H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

Social England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) online

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medieval organisations of labour were breaking down on all sides.
The rise in the price of wool was inducing landlords to turn their
arable land into pasture (p. 151, seq.}, and this change involved
extensive ejectments of agriculturists. These naturally flocked
into whatever employment was open to them, and thus helped,
by their competition, to disorganise manufacturing industries. 1

1 It must be remembered, however, that it was natural for contemporaries
to overestimate the evils, and underestimate the advantages of the enclosures.
See Mr. Hewins' remarks on page 356.




In the frequent complaints of journeymen ;md apprentices
\ve have the beginnings of the long struggle between labour
and capital. For the class of capitalist artizans was now
developing into a class of capitalist employers, and the
demands of foreign trade were encouraging manufacture on
a larger scale.

It is perhaps from the pages of the "Utopia" (A.D. 1516)


" Utopia "

and the




that we get the best idea of the social movement that
was going on in the early part of Henry VIII.'s reign. The
book itself is a romance, a fanciful description of the
Kingdom of Nowhere, and of a Social State that existed
only in the author's imagination. But that author, Sir
Thomas More, was perhaps the best representative of the
many-sided activities of the age in which he lived. He was
almost equally pre-eminent in intellect, humour, and




morality as lecturer, author, lawyer, and practical politi-
cian. He had been an Oxford student when the new
enthusiasm for the study of Greek was at its height, when
many believed that the world might be renovated by the
new learning. Leaving the University, More lectured on
divinity and law. He was elected Speaker of the House
of Commons, and led the House in its opposition to the
king. Subsequently he became Henry's Chancellor and
Chief Minister. Finally he laid down his life for his religion.

lo.Clcmens. Hythlodctus, Tho.Morus. Per.Acgid.


(From the Basel Edition of 1518.)

Such a man's criticisms and ideals could not tail to
throw an interesting light on the social conditions of his
time and country. It was characteristic of the age thai
he threw his treatise into the form of a traveller's tale. A
sailor, who has voyaged in strange seas and among un-
known races of men, brings back to England this account
of a republic in some respects ideal, in others a thinly
disguised satire on the England of More's time. In
" Xowhere " they pay special attention to sanitation, educa-
tion, and toleration three things which More evidently
considered were specially needed in his own country. The



streets of Utopia are all twenty fret broad, and had large
gardens at the hacks of all the houses. These houses are
well supplied with light, and yet well protected fr<>m the
cold ; only six hours' labour is exacted of any man, but
there is also a minimum from which none may escape.
Instruction is provided by the State, and that in the early
hours of the morning, so that men may study and think
before they are tired out with the day's work. The asser-
tion that they have few changes of fashion or of laws is
a characteristic protest against the Renaissance love of
novelty. An organised regularity of life is set forth in
contrast to the growing individualism and competitive
anarchy of the sixteenth century. Its love of finery is
satirised under the statement that " the Utopians wonder
how any man should be so much taken with the glaring,
doubtful lustre of a jewel or stone, ' : when he might " look
up to a star, or to the sun itself; or how any should value
himself because his cloth is made of finer thread; for how
fine soever that thread may be, it was once no better than
the fleece of a sheep." But above all, More looks with
horror on the growing religious intolerance. In Utopia,
each man may be of what faith he will. This may seem
a somewhat strange ideal to be set forth by one who was
to pen bitter attacks on the Protestants, and to die as a
martyr to Catholicism. But More's hatred of the "Refor-
mation" was a hatred not for a set of theological opinions,
but for a movement which would open up and embitter
theological controversies. His intolerance was an intoler
ance of all that was likely to diminish toleration. He
stands between Medievalism and Protestantism, and is
almost equally hostile to both. The former had been full
of oppressions and abuses. It had passed laws to keep
down wages ; " so that the wrong already existing (for it
is a Avrong that those from whom the State derives most
benefit should receive least reward; is made yet greater by
means of the law." Such abuses More would correct by
a complete reform of the medieval organisation, by a quite
other sort of Statutes of Labourers than those passed by
Plantagenet and Tudor Parliaments But he evidently had
no belief in a system of liberty, competition, and what

-iw^/fpt %%. &?W


(From the Basel Edition o/ 1518.)



