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two things—(1) How it was that an immense number of the smallest villein-tenants and cottiers abandoned the land and went to swell the free labouring class. (2) How it was that the extension of sheepfarming—itself the consequence in part of the high price of labourat length worked a reaction, so complete that instead of the villeins abandoning the land, as at first, they were driven from it to make way for sheep. So that while the small villein-tenants and cottiers, whose living was their labour, loosened themselves from villein-tenure and became free labourers during the first process, they thereby prepared the way for their own wholesale ejection during the second process.
The Black Death had also a direct effect in severing the larger landowners from the land.
One of the inquiries in the “ Extenta Manerii," with regard to the demesne lands of the lord of the manor, was “how much every acre is worth by the year to be let?” And a few pages earlier in the collection of statutes, in certain “ Articles of the Office of Escheator," one of his duties is made to be to inquire as regards the demesne lands in royal manors, “if they be in such a state as they ought to be, or if they be delivered to ferm, whether they be demised according to the annual value of the same, and if the bailiffs or fermors have committed waste.” So that it is evident that, long before the time of the Black Death, lords of manors were in the habit of sometimes not farming their own lands by bailiff, but letting them for their annual value to tenant-farmers.
Mr. Rogers has shown that one result of the Black Death was that bailiff-farming did not pay so well as it had done before, and that, therefore the colleges gradually gave it up, and let the demesne lands of their different manors to farming tenants. Now the farming tenants required some capital. It required as much-Mr. Rogers seems to think twice as much—capital per acre as the land was worth to farm it well. And the result was, according to Mr. Rogers, that as the freeholders and other tenants of the manor were the only tenants at hand, they became the farmers of it in addition to their own feudal holdings. And at first the farming capital, as well as the land, was let to them. They brought the labour and the power of management and farming skill, and the lord lent them the stock on the land with the land ; until, in process of time, they saved out of their profits capital enough to buy the stock; and this the college accounts show they did in one or two generations, at least.
The practice of leasing land and stock together to farmers was continued, at all events in some instances, even down to Tudor times. For there is a case in the books, in Henry VIII.'s time, of a lease of land with the stock of sheep upon it at a specified rent. All
(1) P. 239. VOL. VII. N.8.
land we insta in Hen
the sheep had died, and the point litigated was whether the whole rent was to be continued to be paid, or whether it ought to be apportioned.
The habit of the freeholders farming land in addition to their holdings, also continued down to Tudor times. So much was this the case that Harrison, in 1577, speaks of the English yeoman of his day in the following terms :
“Our yeomen are those which by our lawyers are called legales homines, free men born English, and (who] may dispend of their own free land in yearly revenue to the sum of 40s. .... They are also for the most part farmers to gentlemen."2
And so common was this practice of yeomen becoming farmers of land, that farmers were sometimes spoken of as yeomen though they were not 40s. freeholders. Thus Hugh Latimer could say, in the famous passage so often quoted :
“My father was a yeomun, and had no land of his own, only he had a farm of three or four pounds by the year at the uttermost, whereupon he tilled so much as kept half-a-dozen men. He had a walk for 100 sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine. He was able and did find the king a harness, with himself and his horse. I remember that I buckled on his harness when he went to Blackheath field.” So that, already in the time of Henry VII., the old freeholder was almost merged in the tenant-farmer. Even the military service which the freeholder used to give was passed on to the tenant-farmer. And because, I suppose, of his thus acting in the capacity of a military serving man, the word yeoman was applied to the landless, but thriving tenant of a farm like Latimer's, of say 200 acres.
Indeed, it was soon found that the tenant-farmers were, as a class, more thrifty than the landlords, and the commercial tenants than the feudal. The landlord began by letting to the farmer the land and the stock. The farmer ended sometimes in laying by capital enough not only to stock his farm himself, but even to buy the freehold. Harrison says, speaking of those who are “farmers to gentlemen," that
“With grazing, frequenting of markets, and keeping of servants (not idle serrants as the gentleman doth, but such as get both their own and part of their master's living) do come to great wealth, insomuch that many of them are able and do buy the lands of unthrifty gentlemen.”3
The fact was, the commercial tenant-farmer made more money than the gentleman landlord. And inasmuch as he farmed more land, and kept more sheep, and bought and sold on a larger scale than the mere feudal tenant of a small feudal holding could, the commercial tenant got the better in the race, not only of feudal landlords, but also of feudal tenants. The commercial farming of land on a large scale was, in fact, found more profitable than the
(1) Reeve's “ History of English Law,” p. 371, vol. iji.
