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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Elizabeth's time.

In the period we are dealing with, Elizabeth's Government Tne

, \ . . Growth

continued its extorts to regulate ana organise the various O f Mono-
domestic industries. By Acts passed in the thirty-ninth and P<> lies -
forty-third years of the reign, the Statute of Apprentices
was extended and amended, and the re-organisation of com-
panies, referred to in the last chapter, was energetically pushed
forward. The system of granting patents and monopolies was
also extended, and, indeed, was greatly abused. The right of
exclusive dealing, originally given in the supposed interest of
the community, was now being granted to favourites and
courtiers, and sold by them to the highest bidder. In other
cases the monopolies were sold by the Crown for the sake of
the revenue they brought in. The purchasers naturally made
use of their monopoly to demand high prices, and to pass off
inferior goods on the public, At first the monopolies were
confined to luxuries of foreign growth, but the system had
now been extended to common, and even necessary articles
vsuch as salt, steel, starch, coal, and leather. Public indigna-




tion rose high, and in the Parliament of 1597 the subject was
resolutely brought forward. The Queen "hoped her dutiful
and loving subjects would not take away her prerogative";
and promised to examine into all the patents that had been,
granted, and to see that no illegality had been practised. But
the promises came to little, and when Parliament met again
in 1601 the Commons returned fiercely to the charge. The
Ministers urged that the House should satisfy itself with
a petition, and one, at least, of the courtiers offered to re-
sign his monopolies. But the Opposition persisted in their
denunciations till the Queen thought it best to yield, and Cecil

announced, in her name, that all the
existing patents should be repealed, and
no more should be granted. This an-
nouncement was received with gratitude,
to which the Queen replied, " I have more
cause to thank you all than you me, for
had I not received a knowledge from you,,
I might have fallen into the lap of an
error only for lack of true information."
Elizabeth knew when to yield, and could
yield graciously; but it is interesting to ;
notice that she, who so often overruled
the wishes of her subjects on political and
religious matters, should have given way
so completely on a purely commercial

The Queen's promises were not, however, kept, Some of,
the most objectionable patents were withdrawn, but the
majority were left untouched, and the subject became one of
the matters of contention between the Stuart kings and their
Parliaments. It was not till Ki24 that the granting of mono-
polies was definitely made illegal by Act of Parliament ; and,
Abolition, even then, exceptions were made in the case of new inventions
and of certain specified commodities.

The growth of the commercial spirit among Englishmen
in the sixteenth century is evidenced by the changed feeling
011 the subject of taking interest (" usury "). An Act of Parlia-
ment passed in 1545, while formally condemning all lending
at usury, in accordance with the traditional morality, practically






surrendered the principle, and only strove to prevent excessive
interest. Seven years later the old condemnation was revived,
but in 1571 Elizabeth's Parliament reverted to the settlement
of 1545. The legal maximum rate was at this time ten per
cent., but in 1024 it was only eight per cent. The accumulation
of wealth, and especially of wealth in the form of money,
increased the desire to lend at interest, whilst the growing spirit
of adventure and the multiplying openings for trade simul-
taneously increased the desire to borrow and the willingness


(The Residence of an Ironfounder of the period.)

to pay for the accommodation. In the Middle Ages borrowing
implied misfortune or thriftlessness, and lending at interest
meant generally the taking advantage of a neighbour's distress
or folly. We can, therefore, easily understand why it was so
strongly condemned by the Church and public opinion. But
in a more industrious age the desire to borrow, even at interest,
would often arise from fresh opportunities of profitable trading ;
instead of being a step in the spendthrift's downward course,
it would often be part of a prudent progress to greater wealth.
The old idea lingered long in men's minds, but the lending
at interest had become in so many cases a convenience and



advantage to both parties and to the community, that we
can scarcely wonder that both the law and public opinion were
gradually modified. The law still professed to condemn usury,
but it practically limited its aim to the prevention of excessive
rates of interest. The next step was naturally a system of
intermediaries discharging some of what we now call banking
BanMng. functions. The goldsmiths began to borrow at interest in order
to lend out to traders at a higher rate. In other words, they
became the connecting link between those who had money
to lend and those Avho wished to borrow for trading purposes,
or it might be to improve their estates. No doubt at first
the goldsmiths merely acted as guardians of their clients' hoards.
but they soon began to utilise those hoards much as bankers
now make use of the money deposited with them. The Govern-
ment itself soon took to borrowing at interest from bankers for
short periods, till the taxes or other forms of revenue came
in. There had been a bank at Venice as early as the twelfth
century, and at Genoa in the fourteenth, but the bank at
Amsterdam (founded 1009) soon outstripped all its rivals.
ThePosi- It was undoubtedly the middle and upper classes who

