A Short History of English Agriculture
by W. H. R. Curtler
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'A husbandman', said Markham, 'is the master of the earth, turning barrenness into fruitfulness, whereby all commonwealths are maintained and upheld. His labour giveth liberty to all vocations, arts, and trades to follow their several functions with peace and industrie. What can we say in this world is profitable where husbandry is wanting, it being the great nerve and sinew which holdeth together all the joints of a monarchy?' And he is confirmed by Young: 'Agriculture is, beyond all doubt, the foundation of every other art, business, and profession, and it has therefore been the ideal policy of every wise and prudent people to encourage it to the utmost.' Yet of this important industry, still the greatest in England, there is no history covering the whole period.

It is to remedy this defect that this book is offered, with much diffidence, and with many thanks to Mr. C.R.L. Fletcher of Magdalen College, Oxford, for his valuable assistance in revising the proof sheets, and to the Rev. A.H. Johnson of All Souls for some very useful information.

As the agriculture of the Middle Ages has often been ably described, I have devoted the greater part of this work to the agricultural history of the subsequent period, especially the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.


May 22, 1909.



Communistic Farming.—Growth of the Manor.—Early Prices.—The Organization and Agriculture of the Manor


The Thirteenth Century.—The Manor at its Zenith, with Seeds of Decay already visible.—Walter of Henley


The Fourteenth Century.—Decline of Agriculture.—The Black Death.— Statute of Labourers


How the Classes connected with the Land lived in the Middle Ages


The Break-up of the Manor.—Spread of Leases.—The Peasants' Revolt.—Further Attempts to regulate Wages.—A Harvest Home.—Beginning of the Corn Laws.—Some Surrey Manors


1400-1540. The so-called 'Golden Age of the Labourer' in a Period of General Distress




Fitzherbert.—The Regulation of Hours and Wages


1540-1600. Progress at last—Hop-growing.—Progress of Enclosure.— Harrison's Description


1540-1600. Live Stock.—Flax.—Saffron.—The Potato.—The Assessment of Wages


1600-1700. Clover and Turnips.—Great Rise in Prices.—More Enclosure.—A Farming Calendar


The Great Agricultural Writers of the Seventeenth Century.—Fruit-growing. —A Seventeenth-century Orchard


The Evils of Common Fields.—Hops.—Implements.—Manures.—Gregory King.—Corn Laws


1700-65. General Characteristics of the Eighteenth Century.—Crops. —Cattle.—Dairying.—Poultry.—Tull and the New Husbandry.—Bad Times.—Fruit-growing


1700-65. Townshend.—Sheep-rot.—Cattle Plague.—Fruit-growing


1765-93. Arthur Young.—Crops and their Cost.—The Labourers' Wages and Diet.—The Prosperity of Farmers.—The Country Squire.—Elkington.—Bakewell.—The Roads.—Coke of Holkham


1793-1815. The Great French War.—The Board of Agriculture.—High Prices, and Heavy Taxation


Enclosure.—The Small Owner


1816-37. Depression


1837-75. Revival of Agriculture.—The Royal Agricultural Society.—Corn Law Repeal.—A Temporary Set-back.—The Halcyon Days


1875-1908. Agricultural Distress again.—Foreign Competition.— Agricultural Holdings Act.—New Implements.—Agricultural Commissions.—The Situation in 1908


Imports and Exports.—Live Stock


Modern Farm Live Stock


I. Average Prices from 1259 to 1700

II. Exports and Imports of Wheat and Flour from and into England, unimportant years omitted

III. Average Prices per Imperial Quarter of British Corn in England and Wales, in each year from 1771 to 1907 inclusive

IV. Miscellaneous Information


1086. Domesday inquest, most cultivated land in tillage. Annual value of land about 2d. an acre.

1216-72. Henry III. Assize of Bread and Ale.

1272-1307. Edward I. General progress. Walter of Henley.

1307. Edward II. Decline.

1315. Great famine.

1337. Export of wool prohibited.

1348-9. Black Death. Heavy blow to manorial system. Many demesne lands let, and much land laid down to grass.

1351. Statute of Labourers.

1360. Export of corn forbidden.

1381. Villeins' revolt.

1393. Richard II allows export of corn under certain conditions.

1463. Import of wheat under 6s. 8d. prohibited.

End of fifteenth century. Increase of enclosure.

1523. Fitzherbert's Surveying and Husbandry.

1540. General rise in prices and rents begins.

1549. Kett's rebellion. The last attempt of the English peasant to obtain redress by force.

1586. Potatoes introduced.

1601. Poor Law Act of Elizabeth.

1645. Turnips and clover introduced as field crops.

1662. Statute of Parochial Settlement.

1664. Importation of cattle, sheep, and swine forbidden.

1688. Bounty of 5s. per quarter on export of wheat, and high duty on import.

1733. Tull publishes his Horse-hoeing Husbandry.

1739. Great sheep-rot.

1750. Exports of corn reached their maximum.

1760. Bakewell began experimenting.

1760 (about). Industrial and agrarian revolution, and great increase of enclosure.

1764. Elkington's new drainage system.

1773. Wheat allowed to be imported at a nominal duty of 6d. a quarter when over 48s.

1777. Bath and West of England Society established, the first in England.

1789. England definitely becomes a corn-importing country.

1793. Board of Agriculture established.

1795. Speenhamland Act.

About same date swedes first grown.

1815. Duty on wheat reached its maximum.

1815-35. Agricultural distress.

1825. Export of wool allowed.

1835. Smith of Deanston, the father of modern drainage.

1838. Foundation of Royal Agricultural Society.

1846. Repeal of the Corn Laws.

1855-75. Great agricultural prosperity.

1875. English agriculture feels the full effect of unrestricted competition with disastrous results.

" First Agricultural Holdings Act.

1879-80. Excessive rainfall, sheep-rot, and general distress.



When the early bands of English invaders came over to take Britain from its Celtic owners, it is almost certain that the soil was held by groups and not by individuals, and as this was the practice of the conquerors also they readily fell in with the system they found.[1] These English, unlike their descendants of to day, were a race of countrymen and farmers and detested the towns, preferring the lands of the Britons to the towns of the Romans. Co-operation in agriculture was necessary because to each household were allotted separate strips of land, nearly equal in size, in each field set apart for tillage, and a share in the meadow and waste land. The strips of arable were unfenced and ploughed by common teams, to which each family would contribute.

Apparently, as the land was cleared and broken up it was dealt out acre by acre to each cultivator; and supposing each group consisted of ten families, the typical holding of 120 acres was assigned to each family in acre strips, and these strips were not all contiguous but mixed up with those of other families. The reason for this mixture of strips is obvious to any one who knows how land even in the same field varies in quality; it was to give each family its share of both good and bad land, for the householders were all equal and the principle on which the original distribution of the land depended was that of equalizing the shares of the different members of the community.[2]

In attributing ownership of lands to communities we must be careful not to confound communities with corporations. Maitland thinks the early land-owning communities blended the character of corporations and of co-owners, and co-ownership is ownership by individuals.[3] The vills or villages founded on their arrival in Britain by our English forefathers resembled those they left at home, and even there the strips into which the arable fields were divided were owned in severalty by the householders of the village. There was co-operation in working the fields but no communistic division of the crops, and the individual's hold upon his strips developed rapidly into an inheritable and partible ownership. 'At the opening of Anglo-Saxon history absolute ownership of land in severalty was established and becoming the rule.'[4]

In the management of the meadow land communal features were much more clearly brought out; the arable was not reallotted,[5] but the meadow was, annually; while the woods and pastures, the right of using which belonged to the householders of the village, were owned by the village 'community'. There may have been at the time of the English conquest Roman 'villas' with slaves and coloni cultivating the owners' demesnes, which passed bodily to the new masters; but the former theory seems true of the greater part of the country.

At first 'extensive' cultivation was practised; that is, every year a fresh arable field was broken up and the one cultivated last year abandoned, for a time at all events; but gradually 'intensive' culture superseded this, probably not till after the English had conquered the land, and the same field was cultivated year after year.[6] After the various families or households had finished cutting the grass in their allotted portions of meadow, and the corn on their strips of tillage, both grass and stubble became common land and were thrown open for the whole community to turn their stock upon.

The size of the strips of land in the arable fields varied, but was generally an acre, in most places a furlong (furrow long) or 220 yards in length, and 22 yards broad; or in other words, 40 rods of 5-1/2 yards in length and 4 in breadth. There was, however, little uniformity in measurement before the Norman Conquest, the rod by which the furlongs and acres were measured varying in length from 12 to 24 feet, so that one acre might be four times as large as another.[7] The acre was, roughly speaking, the amount that a team could plough in a day, and seems to have been from early times the unit of measuring the area of land.[8] Of necessity the real acre and the ideal acre were also different, for the reason that the former had to contend with the inequalities of the earth's surface and varied much when no scientific measurement was possible. As late as 1820 the acre was of many different sizes in England. In Bedfordshire it was 2 roods, in Dorset 134 perches instead of 160, in Lincolnshire 5 roods, in Staffordshire 2-1/4 acres. To-day the Cheshire acre is 10,240 square yards. As, however, an acre was and is a day's ploughing for a team, we may assume that the most usual acre was the same area then as now. There were also half-acre strips, but whatever the size the strips were divided one from another by narrow grass paths generally called 'balks', and at the end of a group of these strips was the 'headland' where the plough turned, the name being common to-day. Many of these common fields remained until well on in the nineteenth century; in 1815 half the county of Huntingdon was in this condition, and a few still exist.[9] Cultivating the same field year after year naturally exhausted the soil, so that the two-field system came in, under which one was cultivated and the other left fallow; and this was followed by the three-field system, by which two were cropped in any one year and one lay fallow, the last-named becoming general as it yielded better results, though the former continued, especially in the North. Under the three-field plan the husbandman early in the autumn would plough the field that had been lying fallow during summer, and sow wheat or rye; in the spring he broke up the stubble of the field on which the last wheat crop had been grown and sowed barley or oats; in June he ploughed up the stubble of the last spring crop and fallowed the field.[10] As soon as the crops began to grow in the arable fields and the grass in the meadows to spring, they were carefully fenced to prevent trespass of man and beast; and, as soon as the crops came off, the fields became common for all the village to turn their stock upon, the arable fields being usually common from Lammas (August 1) to Candlemas (February 2) and the meadows from July 6, old Midsummer Day, to Candlemas[11]; but as in this climate the season both of hay and corn harvest varies considerably, these dates cannot have been fixed.

