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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instead of riparian. " The nations Avho dwelt upon the ocean,"
says a recent writer, " were now to be the inheritors of the
riches of the world." London and Amsterdam, Cadiz and
Lisbon, were to be what the queens of the narrow seas and of
the Middle Ages, Liibeck and Venice, Visby and Genoa, had
been. It was indeed a great revolution to have begun chiefly in
consequence of a " fall " in spice. Yet so it w r as. The absolute
necessity of spices to season food in an age when there were
no vegetables to speak of, made the spice trade the most profit-
able thing of the time. To bring spices to Europe cheaply
was the object of all the first pioneers of commerce. A bold
"venture" in a ship of Hawkins' or Cabot's might make a
merchant prince out of a very small man; and many a
merchant prince was the maker of the fortunes of his native
tow r n.

The long sleep of the Middle Ages was already broken in
many places before Columbus put out over Palos Bar. And
if the English towns on the whole were somewhat late sharers
in the wealth of the Xew World, it must never be forgotten
that Bristol was in the very vanguard of the advance. It is a
curious instance of the spirit that was abroad, that in 1480
two ships sailed from Bristol, as William of Worcester relates,
" to find the Island of Brazil." They were out about two months,
but were driven back by a storm to the west coast of Ireland.

1 Venient annis
Saecula seris,
Quibus Oceanus
Vincula rerum

Laxet, et ingens pateat tellus,
Nee sit terris ultima Thule.

SENECA, " Medea."



From Bristol, too, sailed John Cabot, in 1497, on that expedition
which first sighted the mainland of North America (Vol. II.,
p. 674). And Pedro de Ayala, the Spanish ambassador, writes
(in 1498): " The people of Bristol have, for tJie last seven years,
every year sent out two, three, or four light ships in search of
the island of Brazil and the seven cities, according to the
fancy of these Genoese " (sc. Cabot). It is impossible, when
we read such passages as this, to avoid the conclusion of the
learned Dr. Huge, in his "Zeitalter der Entdeckungen," that
some real knowledge of the existence of the New World had
come to the Old World in pre-Columbian days. But how and
whence ? At any rate, the enterprise of these Bristol mer-
chants began long before Columbus. The Government of
Henry VII. fitfully interested itself in the matter; but the
main point that distinguishes the English pioneers from those
of the Latin races is that on the whole the former were left to
themselves, and private enterprise was of more avail than public.
Before the close of the reign of Henry VIII. Robert Thome
(p. 306) had suggested the North- West Passage; the elder
Hawkins had embarked on the Guinea trade, which first
revived the prosperity ot Southampton, declining since the
" Flanders galleys " ot Venice had ceased to visit it ; and
Newfoundland had been frequently visited both from Bristol
and London.

It is wonderful what a complete change in the relative The Effect
positions of English towns this revolution of commerce pro- Towns. 1 "
duced. Norwich, indeed, clung for a little while to its primacy
of the woollen trade, in spite of a terrible fire which almost
destroyed the city in 1508 : and the increasing population of
the Eastern Counties and of London led to a revival of Yarmouth
as the great centre of the herring fishery, a position which it
has ever since retained. But the Cinque Ports, with the excep-
tion of Dover and Hastings, crumbled into rapid decay ; great
open spaces began to be found within their walls ; the grass
sprang up between the boulders of the streets of Bomney and
AVinchelsea. York, which had always remained a sort of
northern capital, and on whose history, perhaps alone of English
cities, the Wars of the Roses had any serious effect, was obliged
to plead on one occasion, in the reign of Henry VII. , that it was
unable to discharge its fee-farm rent to the Crown. Acts of

Trade and
the Guild

The Gov

and the



Henry VIII. continually bear witness to the ruined condition
of many ports as well as " uplandish towns." On the other
hand, we begin to hear seriously of Manchester, Sheffield,
Birmingham (p. 150), and Plymouth; and Defoe has traced
the establishment of the woollen industries of the West Riding
to the importation of foreign artificers to Leeds, Halifax, and
Waketield by King Henry VII. Mr. Cunningham also quotes
a characteristic petition of the clothiers of Worcester, Evesham,
Droitwich, Kidderminster, and Bromsgrove, stating that their
working men were deserting these towns and beginning to
make cloth in the villages.

