal
economic evils of the period consist not in the revival of old claims,
but in the new competitive conditions of agriculture. The treatment of
the latter is by no means a simple matter--even the strong Governments
of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth will not lightly thrust forceful fingers
into the mysterious custom-bound recesses of the manor--and when we have
said that on the whole the bias of the Tudor and early Stuart statesmen
is against revolutionary changes that damage the peasants, we can say
little more without citing individual cases of interference.

Let us look shortly at the more striking among them. The famous
Commission upon enclosure appointed by Wolsey in 1517 set a precedent to
be followed in several subsequent inquiries, and has left us an
invaluable body of information as to the nature and extent of the
enclosing movement. It was, however, by no means the first example of
the Government intervening in the agrarian problem, and the partial
reconversion of pasture to arable, which seems to have resulted from
its labours, still left an urgent need for a continuous supervision of
the relations between landlord and tenant by some tribunal sufficiently
independent to do justice to the weaker party. In 1494 the earliest
proceedings in the interminable case[640] of John Mulsho v. the
inhabitants of Thingden ended in the Court of Star Chamber (the same
court was dealing with the same matter in 1538) with a decree in favour
of the tenants. In 1510 the same body was dealing with a quarrel between
the Abbot and the copyholders of Peterborough,[641] and in 1516 with a
complaint from the inhabitants of Draycote[642] and Stoke Gifford that
the lord of the manor had evicted copyholders, stopped up rights of way,
and enclosed common land. The policy of Wolsey is sufficiently indicated
by the active campaign which he set on foot against depopulation, and
requires no further illustration. But it is interesting to observe that
his attitude towards the agrarian question was not a mere personal
idiosyncrasy, and that it was the same in all essential particulars as
that of his successor. Thomas Cromwell must bear the blame for part of
the agrarian distress which prevailed during the closing years of Henry
VIII. and the reign of Edward VI.; for that distress was enhanced by the
wild land speculation which followed the secularisation of the monastic
estates. In that age, however, such indirect social reactions of their
policy were matters quite beneath the consideration of statesmen, and
the fact that the Government was responsible for changes which operated
most disastrously on the established order of rural society did not
prevent administrative interference to impede agrarian innovations from
going on to the end of the reign of Henry VIII. Indeed the King,
influenced no doubt by the fear that agrarian agitation might add fuel
to religious discontent, seems himself to have taken some interest in
the matter. In 1534 one finds Cromwell writing to congratulate him on
the passage through the House of Commons of a Bill providing that no man
shall keep more than 2000 sheep, and that one-eighth of every farmer's
land shall always remain in tillage, "The most profitable and most
benefycyall thing that ever was done to this the commonwealthe of your
realm;"[643] and in the following year there is a letter[644] from
Cromwell to Rich directing him to apprise the Duke of Suffolk of the
King's displeasure at the decay of certain towns which the Duke had
promised to repair. The agrarian grievances expressed in the Pilgrimage
of Grace were admitted, and in the instructions issued to the officers
who were appointed to restore order in the disaffected counties special
directions[645] were included to throw open enclosures, and to reduce
the excessive fines charged to tenants on admission to their holdings.
In the years immediately following the same policy was pursued in other
parts of the country. In 1538 the Earl of Derby[646] writes to Cromwell
protesting against the pressure put upon him to reinstate seven tenants
whom he has turned out. In 1540 a landlord[647] in the Isle of Wight is
compelled to restore to their holdings some recently evicted tenants. In
1541 several cases come before the Council. It appoints a Commission to
investigate the case of a Northamptonshire[648] landlord who has
prevented the tenants of Brigstock from feeding their pigs, calves, and
sheep, by cutting up part of a common wood "into several pastures for
his own private use and benefit." It meets a complaint from the
borderers[649] of the Forest of Dartmoor that the owner of the lands of
the monastery of Buckfast is breaking the statute which required the
lands of dissolved abbeys to be farmed in the traditional way, by
excluding them from the common, with a decision upholding the tenants'
case and with the appointment of Commissioners to carry out the award.
It sets a certain choleric Sir Nicholas Poyntz,[650] who has dared to
procure the imprisonment of a tenant for proceeding against him before
the Council, to cool his temper in the Fleet, and when he comes out
compels him to grant his victim a new farm in exchange for one which he
has surrendered, to reduce his rent from 20s. to 6s., and to pay him
forty marks as compensation for his "damages and travailles." In
1543[651] the tenants of Abbots Ripton lay a complaint in the Court of
Requests against Sir John St. John on the ground that, in addition to
other acts of oppression, he has entered forcibly on their holdings. Sir
John replies that they are not copyholders, but merely tenants at will,
who are unprotected by any immemorial custom, and after an examination
of the manor rolls the court holds that he is right. But the legal
insecurity of the tenants does not prevent them from getting protection.
The court requires their landlord to grant them leases for years at
reasonable rents, and orders that the property which he has distrained
shall be restored.

    [640] Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Star
    Chamber_, edited by Leadam, and Leadam, E. H. R., vol. viii. pp.

    [641] Leadam, _E. H. R._, vol. viii. pp. 684-696.

    [642] _Ibid._

    [643] Merriman, _Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell_, vol. i.
    p. 273.

    [644] _Ibid._, vol. i. p. 413.

    [645] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, xii., I., 98 and 595.

    [646] Gairdner, _L. and P. Henry VIII._, xiii., I., 334 (see
    also 66, where an appeal is made January 11, 1536, to Cromwell
    to protect some tenants in Denbighshire.)

    [647] _Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council_, vol.
    vii. p. 42: "The King's pleasure was signified to John Dawney,
    Knight, that whereas he had turned certain persons in the Isle
    of Wight out of their farms, whereof they pretended to have
    leases, and had demised the same to others that minded not to
    dwell upon the same, he should take order that the old tenants
    might enjoy their leases until Michaelmas, come a twelve month,
    and that in the mean season the King's Highness would see a
    direction taken in the matter."

    [648] _Ibid._, vol. vii. pp. 225-226. July 30 and August 1,

    [649] _Ibid._, vol. vii. pp. 123-125. January 25, 1541.

    [650] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. i. pp. 5 and

    [651] Leadam, _E. H. R._, vol. viii. pp. 684-696.

With the Protectorate of Somerset we enter upon a period of more violent
agitation and more drastic expedients. There was a large difference
between using the jurisdiction of the Council to redress individual
cases of hardship and a deliberate attempt to effect a general
settlement of the land question upon lines which would do substantial
justice to the peasants. The former course involved no perilous
assertion of principles, and could be pursued under the guise of a
purely conservative policy, merely by referring disputes between
landlords and tenants to the Courts of Star Chamber and Requests, which,
though in fact administrative and governmental bodies, were none the
less protected to some extent against criticism by wearing the
appearance of mere legal tribunals. The latter might, perhaps, have been
attempted with some faint hope of success, if statesmen had been much
more careful than they were to discriminate between the different
aspects of the problem with which they were confronted. To us, who look
back on the situation from a distance of three and a half centuries,
it seems that the one guiding thread, which might have led some way
through the welter of confusion, was offered by the sharp distinction
drawn by Hales between those enclosures which were made by the exchange
and consolidation of strips, with a view to better husbandry, and those
which had as their effect the conversion of arable land to pasture, the
monopolising of commons, and the eviction of tenants. The arguments in
favour of the first type of enclosure were too cogent for any policy
which condemned enclosing in general to have the smallest prospect of
success. The only possibility of averting the ruin to the peasantry
which accompanied depopulation lay in encouraging them generally to
follow the example of their brothers in Kent, Essex, Devonshire, and
Cornwall, who had for centuries been substituting a more progressive
husbandry for the "mingle mangle" of the open fields, without the
disastrous consequences entailed by the spread of capitalist agriculture
in other parts of the South and Midlands. But such a frank encouragement
of certain kinds of enclosure for the sake of repressing others implied
an appreciation of the economics of the problem to which comparatively
few persons in our period had attained, and was quite beyond the grasp
of Governments, which, at their worst, as under Warwick, were quite
indifferent to the sufferings of the poorer classes, and, at their best,
conceived public interests to be served best by a strict maintenance of
customary conditions. Somerset's policy of deliberately restoring
ancient relationships with a strong hand could hardly even be begun
without those who pursued it taking sides in a bitter economic
agitation, and essaying openly to reverse the whole agrarian movement
with which, in the course of the past half century, the wealth of the
middle and upper classes, at any rate south of the Trent, had become
inextricably identified. It involved in fact a return to the policy of
Wolsey, and a return to it under conditions which made Wolsey's policy
doubly hard to carry out, inasmuch as, on the one hand, the position of
Somerset as temporary head of a jealous aristocracy was far weaker than
that of the omnipotent Cardinal, and, on the other hand, the lapse of
twenty years had seen the growth of a generation to which enclosures
were a vested interest.

Yet it would be a mistake to think of the whole agrarian episode between
the death of Henry VIII. and the fall of Somerset as the mere freak of a
misguided doctrinaire. If we can see difficulties which he did not, if
we can smile at the thought of any Government at once so incompetent,
and but for Somerset himself, so entirely selfish, carrying out a great
conservative revolution in the teeth of the new wealth and power of the
country, we must also remember that he was not alone in thinking the
spoliation of the weaker rural classes not only, as it certainly was,
illegal, but also so patently unjust as to amount to a national crime,
and that in that age men overestimated the ability of a Government fiat
to modify economic habits almost as much as they underestimated it two
and a half centuries later. Somerset can hardly have been ignorant of
the tremendous risks involved in his policy. But he may well have
thought inaction not only baser than, but almost as dangerous as,
action. It was certain that, unless the Government interfered to protect
tenants, there would be a series of peasants' revolts. The best answer
to the charge of stirring up class hatred, which was made against
Somerset, as against all who call attention to its causes, was that
agrarian rioting had begun in Hertfordshire[652] before the Commission
on Enclosures was sent out, that in those counties where it took its
work seriously order was maintained till the end of 1548, and that grave
disturbances did not take place until the following year, when it became
evident that, both in Parliament and on the Council, the Protector's
policy had been beaten by the opposition of the great landowners. Nor is
there any reason to doubt the sincerity of Somerset himself (though he,
like every one else, had speculated in monastic estates), however much
there may be to regret that his policy did not come into stronger hands,
or fall upon times which were, from a political point of view, less
hopelessly impracticable. An attempt was made to set a good example on
the Crown Estates. In 1548, in response to complaints from the tenants
at Walton, Weybridge, Esher, and Shepperton, that the making of the
royal deer park at Hampton Court was ruining them through the loss of
common rights which it entailed, an order[653] was issued dechasing the
Park, and throwing open the enclosed lands to the commoners. In the
following year Somerset secured the passage through Parliament of a
Private Act[654] conferring a good title on those copyholders on his own
manors to whom demesne lands had been let, and who, as occupiers of
other than customary tenancies, could not claim the protection of
manorial custom. It is plain from the comparatively few complaints which
came in the sixteenth century from freeholders that, if such a course
had been generally pursued, the chief objection to the changes grouped
together under the name of enclosure would have been removed, because
the harsh disturbance of vested interests which they involved would have
been avoided. But that, of course, was quite outside the bounds of
political possibility.