The stock, therefore, besides the common pasture, had after harvest the grazing of the common arable fields and of the meadows. The common pasture was early 'stinted' or limited, the usual custom being that the villager could turn out as many stock as he could keep on his holding. The trouble of pulling up and taking down these fences every year must have been enormous, and we find legislation on this important matter at an early date. About 700 the laws of Ine, King of Wessex, provided that if 'churls have a common meadow or other partible land to fence, and some have fenced their part and some have not, and cattle stray in and eat up their common corn or grass; let those go who own the gap and compensate to the others who have fenced their part the damage which then may be done, and let them demand such justice on the cattle as may be right. But if there be a beast which breaks hedges and goes in everywhere, and he who owns it will not or cannot restrain it, let him who finds it in his field take it and slay it, and let the owner take its skin and flesh and forfeit the rest.'

England was not given over to one particular type of settlement, although villages were more common than hamlets in the greater part of the country.[12] The vill or village answers to the modern civil parish, and the term may be applied to both the true or 'nucleated' village of clustered houses and the village of scattered hamlets, each of a few houses, existing chiefly on the Celtic fringe. The population of some of the villages at the time of the Norman Conquest was numerous, 100 households or 500 people; but the average townships contained from 10 to 20 households.[13] There was also the single farm, such as that at Eardisley in Herefordshire, described in Domesday, lying in the middle of a forest, perhaps, as in other similar cases, a pioneer settlement of some one more adventurous than his fellows.[14]

* * * * *

Such was the early village community in England, a community of free landholders. But a change began early to come over it.[15] The king would grant to a church all the rights he had in the village, reserving only the trinoda necessitas, these rights including the feorm or farm, or provender rent which the king derived from the land—of cattle, sheep, swine, ale, honey, &c.—which he collected by visiting his villages, thus literally eating his rents. The churchmen did not continue these visits, they remained in their monasteries, and had the feorm brought them regularly; they had an overseer in the village to see to this, and so they tightened their hold on the village. Then the smaller people, the peasants, make gifts to the Church. They give their land, but they also want to keep it, for it is their livelihood; so they surrender the land and take it back as a lifelong loan. Probably on the death of the donor his heirs are suffered to hold the land. Then labour services are substituted for the old provender rents, and thus the Church acquires a demesne, and thus the foundations of the manorial system, still to be traced all over the country, were laid. Thegns, the predecessors of the Norman barons, become the recipients of grants from the churches and from kings, and householders 'commend' themselves and their land to them also, so that they acquired demesnes. This 'commendation' was furthered by the fact that during the long-drawn out conquest of Britain the old kindred groups of the English lost their corporate sense, and the central power being too weak to protect the ordinary householder, who could not stand alone, he had to seek the protection of an ecclesiastical corporation or of some thegn, first for himself and then for his land. The jurisdictional rights of the king also passed to the lord, whether church or thegn; then came the danegeld, the tax for buying off the Danes that subsequently became a fixed land tax, which was collected from the lord, as the peasants were too poor for the State to deal with them; the lord paid the geld for their land, consequently their land was his. In this way the free ceorl of Anglo-Saxon times gradually becomes the 'villanus' of Domesday. Landlordship was well established in the two centuries before the Conquest, and the land of England more or less 'carved into territorial lordships'.[16] Therefore when the Normans brought their wonderful genius for organization to this country they found the material conditions of manorial life in full growth; it was their task to develop its legal and economic side.[17]

As the manorial system thus superimposed upon the village community was the basis of English rural economy for centuries, there need be no apology for describing it at some length.

The term 'manor', which came in with the Conquest,[18] has a technical meaning in Domesday, referring to the system of taxation, and did not always coincide with the vill or village, though it commonly did so, except in the eastern portion of England. The village was the agrarian unit, the manor the fiscal unit; so that where the manor comprised more than one village, as was frequently the case, there would be more than one village organization for working the common fields.[19]

The manor then was the 'constitutive cell' of English mediaeval society.[20] The structure is always the same; under the headship of the lord we find two layers of population, the villeins and the freeholders; and the territory is divided into demesne land and tributary land of two classes, viz. that of the villeins and that of the freeholders. The cultivation of the demesne (which usually means the land directly occupied and cultivated by the lord, though legally it has a wider meaning and includes the villein tenements), depends to a certain extent on the work supplied by the tenants of the tributary land. Rents are collected, labour superintended, administrative business transacted by a set of manorial officers.

We may divide the tillers of the soil at the time of Domesday into five great classes[21] in order of dignity and freedom:

1. Liberi homines, or freemen. 2. Socmen. 3. Villeins. 4. Bordarii, cotarii, buri or coliberti. 5. Slaves.

The two first of these classes were to be found in large numbers in Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire. It is not easy to draw the line between them, but the chief distinction lay in the latter being more burdened with service and customary dues and more especially subject to the jurisdictional authority of the lord.[22] They were both free, but both rendered services to the lord for their land. Both the freemen and the slaves by 1086 were rapidly decreasing in number.

The most numerous class[23] on the manors was the third, that of the villeins or non-free tenants, who held their land by payment of services to the lord. The position of the villein under the feudal system is most complicated. He both was and was not a freeman. He was absolutely at the disposal of the lord, who could sell him with his tenement, and he could not leave his land without his lord's permission. He laboured under many disabilities, such as the merchet or fine for marrying his daughter, and fines for selling horse or ox. On the other hand, he was free against every one but his lord, and even against the lord was protected from the forfeiture of his 'wainage' or instruments of labour and from injury to life and limb.[24]

His usual holding was a virgate of 30 acres of arable, though the virgate differed in size even in the same manors; but in addition to this he would have his meadow land and his share in the common pasture and wood, altogether about 100 acres of land. For this he rendered the following services to the lord of the manor:

1. Week work, or labour on the lord's demesne for two or three days a week during most of the year, and four or five days in summer. It was not always the villein himself, however, who rendered these services, he might send his son or even a hired labourer; and it was the holding and not the holder that was considered primarily responsible for the rendering of services.[25]

2. Precarii or boon days: that is, work generally during harvest, at the lord's request, sometimes instead of week work, sometimes in addition.

3. Gafol or tribute: fixed payments in money or kind, and such services as 'fold soke', which forced the tenants' sheep to lie on the lord's land for the sake of the manure; and suit of mill, by which the tenant was bound to grind his corn in the lord's mill.

With regard to the 'boon days' in harvest, it should be remembered that harvest time in the Middle Ages was a most important event. Agriculture was the great industry, and when the corn was ripe the whole village turned out to gather it, the only exceptions being the housewives and sometimes the marriageable daughters. Even the larger towns suspended work that the townsmen might assist in the harvest, and our long vacation was probably intended originally to cover the whole work of gathering in the corn and hay. On the occasion of the 'boon-day' work, the lord usually found food for the labourers which, the Inquisition of Ardley[26] tells us, might be of the following description: for two men, porridge of beans and peas and two loaves, one white, the other of 'mixtil' bread; that is, wheat, barley, and rye mixed together, with a piece of meat, and beer for their first meal. Then in the evening they had a small loaf of mixtil bread and two 'lescas' of cheese. While harvest work was going on the better-off tenants, usually the free ones, were sometimes employed to ride about, rod in hand, superintending the others.

The services of the villeins were often very comprehensive, and even included such tasks as preparing the lord's bath; but on some manors their services were very light.[27] When the third of the above obligations, the gafol or tribute, was paid in kind it was most commonly made in corn; and next came honey, one of the most important articles of the Middle Ages, as it was used for both lighting and sweetening purposes. Ale was also common, and poultry and eggs, and sometimes the material for implements.

These obligations were imposed for the most part on free and unfree tenants alike, though those of the free were much lighter than those of the unfree; the chief difference between the two, as far as tenure of the land went, lay in the fact that the former could exercise proprietary rights over his holding more or less freely, the latter had none.[28] It seems very curious to the modern mind that the villein, a man who farmed about 100 acres of land, should have been in such a servile condition.

The amount of work due from each villein came to be fixed by the extent or survey of the manor, but the quality of it was not[29]; that is, each one knew how many days he had to work, but not whether he was to plough, sow, or harrow, &c. It is surprising to find, that on the festival days of the Church, which were very numerous and observed as holy days, the lord lost by no work being done, and the same was the case in wet weather.

One of the most important duties of the tenant was the 'averagium', or duty of carrying for the lord, especially necessary when his manors were often a long way apart. He would often have to carry corn to the nearest town for sale, the products of one manor to another, also to haul manure on to the demesne. If he owned neither horse nor ox, he would sometimes have to use his own back.[30]

The holding of the villein did not admit of partition by sale or descent, it remained undivided and entire. When the holder died all the land went to one of the sons if there were several, often to the youngest. The others sought work on the manor as craftsmen or labourers, or remained on the family plot. The holding therefore might contain more than one family, but to the lord remained one and undivided.[31]

In the fourth class came the bordarii, the cotarii, and the coliberti or buri; or, as we should say, the crofters, the cottagers, and the boors.

