Ch 03 Feudal England

Ch.3-Feudal England

Hits: 1912

CHAPTER III: FEUDAL ENGLAND

SECTION 2: THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF DOMESDAY
ENGLAND

 BY 1086, WILLIAM HAD SENT COMMISSIONERS TO VISIT LEADING MEN IN EVERY PART OF ENGLAND TO SURVEY THE ECONOMIC LIFE OF THE COUNTRY.

 

HOW MUCH LAND, WHO HOLDS IT AND ITS WORTH? HOW MANY TENANTS, PLOUGHS, OXEN, SHEEP AND SWINE?

 

IT WAS UNPOPULAR: “IT IS SHAMEFUL TO TELL BUT HE THOUGHT IT NO SHAME TO DO,” A MONASTIC SCHOLAR SAID.

 

IT SHOWED THE COMPLETENESS OF THE CONQUEST, WILLIAM’S POWER AND THAT THE DOMESDAY RECORD WAS WITHOUT PARALLEL.

 

IT HAD TWO OBJECTIVES: TO LEVY TAX AND TO GIVE THE KING KNOWLEDGE OF HIS EXTENSIVE WEALTH.

 

FOR US, IT HAS GREATER IMPORTANCE BY PROVIDING AN ACCURATE PICTURE OF THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF ENGLAND.

 

THE UNIT OF THE AGRICULTURAL ECONOMY WAS THE MANOR BECAUSE ENGLAND WAS STILL OVERWHELMINGLY AGRICULTURAL.

 

EVERY VILLAGE HAD A FRAMEWORK THOUGH. MOST LANDS WERE OWNED BY THE CROWN AND SOME BY VASSALS, SUB VASSALS, LAY AND THE CHURCH. THE FRAMEWORK HIGHLIGHTED THE STRUCTURE FROM KING TO SERF.

 

THE SURVEY CLASSIFIED CULTIVATORS OF THE SOIL, INTO CLASSES.

 

SLAVES 9% (25,000), BORDERS AND COTTARS (32%), (89,000), VILLEINS 38% 106,000 AND FREEMEN 12% (33,000).

 

MULTIPLY THESE FIGURES BY FIVE TO ACCOUNT FOR AN AVERAGE FAMILY.

 

INCLUDE LORDS, CLERGY, MERCHANTS, CRAFTSMEN, LANDLESS WAGE LABOURERS AND THOSE WHO SLIPPED THE NET, AND THE TOTAL POPULATION MAY BE ESTIMATED AT BETWEEN 1.75 AND 2 MILLION.

 

THE CLASSES WERE EVENLY SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY.

 

SLAVES WERE MOSTLY IN THE SOUTH WEST: 24% IN GLOUCESTERSHIRE, 21% IN CORNWALL AND HAMPSHIRE AND 17% IN SHROPSHIRE. IN LINCOLN, YORKSHIRE AND HUNTINGDON, THEY ARE NOT MENTIONED.

 

BORDERS AND COTTARS ARE MORE EVENLY SPREAD. FREE TENANTS WERE ONLY FOUND IN THE EAST AND EAST MIDLANDS AND THE OLD DANELAW AREAS OF LINCOLN, SUFFOLK AND NORFOLK, NOTTINGHAM, LEICESTER AND NORTHAMPTON COUNTIES.

 

ALTHOUGH SLAVES WERE A RAPIDLY VANISHING CLASS, BORDERS AND COTTARS,THE CRAFTSMEN, ALSO HELD PATCHES OF LAND OUTSIDE THE FRAMEWORK OF THE OPEN FIELD SYSTEM. WHILE MOST WERE SERFS, SOME RECKONED THEMSELVES AS FREE TENANTS.

 

VILLEINS, WHO HELD 15 OR 30 ACRE SHARES OF COMMON FIELDS, WERE A DEVELOPING CLASS. THEY WERE DAY OR BOON WORKERS, AND THEIR SERVICES WERE REGULARLY PROVIDED TO THE MANOR.

 

DAY WORK WAS USUALLY THREE DAYS, AND BOON WORK WAS EXTRA LABOUR DEMANDED AT HARVEST OR SHEEP SHEARING.

