« PrethodnaNastavi »
guide the legal sovereign that it does not provoke the displeasure of the ultimate political sovereign, it is the business of the greatest statesman so to guide the whole people that they may adopt those forms which will insure their continuance and their progress. The really great leader will anticipate on behalf of his people what painful experience might otherwise teach too late.
Jesus College, Oxford.
DAVID G. RITCHIE,
THE CHARACTER OF VILLEIN TENURE.1
STUDENTS of Economic History have of late years begun to awake to the fact that during the period of the Tudors, and over a considerable area of England, there took place an agrarian revolution which altered the whole aspect of country life. This revolution was the substitution of pasture for tillage, of pasture with large and enclosed farms for tillage on the old intermixed or open-field system. Its significance we still further appreciate when we notice that, after a time, the new generation of farmers settled down to what is known as a "convertible husbandry." To devote their lands continuously to sheep-breeding did not turn out quite so profitable as was at first expected; and it was seen to be expedient to plough up the pasture every few years for a harvest or two. What took place at this time in England was, accordingly, only the English phase of the great movement from open-field tillage to enclosed convertible husbandry, which manifested itself during the same or a somewhat later period over a large part of Western Europe.
I propose in this paper to deal with but a part of this revolution, and that in only one of its aspects. It has been recently said by an eminent writer,2 that while there is plenty of work still to be done on earlier social history, for this middle period little more can be desired. Its main features, we are told, are already quite clear; the materials necessary for the student's purpose have been printed, and are easily accessible. But as soon as we begin to look
1 A paper read before the Economic Section of the British Association at its Leeds Meeting, September 5, 1890.
2 Sir Frederick Pollock, in a paper on "Early Landholding," in Macmillan's Magazine. For April, 1890.
more minutely into the accounts of the matter which are to be found in our usual authorities, we discover that this is somewhat too contented a view. For-to mention but one reason for misgiving-it may be doubted whether we have yet quite incorporated into our current thoughts the picture of mediæval husbandry which we owe to Mr. Seebohm. Or rather, though we may have grasped the manorial organization of the thirteenth century, when we get to Tudor times we are apt somehow to imagine that we are in the world of to-day. "Farm" and "Field" and "Tenant" sound as if we knew all about them; the chief difference that occurs to us is that there were a good many more small farmers than there are now; and we make them picturesque by calling them "yeomen." But when we come to read the documents of the sixteenth century, we hardly get beyond the well-worn quotation about Latimer's father-which everybody must be heartily sick of by this time-without suspecting that familiar terms did not exactly denote then what they denote now. Tedious as it may be, we have to go back to the rudiments-the manor and its constituent parts: first the land in demesne, cultivated by the lord or his bailiff for the lord's use; then the land in freehold; then, and most important, the land in villeinage or "customary" tenure; next, the separate pasture closes; next, the meadows; and lastly, the common pasture and waste. The organization of rural society had become much more complicated since the thirteenth century; the frequent partitions of manors, on the one side, and the occupation of villein or customary holdings by men of position and wealth, on the other, had gone far to destroy the symmetry of the manorial system. Yet modern history is much more mediaval than we suppose. Our only safe course is to take the normal manor for our guide; and when we are told, for instance, of a case of " enclosure," to ask, which of these diverse elements of the manor did it affect, and by what means was it able to affect them?
According as we answer these questions must we conceive of the social consequences of the particular change.
Each of the various ways in which the new sheep-farming was introduced needs to be investigated afresh; and we may well begin with that which was most far-reaching in its consequences-the removal from the soil of the customary
It is hardly necessary to explain that the kernel of the mediæval manor was a group of tenants, called in earlier times villeins, and known in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as customary tenants and copyholders. These copyholders did not hold their arable lands in continuous stretches, in considerable pieces, such as we now call "fields," grouped round a farm-house; they held them in a number of acre or half-acre strips, scattered over the two or three enormous areas, each some hundreds of acres in size, then known as "the fields." In earlier times no villein had more than from twenty to fifty (usually thirty) of these acres; and no two strips held by one man were contiguous: and, although a good deal of consolidation had since taken place, the customary holdings were still as a rule small, and held in scattered pieces. But if sheepfarming was to be introduced instead of tillage, it was necessary that the great stretches of "fields" should be, partially at least, hedged or fenced in; and the open acres of corn, oats, or fallow superseded by pasture. And this did actually take place to a very considerable extent. But here a distinction has to be drawn. In the period from the accession of Elizabeth to the middle of the seventeenth century when the agrarian revolution stopped for a time, to be renewed a hundred years later-during that period enclosures were usually effected with the consent of all the land-holders concerned. The result, so far as regards the tenants, was only that they now obtained, instead of some thirty scattered strips, which they had been obliged to cultivate in a particular way, four or five fields of six or seven acres each, which they were free henceforward to employ
as they pleased. Even these enclosures had further and less satisfactory consequences, so far as other classes of the agricultural population were concerned; though on these we cannot now dwell. But in the earlier part of the same movement, during the period which may be roughly defined as from 1450 to 1550, enclosure meant to a large extent the actual dispossession of the copyhold or customary tenants by their manorial lords. This took place either in the form of the violent ousting of the sitting tenant, or of a refusal on the death of one tenant to admit the son, who in earlier centuries would have been treated as his natural successor. Proofs abound; there is, for instance, the well-known passage in More's Utopia: “That on covetous and unsatiable cormoraunte . . compasse aboute and inclose many thousand akers of grounde together within one pale or hedge, the husbandmen be thrust owte of their owne, or els either by coueyne and fraude, or by violent oppression they be put besydes it, or by wrongs and iniuries they be so weried that they be compelled to sell all.”1
Now the question which I wish especially to raise is this: What was the contemporary legal theory as to the position of the majority of customary tenants, and what was the practical effect of the theory? It is usually held that, whatever may have been the original insecurity of the villein's position, his successor had by this time arrived at a security of tenure guaranteed by law; so that when a lord ousted a customary tenant he knew he was violating the law, and trusted to the man's ignorance, or poverty, or fear, to escape its enforcement. It is sometimes granted that the law may not have been quite clear, but it is implied that, even if this were the case, that the lords did not know Both positions seem to me questionable, especially the
1 Ralph Robinson's translation, in Arber's Reprint, p. 41. Moore's own Latin text runs ejiciuntur coloni quidam suis." As to the nature of the clearances, see also Bacon, Hist. of Hen. VII. (Bohn ed. p. 359), and Select Works of Crowley (E. E. T. S.) p. 122.