William Stubbs.

The constitutional history of England in its origin and development, Volume 3 online

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of the remedy sought in the limitation of wages and the prices
of victuals, and in peremptory interference between the em-
ployers and the employed. The ordinance of 1349 was followed
by the statute of 1351 which, among other enactments, pro-
vided a regular machinery by which the excess of wages paid to
the labourers could be recovered from them by process before
justices assigned for the purpose, the proceeds of these actions
being appropriated, where the masters did not sue for it, to
the relief of the local contributions towards the national taxes '.
In 1357 the money so recovered was assigned to the lords of
franchises on the understanding that they should contribute

^ Statutes, i. 307. ' Statuteg, i. 311, 31a.

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6o2 Constitutional Histofy. [chap.

statutes and to the expenses of the justices^. An almoet immediate resalt of

petitions on , . . . ,i i. .. <. • •

labour. this over-repression was seen in the formation of conspiracies
among the carpenters and masons, the flight of labourers from
their native counties, and the crowding of the corporate towns
with candidates for enfranchisement. All these practices \rete
attacked by the statute of 1362, but ineffectuallj, as the results
showed ^ The statutes of 1349 and 1351 were confirmed
in 1368 on the prayer of the employers of paid labourers,
'la commune que vivent par geynerie de lour terres ou mar-
chandie^/ who have no lordships or villeins to serve them.
In almost every parliament petitions were presented for the
enforcement of the statutes, or for the increase of their strin-
gency; but their chief result was the spread of disaffection
and disorder. From the paid artificers the dread of servitude
and the desire of combination spread to the villeins, against
whose conspiracies for constraining their masters a statute
was passed in 1377, and who were thus drawn or driven into
participation with the rebellion of 1 38 1, for which at the time they
suffered so heavy retribution. Although the events of that year
tended to bring the employers to a more just sense of their
relation to the employed, petitions every now and then emerge,
showing that the lesson had not been completely learned, and
from this time the cause of the villein and the artisan is one.
Besides the petitions for the enforcement of the statutes, which
are presented as late as the year 1482, statutes were passed
in 1388, 1427, and 1430 confirming or amending the acts of
Edward III^ As eady as 1378 the commons had petitioned
that agricultural labourers might not be allowed to be received
into towns, there to become artisans, mariners^ or clerks; in
1 39 1 occurs the &mous petition that villeins may not be allowed
to send their children to the schools ; in the first parliament of
Henry lY the same feeling is displayed in a request that they
may no longer be enfranchised by being received into a market
town^. All attempts however either to compel the artisans

' Statutes, i. 350. * Statutes, i. 375.

' Rot. Pari. ii. 296. * Statutes, ii. 63, 233. 244.

^ Bot Pari iii. 46, 294, 296, 448.

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XXI.] LatM on the Poor, 603

to work at husbandry, or to prevent the villeins from becoming Deficiency of
artisans, fi&iled ; the land went rapidly out of cultivation ; pas-
turage succeeded tillage ; poverty in the labouring class became
a growing evil, and the laws against the beggars grew more and
more stringent.

It is to the legislation of 1 3 88 that England owes her first glimpse Pint wpear-
af^parently of a law of settlement and organised relief. The act of settle-
by which the statute of labourers was confirmed and amended
contained a clause which forbad the labourer to leave his place
of service or to move about the country without a passport.
Another clause directed that impotent beggars should remain
in the places where they were at the passing of the statute, and
that, if the people of those places would not provide for them, they
were to seek a maintenance in other townships within the hundred
or wapentake, or in the places where they were born, within
forty days after the proclamation of the statute, there to remain
during their lives \ The same intention appears in the acts of
1495 and 1504, which were no doubt an expansion of the
statute of 1388, and which direct that beggars not able to work
are to be sent to the place where they were bom or have
dwelt or are best known, to support themselves by begging
within the limits of the hundred^. All these acts refer to men- LegiBlation
dicancy as if it were a recognised profession, in which both poor,
pilgrims and poor scholars of the Universities were included,
and such as was practised in Germany by both apprentices and
students in much later times. It is probable, and indeed cer-
tain, that for the poor who remained at home no such legisla-
tion was needed : in the towns the guilds, and in the country
the lords of the land, the clergy, and the monasteries, discharged
the duty, whether on legal or religious grounds, of providing for
the settled poor without putting them to unnecessary shame.