The bordarii numbered 82,600 in Domesday, and were subject to the same kind of services as the villeins, but the amount of the service was considerably less.[32] Their usual holding was 5 acres, and they are very often found on the demesne of the manor, evidently in this case labourers on the demesne, settled in cottages and provided with a bit of land of their own. The name failed to take root in this country, and the bordarii seem to become villeins or cottiers.[33]

The cotarii, cottiers or cottagers, were 6,800 in number, with small pieces of land sometimes reaching 5 acres.[34] Distinctly inferior to the villeins, bordarii, and cottars, but distinctly superior to the slaves, were the buri or coliberti who, with the bordars and cottars, would form a reserve of labour to supplement the ordinary working days at times when work was pressing, as in hay time and harvest. At the bottom of the social ladder in Domesday came the slaves, some 25,000 in number, who in the main had no legal rights, a class which had apparently already diminished and was diminishing in numbers, so that for the cultivation of the demesne the lord was coming to rely more on the labour of his tenants, and consequently the labour services of the villeins were being augmented.[35] The agricultural labourer as we understand him, a landless man working solely for wages in cash, was almost unknown.

All the arrangements of the manor aimed at supplying labour for the cultivation of the lord's demesne, and he had three chief officers to superintend it:

1. The seneschal, who answers to our modern steward or land agent, and where there were several manors supervised all of them. He attended to the legal business and held the manor courts. It was his duty to be acquainted with every particular of the manor, its cultivation, extent, number of teams, condition of the stock, &c. He was also the legal adviser of his lord; in fact, very much like his modern successor.

2. The bailiff for each manor, who collected rents, went to market to buy and sell, surveyed the timber, superintended the ploughing, mowing, reaping, &c., that were due as services from the tenants on the lord's demesne; and according to Fleta he was to prevent their 'casting off before the work was done', and to measure it when done.[36] And considering that those he superintended were not paid for their work, but rendering more or less unwelcome services, his task could not have been easy.

3. The praepositus or reeve, an office obligatory on every holder of a certain small quantity of land; a sort of foreman nominated from among the villeins, and to a certain extent representing their interests. His duties were supplementary to those of the bailiff: he looked after all the live and dead stock of the manor, saw to the manuring of the land, kept a tally of the day's work, had charge of the granary, and delivered therefrom corn to be baked and malt to be brewed.[37] Besides these three officers, on a large estate there would be a messor who took charge of the harvest, and many lesser officers, such as those of the akermanni, or leaders of the unwieldy plough teams; oxherds, shepherds, and swineherds to tend cattle, sheep, and pigs when they were turned on the common fields or wandered in the waste; also wardens of the woods and fences, often paid by a share in the profits connected with their charge; for instance, the swineherd of Glastonbury Abbey received a sucking-pig a year, the interior parts of the best pig, and the tails of all the others slaughtered.[38] On the great estates these offices tended to become hereditary, and many families did treat them as hereditary property, and were a great nuisance in consequence to their lords. At Glastonbury we find the chief shepherd so important a person that he was party to an agreement concerning a considerable quantity of land.[39] There were also on some manors 'cadaveratores', whose duty was to look into and report on the losses of cattle and sheep from murrain, a melancholy tale of the unhealthy conditions of agriculture.

The supervision of the tenants was often incessant and minute. According to the Court Rolls of the Manor of Manydown in Hampshire, tenants were brought to book for all kinds of transgressions. The fines are so numerous that it almost appears that every person on the estate was amerced from time to time. In 1365 seven tenants were convicted of having pigs in their lord's crops, one let his horse run in the growing corn, two had cattle among the peas, four had cattle on the lord's pasture, three had made default in rent or service, four were convicted of assault, nine broke the assize of beer, two had failed to repair their houses or buildings. In all thirty-four were in trouble out of a population of some sixty families. The account is eloquent of the irritating restrictions of the manor, and of the inconveniences of common farming.[40]

It is impossible to compare the receipts of the lord of the manor at this period with modern rents, or the position of the villein with the agricultural labourer; it may be said that the lord received a labour rent for the villein's holding, or that the villein received his holding as wages for the services done for the lord,[41] and part of the return due to the lord was for the use of the oxen with which he had stocked the villein's holding.

Though in 1066 there were many free villages, yet by the time of Domesday they were fast disappearing and there were manors everywhere, usually coinciding with the village which we may picture to ourselves as self-sufficing estates, often isolated by stretches of dense woodland and moor from one another, and making each veritably a little world in itself. At the same time it is evident from the extent of arable land described in Domesday that many manors were not greatly isolated, and pasture ground was often common to two or more villages.[42]

If we picture to ourselves the typical manor, we shall see a large part of the lord's demesne forming a compact area within which stood his house; this being in addition to the lord's strips in the open fields intermixed with those of his tenants. The mansion house was usually a very simple affair, built of wood and consisting chiefly of a hall; which even as late as the seventeenth century in some cases served as kitchen, dining room, parlour, and sleeping room for the men; and one or two other rooms.[43] It is probable that in early times the thegns possessed in most cases only one manor apiece,[44] so that the manor house was then nearly always inhabited by the lord, but after the Conquest, when manors were bestowed by scores and even hundreds by William on his successful soldiers, many of them can only have acted as the temporary lodging of the lord when he came to collect his rent, or as the house of the bailiff. According to the Gerefa, written about 1000—and there was very little alteration for a long time afterwards—the mansion was adjacent to a court or yard which the quadrangular homestead surrounded with its barns, horse and cattle stalls, sheep pens and fowlhouse. Within this court were ovens, kilns, salt-house, and malt-house, and perhaps the hayricks and wood piles. Outside and surrounding the homestead were the enclosed arable and grass fields of the portion of the demesne which may be called the home farm, a kitchen garden, and probably a vineyard, then common in England. The garden of the manor house would not have a large variety of vegetables; some onions, leeks, mustard, peas, perhaps cabbage; and apples, pears, cherries, probably damsons, plums,[45] strawberries, peaches, quinces, and mulberries. Not far off was the village or town of the tenants, the houses all clustering close together, each house standing in a toft or yard with some buildings, and built of wood, turf, clay, or wattles, with only one room which the tenant shared with his live stock, as in parts of Ireland to-day. Indeed, in some parts of Yorkshire at the beginning of the nineteenth century this primitive simplicity still prevailed, live stock were still kept in the house, the floors were of clay, and the family slept in boxes round the solitary room. Examples of farmhouses clustered together at some distance from their respective holdings still survive, though generally built of stone. Next the village, though not always, for they were sometimes at a distance by the banks of a stream, were the meadows, and right round stretched the three open arable fields, beyond which was the common pasture and wood,[46] and, encircling all, heath, forest, and swamp, often cutting off the manor from the rest of the world.

The basis of the whole scheme of measurement in Domesday was the hide, usually of 120 acres, the amount of land that could be ploughed by a team of 8 oxen in a year; a quarter of this was the virgate, an eighth the bovate, which would therefore supply one ox to the common team. These teams, however, varied; on the manors of S. Paul's Cathedral in 1222 they were sometimes composed of horses and oxen, or of 6 horses only, sometimes 10 oxen.[47]

The farming year began at Michaelmas when, in addition to the sowing of wheat and rye, the cattle were carefully stalled and fed only on hay and straw, for roots were in the distant future, and the corn was threshed with the flail and winnowed by hand. In the spring, after the ploughing of the second arable field, the vineyard, where there was one, was set out, and the open ditches, apparently the only drainage then known, cleansed. In May it was time to set up the temporary fences round the meadows and arable fields, and to begin fallowing the third field.

A valuable document, describing the duties of a reeve, gives many interesting details of eleventh-century farming:—

'In May, June, and July one may harrow, carry out manure, set up sheep hurdles, shear sheep, do repairs, hedge, cut wood, weed, and make folds. In harvest one may reap; in August, September, and in October one may mow, set woad with a dibble, gather home many crops, thatch them and cover them over, cleanse the folds, prepare cattle sheds and shelters ere too severe a winter come to the farm, and also diligently prepare the soil. In winter one should plough and in severe frosts cleave timber, make an orchard, and do many affairs indoors, thresh, cleave wood, put the cattle in stalls and the swine in pigstyes, and provide a hen roost. In spring one should plough and graft, sow beans, set a vineyard, make ditches, hew wood for a wild deer fence; and soon after that, if the weather permit, set madder, sow flax seed and woad seed, plant a garden and do many things which I cannot fully enumerate that a good steward ought to provide.'[48]

The methods of cultivation were simple. The plough, if we may judge by contemporary illustrations, had in the eleventh century a large wheel and very short handles.[49] In the twelfth century Neckham describes its parts: a beam, handles, tongue, mouldboard, coulter, and share.[50] Breaking up the clods was done by the mattock or beetle, and harrowing was done by hand with what looks like a large rake; the scythes of the haymakers and the sickles of the reapers were very like those that still linger on in some districts to-day.

Here is a list of tools and implements for the homestead: an axe, adze, bill, awl, plane, saw, spokeshave, tie hook, auger, mattock, lever, share, coulter, goad-iron, scythe, sickle, weed-hook, spade, shovel, woad dibble, barrow, besom, beetle, rake, fork, ladder, horse comb, shears, fire tongs, weighing scales, and a long list of spinning implements necessary when farmers made their own clothes. The author wisely remarks that one ought to have coverings for wains, plough gear, harrowing tackle, &c.; and adds another list of instruments and utensils: a caldron, kettle, ladle, pan, crock, firedog, dishes, bowls with handles, tubs, buckets, a churn, cheese vat, baskets, crates, bushels, sieves, seed basket, wire sieve, hair sieve, winnowing fans, troughs, ashwood pails, hives, honey bins, beer barrels, bathing tub, dishes, cups, strainers, candlesticks, salt cellar, spoon case, pepper horn, footstools, chairs, basins, lamp, lantern, leathern bottles, comb, iron bin, fodder rack, meal ark or box, oil flask, oven rake, dung shovel; altogether a very complete list, the compiler of which ends by saying that the reeve ought to neglect nothing that should prove useful, not even a mousetrap, nor even, what is less, a peg for a hasp.