 

THE SERF WORKED HIS OWN LAND, WHEN THE LORD DID NOT REQUIRE HIM. IN FACT, MOST OF HIS LAND WAS WORKED BY OTHER MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY, INCLUDING CHILDREN, AS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD.

 

AS TIME WENT ON, VILLEINS AND COTTAR TENANTS BECAME ONE UNDER THE LAWYER’S SYSTEM OF COUNTING, AND ALL WERE CLASSED AS SERFS.

 

THE OTHER DECLINING CLASS WERE THE FREEMEN OF DOMESDAY, WHO WERE FREE BEFORE THE CONQUEST BUT WERE RECKONED UNFREE AS A RESULT OF CHANGES IN OWNERSHIP OF THE LAND. THE TENDENCY OF THE TIME WAS TO CONSIDER ANY PEASANT A SERF, UNLESS HE COULD PROVE HIMSELF OTHERWISE.

 

THE NORMANS INTRODUCED A BODY OF RIGID FEUDAL LAW IN THAT SERFS “POSSESSING NOTHING BUT THEIR OWN BELLIES” HAD NO LEGAL RIGHTS, EXCEPT THAT THEY MIGHT NOT BE KILLED OR MUTILATED WITHOUT A “PROPER” TRIAL.

 

THIS WAS AN IMPROVEMENT FOR THE SLAVE, BUT A STEP BACKWARD FOR ALL OTHERS.

 

EVERY TRICK WAS USED BY THE LAWYER TO ADD TO THESE BURDENS.

 

FOR EXAMPLE, THE VILLAGE MILL BELONGED TO THE LORD, AND ALL CORN MUST COME TO IT TO BE GROUND. IT WAS THUS COMMON FOR QUANTITIES TO BE ABUSED, AND THE MILLER BECAME THE UNIVERSAL ROGUE.

 

JUST AS THE KING CLAIMED ALL THE FORESTS, THE LORD CLAIMED EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS OVER ALL VILLAGE ‘WASTE’, WHICH MEANT NO MORE TURF OR WOOD CUTTING OR PASTURE FOR THE SWINE.

 

ENGLAND BECAME ENSLAVED: THE SERF SERVES -

 

"HE IS TERRIFIED BY THREATS AND FORCED SERVICES (CORVEES) AFFLICTED BY BLOWS, DESPOILED OF HIS POSSESSIONS. FOR IF HE POSSESSES NOUGHT, HE IS COMPELLED TO EARN. AN EXTREME CONDITION OF BONDAGE.

“HE IS NOT HIS OWN MAN, BUT NO MAN IS HIS.”

 

IN PRACTICE, THE LAW WAS MODIFIED AND THE SERF HAD A ROUGH SECURITY.

 

LAWYERS MIGHT SAY THAT THE SERF “OUGHT NOT TO KNOW ONE DAY, WHAT LABOUR HE WILL BE COMMANDED TO PERFORM THE NEXT.”

 

HOWEVER, IN PRACTICE, THE WHOLE YEARS’ WORK WAS PROBABLY KNOWN WITH MONOTONOUS CERTAINTY.

 

LITTLE CHANGED FOR TWO CENTURIES BETWEEN PEASANT OBSTINANCY AND THE CRAFT OF THE NORMAN LAWYER.

 

THE LAWYER WON GREAT VICTORIES, BUT BEYOND A CERTAIN POINT HE COULD NOT GO. AND SO THERE EXISTED A CORE OF RIGHTS THAT KEPT THE SERF A PERSON AND NOT A THING, A RESIDUE OF FREEDOM THAT SERVED AS A BASE FOR GAINING NEW RIGHTS.

 

IN THE 13th CENTURY, ECONOMIC FORCES WORKED POWERFULLY IN THE SERF'S FAVOUR, TRANSFORMING HIM INTO A FREE WAGE LABOURER OR SMALL HOLDER PAYING RENT FOR LAND INSTEAD OF LABOUR SERVICES.

 

THE ESSENCE OF THIS VILLAGE CONFLICT MUST BE KEPT IN MIND WHEN WE INTERPRET THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE PERIOD. IT HELPS TO EXPLAIN THE DRIFT OF THE AGE

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