    [652] Appendix to Miss Lamond's edition of _The Commonweal of
    this Realm of England_, Hale's defence, p. lviii.: "Whas ther
    not, longe before this Commyssyon was sent forthe, an
    insurrection in Hertfordshire for the comens at Northall and

    [653] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. ii. pp.
    190-193, May 5, 1548: a complaint from "many poor men of the
    Parishes of Walton, Weybridge, East Molson, West Molson,
    Caverham, Esher, Byfiete, Temsditton ... in the name of the
    whole parishes before rehearsed, that by reason of the making of
    the late chase of Hampton Court, forsomyche as their commons,
    pastures, and meadows be taken in, and that all the said
    parishes are overlaid with the deer now increasing daily upon
    them, very many households of the same parishes be let fall
    down, the families decayed, and the king's liege people much
    diminished, the country thereabout in manner made desolate."

    [654] See p. 294.

The story of Somerset's attempt to deal with the land question is soon
told. In 1548 agrarian discontent was at its height. Some time in that
year there must have come to the hands of the Government the small tract
on the effect of sheep-farming in Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire,
Buckinghamshire, and Berkshire, which was printed in 1551 under the name
of "Certayne causes of the Present Discontent."[655] In spring and
summer Latimer was thundering against the "Step-lords"[656] at Paul's
Cross. In autumn Crowley published his "Information and Petition
against the Oppressors of the Poor Commons."[657] Above all, the poor
commons had earlier in the year shown unmistakable signs of fending for
themselves. The result of Somerset's own sympathy with the prevalent
discontent was the formation of something like a party, under the name
of the "Commonwealth men," with Latimer as its prophet and Hales as its
man of action, which had a programme sufficiently definite to put heart
into the peasantry and to terrify the great landed proprietors. On June
1st a Royal Commission[658] was appointed to inquire into offences
committed against the Acts forbidding conversion of arable to pasture
and depopulation. The Commission divided itself into several committees
to deal with different parts of the country. Only one of them, however,
consisting of John Hales and five of his colleagues, got seriously to
work. It had a large area to cover--the counties of Oxfordshire,
Berkshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire,
and Northamptonshire--and one which was the centre of the agitation
against enclosure. It seems to have interrupted its labours during
autumn and winter, but it was busy in June, July, and August 1548, and
again in the summer of 1549, by which time, however, the anger of the
landed gentry against its proceedings, and of the peasants against the
inactivity of the Commission as a whole, had reached a point which made
it hardly possible for it to do more than collect information.
Considering the difficulties of its task, and the wide tract of country
to be covered, its behaviour appears to have been thorough and
business-like. The usual procedure was to empanel a jury of twelve in
each place visited, to whom Hales delivered an address explaining the
objects and methods of the inquiry, as set out in the instructions
issued by the Government to the Commissioners. These stated the
Commission to have been formed in particular "for the maintenance and
keeping up of houses of husbandry, for avoiding destruction and pulling
down of houses for enclosures and converting of arable land into
pasture, for limiting what number of sheep men should have and keep in
their possession at one time, against plurality and keeping together of
farms, and for maintenance of housekeeping, hospitality, and tillage on
the sites ... of such monasteries, priories, and religious houses as
were dissolved."[659] Offenders were then presented by the jury, and
though, on Hales' advice, a pardon was granted them for their past
illegalities, their enclosures seem to have been thrown down, arable
which had been turned into pasture to have been ploughed up, and farms
which had been united to have been separated.[660]

    [655] Published by the E. E. T. S.

    [656] The first sermon preached before King Edward the Sixth,
    March 8, 1549: "You landlords, you rent-raisers, I may say you
    step-lords, you unnatural lords, you have for your possession
    yearly too much. For that herebefore went for twenty or forty
    pounds by year ... now is let for fifty or an hundred pound by
    year." See also Latimer, _The Sermon of the Plough_, January 18,

    [657] Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_.

    [658] The proclamation appointing the Commission is printed by
    Strype, _op. cit._, vol. ii., Book I., chap. ii. The operative
    part of it runs: "And therefore, He ... hath appointed,
    according to the said acts and proclamations, a view and inquiry
    to be made of all such as contrary to the said acts and godly
    ordinances have made enclosures and pasture of that which was
    arable ground, or let any house, tenement, or mease decay or
    fall down, or done anything contrary of the good and wholesome
    articles contained in the said acts." In my account of the
    situation under Somerset I have followed the documents printed
    by Strype, and the appendix to Miss Lamond's introduction to
    _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_.

    [659] Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_.

    [660] For the pardon, see appendix to Miss Lamond's introduction
    to _The Commonweal_, &c., p. lxi.; for the ploughing up of a
    park and division of farms, _ibid._, pp. xli. and lxi.-lxii.;
    for the Bills introduced by Hales, _ibid._, xl., xlv.-lii.,
    lxii.-lxv. Strype's account appears to be based on that of

In the meantime Somerset kept the general policy of agrarian reform
alive on the Council. In the autumn of 1548 Hales had returned to
London, and, as member for Preston, had prepared three Bills, dealing
partly with enclosures and partly with the high prices. The first,
requiring re-edification of decayed houses and the maintenance of
tillage, and the second, forbidding speculation in food-stuffs, were
introduced into the House of Lords. The third, which aimed at
encouraging cattle breeding as distinct from sheep grazing, was read
first in the House of Commons. Neither Bill came to anything, for
Parliament was as angry as the Council with Somerset's policy. But in
May 1549 the Protector issued another proclamation against the decay of
houses and enclosure; in June he infuriated the upper classes by a
proclamation pardoning persons who had taken the law into their own
hands by pulling down hedges; and throughout the whole period of his
power he used the Court of Requests as an instrument for protecting
tenants against landlords.[661] The Secretary[662] to the Council, who
was quite ready for a reign of terror provided that the gentry began it,
prophesied gloomily that the German peasants' revolt was to be
re-enacted in England, and Warwick attacked Hales fiercely for venturing
to discharge the duties laid upon him by the Government, of which
Warwick was a member.[663] "Sir," wrote a plaintive Norfolk gentleman to
Cecil about the time of Ket's rebellion, "Be plain with my Lord's Grace,
that under the pretence of simplicity and poverty there may not rest
much mischief. So do I fear there doth in these men called Commonwealths
and their adherents. To declare unto you the state of the gentlemen (I
mean as well the greatest as the lowest) I assure you they are in such
doubt that almost they dare touch none of them, but for that some of
them have been sent up and come away without punishment, and that
Commonwealth called Latimer hath gotten the pardon of others.... I may
well gather some of them to be in jealousy of my Lord's friendship, yea
and to be plain, think my Lord's grace rather to will the decay of the
gentlemen than otherwise."[664] Poor gentlemen! A Government which holds
that laws do not exist only to preserve the rich in their possessions!
Truly the mountains are removed.

    [661] For these facts, see Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_.

    [662] Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_. Sir William Paget to
    the Lord Protector, July 7, 1549: "The king's subjects are out
    of all discipline, out of all obedience, caring neither for
    Protector nor King. And what is the cause? Your own lenity ...
    the foot taketh upon him the part of the head, and commons is
    become king, a king appointing conditions and laws to the
    governors, saying, 'Grant this and that and we will go home.'...
    What then is the matter, troweth your grace?... By my
    faith, Sir, even that which I said to your grace.... Liberty,
    Liberty.... In Germany, when the very like tumult to this began
    first, it might have been appeased with the loss of 20 men, and
    after with the loss of 100 or 200. But it was thought nothing
    and might easily be appeased, and also some spiced consciences
    taking pity of the poor ... thought it a sore matter to lose so
    many of their country folk, saying they were simple folk.... It
    cost, ere it was appeased, they say, 1000 or 2000 men."

    [663] Appendix to Miss Lamond's introduction to _The
    Commonweal_, &c., pp. xli. and lii. But of course there was no
    such thing as collective responsibility for policy in the
    sixteenth century.

    [664] Russel, _Ket's Rebellion in Norfolk_, p. 202.

Somerset's Government had too short a life for us to judge how far, in
happier political circumstances, he might have succeeded, not in
checking agrarian changes, which would in any case have been impossible,
but in securing that reasonable consideration should be given to the
vested interests of the poorer classes. As Elizabethan statesmen
discovered[665] at the end of the century, there was room for a policy
which would prevent the wholesale displacement of tenants, and
nevertheless offer an encouragement to the formation of the compact
holdings out of the scattered strips and common pastures, which the
agricultural experts were unanimous in condemning. There are faint
indications of an understanding that a fair middle course was possible
in a remarkable case which comes from the little Huntingdonshire town of
Godmanchester.[666] At Godmanchester there had been the usual changes of
the preceding half century. Rents had been raised, cottages pulled down,
woods destroyed and turned to pasture, while the meadows, which under
the Act of 1547 had been confiscated from the local gild, offered a
tempting prey to some enterprising speculator. On complaints coming
before the Council in the summer of 1549 a comprehensive scheme of
reorganisation was drawn up. All persons with more than one house were
to let at the customary rent that which they did not use themselves. All
persons who had pulled down houses or converted them to other purposes
than the accommodation of tenants were either to rebuild them or to
build new ones, and to let them to any one offering the customary rent
before Michaelmas 1549. The groves of wood converted to pasture were to
be enclosed, so as to prevent the depredations made upon them by
straying beasts, and, if necessary, the land was to be sown with acorns.
With the gild lands a course was taken which, in the scramble for land
which was going on in the middle of the sixteenth century, was
unfortunately highly unusual. According to the Council's directions they
were to "be divided among the inhabitants thereof in this manner; that
is to say to every ploughland five acres, and to every cottager and
artificer there dwelling, or which hereafter upon the houses to be now
builded shall dwell, one acre, and, if the number do not extend, then
for every ploughland four, and so for lack of the rate every ploughland
three, and the residue of the said acres falling after that rate to be
divided among the cottagers, paying for every of the said acres 3/4."
This case is the high water mark of administrative interference on
behalf of the tenants. The action taken embraces nearly all the
expedients of re-edifying decayed cottages, fixing fair rents,
preventing common land from passing into the control of a single
individual, and making equal allotment among the inhabitants, which had
been demanded by the peasants and suggested by their friends. It shows
that the enclosing of land hitherto used in common was not resented,
provided that the division was made in such a way as to give a fair
share to all the parties interested. It may perhaps be taken as a
specimen of the kind of policy which lay behind Somerset's expressions
of sympathy with the peasantry, and which he would have pursued if his
colleagues on the Council had permitted. As it was, he was not strong
enough to carry out his programme. While the failure of the Commission
resulted in the revolts of 1549, his reluctance to crush their authors,
whom he believed to be men goaded into rebellion by intolerable
grievances, united the whole weight of the greater property against him
as a traitor to his order. In the attack made upon him as by his
colleagues, the actions which evoked their special denunciation were
those which embodied his agrarian policy, the use of the Court of
Requests to protect tenants, the appointment of the Royal Commission to
enforce the Acts against enclosures, the pardon granted in June 1549 to
the riotous peasants, and the statements attributed to him that "the
covetousness of the gentlemen gave cause to the common people to rise,"
and that "people had good cause to reform the things themselves,"
because "the lords of Parliament were loathe to incline themselves to
reformation of enclosures and other things."[667] To the last a popular
hero, the "good Duke" could expect no help from those whom he had
befriended, and no mercy from the sordid counter-revolution which he had
provoked. His epitaph was given by the sad cries of "Too true," with
which the crowd about the scaffold greeted his dying declaration that he
had "ever been glad of the furtherance ... of the commonwealth."[668]

    [665] See p. 355.