Manors in 1086 were of all sizes, from one virgate to enormous organizations like Taunton or Leominster, containing villages by the score and hundreds of dependent holdings.[51] The ordinary size, however, of the Domesday manor was from four to ten hides of 120 acres each, or say from 500 to 1,200 acres,[52] and the Manor of Segenehou in Bedfordshire may be regarded as typical. Held by Walter brother of Seiher it had as much land as ten ploughs could work, four plough lands belonging to the demesne and six to the villeins, of whom there were twenty-four, with four bordarii and three serfs; thus the villeins had 30 acres each, the normal holding. The manorial system was in fact a combination of large farming by the lords, and small farming by the tenants. Nor must we compare it to an ordinary estate; for it was a dominion within which the lord had authority over subjects of various ranks; he was not only a proprietor but a prince with courts of his own, the arbiter of his tenants' rights as well as owner of the land.

One of the most striking features of the Domesday survey is the large quantity of arable land and the small quantity of meadow, which usually was the only land whence they obtained their hay, for the common pasture cannot often have been mown.[53] Indeed, it is difficult to understand how they fed their stock in hard winters.

According to the returns, in many counties more acres were ploughed in 1086 than to-day; in some twice as much. In Somerset in 1086 there were 577,000 acres of arable; in 1907, 178,967. In Gloucestershire, in 1086, 589,000 acres; in 1907, 238,456.[54] These are extreme instances; but the preponderance of arable is startling, even if we allow for the recent conversion of arable to pasture on account of the low price of corn. Between the eleventh century and the sixteenth, the laying down of land to grass must have proceeded on a gigantic scale, for Harrison tells us that in his day England was mainly a grazing country. No wonder Harrison's contemporaries complained of the decay of tillage.

Mediaeval prices and statistics are, it is well known, to be taken with great caution; but we may assume that the normal annual value of land under cultivation in 1086 was about 2d. an acre.[55] Land indeed, apart from the stock upon it, was worth very little: in the tenth and eleventh centuries it appears that the hide, normally of 120 acres, was only worth L5 to buy, apparently with the stock upon it. In the time of Athelstan a horse was worth 120d., an ox 30d., a cow 20d., a sheep 5d., a hog 8d., a slave L1—so that a slave was worth 8 oxen[56]; and these prices do not seem to have advanced by the Domesday period.

According to the Pipe Roll of 1156, wheat was 1s. 6d. a quarter; but prices then depended entirely on seasons, and we do not know whether that was good or bad. However, many years later, in 1243 it was only 2s. a quarter at Hawsted.[57] In dear years, nearly always the result of wet seasons, it went up enormously; in 1024 the English Chronicle tells us the acre seed of wheat, that is about 2 bushels, sold for 4s.,[58] 3 bushels of barley for 6s. and 4 bushels of oats for 4s. In 1190 Holinshed says that, owing to a great dearth, the quarter of wheat was 18s. 8d. The average price, however, in the twelfth century was probably about 4s. a quarter.

In 1194 Roger of Hoveden[59] says an ox, a cow, and a plough horse were the same price, 4s.; a sheep with fine wool 10d., with coarse wool 6d.; a sow 12d., a boar 12d.

Sometimes prices were kept down by imports; 1258 was a bad and dear year, 'most part of the corn rotted on the ground,' and was not all got in till after November 1, so excessive was the wet and rain. And upon the dearth a sore death and mortality followed for want of necessary food to sustain the pining bodies of the poor people, who died so thick that there were great pits made in churchyards to lay the dead bodies in. And corn had been dearer if great store had not come out of Almaine, but there came fifty great ships with wheat and barley, meal and bread out of Dutchland, which greatly relieved the poor.[60]

Were the manors as isolated as some writers have asserted? Generally speaking, we may say the means of communication were bad and many an estate cut off almost completely from the outside world, yet the manors must often have been connected by waterways, and sometimes by good roads, with other manors and with the towns. Rivers in the Middle Ages were far more used as means of communication than to-day, and many streams now silted up and shallow were navigable according to Domesday. Water carriage was, as always, much cheaper than land carriage, and corn could be carried from Henley to London for 2d. or 3d. a quarter. The roads left by the Romans, owing to the excellence of their construction, remained in use during the Middle Ages, and must have been a great advantage to those living near them; but the other roads can have been little better than mud tracks, except in the immediate vicinity of the few large towns. The keeping of the roads in repair, one part of the trinoda necessitas was imposed on all lands; but the results often seem to have been very indifferent, and they appear largely to have depended on chance, or the goodwill or devotion of neighbouring landowners.[61] Perhaps they would, except in the case of the Roman roads, have been impassable but for the fact that the great lords and abbots were constantly visiting their scattered estates, and therefore were interested in keeping such roads in order. But in those days people were contented with very little, and though Edward I enforced the general improvement of roads in 1285, in the fourteenth century they were decaying. Parliament adjourned thrice between 1331 and 1380 because the state of the roads kept many of the members away. In 1353 the high road running from Temple Bar, then the western limit of London, to Westminster was 'so full of holes and bogs' that the traffic was dangerous for men and carriages; and a little later all the roads near London were so bad, that carriers 'are oftentimes In peril of losing what they bring.' What must remote country roads have been like when these important highways were in this state? If members of Parliament, rich men riding good horses, could not get to London, how did the clumsy wagons and carts of the day fare? The Church might well pity the traveller, and class him with the sick 'and the captive among the unfortunates whom she recommended to the daily prayers of pious souls.'[62] Rivers were mainly crossed by ford or ferry, though there were some excellent bridges, a few of which still remain, maintained by the trinoda necessitas, by gilds, by 'indulgences' promised to benefactors, and by toll, the right to levy which, called pontage, was often spent otherwise than on the repair of the bridge.

A few of the old open fields still exist, and the best surviving example of an open-field parish is that of Laxton in Nottinghamshire.[63] Nearly half the area of the parish remains in the form of two great arable fields, and two smaller ones which are treated as two parts of the third field. The different holdings, freehold and leasehold, consist in part of strips of land scattered all over these fields. The three-course system is rigidly adhered to, first year wheat, second year spring corn, third year fallow.

In a corner of the parish is Laxton Heath, a common covered with coarse grass where the sheep are grazed according to a 'stint' recently determined upon, for when it was unstinted the common was overstocked. The commonable meadows which the parish once had were enclosed at a date beyond anyone's recollection, though the neighbouring parish of Eakring still has some. There are other enclosures in the remote parts of the parish which apparently represent the old woodland. The inconvenience of the common-field system was extreme. South Luffenham in Rutland, not enclosed till 1879, consisted of 1,074 acres divided among twenty-two owners into 1,238 pieces. In some places furrows served to divide the lands instead of turf balks, which were of course always being altered. Another difficulty arose from there being no check to high winds, which would sometimes sweep the whole of the crops belonging to different farmers in an inextricable heap against the nearest obstruction.


[1] Vinogradoff, Growth of the Manor, p. 18; Medley, Constitutional History, p. 15.

[2] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, p. 257.

[3] Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, pp. 341 et seq.

[4] Stubbs, Constitutional History, Sec.36.

[5] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 282, says, 'As a rule it was not subject to redivision.'

[6] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, i. 42.

[7] Maitland, op. cit. p. 368.

[8] Anonymous Treatise on Husbandry, Royal Historical Society, pp. xli. and 68. About 1230, Smyth, in his Lives of the Berkeleys, i. 113, says, 'At this time lay all lands in common fields, in one acre or ridge, one man's intermixt with another.'

[9] See below.

[10] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, i. 74. Maitland thinks the two-field system was as common as the three-field, both in early and mediaeval times. Domesday Book and Beyond, p. 366.

[11] Nasse, Agricultural Community of the Middle Ages, p. 5. To-day harvest generally commences about August 1, so that this, like the growth of grapes in mediaeval times, seems to show our climate has grown colder.

[12] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 264.

[13] Maitland, op. cit. p. 17.

[14] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 265.

[15] Maitland, op. cit. pp. 318 et seq.

[16] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 345.

[17] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 339.

[18] Maitland, Domesday Book, p. 110

[19] Vinogradoff, op. cit. p. 395.

[20] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, pp. 225 et seq.

[21] Maitland, op. cit. p. 23.

[22] Vinogradoff, op. cit. p. 433.

[23] In Domesday they number 108,500. Maitland, Domesday Book.

[24] Maitland, op. cit..

[25] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 300.

[26] Domesday of S. Paul, p. lxviii.

[27] Maitland, Domesday Book, p. 56.

[28] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, i. 166. In some manors free tenants could sell their lands without the lord's licence, in others not.

[29] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, p. 279.

[30] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, p. 285.

[31] Ibid. p. 246; and English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 448. At the end of the eighteenth century, in default of sons, lands in some manors in Shropshire descended to the youngest daughter.—Bishton, General View of the Agriculture of Shropshire, p. 178.

[32] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 456.

[33] Maitland, Domesday Book, p. 40.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Maitland, Domesday Book, p. 35.

[36] Fleta, c. 73.

[37] Domesday of S. Paul, xxxv. Fleta, 'an anonymous work drawn up in the thirteenth century to assist landowners in managing their estates' says, the reeve 'shall rise early, and have the ploughs yoked, and then walk in the fields to see that all is right and note if the men be idle, or if they knock off work before the day's task is fully done.'

[38] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, p. 321.

[39] Ibid. p. 324.

[40] Manor of Manydown, Hampshire Record Society, p. 17. Breaking the assize of beer meant selling it without a licence, or of bad quality. The village pound was the consequence of the perpetual straying of animals, and later on the vicar sometimes kept it. See ibid. p. 104.

[41] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, i. 106.

[42] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, p. 264.

[43] Andrews, Old English Manor, p. 111.

[44] Domesday of S. Paul, p. xxxvii.

[45] Thorold Rogers, Agriculture and Prices, i. 17: Cunningham, Industry and Commerce, i. 55: Neckham, De Natura Rerum, Rolls Series, ch. clxvi. Rogers says there were no plums, but Neckham mentions them. See also Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century, p. 64. Matthew Paris says the severe winter in 1257 destroyed cherries, plums and figs. Chron. Maj., Rolls Series, v. 660.

[46] Woods were used as much for pasture as for cutting timber and underwood. Not only did the pigs feed there on the mast of oak, beech, and chestnut, but goats and horned cattle grazed on the grassy portions.