The Gov-
and the

The De-
of the


we now call l<i.i*t';-f<i.ire. The State must see that its
subjects are properly instructed and enabled both to earn
a livelihood and to live worthily otherwise, the masses
will have " a life so wretched, that even a beast's lite seems
enviable." And the social organisation must be spiritual-
ised by a national religion. While there is to be freedom
for all religious beliefs, the sects must join in common
worship, and that conducted with beautiful and symbolical
ritual. It was, no doubt, the sight of the growing commer-
cial competition and social disorder which inspired More's
ideal of an organised Society, spiritualised by a common
worship. But he naturally failed to understand the forces
which were at work around him, and the economic causes
of the sufferings he deplored.

In every age of industrial transition much misery is caused
by the changes in the character of the demand for labour.
Time would have partly healed the evils which such changes
brought with them, if only the Government had been moder-
ately wise. But in this case the evils were soon greatly
aggravated by the action of Henry VI 1 1., and especially by
his debasements of the currency and by his great confiscations
of the property of monasteries and guilds.

Extravagant Governments can easily pay their debts, for a
time, by issuing coins at a nominal value greater than that of
the metal which composes them ; but by so doing, they are
likely to inflict terrible injuries upon the industries of the
nation. It is far cheaper, as a rule, to pay debts by means of
loans or taxes than by tampering with the currency, though
the temptation to adopt this less open policy is often very
great. For the rise in nominal prices which follows upon an
at all considerable issue of debased coin temporarily stimulates
many industries, and gives a delusive appearance of prosperity,
as well as an immediate relief to the Treasury. Henry VII L.
was one of the worst of sinners in this respect. There had,
indeed, been several debasements of the currency between 1299
and 1464; but these seem to have approximately corresponded
with a natural rise in the exchange value of silver, due to a
constant flow of the precious metals to the East (which supplied
us with many commodities, but took few of ours in return),
and to a more injurious flow to Rome, consequent on Papal




exactions and tributes. The stock of silver was thus constantly
being reduced, and nominal prices would have fallen very
greatly but for the debasements of the coinage. Accordingly
while we cannot justify these, we may admit that they exercised
a steadying influence on prices, and did not cause much injury
to the community. But it was very different with Henry YIII.'s
debasements. They were so rapid and on so great a scale that
they caused a complete disorganisation of industry and almost
incalculable misery. In 1465 twelve ounces of silver (containing

jl^ 1 - l^'.'pt&li'^IL

<^' %IiKwl

-it-of ");?' >v-> "^ '/*'

srr V^* rsi k 1 * !; r-^ x';^,?-' />

=-r^r.->. TSiS .MVv.V-; /I


.v|-3 - .-


(Holinshed's Chronicle, 1577.)

llyVoz. of fine silver and \\oz. alloy) had been coined into
25 shillings. In 1527 the same amount and quality of silver
was coined into 37 shillings. Then followed a series of fresh
debasements, affecting both the weight and the quality of the
silver, till at length, in A.D. 1551, coins were issued of metal
that contained 9 ounces of alloy to every 3 ounces of fine
silver, and the 12 ounces of this debased material were coined
into 72 shillings In other words, the shilling issued in 1551
contained less than one-seventh of the amount of fine silver in
the shilling of 1527.

This debasement of the coinage was undoubtedly the chief

166 THE OLD ORDER CILL\ ','!: 1 1.


cause of the great rise in prices in the first half of the sixteenth
century. Of course the great discoveries of silver in Mexico
and Peru hy the Spaniards Tended in the same direction.

At the time of the discovery of America in 14!2 it is
Silver. calculated that the total stock of nioiiev (Coin) in Europe was
only equivalent to about thirty-four millions of pounds sterling.
Between 1491 and 1545 this amount was increased by about
50 per cent. Then came the opening of the fertile mines of
Cerro and Potosi, and in the ensuing half-century a hundred
million pounds worth of silver poured into Europe, quadrupling
the total stock of money. But this silver went in the first
instance to Spain, and in the existing state of international
trade it only spread very gradually into other countries.
Moreover, the great demand for precious metals for purposes
of luxury and art swallowed up much of the new stock. Such
gatherings as that known as the Field of the Cloth of (iold
(1520: p. 3) were typical of the age; and we have alreadv
mentioned Henry's love ot magnificent display. It seems
doubtful, therefore, if English prices were much affected by the
silver supplies from America till some years after Elizabeth had
come to the throne : but the rise in prices began about the
year 1520, and proceeded far more rapidly than the rise in
wages. The changes that took place in these respects between
the middle of the reigns of Henry VII. and Henry VIII. may be
gathered from the following table :-

1495. 1533.

s. (1. s. (1.