    [666] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. ii. pp.

    [667] Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_.

    [668] Somerset's execution took place on January 22, 1552,
    more than two years after he had been deposed from the
    Protectorate, for supposed complicity in a plot to overthrow the
    Government. The evidence for the existence of a conspiracy
    appears to be feeble. See Pollard, _The Political History of
    England_, 1547-1603, pp. 61-65.

With the fall of Somerset in October 1549 the landowning classes had
their revenge, and, under the guidance of Warwick, the policy of the
Government swung violently in the opposite direction. The intervention
of the Council to protect tenants of course stopped at once; in the two
cases which are reported as having come before it in the year 1550 and
1551 the line taken was that the presumption was against the tenants who
had broken open enclosures.[669] While, in the absence of John Hales,
who appears to have found it convenient to leave the country, the
Reports of the Royal Commission were allowed to slumber, the Government,
by way of reducing opportunities for undesirable meetings, instructed
the Bishop of London to prevent unseasonable preaching in his diocese,
and set itself to establish the new agrarian régime by law. The ways in
which men seek liberty are infinite in number, but the methods of
tyranny are everywhere the same; and the nearest parallel to the
behaviour of Somerset's successors is the attitude of the panic-stricken
aristocracy of the early nineteenth century towards trade unions. Under
an Act of 1550 all meetings of the peasantry were treated as a sort of
"illegal conspiracy." Any forty of them who assembled to break down an
enclosure might be condemned as traitors. Any twelve who assembled for
the same purpose were guilty of felony, as also were those who summoned
such a meeting, or who combined to reduce rents or the price of corn.
Even the rusty legislation of the thirteenth century was revived by the
re-enactment of the Statute of Merton of 1235,[670] which permitted
lords to enclose as much as they pleased, provided that "sufficient"
remained over for the tenants, with the significant improvement that the
latter qualification was swept away by a clause declaring that
enclosures might be made "notwithstanding their gainsaying and
contradiction." The tyranny of the oligarchy which ruled from 1549 to
1553 has been obscured by the more dramatic events which preceded and
succeeded it. But it marks the bottom point in the condition of the
sixteenth century peasantry. It indicates how the new agrarian régime
will develop when the political forces impeding it are removed. More had
asked, What is Government? and had answered that it is "a certein
conspiracy of riche men procuringe theire owne commodities under the
name and title of a Common Wealth." His immortal definition does less
than justice to the cynicism of the generation which succeeded his own.
Mary executed Protestants for reasons of religion, as Elizabeth executed
Catholics for reasons of State. But Warwick, a hypocrite in religion,
was at least guiltless of the hypocrisy of sheltering his land policy
"under the name and title of the Common Wealth." It was exactly what it
seemed to be, a straightforward attempt to prevent the poor from
protesting when their possessions were taken from them by the rich.

    [669] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. iii. pp.
    181-182 and 247 and 252. "Mr. Grenewaie was this day before the
    Counsaill and rebuked sore for his attemptate in causeng Raf
    Lees hedges to be broaken up; nevertheless considering his long
    service [as gentleman usher] he was borne withall, and for this
    tyme without further punishment he was commaunded to make up
    those hedges again."

    [670] 3 and 4 Edward VI. c. 3.

The general policy of the Government during the reign of Elizabeth and
the first half of the seventeenth century shows neither the desire of
Somerset to undo the agrarian revelation, nor the complete indifference
to the interests of the poorer classes of the party which succeeded him.
During the reign of Elizabeth there was little agrarian agitation. It is
possible that the limits of profitable pasture-farming had been reached.
It is possible that the policy of encouraging the export of corn, which
had been suggested by Hales, and which was adopted in 1563 and extended
in 1571, reacted favourably on arable farming. It is possible, again,
that Warwick's measures had had their effect, and that the peasantry had
been cowed into silence. Though, on the whole, the Government maintained
the traditional attitude, it did not interfere except in circumstances
of special hardship, or when there was danger of serious disturbance.
Cases of this nature came before it fairly frequently in the reigns of
Elizabeth, Charles, and James. One finds it intervening on the ground
that the poverty of tenants makes it impossible for them to go to law,
or that the offenders concerned are so powerful as to be able to
disregard inferior authorities, or that the local authorities themselves
have been unfairly biassed, or to prevent disturbances by hearing
tenants' grievances, or to compel a great noble, like the Earl of
Shrewsbury, to reinstate tenants whom it thinks to have been wrongfully
evicted, or to stop action being taken by a landlord pending a decision
by the courts in his favour. In 1579 the Council writes to the Lord
President of Wales ordering him to take proceedings against two persons
who have been enclosing part of the Forest of Fakenham, and have
disturbed the copyholders; he is to prevent any further enclosures being
made until the whole matter has been considered by the Government.[671]
In 1581 it interferes to protect a copyholder who has been kept out of
his holding by the Dean and Chapter of Peterborough.[672] In 1586 it
directs the Cambridgeshire justices to inquire into the complaint of
some tenants who claim that a piece of common pasture has been let over
their heads, and to see that both parties to the dispute come before the
Justices of Assize.[673] The Justices of Assize in Norfolk are to take
action in the matter of a common at Kettlestone which two of the tenants
allege to have been overstocked with sheep.[674] Several letters are
addressed to the Council of the Marches of Wales ordering them to
prevent the eviction of copyholders.[675] A landlord is requested to
attend the Council and prove that his tenants' fines are uncertain, and
not, as they allege, fixed.[676] The Court of Chancery has dismissed a
case arising out of the enclosure of commons at Bath, and the Council
orders a retrial.[677] Occasionally it cites offenders into the Court of
Star Chamber,[678] and in 1592, just when the Court of Requests was
beginning to be attacked by the common lawyers, we find a case as to
fold-courses coming before the Court of Requests.[679] More often it
appoints special Commissioners to act as arbitrators, or refers
petitioners to the Justices of Assize in their county, with a request to
take local evidence and inform the Council what they advise. Throughout
the reigns of James and Charles we get glimpses of administrative
activity which show that the traditional policy was, perhaps fitfully,
maintained. In 1603 the Council of the North[680] were instructed to
make "from time to time diligent and effectual inquisition of the
wrongful taking in of commons and other grounds, and the decay of
tillage and of towns or houses of husbandry," and to correct offenders
with "some notable punishment." The rebellion in the Midlands in 1607
produced special measures, the chief offenders being summoned before the
Council and bound over to rebuild houses which had fallen into decay,
while in the following years two Commissions were appointed to compound
with enclosers.[681] In Yorkshire the justices are evidently fairly
active in 1607 and 1608. A Richmond freeholder who owns two-thirds of
the manor is presented "for decaying five husbandries, and also for
converting 30 acres of tillage ground to meadow and pasture," and
similar presentments are made at Malton, Thirsk, and Helmsley.[682] A
Justice of Assize writes about the same time from the western counties
to the effect that twenty-six houses of husbandry have been rebuilt and
the offenders punished.[683] In 1614 the justices of Norfolk inform the
Council that in accordance with its directions they have examined the
enclosures made in the last two years, and have ordered the hedging and
ditching of lands to be stopped till further notice.[684] In the
following year one William Combe was negotiating with the corporation of
Stratford for their consent to the enclosure and conversion to pasture
of his freehold lands lying in the common fields at Welcombe; in 1615 an
order made at Warwick Assizes was confirmed by the Chief Justice
restraining him from doing so on the ground that it was "against the
laws of the realm," and in the following year a peremptory letter was
addressed to him by the Council directing his compliance.[685] In 1619
there was a temporary reaction owing to the low price of grain, which
led to the appointment of a Commission to grant pardons for breaches of
the Acts forbidding enclosure, and in 1624 all the Statutes except the
two passed in 1597 were repealed, But this did not stop administrative
interference. In 1621 the Justices of Assize for Bedfordshire are
directed to check encroachments on a common, and in 1623 a Commission is
appointed to remove grievances arising in connection with enclosures at
Cheshunt.[686] The rise in corn prices which occurred from 1629 to 1631
produced another burst of activity, which is to be attributed partly to
a genuine desire to protect the poorer classes, and partly to the hope
that the fines imposed upon enclosers might squeeze a few drops into the
Government's ever thirsty Exchequer. In 1630 directions were issued by
the Council to the justices of five Midland counties to remove all
enclosures made in the last two years on the ground that they led to
depopulation and were particularly harmful in time of dearth.[687] In
1632, 1635, and 1636, three Commissions were appointed, and special
instructions to enforce the Statutes against enclosure were issued to
the Justices of Assize.[688] That the inquiry was not a mere formality
is proved by the State Papers of the period. In part of the country, at
any rate, land which had been pasture was ploughed[689] up in obedience
to the Government's orders, and a list of offenders, including--the
Government must have seen his name with grim satisfaction--Lord Saye and
Sele, was returned to the Council, some of whom were still being
prosecuted in the Court of Star Chamber as late as 1639. This is the
last occasion on which we can trace the administration of this part of
the Tudor State policy. The agitation against enclosures was carried on
under the Commonwealth. The diggers under Winstanley came into
prominence for a moment, only to be disclaimed by the respectable[690]
opponents of enclosure and to be instantly suppressed by the Government,
and there was a crop of pamphlets in the years between 1650 and 1660
which dealt with the evils of depopulation in quite the old manner. But
the traditional doctrine as to the importance of the peasantry had
decayed, and the central machinery for forcing the justices to take
action had been destroyed in 1641. The last Bill to regulate enclosures
was introduced into the House of Commons in 1656, and was rejected on
the second reading.[691]

    [671] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. xi. pp.
    191-192. A letter to the Lord President of Wales that whereas
    upon complaints exhibited to their lordships by the tenants of
    the Forest of Fakenham against Sir John Throgmorton, and one Mr.
    William Bell his stuarde, concerning an inclosure by him made of
    certen commons ... encroachment upon their copieholds ... it was
    by them ordered that the suite against the tenants commenced at
    the Common Lawe in respect of their commons and copieholds
    should surcease and the matters in controversy abyde triall
    before their lordships ... and untill the matter should be heard
    and determined they enjoyned to proceed no further in the
    inclosure of the said Common ... forasmuch as the tenants do now
    again complaine that since their lordships' said order Sir John
    and the said William Bell have inclosed more of the said common
    ... but hath also caused Bell to proceed against the tenants by
    _ejectione firmæ_ at the Common Lawe, he is therefore required
    ... to will and command the said Sir John and William Bell to
    forbear their inclosures of the said Common ... untill the same
    shall be ... determined by their lordships according to their
    lordships' form and order."

    [672] _Acts of the Privy Council_, New Series, vol. xiii. pp.
    91-92. A letter to the Justices of the County of Lincoln: "If
    they thinke it agreeable with equitie and justice that the poore
    man should be put in possession of the said Landes, that they
    give commandment unto the said Lacy to admit him thereunto."

    [673] _Ibid._, vol. xiv. pp. 201-202.