[47] The illustrations of contemporary MSS. usually show teams in the plough of 2 or 4 oxen, and 4 was probably the team generally used, according to Vinogradoff, op. cit. p. 253. It must, of course, have varied according to the soil. Birch, in his Domesday, p. 219, says he has never found a team of 8 in contemporary illustrations. To-day oxen can be still seen ploughing in teams of two only. However, about a hundred years ago, when oxen were in common use, we find teams of 8, as in Shropshire, for a single-furrow plough, 'so as to work them easily.' Six hours a day was the usual day's work, and when more was required one team was worked in the morning, another in the afternoon.—Victoria County History: Shropshire, Agriculture. Walter of Henley says the team stopped work at three.

[48] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, i. 570.

[49] See the excellent reproductions of the Calendar of the Cott. MSS. in Green's Short History of the English People, illustrated edition, i. 155.

[50] De Natura Rerum, Rolls Series, p, 280.

[51] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 307.

[52] Ibid. p. 312. Perhaps one of the most interesting features of the smaller manors is that they were constantly being swallowed up by the larger.

[53] As some of the common pasture was held in severalty, this may perhaps have been mown in scarce years. Walter of Henley mentions mowing the waste, see below, p. 34.

[54] Maitland, Domesday Book, 436; Board of Agriculture Returns, 1907.

[55] Vinogradoff, English Society in the Eleventh Century, p. 310; Birch, Domesday, p. 183.

[56] Maitland, Domesday Book. 44; Cunningham, Growth of Industry and Commerce, i. 171; Domesday of S. Paul, pp. xliii. and xci.

[57] Cullum, History of Hawsted, p. 181.

[58] Rolls Series, ii. 220. According to this, the price of a bushel of wheat reckoned in modern money was L3 in that year

[59] Ibid. iii. 220.

[60] Holinshed, who is supported by William of Malmesbury in the assertion that in time of scarcity England imported corn. Matthew Paris, Chron. Maj., v. 673.

[61] Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life, p. 79.

[62] Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life, p. 89.

[63] Gilbert Slater, The English Peasantry and the Enclosure of Common Fields, p. 8.



In the thirteenth century the manorial system may be said to have been in its zenith; the description therefore of Cuxham Manor in Oxfordshire at that date is of special interest. According to Professor Thorold Rogers[64] there were two principal tenants, each holding the fourth part of a military fee. The prior of Holy Trinity, Wallingford, held a messuage, a mill, and 6 acres of land in free alms; i.e. under no obligation or liability other than offering prayers on behalf of the donor. A free tenant had a messuage and 3-3/4 acres, the rent of which was 3s. a year. He also had another messuage and nine acres, for which he paid the annual rent of 1 lb. of pepper, worth about 1s. 3d. The rector of the parish had part of a furrow, i.e. one of the divisions of the common arable field, and paid 2d. a year for it. Another tenant held a cottage in the demesne under the obligation of keeping two lamps lighted in the church. Another person was tenant-at-will of the parish mill, at a rent of 40s. a year. The rest of the tenants were villeins or cottagers, thirteen of the former and eight of the latter. Each of the villeins had a messuage and half a virgate, 12 to 15 acres of arable land at least, for which his rent was chiefly corn and labour, though there were two money payments, a halfpenny on November 12 and a penny whenever he brewed. He had to pay a quarter of seed wheat at Michaelmas, a peck of wheat, 4 bushels of oats, and 3 hens on November 12, and at Christmas a cock, two hens, and two pennyworth of bread. His labour services were to plough, sow, and till half an acre of the lord's land, and give his work as directed by the bailiff except on Sundays and feast days. In harvest time he was to reap three days with one man at his own cost.

Some of these tenants held, besides their half virgates, other plots of land for which each had to make hay for one day for the lord, with a comrade, and received a halfpenny; also to mow, with another, three days in harvest time, at their own charges, and another three days when the lord fed them. After harvest six pennyworth of beer was divided among them, each received a loaf of bread, and every evening when work was over each reaper might carry away the largest sheaf of corn he could lift on his sickle.

The cottagers paid from 1s. 2d. to 2s. a year for their holdings, and were obliged to work a day or two in the hay-making, receiving therefor a halfpenny. They also had to do from one to four days' harvest work, during which they were fed at the lord's table. For the rest of the year they were free labourers, tending cattle or sheep on the common for wages or working at the various crafts usual in the village. This manor was a small one, and contained in all twenty-four households, numbering from sixty to seventy inhabitants.[65]

On most manors, as in Forncett,[66] which contained about 2,700 acres, from the preponderance of arable, the chief source of income to the lord was from the grain crops; other sources may be seen from the following table of the lord's receipts and expenses in 1272-3:

RECEIPTS. L s. d. Fixed rents 18 3 7-3/4 Farm of market 0 2 6 Chevage[67] 0 8 6 Foldage 0 3 9-1/2 Sale of works 5 13 2-3/4 Herbage 1 0 4 Hay 2 12 11 Turf, &c. 1 13 6-1/2 Underwood 5 10 2 Grain 61 12 3-1/4 Cider 1 1 11-1/4 Stock 5 3 0 Dairy 4 3 0-3/4 Pleas 14 0 0 Tallage 16 13 4 ————————— L128 2 2-3/4


Rents paid and allowed 0 3 2-1/2 Ploughs and carts 2 17 4 Buildings and walls 4 5 10-1/2 Small necessaries 0 7 10-3/4 Dairy 0 4 3-1/4 Threshing 1 15 5-1/2 Meadow and autumn expenses 0 1 4 Stock 0 16 7 Bailiff 1 19 0 Steward 1 6 9-1/2 Grain 8 2 4-1/2 Expenses of acct. 1 0 8-1/2 ————————— L23 0 9-3/4

The manor was almost entirely self-sufficing; of necessity, for towns were few and distant, and the roads to them bad. Each would have its smith, millwright, thatcher, &c., paid generally in kind for their services. There was little trade with the outside world, except for salt—an invaluable article when meat had to be salted down every autumn for winter use, since there were no roots to keep the cattle on—and iron for some of the implements. Nearly everything was made in the village.

The mediaeval system of tillage was compulsory; even the freeholders could not manage their plots as they wished, because all the soil of the township formed one whole and was managed by the entire village. Even the lord[68] had to conform to the customs of the community. Any other system than this, which must have been galling to the more enterprising, was impossible, for as the various holdings lay in unfenced strips all over the great common fields, individual initiative was out of the question. As may be imagined, the great number of strips all mixed together often led to great confusion, sometimes 2 or 3 acres could not be found at all, and disputes owing to careless measurement were frequent.

It is not surprising that the services by which the villeins paid rent for their holdings to the lord very early began to be commuted for money; it was much more convenient to both parties; and with this change from a 'natural economy' to a 'money economy' the destruction of the manorial system commenced, though it was to take centuries to effect it.

The first money payments apparently date from as early as 900,[69] but must then have been very few, and services were the rule in the thirteenth and earlier centuries, though at the beginning of the twelfth we find a great number of rent-paying tenants.[70] In the fourteenth century money began to be more generally available, and the process of commutation grew steadily; a process greatly accelerated by the destruction of large numbers of tenants who paid rent in services by the Black Death of 1348-9, which forced lords of manors to let their lands for money or work them themselves with hired labour. Before that visitation, however, it appears that commutation of labour services for fixed annual payments had made very little progress.[71]

When these services were commuted for money in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries they were put at 1d. a day in winter, and 2d. a day in summer, and rather more in harvest[72]; and we may put the ordinary agricultural labourers' wages from 1250-1350 all the year round at 2d. a day, and from 1350-1400 at 3d., but few were paid in this way. Many were paid by the year, with allowances of food besides and sometimes clothes, and many were in harvest at all events paid by the piece. At Crondal in Hampshire in 1248 a carter by the year received 4s., a herdsman 2s. 3d., a day a or dairymaid, 2s.[73] The change to money payments was beneficial to both parties; it stopped many of the dishonest practices of the lord's bailiff, apart from the fact that farming by officials was an expensive method. It meant, too, that religious festivals and bad weather would no longer diminish the lord's profits; on the other hand, the tenant could devote himself entirely to his holding free from annoying labour services.[74]

The state of agriculture at the time of Domesday was apparently very low, judging by the small returns of manors,[75] but by the time of Edward I it had made considerable progress. During the reign of Henry III England had grown in opulence, and continued to do so under his great son, who found time from his manifold tasks to encourage agriculture and horticulture. Fruit and forest trees, shrubs and flowers, were introduced from the continent, and we are told that the hop flourished in the royal gardens.[76] At his death England was prosperous, the people progressing in comfort, the population advancing, the agricultural labourers were increasing in numbers, the value of the land had risen and was rising. Then came a reaction from which England did not recover for two centuries, and Harrison, who wrote his description of England at the end of the sixteenth century, says that many of the improvements began to be neglected in process of time, so that from Henry IV till the latter end of Henry VII there was little or no use for them in England, 'but they remained unknown.'

The Hundred Rolls of Edward I, which embody the results of the labours of a commission appointed by that monarch to inquire into encroachments on royal lands and royal jurisdiction, show clearly that there had been since the Domesday Survey a very great growth in the rural population, a sure sign that agriculture was flourishing; and on some estates the number of free tenants had increased largely, but the burdens of the villeins were not less onerous than they had been.

It was in the thirteenth century that the practice of keeping strict and minute accounts became general, and the accounts of the bailiff of those days would be a revelation to the bailiff of these.

At the same time we must not forget that the earliest improvements in English agriculture were largely due to the monks, who from their constant journeys abroad were able to bring back new plants and seeds; while it is well known that many of the religious houses, the Cistercians especially, who always settled in the remote country, were most energetic farmers, their energy being materially assisted by their wealth. It is said that the great Becket when he visited a monastery did not disdain to labour in the field.