Labour. profited chiefly by the development of industry and commerce
in the reign of Elizabeth. The actual money wages of labour
hardly increased, while the prices of almost all commodities
were rising. Thus, if we compare the magistrates' assessments
for wages in Rutlandshire for 15(54 and for 1(510, we get the
following results :

i:,r,4. 1610.

Ordinary artisan (summer) ... 9d. ... 9d. or lOd. per diem.

(winter) ... 8d. ... 8<1.

Agricultural labourer (summer) ... 7<1. ... 7d. .,

(winter) ... 6d. ... 6d.

Mower ... ... ... (not given separately) Khl. ,,

Reaper Stl.

wages Here, we see, the only advances were a fractional increase


Prices. in the summer wages of an artisan, and perhaps some extra
remuneration of the more skilled kinds of farm labour.
Meanwhile, wheat had risen from 19s. 9|d. per quarter to
2 Os. 4d. ; malt, from 10s. Sd. to 13s. 4fd. : and prices
generally, by more than fifty per cent. On the other hand,
it has to be noticed that the rise was somewhat less in the
articles consumed by labourers than in those consumed by



the upper and middle classes ; and that while wages probably
rose somewhat more rapidly than the magistrates' assessments,
there was also apparently more regularity of employment.
Moreover, many of the labourers kept a cow, and did, generally,
more agricultural work on their own account, and thus often
gained a little by the rise of prices. If we compare the
decennium beginning 1583 with that beginning 1003, we find
that wheat, which, we must remember, was not, to any great
extent, an article of labourers' consumption, rose fifty per cent.,


(Arcliceological Museum, Cambridge.)

but oats only twenty-five per cent. In the same period malt rose
thirty per cent., and the average price of sheep about twenty-five
per cent. ; while the wages of common labour only rose about three
per cent. We can scarcely doubt that this difference outweighed
the counterbalancing facts referred to above, and therefore we
conclude, though with some hesitation, that the material con-
dition of the labouring class was actually deteriorating during
the twenty years that we are dealing with ; while, if we made
the comparison with the second half of the fifteenth century,
we should find the deterioration very much more considerable.

How far this deterioration was due to the expansion of the
currency is less easy to determine. Taking Europe as a whole,
Mr. Jacobs calculates the total stock of money in silver and gold



at the beginning of the century at 84,000,000; and the addi-
tional produce of the mines during the century, after making
allowance for wear of coins, at 188,000,000. But of this,
much went to Asia, and much was used in arts and manufacture,
and for various purposes other than coinage. This Mr. Jacobs
estimates at 42,000,000. Accordingly, the stock of money in
Europe at the end of the century was about 130,000,000, as
against 34,000,000 at the beginning. How much of this cir-
culated in England is not easy to determine ; but Elizabeth
coined, on an average, during the forty-four years of her reign,
125,311 annually, viz. 107,240 in silver, and 18,071 in gold,
making a gross total for the reign of 5,513,717. Of this, only
733,248 was issued from the Mint at the general re-coinage.
We cannot, therefore, wonder at the great rise in prices ; but the
effects on the condition of the labourers seem opposed to the
popular view that such a rise is likely to benefit the labouring
classes. In reality, it seems that all rapid fluctuations generally
have the opposite effect, whether the movement of prices be
upwards or downwards.

The following table shows the average prices of typical com-
modities, as calculated by Thorold Rogers for the decennial
periods, 1583-1593, and 1603-1613 :- i-iss-im. ifios-13.

C s. d. e s. d.