    [674] _Ibid._, vol. xv. pp. 394-395.

    [675] See p. 373, n. 1, and _Acts of the Privy Council_, New
    Series, vol. xvii. p. 76. For a similar letter to the Council of
    the North, _ibid._, vol. xxvii. pp. 228-229.

    [676] _Ibid._, vol. xxii. p. 379.

    [677] _Ibid._, vol. xxii. pp. 360 and 370. Letters to the Master
    of the Rolls ordering retrial of case concerning enclosure of
    commons at Bath.

    [678] _Ibid_., vol. xvi. pp. 366-367. A letter to the Solicitor:
    "Whereas divers poor men, tenants of the manor of Chilton, have
    exhibited very grievous complaints unto their lordships against
    William Darrell, Esq., of divers and sundry misdemeanors
    committed by him in breach of her majestie's peace" ... the
    solicitor is to "cause a byll to be drawn into the Court of Star
    Chamber against Darrel," and Camden Society 1886, _Cases in the
    Court of Star Chamber and High Commission_, pp. 44-45.

    [679] Holkham MSS., Sparham, Bdle. No. 5, 14th June, 34 Eliz:
    "In the matter in variance brought before the Queenes Majestie
    in her Maj{tie's} hon{ble} Court of Requests at the suit of John
    Byrd against Christopher Saye and other defendants upon the
    motion of Mr. Edward Coke recorder of the City of London being
    of Councel with the said defendant.... For that it appeareth
    that the said Defendant hath had three verdicts and judgments at
    the Common Law, one of them against the said complainant
    himself."... The defendant is awarded costs, "and the said
    complainant shall from henceforth forbear to put any sheepe upon
    the said ground, and suffer his sheepe to feede there."

    [680] Prothero, _Statutes and Constitutional Documents_,
    1558-1625, pp. 370-371.

    [681] Prothero, _Statutes and Constitutional Documents_,
    1558-1625, pp. 470-472, and Gay, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New
    Series, vol. xviii.

    [682] Atkinson, _North Riding Quarter Sessions_, vol. i. pp.
    106, 108, 111, 122. The last presentment runs: "Will Marwood of
    Busby, gent{n}, for decaying of xxx acres of arable land or
    thereabouts, and converting of xxx acres of arable land or
    thereabouts, the same, from tillage into pasture or meadow, and
    tilled nothing in the same parish in lieu thereof, contrary,

    [683] Leonard, _Trans. Royal Hist. So.c_, vol. xix.

    [684] Leonard, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xix.

    [685] Ingleby, _Shakespeare and the Welcombe Enclosures_.

    [686] _S. P. D._ J., I., vol. cxxiv., December 20, 1621, and _S.
    P. D._, Ch. i. cliii., October 2, 1623.

    [687] Leonard, _Trans. Royal Hist. Society_, vol. xix.

    [688] _Ibid._

    [689] For the ploughing up of pasture, _S. P. D._, Ch. I. vol.
    cccciv. 142, and vol. cccclxxv. 72; for Lord Saye and Sele, vol.
    ccclxii. 60, 1637; order of Council that the Attorney-General
    should forthwith proceed by information in the Star Chamber
    against Viscount Saye and Sele for depopulation and conversion
    of houses and lands.

    [690] J. Moore, _A Target for Tillage_: "My purpose is not here
    to plead for ... any other idle drones and wretched atheists....
    All these I acknowledge to be the greatest wasters and spoylers
    of our country, worse by many degrees than any depopulators,
    oppressors, and decayors of villages.... All these I know
    abhorre the plough, and are enemies to the State; who yet (I
    confesse) in their high talke do justify tillage and will be
    ready no doubt to reforme the decay thereof with spade and
    pickaxe." (The copy of this pamphlet which I have seen is dated
    1611. I have ventured to assume that this is a misprint, and
    that it should be placed with John Moore's other pamphlets on
    enclosure, 1653-1656.)

    [691] Leonard, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xix.

(c) _The Success and Failure of State Intervention_

It remains to ask how far the policy of trying to check the agrarian
changes, which was pursued by Governments for nearly a century and a
half, had any effect on economic practice. Statesmen were certainly
biassed in favour of protecting the weaker landholding classes. But was
their intervention simply the expression of a pious opinion? Was it so
entirely futile as--to give a modern parallel--the Small Holdings Act of
1892? Or did it to any extent modify or retard the course of economic
events? The view usually taken, that legislation was so ineffective as
to be almost negligible, is in accordance with what we know of the
character of local administration in the sixteenth century, and is
supported by much contemporary evidence. The constant introduction of
fresh proposals suggests that the previous laws were disappointing. The
failure of existing Acts was the reason given in Somerset's proclamation
for the appointment of the Commission of 1548. Hales, who is certainly
the most reliable authority on the situation between 1540 and 1550,
speaks of them as being notoriously a dead letter.[692] If one looks at
the Statutes passed against depopulation in the sixteenth century, with
a view to discovering how far they really met the situation, one will be
inclined to say that they quite failed to go to the root of the matter.
The special evil which they were intended to combat was depopulation
caused by evictions. But evictions could be checked only by giving
tenants security, which would have meant turning customary into legal
titles, and fixing judicial rents for leaseholders and immovable fines
for copyholders; in short, the sort of interference which the peasants
and their champions demanded, but on which no Government depending on
the support of the landed gentry would venture, except upon an
extraordinary emergency. In the absence of such an attempt to grapple
directly with the fundamental fact that the peasants' insecurity made
them liable to suffer whenever there was a change in the methods of
agriculture, legislation designed merely to prevent those changes was
almost certain to be evaded. Even with the best intentions the Statutes
could never have been easy to administer. There was the difficulty
inherent in the whole Tudor and Stuart policy of authoritative
interference with trade and industry, the difficulty of making State
action keep pace with economic changes. The Government is often like a
man pursuing a tram from one stopping-place to another, and just missing
it at each. It insists that land which has hitherto been in tillage
shall remain in tillage. But there are a few years of bumper harvests,
and the farmers complain that they cannot pay their way.[693] The
Government tries to get over the difficulty by allowing them to convert
arable to pasture, when a providence unversed in statecraft sends a wet
summer, and it scrambles hastily back to the position which it has just
abandoned.[694] By excepting from the operation of the Statutes certain
districts which are specially suitable for grazing, it encourages a
rough local division of labour, one part of a county confining itself to
pasture-farming and another to tillage. But then, in pursuit of its
traditional and quite reasonable policy of securing that food is cheap,
it insists that all farmers are to supply the markets with grain, with
the result that those who have specialised in corn-growing are
threatened with ruin by the fall in prices which ensues, and that it is
even questionable whether they will not convert arable to pasture to
evade the obligation imposed upon them.[695] Old enclosures were
tolerated and new forbidden. But how distinguish between old and new?
Land turned to pasture simply to restore it to a condition in which it
would be fit for tillage escaped the condemnation passed on other kinds
of "conversion," and one can imagine that nice arguments must have
arisen as to a farmer's motives. Again, suppose a man converted to
pasture land which should have remained under the plough, and then
leased it to some one else, who retained it as pasture, was the lessee
guilty of an offence? In a case which came before the Court of Exchequer
in 1582, the defendant pleaded that he merely "used" the land as
pasture, and had not converted it, while the Crown argued that use was
equivalent to conversion, that he was in the position of a man profiting
by the continuance of a nuisance, and that a fine of 10s. an acre for
each year since the original conversion ought to be imposed.[696] Points
like this give colour to Coke's complaint against the whole body of Acts
against enclosure that "they were labyrinthes, with such intricate
windings or turnings as little or no fruit proceeded from them."

    [692] Hale's defence in appendix to Miss Lamond's introduction
    to _The Commonweal of this Realm of England_.

    [693] D'Ewes _Journal_, p. 674 (1601). Mr. Johnson said: "In the
    time of dearth, when we made this Statute, it was not considered
    that the hand of God was upon us; and now corn is cheap. If too
    cheap, the husbandman is undone." See also Raleigh's speech in
    the same debate.

    [694] _e.g._ in 1593 the clause in the Act of 1563 forbidding
    conversion of arable to pasture was repealed. In 1595 and 1596
    bad harvests produced loud complaints of high prices, and in
    1597 conversion to pasture was again prohibited.

    [695] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1907, pp. 131 ff.

    [696] Moore's _Reports_, p. 117, plea 262, Claypole's case: "Le
    conseil de Reigne argue que ... l'entent de Estatute fuit que le
    user sera accompt equivalent en tort al convcon." Judgment was
    apparently given for the Queen. The decision was quoted as an
    authority in the debate in Parliament on the Bills introduced in
    1597. _Hist. MSS. Com._, MSS. of Marquis of Salisbury, Part
    VII., pp. 541-543: "And 26 Eliz. in the Exchequer, in Claypole's
    case, an information was exhibited upon the Statute of 4 Hen.
    VII. against a purchaser for converting of tillage into pasture,
    and adjudged good, though the purchaser were not the converter,
    but only a continuer of the first conversion. So as this new law
    tends but for an instruction and explanation of the old."

But, of course, the obscurity of the Statutes was the least part of the
difficulty with which Governments who wished to protect the peasantry
were confronted. Much more serious was the fact that the traditional
policy could be carried out only by disregarding the financial interests
of the wealthier classes, who could most easily influence Parliament and
the Council, and who were locally omnipotent. In the first half of the
sixteenth century the high position of many of those who were most
deeply implicated in cutting land free from communal restrictions made
them almost unassailable. The Royal Commission of 1517 returned among
enclosers the names of the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Shrewsbury, the
Duke of Buckingham, Lord Danbury, Sir William Bolen, Sir R. Sheffield,
the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir J. Witte, the Under-Treasurers
of State, and Sir J. Cotton, who was himself one of the
Commissioners.[697] The angry unanimity with which Somerset's colleague
turned against his land policy was not wonderful, for they were nearly
all directly interested in the maintenance of the _status quo_. Warwick,
who led the _coup d'état_, had enclosed on a large scale. Sir William
Herbert had made extensive enclosures on the lands which he had acquired
from the Abbey of Wilton. The St. John family, the Darcy family, the
Earl of Westmoreland, had all local troubles with their tenants; and
there are some indications that Sir William Paget and the detested and
detestable Lord Rich were in the same position.[698]

    [697] Leadam, _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, New Series, vol. vi.

    [698] For Warwick, Herbert, and the St. Johns, see pp. 326, 368,
    and 362. For Darcy and disturbances in Westmoreland, Gairdner,
    _L. and P. Henry VIII._, xii. II., xii. I., 319, xi. 1080. For
    Paget and Rich, Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_.