495. One class of the poor, the villein class, has engrossed The villeins,
almost the whole of the interest which the sympathy of historical
students can furnish for the medieval poor ; and in our former
chapters we have attempted to gather from the extremely

> SUtutes, ii. 58. * Statatee, ii 569, 656.

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694 Constitutional History. [chap.

Bw-ly obscure statements of legal writers, and in spite of the diver-

sities of local customs, some slight notion of their condition at
different periods of our history. We have seen how in Anglo-
Saxon times the relation of the landless man to his lord placed
him under a protection which was liable to be merged in total
dependence, whilst between him and the bondslave there still
existed a difference so wide as to be really a difference in kind ;
and how under the Norman goyemment the differences of rank
in. the lower classes of the native population were probably
confused ; the bondman possibly gained, whilst the villein for
the time as certainly lost. Both were ' rustici ' or ' nativi,*
both had land on customary conditions, both were so far * ad-
scriptitii glebae,' that they could not leave their land without
losing their all, or escape from the claims of their lord without
the risk of being brought again into bondage. There was no
doubt a strong tendency to make the servile relation altogether
dependent on the tenure of land, and to put an end even to the
forms of personal servitude, the disabilities which were attached
to the blood as well as to the territorial status of the villein.
Acts of , By acts of emancipation or manumission the ' native' was made
don. ' a freeman, even though with ihe disabilities he lost the
privileges of maintenance which he could claim on the land
of his lord. And acts of emancipation were regarded by the
church as meritorious. The old law books drew a distinction
between the villein regardant and the villein in gross, and
Sir Thomas Smith remarks that the distinction subsisted in
his own time, although villenage was then altogether vanishing
away. The villein regardant was a villein who laboured under
disabilities in relation to his lord only; the villein in gross
possessed none of the qualities of a freeman. It has been
doubted whether the villein in gross is not altogether a figment
of the lawyers, and English sentiment has always been adverse
to considering any man of native blood as less than friee.
Until we have a much more thorough investigation of the
manorial records than has been yet attempted, no decision
can be arrived at on this point; but it appears certain frx>m
known instances that there were, down to the close of the

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XXI.] Villenage. 605

middle ages, and perhaps longer, bondmen on many manors, Bondmen on

to whom the definition of villein regardant would not apply.

Possibly these were the sunrivors of the peasant population

which had been servile before the Conquest ; or, possibly they

had been depressed by the very definitions of the law which

they are found to illustrate. All that is certain is that they

were disqualified from all the functions of political life, and were,

owing to their depressed social state, the objects of much pity. It

is from the acts of manumission that we learn what little we know

of their legal status ; and some of those acts of manumission are,

in language at least, creditable to the age that encouraged them.

* Whereas,' writes bishop Sherborne of Chichester in 1 536, quoting A manu-
the Institutes of Justinian, * at the beginning nature brought forth bondman.
all men free, and afterwards the law of nations placed certain of
them under the yoke of servitude ; we believe that it is pious

and meritorious towards God to manumit them and to restore
them to the benefit of pristine liberty ;' and on this consideration
he proceeds to liberate Nicolas Holden, a ' native and serf,' who
for many years has served him on his manor of Woodmancote and
elsewhere, from every chain, servitude, and servile condition, by
which he was bound to the bishop and his cathedral church;

* and, so far as we can,' he adds, ' we make him a freeman ;
so that the said Nicholas, with the whole of the issue to be
begotten by him, may remain free, and have power freely to do
and exercise all and singular the acts which are competent to
free men, just as if he had been begotten by free parents*.'
All acts of manumission, it is true, are not worded like this ;
but it is obvious that, in such an act, something more was done
than the mere release of the villein from the services that were
due by reason of his lord's right over the land which he
occupied, and that the native so emancipated laboured under
other disqualifications than those from which he could have
delivered himself by obtaining his lord's leave to quit his
holding. On whatever the hold of the lord over his 'native'
was originally based, there were at the date of the Reformation,

^ From Bishop Sherborne's Register at Chichetter; folio 150. Other
forms will be found in Madox, Formulare Anglicanam, pp. 416-430.