Among other benefits that the landed interest gained at this time was the more easy transference of land provided, inter alia, by the statute of Quia Emptores, which led to many tenants selling their lands, provided the rights of the lord were preserved, and to a great increase consequently of free tenants, many of whom had quite small holdings.[77] The amalgamation of holdings by the more industrious and skilful has, as we should expect, been a well-marked tendency all through the history of English agriculture, and began early. For instance, according to the records of S. Paul's Cathedral, John Durant, whose ancestor in 1222 held only one virgate in 'Cadendon', had in 1279 eight or ten at least. At 'Belchamp', Martin de Suthmere, one of the free tenants, held 245 acres by himself and his tenants, twenty-two in number, who rendered service to him; one of them being de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who held 17 acres under Martin. To such a position had the abler of the small holders of a century or so before already pushed their way, in spite of the heavy hand of feudalism, which did much to hinder individual initiative. At this period and until Tudor times England, as regards the cultivated land, was essentially a corn-growing country; the greater part of the lord's demesne was arable, and the tillage fields of the villeins largely exceeded their meadows. For instance, in 1285 the cultivated lands at Hawsted in Suffolk were nearly all under the plough; in seven holdings there were 968 acres of arable and only 40 of meadow, a proportion of 24 to 1. No doubt there was plenty of common pasture, but we cannot call this cultivated land. The seven holdings were as follows:[78]


Arable. Meadow. Wood.

Thomas Fitzeustace, lord of the manor 240 10 10 William Tallemache 280 12 24 Philip Noel 120 4 7 Robert de Ros 56 3 5 Walter de Stanton 80 3 1 William de Camaville 140 6 8 John Beylham 52 2 3 —- — — 968 40 58

These were the larger tenants; among the smaller several had no meadow at all.

We must not forget that the grazing of the tillage fields after the crops were off was of great assistance to those who kept stock; for there was plenty to eat on the stubbles. The wheat was cut high, the straw often apparently left standing 18 inches or 2 feet high; weeds of all kinds abounded, for the land was badly cleaned; and often only the upper part of the high ridges, into which the land was thrown for purposes of drainage, was cultivated, the lower parts being left to natural grass.[79]

The greatest authority for the farming of the thirteenth century is Walter of Henley, who wrote, about the middle of it, a work which held the field as an agricultural textbook until Fitzherbert wrote in the sixteenth century, and much of his advice is valuable to-day. There was from his time until the days of William Marshall, who wrote five centuries afterwards, a controversy as to the respective merits of horses and oxen as draught animals, and it is a curious fact that the later writer agreed with the earlier as to the superiority of oxen. 'A plough of oxen', says Walter, 'will go as far in the year as a plough of horses, because the malice of the ploughman will not allow the plough of horses to go beyond their pace, no more than the plough of oxen. Further, in very hard ground where the plough of horses will stop, the plough of oxen will pass. And the horse costs more than the ox, for he is obliged to have the sixth part of a bushel of oats every night, worth a halfpenny at least, and twelve pennyworth of grass in the summer. Besides, each week he costs more or less a penny a week in shoeing, if he must be shod on all four feet;' which was not the universal custom.

'But the ox has only to have 3-1/2 sheaves of oats per week (ten sheaves yielding a bushel of oats), worth a penny, and the same amount of grass as the horse.[80] And when the horse is old and worn out there is nothing but his skin, but when the ox is old with ten pennyworth of grass he shall be fit for the larder.'[81]

The labourer of the Middle Ages could not complain of lack of holidays; Walter of Henley tells us that, besides Sundays, eight weeks were lost in the year from holidays and other hindrances.[82]

He advises the sowing of spring seed on clay or on stony land early, because if it is dry in March the ground will harden too much and the stony ground become dry and open; therefore fore sow early that corn may be nourished by winter moisture. Chalky and sandy ground need not be sown early. At sowing, moreover, do not plough large furrows, but little and well laid together, that the seed may fall evenly. Let your land be cleaned and weeded after S. John's Day, June 24, for before that is not a good time; and if thistles are cut before S. John's Day 'for every one will come two or three.' Do not sell your straw; if you take away the least you lose much; words which many a landlord to-day doubtless wishes were fixed in the minds of his tenants.

Manure should be mixed with earth, for it lasts only two or three years by itself, but with earth it will last twice as long; for when the manure and the earth are harrowed together the earth shall keep the manure so that it cannot waste by descending in the soil, which it is apt to do.

'Feed your working oxen before some one, and with chaff. Why? I will tell you. Because it often happens that the oxherd steals the provender.'

The oxen were also to be bathed, and curried when dry with a wisp of straw, which would cause them to lick themselves.

'Change your seed every year at Michaelmas; for seed grown on other ground will bring more profit than that which is grown on your own.'

Apparently the only drainage then practised was that of furrow and open ditch; and we find him saying that to free your lands from too much water, let the marshy ground be well ridged, and the water made to run, and so the ground may be freed from water.

Here is his estimate of the cost of wheat growing[83]:

'You know surely that an acre sown with wheat takes three ploughings, except lands which are sown yearly; and that each ploughing is worth 6d. and the harrowing 1d., and on the acre it is necessary to sow at least two bushels. Now two bushels at Michaelmas are worth at least 12d., and weeding 1/2d., and reaping 5d., and carrying in August 1d., and the straw will pay for the threshing.'[83]

The return was wretched: 'at three times your sowing you ought to have 6 bushels, worth 3s.' The total cost is thus 3s. 1-1/2d.; and without debiting anything for rent and manure, the loss would be 1-1/2d. an acre.

The anonymous Treatise on Husbandry of about the same date says, however, that 'wheat ought to yield to the fifth grain, oats to the fourth, barley to the eighth, beans and peas to the sixth.'[84] In the years 1243-8 the average yield of wheat at Combe, Oxfordshire, was 5 bushels per acre, of barley a little over 5, oats 7. In the Manor of Forncett, in various years from 1290 to 1306, wheat yielded about 10 bushels, oats from 12 to 16, barley 16, and peas from 4 to 12 bushels per acre.[85]

As for the dairy, 2 cows, says Walter, should yield a wey, (2 cwt) of cheese annually, and half a gallon of butter a week, 'if sorted out and fed in pasture of salt marsh;' but 'in pasture of wood or in meadows after mowing, or in stubble, it should take 3 cows for the same.' Twenty ewes, which it was then the custom to milk, fed in pasture of salt marsh, ought to yield the same as the 2 cows. A gallon of butter was worth 6d., and weighed 7 lb. And the anonymous treatise says each cow ought to yield from the day after Michaelmas until the first kalends of May, twenty-eight weeks, 10d. more or less; and from the first kalends of May till Michaelmas, twenty-four weeks, the milk of a cow should be worth 3s. 6d.; and she should give also 6 stones (14 lb. per stone) of cheese, and 'as much butter as shall make as much cheese.'[86] It was a common practice all through the Middle Ages, and survives in localities to-day, to let out the cows by the year, at from 3s. to 6s. 8d. a head, often to the daya or dairymaid, the owner supplying the food, and the lessee agreeing to restore them in equal number and condition at the end of the term.[87] The anonymous treatise tells us that 'if you wish to farm out your stock you can take 4s. 6d. clear for each cow and the tithe, and for a sheep 6d. and the tithe, and a sow should bring you 6s. 6d. a year and acquit the tithe, and each hen 9d. and the tithe; and Walter says, 'When I was bailiff the dairymaids had the geese and hens to farm, the geese at 12d. and the hens at 3d.'

Among other information conveyed by these two treatises we learn that the poor servants or labourers were accustomed to be fed on the diseased sheep, salted and dried; but Walter adds, 'I do not wish you to do this.' Nor can we point the finger of scorn at this: for in the disastrous season of 1879 numbers of rotten sheep were sold to the butcher and consumed by the unsuspecting public without even being salted and dried.

He further tells us that 'you can well have 3 acres weeded for 1d., and an acre of meadow mown for 4d., and an acre of waste meadow for 3-1/2d. And know that 5 men can well reap and bind 2 acres a day of each kind of corn, and where each takes 2d. a day then you must give 5d. an acre.'[88] 'One ought to thresh a quarter of wheat or rye for 2d. and a quarter of oats for 1d. A sow ought to farrow twice a year, having each time at least 7 pigs; and each goose 5 goslings a year and each hen 115 eggs and 7 chicks, 3 of which ought to be made capons; and for 5 geese you must have one gander, and for 5 hens one cock.' The laying qualities of the hen, in spite of the talk of the 200-egg bird, were evidently as good then as to-day. In those days of self-supporting farms it was the custom to put together the farm implements at home, and the farmer is advised that it will be well if he can have carters and ploughmen who should know how to work all their own wood, though it should be necessary to pay them more.[89] The village smith, however, seems, as we should expect, to have done most of the iron work that was needed.[90]

These extracts have given the reader some insight into thirteenth-century prices, prices which in the case of grain altered very little for nearly 300 years: for instance, the average price of wheat from 1259 to 1400 was 5s. 10-3/4d. a quarter, and from 1401 to 1540 5s. 11-3/4d.; of barley, 4s. 3-3/4d. from 1259 to 1400, 3s. 8-3/4d. from 1401 to 1540; of oats, 2s. 5-3/4d. and 2s. 2-1/4d. in the same two periods respectively; of rye, 4s. 5d. and 4s. 7-3/4d.; and of beans, 4s. 3-1/2d. and 3s. 9-1/4d.[91] Wheat fluctuated considerably, being as we have seen 2s. a quarter at Hawsted in 1243 and in 1290 14s. 10d., a most exceptional price. Oxen, which were chiefly valued as working animals, were about 13s. apiece[92]; cows, 9s. 5d. Farm horses were of two varieties: the 'affer' or 'stott', a rough small animal, generally worth about 13s. 5d., and the cart-horse, probably the ancestor of our shire horses, whose average price was 19s. 4d. A good saddle-horse fetched as much as L5. Sheep were from 1s. 2d. to 1s. 5d. each. In Hampshire in 1248 shoeing ten farm horses for the plough for a year cost 5s.; making a gate cost 12d. As Walter of Henley said, it cost a penny a week to shoe a horse on all four feet; these horses must have been very roughly shod.[93] It is evident, from what Walter of Henley says, that horses were not always shod on all four feet, and their shoes were generally very light. The roads were mere tracks without any metalling, so that there was little necessity for heavy shoes; and as Professor Thorold Rogers suggests, it is quite possible that the hoofs of our horses have become weaker by reason of the continual paring and protection which modern shoeing involves.[94] They weighed usually less than half a pound, and cost about 4s. a hundred.