It is not, however, material to trace the records of individual members
of the Council, because their interest in checking the interference of
the State with the free disposal of land is evident from the fact that
many of them enormously increased their estates through the share which
they obtained in the property confiscated from the religious houses and
the gilds. A comparison of the lists of Privy Councillors for 1548 and
1552, published by Strype,[699] with Dr. Savine's[700] valuable analysis
of the grantees of the monastic estates, show that out of thirty-one
persons who got grants of land of £200 a year or more fourteen were
members of the Privy Council in one or other of those years, exclusive
of the Earl of Warwick and Sir William Herbert. This fact is by itself
almost sufficient to explain the impossibility of enforcing the laws
forbidding depopulation during the years which followed the death of
Henry VIII., and the despair of legal protection which seems to have
settled upon the classes affected by the movement. The view sometimes
expressed that the religious houses had been easier landlords than the
lay owners into whose hands their estates passed, though it can
occasionally be corroborated from the complaints made by tenants to the
Government, scarcely seems, as yet, to be satisfactorily proved. But the
distribution among the wealthier classes of land producing a net income
of not less than £110,000 gave them an enormous vested interest in
preventing and evading legislation to check the most profitable use of
the new possessions which were to endow the aristocracy of the future.
The supposition of peculiar harshness in the owners to whom the land
passed, though probably correct, is really not needed to explain the
part which the transference of these vast quantities of land had in
augmenting the distress of the rural classes. The worst side of all such
great and sudden redistributions of property is that the individual is
more or less at the mercy of the market, and can hardly help taking his
pound of flesh. A buyer must sell at a profit, or he had much better not
have bought. During the decade between 1540 and 1550 there was a furor
of land speculation. To the Abbey lands, which came into the market
after 1536, were added those of the gilds and chantries in 1547. It is
quite clear that some of the grantees of estates did not acquire them
with the intention of retaining them, but simply "bought for the rise."
The lands of the Abbey of Whitby, for example, pass first to the Crown,
and are then sold by it to the Duke of Northumberland, who in turn sells
them to Sir John Yorke.[701] A small official in the Royal household
buys the Cistercian nunnery at Brewood, and at once puts it up to sale
"for suche a price that no man will gladly by hit at hys hand."[702]
Trentham is surrendered to the Crown in 1536; in 1540 the Duke of
Suffolk obtains a grant of the rents and reversions reserved upon the
Crown leases there, and in the same year sells it to one Leveson, who
has already acquired lands belonging to Horlton Abbey, and already sold
them again to Biddulph.[703] One finds even the champion of the tenants,
Somerset himself, getting a grant of land from the Crown on July 1st,
leasing part of it for eighty years on July 2nd, and transferring it
back to the Crown, subject to the lease, on July 9th.[704] When property
changed hands three times in the course of ten days, it could hardly
fail to be rack-rented, or the transaction would not pay. What happened
to the tenants? Here and there, as at Whitby and Washerne,[705] a bitter
outburst against their new masters shows that the result has been what
we should expect. But for the rest, a cloud descends and we cannot say.
It is only in such occasional glimpses that we catch the solid earth
shifting beneath the feet of those who till it. It was such a glimpse
which led the last great English peasant, in a time of even more
widespread misery, to say that the wretchedness of the landless labourer
was the work of the Reformation. Cobbett, and those who follow Cobbett
in representing the economic evils of the sixteenth century as the fruit
of the religious changes, err in linking as parent and child movements
which were rather brother and sister, twin aspects of the individualism
which seems inseparable from any swift increase in riches. Their vision
of a time when mild ecclesiastics administered their estates as a
popular trust lays a spell upon the imagination. In the religious houses
of Lancashire and Yorkshire and Northumberland there may, here and
there, even on the eve of the dissolution, have been a reality
corresponding to it. But we need hardly go further than Sir Thomas
More[706] to learn that for parts, at least, of England it is only a
vision; and More does not speak without book. Holy men enclose land,
convert arable to pasture, claim villeins, turn copyholds into tenancies
at will. If prominent ecclesiastics had really wanted to champion the
cause of the peasantry, they had an excellent opportunity when Wolsey
sent out the first great Commission into enclosures in 1517. But, in
fact, there is no reason to suppose that any protest was made at all
comparable to that which came thirty-two years later from Latimer. How
could there be? The estates of the larger houses were often scattered
over several different counties, and before the dissolution they were
quite frequently managed by laymen. In such cases the monks were simply
rentiers,[707] who needed to know no more about their tenants than the
fellows of an Oxford college know about theirs at the present day.

    [699] Strype, _Ecclesiastical Memorials_.

    [700] Fisher, _The Political History of England_, 1485-1547,
    Appendix II.

    [701] Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Requests_

    [702] Hibbert, _The Dissolution of the Monasteries_, pp.

    [703] _Ibid._, p. 210.

    [704] _Hist. MSS. Com._, C.D. 3218, pp. 322-323 (MSS. of Earl of
    Leicester at Holkham Hall).

    [705] For Whitby and Washerne, see pp. 285 and 194. In 1545 the
    tenants of the manor of Egglesdon, formerly the property of the
    monastery of Sion, proceed against Palmer, the grantee, in the
    Court of Star Chamber for evicting tenants and other oppressions
    (Leadam, _E. H. R._, vol. viii. pp. 684-696).

    [706] More, _Utopia_, p. 31 (Pitt Press edition): "Noblemen and
    gentlemen, yea, and certain abbotts, holy men no doubt ... leave
    no ground for tillage, they enclose all to pasture." For a case
    of claiming a bondman, see Selden Society, _Select Cases in the
    Court of Star Chamber_, Carter _v._ The Abbot of Malmesbury. For
    conversion of copyholds to tenancies at will, Selden Society,
    _Select Cases in the Court of Requests_, Kent and other
    inhabitants of Abbot's Ripton _v._ St. John. The change was
    alleged to have been made in 1471.

    [707] The opposite view is expressed by Gasquet, _Henry the
    Eighth and the English Monasteries_, chap. xxii. For a criticism
    of it see Savine, _Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History_,
    vol. i. pp. 263-267, and pp. 245-260 for facts as to lay
    administrators. Hibbert, _op. cit._, pp. 210-211, who writes of
    Staffordshire, supports Savine rather than Gasquet. The evidence
    of Aske cannot be quoted as though what was true of the northern
    houses were true of all. As a matter of fact, lay estates
    preserved the old conditions in the north long after the
    dissolution (see pp. 189-191). The hatred of the new landlords
    is proof that they were specially detestable, rather than that
    the monasteries had been above all ordinary economic

Nevertheless, though facts will not allow us to accept the view which
ascribes the agrarian distress of our period to the Reformation, or even
to the particular changes brought about by the secularisation of
religious endowments, there was a real connection between them. The
Reformation in England is as much a social as a religious revolution. As
a social revolution it is the work of the commercial and middle classes.
It "made of yeomen and artificers gentlemen, and of gentlemen knights,
and so forth upward, and of the poorest sort stark beggars."[708] Their
support is given, in the main, on strict business principles. It is
purchased by ensuring that every one who counts shall have a solid
material interest in supporting the new order. The great Elizabethan
families, the Cecils, the Herberts, the Grenvilles, are well paid in
advance for their services, and continue to be paid long after their
services have ceased. The dissolution of the monasteries does for their
plastic consciences what the foundation of the Bank of England did for
the politics of the City Interest under William III. Having invested in
the Reformation at a time when the Reformation is a gambling stock,
they nurse the security with a solicitude which title-deeds have done
more to inspire than the New Testament, and are zealous to lay up for
themselves treasures in Heaven, as the best insurance for the treasures
which they have already accumulated on earth. A man who looks from the
window of his new mansion on the timber in his new park may well think
it worth the sacrifice of many masses. Though the economic effect of
endowing our landed gentry is not reducible to figures, it is not rash
to say that men who have sprung into wealth by suddenly purchasing new
estates will make those estates pay. And this means that ultimately the
cost will be borne by their tenants. That the new proprietors will be
extraordinarily sensitive to attacks on the rights of property goes
without saying. The lectures[709] delivered to the peasants by the
_nouveaux riches_ of 1549 on the wickedness of agrarian spoliation have
an irony which is eternal.

    [708] Quoted by Gasquet, _op. cit._, p. 464, from a document
    written about 1591.

    [709] _e.g._ Paget's letter to Somerset, July 7, 1549 (Strype,
    _Ecclesiastical Memorials_). Neville, De furoribus Norfolcensium
    Ketto Duce, 1575. The words put into the mouths of the landed
    gentry by Crowley in _The Way to Wealth_ (E. E. T. S.) no doubt
    represent their attitude fairly: "Nowe if I should demand of the
    gredie cormoraunts what they thinke should be the cause of
    sedition, they would saie, 'The paisent knaves be too welthy,
    provender pricketh them. They knowe no obedience, they regard no
    lawes, they would have no gentlemen, they would have all men
    like themselves, they would have all things commune. They would
    not have us master of that which is our owne. They will appoint
    us what rent we shall take for our grounds.... They will caste
    down our parkes and lay our pastures open.... They wyll compel
    the Kyng to graunt theyr requests.... We wyll tech them to know
    theyr betters, and because they would have all in common we will
    leave them nothing.'"

Apart from the special interest which the purchasers of the estates of
monastic and gild estates had in keeping a completely free hand over
their disposal, the normal organisation of English local government made
effective State interference very difficult. As has often been pointed
out, its peculiar strength lay in the success with which it made the
ordinary relationships between social classes the machinery for
executing the mandates of the State, by entrusting administration, not
to officials of the Central Government, but to persons who already
possessed local authority, and who were confirmed in it, rather than
given it, by the Crown. Such a system was favourable to the development
of representative government and of political freedom, because it
strengthened instead of repressing the local initiative on which the
success of representative government ultimately depends. But the very
absence of bureaucracy had the disadvantage that it made it almost
impossible to enforce the regular administration of the law, whenever it
conflicted with the local interests of classes who sat on the county
bench. A not unimportant chapter in English history is contained in the
complaint of the Norfolk rebels that the legislation of the last fifty
years had been "hidden" from them by the Justices of the Peace. The
account of the proceedings of the Commission of 1548, which had to drag
information out of juries packed with the employees of enclosing
landlords, and from witnesses who gave it under threat of
eviction--above all, the pained amazement of a great landowner who found
that the Commission declined to accept evidence from his servants as
unbiassed--is a specimen so typical, that, if it were found in
isolation, we could hardly fail to fit it back into its English
context.[710] Hales, the one statesman whom the agrarian problem
produced, put his finger on the root of the difficulty in the third Bill
which he introduced into Parliament in 1548. The substance of its
proposals, though sufficiently rigorous to modern notions, was not in
itself more drastic than others which actually became law. Its novelty
lay in the machinery by which it was to be enforced. Surveys of pastures
were to be made annually by the curate and two men of every parish, and
those breaking the law were to be presented for trial. In other words,
the initiative in returning offences was to be taken by those chiefly
interested in preventing them. According to Hales, it was the last
provision for making the administration of the Statute a reality which
Parliament found intolerable.[711]

    [710] Appendix to Introduction to _The Commonweal of this Realm
    of England_ (Lamond), p. lix.