Wheat, per quarter .. 1 3 8i ... 1 15 3J

Barley 12 10i ... 19 5

Oats 8 l" ... 11 10*

Malt ... 14 5 ... 19 10

Cloth (common) per 12 yards ... ... ... 117 ... 142

Velvet per yard ... 1 6' ... 1 3 li

Linen, second best table, per 12 yards ... 1 18 9f ... 1 13 5

Canvas (commonest table) 093 ... 088^

Iron (wrought) per cwt. ... ... ... 147 ... 1 12 8

Lead (wrong-lit) 12 9f ... 15 4

Sugar per 12lb. 017 1^ ... 1 3}

Rice 059 ... 6 0*

Herrings, 120 028 ... 3 7*

Oysters, 120 007^ ... 009

Haberden (salt cod) 120 3 4 3~ ... 332

Caudles, 12 Ib. ... 3 6i ... 4 Q

Beans ... 16 11 ... 19 2

Peas ... 16 1\ ... 17 5|

Oxen (highest price) ... 471 ... 698

Sheep (average) 7 9* ... 9 0|

Horses, Coach (highest price) 11 410 ... 1116 2







P $'
ia g"


H 'c











of the


The following are specimens of the average week I v wages
during the same decennial periods:

1 :>s:!-<>:5. ir.os-i:',.

Sawyers ...
Women (ordinary)


S. (1.

-> 11',

.-> n"

5 31

1 11 1




s. <1.

(i O. 1 ,

6 8i

."> !'.

J 6

We may now briefly review the economic movements of
Elizabeth's reign. On the whole, this period was one of great
commercial progress. While the population of England steadily
increased, her wealth increased far more rapidly. From being

almost purely agricultural
and pastoral, our country
had now entered on that
career which, in the
eighteenth century, made
her foremost among the


FIKEBACK, 1587. (Ln

nations both in manu-
factures and commeive :
but agriculture remained
our chief industry, and
we were still far behind

the Dutch in almost all branches of commerce. This progress
was made possible and inaugurated by the restoration of the
currency. It was stimulated by the advent of skilled im-
migrants, by the rise in prices, and especially by the growing
energy of the people. It was fostered, directly by the peaceful
and economical policy of Elizabeth, and indirectly by the
havoc wrought by religious wars among our foreign rivals.
It manifested itself in the great outburst of luxury and
splendour which marked the closing years of the reign.

On the other hand, it must be noticed that it was the upper
and middle classes who secured for themselves almost the whole
of the increment in natural wealth. Whilst the money wages
of the labourer increased, his real time-wages (measured in
the commodities purchasable for a day's wages) undoubtedly
decreased. It is probable, indeed, that this diminution was
balanced by greater regularity of employment : but, at best,
the labourer was worse oft' than his great-grandparents had
been at the close of the fifteenth century, and not perceptibly




better off than his parents in the early years of Elizabeth. In
spite, however, of the great authority of Thorold Rogers, I
cannot believe that the labourer's position steadily deteriorated

jt'i i/iuxoj the kookc of Simples,





. X Y,\* <!k V v -.'_ ' /









in the sixteenth century. I should rather maintain that it grew
worse down to about 1500 ; that it then improved for a few
years, and that after that it remained fairly stationary till the
close of the century.

The classes immediately above that of the wage-earners,
which included small farmers, shopkeepers, and small employers,








naturally profited greatly by the rise in prices. Those who buy
to sell again, whether what they sell is in the same form as
when bought, or worked up by their own industry, or the forces
of Nature, obviously gain something more than the natural fruit
of their industry, if prices rise between the time when they
buy and the time when they sell. Accordingly, we are not
surprised to find that the middle classes grew greatly both in
numbers and wealth during the reign of Elizabeth. It was
these classes who were most attracted towards Puritanism,
which thus became, before the close of Elizabeth's reign, an
important factor in the national life, though it was still only
slightly represented in the House of Commons, and still more
slightly in the House of Lords.