This brings us face to face with a second great cause of the
displacement of trade. It seems quite clear that the restrictive
policy of the guilds, which has been noticed in an earlier section
(Vol. II., p. 560), was driving artisans, and even small capitalist
workers, out of the former centres of industry into places where
there were no such restrictions (p. 150). When a man had to
pay as much as six pounds of the money of that time as was
occasionally the case before he could be admitted to the guild :
when he had to prove descent from a guild member : when he had
as he almost invariably had to serve a seven years' apprentice-
ship to a trade he could perhaps learn in as many weeks ; when
the number of apprentices was limited to two, from which
restriction rich masters might free themselves by paying a tine
beyond the means of their poorer brethren, it was natural that
trade, in the hands of the men who, as Ulrich von Hutten said,
were " beginning to awake and live," should seek other chan-
nels. But Henry VII., on the afore-mentioned petition being
presented to him, sternly answered that no one was to make
clothes in Worcestershire outside the said towns. It is charac-
teristic also of the age that side by side with these attempts to
repress the rising spirit of competition, there should filter into
the English Statute-book one or two enactments indicative of
a disposition to favour free trade. Take the following from
the Statute 12 Henry VII. :-

" Whereas the fellowship of the Mercers and other merchants and
adventurers dwelling and being free within the City of London, by con-
federacy amongst themselves, contrary to every Englishman's liberty, to
the liberty of the Mart, and to law, reason, charity, right, and conscience,
lia'l made an ordinance that none should sell without their consent, except




he first compounded and made fine to them, which had increased from
time to time, by reason whereof the cities, towns, and boroughs, had fallen
into great poverty be it enacted that all should freely sell without any
exaction for their liberty and freedom to buy and sell, etc."

Such an enactment shows us that the English Government
of the time was a Janus-head, looking back often to the past
but looking forward also to the future, when freedom of trade
should be allowed to everyone, and all corporation and appren-


(Barclay, " Fifte Eglog," 1509.)

ticeship laws should be swept away. It was reserved for the
quiet irony of Adam Smith to finish that which Henry Till.
and his son began by the confiscation of the property of almost
all the existing craft guilds in the kingdom. London indeed
saved her guilds because she was powerful enough to have made
a revolution, even against the most absolute Tudor, and would,
all honour to her therefor, have certainly made it had her
great livery companies been swept away ; and one or two other
guilds survived, as at Preston, in a condition of picturesque

with the

VIII. and



decay. And, indefensible as the guilds were, desperate hin-
drances to trade as they had proved themselves to be, valid
excuse as the Protestant reformers had for abolishing the


superstitious ceremonies with which most of them were con-
nected, the Englishman who has lived in the last decade of the
nineteenth century may well pause before he endorses with
his approval the commencement of the confiscation of corporate
property by Parliamentary enactments.

Another set of instances of the interference of the Govern-
ment with the towns occurs before the close of our period.
The Ministry of Thomas Cromwell has generally been regarded
as the first in which it was discovered that Parliament might be
a valuable agent of the royal will, and to manipulate Parliament
became in consequence a serious part of the business of the
Minister. Henry Till, did not go as far as his children, and
create new boroughs by royal letters, with the right of returning
members, but he frequently wrote to the burgesses desiring
them to make return of a member whom he nominated. The
burgesses of Colchester, on one such occasion, after the usual
expressions of devotion and servility, begged to be excused for
not complying with his Highness's request ; but the probability
is that few dared really refuse compliance to the majestic lord
who broke the bonds of Borne, and embodied in his own large
person, more than any king before him, the feelings and aspira-
tions of the England of his day.

