There is a tendency nowadays among a certain school of economists and social reformers to overlook the important part which the land question plays in problems of to-day; because it is seen that in a great many cases the actual price or rent of land forms but a small proportion of the value of the property which is erected upon it there is a tendency to assume that an improvement in our land system could produce but small results. This appears to me to be a fallacy for several reasons.
In the first place all forms of wealth, when traced to their source, are products of the soil, and one should look at the toll which the ownership of land has levied upon them at every stage of production in order to form an idea of its importance. Moreover, the share which the land-owner is able to exact tends to absorb, and sometimes more than absorb, the narrow margin between profit and loss in even a substantial proportion of the enterprises which are or might be undertaken by industrious folk, while he has contributed nothing towards the success of those enterprises. It seems to me to follow that, even if that rent is only a small proportion of the total cost of production, it is just that element which forms the decisive factor in producing stagnation and unemployment. It is an interesting speculation to consider how differently the great industrial development of this country might have worked out if it had not been preceded and accompanied by the vast enclosures of land to which Mr. Geary calls attention.
There appears to be no doubt that on the one hand agriculture conducted under the system in force under the land laws of Great Britain for many years past has failed, and still fails, to make full use of the resources of our country; and on the other hand that the development of our industrial life and the growth of great cities have by the same laws been forced into unnatural channels with unsatisfactory results. If, moreover, we include in the land question, as undoubtedly we should do, the subject of taxation, local and Imperial, as applied to real property, we see at once an influence of a most far-reaching and sinister character upon the development of agriculture, industry, and building.
Anyone who will study Mr. Geary's book cannot fail to be convinced that here is a vast problem for solution. If it stimulates many to the further study of that problem I am sure that Mr. Geary will have rendered a valuable service.
A.S. COMYNS CARR
The greatest evil in any community is unemployment, that strange state of affairs where certain members of the population find themselves quite unable to provide for their subsistence, although they are perfectly strong and quite able and willing to work. It is the purpose of this inquiry to discover, if possible, the cause of unemployment, and to indicate the remedy.
What man really wants is not work for work's sake, but the opportunity to work as a means to an end, that end being the obtaining of the wealth that labour brings. If there are men in existence who, able and willing to work, are yet unable to procure the wealth which they need, it must be that somewhere in the circle of exchanges between goods and services, production has been prevented and has ceased. Obviously production has ceased on the part of the unemployed man, and it is equally clear that production has been restricted on the part of those who would gladly give him goods in exchange for his labour.
2. Land and labour the essential factors of production. Capital a derivative factor. Land affords opportunities for employment
It will be as well to see at the outset whether we can limit our inquiry as to direction, so as not to be groping blindly in the dark; and to ensure this, we must be quite clear in the first place as to how wealth is produced.
The essential factors of production are land, which includes all the natural physical resources of the country, and labour; and all wealth is produced by the application of labour to land. This production is brought about by adapting, changing or combining natural products to fit them for the satisfaction of human desires, by utilising the reproductive forces of Nature, and by exchanging the products of labour.
Capital is not an essential factor in the same way as land and labour are essential, for it is itself the product of labour and land is, in fact, wealth used for a particular purpose, the production of more wealth. It is, however, a necessary factor for all but the lowest forms of production; but the fact that it is a derivative factor and not a primary factor like land or labour must be borne in mind. All production, therefore including both the production of wealth and the production of services requires that labour should have access to land, some forms of production requiring land to a greater extent than others, but all requiring it nevertheless.
The land of Great Britain may thus be regarded as affording opportunities for producing wealth, opportunities for employment. Every acre is, as it were, an opportunity for producing so much wealth, varying from that land from which little can be produced to land in the City of London which provides opportunities for the production of enormous wealth.
3. Supply and demand with reference to labour
The supply of labour may be defined as that part of the population capable of working, and the demand for labour as the aggregate demand of the whole population for commodities and services to satisfy their wants that is, a demand not only of those who form the supply of labour, but also of the dependent members of the family. It is this demand for goods for consumption which determines the direction of production; and human wants being unlimited in number, the total demand is always increasing.
4. Man's labour capable of satisfying his own demands directly access to land necessary
Every man, then, possesses the supply of brain and muscular energy, his labour, for satisfying his own demand for wealth, and for this reason the exchange of labour for commodities ought to present no difficulties. But labour by itself is insufficient, and can produce neither wealth nor services without access to land.
Man can thus satisfy his desires by exchanging his labour with someone who can give him the goods he wants, or by going directly to the land, producing his own subsistence, and exchanging his surplus for other goods he needs. In each case access to land is essential.
5. Supply of labour apparently in excess of the demand actually demand is ahead of supply
The continuance of widespread unemployment makes it appear as if the supply of labour must be in excess of the demand. When, for every opportunity for employment "provided," as the phrase goes, by some employer, the applicants far outnumber the men required, it really seems that there is no work for the surplus who remain unemployed that they are, in fact, part of an excess supply.
If we consider this carefully, however, we shall see that whatever else may be wrong, it cannot be that supply is in excess of demand. While wants are unsatisfied, how can supply be greater than demand, and as human wants are unlimited it is difficult to see how supply could ever exceed demand. It must also be remembered that every unit of supply is also a unit of demand, and usually each unit of supply has other units of demand to supply in addition to its own.
The progress of inventions and labour-saving devices, though it may, and certainly should, lessen the amount of toil that each unit of supply need undergo in order to satisfy the dependent units of demand, can never make the supply of labour of any unit superfluous; for wealth only resulting from labour and land, each unit of supply must supply some labour in order to obtain the wealth it requires. It would seem, therefore, not incorrect to say that demand is always in excess or ahead of supply.
6. No shortage of capital. Capital the product of labour and land
Is there, then, a shortage of capital? Can we say that it is an insufficiency of capital that causes unemployment, that makes men unable to obtain the wealth they want, or to produce from the land for themselves? Obviously no, when everywhere we see idle capital as well as idle labour. But even if there were a shortage of capital, this would soon be made good, for capital itself is a product of land and labour. It is for this reason that capital cannot limit industry, but only the form of industry, and not even this for long, where there is the opportunity for producing more capital, and security afforded for its growth.
7. Unemployment inconceivable as long as "opportunities for employment" are available
If, then, the supply of labour is sufficient and not in excess of the demand, and if there is also ample capital, there is only one other factor of production to look to, namely, land. Is there sufficient land in this country, or are men without the goods they so urgently require, because there is insufficient land from which their labour might produce wealth? This, it seems to us, must be the crux of the whole question; for if there is insufficient land this would explain why the supply of labour could not produce wealth directly to meet its own demand and the demand of others.
In considering this question it will be necessary to understand exactly the meaning of sufficient land. It will not be enough to show that there is a sufficient area of land, for that done it will be necessary to proceed farther and inquire whether this land is easily accessible to labour for the production of wealth. Though the actual area of land be sufficient, yet if it is not available to labour for the drawing forth of wealth, for all practical purposes it might as well be nonexistent.
Land, as we have said, is Nature's provision of "opportunities for employment," or what is the same thing, "opportunities for producing wealth," and it seems quite clear, therefore, that as long as there are any such opportunities available, what we know as unemployment would be inconceivable.
8. Something preventing supply of labour from satisfying demand. If area of land sufficient, what is obstacle preventing the access of labour?
We now arrive at this point, that if the supply of labour is not in excess of the demand, and yet there are men who lack the goods they want, the reason must be that the supply of labour is in some way prevented from satisfying demand; and this can mean either that those in employment are unable to produce (or obtain) sufficient to enable them to satisfy their demands, and so have no use for the labour of others, or that those unemployed are unable to go to Nature to the land and produce wealth directly for themselves. In either case it must be that there is insufficient land or that labour is denied access to the land.
Our inquiry must, then, be directed towards ascertaining whether there is a sufficient area of land in this country to provide opportunities for employment for those who need the results of labour; and if we arrive at the conclusion that there is and there will be little doubt that this must be the conclusion we shall have to see what is the nature of the obstacle preventing labour from getting to the land to produce wealth to satisfy its wants i.e. what it is that is preventing the supply of labour from meeting and satisfying the demand for labour.
9. Historical inquiry into the relation between land tenure and employment
We shall pursue this inquiry on historical lines by investigating from before the Conquest until the present day the relations existing at various times between employment and the availability of land. "Availability" of land, once we have seen that the area is sufficient, must depend on the method by which that land is held or on the system of tenure obtaining at any particular period. We shall also endeavour to show the actual extent of the opportunities for employment afforded by the land of this country.
By such an inquiry we hope to be able to point to the cause of unemployment,
to show if possible how it originated, and also to indicate the remedy.
SAXON ENGLAND LAND
TENURE AND EMPLOYMENT
1. Village communities with much arable land
In order to understand the economy of Saxon England in the years immediately preceding the Conquest, we must picture to ourselves a land of vills or village communities, each of which was self-sufficing save for a few commodities such as iron and salt. Each of these vills had a very large area of arable as compared with grass or meadow lands, and was usually separated from others by more or less extensive stretches of waste and unappropriated land, which was often dense forest. The arable land stretched away from the village in two or three great open fields, one of which lay fallow, and the various holdings of the peasants lay scattered in acre and half-acre strips throughout these fields. Each house was usually surrounded by a small enclosure, and there were often small consolidated holdings of a few acres scattered round the fields. Ploughing was done co-operatively and the meadow-land was open, except at hay harvest. The waste was used as common rough pasture.
From Domesday Book, 1086, we learn that the vills were most thickly
populated in the east, south-east, and east Midlands, and that population
diminished towards the west, some few of the royal vills possessed 100
families and more, but the average was much less. The Hundred of Armingford,
in Cabridgeshire, had approximately 32 families per vill, while Cornwall
often had only 5 or 6 families.* Domesday records some 25,000 servi or
serfs, and the number of these in each vill increases from east to west,
many vills in Cornwall and the west consisting of half slaves. The free
members of the community varied from sokemen to cotters, according to
status, etc., the thane corresponding to some extent with the lord of Norman
times. The normal holding of a free household was probably the hide of 120
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
2. The lordship of the community. Folkland and Bookland
All land was either "folkland" or "bookland," but it is not at all clear
exactly what these terms meant. According to Maitland, "bookland is land
held by book, by a royal and ecclesiastical privilegium. Folkland is
land held without book, by unwritten title, by the folk-law."* He also
states that "bookland" was only held by churches and very great men, and
that ordinary freemen certainly did not have "books" or charters; also that
the term "folkland" meant that the folk or community owned "a superiority or
seigniory over land," and land held by "book" by a church might be held as
"folkland" by the freemen cultivating it.
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, p.257.
Grants out of the "folkland" by "book" could only be made by the King with the consent of his Witan as representatives of the whole community. But even in the case of such a grant the community did not lose all control over the "bookland," for if the terms of the "book" were not kept, the community might resume control. Also the land was not granted out and out free of all services and dues to the community. King Alfred, in his Blossom Gatherings out of St. Augustine, speaks of a settler on loan-land hoping to obtain some day "bookland" and "permanent inheritance." This may mean that "bookland" was not unknown among small peasants, or that settled and occupied land with permanent inheritance became known as "bookland," although no actual "book" or charter was in existence. Bede also referred to "folkland" as the common stock from which grants might be made.
Whatever, therefore, may have been the exact meaning of these terms, it
seems clear that the unoccupied and unappropriated land of the country was
called "folkland," and that when such land became "bookland" the chief
characteristics of "folkland" usually still adhered to it that is, the
"seignory or lordship" of the community remained. The term "folkland" would
seem to have arisen from the fact that the land of each province belonged
originally and ultimately to the folk of that province, and that although
permanent inheritance might be granted in this land, either with or without
a "book," to an individual or to a community, yet the community as a whole
retained the absolute ownership.* At the end of the Saxon period "folkland"
had come to be known as the "King's folkland," probably because the King, as
head of the community, shared with the community their rights in the
* See also Pollock, The Land Laws.
3. The free and unfree vill. Commendation
Vills were of two kinds, the lordless or free vill and the vill dominated by
a thane. These free vills, where the peasants were free to leave or to sell
their land when they liked, predominated in the counties of the Danelaw, and
as half the then population of England was within these counties, it will be
seen that the free and lordless village community was by no means the
exception. As Maitland says: "Any theory of English history must face the
free, the lordless village, and must account for it as for one of the normal
phenomena which existed in the year of grace 1066.... We have before us
villages which, taken as wholes, have no lords."*
* Maitland, Domesday, p.141.
As regards the vills dominated by a thane or lord, this great man was not
originally the landlord of the vill, but more nearly resembled the highland
chieftain, who was chief or lord of his clan, but not the owner of the land
occupied by the clan. The lord was the protector of the community, who had
surrendered a part of their freedom to him in return for his help, a
practice known as "commendation." This did not give the lord any rights of
ownership over the arable land of the vill outside his own demesne, but only
to the dues paid by the cultivators in return for his protection. This
relation of chief and man was, however, gradually becoming a relation of
landlord and tenant, and as this change came about, the waste or unoccupied
land of the village community came to be known as the "lord's waste," not
meaning that it was the absolute property of the lord, but that he, in
common with the rest of the vill, had rights over it. In referring to the
rights of the village community over this waste land as affected by the
Statute of Merton, Digby says: "It is worthy of observation that the rights
of common here contemplated must have rested on ancient custom; it could not
have been supposed by the framers of this statute that the right had at some
former date been granted by the lord according to the theory of later
* Digby, An Introduction to the History of the Law of Real Property.
4. Landless and lordless men anomalies
Every man in the Saxon village community and the town was only a large
village depended wholly or in great part for his livelihood on work on the
land. The landless man or the lordless man was an anomaly in the Saxon
economy. The landless consisted of followers and serfs, and the follower was
a freeman who might become a holder of land. After a year's satisfactory
service he was allotted 2 acres of land, one of which was sown, and he might
better his position, for, according to the R.S.P.,* "if he earn more
let it be to his own advantage." The lordless man, too, was regarded as an
outlaw, one whom "no law can reach," but there would seem to be no reason
why the law should not reach a lordless man provided he had land, and so the
early laws dealing with these men are plainly directed against the landless
man in particular, and the lordless man because he is also a landless man.
The landless man who was without a lord was regarded as a wastrel or
criminal, and rightly so, for his position was an unnecessary one.
Aethelstan's laws deal with these men as follows: "And we have ordained
respecting those lordless men, respecting such an one as no law can reach,
that the kindred be commanded to appoint a home for him according to
'folchriht,' and to find a lord for him in the folk-moot; and if they will
not or cannot produce him at the day appointed, then let him be henceforth a
'flyma,' and let whoever can come at him slay him as a thief." And again:
"And we have ordained if any landless man shall become a follower in another
'shire' and again seek his kindred, that they shall harbour him only on the
consideration that if he do evil there they will present him to 'folchriht'
or do bot for him."
