FROM A PEOPLES HISTORY OF ENGLAND by A.L. MORTON
(Incorporates Wales, Ireland and Scotland)
Morton’s classic work sets out the main narrative and most important turning points of British history - from the point of view of the ordinary people - in a clear and jargon-free style. Fascinating for the general reader and the historian alike.
I commend this book to you.
Are you descended from Stone Age Iberians, Celts or Beaker Folk, from Gauls, Normans, Romans or Angles, or from Saxons, Danes, Northmen or Jutes?
We know of William, Henry, Charles, Harold or even Edward, but why not (call your children) Ethelbert, Edwin, Oswy, Oswald, Penda or even Egbert? Kings all of them, but the Great English King Alfred and his sons, Athelstan, Edmund and Edgar, deserve better recognition.
I could understand you not considering Wilfred or Cuthbert (Archbishops), or Danish Kings Sweyn and Canute. The Godwins were a powerful force to be reckoned with, but not Ethelred (the Redeless).
Did you know?
The word ‘sheriff comes from a shire – reeve.
The feudal maxim – “No man without a lord, no land without a lord.”
We know Edward the Confessor was a halfwit, but Harold, a son of Godwin, was a brilliant tactician even though he did take one in the eye.
A freeman and serf were not free, puzzling to the modern mind, since they were terms peculiar to the Feudal Age.
A man without land was neither free nor unfree, he did not count.
(He might of course be a slave, but then he would be a kind of property rather than a person.)
A free man was one who held land on condition of military service or some other service, reckoned honourable, or one who paid a money rent.
In 1000 AD, the writings concerning enserfment explain that the cultivator was unfree:
“What do you say, ploughman, how do you do your work?”
“Oh Sir, I work very hard. I go out at dawn to drive the oxen to the field and yoke them to the plough; however hard the winter, I dare not stay at home for fear of my master; and having made the share and coulter fast to the plough, every day I have to plough an acre or more.”
“And what more do you do in the day?”
“A great deal more. I have to fill oxen bins and give them water and carry the dung outside”
“Oh, its hard work.”
“Yes, it is hard because I am not free.”
Feudalism explained: A contract, in theory, between king and vassal, which was completely imposed in England, more so than elsewhere.
The Crown retained enough land in its own possession to ensure that the king was stronger than any baron or combinations of barons.
William (the Conqueror) claimed hundreds of manors but also all the forest lands, which created the possibility of a state organisation transcending the feudal system, which was built around the king’s power as military leader of a victorious army.
The power of the state in England was greater than in Europe, and the power of the nobility was less than in Europe.
The English regarded the power of the Crown as a protector against their immediate superiors. They supported the Crown against the barons.
The harshness of William’s rule was soon forgotten by the peasantry, which had been accustomed to conquest and pillage during the long Danish invasions.
20 years after conquest, William sent out commissioners to every township leader to make a survey of the economic life of the Country.
How much land?
Who holds it?
What is it worth?
How many ploughs?
How many tenants?
How many oxen, sheep, swine?
The inquisition was highly unpopular
1. Shameful to tell, not shameful to do!
2. Shows the completeness of the Conquest, even for the nobles.
Reason for the Survey?
A) Information for levy of tax.
B) Give the King detailed knowledge of the extent of the wealth of lands and revenue.
C) An accurate picture of social structure of England.
A unit of agricultural economy was the manor (as the country was overwhelmingly agricultural).
Borders and Cottars 32%
Multiply these figures by five to account for the average family and, allowing for classes not included, such as lords and their descendants, manorial officials, priests, monks, nuns, merchants-craftsmen, landless wage labourers and isolated cultivators, and the total population of England at that time was estimated at 2 million, or at the very least 1.75 million.
By 1200 AD, slaves were a rapidly vanishing class and were becoming house servants, shephers or ploughmen on the lords’ domains.
Borders and Cottars were holders of small patches of land outside the framework of the open field system. They were still serfs, but some were free tenants, paying their crafts, cloth, smithy or woodwork as dues.
Villeins were bound up in the agriculture of the manor, but farmed 15 to 30 acres share of common land.
Day Work and Boon Work
These were the regular number of days per week required to be given to the lord, usually three, but extra Boon days might be demanded at any time. This was hated as it affected a person’s own work (shearing harvest, etc). As a result, much of the work on a person’s holdings was done by women and children.
THOUGHTS OF TIME?
You may be reflecting on what has been written so far and how the masses were subjugated by warrior bands and armies, how their leaders appointed themselves as kings and gave their friends positions of favour and authority.
How many days a week do you work for the ‘state’ and how many for yourself?
Women folk are forced to work to make ends meet.
Nothing much has really changed, but why not?
We have a historical record of feudalism and its effects on people.
People are prepared to suffer almost anything for the sake of peace and quiet.
Then, as now, rocking the boat would get you into serious trouble.
We are amazed how much people are prepared to accept today.
Three million unemployed, the greatest capitalist swindle in a generation, MPs milking the public pot, house price collapse, the EU making 80% of our laws and our children facing the prospect of paying for the politicians printing money for decades to come.
And hardly a squeak.
Do the masses know something the protestors don’t?
That parliament is not the ‘state’ will be shown in the next part…………..
BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK –
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER, SECTION BY SECTION,
I WILL TAKE YOU ON A JOURNEY THROUGH
AL MORTON’S BOOK