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

. (page 21 of 68)
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 21 of 68)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


(Mayer Museum, Liverpool.)




gold and silver plate. And of late years the Merchandise
Marks Act has proved that we were in error in supposing
that we were able to walk alone, and look after our own
interests. Trade after trade, in fact, seems yearning nowadays
for the glorious servitude of the middle ages. Did the
middle ages fix the price of labour ? restrict the number of
hands in a trade ? pass statutes against forestallers (i.e. those
who bought raw material on its way to a market) and re-
grators (i.e. those who tried to create a " corner " in the
article in the market itself) ? The cry of the day is to have
all these restraints back again : to return, with our eyes open,
to the gropings of the economically blind.

Now the fair was simply an extension of the principle of
the market on a grand scale. It had a twofold object ; (i.) the
advantage of the person, or corporation, to whose hands the
dues from it came (and these would often be considerable) ;
(ii.) the supplying to the
consumer of articles that
were not to be purchased
in the town - market at
ordinary times or in suf-
ficient quantities. There-
fore, when competition
had introduced shop-
keepers of every sort and
kind to almost every town
and considerable village
in England, the raison
d'etre of fairs was gone.
It is worth remarking
that all fairs, though
doubtless accompanied
with the usual amount of
revelry, bear-baiting, etc.,
were in the middle ages
strictly business institu
tions, and such purely
pleasure fairs as May Fair and Greenwich Fair seem to date
only from the close of the period we are describing. The
origin of each separate fair is often lost in immemorial antiquity,


(From an old Print.)



iii id, us Mr. Walford points out, the grant of licence to hold
the fair, as in that of Edward IV. to the Corporation of
London to hold the fair of South wark, oftener marks the
decline of the institution and an attempt to regulate or re-
vive it than the origin thereof. Whether Henry VIII. actually
forbade the fair, or merely suspended the jurisdiction of the
Corporation of London over it, is not quite clear ; hut,
Edward VI. certainly revived it, and it is mentioned in
Charles I.'s days as being one of the three great fairs of

But of these the great three Aveeks' fair at Stourbridge, on
the outskirts of Cambridge, was far the most important in
England (A^ol. II., p. 747). Its prosperity was undoubtedly
closely bound up with the old medieval trade routes, and with
the days when the Netherlands were our chief commercial
client ; therefore, in the period we are now considering, it was
steadily losing its importance. On institutions of this kind the
violent rise in prices, owing to the influx of silver from the New-
World, and Henry VIII.'s infamous treatment of the coinage,
must have come with a crash (p. 164, seq.\

The Before we quit the subject of the towns, it may be interest-

courtf. ing to consider the question, what extent of jurisdiction was
exercised by the borough courts at the close of the middle
ages ? The old idea that law was a personal, not a territorial
attribute, that a Hanseatic merchant should be tried by his
own law within the " stilliard " of his own Fraternity, even if
he had broken the peace of King Henry VII. and the crown
of a London 'prentice, traces of which idea extended to our
own days in the disabilities of an alien and the difficulties
attending his naturalisation, seems to have been already
almost at an end as regards Englishmen themselves. By the
original charter to London and by many subsequent charters
to boroughs and cities, a citizen could only be tried in his
own busting, or at least within the jurisdiction of his brother
citizens (" Et cives non placitabunt ultra muros pro ullo
placito," etc.). Had these remained in force, it would have
been impossible that one law should be established for all the
subjects of the kings of England. A great part of the work
of the Tudor kings was, as we know, the enforcing of law
equitably (except where their own interests were concerned) on



all Englishmen ; but it is probable that even to this late
period a great deal of diversity in the powers of the borough
courts prevailed. Mr. Worth, in the Antiquary for May,
1884, quoted from the ancient records of the borough court
of Plymouth some extremely curious suits from the reign of
Henry VIIL, such as we should certainly expect to find
tried by his Majesty's judges of assize, or in his royal
courts of Westminster. In one of these a gentleman of the
name of John Meyow (? Mayhew) is sued by a lady for 100
damages for breach of promise of marriage, which is surely
an early instance of this form of trial. Another case is for
slander and defamation of character ; another for the sloking
(i.e. enticing) away a man's wife, who took with her goods to
the value of 6s. 8cl. damages claimed, 40s. ; value of wife
therefore estimated at 1 13s. 4d. Mr. Worth even hazarded
the suggestion that this borough court claimed and exercised
the right of capital punishment : but this must be regarded
as doubtful without further proof adduced.