The most striking fact about agricultural prices at this date is the low price of land compared with that of its products. The annual rent of land was from 4d. to 6d.[95] an acre, and it was worth about ten years' purchase. Consequently, a quarter of wheat was often worth more than an acre of land, a good ox three times as much, a good cart-horse four times, while a good war-horse was worth the fee-simple of a small farm. A greater breadth of wheat was sown than of any other crop; but it seems that none was ever stored except in the castles and monasteries, for in spite of successive abundant harvests a bad season would send the price up at once. Barley was, as now, chiefly used for making beer, which was also made from oats and wheat, of course without hops, which were not used till the fifteenth century; and sometimes it was made of oats, barley, and wheat, a concoction worth 3/4d. a gallon in 1283.[96] Cider was also drunk, and was sold at Exminster in Devonshire in 1286 at 1/2d. a gallon, and apples fetched 2d. a bushel. Thorold Rogers[97] says that wheat was the chief food of the English labourer from the earliest times until perhaps the seventeenth century, when the enormous prices were prohibitive; but this statement must be taken with reserve, as must that of Mr. Prothero[98] that rye was the bread-stuff of the peasantry. Where the labourer's food is mentioned as part of his wages, wheat, barley, and rye all occur, wheat and rye being often mixed together as 'mixtil'; and it is most probable that in one district wheat, in another one of the other cereals, formed his chief bread-stuff, according to the crop best adapted to the soil of the locality.

Walter of Henley mentions wheat as if it was the chief crop, for he selects it as best illustrating the cost of corn-growing[99]; and from the enormous number of entries enumerated by Thorold Rogers in his mediaeval statistics it was apparently more grown than other cereals. The chief meat of the lower classes then, as to-day, was bacon from the innumerable herds of swine who roamed in the woods and wastes, but in bad years, when food was scarce, the poor ate nuts, acorns, fern roots, bark, and vetches.[100]

As the cattle of the Middle Ages were like the mountain cattle of to-day, so were the sheep like many of the sheep to be seen in the Welsh mountains; yet, unlike the cattle, an attempt seems to have been made, judging by the high price of rams, to improve the breed; but they were probably poor animals worth from 1s. to 1s. 6d. each, with a small fleece weighing about a pound and a half, worth 3d. a lb. or a little more.


[64] Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p. 39. No one can write on English agriculture without acknowledging a deep debt to his monumental industry, though his opinions are often open to question.

[65] Compare the account of the manors in Huntingdonshire belonging to Romsey Abbey given in Page End of Villeinage in England, pp. 28 et seq.

[66] Davenport, A Norfolk Manor, p. 36; and see Hall, Pipe Roll of Bishopric of Winchester, p. xxv.

[67] Chevage, poll money, paid to the lord.

[68] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, p. 230.

[69] Cunningham, Industry and Commerce, i. 117.

[70] Vinogradoff, Villeinage in England, p. 307. On the Berkeley estates in 1189-1220 money was so scarce with the tenants that the rents, apparently even where services had been commuted, were commonly paid in oxen.—Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys, i. 101. In the thirteenth century the labour services of the villeins were stricter than in the eleventh. Vinogradoff, op. cit. 298.

[71] Page, End of Villeinage, p. 39.

[72] Thorold Rogers, History of Agriculture and Prices, i. 82.

[73] Hampshire Record Society, i. 64. See Appendix, i.

[74] Hasbach, English Agricultural Labourer, p. 14.

[75] Hallam, Middle Ages, iii. 361

[76] Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century, p. 56.

[77] Cunningham, Industry and Commerce, i. 273.

[78] Cullum, History of Hawsted, 1784 ed., p. 180.

[79] Ballard, Domesday, p. 207.

[80] Walter of Henley, Royal Historical Society, p. 12.

[81] Walter reckons the above food of the horse at 12s. 3d., and of the ox at 3s. 1d.; but both are wrong.

[82] Ibid. p. 15.

[83] Walter of Henley, Royal Historical Society, p. 19.

[84] Walter of Henley, Royal Historical Society, p. 71.

[85] Davenport, A Norfolk Manor, pp. 29 et seq. See also Hall, Pipe Roll of the Bishopric of Winchester, p. xxvi, which gives an average yield of wheat over a large area in 1298-9 at 4.3 bushels per acre.

[86] Walter of Henley, Royal Historical Society, p. 77.

[87] Thorold Rogers, Agriculture and Prices, i. 397; Archaeologia, xviii. 281.

[88] Walter of Henley, pp. 69, 75. In Lancashire, at the end of the thirteenth century, mowing 60-1/2 acres cost 17s. 7-1/2d. Victoria County History, Lancashire, Agriculture, and Two Compoti of the Lancashire and Cheshire Manors of Henry de Lacy (Cheetham Society).

[89] Walter of Henley, p. 63.

[90] Crondall, Records, Hampshire Record Society, i. 65.

[91] See Thorold Rogers, various tables in vol. i. of History of Agriculture and Prices. Compare these with the prices on the Berkeley estates from 1281 to 1307, omitting years of scarcity: wheat, 2s. 4d. to 5s.; oxen, 10s. to 12s.; cows, 9s. to 10s.; bacon hogs, 5s.; fat sheep, 1s. 6d. to 2s.; and in the early part of Edward III's reign, wheat, 5s. 4d. to 10s.; oxen, 14s. to 24s. Other prices about the same.—Smyth, Lives of the Berkeleys, i. 160.

[92] If it is true, as generally stated, that the mediaeval ox was one-third the size of his modern successor, it is apparent that he was a very dear animal. Cattle at this date suffered from the ravages of wolves.

[93] Crondall, Records, Hampshire Record Society, i. 64.

[94] History of Agriculture and Prices, i. 528.

[95] Seebohm, Transactions of Royal Historical Society, New Series, xvii. 288, says that rent in the fourteenth century was commonly 4d.; the usual average is stated at 6d. an acre.

[96] Domesday of S. Paul, Camden Society, p. li.

[97] History of Agriculture and Prices, i. 26.

[98] Pioneers of Agriculture, p. 13.

[99] Ed. Lamond, Royal Historical Society, p. 19.

[100] Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century, p. 93.



After the death of Edward I in 1307 the progress of English agriculture came to a standstill, and little advance was made till after the battle of Bosworth in 1485. The weak government of Edward II, the long French War commenced by Edward III and lasting over a hundred years, and the Wars of the Roses, all combined to impoverish the country. England, too, was repeatedly afflicted during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by pestilences, sometimes caused by famines, sometimes coming with no apparent cause; all probably aggravated, if not caused, by the insanitary habits of the people. The mention of plagues, indeed, at this time is so frequent that we may call them chronic.

At this period corn and wool were the two main products of the farmer; corn to feed his household and labourers, and wool to put money in his pocket, a somewhat rare thing.

English wool, which came to be called 'the flower and strength and revenue and blood of England', was famous in very early times, and was exported long before the Conquest. In Edgar's reign the price was fixed by law, to prevent it getting into the hands of the foreigner too cheaply; a wey, or weigh, was to be sold for 120d.[101] Patriotic Englishmen asserted it was the best in the world, and Henry II, Edward III, and Edward IV are said to have improved the Spanish breed by presents of English sheep. Spanish wool, however, was considered the best from the earliest times until the Peninsular War, when the Saxon and Silesian wools deposed it from its pride of place. Smith, in his Memoirs of Wool,[102] is of the opinion that England 'borrowed some parts of its breed from thence, as it certainly did the whole from one place or another.' Spanish wool, too, was imported into England at an early date, the manufacture of it being carried on at Andover in 1262.[103] Yet until the fourteenth century it was not produced in sufficient quantities to compete seriously with English wool in the markets of the Continent; and it appears to have been the long wools, such as those of the modern Leicester and Lincoln, from which England chiefly derived its fame as a wool-producing country.

Our early exports went to Flanders, where weaving had been introduced a century before the Conquest, and, in spite of the growth of the weaving industry in England, to that country the bulk of it continued to go, all through the Middle Ages, though in the thirteenth century a determined effort was made to divert a larger share of English wool to Italy.[104] During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the export of wool was frequently forbidden,[105] sometimes for political objects, but also to gain the manufacture of cloth for England by keeping our wool from the foreigner; but these measures did not stop the export, they only hampered it and encouraged much smuggling. It commanded what seems to us an astonishing price, for 3d. a lb. in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is probably equal to nearly 4s. in our money. Its value, and the ease with which it could be packed and carried, made it an object of great importance to the farmer. In 1337[106] we have a schedule of the price of wool in the various counties of England, for in that year 30,000 sacks of the best wool was ordered to be bought in various districts by merchants for Edward III, to provide the sinews of war against France. The price for the best wool was to be fixed by the king, his council, and the merchants; the 'gross' wool being bought by agreement between buyer and seller. Of the former the highest price fixed was for the wool of Hereford, then and for long afterwards famous for its excellent quality, 12 marks the sack of 364 lb.; and the lowest for that of the northern counties, 5 marks the sack.

Somewhat more than a century afterwards we have another similar list of wool prices, when in 1454 the Commons petitioned the king that 'as the wools growing within this realm have hitherto been the great commodity, enriching, and welfare of this land, and how of late the price is greatly decayed so that the Commons were not able to pay their rents to their lords', the king would fix certain prices under which wools should not be bought. The highest price fixed was for the wool of 'Hereford, in Leominster', L13 a sack; the lowest for that of Suffolk, L2 12s.[107]; the average being about L4 10s.