Among the upper classes, too, we find many evidences of
increased prosperity. The rise in rents was not indeed pro-
portionate to the general rise in prices ; but the upper classes
invested largely in the trading and buccaneering enterprises of
the time, which, in spite of frequent losses, brought in on the
whole very advantageous returns. Moreover, owing to the
spread of commerce, the prices of many luxuries from abroad
actually fell, while others only slightly advanced. The upper
classes now lived, as we have seen (p. 734), in houses built of
brick or stone, with chimneys and glass windows, carpets,
cushions, and other- comforts, which had been, before Elizabeth's
reign, almost unattainable luxuries : and there was a corre-
sponding improvement in their dress and in their food.

w. A. s.
The Poor

THE Reformation would in any case have made necessary much
social legislation during the reign of Elizabeth. But great
changes were in progress in every sphere of economic activity,
and the natural evils of a period of transition were aggravated
by a currency problem of the first magnitude. It was in
these circumstances that the Poor Law, whose early history
has been already described, was shaped into a form which,
whatever its defects, was destined to remain unchanged in its
essential features for nearly two hundred and fifty years. The
statutes dealing with the poor during the reign of Elizabeth
were not the work of a group of philanthropists, pursuing
their own course. The same individuals, the same committees



of Lords and Commons, in the same session of Parliament,
took counsel with each other, struggled and fought about
Bills for the increase of tillage, for regulating industry, for the
maintenance of navigation, as well as Bills for punishing vaga-
bonds, erecting houses of correction, and relieving the poor.
Thus the " Poor Laws of Elizabeth" may very well be described
as part of one great economic system.

The first of them, 1 like the Statute of Apprenticeship, was
introduced in the House of Lords. It passed that House on
16th March, 1563, was sent to the Commons, where several


(S. Bateman, " Chrystal Glass of Christian Reformation," 1569.)

amendments and two provisos were added, and the amended
Bill was read a third time in the Lords on 6th April, 1563. The
Bill went through all its stages in both Houses in less than a
month. Thus were enacted important changes in the law as
we left it at the end of Mary's reign (p. 365), and from their
^karacter it is evident that the difficulties there noted had
becofne more acute. The time for the election of the collectors
was Altered from Christmas to Midsummer, and mayors, bailiffs,
vicars, curates, and other officers mentioned failing to do their
duty in electing them, were to forfeit forty shillings, to be
levied by distress. The penalty for refusing the office was
raised to the large amount of 10, to be levied by distress or

1 5 Elizabeth, c. 3.


by action of debt, bill, plaint, or information to be brought by
the churchwardens in any court of record. Churchwardens
neglecting to sue for such forfeitures were to be fined 20.
Imprisonment was substituted for the bishop's censure in the
case of defaulting collectors, and contributions for the relief ot
the poor were now made compulsory. Those refusing to give,
and discouraging others from doing so, were, after due exhort-
ation by the parson and then by the bishop, to be bound in the
sum of 10 to appear before the Justices, who were to commit
them to prison if they continued obdurate. The gentleness of
this punishment, and the extremely roundabout way in which
it reached the offender, contrasted with the swift retribution
which overtook faulty administrators of the Act, show how
unwilling the Government was to adopt a compulsory rate.
The The next eight years were a time of great anxiety both at

Nuisance nome an d abroad, and instead of diminishing, the number ot
poor and vagabonds increased in an alarming manner. A Bill
for the punishment of the latter was read a first time in the
Commons on 4th December, lo(il>. On the 30th of the same
month there is an interesting note to the effect that " The almrs
given this day for relief of the Poor amounted to the sum of
nineteen pounds ten shillings, to be paid by Mr. Henry Knolles,
senior, and Mr. Grimston, two members of the said House." l In
1569 the Privy Council ordered a "search" for vagabonds, "as
the Queen and her Council had a jealousy of certain that went
about in the North and in other parts of the nation." The
search, which took place on the same day in various parts of
the country, resulted in the apprehension of no less than 13,000
" masterless men." The City of London also adopted elaborate
measures for discovering and repressing vagabonds. 2 For two
or three years after the Northern rebellion a scarcity was feared,
and many persons, not only in the Northern counties but in
other districts, were in great want. " I have travelyd," wrote
Sir Thomas Gargrave to the Earl of Sussex (6th September,
1571), " this iij wekes and more, daly, excepte Sundays. . . .
I have not herd the complaynt so generall of povertye as yt
nowe ys." The Government was fully alive to the necessity

1 D'Ewes' Jitiirniilx, j>. i:r>. - For an account of these measures; rnlc

Ribton Turner's llixtnnj of Vdijrtnitx and Vagrancy, pp. Kn'. :>'.>'.'. 3 Cart-

wright's Cluiptct-s of Yorkshire History, p. 57.