* Rectitudines Singularum Personarum.
5. Access to land. New Settlements
Cultivators and settlers were in demand in Saxon times and for many years
after, and the demand furnished by the thanes' need for help on the demesne,
and the opportunities afforded by the unoccupied land of the vill, were far
greater than the supply of labour. King Alfred* has described to us how a
new settlement was begun, and pictures a man building a cottage on
"loan-land," cultivating the land and employing himself in fowling and
fishing, in the hope that after a time he would be allowed to hold it as
"bookland." New vills or hams were started in clearings in forests or on
waste land, and a grant of the "folk-land" would be made to the new
community. Sometimes these settlements consisted of a single household, and
often, in the west country especially, did not exceed four or six families.
New fields and holdings were from time to time carved out of the unoccupied
land adjoining the open fields, and the thane frequently provided new
settlers with an outfit. The R.S.P. speaks of the gebur as receiving
2 oxen, 1 cow, 6 sheep, and 7 acres of his usual holding of 30 acres ready
sown, together with agricultural implements and household utensils and the
first year free of the usual services. In Wales, too, every freeman received
5 acres, with hunting rights and rights over the waste, and the unfree were
not without land and cattle of their own. Land was easily transferable in
Saxon England. It could be devised by will and possessory rights could be
* Blossom Gatherings.
Seebohm, English Village Community.
6. No lack of work. Land for all
It has been seen that landless men, and especially landless men who were not under the protection of a lord, were anomalies in Saxon times, and the law compelled such a landless man to get him a lord, which was probably the surest way of getting him settled on the land. No man need be without land, and all were able to live in rude plenty from the produce of their farms, forests and fish-ponds. There were no freemen who had to depend for their living on work offered by an employer, for the land was open to all and new settlers were welcomed; even the serfs, who were not very numerous, were able to accumulate some property of their own, and in many cases farmed small holdings of land.
Poor there probably were through lack of diligence or infirmity, but the
latter at any rate would be looked after by their families or assisted by
the Church out of the abundance of the food produced. But paupers,
able-bodied men unable to obtain work, we do not hear of, for the simple
reason that they did not exist, and it will be readily seen could not exist
in Saxon England.
STATISTICS NEW THEORY OF TENURE
1. Domesday Book its information. The Manor
The great inquest of 1086, known as the Domesday Book, was, in fact, the first Royal Commission in this country to inquire into and report on the size and value of agricultural holdings, number and status of the cultivators, and numbers of cattle, etc., both as they were in 1066, in the time of Edward the Confessor, and as the Commissioners themselves found them under the Feudal System of William. This Report supplies us with a great deal of useful information, statistical and otherwise, which will help us considerably as we proceed with our inquiry.
We are introduced for the first time to the manor, which was a taxable unit,
and although it is not clear exactly what the Domesday manor comprised, it
coincided sufficiently often with the Saxon vill to enable us to refer to
the Norman village community as a manor. The place of the thane is now taken
by the Norman lord, and often the thane has been degraded to the status of a
villein. We also find many former free tenants holding by unfree services.
The villein of Domesday corresponds in some respects to the gebur of Saxon
times, but he was unfree in the sense that his services and dues were far
more exacting than anything paid before 1066. The normal holding of the
villein was about 30 acres of arable land in the common fields, and he held
this at the will* of his lord. Villeins made up about 38% of the recorded
population, and the borders and cotters about 32%. Serfs are recorded to the
number of 25,000, but the number of these had diminished since 1066,
especially in the eastern counties and in Essex. In most cases the lordless
vills have been provided with Norman lords.
* See Chapter IV, par.11, and Chapter VIII, pars.12, 13.
2. New theory of tenure
Before considering some of the statistics furnished by Domesday Book it will
be as well to notice the new theories of land-ownership introduced with the
Conquest. We no longer hear of "folkland," for this has become terra
regis, the "King's land," his absolute property, and the manor,
including the unoccupied waste land within its limits, has come to be
regarded as the property of the lord of the manor, held of the King, it is
true, but nevertheless subject to the rendering of certain services, for all
practical purposes his land. "And the Domesday description, let us repeat,
shows that all these claims were advanced on the morrow of the Conquest and
went with the Conquest settlement." "The legal theory of the feudal state
treats them (the rights of the several dwellers and cultivators of the
locality) as derived from a private and exclusive ownership of the lord. The
lord's ownership itself may be considered as a dependent tenure and traced
ultimately to a grant of the King as eminent owner of the whole land of the
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor.
3. No land without a lord
"No land without a lord" was the principle which necessarily followed from these new theories of tenure, and the idea of land being owned by the community as distinct from the King and the lords had no place in the Norman Feudal System. The small tenants of the manors each looked to a superior lord, who had also become now for most purposes a landlord. This new theory, however, was one which would not be likely to show itself as revolutionary or dangerous all at once, especially if the King insisted on the lords rendering all the services which they owed in respect of their land. For the King to share with the whole community the rights over the land was a very different state of affairs from the King being owner of the land without any reference to the community. Similarly, for the Saxon thane to have recognized rights over the waste in common with the other cultivators of the vill was very different from the lord being the owner of the waste and unoccupied land, who of his grace permitted the villagers to have certain rights of common over his land.
4. Population and cultivation. A vast area of arable land
The information given by Domesday Book is confined chiefly to England south
of Yorkshire and Cheshire. If we reckon the recorded men as heads of
families and multiply these by five we get a population of 1,375,000.* There
are 75,000 teams recorded, and allowing 120 acres to each, we arrive at a
total of some 9,000,000 acres of arable land. We obtain much the same result
from the number of hides at 120 acres each. The hide was 120 acres of arable
land, and included in addition sufficient pasture and waste to provide for
the animals kept on such a holding. This is an enormous extent of arable
land, and when we come to analyse county by county we find that often more
than half the county area was under the plough, and frequently the arable
land was considerably more than it is to-day, and this with a population of
one and a half millions or less. We shall have more of these comparisons to
make in a later chapter, but to give two examples now: The area of
Buckinghamshire is now 477,308 acres and that of Sussex 928,735 acres.
Domesday Book gives 269,000 acres of arable for Buckinghamshire and 371,000
for Sussex. The area of arable in Buckinghamshire in 1924 was 119,829 acres
and in Sussex 217,916 acres.
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
Agricultural Statistics, 1924.
5. Arable not in excess of requirements
By way of corroborating these calculations, based on the team and the hide, Maitland shows that the acreage of arable land arrived at would not be too great for the satisfaction of wants at that time. He estimates that out of the 9,000,000 acres, 5,000,000 would be sown annually, and as the English were great drinkers of barley beer, a third of this must be deducted for beer-land, on which barley and oats would be grown. This leaves little more than 2 acres per head of population, without taking into account the animals that have to be fed; and even leaving 2 acres for each person and reckoning 4 bushels per acre (produce 6 bushels per acre and 2 bushels allowed for seed a high estimate), we are only allowing 1 quarter of grain each, and this is none too much.
"In the twelfth century the corn-rents paid to the Bishop of Durham often
comprised malt, wheat and oats in equal quantities. In the next century the
economy of the canons of St. Paul's was so arranged that for every 30
quarters of wheat that went to make bread, 7 quarters of wheat, 7 of barley,
and 32 of oats went to make beer. The weekly allowance of every canon
included 30 gallons."*
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
6. Cattle and pigs
Domesday records 600,000 beasts of the plough, exclusive of bulls, cows and calves, which would make a considerable addition to this number. Fleeces were required for clothing, and according to Maitland, "if we look only at the flocks which belong to the holders of manors, we may have to feed a million sheep south of the Humber." Very large numbers of sheep also were kept in Norfolk and Suffolk and on the dairy farms of Essex. Meadow-land was very scarce at this time and was greatly in demand, and its relative scarceness as compared with arable land may be gathered from the fact that it was usually two or three times the value of arable land.
Bacon bulked largely in the food of the peasant, and the number of pigs kept
must have been very large. "Before we have gone through a tenth of the
account of Essex we have read of 'wood for' near 10,000 pigs. If the woods
were full, and this rate were maintained throughout the country, the swine
of England would be as numerous T.R.W. as they are now.... This mode of
reckoning the capacity of woodland would only occur to men who were
accustomed to see large herds."*
* Ibid. p.443.
7. The effects of the Conquest. Labour in demand and tenure secure
The results of the Norman Conquest gathered from Domesday Book show us that the Conquest was a bad thing for the English peasants. It was not only that thanes were replaced bv Norman lords, and Norman lords appeared where there was no thane or lord before, or that dues were increased and freemen degraded in status, but the new theory of land tenure, which regarded the King as the absolute owner of the soil of the country, and the lords as practical owners under him of all the land, both occupied and waste, of their manors, boded ill for the future. As long as the lords had no special reasons for interfering with the peasants' rights over the waste of the manors, these rights were allowed to go on, subject to payment of dues for the privilege of exercising them. But we shall see later the effect of the new theory when the peasants' rights of common clashed with the lords' private interests.
Maitland has no doubts as to the effect of the Conquest. He writes: "We are not left to speculate about the matter. In after days those who were likely to hold a true tradition, the great financier of the twelfth, the great lawyer of the thirteenth century, believed that there had been a catastrophe. As a result of the Conquest, the peasants at all events some of the peasants had fallen from their free estate; freemen, holding freely, they had been compelled to do unfree services. But if we need not rely upon speculation, neither need we rely upon tradition. Domesday Book is full of evidence that the titles of the soil are being depressed." He then gives as an example the rural population of Cambridgeshire as recorded in 1086. This shows:
But when we look at the figures for the same county in the time of Edward the Confessor, we find that there were then at least 900 sokemen.
Apart, however, from the effects of the Conquest, such as the oppressive
dues and the degradation of the peasants, there was no great change in the
rural economy of England. Labour was still valuable and the demand for it
exceeded the supply, and although many peasants held at the will of the
lord, their tenure was in fact secure, and by the law of the land they could
not be removed as long as they paid their dues. "Those who cultivate the
land ought not to be harassed beyond their proper fixed amount; nor is it
lawful for the lords to remove the cultivators from the land so long as they
are able to render the due service." (Laws of William the Conqueror
* Thorpe, Ancient Laws and Institutes, p.480.
THE NORMAN MANOR
ORIGIN OF RIGHTS OF COMMON
1. The Norman Manor. Distribution of land
We shall deal in this chapter with the growth of the manor and the condition of employment in England from Domesday to the time of the Black Death in 1348.
Cultivation on the manors was carried on on the two-or three-field system,
and the former probably predominated during the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries.* The lord's demesne or home farm consisted chiefly of strips
scattered about the open fields, and was tilled by the services of the
villeins, cotters and serfs, who rendered so many days' service per week in
return for their holdings. The villeins were the most numerous class of
landholders and the freeholders the smallest. The normal holding of the
villein was still about 30 acres, and below these came the cotters and
serfs, who held plots varying in size up to about 5 acres. The holders of
such plots would put in a good deal of work on the lord's demesne. By the
end of the twelfth century the serfs had risen from the state of actual
slavery, and were generally ln possession of plots similar to those held by
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
Part of the lord's demesne was often leased out in plots called "forlands,"
which were farmed in severalty by artisans or by ploughmen and other
servants, who had received such plots as payment for their services. Such
enclosed plots, too, were often found on the outskirts of the open
* Vinogradoff, Growth of the Manor.
2. Common rights appendant and appurtenant. Their value
The interest of the tenants of the manor in the land did not cease with their holdings of arable land, for they enjoyed many rights of "common," a term which is itself significant when we come to consider the origin of these rights. There were three main divisions of rights of common:
There were other valuable customary rights, such as common of estovers for
cutting wood, gorse and fern; common of turbary for cutting turf for fuel;
pannage, or the right of feeding swine in the woods; and house-bote, which
permitted the cutting of material for the construction of houses.*
* Gonner, Common Land and Inclosures.
The right of common of pasture for beasts of husbandry over the waste
attached to every holding of a freeholder in the manor as of right, and came
to be known as common appendant; other rights of common enjoyed in respect
of holdings were known as common appurtenant. Strangers who had "squatted"
on the waste appear to have acquired rights of common, and there was common
by way of vicinage over the wastes of adjoining manors. Grants of sites for
houses were usually made by the homage, or the whole body of villagers.
"These rights supply the means or the conditions whereby the ploughing,
manuring, and other agricultural acts are carried on. Further, they furnish
in large measure the meat which is eaten, the wool which is woven, the wood
required, and the fuel for heat and cooking in the homestead."*
* Gonner, Common Land and Inclosures.
3. Development of the manor assarting, subinfeudation
With the development of the manor new holdings came into being. Squatters
often appeared on the waste, and new villages would be started in clearings
in the waste or forest land. Land reclaimed from the waste was sometimes
added to the open fields or enclosed and added to the lord's demesne, and
small plots were frequently enclosed from the waste and rented by the lord.*
These plots were usually held by tradesmen, but might be taken by villeins
in addition to their customary holdings, or by the sons of villeins, for
there was no subdivision of the villein's holding at death, the land usually
going to the youngest son.
* Ashley, Econ.Hist., bk.i, ch.i.
Garnier, Annals of the British Peasantry.
Vinogradoff, Villainage in England.
This policy of taking in and fencing off plots of the waste was known as
"assarting," and was done with the consent of the freeholders of the manor
or in some manors with the consent of the homage. It will be seen that all
land so enclosed diminished to some extent the common pasture of the manor,
but as long as these encroachments on the waste did not seriously affect
pasture rights there would be little opposition. The meadow-land, being very
scarce and precious, was not allowed to be enclosed for several
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p.173.
Up to the time of the Statute of Quia Emptores, 1290, it was the custom, as
manors grew large, for the lord of the manor to create smaller manors to be
held by freehold tenants under him.* This had the effect of withdrawing more
of the waste from common pasture, and was the source of disputes as to
whether the new manors had rights of pasture over the whole of the original
waste or over part only.
4. Approvement of the waste
In addition to the foregoing methods of dealing with the unoccupied land of
the manor the lord frequently, and without the consent of the freeholders,
made grants of portions of the waste to be enclosed and held in severalty
either for arable or sheep-farming. This process was called "approvement"
(Latin, appropriare to appropriate), and in time this seems to have
become synonymous with "improvement," so that the approvements or
appropriations of the lord came to be spoken of as "improvements." We read
in the anonymous Seneschaucie,* a writing of the latter part of the
twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, that "the lord ought to
inquire by his own men and others on his manors as many as there are, about
his seneschal and his doings, and the approvements he has made since his
* Trans. R. Hist. Soc., 1890.