If we ask ourselves what impression town life at the close The
of the middle ages leaves upon us, the answer can hardly be a
favourable one. If new towns, new trades were rising in Order.
many places, which were in a few decades as far to surpass in
wealth and success their medieval predecessors as those had
themselves surpassed the rmid- walled huts and domestic in-
dustries of the first Saxon settlers ; if the reign of law and
the annihilation of privilege were taking the place of the
separatist and ultra-municipal spirit of the time which was
passing away, there was still much to regret. Brotherhood, if
not of trade with trade, yet at least within the separate trades,
had been a very real thing. In widening and extending loves
and hatreds, mankind also dilutes them. That which still
makes us reject all shallow theories of cosmopolitanism and
federation of the world in the present day, hugging our con-
tempt for them and calling it patriotism, worked with a
tenfold force on a citizen of York or London before the

Still the thing had got to go, and its going made for
liberty. But the process of going was horrible. To many
thoughtful minds, like Sir Thomas More's, the appearance of
competition, the idea of each man seeking to be richer than




his neighbours, was an evil spectre which stalked through the
land and must be laid. The burden of the " Utopia " and it is
of course a singular thing that a mind so acute as More's did
not see that to reinstate custom on her throne was the most
Utopian of all dreams is that it is contrary to the laws of
God and man for each to seek his own profit independently of
the profit of the Commonwealth. Latimer's sermons tell the
same tale ; and it is not, indeed, till the reign of Elizabeth,


and then only very partially, that one finds competition ac-
cepted as a fact, as the mainspring of trade, which was the
mainspring of English town life.


Ix the time of Henry VIII. plague was a very serious disturber
of the public health ; from the first to the last year of his reign
-there were probably not half a dozen summers or autumns
for which we lack evidence of plague in London. Some
of the years, such as 1513, 1521,^1535, 1543, and 1547,
witnessed epidemics of the greater degree in the capital :
and during the same period there is evidence of severe
mortalities from it at Exeter, Oxford, Canterbury, Bristol,
Shrewsbury, Cambridge, York, Doncaster, Newcastle, as well
as in the resorts near London and in other country parishes.
The records of plague in provincial towns are fuller, indeed,



in the Elizabethan and Stuart periods ; but it is probable Plague
that the reign of Henry VIII. was a fairly representative Social 8
time of plague in England, and it will be convenient to state Effects,
briefly here what were the effects of that disease upon public
health and population. There is hardly any point upon which
testimony is more concurrent and irrefutable than that plague
was a mortal disease of the poorer classes a veritable shears
of Fate, which cut off the fringe of poverty as it grew from
time to time, each great epidemic leaving the community richer,
on the average, than it found it. One reason of the in-
cidence of plague upon the more indigent was that they
alone were unable to escape from the tainted air of the
capital or other town ; another reason was that they lived
more skittishly, fed more grossly, drank too much, made
themselves liable to infection by other excesses, and exposed
themselves among the sick or the dead in the way of
neighbourly good offices, or in mere indifference, to an
extent that their betters could hardly understand. The
mortalities of the greater epidemics in London are not
known with numerical exactness until that of 1563 ; but, from
the experience of that and many subsequent epidemics in
which the figures were kept, it in ay be safely asserted that, on
an average, once in a generation and during a period of three
centuries from the Black Death to the extinction of plague in
1666 the capital lost from a fourth to a sixth of its population
at one stroke in a single season, suffering also a drain of its
poorer classes from the same cause more or less steadily from
year to year. The provincial towns suffered likewise, and some-
times even in a greater ratio of deaths to inhabitants ; but for
these the authentic figures are nearly all later than our period
here. Thus Chester, when its population was mostly housed
within its old Roman Avails, and could hardly have exceeded
5,000 or 6,000, lost in one epidemic (lasting two years)
some 1,300 or 1,500 (the enumerations differ), and on
another occasion 2,009 ; Newcastle, with a population of
some 20,000, lost in a single half-year 5,027, besides 515
in C4arthside ; Colchester with a smaller population, lost,
in an epidemic lasting seventeen months, 4,817 from plague,
as well as 528 from other causes ; Bristol more than once
lost what must have been a fourth or a fifth ; Leeds,