Price of a quarter of wheat ... ... 4 Uj ... 7 8

malt -2 -U ... 5 5*

oats 1 7^ ... 2 }4

,, oatmeal ... ... 5 4 ... 8

14!'5. 1533.

Average Weekly Wages : s. d. s. cl.

Of artisans 3 3 li

Of agricultural labourers ... ... 2 ... 2 3

Even here we find that while agricultural prices had nearly
doubled, waives had scarce! v increased. But this was before
the great issues of debased coin in 1545, 1546, 1549, and 1551
respectively. These threw industry into such confusion that
it becomes almost impossible to follow the fluctuations of
prices and wages in the latter years of Henry VIII.'s reign,



and in the period immediately following. On the whole, we
mav say roughly that while wages rose 50 per cent, the prices
of necessaries rose considerably more than 100 per cent. 1
But even this was not the worst. Trade was almost a matter of
barter, owing to the discredit attached to the legal medium of
exchange. Wages were, to a great extent, paid in food, goods
were exchanged for goods without any use of money, and
many branches of industry which had hitherto flourished were
utterly ruined.

The con- The consequent misery was much aggravated by the abolition

as ' of the monasteries (p. (>2 seq.) and the spoliation of guild
property (p. 177). The monasteries, in spite of all the abuses
existing in them, had certainly done much to relieve the poor,
the vagrant, and the displaced ; though it must be acknowledged
that their methods of relief were often injudicious and undis-
criminating, and that they did something to create the very
poverty which they relieved. Nevertheless, it seems clear that

1 The following table will illustrate the general conclusion that wages
and prices were tolerably stationary during the reign of Henry VII. , and the
first ten years of the reign of Henry VIII., but that they both rose greatly
in the ensuing years, the rise in prices being, however, much greater than that
in wages. In order to eliminate temporary and accidental fluctuations, so far
as possible, the average wages and prices for periods of ten years are quoted.
The first of these decennial periods includes the early years of Henry VII. ;
the second includes the early years of Henry VIII. ; while the third inclmies

the last year of Henry VIII. :


A. D. 1481-1490. I'.ll-l.VJO. 1541-1550 A. D.

Unskilled labour (daily) .. .. 3fd. :i,'<l. .. 4jd.

Mas..n .. .. 5* .. 6 6J

Plumber .... 6

Carpenter ,, 6


s. ,1. s. il. s. d.

Wheat (quarter) .. .. .. '' :! > tf 8J . 10 !

Barl.-y .. .. .- 4 5J .. 4

Oats .. .. 2 2 .. :

Oxen (average) .. .. -. Hi <H 1 3

Sheep ,, .. .. .. - 4 ..0

Candles (doz. 11.) .. .. .. 13 .. 1 2j

Butter 10 ..016

Table Linen (do/. Mis) .. 7 4| .. 7

Sliiitin-s .. ..5 5J .. OH :.J

Paper (doz. quires) .. .. .. 211 .. o 2 3

Iron, raw (cwt.) .. .. 41 .. -1

(i 2}

4 OJ

2 2 3$

ii 1 ll.\

1 7J

2 o

12 01

8 10

li :. 3

o 5 7

2 4.\

1 8

Hay (load) .. .. ..035

Straw ,, .. .. .. .. l i; A .. 1 7J

\Vnol (t.,d) .. .. -. .- l -i ~

The above commodities are selected as typical from the large collection to
be found in Thorold Rogers' "History of Agriculture and Prices."