The increasing exercise on the part of the lord of this right of approver seems to have aroused the antagonism of the tenants of the manor, as was only to be expected; and this hostility to what was regarded as an encroachment by the lord on communal rights of pasture must have reached such a pitch as to make it difficult for the lord to continue the process, for in 1236 was passed the Statute of Merton, the first Enclosure Act.
5. The Statute of Merton changes the common law
By this statute it was enacted that lords of manors might approve or enclose
the waste of their manors providing they left the freeholders "as much
pasture as sufficeth to their tenements, and that they have free egress and
regress from their tenement unto the pasture."* Thus legal sanction was
given to the encroachments of the lord on the rights of pasture attached to
the freeholders' tenements, and although the freeholders still had the
remedy of the assize of novel disseisin, yet the onus was put upon them of
showing, if they objected to the approvement, that it left them with
insufficient pasture or affected their ingress or egress. This statute did
not apply to common rights enjoyed by persons not tenants of the manor or to
* Statute of Merton, 1236.
It seems clear that before the Statute of Merton the lord had no right to
approve as against the freeholder and to deprive him of his common law right
without his consent, and that in so far as the statute gave the lord this
right it altered the common law of the realm. This view was held by Bracton,
a judge living at the time the statute was passed.*
* Br., lib.iv, cap.38, fol.237: "Et unde in hoc casu si dominus soli et proprietatis sibi velit aliquid appropriare et includere, hoc facere non poterit sine voluntate et litentia pruedietorum, et, si fecerit, per assisam recuperabunt."
6. Statute of Westminster II and common appurtenant
In 1285 was passed the Statute of Westminster II, which extended the
application of the Statute of Merton to common appurtenant, which included
common of pasture enjoyed by those outside the manor who were not tenants of
the lord.* Advantage was taken of these statutes by lord of manors to
increase greatly the frequency and amount of their approvements and it is
certain that "sufficiency of pasture" would be interpreted differently by
the lord and the commoner. But the commoners at this period were not
downtrodden slaves and did not shrink from asserting their rights against
the lord, or if need be of demolishing enclosures on the waste.
* "It is ordained that the Statute of Merton, provided between the lord and his tenants, from henceforth shall hold place between lords of wastes, woods and pastures may make approvement of the residue, and this shall be observed for such as claim pasture as appurtenant to their tenements."
Two examples of approvements at this time may be quoted. In the reign of
Edward I the Earl of Warenne was permitted to enclose for colonizing
purposes some 40,000 acres of waste land.* In 1313 we have an example of
approvement on a smaller scale by deed. By this deed the lord makes a grant
of 40 acres of the waste to be enclosed, and binds himself in a bond for 50
marks to indemnify the grantee should any commoner break down the enclosure
on the ground that insufficient pasture had been left.
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p.330.
Arch. Journal, XXIX, 1872 (86).
7. Origin of rights of common. The lord encroaches on communal rights
Much controversy has raged around the question as to the origin of rights of common, one theory holding that these rights originated from the time when the community owned the land, and the right of common was the right of each shareholder in the village community to a share of the common property. The other theory maintains that rights of common resulted from grants from a lord or from encroachments by the tenants on the lord's waste. The former view, however, seems to be the sounder, both historically and legally, and is supported by strong evidence.
With reference to common rights Vinogradoff says: "Behind the minimum
standard contemplated by the Statute of Merton lay a body of custom devised
by the ordinary routine in the management of the common, and this ordinary
routine applied quite as much to the tenants in villeinage as to the
freeholders, and must have applied even more uniformly to the ceorls of a
Saxon tϊn."* Also: "The notion of the lord's private right ran
counter to all notions of communal property, which were bound up with
ancient usages as to the waste."
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p.172.
That the lord's approvements were encroachments on communal rights would
seem to be substantiated by the use of the term "common" land as applied to
the waste, and by the opposition and often successful opposition of the
villagers to the lord's approvements; and the Statute of Westminster II,
dealing with rights of common appurtenant to the holdings of those who were
not the tenants of the lord of the manor, negatives the idea that those
rights had originated in grants from the lord or were encroachments on his
rights. The statute shows, in fact, that these rights of common rested on
ancient custom, and the tradition of the villagers and the opinion of a
contemporary lawyer* support this.
8. The presumption of a lost grant. Lord Hatherley and Pollock
In Bracton's time a servitude such as a right of common appurtenant could be
acquired by long and peaceful user, but later such long and peaceful user
came only to be recognised as evidence that a lord had originally made a
grant and that this grant had been lost. And it is because inhabitants as
such could not take by grant that rights of common claimed by inhabitants as
such have been held to be invalid, in spite of the fact that they may have
been so enjoyed from time immemorial. Such rights were recognized up to the
time of Elizabeth,* but it was decided in Gateward's case in 1606 that such
claims were invalid.
* 43 Eliz., cap.11.
6 Coke's Reps. 59b.
Lord Chancellor Hatherley in 1871 said that it was the duty of the court to
presume a lost grant to validate a right of common enjoyed for a long
period, and his remarks in the case of Warwick v. Queen's College,
Oxford,* are interesting:
* L.R., Ch. App., vol.vi., 1870-71 (720).
"This brings me to what has really been the difficulty in the case, which I have anxiously considered, to see whether it could or could not be overcome, it being the duty of the court to seek a way of overcoming it, by finding, if possible, the legal origin of the right. I rather think that the difficulty arises from our somewhat artificial system of law. I am not, of course, venturing to overrule or shake any of the established authorities, but the real difficulty is this: In ancient records traces are to be found of customs (prevalent anterior, I think, to our feudal history, and belonging to a period of greater freedom), such as having lammas-field that is, fields which are used during a certain portion of the year by all the tenants of the manor and during a certain other time are lying waste."
Pollock also supports this view with reference to the rights of villeins:
"It would be nearer the truth, to say that by a long series of encroachments
and fictions the lords, and lawyers acting in the interest of the lords, got
people to believe that the lord's will was the origin of those ancient
customary rights which before were absolute."'*
* The Land Laws.
9. Approvements increase to what exent harmful
Apart from the controversy as to the origin of these rights of common, the important matter is the fact of their enjoyment, and it will now be seen how the Norman theory of tenure adversely affected the interests of the villagers and their enjoyment of these rights. There is also ample evidence that advantage was taken of the two enclosing statutes, and the manorial records show that enclosures on the waste increased as time went on.
Approvements of the waste, in so far as they provided plots for additional
tenants or additional land for existing tenants, certainly enabled these men
to earn a living and put the land to a good use; and great colonizing
approvements, such as that taken in hand by the Earl of Warenne, must have
opened up further opportunities of employment for the increasing population
of the manors. We have no evidence of approvements for game preserves, nor
do we hear of any damage being done to crops by game,* and it is quite
certain that no lord would approve land and hold it out of use. But when
portions of the waste were enclosed for sheep-walks, the small amount of
labour required made the approvement far less useful than it otherwise would
have been. It is also important to realize that in the case of most of these
approvements the land was fenced in, and so the rights of all forms of
common to the extent of the enclosure were diminished for all time.
* Thorold Rogers, p.84.
10. Labour in great demand. Little oppression
Although approvement progressively increased during the period under review, the amount of waste enclosed was not so great as seriously to affect the rights of the commoners or to lessen the opportunities for employment on the manors. During this period and for many years after men were of far greater value than the land on which they worked, and the value of a manor was represented largely by the number of villagers residing and working there. It is for this reason that there could not have been any great oppression of the villagers at this time, and, indeed, we hear little of it. Labour was too precious to drive away, and many regulations existed for preventing the villeins from leaving the manor for the towns or from apprenticing their children.
11. Copyhold tenure. The villeins' security
Many villeins and other smaller tenants of the manors developed during this
period into copyholders. The incidents of their tenure were determined by
the custom of the particular manor,* and although their tenure was in
theory "at the will of the lord," this was certainly not interpreted to mean
that the lord could eject the villein or copyholder at a moment's notice.
The custom of the manor and the general feeling of the village community
would ensure that, subject to paying heriots and in some cases fines on the
admission of a new tenant, the villeins' tenure was absolutely secure. It
may be noted here that in 1369 the court held that it was lawful for a lord
to eject a copyholder who had not rendered the customary services, thus
implying that it would have been unlawful if he had rendered his services;
and in 1468 it was finally established that if a copyholder were wrongly
ejected he might maintain an action for trespass against his lord.
* See Chapter VIII, pars.12 and 13.
Year Book, 42 Edward VIII, 25, pl.9.
Year Book, 7 Edward IV, 18, pl.16.
12. Condition of the peasant prior to the Black Death. Wealth plentiful and well distributed
Although, then, by the fourteenth century the peasant was not in such a
favourable position as in Saxon times,* there was as yet little to complain
of. Food was plentiful for all, and pigs and poultry would seem to have
figured largely in the villager's diet. There were certainly bad harvests
and scarcity at times, but, according to Thorold Rogers, there was only one
period of actual famine in the whole economic history of this country, and
that was from 1315 to 1321. He adds, too, that even during this period no
agrarian robberies are recorded or any thefts of live-stock, apart from
those committed by the marauding bands that often toured the country-side.
We have seen how all the villagers had comparative security, and even the
smallest cultivators were able to save and increase the size of their
holdings. Wealth was well distributed, the great mass of the people being
assured a comfortable living. As there were opportunities for all to
produce their own subsistence, and as labour was valuable, the supply
falling short of the demand, there was a limit to what some could make at
the expense of others. The position is well summed up by Thorold Rogers:
"They ate wheaten bread, drank barley beer, and had plenty of cheap, though
perhaps coarse, meat.... The grinding, hopeless poverty under which
existence may be just continued, but when nothing is won beyond bare
existence, did not, I am convinced, characterize or even belong to mediaeval
life. That men died from want I can believe, but I do not think they lived
and died by inches, so to speak."€
* Vinogradorf, Villeinage in England, p.298.
Thorold Rogers, p.51.
€ Six Centuries, etc., p.415.
13. Real Wages high. Most people associated with agriculture
It is also evident from the results of the researches of Thorold Rogers as
to prices and wages that food prices were low at this time and real wages
high, and we have seen how villeins and cotters were able to accumulate
savings and increase the size of their holdings. Landless agricultural
labourers as we now know them did not exist, and there was therefore no
sharp dividing-line between farmers and labourers. He who cultivated the
smallest area earned sufficient to live in rude comfort, and he had
security. There would also appear to be very few people who were not
concerned to some extent with agriculture,* for craftsmen and artisans
living in towns usually went to the country for the harvest, and the King,
in dismissing his Parliament, sent his "Commons to the harvest."
* Thorold Rogers, p.169.
14. Landless inhabitants of towns. Employment regular the building trade
The rise of a distinct artisan class in the villages is noticed in the
thirteenth century,* and most of these would possess plots of land. In the
towns there were landless craftsmen and servants of various kinds, whose
numbers were probably supplemented from time to time by absconding serfs and
the sons of villeins. The population of towns was under 200,000, and,
according to Rogers, the town population to rural population was as 1 to
12.34. But many of these towns were only like large villages, and the number
of those who had no interest in land cultivation was small. Nothing is heard
of unemployment, and in the case of town artisans, if work were discontinued
for a time, there was always work to be done on the fields of the
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.i.
Employment was regular, as there was no violent fluctuation in the demand
for artisans' products. Every man had an opportunity of producing his own
subsistence, and consequently his demand was effective and regular; and in
trades such as building, where work could not always be continuous, it seems
that wages were high enough to allow for all gaps. This industry is
specially noted by Thorold Rogers* on account of the remarkably low cost of
the finished product. Even when the prices of material and labour are
brought up to present-day levels it is found that the present cost of the
completed building would be about three times as much as then. Rogers
attributes this to the fact that middlemen were dispensed with, but there is
no doubt that it also largely resulted from the fact that access to raw
materials and building sites was cheap and easy.
* Six Centuries, etc, p.145.
15. No unemployment. Demand for labour exceeds supply. The sick and impotent
There were, then, during this period no unemployed that is, no men who
wanted work but were unable to find it but there were, of course, vagrants
and wandering friars who did not want work, and also marauding bands roving
the countryside. Some of these in the earlier days of Norman rule may have
been turned out of their homes when the Conqueror afforested large areas of
land,* but the demand for labour on the manors and the extent of the
opportunities must have provided an opening for all who wanted work.
* Ribton-Turner, History of Vagrants and Vagrancy.
The impotent and sick were either cared for by their families or were
assisted by the hospitals and monasteries. These institutions dispensed
considerable charity to the sick and unfortunate, and in addition supplied
the wants of many professional beggars, a form of indiscriminate charity
which went a long way towards creating the very class which it
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., vol.i, bk.ii, ch.v.
THE BLACK DEATH AND THE
1. The Black Death reduces supply of labour by one-half
There was a period of prosperity after the great famine, years of 1315-1316
until 1348. In this year came the catastrophe known as the Black Death,
which continued with great violence for some two years. This plague attacked
rich and poor, town and country dwellers alike, and from one-third to
one-half of the population perished. Contemporary accounts tell us that this
great wastage in the population was rapidly made good, and that for some
time after the Plague population increased faster than formerly. "The
repressive check of a high standard of living was removed by the ease with
which the survivors could obtain that standard, and accumulate from a
considerable margin beyond it."*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.226.
It has been seen already that prior to the Black Death the opportunities for employment were normally in excess of the supply of labour, and the immediate result of the Plague was to reduce the available supply by roughly one-half, while the demand for labour in the shape of untilled fields and untended flocks and herds remained much as before.
2. Labour dues commuted for money payments. Wages doubled
During the thirteenth century and the early part of the fourteenth labour dues on the manors were being gradually commuted for money payments, and as a result of the Black Death this process was practically completed. Peasants and artisans now found themselves in an exceedingly strong bargaining position, and wages increased rapidly by 100%, and in many cases even higher.
Real wages may be high because the opportunities for employment exceed the available supply of labour, and these opportunities may consist in the demand for labour by employers or the possibilities of self-employment; and on the other hand they may be high owing to a sudden diminution in the supply of labour, the demand remaining more or less constant, and the opportunities for self-employment continuing. The former conditions were in existence prior to 1348, and after that date the latter condition was super-added. It is little wonder, then, that wages rose enormously.
3. Food prices remain low. Peasant in strong position
Although wages rose with such rapidity and to such a great height, prices of
most agricultural products and articles of food, with the exception of fish
and wool, varied but little from what they were before the Plague. But
goods, the production of which required a large amount of labour, did rise
considerably in price.*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.237.