Manchester, and Lichtield, when the two former were hardly
larger than the latter, had mortalities from plague in a
single season which ran into four figures ; towns like
Stamford, Tiverton, and Totnes had their plague-mortalities
of 500 or GOO ; Longhborough had its hundreds, Watford
its scores, Eton its tens, and even the hamlet of Stoke
Pogis its units.

These figures, as has lieen said, come from a later time,
when numbers were more accurately kept and better pre-
served ; but they suffice to show approximately what the
proportion of deaths to population had been in plague-
epidemics of the severest degree. Not London only, but
most of the provincial towns in their turn, had epidemics
of plague which cut off as high a ratio as from a fourth to a
sixth of their population, and that fraction the poorest, if not
altogether the helpless or the worthless. There is no reason
to suppose that the towns were specially unhealthy in any
other way ; on the other hand, it can be shown that when
plague was quiet in London in the Elizabethan period, the
christenings exceeded the burials by twenty-five per cent.
But any such gain of population was soon swallowed up by
the revival of plague ; and in a provincial town, such as
Chester, which had not the same influx from without as
London would always have had, the gaps left by a great
plague would have been no more than filled before another
plague came. Thus the operation of plague was peculiar;
it cut off the fringe of poverty at one ruthless stroke, and
when the fringe had grown again, it was again submitted
to the shears. Plague may be said to have tended to keep
the population low and the average of well-being high ;
and that had been its steady effect, in the towns, at least,
from the fifteenth century onwards.

Preventive Plague, having been thus frequent from the beginning
Measures. of the Te ^ n of ' Henry vm although it mostly killed only

the poor, was a constant menace to the rich ; accordingly,
measures were taken to restrain it, or to keep it within
bounds measures which had both their intention and their
effect not so much to save the people, all and sundry, from
plague, as to save one class from the contagion of another. It
was characteristic of the Tudor period that the original motive




of these preventive practices was the safety of the sovereign's
person. Quarantine, which had already been practised at Quarantine.
Venice, Marseilles, the Firth of Forth, and elsewhere, in the
ordinary way upon ships and their cargoes and crews, remained
for several generations in England an affair of the Court
a restriction upon the access of foreign ambassadors and others
to the king's person until forty days had passed since they were
last in contact with the plague. Something of the kind was
carried out by Henry VII. in the sweating sickness of 1508 ;
and in the severe
London plague of 1513
and following years we
find the Venetian am-
bassador forbidden the
Court for forty days
whenever one or more
cases of plague had
occurred in his house-
hold. To the same
period belong also the
measures for marking
and shutting up houses
which had the plague
among their inmates.
These measures were
devised, in the first
instance, for London
by Henry VIII. himself, and consisted in marking the infected Treatment of
houses with wisps, of keeping all the inmates within doors, Persons,
or of letting them out on necessary business only on condition
that they bore in their hands a white rod for forty days.
This practice remained in force in London, as well as in
provincial towns and villages, until the last of the plague in
1666, having meanwhile undergone some developments. The
wisp upon the house became a St. Anthony's cross, or crutch, at
first blue and afterwards red, painted on a small piece of canvas
or board, which was fixed to the post of the street door, with the
legend under or over the cross, " Lord, have mercy upon us ! "
The shutting-up became more rigorous : all the windows and
doors were kept closed, no one was allowed to leave the house,


"Ship of Fools," 1500.)




