The most important of these were the First and Second Statutes of Westminster, in and , which made provisions for good order in the country, for the protection of merchants, and for other objects; the Statute of Mortmain, passed in , which put a partial stop to injurious gifts of land to the church, and the Statute Quia Emptores , passed in , which was intended to prevent the excessive multiplication of subtenants. This was done by providing that whenever in the future any landholder should dispose of a piece of land it should be held from the same lord the grantor had held it from, not from the grantor himself.
He also gave more liberal charters to the towns, privileges to foreign merchants, and constant encouragement to trade. The king's firm hand and prudent judgment were felt in a wide circle of regulations applying to taxes, markets and fairs, the purchase of royal supplies, the currency, the administration of local justice, and many other fields. Yet after all it was the organization of Parliament that was the most important work of Edward's reign. This completed the unification of the country.
The English people were now one race, under one law, with one Parliament representing all parts of the country. It was possible now for the whole nation to act as a unit, and for laws to be passed which would apply to the whole country and draw its different sections continually more closely together. National growth was now possible in a sense in which it had not been before. The reign of Edward II, like his own character, was insignificant compared with that of his father.
He was deposed in , and his son, Edward III, came to the throne as a boy of fourteen years. The first years of his reign were also relatively unimportant. By the time he reached his majority, however, other events were imminent which for the next century or more gave a new direction to the principal interests and energies of England. A description of these events will be given in a later chapter. For the greater part of the long period which has now been sketched in outline it is almost solely the political and ecclesiastical events and certain personal experiences which have left their records in history.
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We can obtain but vague outlines of the actual life of the people. An important Anglo-Saxon document describes the organization of a great landed estate, and from Domesday Book and other early Norman records may be drawn certain inferences as to the degree of freedom of the masses of the people and certain facts as to agriculture and trade.
From the increasing body of public records in the twelfth century can be gathered detached pieces of information as to actual social and economic conditions, but the knowledge that can be obtained is even yet slight and uncertain. With the thirteenth century, however, all this is changed. During the latter part of the period just described, that is to say the reigns of Henry III and the three Edwards, we have almost as full knowledge of economic as of political conditions, of the life of the mass of the people as of that of courtiers and ecclesiastics.
From a time for which may be taken as an approximate date, written documents began to be so numerous, so varied, and so full of information as to the affairs of private life, that it becomes possible to obtain a comparatively full and clear knowledge of the methods of agriculture, handicraft, and commerce, of the classes of society, the prevailing customs and ideas, and in general of the mode of life and social organization of the mass of the people, this being the principal subject of economic and social history.
The next three chapters will therefore be devoted respectively to a description of rural life, of town life, and of trading relations, as they were during the century from to , while the succeeding chapters will trace the main lines of economic and social change during succeeding periods down to the present time. The farmhouses were not isolated or separated from one another by surrounding fields, as they are so generally in modern times, but were gathered into villages. Each village was surrounded by arable lands, meadows, pastures, and woods which spread away till they reached the confines of the similar fields of the next adjacent village.
Such an agricultural village with its population and its surrounding lands is usually spoken of as a "vill. The word "hamlet" means a smaller group of houses separated from but forming in some respects a part of a vill or manor. The village consisted of a group of houses ranging in number from ten or twelve to as many as fifty or perhaps even more, grouped around what in later times would be called a "village green," or along two or three intersecting lanes.
The houses were small, thatch-roofed, and one-roomed, and doubtless very miserable. Such buildings as existed for the protection of cattle or the preservation of crops were closely connected with the dwelling portions of the houses. In many cases they were under the same roof.
Each vill possessed its church, which was generally, though by no means always, close to the houses of the village. There was usually a manor house, which varied in size from an actual castle to a building of a character scarcely distinguishable from the primitive houses of the villagers. This might be occupied regularly or occasionally by the lord of the manor, but might otherwise be inhabited by the steward or by a tenant, or perhaps only serve as the gathering place of the manor courts.
Connected with the manor house was an enclosure or courtyard commonly surrounded by buildings for general farm purposes and for cooking or brewing. A garden orchard was often attached. Wright, History of Domestic Manners and Sentiments. The location of the vill was almost invariably such that a stream with its border meadows passed through or along its confines, the mill being often the only building that lay detached from the village group.