    [711] _Ibid._, p. lxv.: "This was it that byt the mare by the

Must we, then, dismiss the efforts of the Tudor and Stuart statesmen to
soften the harshness of the agrarian revolution as a mere piece of
solemn futility? The simplicity of the solution makes it a tempting one;
but it is too simple to be true. In the first place we must notice that
our literary evidence is one-sided, because it is fullest for just those
years during which an exceptional freedom from restraint was enjoyed by
the great landlords. It is inevitable that Latimer and Hales should
often be quoted. But one cannot argue from comments on the uselessness
of legislation, uttered at a time when the Statutes against enclosing
were virtually repealed, to show that the law was equally ineffective
under Elizabeth and her two successors. And, in the second place, to
hold that the frequent intervention of the Council had no result is
really an unjustifiably high-handed proceeding. It runs counter to most
of what we know of the administration of the period. A Statute might be
a dead letter, but a letter from the Council was meant to be obeyed. By
1552 the Government has discovered the uselessness of relying for the
enforcement of the law on the intervention of superior lords, and places
its administration in the hands of special Commissioners directly
responsible to the Central Government. Such a view runs counter to the
opinion of the peasants and of the upper classes. The victims of
agrarian oppression recognise that though they have little to hope from
the local authorities, who are their landlords and employers, the
Government's policy is on the whole favourable to them, and they deluge
it with appeals for protection. The justices are naturally no friends to
that policy. But in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they are by
no means the independent autocracy which they became later, and are
watched closely by the Privy Council. From Norfolk, Nottinghamshire,
Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and the west of England, they
send returns to the Government of their action,[712] and the Government
is quite ready, as we have seen, to revise the action of its delegates
when it thinks they have been biassed by personal interests. In
Yorkshire the juries of several townships present offenders before the
justices. The authorities of Southampton[713] take steps to put the Acts
against enclosure into force. The authorities of Norfolk[714] request
that they may enjoy the exemption which has been granted them. When in
1597, a year in which legislation against enclosures is in the air, the
Earl of Huntingdon asks the burgesses of Leicester to return his nominee
to Parliament, they refuse bluntly to do anything of the kind, on the
ground that the candidate in question is "an encloser himself and
therefore unlikely to redress that wrong in others."[715] The courts
hear a large number of cases dealing with offences committed under the
enclosing Statutes.[716] Individuals obtain special permission, either
by royal license or by Act of Parliament, to use as pasture land which,
like undrained marshes, is obviously unsuitable for ploughing. No one
who is reported as having taken part in the Parliamentary discussions of
proposed legislation in the closing years of Elizabeth suggests that it
must necessarily be a dead letter. The chief fear that seems to have
been felt was lest it should prove too effective. In introducing two
Bills against enclosure and depopulation in 1597, Bacon apologised to
the great landlords for taking action which was likely to prejudice
their interests. When the question of continuing the Act against
depopulation, which was in force in 1601, was under consideration in the
House of Commons, both the members who argued for continuance and those
who argued for repeal, assumed that the law was being administered in
practice, one speaker urging that it had the result of keeping so much
land in tillage as to destroy the farmer's profits by causing excessive
supplies of grain to be placed on the market in any but the worst years;
another that it pressed hardly on the small farmer, who could not easily
find the capital needed to sow as much land as he was legally bound to
plough.[717] The ablest and most fully reported speech[718] which has
come down to us is that of an anonymous member, who, while approving of
the principle of the Bill, attacked it as too loosely drafted to meet
the situation. His criticisms are those of a man who understands his
subject, and are on just those points of detail which, though important
in a measure which is to work, would not be worth considering at all if
anything like effective interference were out of the question. After
commending the clauses which excepted from the provisions of the Bill
land lying temporarily fallow, and which punished the purchasers as well
as the original converter of arable which was turned into pasture, he
goes on to point out that loopholes have been left in the measure which
are likely to stultify its effect. The exemption of Crown lands from its
operation will encourage enclosing landlords to exchange properties with
the Crown, and then take on lease as tenants the land which they have
handed over, since by doing so, they will escape the risk of
prosecution. The persistent lobbying of the interests affected--"the
ears of our great sheepmasters do hang at the doors of this house"--has
resulted in the fine for enclosing being placed as low as 10s. per acre,
which is ridiculously disproportionate to the profits to be made by
enclosures. The clause excluding from the reconversion prescribed in the
Bill lands mown for hay plays into the hands of the enclosers by
facilitating the winter feeding of their sheep. The failure to limit the
acreage which a man may keep in his own hands will discourage the
creation of small holdings. At a later date there is the same belief,
both among those who approve, and among those who dislike, enclosure,
that enclosing can be checked, at any rate, by the Government. In the
keen controversy over enclosures which raged under the commonwealth the
opponents of further restriction urged that the mere threat of
legislation had resulted in checking agricultural enterprise.[719]
Harrington,[720] a specialist, not to say a faddist, on agrarian
policy, bases his interpretation of the history of the preceding century
on the supposed success of the Tudors in keeping the small cultivator on
the soil. Even in the middle of the eighteenth century, when the golden
age of the enclosing landlord was just about to dawn, some dim memory of
the earlier State policy seems in parts of England to have survived.
"Why," asked a foreign traveller,[721] "do your farmers not keep
separate closes under turnips to feed sheep in the new approved manner?"
"Partly," answer the peasants, "because there is a common rotation of
crops which all must follow. But the principal reason of all is that on
a common land no one has freedom to enclose his strips without a special
permission and Act of Parliament."

    [712] For Norfolk and the West of England, Leonard, _Trans.
    Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xix. For Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire
    and Derbyshire, _S. P. D._, Ch. I. vol. clxxxv. No. 86, and vol.
    ccvi. No. 71 (quoted in Appendix I.), and vol. clxxxv. No. 41.
    For Leicestershire, Privy Council Register, vi. 385, and Gonner,
    _Common Land and Enclosure_, p. 165. For Yorkshire, see pp.
    374-375. Professor Gonner (_op. cit._, p. 167) estimates that
    about six hundred persons were fined, the sums obtained from
    thirteen counties amounting to about £46,800.

    [713] Hearnshaw, _Southampton Court Leet Records_, 1550.
    Presentment of "the names of the Commoners which require redress
    of the Commons inclosed, as they saye, contrary to the King's
    Majesty's statutes, and that they may be laid abroad according
    to the said statutes."

    [714] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1907, p. 185.

    [715] Bateson, _Records of the Borough of Leicester_, 1509-1603,
    pp. 300-301.

    [716] Gay, _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, vol. xvii.

    [717] For the debates of 1597 and 1601 see _D'Ewes' Journal_,
    pp. 551 and 674 ff.: a special exemption from the operations of
    the Act was allowed to a landlord who had got letters patent
    authorising him to enclose 340 acres "too moist and soft and
    altogether unfit for tillage."

    [718] _Hist. MSS. Com._, MSS. of Marquis of Salisbury, Part.
    VII., pp. 541-543.

    [719] Pseudonismus, _A Vindication of the Considerations
    concerning Common Fields and Enclosures_, 1656: "The Statute of
    Tillage hath excited some and affrighted others that the land in
    each field is not and cannot be husbanded as it ought." The
    "Statute" alluded to is the Bill introduced in this year which
    did not become law.

    [720] Harrington's Works (1700 edition), pp. 388-389.

    [721] _Kalm's Account of his Visit to England on his Way to
    America in 1748_, translated by Joseph Lucas, p. 282. I am
    indebted for this reference to Dr. Gilbert Slater. The exact
    words are: "Nor had they any turnip land to feed sheep upon.
    Therefore they were deprived of the advantage of getting to sell
    any fat sheep or other cattle. The reason they gave for all this
    was that their arable was common field, and thus came to lie
    every other year fallow, when one commoner always had to
    accommodate his crops to the others; but the principal reason of
    all was said to be that," and so on as in text. I am not sure
    that I have interpreted the passage rightly in assuming that it
    alludes to the _illegality_ of enclosure without Act of
    Parliament. It may merely mean that, without an Act of
    Parliament, the necessary agreement could not be obtained among
    all those interested. I follow Dr. Slater's interpretation.

What weight is to be attached to this body of opinion that enclosure and
conversion to pasture were in practice checked by the opposition of the
Government, it is not easy to say. If it is hardly compatible with the
view that interference was entirely ineffective, it nevertheless need
not imply anything more than a temporary retardation of the movement on
those special occasions and in those particular parts of the country
that were the object of peculiar attention. The test of comparison with
facts by which one would like to try it is difficult to apply. Our
knowledge of the real extent of enclosure in the sixteenth century is
too scanty to permit of our following with confidence the line of
argument which has been ingeniously worked out by Miss Leonard,[722] and
which, starting from the indisputable fact that in those Midland
counties where enclosure had been felt most acutely in the sixteenth
century, there was still much land unenclosed in the seventeenth and
eighteenth, suggests that the explanation is to be found in its
temporary cessation under the authoritative pressure of the Tudor and
Stuart Governments. Nevertheless, without going beyond our evidence, we
may venture to put forward two propositions. The first is that it is
extremely improbable that the anti-enclosing policy which we have traced
succeeded in altering permanently or on a large scale the course of
economic development. That suggestion is surely incredible in view of
the continuance of the complaints against enclosure, and of what we know
of the slack and biassed routine of rural administration. To expect the
justices to stop enclosing, unless actually compelled to do so, was
almost as Utopian as it was to expect them to administer the early
Factory Acts two centuries later. The second is that the intervention of
the Government certainly mitigated the hardships of the movement to the
rural classes. The protection which the Court of Star Chamber and the
Court of Requests offered to the equitable interests of tenants, while
it could not turn the general course of events, tempered its harshness
to individuals. A landlord who was determined to depopulate could hardly
in the long run be prevented from succeeding in his object. But he might
have to wait till leases or life tenancies had expired, instead of being
able to clear his estate at one sweep. He might be compelled, as the St.
Johns[723] were in the reign of Henry VIII., as Sir John Yorke in 1553,
or Lloyd under Elizabeth, to bind himself to respect the titles of the
existing generation of tenants. In the same way the occasional campaigns
undertaken for the reconversion of pasture to arable, while they could
not turn the tide, almost certainly slackened its course. There is no
way of escaping from the positive evidence which we possess that in
parts of the country houses which had been pulled down were rebuilt, and
that land which had been turned from arable to pasture was turned back
again, at the command of the Government, from pasture to arable. We have
already described the doings of the justices under James I. Look for a
moment at the similar agitation which was started in 1630. The agrarian
policy of the Council is seen at its worst under Charles I., because the
whole of it is smeared with the trail of finance. Some of the offenders
were allowed to compound upon payment of a fine, and one's first
inclination is to believe that the Commissions of 1632, 1635, and 1636
were nothing but one of those odious financial engines, like the revival
of forest claims and the exaction of fines for knighthood, by which
Charles tried to dispense with Parliamentary taxation. That they were
this among other things is certain. That they were nothing more than
this must be denied, for we have clear evidence from enclosers
themselves to the contrary. They do not only, like Lord Brudenell, write
to the Council begging that their fines may be reduced from £1000 to
£500, and explaining that "the enclosures made within man's memory
amount not to the decay of one farm."[724] They are not only haled
before the Star Chamber to be rebuked by Laud.[725] They beg to be
allowed to pay a fine instead of being imprisoned. They reconvert
pasture to arable. In Northamptonshire[726] a man turns thirty-five
acres of arable into pasture. But he ploughs up ninety-five acres of
ancient pasture to set off against it. From Nottinghamshire[727] comes a
letter explaining that the petitioner has complied with the orders of
the Commissioners of Depopulation to throw open all his enclosures, and
apologising humbly for keeping hedges round three acres on the ground
that they are necessary to mark the boundaries.

    [722] _Trans. Royal Hist. Soc._, vol. xix.