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6o6 Constitutional History, [chap.

importanoe and after it, whole families who were liable to be sold as well 9b
to be emancipated. Against this is to be set the fact that the
sums for which the villein and his whole family and chattels were
transferred from one owner to another were so small as to prove
that the rights thus acquired, however heavy the disabilities of
the villein may have been, were worth little to the master;
and from this it may be inferred that the act of manumiasion
itself was intended rather to prove that the emancipated person
was not disqualified for holy orders or for knighthood, than to

Grades of give him the ordinary powers of a freeman. We may conjecture
that the villein regardant had fallen into villenage by occupying
some of the demesne of the lord on servile conditions, and that
the villein in gross was a chattel of the lord whom he paid or
maintained by a similar allotment of land ; that the former dass
could not be alienated without the land which they occupied,
but were in most other respects free, whilst the latter might be
sold from one manor to another, and were by reason of villein
blood incapable of most legal acts; that the condition of the
former was ameliorated and perhaps altogether made free by
the substitution of rents for services from the tenant, and by the
institution of copyhold titles, in which the custom of the manor
fettered the will of the lord ; whilst the lot of the latter remained
unimproved, except by separate manumissions, until the country
was ashamed of such servitude, and thought it best to forget
that it had ever existed. But, as has been already said, the
obscurity of the question, and the certain diversities of usage,
prevent us from offering any mere conjecture like this as a
possible solution of the difficulty.

No barriers 496. Whatever theoretical conclusion may be drawn touching
the condition of the poor, and there is no occasion that either
way it should be exaggerated by false sentiment, there is very
little evidence to show that our forefathers, in the middle ranks
of life, desired to set any impassable boundary between dan
and dass. The great barons would probably, at any period,
have shown a disinclination to admit new men on terms of
equality to their own order, but this disinclination was over-
borne by the royal policy of promoting useful servants, and the

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XXI.] Zinis between Ranks. 607

baronage was recruited by lawyers, ministers^ and warriors, Blending of
who in the next generation stood as stiffly on their privilege intermediate
as their companions had ever done. The country knight was
always regarded as a member of the noble class, and his position
was oontinuaUy strengthened by intermarriage with the baron-
age. The city magnate again formed a link between the
country squire and the tradesman ; and the tradesman and
the yeoman were in position and in blood close akin. Even the
villein might, by learning a craft, set his foot on the ladder
of promotion. But the most certain way to rise was furnished Edocation
by education. Over against the many grievances which modem meuu for
thought has alleged against the unlearned ages which passed
before the invention of printing, it ought to be set to the credit
of medieval society that clerkship was never despised or made
unnecessarily difficult of acquisition. The sneer of Walter
Map, who declared that in his days the villeins were attempting
to educate their ignoble and degenerate offspring in the liberal
arts, proves that even in the twelfth century the way was open.
Richard 11 rejected the proposition that the villeins should be RdooAtion
forbidden to send their children to the schools to learn ' dergie'; itricted by
and even at a time when the supply of labour ran so low that no ^''^
man who was not worth twenty shillings a year in land or rent
was allowed to i^prentice his child to a craft, a full and liberal
exception was made in favour of learning; 'every man or
woman' — ^the words occur in the petition and statute of artificers
passed in 1406, — 'of what state or condition that he be, shall be
free to set their son or daughter to take learning at any school
that pleaseth them within the realm ^.' What, it may be asked,
was the supply that answered to a demand so large as this 1 It
would be very unfiEur to underrate the debt which England owes
to the statesmen who, after the dissolution of monasteries, ob-
tained in the foundation of grammar schools a permanent, free,
and to some extent indepoident, source of liberal education for
the pe(^le, or to object to the claim made by that liberal educa-
tion to have been higher in character and value than anything

^ Bot. ParL iii. 602 ; Statutes, ii 158.