There stands a city by the banks of the Thames which owes
to him a debt of gratitude which it has not always been willing
to recognise, and which is, indeed, capable of being interpreted
the reverse way. Charters of one kind and another had been
sriven by Angevin kinsis to medieval Oxford, and the usual

O / CT O

fraternities of vintners and mercers, of tailors and dyers,
existed within the walls. But in 1300, when the articles for
which English towns were famous were reckoned up by a writer
of that year, it is worthy of note that Oxford had attained to
celebrity for its schools in popular estimation (Vol. II., p. 89).
The University of Oxford was, in fact, the making of the city ;
but the burgesses were always unwilling to recognise the fact, and
long and fierce had been the struggles between the two bodies.
It has long been one of the commonplaces of history that " a
murderous town and gown row preceded the Barons' War," and




the citizens were annually reminded of their misdeeds by
their repeated penances of St. Scholastica's Day. Oxford
was not in itself a place of much trade, except as a centre
of an agricultural district (the county of Oxford ranked very


(By permission of the Dean ami (lover nimj /;"<'// of Christ Church, Oxford.)

high in the table of productiveness in the fifteenth century).
and all " unthrifty wares " -i.e. foreign luxuries must have
either come by common carrier across the wooded Chilterns
from London, or by the slower, and probably hardly less
expensive, route up the Thames in barges. It is, however,



a matter of much doubt how far up the Thames was navigable
before the sixteenth century, and one cannot help thinkiiix-
there must have been more than one transhipment of goods
between London and Oxford. Certainly the present main
stream at the latter place owes its existence to the Abbots of
Oseney, who could have had no other reason for undertaking
the cutting of new channels than to bring waterborne goods
to their own doors. The great Abbeys of Rewley and Oseney
formed almost separate towns without the western gate, where
now the railway whistle has superseded the vesper bell ; the
great Abbey of St. Frideswide, and the splendid foundations
of both the great Orders of Friars, almost redeemed the
southern corner of the city from being classified as the worst
slum in Christendom. The colleges and a few scattered
houses of other religious orders held the rest. The period
before us was witnessing a rapid extension of collegiate
foundations ; Corpus and Brasenose were being endowed on
the lines of the greater foundations of Chichele and AVayn-
fiete, and Wolsey was busy with the great institution which
was to hand down, as he fondly hoped, to the latest posterity,
the name of the one Romish priest who became a Cardinal
without ceasing to be an Englishman. Not less illustrious is
the fame of the " Oxford Reformers," Colet, Erasmus, and

Small wonder then that King Henry A T III. or his ministers


of 1523. looked forward to closing for ever the disputes between city
and university by the grant of the famous Charter of 1528.
AVe may fairly attribute to AVolsey this great privilege granted
to learning, which, as the late Mr. Boase said, " virtually placed
the greater part of the city at their (i.e. the chancellor's and
scholars') mercy." All persons on whom the university chose
to confer the privilege were exempted from having to apply to
the city for permission to carry on business, and, practically,
no appeal against the sentence of the chancellor or his com-
missary was allowed. The mayor of the city was obliged at his
election to take an oath, in St. Mary's Church, to maintain the
privileges and customs of the university. One mayor refused,
and was promptly excommunicated. The proctors exercised
unjustly, said the citizens the power ot " discommonsing "
any tradesman whom they suspected of unjust dealing; and



even laid tolls upon " every horse-load of fresh salmon "
coming into the city. Frequent appeals to the Privy Council
and Parliament on the part of the city produced little effect,
and the Charter of Elizabeth, which is still in force, virtually
reaffirmed the Charter of Wolsey.

It may perhaps be interesting, while we are considering the
relative positions of English towns, to quote from Professor positions
Rogers the figures of the assessment of 1503, although, as of tne