the monasteries would have helped many people to struggle
through the difficulties caused by the agricultural and industrial
transition and by the debasement of the currency. But the
smaller monasteries were suppressed in 1536 and the others in
1539. Only a very small fraction of the wealth thus confiscated
was devoted to religious, educational, or charitable purposes.
Most of it went to enrich the king or his greedy courtiers.
Henry's own share of the ill-gotten spoil was soon squandered,
and he then resolved to similarly confiscate the property of the
guilds. These bodies had spent part of their income in relieving
their poorer members, and in supporting their widows and
children. This was a mode- of relief preferable in many ways
to that given by the monasteries, for it was less likely to be
obtained by imposture, or to hinder thrift or undermine inde-
pendence. And it is probable that at no previous period in
their history had so large a number of members of guilds needed
this sort of relief as in 1545, when an Act of Parliament
authorised the wholesale confiscation of guild property. The
excuse made for the Act was that the guilds spent some of their
money for purposes which the Royal Defender of the Faith
regarded as superstitious ; but the real motive was undoubtedly
the greed of the king and his friends. Still, it may safely be
assumed that this measure of confiscation could not have been
carried through Parliament if there had not been a widespread
conviction that the guilds had to a great extent outlived their
utility, and if their restrictions had not been felt as a grievance
by large and influential sections of the community.

Henry's Government did very little to relieve the poverty poor
which it had done so much to create. The Act of 1536 Relief -
ordered local authorities to collect alms on Sundays and
holidays, and bade the clergy stir up their congregations to
give freely. It also condemned all giving of doles by private
persons to beggars and vagrants. But it did nothing to compel
property-owners to contribute anything to the support of
the needy. The only other branch of the Poor Law in the
time of Henry VIII. was that which we have already referred
to, which provided for the stern repression of vagrants and
able-bodied beggars, but gave to the impotent licences to beg,
and required overseers to find work for the poor of their
district. This last command seems to have become, by the



time wo have reached, almost a dead letter. The problem of
finding Avork for the unemployed had to be taken in hand by
Parliament. Several laws wore passed for the encouragement,
of different 1 tranches of manufacture. Thus a statute of
24 Henry YIIL, c. 4, orders " that every person occupying land
for tillage shall, tor every sixty acres under the plough, sow one-
quarter of an acre in flax or hemp." The object of this Act
was undoubtedly to create, employment, especially for the wives
and children of the poor, in linen manufacture. It professes to
seek to drive " that most abominable sin of idleness out of the
realm." But, like most attempts to create employment by
legislation, it seems to have had but little success in diminish-
ing the number of the unemployed. With the same end in
view the Government spent some of the money it got from
the suppression of the monasteries on public works, such as
the laying down of roads and the building of harbours, em-
bankments and fortifications. This, no doubt, provided occu-
pation of a useful sort for some of those who had been out of
work. But the spoils were soon squandered, and the condition
of the labour market was then worse than ever.

Henry suppressed altogether 644 monasteries, 90 colleges,
2,374 chantries or free chapels, and 110 hospitals. According
to one calculation, more than 88,000 persons were cast adrift
by the suppression of the first-named alone (cf. p. 75). This
must have greatly aggravated the existing poverty and the
increase struggle for existence. It is possible that the relieving of
iation U a l ar g c number of persons from the obligations of celibacy
partly accounts for the great increase of the population which
undoubtedly took place in Henry's reign. The relaxing of the
guild system tended in the same direction, since many of the old
regulations as to apprenticeships and other matters had tended
to restrict and delay marriages. Moreover, experience proves
that people reduced to poverty and desperation often show ex-
traordinary recklessness in bringing children into the world.
At any rate, it is estimated that the population of England
rose from two and a half millions at the accession of Henry TIL
to about four millions at the death of Henry VIII. England
had never seen anything like so rapid an increase of population,
except, perhaps, in the years that immediately followed the
Black Death



But while the number of the people was increasing, there Moral
seems to have been a falling off in almost all branches of in-
tellectural and moral life. The preachers complained bitterly Decline
of the decay of morality. The educational movement which
started so energetically at the beginning of the reign practically
died out long before its end. The twenty-three years from 1496
had seen the foundation of Brasenose and Corpus Christ!
Colleges at Oxford : of Jesus', Christ's, St. John's, and Magda-
lene, at Cambridge ; and of Colet's great London Grammar
School, St. Paul's. The remaining twenty-eight years of Henry's
reign brought only the two great colleges of which Henry him-
self claimed to be the founder Christ Church and Trinity.
The rich endowments of these were only an insignificant