for Con-

tion and

watchmen were set to guard it, and food was only introduced in
sncli manner as to avoid contact with the inmates; attendants
on the sick and bearers of the dead had to take oath to keep
from converse with their families or others, and to bear a white
or red rod whenever they went abroad. In Edinburgh the
" clengers," or disinfectors of houses, and the bearers of the dead,
wore a grey gown marked with a white St. Andrew's cross before
and behind, and the two public biers of the city had each a bell
mounted on it, which gave warning to people in the streets. At
Aberdeen three gibbets were set up, whereon to hang anyone
Avho brought in the plague or gave lodging to infected or sus-
pected persons " the man to be hangit, the woman drownit,"
according to the feudal distinction of " pit and gallows " for the
respective sexes. In the same city a father was branded on the
hand with a hot iron for concealing a case of plague in one of
his children. Queen Elizabeth had a gibbet set up at Windsor
with the same object, and Charles I. at the gate of the Court at
Woodstock. The shut-up was supported out of the municipal
funds or by private collections, an Act of Parliament for their
more systematic maintenance having been passed in the first
year of James I.

To give effect to these measures of isolation it was
necessary to have early warning of the existence of plague
in a house or parish; to that end searchers were appointed
-two discreet women in each parish of London who were
sworn, in the church of St. Mary-le-Bow, to make a true report
whether the death were one ot plague or other cause. The
searchers made report to the clerk of the parish, and he
to Parish Clerks' Hall, whence was issued a weekly bill of
all the deaths from the plague in the several parishes, together
with a list of parishes in which there was no plague. The
original is extant of one of these bills for the week 6th to 14th
August, 1535, showing 105 deaths from plague, and 47 from
other causes in sixty-one parishes, with thirty parishes " clear."
There is also extant a more primitive-looking bill for a week in
November (17th to 23rd), in a year not stated, showing 34
deaths from plague and 32 from other causes in thirty-seven
parishes (four of them wholly without the Avails, and two at the
gates, partly without and partly within), sixty-three parishes of
the City and Liberties having no deaths, " as by this bille doth



appere." These extant bills of mortality belong to the reign of
Henry VIII. ; but the citizens in plague-time seem to have
known whether the parishes were "clear " or " not clear" as early
as the reign of Edward IV., so that there may have been
bills drawn up at an earlier period than any still extant date

The earlier Tudor monarchs seem to have^put their trust






chiefly in quarantine (although Edward III. and Henry V. sanita-
were vigorous sanitarians) ; at all events their other preventive lon>
measures were far from radical. The blood and oti'al of the
shambles were thought likely to breed or favour infection,
and were fulminated against ineffectually. A great set was
made 1 against stray dogs and cats as likely carriers of infection;
straw was to be carried from infected houses to the fields to be
burned, and the clothes of the infected to be "cured." Three





times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, twelve
bucketsful of water were to be drawn from every pump or well
and cast into the kennels to cleanse the streets withal, by an
order of Lord Protector Somerset in 1547. The Sanitary
Ordinances dating from the reign of Elizabeth arc more vigorous,
and it is possible that some of them may have been in force
under her predecessors also.

Medical ^ 10 me dical profession was not yet identified with sanitary

Profes- science or preventive medicine. Their patients were all among
the well-to-do, who rarely suffered from plague after the
first epidemics of it in 1349 and in the latter part of the four-
teenth century ; but in those earlier plague-times the physicians
reaped a golden harvest, like Chaucer's physician, who loved
gold in special, and was a close-fisted person to boot : " He
kept that he won in the pestilence." In later times, when
their rich clients fled from a plague-stricken place, the
physicians fled also, because it was not then usual to
give gratuitous advice to the poor in any circumstances,
however pressing Nor did they aid the people by their pens ;
not one of the leading physicians of Henrv VIII. 's rei<m