There was no monopoly of food production, and because the lord of the manor had to pay high wages to those who assisted in the cultivation of his land, he was not enabled thereby to obtain any more for the food he grew. He had to contend with the competition of all the tenants of the manor, and the land was open to all who wished to produce.
Lords of manors were at their wits' ends to provide enough labour to till even a part of their lands. High money wages were offered and paid, and in many cases rents were excused altogether, sometimes even for a period of years, in order to tempt the peasants to remain on the manors.
4. Rents diminish. Landlords seek remedy in Statute of Labourers a failure
As can well be imagined, such a state of affairs did not suit the lords of
manors and great landowners, for as wages soared they saw their rents
diminishing, and they therefore sought a remedy in the Statute of Labourers.
Wages were to be the same as those current before the Plague, and severe and
barbarous penalties were to be enforced against those who asked and those
who gave higher wages, and there were also penalties against those who left
one manor to seek work elsewhere. That this statute was largely ineffective
is evidenced by the necessity for frequent re-enactments and by the
complaints in Parliament of its failure. There is also direct evidence that
higher wages were paid from the entries in the bailiffs' accounts. These
accounts frequently show a striking out of the higher wage and the
substitution of a smaller sum, this smaller sum, however, being considerably
in excess of the wage customary before the Plague. Thorold Rogers gives it
as his opinion, from a study of large numbers of these accounts, that
erasures point to evasions of the Statute of Labourers, and that even if the
lower wage were paid there would be compensations in some other form to
bring it up to the full amount.*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.229.
There is no doubt that with such a scarcity of labour the lord would be compelled to pay the high rate of wages in order to retain his labour, and that if he refused, there would be plenty of employers only too ready to receive absconding villeins or serfs, and who would not be likely to give them up once they had them.
5. All benefit except landlords. Stock and land lease
All except the great landowners and lords of manors would seem to have benefited largely as a result of the conditions following on the Black Death. Freeholders and villeins would not be affected by the price of labour, except advantageously, in so far as their children would be in a position to earn high wages; and cotters and serfs and even landless workers were in a very strong position, for they could obtain a high price for their own labour, and produce or purchase most of the goods they required as easily as before.
This great shortage of labour led to an increase of the system of stock and
land leases, for farming on a large scale by the lord of the manor had
become almost an impossibility. Under this system the farm was leased,
usually for a short term of years, with all stock, live and dead, at an easy
rate. If the stock were not returned when the lease expired compensation was
paid at a valuation which was from 30 to 40% below the market value.* This
system resulted in a large increase of tenant farmers.
* Six Centuries, etc., p.57.
6. The Peasants' Revolt ultimately a success
The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, which came to a head under Wat Tyler, seems to
have been due to an attempt on the part of lords of manors to recover
something of what they had lost by reimposing labour dues which had long
since been commuted for money payments. Wastage of labour must have been
largely made good by this time, but the peasants who had experienced the
freer conditions obtaining since the Plague were in no mind to submit to the
reimposition of these dues. For the moment the Revolt failed, but actually
it might be said to have succeeded, for economic conditions were on the side
of the peasants. The remaining labour dues were commuted for money payments
and copyhold tenure among villeins and serfs was greatly extended. According
to Thorold Rogers, "the English labourer, for a century or more, became
virtually free and constantly prosperous."*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.256.
7. "Piers Plowman." Beggars who will not work denounced. Work for all who want it
During the latter part of the fourteenth century we hear of many wanderers, "sturdy rogues" and beggars throughout the country. Men travelled from manor to manor and from manor to town in search of the highest wages, and wages were such that it could not have been necessary to work continuously in order to make a living. As we have said, there was no lack of work at this time, and all regulations referring to beggars seem to assume that work is available.
William Langland, in Piers Plowman, written between 1360 and 1400, gives us a description of England at this time as he saw it. His picture of the times is rather dismal and pessimistic, but this is probably due to the fact that he judged from the point of view of religion. It is quite evident from his description, however, that there was no lack of opportunities for work, that provisions were abundant, and that no man need lead a lazy life. He rails against the beggars and thieves who did no work, but never seemed to want:
The whole burden of the poem is that God's law that man should earn his living in the sweat of his brow must be kept. Langland is in no doubt that there is work for all who want it.
8. Commutation of labour dues and high wages increase vagrancy
As has been seen, the disorganization of the manors consequent on the Black
Death caused large numbers of workers to wander in search of the highest
wages;* and the high rate of wages obtainable, and the abundance of
opportunities for employment available, doubtless increased the numbers of
those who wandered, and added to the ranks of vagrants who found they could
obtain a living without working, or at any rate with very little work.
* Leonard, English Poor Relief: "So far the wanderers were men who bad no difficulty in obtaining work, but who wanted better terms."
In 1359 London suffered from the inrush of vagrants from the country-side, and a proclamation was issued by the City against them. This proclamation makes it clear that the authorities realized that work was obtainable, and that those who came begging to the City were depriving the sick and aged of the alms which were their due.
The House of Commons complained in 1376 and again in 1378* of beggars
wandering to the towns, and an Act of 1388, which draws a distinction for
the first time between beggars able to work and those who are impotent,
aimed at preventing the latter from wandering. Again, in 1391, the Commons
complain to the King that serfs and the sons of serfs are going to the towns
and cannot be got back, but the King refuses to take any action.
* Eden, The State of the Poor.
Ribton-Turner, History of Vagrants and Vagrancy.
THE LORDS WIN
1. Labour shortage after Black Death leads to sheep-farming
It has been seen how the great manorial lords suffered through the labour shortage consequent on the Black Death a shortage which caused many holdings of villeins and the smaller tenants to fall into the lords' hands, and made it quite impossible for the lords to farm such holdings or even a large part of their own demesne lands. For this reason after the Black Death an enclosing movement started, slowly at first, but afterwards increasing in speed and volume, whereby arable land, for which neither tenants nor sufficient labour could be obtained to work as arable, was turned into pastureland for sheep-farming. This, of course, necessitated the fencing or enclosing of the land, and so withdrawing it from the communal scheme of husbandry; and as little labour was required to tend sheep as compared with that required for arable culture, the lord was enabled to obtain a profit where otherwise the land would probably have remained idle for many years.
2. Demand for wool further stimulates growth of sheep-farming
So long as this process was confined to laying down arable land to grass in
a small way it probably did little harm at the time, for although it
curtailed the opportunities for employment, labour was so scarce that the
demand for labour and the available opportunities still exceeded the supply.
But during this period the woollen manufacturing industry was gradually
developing in England; the demand for wool both for home manufacture and
foreign export was growing, and during the first thirty years of the
fifteenth century wool was at a very high price.* This high price obtainable
for wool, and the small amount of labour required to raise it, acted as a
stimulus to landlords to lay down more and more land to grass and enclose it
for sheep-farms. Whereas formerly their "wealth" had consisted in the number
of men on their manors, they were now coming to find that sheep-farming
would bring them great monetary wealth, and that their gain would be greater
than ever it had been under the old system.
* Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.444.
This was the beginning of the first great enclosure movement of our history. By about the middle of the fifteenth century this creation of sheep-farms reached a point where any further extension would of necessity encroach on the arable land for the cultivation of which there was sufficient labour. But in spite of this the movement continued to progress, until in the latter years of the fifteenth century the legislature took action.
3. Enclosure of demesne, waste and woods, and common pasture. Evictions of villeins, etc., and hardships of cotters. Merchants buy land
Before considering the results of these enclosures it is important to see
exactly in what they consisted. The lord's demesne ordinarily comprised from
one-third to one-half the area of the manor,* and for the greater part lay
in strips scattered over the common fields. When parts of this land came to
be put down to grass it was necessary to consolidate the strips affected and
enclose them with a hedge. A certain amount of exchange with the other
tenants would be necessary in order to effect consolidation, and as time
went on villeins and other small tenants were evicted in order that their
holdings might be amalgamated with the lord's land as one great
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.
See Gonner, Common Land and Inclosure, p.48.
This enclosing of demesne lands dispensed with a large amount of labour, and had a disastrous effect on the cotters, who depended for some employment on the lord's land in order to supplement what they could produce from their own small plots. The followers, sons and relations in the various peasants' households, would also find themselves deprived to a large extent of opportunities for employment, and, of course, enclosure and laying down to grass prevented any further enjoyment of rights of common over this land after the harvest was reaped.
In addition to enclosing demesne lands and evicting villeins and cotters,
much of the waste land of the manors was also enclosed for sheep-farming.
This policy forcibly deprived freeholders and other tenants of the manors of
rights of common which they had enjoyed over the waste, and was specially
hard on the neighbouring cotters,* who lost thereby invaluable rights of
common, and received short shrift if their presence stood in the way of any
"approvement." There is little doubt that considerations as to whether these
enclosures left "sufficient" waste for the tenants did not trouble a lord
who saw good profit in sheep-farms. The Highland enclosers of the eighteenth
century were not affected by such considerations, and we have no reason to
suppose that the fifteenth-century lords were any better. There were also
considerable enclosures of woods at this time, and a consequent
extinguishment of common rights over them, for charcoal-burning was a
growing industry, and many lords were able to derive large incomes in this
* Gonner, pp.31-2.
During the fifteenth century trade was prosperous, and many merchants who
had made fortunes in the towns began to purchase land in the country, and
many copyhold tenements were so purchased.*
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., vol.i, pt.ii., bk.ii. ch.i.; Thorold Rogers, p.288.
4. Manor Rolls disclose encroachments
The Manor Rolls of this period disclose many small enclosings and encroachments on common rights not necessarily connected with sheep-farming. Individual tenants would sometimes enclose a holding in the open fields or make small private enclosures in the waste, and complaints that large landholders and even outsiders overburden the common pastures with sheep and cattle are frequent. It is true that these enclosers and encroachers usually appear to have been "presented" by the homage, but it is doubtful whether this would be effective in every case in getting the matter put right.
In the Manor Rolls of Wimbledon the homage often "present" and fine tenants
for enclosing common land. There are also many presentments for
overburdening the common at Putney with cattle and sheep, and the Dean of
St. Paul's is among those so presented. "The twelve Jurors of the Great
Assize of the Lord the King... say that John Hood overburthens the common
pasture at Rokehampton with cattle... tenant of the lord: therefore he is
amerced. And that John Hoke overburthens the common at Puttenhyth with his
sheep beyond the quantity."*
* Manor Rolls Wimbledon, 7 Edward IV.
"Also the same Robert inclosed with live thorns and great ditches, 3 acres
of land lying in the Nethershot of Baston in Putneth, and holds for his
severalty, whereas the tenants there from the time of which the memory of
man exists not, had and ought to have common there, for all their cattle,
from the Feast of St. Michael the Arch. A. to the feast of the Purification
of S. Mary then following, by which they could not have their common there,
to their great prejudice."* The said Robert was ordered to show cause why he
should not throw the land open again.
* Manor Rolls Wimbledon, 13 Edward IV.
5. Theory that enclosures due to declining productivity of soil disproved
There is a theory supported by Denton, Dr. Bradley (Vassar College,
Columbia), and by Lord Ernle and others that the enclosures of the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were largely due to "the inevitable and
progressive decline in the productivity of the soil."* "The enclosure
movement is explained, not by a change in the price of wool, but by the
gradual loss of productivity of common-field land."
* Lord Ernle.
Lennard* seems to demonstrate quite conclusively, however, that there is no
evidence to show that the open fields declined in fertility in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Lord Ernle takes as an average yield of
wheat in the thirteenth century 10 bushels per acre, and states that by the
fifteenth century this had fallen to between 6 and 7 bushels. Lennard,
however, points out that these figures are certainly not substantiated by
any available evidence, and, on the contrary, that the average yield of the
thirteenth century was between 6Ό to 6½ bushels, and that out of 45 wheat
yields examined, only that of 1284, at Witney, reached 10 bushels. The
average figures for the fourteenth century agreed by Thorold Rogers, Sir
John Cullum and Davenport are 7½ to 7Ύ bushels, and for the fifteenth
century, for which evidence is scanty, there are examples of 8½ bushels and
* See Econ. Journal, March 1922.
"The Enclosure of Open-Field Farms," Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture, December 1920 and January 1921.
Account Roll of Ansty, Herts., 1401 harvest. See appendix to first volume of Cunningham.
€ Abisham, Kent. Undated document in Canterbury Cathedral. Thorold Rogers assigns to middle of fifteenth century.
Far from pointing to a great decline in the yield of wheat, these figures show a progressive increase in the yield, and, making all allowances for defects, it can certainly be said that at any rate no decline at all is indicated. Lennard suggests that it would be interesting to know from what figure the wheat had come if, gradually declining, it had reached 10 bushels in the thirteenth century. He also draws attention to the fact that a diminished yield would tend to increase the area under arable cultivation, and the wastage of population due to the Black Death was certainly made good before enclosures started on a large scale.
6. Official notice taken of enclosures
The first official reference to the enclosures of this period is found in a
speech prepared by Lord Chancellor John Russell for the opening of the first
Parliament of Richard III, 1483:* "And yet, be he never so gret, yff by hys
doynge thys body (the English people) fallethe yn decaye, as we see
dayly hyt doothe by closures and emparkynge, by dryvynge away of tenauntes
and lattynge downe of tenauntries; and yet, that ys most to be sorowed, by
unlaufulle assembleus and insurrections, puttyng not only the peuple but
allso the nobles to extreme jupertu and peril of lyff and londes, where by
thys... is gretly dispeupled."
* Camden Society, 1854, 1ii.
This is strong contemporary evidence, fully corroborated, as will be seen later, that enclosures were causing involuntary unemployment and depopulation of the manors.
Six years after this, in 1489, the first Act of Parliament against enclosures was passed, entitled an Act "Agaynst pullying down of Tounes." The preamble to this Act states that unemployment was due to enclosures, and the Act itself was directed against those who were letting arable lands for sheep-farms, and allowing farm-houses and buildings to fall into a state of decay. Houses and buildings necessary for tillage were to be maintained on all holdings of 20 acres or more which had been let to farm during the preceding three years or which should be so let in the future. This Act, like several others with the same purpose which we shall have occasion to mention, was wholly ineffective.