/ O

fraction of the money diverted by the king from religious,
charitable, and educational purposes. But the intellectual
decadence was proved not so much by the comparative paucity
of new institutions as by the lack of vitality in the old ones.
The foundation of two magnificent colleges did not prevent
a steady decay of learning at both the universities. Theological
controversy had taken the place of study, and it was soon
found that this needed neither much learning nor much

Two laws in particular illustrate the social and industrial
changes that were going on.

The Statute of Uses (27 Henry VIII., Cap. 10) was an Legisia
attempt to deal with the practice that had grown up of leaving
landed estates " to uses," i.e. charged with payments, which in
many cases amounted almost to a transfer of the property.
The feudal lords (including the Crown) consequently often
found it difficult to obtain their dues, e.g. on marriages and
successions and their wardships. The king suffered not only
as the greatest feudal lord, but also from the loss in cases of
escheat, etc. The system was sometimes worked in such a way
as to defraud creditors, and sometimes so as to evade the
various statutes of mortmain. Sometimes, however, it was used
for perfectly legitimate objects, such as the making provision
for daughters and younger sons, in days when real property
was strictly subject to primogeniture and must pass to the
heir-at-law. The system had been carried so far as to
greatly complicate titles to land, and to make many nominal


[1509 1547

owners unable to meet their obligations. The statute created
a Parliamentary title with the incidental obligations for thoso
who had hitherto had the use of the estates ; but it abolished
the right of creating uses for the future. This soon caused
serious inconvenience to the landlords, who were now unable
to charge their lands for the benefit of their daughters and
younger sons ; and the new law was eventually evaded by the
creation of " trusts." To the extent of its operation, however,
it no doubt tended to simplify tenures and titles, and strengthen
the position of the landowners and the Crown at the expense
of the Church and other corporations.
Tlie Of a very different character was Henry's Statute of Bank-


of Bank- ruptcy, which may be regarded as the origin and foundation
ruptcy. o f our j aws on t hj s subject, The growth of English trade had
naturally been accompanied by an extension of the practice
of giving credit ; and this again had given men new oppor-
tunities for dishonesty. Henry's Statute established a Court
for the trial of defaulters, and for the distribution of their
property among creditors. Of Henry's other laws affecting
industry, we shall only have space to speak of the Act of 153(i,
The abolishing the old laws against usury, and allowing loans at

Problem, interest not exceeding ten per cent. In the Middle Ages the
Church had condemned the lending money at interest alto-
gether, and this condemnation might be ethically justified
in days when there was practically no borrowing for commercial
purposes, except by persons in financial difficulties. But the
growth of capitalist artisans and capitalist employers had
greatly altered the situation. Many now wanted to borrow
merely as a matter of convenience. They were not in any
particular difficulties, but they saw their way to improving
their position by borrowing, even at high interest. The loan
would then be a convenience to both parties, and there need
be nothing harsh or unfair in the payment of interest. The
Act of 1536 simply recognised the new state of things, but
by imposing a limit on the rate of interest that might be
charged, it made a sort of compromise with the old traditional
ideas on the subject. The compromise was illogical, and it
was almost certain that it would be evaded ; but it marks a new
stage of feeling on the subject, and reminds us that this was
a period of transition to a more elaborate industrial system.

(St. Mary Quay, Ipswich, 1525.)


'/'///; OLD 01WER CHANGED.


C. R. L.

Town Life
under the

and Ocean

WHEN the great explorer, whose fourth centenary Spain cele-
brated in LSU2 with such pomp, went forth to seek Cathay
chiefly in reliance on the prophecies of Isaiah and Seneca 1 and
found a few islands peopled with naked savages instead, he
had a very firm idea that he was going to make a great revolu-
tion in history ; but he was quite wrong as to the direction
which that revolution was going to take. The real result of
the discovery of America, and of the far more important sea
route to India by the Gape, was to make commerce oceanic

Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillSocial England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 19 of 68)