It/ */ O

Linacre, Chambre, Butts, or others wrote or published a single
line upon plague so far as we know. The earliest book on it,
containing native experience, is by Dr. Gilbert Skene, of
Aberdeen, in 1568, and he has a significant remark about his
colleagues : " Medicineirs are mair studious of their awinc
helthe nor of the common weilthe." It is not until we come
to Thomas Lodge, in 1603, that we find a London physician
of the first rank remaining at his post, in Warwick Lane, to
help the poor, professing that humane view of his art Avhich
became usual long after, and deploring the fate of his " poor
countrymen left without guide or counsel, how to succour
themselves in extremity; for where the infection most rageth
there poverty roigneth among the commons, which, having no
supplies to satisfy the greedy desires of those that should
attend them, are for the most part left desolate to die
without relief." Those greedy persons were the empirics,
together with some apothecaries and surgeons, who ran the
risk for the sake of the gain. The surgeons were mostly
. occupied with their lancets ; their interest in the sanitary
aspect of plague was wholly negative, for one of the plague




orders ran : " That no chirurgions or barbers, which use to
let blood, do cast the same into the streets or rivers " as if
they had been, in regard to State medicine, mere nuisance-
makers like the slaughtermen of St. Nicholas parish.

Henry VIII., who was no mean amateur in physic himself, and the
did much to give physicians and surgeons their professional Kin s-
status. He established the faculty of Physic at Oxford and
Cambridge, by founding the Regius Professorships ; at an

Photo: Walker and Cockcnil.

(Xnt tonal Portrait <!nUcry.)

earlier date, in 1518, he gave a Charter of Incorporation to
Linacre and others as the College of Physicians of London, who
were also privileged, by the Act of 1540, to practise surgery.
The original members were all graduates of foreign uni-
versities; but with their new faculties Oxford and Cam-
bridge began to supply medical graduates to the London
College, along with Padua, Montpellier, and afterwards
Leyden. It had been already enacted in 1511 that phy-

sicians and surgeons, duly examined by the Bishop of London


198 TlfK OLD OIlDEIi C'//,LY '//,'/>.


or the Dean of St. Paul's, with four medical assessors in
London, or by the Bishop of the diocese, with skilled aid,
in the provinces, should enjoy certain exclusive rights and
privileges of practice. The Act related that a great multitude
of ignorant persons, as smiths, weavers, ;ind women, attended
the sick, administering drugs and other applications, and
using sorcery or witchcraft; but whereas it was desirable (as
in the preamble of the present Medical Act) that those in
need of medical aid should be able to " discern the uncimning
from the cunning " ; be it, therefore, ordained that only thos<j
licensed as above were to exercise the arts of medicine and
surgery. However, the surgeons pushed their monopoly too
far; and in the preamble of a new Act (1542-43) they were
denounced as at once ignorant and exorbitant in their charges
and so jealous of their trade that they had^sued, troubled,
and vexed even those who gave medical advice " to poor
people only for neighbourhood's sake and of pity and
charity." It was accordingly ordained that any subject of
the king may cure outward sores, incomes, wounds, apostema-
tions, outward swellings, or diseases, and administer remedies
for stone, strangury, ague, etc., without suit, vexation, trouble
or penalty. The surgeons, however, had a certain status as
a chartered company of the city of London, having been
admitted to the fellowship of, and made one with, the old
Company of the Barber-Surgeons (incorporated in the four-
teenth century) by the Act of 1540, which at the same time
ordained that no barber was to use surgery, and no surgeon
to use barbery the explicit motive being that those who
wanted merely to get shaved need not run the risk of going
to a practitioner Avho may have just been treating infectious
diseases, such as the plague or the French pox. While the
surgeons were thus enabled to dissociate themselves, as it were,
from the barbers (and further to assert their learned status by
taking every year the bodies of four felons for anatomies), it was
the barbers who had helped them to their incorporation and had
for two centuries preserved a respectable tradition. This Guild
(afterwards the Company) of Barber-Surgeons in London, and
the guilds of York, Exeter, Gloucester, Dublin, and other cities,
were moulded by the strict discipline of the fifteenth century
guilds and Companies the control of apprentices by masters







t I




and of masters by the searchers or the Court of Wardens.
They were at least respectable burgesses, and sometimes they
rose as in the ease of Morested in London to great civic
influence. They served, also, as a check upon the travelling

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 21 of 68)