was stated in a former section (Vol. II., p. 564), such figures
must always be received with the greater caution, because
temporary accidents (such as fires) continually altered the
relative paying-capacity of the towns. In the fourth year of
the sixteenth century, then, London (i.) appears assessed only
at 3f times the rate of Bristol (ii.), but, adds Rogers, there
had been a great conflagration in London during that year ;
York (hi.) is next, and is assessed at |- the amount of London.
Lincoln (iv.) it is difficult to understand ; it was only in the
reign of Edward IV. that Lincoln repeatedly had to be excused
from discharging its share of what we should now call Imperial
taxation. Gloucester (v.) and Norwich (vi.) occupy relative
positions still more difficult to explain. Shrewsbury (vii.),
Oxford (viii.), Salisbury (ix.), Coventry (x.), Hull (xi.), Canter-
bury (xii.), Southampton (xiii.), and Nottingham (xiv.) vary
from \ to T y the assessment of the metropolis. Then comes
a great drop, and Worcester (xv.), Southwark (xvi.) are each
put at gV ; and Bath (xvii.), the lowest, is at ^V of that rate.
One might hazard almost any amount of guesses on such
figures as these, and build dogmatic statements upon those
guesses, as it was the habit of the author above quoted to do ;
and it must be acknowledged that, dangerous as this method of
treating history is, his guesses were almost always extremely
shrewd and clever. But it is better to be content with putting
the figures before the reader, and avoiding explanation where
such can only be made by a leap in the dark. Let us be
content with realising the new position of Bristol, to which
attention has already been called. The probability is that in
the period of transition before us exceptional circumstances
supervening to raise or depress a town or an industry suddenly
were, if one may be allowed to use such a paradox, the rule.
That these circumstances included to any serious extent sieges




or destructions committed by the rival factions of the Roses
there is no great evidence. A town like Tewkesbury or Coven-
try, or even York, might be occupied by a sudden dash of one


(By permission of Sir R. Colt Hoare, Bart, Stovrln-ml 1'nrl.)

or other of the armies ; and it is well known that it was the
fear of the inarch of Margaret's wild Northerners towards
London in 14(31 that wrecked her cause, and turned many a



good Lancastrian, like Abbot Whethamstede, of St. Albans,
into a Yorkist. But that any real traces of the wars remained
after a few years of the strong government of the early Tudors
is not likely. Bloody and cruel as the kings and nobles were,
it was against each other that their rage was chiefly turned.
The walls of the cities were usually manned by the citizens
themselves, in whose hands the ordinary police and the
watchmen were also placed ; an although there was in a
great many towns a castle, usually (as in the case of Oxford)
just outside the wall of the city, and connected therewith
by a drawbridge over a moat, it was too much the obvious
policy of the Crown to content the powerful middle class for
it to be probable that the captains or colonels or knights- at-
arms, who might be in temporary possession of Ludlow or
Dover, Windsor or Colchester Castle, would allow any wanton
injury to be inflicted on the houses of the citizens which lay
under command of the castle guns. One or two towns only
in England, such as Pomfret and Wallingford, seriously
owed their importance to their strategical value. When a
noble held a castle as part of his estate, lie held it directly
from the Crown ; and a " licence to crenellate " (i.e. fortify)
a country-house would rarely be given, needed constant
renewing, and might be taken away in a moment. Henry II.
(Vol. I., p. 372) had clone in England in the twelfth century
that which it taxed all the energies of Richelieu and Mazarin
to do in France in the seventeenth.

It would be wrong, before quite taking leave of the medieval The inns.
town, to omit some slight notice of the accommodation which it
could afford to strangers. England seems in all ages to have
been famous for its inns. All readers of Sterne, and still more
of Arthur Young, will remember what a contrast they draw
between the comparative comfort and cleanliness of an English
inn and the misery of the dogholes provided for travellers in
eighteenth-century France ; still more will readers of George
Borrow recall his expressions of disgust at the unmitigated
horrors of a Spanish posada in our own days. We may take the
inn of the English roadways in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries to have been, as regards arrangement, a cross between
Borrow's Spanish posada and a Turkish Khan ; while, as regards
cleanliness, it was probably superior to both. The chief enemy