7. More's "Utopia" contemporary evidence
Sir Thomas More, for some time Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, in 1516 wrote
his famous Utopia. In this book we have a detailed description of
England while the enclosure policy was in progress. Some modern writers have
held that this description is exaggerated, but apart from the
picturesqueness of some of the language, the evidence seems to bear out and
to be corroborated by the evidence of other contemporaries, and is also
confirmed, as will be seen in Chapter VIII, by a Report of a Government
Commission in 1517-18. We shall also have occasion in a later chapter* to
consider a period of enclosing in Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries for a similar purpose, and the reports of eyewitnesses then
describe scenes similar to those referred to by More, and one would hardly
expect hardships to be less, or evictions less harsh, in the fifteenth than
they were in the nineteenth century. It would also seem to be self-evident
that where arable land was laid down to grass for sheep-farming there would
be local depopulation.
* Chapter XIV.
8. Sheep-farming causes demolition, of houses and depopulation. Harsh measures taken by enclosers
The story of the enclosures is told by one Raphael Hythloday, a traveller. He speaks of the sheep as having eaten up the men, and says: "They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses, and cities." The cause of the growth of sheep-farms is no mystery to him. "Noblemen and gentlemen, yea and certain abbots... not contenting themselves with the yearly revenues and profits, that were wont to grow to their forefathers and predecessors of their lands... yea much annoying the weal public leave no ground for tillage, they inclose all into pastures; they throw down houses; they pluck down towns, and leave nothing standing, but only the church to be made a sheep-house." But these are not the only enclosures: "And as though you lost no small quantity of ground by forests, chases, lawns, and parks, those good holy men turn all dwelling-places and all glebe land into desolation and wilderness."
He then gives us an insight into the methods of the enclosers, and tells how one man may enclose "many thousand acres" within one hedge, and get rid of the husbandmen "by cunning and fraud," or "by violent oppression," or by so harassing them "that they be compelled to sell all." They are then compelled to depart with all their households, "small in substance and much in number." "Away they trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no place to rest in. All their household stuff which is very little worth, though it might well abide the sale; yet being suddenly thrust out, they be constrained to sell it for a thing of nought."
9. Employment unobtainable. The lords win
He then follows the dispossessed, and asks what they can do but steal or
beg. If they steal they will be hanged, and if they beg "they be cast in
prison as vagabonds, because they go about and work not: whom no man will
set a work, though they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto."*
The reason for this lack of work is clear to him: "For one shepherd or
herdsman is enough to eat up that ground with cattle, to the occupying
whereof about husbandry many hands were requisite. And this is also the
cause why victuals be now in many places dearer."
* The italics are ours.
The lords of manors had at last solved the problem which faced them after
the Black Death, and found a means of increasing rents in spite of a
shortage of labour. It is worthy of note in this connection that whereas in
the fourteenth century land sold at ten years' purchase, in the middle of
the fifteenth century it sold at twenty years' purchase.*
* Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.288.
BEGGARS COME TO
1. The town working class. The coming of the beggars
It has been seen how the City of London was complaining in the latter part of the fourteenth century of the influx of wanderers in search of higher wages, and there are indications that in the latter half of the fifteenth century this influx of beggars was becoming troublesome.
It was during this period, too, that the system of division of labour
developed, and the capitalist artisan came into being.* Industries began to
be carried on on what was then a large scale, and a distinct "working class"
began to appear in the towns. This was a class of what might be called
dependent wage-earners a class, that is, who had little hope of rising to
be master-men, and for whom the opportunities of finding alternative
employment in the villages or of employing themselves on holdings of their
own were rapidly diminishing. These men consisted of villeins and cotters
and their families whose lands had been "eaten up" by the sheep, of
disbanded soldiers and discharged retainers, whose masters had been ruined
as a result of the Wars of the Roses.
* Thorold Rogers, p.338; Ashley, Econ. Hist., vol.i, pt.ii, bk.ii, ch.ii.
Most of the beggars and wanderers in the towns in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries had originally started on their travels in search of higher wages, and work was available for them on the manors had they wanted it. But the wanderers who were coming to the towns towards the end of the fifteenth century had not that alternative; they came in search of work, and not merely to find higher wages.
They were the forerunners of those crowds of beggars and sturdy rogues who in the sixteenth century invaded the towns and terrorized the country-side. It was of these beggars that the old rhyme was first repeated:
2. Rise of large-scale industry enclosures provide cheap labour
The manufacture of woollen cloth was increasing rapidly during the fifteenth century, and many other small industries were springing up, not always in the towns, for at this time there was a movement from the towns to the country on the part of many industries. This was caused to some extent by restrictive ordinances of the gilds, and often resulted in the decay of the town.
These industries must have provided openings for many workers, but the gilds, the prototypes of the modern Trade Union, saw the time coming when there would be a surplus of labour in the towns, and as they realized the results of this, there early developed a struggle between the gilds and the free workers. An ordinance of the City of London of 1387 forbade the acceptance of any villein as an apprentice, and in 1406 an Act of Parliament forbade the apprenticing of children of men who earned less than 20s. a year. The trouble was that the free labourer was increasing faster than he could be absorbed in industry. The policy of enclosures for sheep-farms was providing cheap labour for the new large-scale industries, and the rich, merchants who had acquired fortunes in the towns were buying estates and becoming landed proprietors. And although wages were high for the most part-through the fifteenth century, yet the trek from the villages was going to make itself felt in wages in the early part of the sixteenth century.
3. Beggars for whom no work is available
In addition to those who were actually deprived of their livelihood on the manors by the enclosures, the ranks of the "beggars" in the latter half of the fifteenth, century were augmented by discharged personal servants of great men, described by More as "idle and loitering serving-men," and by soldiers disbanded from the French wars. But for the enclosure movement and the growth of sheep-farming it is probable that all of these who wanted work would have found it, but when it is realized that those who had a means of livelihood had been deprived and turned adrift, there is little wonder that these others drifted into the class of beggars "whom no man will set a work, though they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto."
At a time when the old Feudal System, as established by the early Normans,
was breaking up, when men whose employment furnished by war and service was
coming to an end, the opportunities for employment were enormously curtailed
1. The Government moves against ingrossers and enclosers
In the beginning of the sixteenth century the enclosure movement assumed
such serious proportions, and its evil results were so apparent, that the
Government began to take further and more energetic measures in an attempt
to stem the trouble, for the Act of 1489 against the pulling down of towns
had been inoperative.*
* 20 Henry VIII, cap.22. recites that this act had been enforced only in lands held immedialely of the King. Leadam, Select Cases. Court of Requests: "A search of the Exchequer Rolls reveals that he allowed it to remain inoperative."
In 1514, therefore, there was issued a proclamation against ingrossing farms or the absorbing into one hand of a large number of holdings. In this proclamation the scarcity of grain and other foodstuffs was said to be due to the ingrossing of farms and the conversion of arable land to pasture. This view was supported by evidence from a wide area, for it was based on information which the Government had received from "justices of the peace and commissioners of every shire within his said realme." Those holding more than one farm were ordered to cultivate the land as it had been up to the first year of Henry VII, but again subsequent enactments show that this decree was inoperative.
2. The first Enclosure Commission, 1517-18
Another Act was passed in 1515,* "concernyng the pulling downe of Townes."
This enacted that all habitations that had fallen into decay since the
beginning of that Parliament were to be rebuilt within a year, and all land
that had been put down to pasture in the same period was to be ploughed up.
In 1516 there was yet a further Act concerning the decaying of houses.
* 6 Henry VIII. cap.6.
The failure of any of these Acts or Proclamations to take effect led to the
appointment of a Royal Commission, the Enclosure Inquisition of 1517-18, to
inquire into the evil. This Inquisition made returns to Chancery, and the
reports extant form what has been called the Domesday of Enclosures.* It is
probable that Sir Thomas More was concerned in the establishment of this
Commission, and Wolsey certainly did his best to counteract the evils
reported on by proceeding against those presented by the Commissioners.
* Trans, R. Hist. Soc., "Domesday of Inclosures," vols.i and ii. edited by Leadam.
3. Statistics incomplete, but a widespread movement indicated,
The information furnished by the reports of this Commission is incomplete, and from what we know of the difficulties encountered by subsequent Commissions, and taking into consideration the insecurity of the class most effected, this incompleteness cannot be wondered at. Those who held by precarious tenure would not be ready to come forward and give evidence against the lord who might immediately turn them adrift; and we know that some of the Commissioners were themselves enclosers, and might be disposed to let down lightly some of their fellow offenders. Intimidation of witnesses was probably rife; Hales tells of it in connection with the Commission of 1548-9, and Commissioners reporting in comparatively recent times have told similar tales.
The original Chancery Returns, still extant, deal with the counties of
Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire,
Leicestershire, Cheshire, Essex, and Lincolnshire, but only for the first
five of these do the returns attain any degree of completeness. There is,
however, in the Lansdowne MSS.* a summary, probably made from the original
returns of this Commission shortly after the death of Henry VIII, of
information dealing with several other counties, viz. Norfolk, Yorkshire,
Herefordshire, Staffordshire, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, London and
suburbs, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Cambridgeshire, and Shropshire.
* Lansdowne MSS. I, 153, published in Trans. R. Hist. Soc. 1892, 1893 and 1894.
In estimating the value of the Returns made by this Commission it is
important to note that, where enclosures had been made by Royal Licence, the
Commission makes no report, and that only those enclosures made since 1488
were reported on. Although, therefore, the extant Returns and the summaries
in the Lansdowne MSS. are incomplete, and the figures given in many cases
not as large as one would expect,* the evidence goes to show that the
movement was widespread throughout the country, and was everywhere attended
by serious consequences.
* See par.19.
4. Complaints against ingrossing, consolidation, and conversion of arable to pasture
Among the evils complained of was the "ingrossing" of farms that is, the absorbing into one hand of several holdings and this led to the destruction of houses and farm buildings on some of the holdings, whether the whole area were put down to grass or whether it were run as a large-scale arable farm. When the farm-house and buildings were destroyed or allowed to fall into decay, the farm to which they belonged was said to be "consolidated."
There are also a large number of presentments for enclosures of arable land, whether or no this was converted to pasture; for the enclosure of arable land for large-scale arable farming usually led to consolidation of farms, with the consequent destruction or decay of farm-houses and buildings and depopulation.
5. Lay and ecclesiastical landlords compared
There is much information to be gained from the Returns of this Commission
as to the relative qualities of lay and ecclesiastical owners as landlords.
As regards cotters, we find that on lay land there are some twenty cottages
with land as against nineteen without, whereas on ecclesiastical estates
there are twenty-nine with as against two without.* This would seem to show
that the Church was usually an easy landlord, and that changes were slow in
coming on its land.
* Domesday of Enclosures, vol.i, p.51.
When we come to figures for displacing of population consequent on
enclosures, it is found that depopulation is 10% less on ecclesiastical than
on lay estates, but, on the other hand, some ecclesiastical rents are higher
than those on corresponding lay lands. From the Returns for Buckinghamshire
it is found that freeholders on lay estates were evicted at nearly twice the
rate of those on ecclesiastical lands.* But in the case of Northamptonshire
it is found that the Abbots of Peterborough were in the forefront of the
enclosers with a total of 998½ acres enclosed and 100 people evicted, who,
according to the jury presenting, "are become unemployed and despairing."
The total rental value per acre of ecclesiastical land in this county is 1s.
4Όd., as compared with 8Ύd. for lay land.
* Leadam: "There was a more rapid change upon lay estates from tenure to contract, or from a holding of which the conditions were fixed by custom to one in which they were determined by competition, for leaseholds form 54.4% of the total lay land let."
"Et dicunt quod racione predictarum inclusionem in Peterburgh predicta octo aratra deponuntur et centum persone que circa Culturam terrarum predictarum occupari solebant modo ociosi fient ot miseri facti sunt."... (Domesday of Enclosures, p.255.)
Taking one county with another throughout the country the balance, if any, seems to be slightly in favour of the ecclesiastics as landlords.
6. Enclosures largely to pasture a profitable proceeding
Comparing the rental values of arable and pasture lands generally, it is found that on an average the value of
|Open arable is||7.76d. per acre
||Enclosed arable||10.21d. per acre
||And enclosed pasture||13.03d. per acre|
This shows that land enclosed to pasture had an improved rental over open
arable of 67.9%, or over enclosed arable of 27.61%. The rental of enclosed
arable over open arable was 31.57%, and, "treating each county as a unit,
the improved profits on enclosure and conversion to pasture as compared with
enclosure of arable average nearly 28%."*
The county of Berkshire is, however, an exception, for there arable land brings a higher rent than pasture-land, and in this county 61.04% of the total enclosures returned was enclosure to arable. Corresponding figures for other counties are:
PROPORTION OF TOTAL ENCLOSURE
|To Arable||To Pasture
These figures plainly show that the movement was one largely of enclosure and conversion to pasture, and the fact that such conversion gave an increased profit of 28% over enclosure to arable would naturally lead us to expect such a result.
7. Acreage disclosed in available returns. Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire
Taking the few counties for which the original returns are extant, it is recorded that some 9,878 acres were enclosed as arable and 30,443 acres to pasture, and in addition several thousand acres were ingrossed. The particulars given in the Lansdowne MSS. account for a further area of approximately 27,000 acres enclosed. In considering these figures it must be borne in mind that the original returns are incomplete, and the Lansdowne MSS. statistics very much more incomplete. But even with these figures it can be seen that the results were serious.
In the case of Berkshire there are 4,163 acres ingrossed and 6,615 acres enclosed, of which 274 acres were enclosed for sport. This brought about the eviction and displacement of 670 persons and the demolition of 119 tenements a considerable number, having regard to the area concerned.
In Buckinghamshire the area ingrossed is 7,905 acres and the area enclosed
9,000 acres, bringing about the eviction or displacement of 1,131 persons
and the decay of 172 houses.*
* Professor Gay.
The Northamptonshire returns are very deficient, but these show 7,097 acres
as ingrossed and 8,688 acres enclosed, of which 221 acres were for sport.
This brought about the eviction or displacement of 1,405 persons and the
destruction of 354 houses.*.
* Prof. Gay.
8. Enclosures, etc. in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire
There are figures given for each of the 14 hundreds in Oxfordshire, showing that 11,587 acres were ingrossed and 8,570 acres inclosed, of which 69 acres were for sport. In the hundred of Bullingdon 3.5% of the whole area was enclosed, equalling 1,634 acres, and 92% of this was enclosed to pasture; and in the hundred of Wootton the whole area enclosed was enclosed to pasture.
The returns give an example of an extensive ingrossing in this county by one
William Bedyll. of London. His ingrossings are calculated at about 6,398½
acres of a value of £180 13s. 4d. There were 720 persons evicted in this
county and 186 houses decayed.*
* Prof. Gay.