    [723] For the St. Johns, see pp. 362 and 380. For Sir John
    Yorke, pp. 285 and 381, and Selden Society, _Court of Requests_,
    Inhabitants of Whitby _v._ Yorke, 1553: "Be yt remembred that
    the cause brought before the Queen's Counsaill in her Majestie's
    Court of Requests.... Ys now ordered by the saide Councill by
    thagreement of the saide Syr John who hathe promised that the
    saide parties aforenamed, and every one of them, shall have and
    quietly eujoye theyr tenements and holdings during the yeres and
    termes in theyr leases and copies yet enduring, paying theyr
    Rentes and ffermes accustomed." For Lloyd and the tenants of
    Hewlington in Denbighshire, see pp. 302-303.

    [724] _S. P. D._, Ch. I., cccxlii., No. 47.

    [725] _Ibid._, cccxiv., No. 29, and Appendix I., No. VIII.

    [726] _Ibid._, cccclxxv., No. 72.

    [727] _Ibid._, cccciv., No. 142.

On the whole one is inclined to regard the Government's intervention in
this matter as resembling in its effects the attempts which were made at
the same time to fix prices and wages. It retarded, though it could not
check altogether, economic changes. It imposed a brake which somewhat
eased the shock of sudden movements. But when the hand of authority was
removed, when Commissions were called in and justices ceased to be
admonished by the Council, affairs swung back into their original
position. A rough attempt to illustrate the occasional retardation of
pasture-farming by these spasmodic attacks upon it is given in the
diagram opposite.

The figures are taken from a list of Final Concords as to land lying
mainly in Staffordshire, but occasionally in other counties as well. The
period selected is one in which there were two agitations among the
peasants, two important Acts against depopulation, and a Royal
Commission. It will be seen that while some of the fluctuations in the
percentages of arable and pasture bear no relation to any known activity
on the part of the Government, the repeal in 1593 of the Acts for the
maintenance of tillage comes as a climax to a well-defined increase in
the percentage of pasture, the passage of the two Acts of 1599 is
followed by a similar though less marked rise in the percentage of
arable, and the riots of 1607, which resulted in the appointment of a
Royal Commission, appear to be accompanied by another increase in the
area under the plough. Of course the acreage represented is absurdly
small, and it is possible that the apparent correlation is a mere
coincidence. Still, one is inclined to think that the fluctuations on
the chart fit in very well with what we know from other sources of the
temporary effect and subsequent ineffectiveness of these transient
eruptions of governmental activity. The creation of social habits by
continuous pressure, such as is exercised by modern states through their
paid inspectorates, is quite foreign to the ideas of the age. The
Government, when it is most active, never gets beyond making an example
of a few notorious offenders whose sins are sufficiently black to bring
in good round sums to the Exchequer, and having vindicated the majesty
of the law and pocketed their fines, it leaves the small fry to wonder,
and hastily set their house in order against the coming of the Judges of
Assize, and then gradually to slide back into the ancient ways when the
storm has blown over. After all, the fact that A was punished for
enclosing last year is in itself sufficient to make it extremely
probable that this year B will escape.

[Illustration: _The figures for 1592-3 and 1593-4 have been combined, as
the latter are too small to be given separately._]

Such "occasional conformity" was, however, too much the rule in all
economic matters that were the object of authoritative regulation--and
few were not--to be by itself any cause for abandoning it. The real
reason for the cessation of interference in the land question which we
notice after 1640 is to be found, not in the fact that intervention had
invariably proved too ineffective to be worth continuing, but in the
change of policy caused by the unchecked domination of Parliament in
domestic affairs. The victory of the Parliamentary forces over the Crown
meant the triumph of the landed gentry over the only power which was
strong enough to enforce the administration of unpopular Statutes in the
teeth of their opposition. It prepared the way for the reign of the
great landlord who regards himself as charged with a peculiar
responsibility for promoting the needs of agriculture, which he alone is
presumed to understand--and in fact, to do him justice, does sometimes
understand very thoroughly--a weary Titan who pushes forward enclosure
from a sheer sense of public duty. On the one hand there is a change in
the standpoint from which agrarian policy is regarded. The aim of
maintaining a prosperous peasantry becomes subordinate to that of
obtaining the maximum output from the soil. This change materially
affects the attitude adopted towards enclosure. The Tudor Governments
had endeavoured to protect the rights of commoners, because commons were
an indispensable adjunct to small-scale subsistence farming. The new
view is that commons are waste lands which had much better be improved,
and which are most likely to be improved if they pass into the control
of men who have capital to spend upon them. Even under the Stuarts this
doctrine begins to gather weight, and naturally so, for it both
flattered their ambitious conception of the monarchy as a cornucopia
whence all economic improvements should flow, and was in line with their
general policy of trying to secure cheap food by regulating the supplies
of grain. In 1623 Commissioners are busy improving Tiptree Heath, which
squatters have occupied without any legal title.[728] In 1637 the King
is approached by an influential syndicate which asks for a concession
permitting it to reclaim the heaths and barren commons belonging to
the Crown, and which displays a glowing prospectus of the advantages
which will accrue in the shape of increased supplies of
food-stuffs.[729] In 1629 the Commission of Sewers had engaged Vermuyden
on his celebrated task of draining the great Level, and, in spite of the
fierce opposition of the fenmen, the work was in 1637 adjudged to be
completed.[730] All this is quite in the vein of the eighteenth century.
It is quite in that vein also for a strong line to be taken against the
wastefulness of those who impede good farming, even though the farmer be
a grazier, by sowing a few acres here and a few acres there, instead of
cultivating a compact holding; in short, by the immemorial system of
strip cultivation. The last but one of the Statutes against
depopulation[731] was itself the first expressly to authorise that
exchanging of holdings for the purposes of more business-like husbandry,
which, as we have seen, had been going on informally from an early date.
In 1606 we get what may be called the first Enclosure Act of the modern
pattern, under which certain Herefordshire parishes are allowed to
separate and enclose one-third of the land lying in common in each
parish.[732] In 1627 a case arising out of a dispute about fold-courses
comes before the courts, and sound agricultural doctrine is laid down
with a confidence of which Arthur Young himself might have approved.
"This Court," say the judges, "was now of opinion that the plowing and
sowing of small quantities of land dispersedlye or disorderlye within ye
shacks and winter feedinge of ye said ffouldcourses, and the refusal of
a few wilfull persons to lett ye owners of ffouldcourses have their
quillets of land (Llying intermixt in the places where ye sheep pasture
is layd) upon indifferent exchange or other recompense for the same, are
things very mischievous and will tend to ye overthrow of very many fould
courses."[733] Their opinion is enforced with a judgment decreeing an
exchange of lands.

    [728] _S. P. D._, Ch. I., cl., No. 7.

    [729] _S. P. D._, ccclxi., No. 15: "There are many thousand
    acres of heath and barren commons in England and Wales, not
    annually worth 6d. an acre, to which your Majesty has right of
    soil but no benefit thereby, which may be improved to a great
    value, cause plenty of provision, enrich many thousands, supply
    the poor."

    [730] Cunningham, _Growth of English Industry and Commerce_,
    Modern Times, Part I., pp. 112-119.

    [731] 39 Eliz., c. 2.

    [732] 4 James I., c. 11.

    [733] _Original Papers of the Norfolk and Norwich Archæological
    Society_, 1907, pp. 70-73.

When the whole question comes up again towards the close of the
Commonwealth, the old attitude is maintained by the opponents of
enclosure, who protest, with all the fervour of Latimer, against the
greed of landlords and the pauperising of commoners. But its defenders
have overhauled their arguments, and the lines on which the controversy
will be fought out for the next century and a half are already obvious.
In the eyes of the austere moralists of the Restoration commoners are
lewd people, who would be much better employed if at work for wages. All
beneath the "nobility and gentry" are "the poor," and the poor
themselves (it is well known) are of two kinds, "the industrious poor,"
who make a living by working for their betters, and "the idle poor," who
make a living by working for themselves. Christianity and patriotism
require that the latter should enter some "productive employment," and
this can best be secured by excluding them from the commons on which
their distressingly irregular livelihood depends. Even so Europeans
to-day teach habits of industry to the African savage, by taxing him
until he can no longer live upon the lands which Europeans desire to
exploit. Moreover, the commercial spirit of the later seventeenth
century is impatient of antiquated restrictions, and is already groping
blindly after some formula which may prove them to be superfluous.
Enclosures will increase the output of wool and grain. Each man knows
best what his land is best suited to produce, and the general interest
will be best served by leaving him a free hand to produce it. "It is an
undeniable maxim," writes a pamphleteer, "that every one by the light of
nature and reason will do that which makes for his greatest advantage.
Whensoever corn bear a considerable rate, viz., wheat four or five
shillings, and barley two shillings and sixpence, men may make more
profit by ploughing their pasture, and consequently will plough for
their own advantage."[734] Hales had said something like this a hundred
years before. He had said it to show the need of special measures to
divert agricultural enterprise into beneficial channels. Now an
identity between the interests of landowners and those of the public is
assumed as part of a pre-established harmony, which human intervention
may disturb, but which it is neither needed nor competent to secure.
Authoritative statecraft fades out in the dawn of reason and the light
of nature. With such a wind of doctrine in their sails men are steering
for uncharted waters.

    [734] Lee, _A Vindication of a Regulated Enclosure_, 1656.