of further legislation. The subject of poor relief had already
engaged the attention of the Privy Council. The Lord Mayor
and the Bishop of London had prepared a memorial of in-
structions, and Sir James Crofts had been appointed to consult
with them as to the measures to be adopted and the persons
whose advice should be asked. 1 When a Bill against vaga-

^ ClW ceunrcrm <ftmf. ;

2 J-il.CUl* li.Ulll.Mjtl> j

fc \ ' .^,..-^

^ l^m

/>%^^ j' :

jfey 5^ftiV>\ -si



u ,?i

:2 V*

II fe^.tf jHlfi


*, ^"tii'ct'DMKftiitf t,
' O:i' h f Jii y fjaif. >Sm <Rt>iu
7 'ihioir.sniTnuuiBcljiiiblti.A Crantic.lUWm.
r tl'irinii'i' ctmcrrij. of tn':} to i.tibia:*.

S^orf c:li!',ii-(i 10 bt mail hie rcicf
' Tint f.murrnif .1 fl(i*rMf,AnO .1 Ccrsingmmi:
V" O- !sa!Tint)fft,alitlno -il*fmtthH
f 5)urhdn't.'(f; hebftt.bcmn.tutlltt^cB
r 3 banbaniug Ixhaur.tiit l>c Vnio r!j)icu.
< CoitDtiig punifitinc nt. fo: Inc S;friilAtioii,

I 1C lUtCll 1 i f I C,UK tOllij 111 .Kb ClcUilUtutn


(From the " Gnu nul works of Conny-catcTiing.")

bonds and for the relief of the poor was brought into the The


Commons (13th April, 1571) the interest in it was so great of 1571>
that there was an animated debate on the first reading, " which
is not commonly used, until after the second reading." One


1 Art* of tin' friv;/ Council (i:>91-<)7), pp. 72. 73.
- D'Ewes' Journal*, p. 165.




Of 1572.

member, " standing much on the care which is to he had for the
poor," urged that the' 15111 before the House was "over sharp
and bloody," and that it was possible, " with some travail had
by the Justices, to relieve every man at his own house and to
stay them from wandering," justifying his opinion by an. ap-
peal to Worcestershire experience. Cecil said he would have
a Bridewell in every town, " and every tipler in the county to
yield twelvepence yearly to the maintenance thereof." Wilson,
the author of a well-known treatise on usury, argued that
" poor of necessity we must have, for so Christ hath said, until
His latter coming." He then described his experience through

the greatest part of Christen-
dom, concluding " that such
looseness and lewdness was
nowhere as here. ... It
was no charity to give to such
a one as we know not, being
a stranger unto us." This
Bill passed the Commons,
but was rejected or allowed
to drop in the Lords.

Another Bill, which after-
wards became law, was read
a first time in the Lords on
12th May, 1572, reached its
third reading five days later,
and was sent to the Commons
on the 19th. Then difficulties began. On 24th May it was found
necessary to have a conference with the Lords on the Commons'
amendments, but the Lords clung to their own views. For one
thing they strongly objected to the inclusion of " fencers, beare-
wardes, common players in interludes, and minstrels"- all hateful
to Puritan commoners in the definition of vagabonds and idle
rogues. On 30th May the Commons resolved " that the words
MinstreLls, Bearwards, Pedler*, etc., shall not be put out of
the Bill, but stand still in the same, qualified by licenses of
the Justices of the Peace in such sort as upon the Committee
hath been considered and agreed upon, with this condition
also that if the Lords shall not agree to that qualification,
then this House will not be so bound by the said resolution,


(/,'. ilrrciif, " UroiDitlircu'l.-e f Conny-catching.")



but that they may alter and change the same at their will and
pleasure, if they shall so think good." l The Commons, how-
ever, had their way, and the Bill became law. 2

This second Poor Law of Elizabeth was by far the most
elaborate that had been passed since first the subject attracted
the attention of the Government. It is noticeable also that
severe measures were once more to be tried for the repression of
vagabonds. They were to be " grievously whipped," and burnt
through the gristle of the right ear, unless they can find


some one who will, under penalty of 5, keep them in service
for a year. In case of a relapse into vagabondism within sixty
days after punishment, the penalty was the death of a felon
unless some honest person having 10 in goods or forty shillings
in lands, or some householder approved by the Justices, would

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 62 of 68)