The manorial accounts of the Knights' Hospitallers, who then held land all over England, afford valuable information as to agriculture in 1338.[108] From these we gather that the rent of arable land varied from 2d. to 2s. an acre; but the latter sum was very exceptional, and there are only two instances of it given, in Lincolnshire and Kent. Most of the tillage rented for less than 1s. an acre, more than half being at 6d. or under, and the average about 6d. On the other hand, meadow land is seldom of less value than 2s. an acre, and in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, and Norfolk rose to 3s. This is one of the numerous proofs of the great value of meadow land at a time when hay was almost the sole winter food of stock; in some places it was eight or ten times as valuable as the arable.[109] The pasture on the Hospitallers' estates was divided into several and common pasture, the former often reaching 1s. an acre and sometimes 2s., the latter rarely exceeding 4d. The most usual way, however, of stating the value of pasture was by reckoning the annual cost of feeding stock per head, cows being valued at 2s., oxen at 1s., a horse at a little less than an ox, a sheep at 1d. The reign of Edward III was a great era for wool-growers, and the Hospitallers at Hampton in Middlesex had a flock of 2,000 sheep whose annual produce was six sacks of wool of 364 lb. each, worth L4 a sack, which would make the fleeces weigh a little more than 1 lb. each. The profit of cows on one of their manors was reckoned at 2s. per head, on another at 3s.; and the profit of 100 sheep at 20s.[110] The wages paid to the labourers for day work were 2d. a day, and we must remember that when he was paid by the day his wages were rightly higher than when regularly employed, for day labour was irregular and casual. The tenants about the same date obtained the following prices[111] for some of their stock:—

L s. d.

A good ox, alive, fatted on corn 1 4 0 " " " not on corn 16 0 A fatted cow 12 0 A two-year-old hog 3 4 A sheep and its fleece 1 8 A fatted sheep, shorn 1 2 " goose 0 3 Hens, each[112] 0 2 20 eggs 0 1

In the middle of the fourteenth century occurred the famous Black Death, the worst infliction that has ever visited England. Its story is too well known for repetition, and it suffices to say that it was like the bubonic plague in the East of to-day: it raged in 1348-9, and killed from one-third to one-half of the people.[113] It is said to have effected more important economic results than any other event in English history. It is probable that the prices of labour were rising before this terrible calamity; the dreadful famine of 1315-6,[114] followed by pestilence, when wheat went up to 26s. a quarter, and according to the contemporary chroniclers, in some cases much higher, destroyed a large number of the population, and other plagues had done their share to make labour scarce, but after the Black Death the advance was strongly marked. It also accelerated the break-up of the manorial system. A large number of the free labourers were swept away, and their labour lost to the lord of the manor; the services of the villeins were largely diminished from the same cause; many of the tenants, both free and unfree, were dead, and the land thrown on the lord's hands. Flocks and herds were wandering about over the country because there was no one to tend them. In short, most manors were in a state of anarchy, and their lords on the verge of ruin. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that they immediately adopted strong measures to save themselves and their property and, no doubt they thought, the whole country. Englishmen had by this time learnt to turn to Parliament to remedy their ills, but as the plague was still raging a proclamation was issued of which the preamble states that wages had already gone up greatly. 'Many, seeing the necessity of masters and great scarcity of servants, will not serve unless they get excessive wages', and it is, therefore, hard to till the land. Every one under the age of 60, it was ordered, free or villein, who can work, and has no other means of livelihood, is not to refuse to work for any one who offers the accustomed wages; no labourer is to receive more wages than he did before the plague, and none are to give more wages under severe penalties. But besides regulating wages, the proclamation also insists on reasonable prices for food and the necessaries of life: it was a fair attempt not only to protect the landlords but the labourers also, by keeping both wages and prices at their former rate, so that its object was not tyrannous as has been stated.[115] It was at once disregarded, a fate which met many of the proclamations and statutes of the Middle Ages, which often seem to have been regarded as mere pious aspirations.

Accordingly, the Statute of 1351, 25 Edw. III, Stat. 2, c. 1, states that the servants had paid no regard to the ordinance regulating wages, 'but to their ease and singular covetise do withdraw themselves unless they have livery and wages to the double or treble of that they were wont to take'. Accordingly, it was again laid down that they were to take liveries and wages as before the Black Death, and 'where wheat was wont to be given they shall take for the bushel 10d. (6s. 8d. a quarter),[116] or wheat at the will of the giver. And that they be hired to serve by the whole year or by other usual terms, and not by the day, and that none pay in the time of sarcling (weeding) or hay-making but a penny a day, and a mower of meadows for the acre 5d., or by the day 5d., and reapers of corn in the first week of August 2d., and the second 3d., without meat or drink.' And none were to take for the threshing of a quarter of wheat or rye more than 2d., and for the quarter of beans, peas, and oats more than 1d. These prices are certainly difficult to understand. Hay-making has usually been paid for at a rate above the ordinary, because of the longer hours; and here we find the price fixed at half the usual wages, while mowing is five times as much, and double the price paid for reaping, though they were normally about the same price.[117]

It is interesting to learn from the statute that there was a considerable migration of labourers at this date for the harvest, from Stafford, Lancaster, Derby, Craven, the Marches of Wales and Scotland, and other places.

Such was the first attempt made to control the labourers' wages by the legislature, and like other legislation of the kind it failed in its object, though the attempt was honestly made; and if the rate of wages fixed was somewhat low, its inequity was far surpassed by the exorbitance of the labourers' demands.[118] It was an endeavour to set aside economic laws, and its futility was rendered more certain by the depreciation of the coinage in 1351, which led to an advance in prices, and compelled the labourers to persevere in their demands for higher wages.[119]

Both wages and prices, except those of grain, continued to increase, and labour services were now largely commuted for money payments,[120] with the result that the manorial system began to break up rapidly.

Owing to the dearth of labourers for hire, and the loss of many of the services of their villeins, the lords found it very hard to farm their demesne lands. It should be remembered, too, that an additional hardship from which they suffered at this time was that the quit rents paid to them in lieu of services by tenants who had already become free were, owing to the rise in prices, very much depreciated. Their chief remedy was to let their demesne lands. The condition of the Manor of Forncett in Norfolk well illustrates the changes that were now going on. There, in the period 1272-1307, there were many free tenants as well as villeins, and the holdings of the latter were small, usually only 5 acres. It is also to be noticed that in no year were all the labour services actually performed, some were always sold for money. Yet in the period named there was not much progress in the general commutation of services for money payments, and the same was the case in the manors, whose records between 1325 and 1350 Mr. Page examined for his End of Villeinage in England.[121] The reaping and binding of the entire grain crop of the demesne at Forncett was done by the tenants exclusively, without the aid of any hired labour.[122]

However, in the period 1307-1376 the manor underwent a great change. The economic position of the villeins, the administration of the demesne, and the whole organization of the manor were revolutionized. Much of the tenants' land had reverted to the lord, partly by the deaths in the great pestilence, partly because tenants had left the manor; they had run away and left their burdensome holdings in order to get high wages as free labourers. This of course led to a diminution of labour rents, so the landlord let most of the demesne for a term of years,[123] a process which went on all over England; and thus we have the origin of the modern tenant farmer. A fact of much importance in connexion with the Peasants' Revolt, soon to take place, was that the average money rent of land per acre in Forncett in 1378 was 10d., while the labour rents for land, where they were still paid by villeins who had not commuted or run away, were, owing to the rise in the value of labour, worth two or three times this. We cannot wonder that the poor villeins were profoundly discontented.

On this manor, as on others, some of the villeins, in spite of the many disadvantages under which they lay, managed to accumulate some little wealth. In 1378 and in 1410 one bond tenant had two messuages and 78 acres of land; in 1441 another died seized of 5 messuages and 52 acres; some had a number of servants in their households, but the majority were very poor. There are several instances of bondmen fleeing from the manor; and the officers of the manor failed to catch them. This was common in other manors, and the 'withdrawal' of villeins played a considerable part in the disappearance of serfdom and the break-up of the system.[124] The following table shows the gradual disappearance of villeins in the Manor of Forncett:

In 1400 the servile families who had land numbered 16 1500 " " " 8 1525 " " " 5 1550 " " " 3 1575 " " " 0

There is no event of greater importance in the agrarian history of England, or which has led to more important consequences, than the dissolution of this community in the cultivation of the land, which had been in use so long, and the establishment of the complete independence and separation of one property from another.[125] As soon as the manorial system began to give way, and men to have a free hand, the substitution of large for small holdings set in with fresh vigour, for we have already seen that it had begun. It was one of the chief causes of the stagnation of agriculture in the Middle Ages that it lay under the heavy hand of feudalism, by which individualism was checked and hindered. Every one had his allotted position on the land, and it was hard to get out of it, though some exceptional men did so; as a rule there was no chance of striking out a new line for oneself. The villein was bound to the lord, and no lord would willingly surrender his services. There could be little improvement in farming when the custom of the manor and the collective ownership of the teams bound all to the same system of farming.[126] In fact, agriculture under feudalism suffered from many of the evils of socialism.

But, though hard hit, the old system was to endure for many generations, and the modern triumvirate of landlord, tenant, and labourer was not completely established in England until the era of the first Reform Bill.


[101] Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, i. 130. A weigh in the Middle Ages was 182 lbs., or half a sack.

[102] Second edition, i. 50 n. See also Burnley, History of Wool, p. 17.

[103] Gross, Gild Merchant, ii. 4. It is from the Spanish merino, crossed with Leicesters and Southdowns, that the vast Australian flocks of to-day are descended.

[104] Cunningham, op. cit. i. 628.

[105] Ashley, Early History of English Woollen Industry, p. 34.

[106] Calendar of Close Rolls, 1337-9, pp. 148-9.

[107] Rolls of Parliament, v. 275.

[108] The Hospitallers in England, Camden Society.

[109] Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century, p. 147.

[110] Hospitallers in England, p. xxvi.

[111] Ibid. pp. 1, li.

[112] Poultry-keeping was wellnigh universal, judging by the number of rents paid in fowls and eggs.

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