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6o8 Constitutional History. [chap.

Bducation that had preceded it. Tet it must be remembered that the want

ftimished by

the monastic which it supplied WAS ouc which had been to a great extent
schools. created by the destruction of the religious houses and other
foundations in which the middle ages had cultivated a modicum
of useful learning. In a former chapter attention has been
called to the fact that absolutely unlettered ignorance ought not
to be alleged against the middle and lower classes of these
ages ; that in every village reading and writing must have been
not unknown accomplishments, even if books and paper were
so scarce as to confine these accomplishments practically to the
mere uses of business. Schools were by no means uncommon
things ; there were schools in all cathedrals ; monasteries and
colleges were everywhere, and wherever there was a monastery
or a college there was a schooL Towards the close of the
middle ages, notwithstanding many causes for depression, there
Attempts to was much vitality in the schools. William of Wykeham at
depi^ion of Winchester and Henry VI at Eton set conspicuous examples
education. ^£ reform and improvement; the Lollards taught their doctrineB
in schools ; the schools of the cathedrals continued to flourish.
The depression of education was recognised but not acquiesced
in. In 1447 four parish priests of London, in a petition to
parliament, begged the commons to consider the great number
of grammar schools ' that sometime were in diverse parts of the
realm beside those that were in London, and how few there
be in these days ;' there were many learners, they continued, but
few teachers ; masters rich in money, scholars poor in learning ;
they asked leave to appoint schoolmasters in their parishes, to be
removed at their discretion ; and Henry VI granted the petition,
subjecting that discretion to the advice of the ordinary^.
Learning had languished, as may be inferred from the &ct that
the decline of the universities had only been arrested by the
rapid endowment of the new colleges, and that the restriction of
the church patronage of the crown to university men had been
offered as an inducement to draw men to Oxford and Cambridge.
But the great men of the land, ministers and prelates, were

* Eot. Pari v. 137.

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XXI.] Facililies of Edttcation. 609

devoting themselves and their goods liberally to prevent further Piwt effecto
decline, and their efforts were not unappreciated in the class vention of
they strove to benefit. In this, as in some other matters, it is
probable that the invention of printing acted at first somewhat
abruptly, and by the very suddenness of change stayed rather
than stimulated exertion. Just as men ceased for the moment
to write books because the press could multiply the old ones
to a bewildering extent, the flood of printing threatened to
carry away all the profits of teaching and most of the advantages
which superior clerkship had included. It is true the paralysis
of literary energy in both cases was short, but it had in both
cases the result of giving to the revival that followed it the look
of a new beginning. The new learning differed from the old
in mapy important points, but its novelty was mainly apparent
in the fact that it sprang to life after the blow under which the
old learning had succumbed. So it was with education generally : Chanoter
the new schools for which Colet and Ascham and their successors i'ducationai
laboured, and the new schools that Edward YI, Mary, and
Elizabeth founded out of the estates of the chantries, were
chiefly new in the fact that they replaced a machinery which
for the time had lost all energy and power. It is not improbable
that the fifteenth century, although its records contain more
distinct references to educational activity than those of the
fourteenth, had experienced some decline in this point, a decline
sufficiently marked to call for an effort to remedy it. But Existinioe
however this may have been, whether the foundation of Win-schoota.
Chester and Eton, and the country schools that followed in their
wake, was the last spark of an expiring flame, or the first
flicker of the newly lighted lamp, the middle ages did not pass
away in total darkness in the matter of education ; and it was not
in mockery that the parliament of Henry IV allowed every man,
free or villein, to send his sons and daughters to school wherever
he could find one. For anything like higher education the
Universities offered abundant facilities and fairly liberal induce-
ments to scholars; every parish priest was bound to instruct
his parishioners in a way that would stimulate the desire to learn
wherever such a desire existed. Lollardism would have been,
YOL. m. sr