A greater or less extent of woodland is also constantly mentioned. The vill was thus made up of the group of houses of the villagers including the parish church and the manor house, all surrounded by a wide tract of arable land, meadow, pasture, and woods.
Where the lands were extensive there might perhaps be a small group of houses forming a separate hamlet at some distance from the village, and occasionally a detached mill, grange, or other building. Its characteristic appearance, however, must have been that of a close group of buildings surrounded by an extensive tract of open land. Turner, Domestic Architecture in England. The Vill as an Agricultural System. The plan by which the lands of the whole group of cultivators lay together in a large tract surrounding the village is spoken of as the "open field" system.
The arable portions of this were ploughed in pieces equalling approximately acres, half-acres, or quarter-acres.
Economic and Social History: Industry and Trade, 1500-1880
From a photograph taken in The rod was of different lengths in different parts of the country, depending on local custom, but the most common length was that prescribed by statute, that is to say, sixteen and a half feet. The length of the acre, forty rods, has given rise to one of the familiar units of length, the furlong, that is, a "furrow-long," or the length of a furrow. A rood is a piece of land one rod wide and forty rods long, that is, the fourth of an acre. A series of such strips were ploughed up successively, being separated from each other either by leaving the width of a furrow or two unploughed, or by marking the division with stones, or perhaps by simply throwing the first furrow of the next strip in the opposite direction when it was ploughed.
When an unploughed border was left covered with grass or stones, it was called a "balk. Other groups of strips lay at right angles or inclined to these, so that the whole arable land of the village when ploughed or under cultivation had, like many French, German, or Swiss landscapes at the present time, something of the appearance of a great irregular checker-board or patchwork quilt, each large square being divided in one direction by parallel lines. Usually the cultivated open fields belonging to a village were divided into three or more large tracts or fields and these were cultivated according to some established rotation of crops.
The most common of these was the three-field system, by which in any one year all the strips in one tract or field would be planted with wheat, rye, or some other crop which is planted in the fall and harvested the next summer; a second great field would be planted with oats, barley, peas, or some such crop as is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall; the third field would be fallow, recuperating its fertility.
The next year all the acres in the field which had lain fallow the year before might be planted with a fall crop, the wheat field of the previous year being planted with a spring crop, and the oats field in its turn now lying uncultivated for a year.
The third year a further exchange would be made by which a fall crop would succeed the fallow of that year and the spring crop of the previous year, a spring crop would succeed the last year's fall crop and the field from which the spring crop was taken now in its turn would enjoy a fallow year. In the fourth year the rotation would begin over again.
Agriculture was extremely crude. But eight or nine bushels of wheat or rye were expected from an acre, where now in England the average is thirty. The plough regularly required eight draught animals, usually oxen, in breaking up the ground, though lighter ploughs were used in subsequent cultivation. The breed of all farm animals was small, carts were few and cumbrous, the harvesting of grain was done with a sickle, and the mowing of grass with a short, straight scythe.
The distance of the outlying parts of the fields from the farm buildings of the village added its share to the laboriousness of agricultural life. Modern Ploughing with Six Oxen in Sussex. Hudson, W. Open Fields of Hayford Bridge, Oxfordshire, Facsimile map published by the University of Oxford.
The variety of food crops raised was small. Potatoes were of course unknown, and other root crops and fresh vegetables apparently were little cultivated. Wheat and rye of several varieties were raised as bread-stuff, barley and some other grains for the brewing of beer. Field peas and beans were raised, sometimes for food, but generally as forage for cattle. The main supply of winter forage for the farm animals had, however, to be secured in the form of hay, and for this reliance was placed entirely on the natural meadows, as no clover or grasses which could be artificially raised on dry ground were yet known.
Meadow land was constantly estimated at twice the value of arable ground or more. To obtain a sufficient support for the oxen, horses, and breeding animals through the winter required, therefore, a constant struggle.
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Owing to this difficulty animals that were to be used for food purposes were regularly killed in the fall and salted down. Much of the unhealthiness of medieval life is no doubt attributable to the use of salt meat as so large a part of what was at best a very monotonous diet.
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