While opinion on the subject of enclosing was beginning to change even
before the Civil War, the final blow at the maintenance of the old
policy was struck by the destruction of the Court of Requests and Court
of Star Chamber. The abandonment by Governments of all attempts to
protect the peasantry against oppression was an indirect consequence of
the victory of the Common Law over the prerogative jurisdiction of the
Crown. The interference in agrarian matters of the administrative courts
of the Tudor monarchy had always been detested by the landed gentry for
the very reasons which made it popular with the peasantry. They were the
last resort of men who could not get what they considered justice
elsewhere. One finds a defendant in whose favour the Common Law Courts
have given three decisions being sued again before the Court of
Requests.[735] They were the only authority which could prevent a
landlord from asserting his claims to a common or to a copyhold by means
which the poorer classes found it impossible to resist. Complaints from
aggrieved landowners that they are undermining the right of the lord of
the manor to exercise jurisdiction over his own copyholders, by trying
cases which ought to be heard in manorial courts, that they are
interfering with the course of Common Law, that they make it impossible
for a lord to "rule his lands" by the countenance which they lend to
discontent, are not infrequent[736] in the sixteenth century, and both
Wolsey and Somerset were in turn attacked by the upper classes for the
favour which they showed to such unconstitutional interference with
the rights of property. Such protests are the best proof that the
Court of Requests and the Court of Star Chamber had exercised functions
which were in some respects beneficial. The strictest constitutionalist
will have some sympathy to spare for the address in which Lord Coventry
in 1635 charges the Judges of Assize to "beware of the corruptions of
sheriffs and their deputies, partiality of jurors, the bearing and
siding with men of power and countenance in their country," and to set
on foot "strict inquiry after depopulation and enclosures, an oppression
of a high nature and commonly done by the greatest persons that keep the
juries under their awe, which was the cause there are no more presented
and brought in question."[737] Such words paint the ideal of Government
by prerogative, _parcere subjectis et debellare superbos_, which may
have floated before the minds of a Bacon or a Strafford, and which had
been partially realised under the Government of Elizabeth. When set side
by side with the actual practice of the Council under Charles I. they
are its final and self-recorded condemnation. For we look for them to be
made good in action, and we look, save during a few years, in vain. If
much may be forgiven those who boldly do wrong believing it to be right,
there is no mercy for "the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin" of a body
which, believing a certain system of government to be right, entangles
its execution with sloth, and makes a sordid financial instrument out of
the very prerogative which itself has declared to be the gift of God for
the protection of the poor. The defence which the Council and its
courts had offered to the peasantry against economic evils, though real,
was too irregular to do more than slightly mitigate the verdict which
history has passed upon their employment in the hands of Charles I.
Whether the peasants regretted their disappearance we do not know. To
those contemporaries whose opinion counted, the occasional onslaughts
made by the Council and Star Chamber upon enclosing landlords were an
aggravation, not an extenuation, of the indictment brought against them.
Though the Grand Remonstrance, in which the Long Parliament sought to
unite all classes with a recital of grievance accumulated upon
grievance, taunted the Government with its failure to check the
conversion of arable land to pasture,[738] the authors of that
tremendous indictment had no substitute to suggest for the interference
by the Council with "freeholds, estates, suits, and actions," which they
denounced; and Laud, who, according to even a friendly critic, "did a
little too much countenance the Commission for Depopulation,"[739] lived
to be reminded in the day of his ruin of the sharp words with which he
had barbed the fine imposed by that body upon an enclosing
landlord.[740] The Court of Requests was never formally abolished, but
from the closing decade of the sixteenth century it had been gradually
stripped of its powers by prohibitions issued by the Common Law Judges,
and forbidding plaintiffs to proceed with their cases before it, and
after 1642 it quietly disappeared. With the destruction in 1641 of the
Court of Star Chamber and the Councils of Wales and of the North, an end
was put to the last administrative organs which could bridle the great
landed proprietors. Clarendon, himself a relic of an age before the
deluge, would seem to have added to his other offences by trying to
revive the old policy in a world which would have none of it.[741] But
the royalist squirearchy who in 1660 streamed back to their plundered
manors, were, when their property was at stake, as sound
constitutionalists as Hampden himself, and after 1688 that absorption of
the "State" by "Society" which Gneist, a worshipper of the eighteenth
century régime, dates with curious perversity from 1832, was, in his
sense of the words, complete. Henceforward there was to be no obstacle
to enclosure, to evictions, to rack-renting, other than the shadowy
protection of the Common Law; and for men who were very poor or easily
intimidated, or in enjoyment of rights for which no clear legal title
could be shown, the Common Law, with its expense, its packed juries, its
strict rules of procedure, had little help. Thus the good side of the
Absolute Monarchy was swept away with the bad. Its epitaph was written
by Locke:[742]--"The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of
his property without his own consent." But it was forgotten as soon as
it was written. For to the upper classes in the eighteenth century the
possession of landed property by a poor man seemed in itself a
surprising impertinence which it was the duty of Parliament to correct,
and Parliament responded to the call of its relatives outside the House
with the pious zeal of family affection.

    [735] Holkham MSS., Sparham Bdle., No. 5, see back, p. 374.

    [736] Selden Society, _Select Cases in the Court of Requests_,
    Customarye Tenants of Bradford _v._ Fraunceys: "The seyd
    defendant seythe that the said bill of complaint ... is mater
    ... determinable at the comen land and not in this honourable
    court, whereunto he prayeth to be remitted." Also Gairdner, _L.
    & P. Henry VIII._, i., 334, Earl of Derby to Cromwell; and
    Leadam, _E. H. R._, vol. viii. pp. 684-696. For attacks on
    Wolsey's land policy see Herbert, _History of King Henry VIII._,
    pp. 297-298 (ed. of 1672): "Also the said Cardinal hath examined
    divers and many matters in the Chancery, after judgment thereof
    given at the Common Law, in subversion of your laws, and made
    some persons restore again to the other party condemned that
    they had in execution by virtue of the judgment in the Common

    [737] Gardiner, _History of England_, 1603-1642, vol. viii., p.
    78. Compare the Instructions for the President and Council of
    the North, 1603 (Prothero, _Statutes and Constitutional
    Documents_, 1558-1625, pp. 363-378), Article XXVIII.: "Further
    our pleasure is that the said Lord P. and Council shall from
    time to time make diligent and effectual inquisition of the
    wrongful taking in of commons and other grounds and the decay of
    tillage and of towns or houses of husbandry contrary to the
    laws,... and leaving all respect and affection apart they shall
    take such order for redress of enormities used in the same as
    the poor people be not oppressed and forced to go begging ...
    and ... if they find any notorious malefactor in this behalf of
    any great wealth, cause the extremity of the law to be executed
    against him publicly."

    [738] Gardiner, _Constitutional Documents of the Puritan
    Revolution_, 1625-1660, pp. 212-213, "Conversion of arable into
    pasture, continuance of pasture, under the name of depopulation,
    have driven many millions out of the subject's purses, without
    any considerable profit to his Majesty."

    [739] Clarendon's _History of the Rebellion_, I. 204, IV. 63.
    Clarendon's account of the Grand Remonstrance suggests that the
    principal grievance was not depopulation, but the fines exacted
    for it; see the words "with the vexations upon pretence of
    nuisances in building ... and of depopulation, that men might
    pay fines to continue the same misdemeanour."

    [740] Appendix I., No. VIII.

    [741] I make this statement on the authority of Dr. Slater,
    _Sociological Review_, vol. iv., No. 4, p. 349, but I have been
    unable to trace his evidence. The only reference I can find
    bearing on the subject is contained in Article XIII. of the
    heads of the accusation against Lord Clarendon: "That he hath in
    an arbitrary way examined and drawn into question divers of his
    Majesty's subjects concerning their lands, tenements, goods,
    chattells, and properties, determined thereof at the Council
    Table, and stopped proceedings at law by the order of the
    Council Table, and threatened some that pleaded the Statute of
    17 Car. I." (The proceedings in the House of Commons touching
    the impeachment of Edward, late Earl of Clarendon, 1700.)

    [742] Locke, _Two Treatises of Government_, Book II., chap. xi.



Those who have had the patience to follow the detailed changes in rural
organisation which have been described above will naturally ask, "What
is the upshot of it all? What are the main landmarks which stand out
from the bewildering variety of scenery? How does the agrarian England
which is sleepily hunting out old guns and older bows on the eve of the
Civil War differ from the England which saw the first Tudor 'with
general applause and joy, in a kind of military election or recognition,
saluted King?'"

At first sight it differs but little. To see our subject in its proper
perspective we must emphasise the continuity of economic life between
1485 and 1642 as much as in the preceding pages we have emphasised the
novelty of some of its experiments. We must turn from Fitzherbert and
Hales to Arthur Young. We must set Latimer's lamentations over the decay
of the yeomanry side by side with the figures of Gregory King and the
boasts of Chamberlayne and Defoe. We must compare our sporadic
enclosures with the two thousand six hundred Enclosure Acts which were
passed between 1702 and 1810. The outward appearance of many English
villages at the Revolution would be quite unrecognisable to-day, but it
can have been but little altered from what it had been at the time of
the Peasants' Revolt. It could still be said that three-fifths of the
cultivated land of England was unenclosed. And if Piers Plowman had
dreamed for four centuries on Malvern Hills he might still have woken to
plough his half acre between the balks of a still open field, like that
"very wide field," with crooked ways butting upon it and a wicket-gate
on its shining horizon, through which Christian sped from Evangelist,
crying "Life, Life, Eternal Life."

Ought we, then, to say that the agrarian revolution of the sixteenth
century was insignificant, and that it has been magnified into
importance only by the rhetorical complaints of unskilful observers? The
answer has been given by implication in the preceding pages. The fact
that statistical evidence reveals no startling disturbance in area
enclosed or population displaced, is no bar to the belief that, both in
immediate consequences and in ultimate effects, the heavy blows dealt in
that age at the traditional organisation of agriculture were an episode
of the first importance in economic and social development. The
barometer which registers climatic variations yields no clue to their
influence on the human constitution, and the quantitative rule by which
we measure economic changes bends in our hands when we use it to
appraise their results. The difference between prosperity and distress,
or enterprise and routine, or security and its opposite, is scarcely
more susceptible of expression in figures than is the difference between
civilisation and barbarism itself. In the infinite complexity of human
relationships, with their interplay of law with economics, and of
economics with politics, and of all with the shifting hopes and fears,
baseless anticipations and futile regrets, of countless individuals, a
change which to the statistician concerned with quantities seems
insignificant, may turn a wheel whose motion sets a world of unseen
forces grinding painfully round into a new equilibrium. Not only our
estimate of the importance of social alterations, but their actual
importance itself, depends upon what we are accustomed to and what we
expect. Just as modern manufacturing nations groan over a reduction in
exports, which in the reign of Henry VIII. would have passed unnoticed,
or are convulsed by a rise in general prices, which, when expressed in
percentages, seems ridiculously small, so the stationary rural society
of Tudor England may well have been shaken to its core by agrarian
changes which, in a world where rural emigration is the rule, would
appear almost too minute to be recorded. If contemporaries, to whom the
very foundation of a healthy economic life seemed to be shattered,
underestimated the capacity of society for readjustment, they were not
mistaken in their supposition that the readjustment required would be so
vast and painful as to involve the depression of important orders of
men, and the recognition of new responsibilities by the State in the
agony of transition. If we are busy planting small holders to-day, it is
partly because sixteenth century Governments were so often busy with
them in vain. The crude barbarities of tramp ward and workhouse were
first struck out in an age when most of those who tramped and toiled,
who sat in stocks and were whipped from town to town, were not the
victims of trade depression or casual employment, but peasants thrown on
the labour market by the agrarian revolution.

For, in truth, the change which was coming upon the world in the guise
of mere technical improvements was vaster than in their highest hopes or
their deepest despondency the men of the Tudor age could have foreseen,
and its immediate effects on the technique of agriculture and the
standard of rural prosperity were but the tiny beginnings of movements
whose origins are overshadowed by their tremendous consequences. It is a
shallow view which has no interest to spare for the rivulet because it
is not yet a river. Though many tributaries from many sources must
converge before economic society assumes a shape that is recognisable as
modern, it is none the less true that in the sixteenth century we are
among the hills from which great waters descend. By 1642 the channels
which will carry some of them have been carved deep and sure. By that
time the expansion of the woollen industry has made it certain that
England will be a considerable manufacturing nation, and consequently
that the ancient stable routine of subsistence farming will gradually
give place to agricultural methods which swing this way and that, now
towards pasture, now towards arable, according to the fluctuations of
the market. It is certain that, sooner or later, the new and more
profitable economy of enclosure will triumph. It is certain that the
small holder will have a hard struggle to hold his own against the
capitalist farmer. It is certain that, owing to the substitution of
variable for fixed fines on admission to copyholds, and the conversion
of many copyholds into leases for years, a great part of the fruits of
economic progress will no longer be retained, as in the fifteenth
century, by the mass of the peasants, but will pass, in the shape of
increased payments for land, into the pockets of the great landed
proprietors. It is almost certain that to any new developments which may
be detrimental to them the peasants will be able to offer a much less
effective resistance than they have in the pas