The returns for Warwickshire show 5,795½ acres ingrossed and 7,948 acres
enclosed. There were 1,018 persons displaced and 207 houses decayed.*
Dugdale affords us an example of enclosing in the Knightlow Hundred in the
reign of Henry VII. "That Thomas Twyford in 4.H.7. depopulated foure
messuages and 3 cottages in Stretton-Baskervill whereunto clx acres of land
belonged; and soone after solde the whole lordshipp to Henry Smyth
gentleman, who in 9.H.7 inclosed and depopulated y rest."
* Prof. Gay.
Dugdale MSS., Inquis. Super. Depop., 3 Edward VI., 1549.
"That Thomas Marquesse Dorset in 12.H.7 impaled nynety acres of errable land, lying within the lordshipp of Arley, within his parke at Astley called the old parke."
9. Norfolk, Staffordshire, and the Isle of Wight
The statistics in the Lansdowne MSS. are plainly fragmentary, but they
indicate the prevalence of the same state of affairs as is disclosed in the
original returns. The figures for Norfolk are most complete, and here we
find 10,454 acres enclosed or converted to pasture, causing the destruction
of 76 houses and the eviction of 380 persons. In addition to these there is
the complete enclosure of a hamlet at Castellacre,* with the destruction of
all the tenements.
* "Unum integrum hamelett cum omnibus tenementes."
In Staffordshire, although only 488Ό acres of enclosures are mentioned, 63.93% of these were enclosed for sport.
The small area, 355 acres, given as enclosed in the Isle of Wight would seem to show that the extensive enclosures prior to 1488 had slackened since that date.
10. Wolsey acts on findings of the Commission
As soon as the returns of this Commission began to come in, Wolsey instituted proceedings in Chancery against those presented, but these proceedings were frequently stayed when the defendants entered into recognizances to rebuild decayed houses and to restore arable land. In 1518 Wolsey issued a decree, ordering those who had pleaded the King's pardon or had thrown themselves on his mercy to restore enclosed lands within forty days under penalty of a heavy fine, but there is evidence that these proclamations and decrees were seldom specifically enforced, the enclosers usually preferring to pay a lump sum or annual fine by way of composition a method which would appeal to the King, who was always looking out for new means of raising money.
There was also a proviso to Wolsey's decree which no doubt went a long way
to render it nugatory, for the offenders might be excused if they could
bring evidence to show that what they had done was for the public benefit,
or that they not not broken any of the statutes against the decaying of
houses.* Such evidence was, as we should anticipate, frequently
* S.P. Dom., Henry VIII, II, ii, App.53.
11. The Commission reports decay of houses and depopulation of villages
The findings of this Commission, then, seem to bear out and substantiate exactly what Sir Thomas More wrote in Utopia. Over and over again do we read in the Returns that so many houses have been decayed or laid waste and that so many persons have left. One short extract from a presentment will give an example of this: "Within the vill of Chaysell the houses aforetime of John Willyers are laid waste., and the inhabitants have departed; and there pertain to the said houses 300 acres of land, whereof 30 are arable and the rest are in pasture. And the houses of Burton Lazars in the same vill are laid waste, and the inhabitants have departed; and there belong to the same houses 300 acres of land, whereof 40 are ploughed, but the rest pasture; and by this downfall the church has fallen in ruins."
In their reports on the various counties the Commissioners always stress the fact that all presentments for the decay of houses are correct, and that the kingdom is being impoverished and the country-side depopulated.
12. Copyholders and tenants among the evictors. The copyholder had legal security of tenure
The returns show that freeholders as well as lords of manors were
responsible for evictions and enclosures, and it also seems clear that there
were copyholders among the evictors. The Act of 1488 "concernynge the Isle
of Wight" stated that "farmers"* were responsible for consolidations, and
the Act of 1562 "for the mayntenaunce and encrease of tyllage" specifies
copyholders as among the "owners" referred to in the statute of 1488.
Farming tenants are frequently mentioned as evictors, and 5 of the 125
enclosers in Norfolk seem to have been copyholders. Copyholders were also
sometimes among the dispossessed, for at a time when might was right legal
security of tenure availed little.
* According to an anonymous Memorial to Vicar-General Cromwell, the "firmas" wore often chiefly responsible for "laying ground to pasture." (Quoted by Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.)
Leadam, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., 1892.
According to Ashley,* customary tenants had no legal security at this time,
and "the lords knew this and acted upon it"; also, "Custom would seem to
have been on the point of becoming law when a change in the economic
situation the increasing advantage of pasture over tillage prompted the
lords to fall back on their old rights." Against this theory, however, the
evidence seems to be strong in favour of the full legal security of all
customary tenants. It is, of course, important to distinguish between tenure
"at the will of the lord according to the custom of the manor" (copyhold),
tenure "at the will of the lord" on customary land, and tenure "at the will
of the lord" at common law. The two cases quoted in Chapter IV that of
1369 and that of 1468 had established that the copyholder had security of
tenure provided he rendered the customary services. Writing before the
decision of 1468, Littleton said: "But the lord cannot break the custom
which is reasonable in these cases," and in his judgment in the case of 1468
Brian, C.J., laid down the law in no uncertain language.
* Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.
Danby, C J., said: "Et sir si le Roy entre en ma terre jeo naura remedie mes mon peticion, etc., mes e roy est tenus de droit de moy restorer, issint est le seigneur tenus de restorer son tenant a volunte secundum consuetodinem."
13. Villeins holding customary lands "ad voluntatem" had legal security
Again, as early as 1304,* it was laid down that a "nativus," or "villein in
gross," who held customary lands "at the will of the lord," had security
against the lord so long as he performed his services. Britton defined
"villeinage in gross" as "a holding of demesne of any lord, granted to hold
at his will by villein services... and delivered by verge and not by written
title." In 1487 it was decided that a villein in gross receiving a grant of
land for a term of years was thereby manumitted, as he had an interest in
the land which he could maintain against the lord.
* Year Book, 32 and 33 Edward I, p.514.
Briton, III, ii, 12.
Year Book, 11 Henry VII, p.3.
Littleton also differentiates between these tenures: "And these are divers diversities between tenant at will, which is in by lease of his lessor by the course of the common law, and tenant according to the custome of the manor in forme aforesaid. For tenant at will according to the custome may have an estate of inheritance (as is aforesaid) at the will of the lord, according to the custome and usage of the manor." Coke, commenting on this, writes: "Here note that Littleton alloweth that by the custome of the manor the copyholder hath an inheritance, and consequently the lord cannot put him out without cause."
14. Some copyholders among the dispossessed
The majority of those evicted, then, belonged to the class holding at the
will of the lord at common law, on tenancies from year to year, or on leases
for lives or a term.* Copyholders, however, could be, and were, dispossessed
by the lord, who refused to admit the heir or demanded an exorbitant fine on
admittance; and although copyholders and tenants of customary lands had
legal security of tenure, this legal security often availed them
* J. Musand, a monk of Worcester, writing to Cromwell, January 31, 1536: "He (the abbot) and his predecessors have taken 200 or 300 acres of land from the tenants to enlarge his park" (Gairdner, L. and P., x, 216).
In referring to the dispossession of a tenant, Crowley* says: "Yea, though
he have been honeste, true, faythfull, and quiete tenant many yeares, yet at
the vacation of his copie or indenture, he must paye welmoste as muche as
would purchayse so much grounde or else voide in hast."
* MS. Brit. Museum, f.8., Furnivall's Intro, to Ballads from MSS., i.24.
15. Further measures against conversion of arable land
The results of the widespread enclosure movement continued to trouble the Government, and an Act was passed in 1534 to prevent consolidations and the conversions of arable land to pasture. The Act recites how churches and towns have been demolished to make way for sheep because of "the great Profit that cometh of Sheep," and how rents have been raised and fines enhanced so that "poor men are not able to meddle with it." Some are alleged to keep as many as 24,000 sheep, and the Act fixes a maximum of 2,000 under penalties. It is also enacted that no man may have more than two farms, and these not in the same parish.
In 1533* there are complaints against the Abbot of Pershore for interfering
with commons and expelling tenants from copyholds.
* S.P. Dom., Henry VIII, vi, 298.
A further Act was passed in 1536 reciting that the Act of 1489 had only been operative on lands held immediately of the King, and enacting that half profits should be paid to the crown where there had been conversion until a house had been built to at least every 50 acres. This statute applied principally to twelve Midland counties, which were named, to Lincolnshire and to the Isle of Wight.
16. Confiscation of monastic lands leads to fresh enclosures
About the year 1536 Henry began dissolving the smaller monasteries and handing their lands over to various favourites and courtiers; and by 1539 the rest of the monasteries were dissolved, and their estates confiscated and given or sold to lay landlords.
There has been much controversy as to the part played by the monasteries in
helping the poor,* but whatever may have been the value of their activities
in this direction, the important point is that the monastic landlords were
replaced by the King's favourites and wealthy merchants, who, for the most
part, were rapacious absentees, who meant to squeeze all they could out of
their newly-acquired property. This confiscation of the Church estates of
course led to fresh enclosing activities and consequent evictions. "As
actually happened, the transfer occurred at a moment when the impoverishment
of the landlords by foreign wars, taxation, and extravagance, and the
enrichment of the commercial classes in a period of internal peace, had
created a new order of men, whose instinct was to become possessors of land
and to treat their acquisitions, not simply as an accession of feudal
dignity, but as an investment to be made remunerative." It has been said
that the monastic lands formed from one-fifth to one-third of the land of
the country, and even if the former estimate be taken, the revolutionary
nature of the change is apparent.
* Fuller, the Church historian: "Yea, those abbeys did but maintain poor which they made." Eden: "Notwithstanding this opinion and expression in the Statutes, I very much doubt, whether the monasteries generally and greatly troubled themselves with relieving Poor that did not immediately belong to their own demesnes."
Leadam, Select Cases, Court of Requests (Selden Society).
Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.322: "The annual value of the monastic lands was estimated at over £160,000. This is certainly not an exaggeration if, as is so frequently alleged, these instituitions held a third of the land in the kingdom, and that not the least fertile portion.... But it may be the net value after the charges on the property, created by Henry himself.... and after the beneficial leases, which the corporations were said to have extensively granted in view of the coming storm, are deducted or allowed for."
By a statute of 1536* persons who had received monastic lands were required,
under a penalty, to keep as much in tillage as had been usual during the
preceding twenty years, and this requirement would seem to suggest that a
grant of monastic lands frequently resulted in enclosures for sheep-farming,
with a consequent displacement of the population.
* 27 Henry VIII. cap.28.
17. The rising in the north. Government's instructions to the Council of the North
In 1536, partly as a result of the confiscation of the Church estates and
partly on account of the enclosing movement, the rising known as the
Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in the north of England. Considerable feeling
was shown against erclosures and also against the increased fines which were
being demanded of copyholders.* "What with the spoiling of them now and the
grossing of them so marvellously sore in time past and with the increasing
of lords' rents by inclosings, and for lack of the persons of such as shall
suffer, this border is sore weked and specially Westmoreland; the more pity
they should so deserve, and also that they have been so sore handled in
times past, which, as I and all other here think, was the only cause of this
* "As the end of the rebellion trailed off to the 'high and wild countries' of the north, the anti-enclosure feeling, coupled with bitterness at the increase of 'gressoms,' found vent in the casting open of parks and closes." (Gay, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xviii)
L. aud P. Henry VIII, xii, i., 478 and 200.
The Government also seem to have been alive to the enclosing movement and
high fines in the north of England, for the Council of the North in 1538 is
directed "from time to time to make diligent inquisition who hath taken in
and enclosed any commons, called intakes, who be extreme in taking gressoms
and overing of rents, and to call the parties that have so used themselves
evil therein before them; and, leaving all respects and affections apart,
they shall take such order for the redress of the enormities used in the
same, as that the poor people be not oppressed, but that they may live after
their sorts and qualities."*
* Quoted by Dr. R.R. Reid in The King's Council of the North.
18. Enclosures and the deprivation of common rights a lasting injury to the community
Gonner,* writing of the enclosures for sheep-farming in the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, says: "The change was hardly progressive. In some cases
it meant slight use of the land and a corresponding degree of desolation."
He further adds: "On the other hand, it by no means follows that the
movement implied national or widespread evil. It meant local disturbance,
and local disturbance where the mobility of labour was slight, entailed
individual injury ; but on the other hand much land was exhausted, and the
rest enjoyed brought about an increase when later on it was reconverted."...
"Thirdly, in the sixteenth century parks and demesnes were often inclosed
and commons or land over which people had exercised common rights of pasture
and the like curtailed in many counties."... "While further there seems
ground for believing that wastes over which common right had been in active
use were interfered with to the loss and discontent of the commoners."
* Common Land and Inclosures.
It is true, of course, that enclosures did cause "local disturbance" of population, but the evidence already adduced indicates that the disturbed localities were sufficiently numerous to designate the "disturbance" a "national" and "widespread evil." Also it must be constantly borne in mind that the "injury" was not so much '"individual" as communal. An injury to the community, such as the loss of various forms of "common rights" over the land, endures beyond the lifetime of the individuals first affected, and is a fresh loss to each succeeding generation.
19. The testimony of FitzHerbert. Omissions from the Returns of the Enclosure Commissioners
John FitzHerbert, in his "Boke of Surveyinge"* (1539), throws further
light on the enclosures of this period: "And it was of old tyme that all the
landes, medowes and pastures lay open and unclosed. And then was theyr
tenementes moche better cheape than they be nowe, for the mooste part of the
lordes have enclosed their demeyn landes and medowes, and kepe them in
severaltie, so that theyr tenauntes have no commyn with them therin. And
also the lordes have enclosed a great parte of their waste groundes, and
streytened their tenauntes of their commyns therein, and also have gyven
lycence to dyvers of their tenauntes to... take in new intackes, or closes
out of the commens, payeng to their lordes more rent therefore, so that the
commen pastures waxen lasse." FitzHerbert advocates enclosure of arable as
labour-saving, but adds: "Peradventure some men would say that this should
be against the common weale, because the sheepe herdes, heerdmen, and
swynheerdes shulde then be put out of wages."
According to Gonner, in addition to the enclosure of demesne lands, "other
land previously brought into cultivation from the wild was changed in its
use." Commenting on this Gonner says: "This latter feature needs to be borne
in mind, since in some counties and regions it adds considerably to the area
over which change was possible. It seems doubtful if such land would be
included in the returns to inclosure commissions.* Certainly the figures of
these do not seem very striking. Possibly this was the case in Warwickshire,
where the gradual disappearance of forest must have brought and been
bringing much new land into cultivation."
* See par.3.
With reference to the discontent and risings of the sixteenth century,
Gonner writes that these were "not necessarily associated with the
conversion of arable. They were probably just as much due to the inclosures
of commons, with the consequent deprivation of common rights."