to be met with was the flea ; and, occasionally, a " great peck of
rats and mice." But when travellers slept ten or twelve in
a bed, the fleas are perhaps not to be wondered at ; and that
they did so to a much later period than this the " Great Bed
of Ware" still remains as proof positive. Worse than this,
however, was the habit of strewing 1 the floor with rushes
(p. 229), which were cleaned out but once or twice a year. A
certain bishop's journey in the fifteenth century, from London
to Falmouth, occupied fourteen days' easy riding that is, at
somewhat under twenty miles a day . now, a bishop would
probably be put up in a monastery or a squire's house at most
places on the road, as would also a very poor man, or anyone
who could pass himself off as one of those innumerable religious
beggars and impostors whom M. Jusserand so well describes ;
but your solid middle-class franklin or tradesman would go to
his inn. And it seems that the Heads of Colleges and their
attendants, when they went " on progress " to pay a visit to
the college estates, usually put up at an inn. When Warden
Hoveden, of All Souls, rode to London to withstand Queen
Elizabeth in her pride, he put up for a night at Stokenchurch
or at Wycombe. Such travellers in the fifteenth century
either bought or brought with them their solid provisions,
and all they expected from the inn was bed and ale or wine.
But in the sixteenth century a change undoubtedly came ; and
Warden Hoveden's bills always include " dinner so much-
horse meat so much lodging so much." The change probably
came with the increased luxury of living which foUowed the
revival of prosperity in the early days of Elizabeth,
social That change must have made itself felt in every stratum of

society. But before our present period ends, the revolutionary
action of the Government was already pressing hardly upon the
poorer classes in town and country alike. That the displace-
ment of trades above referred to was productive of much misery
among the artisans is quite obvious. The statutes of the early
Tudors bear witness to it in two directions first, in the com-
mencement of an organisation for the relief of the poor (p. 353)
that we meet such statutes long before the dissolution of the
monasteries is a sufficient rebutrnent of the ordinary view that
the Poor-laws were a necessary consequence of that dissolution,
the fact being that the monasteries themselves were already in




many cases bankrupt, being unable to keep up with the new
principle of competition, which was creeping into every depart-
ment of life ; and, secondly, in the much greater frequency of
statutes against " sturdy beggars, rogues and vagabonds," for
whom the whip and the stocks were about the mildest regimen
prescribed (p. 357). Such statutes, often repeated, chronicle
their own failure. It was not till the revived prosperity of the
latter half of the sixteenth century had absorbed these " danger-
ous classes " and found work for them to do, either in the new


industries of the Western or Northern woollen manufactures, or
in " cutting Spanish throats on the golden Spanish main," that
these laws really began to do their work upon the few " savage "
elements of society that were left the offscourings and rinsings
of the bitter and cruel society of the latter middle ages.

But for the present things were very bad, and it may be a
relief to turn from the contemplation of the squalid misery of
the unskilled artisan, for whom the new trades could find no
employment, from the small guildsman crushed out of exist-
ence and undersold by his shrewder neighbour (whom in cruel




The Fair. mockery he still called " brother " in his craft), against and in
contempt for all existing by-laws of the trade-society, to con-
sider a peculiarly medieval institution, of which some squalid

survivals still disgrace a few of our
provincial towns, the fair. The
learned Mr. Cornelius Walford, by
dint of unwearied industry, collected
and published all that we are ever
likely to discover about the greater
English fairs. The medieval fail-
was a sort of enlargement of the
idea of the market. Even at the
present day there is known to the
English law an abstract as Avell as
a concrete conception of a market.
Goods bought within the city of
London between certain hours of
the day are bought in " market
overt " ; and even though they may
have been stolen from their lawful
owner, a subsequent purchaser, if
acting bond fide and with no know-
ledge of the theft, cannot be dis-
quieted for wrongful possession, provided he bought them in
" market overt." In most towns there exists in all there
doubtless existed a large open space which is the property
of the corporation, called the market. From those who set
up booths in such a place the authorities took a tixed scale
of dues, and one of the best-known of those quarrels
between the University and City of Oxford already referred
to, was upon the claim of the former to inspect the market,
a claim which they ultimately made good. Now, at the
period before us the reasons for this control over markets,
which was represented in the assizes of bread and beer, in
the aulnagers (Vol. II., p. 325) and winetasters, were ceasing
to exist, and competition was everywhere taking the place of
custom, of which the market system was a bulwark. But
the principle still survives in the practice of trade marks ;
and in one instance of the right of a medieval fraternity,
the Goldsmiths' company, to affix their "hall-mark" upon all

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 20 of 68)