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6io Constitutional History, [chap.

if not innocuous, still incapable of anything like secret propagand-
ism, if the foculty of reading had not been widely diffused. But
it is impossible now to discuss at any length a subject, the im-
portance of which is at least equalled by its difficulty,
strength 497. Great facilities for rising from class to class in the

lassies, social order are not at all inconsistent with very strong class
jealousies and antipathies and broad lines of demarcation.
So, although we may readily grant that it was not impossible
or even rare for the son of a yeoman to reach the high^
honours in the church, or for the son of a merchant to
reach the highest grade of nobility, it would be wrong to shut
our eyes to the estranging and dividing influences by whidi
qergyand interest was set against interest, estate against estate. The
relation of the clergy to the laity was, as to some degree it
always must be, an obstacle to any perfect identity of class
interests. The legal and social immunities which belonged
to the former were begrudged and watched jealously by the

Landowiien latter. Between the landowning and landless classes there
and landless. . . ...

were similar grounds of division ; for, although the actual value

of land, as property, was neither so great nor so highly
appreciated as in later times, the privileges which the pos-
session of it included were even greater, politically and socially,
than they are at the present day. A lower rate of taxation,
the possession of the county franchise and of a considerable
share of the borough franchise also, the legal protection with
which the ownership of land bad been guarded from the earliest
times, and the strictness of the land-law framed upon feudal
ideas, were benefits which were not shared by even the
wealthiest of the mercantile classes. The landowner bad a
stake in the country, a material security for his good behaviour;
if he offended against the law or the government, he might
forfeit his land; but the land was not lost sight of, and the
moral and social claims of the family which had possessed it
were not barred by forfeiture. The restoration of the heirs of
the dispossessed was an invariable result or condition of every
political pacification ; and very few estates were alienated from
the direct line of inheritance by one forfeiture only. With the

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XXI.] Class Jealoimea. 6ji

merchant, it was not so; if be offended, all his material
security was at once swallowed up by the forfeiture ; a record
might be kept of the profits, but they were not to be recovered ;
as he had risen, so he fell, unless he had in good time invested
some part of his fortune in land. In the lower classes, again. In the lower
the distinctions of interest in land, and varying views as to
the employment of it, caused great heart-burnings and social
discontents. As the freeholder engrossed the county franchise,
the political divisions in the agricultural class scarcely rose to
the level of parliament; but out of parliament they were the
causes of much discontent, which found vent in the popular
risings, and a welcome sympathy in the social doctrines of
Lollardy. The burdens of the copyhold and customary tenures,
the heavy heriots and fines, ihe unpaid services of villenage,
the difficulty of obtaining small holdings on fair terms, com-
bined with the equally important questions between tillage and
pasturage to divide the agricultural class against itsel£ The Tillage and
price of wool enhanced the value of pasturage, the increased
value of pasturage withdrew field after field from tillage;
the decline of tillage, the depression of the markets, and
the monopoly of the wool trade by the staple towns, reduced
those country towns which had not encouraged manufacture
to such poverty that they were unable to pay their contingent
to the revenue, and the regular sum of tenths and fifteenths
was reduced by more than a fifth in consequence. The same
causes which in the sixteenth century made the enclosure of
the commons a most important popular grievance, had begun
to set class against class as early as the fourteenth century,
although the thinning of the population by the Plague acted
to some extent as a corrective. Besides these deeply seated
sources of division, the invidious laws on apparel and sumptuary
regulations were small matters of aggravation, which served
to bring more prominently before men's eyes the outward
marks of inequality.

That these causes were at work during the fifteenth century,
as well as those which preceded and followed it, there is no
doubt. The great dynastic quarrel gave more prominence to


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Constitutional Hvstory.


Connexion local and personal faction than to class distinctions and sepa-

Online LibraryWilliam StubbsThe constitutional history of England in its origin and development, Volume 3 → online text (page 62 of 68)