1. Methods of evicting tenants heavy gressoms and short-term leases. The Court of Requests
Before considering the further progress of enclosures in the sixteenth
century, it will be as well to note exactly how evictions came to be carried
out, how those whose forefathers had been on the land for centuries with
security of tenure came to be deprived of their livelihood. Many villeins
and small tenants who had become copyholders were deprived of their holdings
by a refusal to admit the heir, or by extortionate fines demanded on
admission.* This was the "gressom" referred to in the demands of the
Pilgrimage of Grace, when it was asked that those who had taken abbey lands
should charge "two years' rent for gressom and no more."
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.
Another fairly common method by which copyholders were deprived of their
holdings was by getting them to accept, or compelling them by force and
threats to accept, short-term leases instead of their copies, and then
evicting them when the leases ran out. There were several cases in the Court
of Requests* dealing with this point. The case of Kent and Other Inhabitants
of Abbots Ripton v. Seyntjohn, 1543-4, is an example of oppression by
the lay transferee of the lands appertaining to the Abbey of Ramsey. The
copyholders were compelled to accept short-term leases instead of their
copies, the steward advising them "to relynquyshe their coppie holdes beynge
allwayes voydable in the law at the wyll of the lord." This was, of course,
bad law, the copyholders' tenure being "at the will of the lord, according
to the custom of the manor," and in interpreting this to mean "at the whim
of the lord," the lord was illegally depriving the copyholders of their
* A court established to deal with poor persons' complaints. See Select Cases, Court of Requests (Selden Society).
Another bad case before this court was that of the Inhabitants of Whitby v. York in 1553. Sir John York was a London merchant who had purchased monastic lands. On taking over, he had increased the rents by 122.48%, and exacted a further sum of £23 15s. 8d. by way of a fine. Both copyholders and leaseholders complain that Sir John had compelled them to give up their leases so that they became mere tenants at will, and they had even been threatened with imprisonment if they refused to accept these terms. It can well be imagined, too, that at this time landlords had many ways of compelling tenants to accept their terms.
2. Cotters and small tenants forcibly dispossessed. Case of the Inhabitants of Burnam
Tenants of customary lands and cotters and serfs who farmed plots on the
demesne and elsewhere, who had neither leases nor copies, were evicted
straight away.* Those whose holdings were too small without some rights of
common or the opportunity to work on the demesne lands would of necessity be
compelled to go when the demesne was enclosed to pasture or the commons
* See Leadam.
Ashley, Econ. Hist.: "Of all forms of inclosure, it was the inclosure of the common fields which most vitally affected the medieval village economy."
A Court of Requests case of 1543, Inhabitants of Burnam (Somersetshire)
v. Richard Ffynes, illustrates how tenants were deprived of their
lands. The petitioning tenants, copyholders and freeholders, recite how they
have enjoyed time out of mind a common known as the "brode warthe,"* and how
from time out of mind several tenants have held small parcels of demesne
lands by copy of court roll with common in the "overland." They continue:
"So it is most gracious soueren lorde that sithe the sayd Richard ffines
hathe sued liuerie owt of your graces handes of the said maner by means of
sinistrie and ill councell entendinge the vtter vndoinge of your said poor
subiectes for a singular lucre and profitte to him selfe and to one or twoe
more at a courte there laitly holden hath not only discharged diverse of
your saied subiectes of their overland granted unto them by the said Edwarde
ffynes his father as shall & may apere by ther seuerall copies but also
hathe taken from your said orators & other his freeholders the said common
called the brode warthe & discharged them of the common in the same. And the
same brode warthe entendithe for his own singular lucre and promt to dike
and enclose & to make seuerall & to graunte & let the same to ferme & holy
to expelle & exclude your pore subiectes their children & posterite from
ther lawfull common in the same contrare to equite & right & conscience."
Cases such as these and many more before the Court of Star Chamber show that
the commons at this time did not submit to a loss of all their rights
without strong protest.
* Water meadow.
See Chapter VIII, par.18 and Chapter IX, par.11
3. Harrison describes the changed estate of the peasant
Harrison,* in his Description of England, in referring to the
enclosure movement, writes: "They speake also of three things that are grown
to be uerie grievous unto them, to wit, the inhansing of rents, latelie
mentioned; the dailie oppression of copiholders, whose lords seeke to bring
their poore tenants almost into plaine servitude and miserie, dailie
devising new meanes, and seeking up all the old, how to cut them shorter and
shorter, doubling, trebling and now and then seven times increasing their
fines; driving them also for everie trifle to loose and forfeit their
tenures, (by whome the greatest part of the realme dooth stand and is
mainteined), to the end they may fleece them yet more, which is a lamentable
hering." And in an interesting passage he throws light on the changed
circumstances of the peasant: "But to leave this lamentable discourse of so
notable (and greevous) an inconvenience, growing (as I said) by incroching
and joining of house to house, and land to land, whereby the inhabitants of
manie places of our countrie are devoured and eaten up and their houses
either altogither pulled down or suffered to decaie by little and little,
although sometime a poore man peradventure dooth dwell in one of them,
who, not being able to repaire it, suffereth it to fall down, and thereto
thinketh himself verie friendlie dealt withall, if he may have an acre of
ground assigned unto him whereon to keepe a cow, or wherein to set cabbages,
radishes, parsneps, carrets, melons, pompons, or such like stuffe, by which
he and his poore householde liveth as by their principall food, sith they
can doo no better. And as for wheaten bread, they eat it when they can reach
unto the price of it, contenting themselves in the meane time with bread
made of otes or barleie; a poore estate Got wot! Howbeit, what care our
great incrochers? But in divers places where rich men dwelled sometime in
good tenements, there be now no houses at all, but hopyards, and sheads for
poles, or peradventure gardens, as we may see in castell Hardingham, and
diverse other Places."
* William Harrison, B.D., Rector of Redwinter and Canon of Windsor, Description of England, 1577-87. Edited by F.J. Furnival.
Chapter XII, p.242.
4. Risings in the west (1548-9)
The reign of Edward VI opened with widespread discontent and risings resulting from enclosures and the rapacity of the lay landlords who had taken over Church estates.
Enclosures in the west seem to have been chiefly to arable, and the rising
in Cornwall in 1548 was for the most part of a religious character, but
"early in 1549 fresh uprisings were taking place in another section of the
south-west, beginning in Wiltshire and Somersetshire and thence spreading
eastward. These seem to have been animated in large measure by hostility to
inclosures of parks and commons, but there are signs in Hampshire, as in the
midland movement, of Papist stirrings."* There is a reference to this rising
in a letter of John Paston of May 25, 1549 to the Earl of Rutland: "Ther ys
a gret number of the commonse uppe abowte Salssebury in Wylleshere and they
have pluckyd downe Sir Wyllyam Harberde's parke that ys abowte hys new
howse, and dyverse other parkysse and commonse that be inclosyd in that
cuntre, but harme they doo too parson (nobody). They saye thay wylie
obaye the Kynges maister and my lord Protector with aile the counselle, but
thay saye thaye wyll not have ther commonse and ther growendes to be
inclosyd and soo taken from them."
* Gay, Trans. R. Hist. Soc, N.S., vol.xviii.
Hist. MSS., Comm. XII, iv, 36, Rutland MSS.
5. Somerset's anti-enclosure proclamation. Loss of common rights causes rising in eastern counties
In 1548 Somerset issued a Proclamation against Enclosures and appointed
Commissioners to inquire into the matter. Shortly after the Commissioners
started on their work there were enclosure riots in Buckinghamshire and
other parts of the country, accompanied by a levelling of fences and
ploughing up of parks, and in Kent 500 villagers levelled the fences of an
enclosure made by the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.*
* Spanish Chron. of Henry VIII, ed. Hume, 169.
In 1549 the eastern counties rose under Robert Ket, a wealthy man who
himself possessed several manors. Somerset, in a letter to the English
Ambassador at the Court of Charles V, said that he was unable to say whether
this rising were due to the dissolution of the monasteries, game preserves,
or enclosures of commons.* But though enclosures were not specifically
mentioned in the rebels' demands, there is little doubt that agrarian
troubles were at the bottom of the rising, for "in the eastern counties the
tenacious opposition to change was directed not to the conservation of the
familiar church ceremonial, but to the perservation of long exercised common
rights." Thomas Lever in 1550 said: "The greatest griefe that hathe been
unto the people in thys realme, has bene the inclosing of the
Sermon in the Shroudes, 1550. Arber reprint, p.39.
6. John Hales' Defence. Difficulties encountered by Commissioners. Government ignored
John Hales, a member of Somerset's Enclosure Commission, gives us some
first-hand information as to the difficulties encountered by the
Commissioners, and incidentally throws considerable light on the results of
Henry VIII's measures against enclosers and the incompleteness of the
figures of the earlier Commission. In his Defence* to the Council, written
from Coventry in September 1549, he says: "They destroye Townes, they pull
downe houses, they enclose poore mens commens and take awaye all ther
lyvynges, and yet the Kynges Majestie and his Councell to refourme the state
of the Realme, to restore it to his parfection, maye vse no alteration.
* Minutes of P.C. and Miscellany, Lansdowne MSS. 238, f.292.
"After that the Kynges Majestic had sent forthe the proclamation and
Commyssion, what dyd they not to hynder it? Somme founde the meanes to have
ther servantes sworne in the Juryes, to thyntent to have them hasarde ther
soules to save ther gredynes. And as I have lernyd syns, it is not possible
in any of the Shires wher we wer, to make a Jurye without them, suche is the
multytude of Reteynours and hangers on.... Somme poore men were thretened to
be put from ther holdes if they presented, somme also as I further lerned
have no certentie of ther holdes which were wonte to be letten by Copie for
lyfes and otherwise for yeares, because they at no tyme nor in nothynge
shulde offende ther land-lordes, but do and saye what soever they will
commaund them.... Somme also were Indicted because they presented the
truthe, and somme were persuaded that thende of the Commyssion shulde but a
monye matter, as it had byn in tyme paste.*
* Cf. Commission of 1517-18; see also Chapter VIII, par.10.
"Somme of the Ritchemen assone as they had the pardon, they retourned to ther olde vomyte, they beganne immedyatlie to enclose, to take awaye the poore mens Commens, and wer more gredie, then they wer before. They thought and some saied, that the Commission was but a storme for a tyme and soon wolde passe over as a great many hoope it will also do nowe."
Hales goes on to refer to the three Bills he sent to Parliament a Parliament of landlords and says it was as if "the lambe had byn commytted to the wolfe to custodie"; and in considering whether the peasants and their supporters were to blame for the risings, he likens Parliament to a physician who does nothing to help a patient, and asks: "Who is the cause of this frenesie and sedition, eyther the syckeman and those that laboureth for the syckman to the physycyan or the physycyan himself?"
7. Strype corroborates Hales
Strype,* writing in 1549, quotes John Hales's Defence and corroborates the
statements therein. He tells how Hales asked the King to pardon the rich
enclosers as well as the poor who had revolted, with what result we know
from Hales himself. He says that enclosures were nothing new, but had been
going on for sixty years. "These were great graziers and sheepmasters, that
ceased tilling the ground and sowing of corn; pulling down houses, and
destroying whole towns, that so they might have the more land for grazing,
and the less charge of poor tenants, who had dependance on them as their
ploughmen and husbandmen. Whereby the poor countrymen being driven to great
poverty, began thus to shew their discontents."
* Memorials Eccles of Edward VI., vol.ii (1), ch.xxi, p.268.
8. Statute of Merton re-enacted. Complaints against enclosures and depopulation continue
Somerset's anti-enclosure proclamation was followed by a re-enactment of the
Statute of Merton. With reference to this re-enactment Gonner says: "The new
statute reads like the definite reassertion of a right, which otherwise
might nave been deemed in suspense owing to Somerset's proclamation."* He
adds that it may be also due "in part to a desire to introduce new arable in
the place of that which had been converted to pasture." There seems little
doubt, however, that approvement was continuing and that the Council of
Landlords wished the statute to be emphasized by a re-enactment.
* Gonner, Common Land and Inclosures, p.51.
FitzHerbert, Surveying, p.20: "The lords have inclosed a great part of the waste grounds."
Latimer frequently denounced the enclosers in his sermons. He described how his father's farm had increased in rent from £3 to £4 per annum to £16, and how, in consequence, the farmer had been reduced to poverty.
One John Higgins* in 1550 was indicted at Hereford for inciting others to
break up enclosures, saying that by the King's proclamation all enclosures
were to be broken up.
* Hist. MSS. Comm. XIII, iv, 317.
In Wyatt's rebellion in 1554 there were some complaints of enclosure of pastures, and from the Midland counties there were frequent complaints of enclosures of open fields causing depopulation.
9. Enclosure to pasture slackens, but enclosures and depopulations continue throughout reign of Elizabeth
It seems probable that towards the end of the sixteenth century enclosing to
pasture slackened off, and enclosures began to consist more of a
consolidation of strips in the open fields and enclosure for arable.*
Pasture was becoming less profitable, and there was a demand for foodstuffs,
and these factors, and a growing movement to improve arable husbandry, would
account for the gradual change in the direction of the enclosure movement.
Enclosures, however, still continued, and there were frequent small
disturbances throughout Elizabeth's reign, and in Oxford during the scarcity
of 1596 there was considerable feeling against enclosers.
* Gonner: "In the sixteenth century... the skilful farmer wishes to be freed from his slovenly or less skilled neighbours. From FitzHerbert on there is a constant succession of writers advocating inclosure from the farming point of view."
Cal. S.P. Dom., Eliz., vol.iv, ff.316, 343, 345.
Harrison, in his Description of England, deplores the progress of
enclosures and the great extent to which tillage has decayed. In 1592, in
order to satisfy the land hunger to some extent, it was enacted that no
labourer's cottage should be erected without 4 acres of land being attached.
In 1576 it was stated by one Alderman Box* that "the fourth part of the
ground that some time was agreeable in this realm to maintain the plough to
breed corn is now in pasture to maintain sheep."
* Lansdowne MSS. CXXXI, 2., f.2.
The preamble to the Act 39 Eliz., cap.2 (1597-8) states: "Since which time
(when the tillage laws were dropped in 1594) there have grown many
more depopulations by turning tillage into pasture than at any time for the
like number of years heretofore"; and in a letter* from Sir Anthony Cope to
Lord Burleigh concerning depopulation we find: "who, being driven out of
their habitations, are forced into the great cities, where, being very
burdensome, they shut their doors against them, suffering them to die in
the streets and highways."
* Lansdowne MSS. CXXXI, 83, f.68.
See Chapter X, par.19.
10. Great decay of tillage since Domesday sixteenth-century writers do not exaggerate
We must now investigate a little more closely the result of the enclosures of the sixteenth century, and see what measures were taken by the Government at various periods to combat the evil results.
It has already been seen that there is strong evidence for the belief that at the time of Domesday there was a very large area of the country under the plough, amounting in several counties to one-half and more of the area of the county. If we do not bear this in mind, but only consider the amount of open-field land in England in the eighteenth century, it might be thought that those writers who bewailed enclosures in the sixteenth century were exaggerating when they spoke of the great decay of tillage. But taking note of the probable area of arable land in the reign of the Conqueror, it becomes evident that these sixteenth-century writers had good cause for deploring the decay of tillage and the turning of arable to pasture. From the time of the Black Death onwards a very large area must have been turned to grass from arable or enclosed from the waste as pastureland. The Inquisition of 1517-18 shows how this was done, and the remarks of John Hales make it clear that the returns made by the two Commissions were incomplete.
Reliable men, therefore, like Sir Thomas More, Fitz-Herbert, Harrison, and John Hales, who spoke from experience and actual observation, do not seem to have been exaggerating when they deplored the widespread decay of tillage, for the decay had, in fact, been widespread, and, as we shall show later, has continued to the present day.
11. The open-field village still predominant, but most accessible land monopolized and communal rights lost
With the exception of Kent and the south-west, the open-field village was still the commonest type at the close of the sixteenth century, and in the seventeenth century it is said that one-third of the country was still open and unenclosed.
Enclosures had not deprived the peasants of access to all the land in
England, nor had all waste land and commons been enclosed, but the movement
had resulted in the enclosure of a large area of common and waste land and
also open arable land. In this way a great proportion of the land, which was
sufficiently accessible to make it worth while to work, had become
monopolized. As has been seen, in bringing this about, common rights, which
were really the communal property in the land, were forcibly extinguished,
and those who in law and equity had a right to remain on their holdings were
evicted. Land-holding had by now become, in fact, practically land owning,
and these communal rights were lost for all time.*
* See par.2 and Chapter VIII, par.18.
12. Natural opportunities for employment artificially restricted, and no alternative employment for dispossessed
When arable land was enclosed and put down to grass, and the waste and
commons were enclosed, a considerable lessening of the opportunities of
employment resulted. When a villein or cotter was evicted or displaced, and
his holding put down to grass or his common enclosed, the opportunities of
employment on that manor were to that extent diminished; but when at the
same time the lord and other freehold or copyhold tenants did the same, and
also took in large stretches of the waste,* the evicted and displaced
tenants found that no other easily accessible land was available, and they
had to leave. The opportunities were, of course, there, as they were before,
but access to them was denied.
* Enclosure of waste to arable gave employment, but deprived community of common rights.
The actual result, then, of the enclosures and consolidations was to deprive
the community, as a whole, permanently of their interest in the land
affected, to put it in the power of a much smaller number of men to say
whether or no there should be access to the land, and to lessen to a very
large extent the opportunities for employment and self-employment. Unless,
therefore, at the same time as these men were driven from the country-side,
there were sufficient jobs available to absorb them in industry,* we should
expect to find widespread unemployment unemployment, that is, in the sense
of able-bodied men unable to find an employer or to get access to land to
* Gonner, p.384: "It is generally admitted that where conversion to pasture takes place to any great extent, there is risk of depopulation unless the loss of employment directly on the land is compensated for in other ways."
13. Advent of landless agricultural labourer. Great increase of beggars savage repression
Ashley* speaks of the agrarian changes as having driven large numbers from
their holdings, and in depriving the cotters and other small tenants of
their land and commons as having laid the foundation for the landless
* Econ. Hist., vol.i, bk. ii, ch.v.: "They deprived great numbers of the agricultural labouring class small customary tenants and cottagers of the means of support in their old places of abode, and sent them wandering over the country."
Eden, State of the Poor: "I admit, however, that... the race of cottagers was going fast to decay."
Unemployed beggars, as has been seen, became a pest and a public danger in
the reign of Henry VIII, and for some time they were all treated alike and
harshly. Henry "strung up rogues apace," and by an Act of 1530 beggars able
to work were to be whipped,* but a further Act of 1535 recited that the Act
of 1530 had made no provision for setting the beggars to work or for giving
relief. A statute of 1531 against vagrancy recites that "Vacabundes and
Beggars have of long tyme increased and dayly do increase in great and
excessyve nombres by the occasyon of ydelnes, mother and rote of all vyces";
and in an Act of 1534 we find "a merveylous multitude and nombre of the
people of this Realme be not able to provyde meate, drynke, and clothes
necessary for theym selfes, theire wyfes, and children, but be so
discouraged with myserye and povertie that they fall dayly to thefte,
robbery, and other inconvenience, or pitifully dye for hunger and colde." In
this recital it seems to be realized that in the case of a great many people
it is not their fault that they are starving.
* Sir T. Moore in Utopia: "Doubtless unless you find a remedy for these enormities, you shall in vain advance yourselves of executing justice upon felons."
22 Henry VIII, cap.12.
25 Henry VIII, cap.13.
There was a savage Act against vagrants in the first year of Edward VI which
was repealed by 3 and 4 Edward VI. But in spite of this and other repressive
legislation, vagrancy continued to increase and to worry the Government; and
while the Government's endeavours to prevent the drain and evictions from
the country-side were unsuccessful, "it was no earthly use for the
legislature to insist merely that all these wandering impostors must work
the difficulty was to find them any work to do."*
14. Vagrancy increases and repression fails
In spite of harsh and repressive measures and imprisonings of vagrants,
unemployment continued and increased throughout the reign of Elizabeth.
Harrison,* writing of the years 1577-87, said: "It is not yet full
threescore years since this trade began, but how it hath prospered since
that time, it is easie to judge, for they are now supposed of one sex and
another, to amount unto above 10,000 persons, as I have heard reported." A
statute of 1572€ punished vagrants, but made some provision for the relief
of "Poore and Impotent."
* Chapter X, p.218.
This seems to be a conservative estimate.
€ 14 Eliz.
The repressive work of the courts, however, seems to have had some temporary effect, for in 1575 Stow writes: "By the care of Fleetwood the Recorder, and the other Magistrates, there were few or no Rogues and Thieves in Gaol." From Strype, however, we learn that "about the year 1593, and before, the City, as well as other Parts of the Kingdom, was grievously pestered with Beggars; and they many of them poor disbanded soldiers, become poor and maimed by the wars in the Low Countries, and with Spain; and many more that pretended themselves to be so who committed many Robberies and Outrages." A letter written to the Lord Treasurer in 1596 by a Somersetshire Justice of the Peace refers to large numbers of lazy vagrants and robbers.
In Hales's pamphlet, published in 1581, which consists of a dialogue between a husbandman, a manufacturer, a merchant, a knight, and a doctor, the husbandman complains "that arable land is enclosed and turned into pasture, that rents are raised and labour unemployed."
15. Statute of Apprentices Justices to regulate wages. Wages fall
Gonner speaks of town labour, which "tended to withdraw people from agricultural labour," but the towns held out no great attractions at this period, and we have already seen that the withdrawing from agricultural labour was chiefly compulsory. There is little doubt either that the clauses of the Statute of Apprentices, 1563, seeking to compel workers to assist in harvesting, etc., were not inserted by reason of any shortage of labour, for the evidence is abundant that there was great unemployment at this time, but merely copied those statutes which had previously ordered the unemployed to obtain work.
The preamble* to this Act deplored the current low wages and high prices,
and to remedy this state of affairs justices were to limit and appoint the
wages for every kind of manual labour. But as those appointed to assess the
wages were usually those interested in keeping wages down, and as there was
a surplus of unemployed labour, wages fell.
* Chiefly for that the wages and allowances limited and rated in many of the said Statutes are in divers places too small and not answerable to this time respecting the advancement of prices of all things, belonging to the said servants and labourers."
16. Government tackles the pauper problem. Poor Law Act, 1601
The army of unemployed, which had been steadily growing, finally brought
about the great Poor Law Act of 1601.* This statute continued punishments
for those who would not work, but provided relief for the sick and impotent
poor and work for the genuine unemployed. In order to administer this
comprehensive scheme, the Act provided for the levying of rates on
parishioners for the upkeep of the poor and the workhouses. Thus we see that
the State, having countenanced a policy which drove peasants off the land
and caused unemployment, was compelled to levy rates on householders to
maintain the unemployed, to "make work" for them because they had been
denied access to the natural opportunities for employment. As has been well
said, the pauper was to be "quartered on the occupier."
* 43 Eliz., cap.3.
17. Harrison deplores increase of game and parks. Enclosures have filled land with beggars
Harrison gives a striking account of the increase of coney warrens, game
preserves and parks during Elizabeth's reign, and also of the destruction of
houses of which he speaks of his own experience: "Where in times past, manie
large and wealthie occupiers were dwelling within the compasse of some one
parke, and thereby great plentie of corne and cattell seene, and to be had
among them, beside a more copious procreation of humane issue, whereby the
realme was alwaies better furnished with able men to serve the prince in his
affaires; now there is almost nothing kept but a sort of wild and savage
beasts, cherished for pleasure and delight; and yet some owner, still
desirous to inlarge those grounds, [as either for the breed and feeding of
cattell,] doo not let dailie to take in more, [not sparing the verie commons
wherupon manie townships now and then doo live] affirming that we have
alreadie too great store of people in England; and that youth by marrieng
too soone doo nothing profit the countrie, but fill it full of beggars, [to
the hurt and utter undoing (they saie) of the commonwealth]. Certes, if it
be not one curse of the Lord, to have our countrie converted in such sort,
from the furniture of mankind into the walks and shrowds of wild beasts, I
know not what is anie. How manie families also these great and small games
(for so most keepers call them) have eaten up, and are likelie hereafter to
devoure, some men may conjecture, but manie more lament, sith there is no
hope of restraint to be looked for in this behalf, [because the corruption
is so generall]. But if a man may presentlie give a ghesse... he shall saie
at the last, that the twentith part of the realme is imploied upon deere and
conies alreadie, which seemeth verie much, if it be dulie considered
* Harrison, ch.xix, 306-7.
18. No question of over-population until enclosure movement. Access to the land denied
It is interesting to note how Harrison refers to those who think that
over-population is the cause of the poverty and unemployment,* and one would
imagine from what he says that he had a shrewd idea as to the cause of the
unemployment namely, the enclosure movement and evictions from the
country-side. His statements might be compared with the pessimistic writings
of a parson of a later generation and the utterances of a certain Dean of
our own times.
* "Some also doo grudge at the great increase of people in these days, thinking a necessarie brood of cattell farre better than a superfluous augmentation of mankind... But if it should come to passe that any forren invasion should be mayde... then should these men find that a wall of men is farre bettr than stackes of com and bags of monie"
There does not seem to have been any talk of over-population before the enclosure movement started, but as soon as the unemployed appeared and the beggars came to town there have always been those ready to argue that if these unemployed had not been born there would have been no unemployed. The fallacy here can be readily appreciated when we know that these men were driven from the land where they had employment, that the natural opportunities which once afforded them employment still existed, and that they could have been employed again had they, or even some of them, been able to get back there.
19. Thorold Rogers and cause of sixteenth-century poverty. Pauperism before debasement of coinage. Regulation of wages inoperative until assisted by economic force
Thorold Rogers* attributes the misery and poverty in the sixteenth century
to (1) the issue of base money by Henry VIII in 1543; (2) the confiscation
of the guild funds; and (3) the regulation of wages by justices, which was
first begun by the statute 5 Eliz., cap.4. Writing of this act, he says:
"This expedient was at last successful, and was the third in the set of
causes from which pauperism was the inevitable effect.... Had, however, the
first two acts to which I have so often referred not been committed, the
third would have, I am persuaded, been nugatory. It was nothing more than
had been enacted in the reign of Henry IV, and had been wholly inoperative,
at any rate in the direction which it was intended to take the reduction
of agricultural wages for these, as we have seen, improve after the
* Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.353.
Statute of Labourers.
Rogers here seems to lose sight of the reason why the Statute of Labourers was inoperative namely, because there was nothing in the way of labour's access to the land, and opportunities for employment far exceeded the supply of labour. Had he remembered this, he might have seen that, even had there been no debasement of the coinage and no confiscation of guild funds, the economic force of a surplus of workers seeking employment, where the opportunities of employment have been artificially restricted, would of itself cause low wages. Given two men after one job and no alternative employment, it will not be necessary to look to any statute to see why the wages of the one employed are low or why the other is unemployed. And if the pauperism of the sixteenth century was due to these three causes, it may be asked what it was that caused the pauperism and unemployment in the reign of Henry VII and early years of the sixteenth century, before the coinage was debased or the guild funds confiscated?
20. Debasement of coinage in earlier period did not cause high prices and unemployment. Elizabeth reforms the currency
Without denying that the debasement of the coinage and confiscation of
benefit funds would cause hardship, it is difficult to see how they could
have caused unemployment if access to the land had remained unrestricted. It
is, too, a curious fact that there had been a previous debasement of the
coinage, which, according to Rogers,* was followed by no bad results. He
admits that he can only explain this on the ground that payments were made
by weight and not by tale, and, writing of the debasement of 1543, he says:
"Whether payments were made by weight or not before the debasement, they
were certainly made by tale speedily afterwards, and when Elizabeth reformed
the currency, the new system, to her evident disappointment, was permanently
* P.341: "It has been stated before that at various periods of English history the English sovereigns lessened the weight of the unit, the silver penny, tiil, in the year 1464, the penny of Edward IV was almost exactly half the weight of the Penny of Edward I. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding these successive diminutions, no effect is traceable in the price of commodities, and no discontent is expressed at the action of the Crown. If anything, after the last change, commodities became cheaper."
Elizabeth reformed the currency* in 1560, and referring to this Rogers says:
"Its nominal value is said to have been a little more than £638,000, which
gives an additional illustration to my theory that payments were made by
weight and not by tale. The actual amount of sterling silver contained in
the mixture was 244,416 lb.... Elizabeth coined £733,248 in the new coinage
out of the silver she refined." If, as Rogers says, payments were formerly
made by weight, this certainly supports his view, and would also seem to
show that payments were still being made by weight in 1560; so that if this
is so, there is no reason why the debasement of 1547 should have been any
more harmful than that of Edward IV.
* The average debasement was 60%, or a little more than 7 oz. in 12 (Rogers).
As Rogers said: "Henry and his son had at last, though unwittingly, given effect to the Statute of Labourers," but it was the enclosure movement that had made it possible for them to do this.