(2) Fol. 106. : (3) Fol. 106.
feudal tenure of it on a small scale. With sheep farming in connection with the commercial market for wool, the commercial spirit worked its way more and more into the business of farming as years rolled on. The grazing farmer was half a manufacturer and half a merchant, and very little of the old husbandman. His mere labour counted little as an item in either his capital or profits. Harrison was loud, nay, even bitter and impatient, at the consequent tendency of lands to get into fewer and fewer hands. It is with ill-concealed disgust that he “ leaves this lamentable discourse of so notable an inconvenience growing by encroaching and joining of house to house and land to land, whereby the inhabitants of any country are devoured and eat up.” And the burden of his grief was, be it observed, not that the ownership of land was getting into few hands, but the farming of it. It was that small farms were giving way to large farms. Thus, speaking of country villages, he says :
“We find not often above forty or fifty households and 200 communicants, whereof the greatest part nevertheless are very poor folks, oftentimes without any manner of occupying, sith the ground of the parish is often gotten up into a few men's hands, yea, sometimes into the tenure of two or three, whereby the rest are compelled either to be hired servants unto the other, or else to beg their bread in misery from door to door. A great number complain of the increase of poverty, but few men do see the very root from whence it doth proceed. Yet the Romans found it out, when they flourished, and therefore prescribed limits to every man's tenure and occupying."2 · And if any further evidence be needful to show that the evil
tendency deplored in Tudor times was not towards large estates so much as large farms, the evidence is forthcoming. In 4 Henry VII. c. 16, on the depopulation of the Isle of Wight, the evil complained of in the preamble was that “many dwelling-places, farms, and farmholds have of late been taken into one man's hold," and the remedy provided in the statute was a prohibition against any person “taking any several farms more than one,” above the annual value of ten marks, and the enactment that
“If any several leases afore this time have been made to any person or persons of divers and sundry farmholds, whereof the yearly value shall exceed that sum, then the said person shall choose one farmhold at his pleasure, and the remnant of his leases shall be utterly void.”
And again, in 25 Henry VIII. c. 13, the same complaint is made in the preamble that “divers persons of abundance of movable substance” [i.e., farmers with large commercial capital] have accumulated together, “ as well great multitude of farms as great plenty of cattle ;” and the remedy was the enactment that “no person shall keep on lands not their own inheritance more than 2,000 sheep,” and that “no person shall occupy more than two farms."
There was another economic reason why these tenant-farmers were a thriving class, rapidly accumulating money in these Tudor times. (1) Fol. 83.
(2) Fol. 83.
The rapid rise in the value of land was, as we have seen, the tide on which the feudal tenants rose into owners of land. And just as in their case the margin between their fixed rents and the value of the land was constantly increasing as land rose in price, so also farmers' leases rapidly became “ beneficial leases” of constantly increasing value. These leases were generally long ones, and the rent could of course only be raised as the leases expired. Thus Stafford, in his “Brief Conceit of English Policy,” makes his Knight, as the representative of the landowners of the Tudor period, say:
“Though it be true that such lands as come to our hands, either by purchase or by determination, and ending of such terms of years, or other estates that I or my ancestors had granted them in times past, I do either receive a better fine than of old was used, or enhance the rent thereof. ..... Yet in all my lifetime I look not that the third part of my land chall come to my disposition that I may enhance the rent of the same; but it shall be in men's holding either by leases or by copy granted before my time.”
The fact that the long unexpired leases of the farming tenants were beneficial leases, was proved by the fines which they could afford to pay for renewals of them. The following passage, from Harrison's “ Description of Britain in 1577,” will show clearly how the rise of prices and of land increased the prosperity and wealth of the farmer :
“In my time, although peradventure four pounds of old rent be improved to forty or fifty pound, yet will the farmer think his gains very small towards the midst of his term if he have not six or seven years' rent lying by him therewith to purchase a new lease. For what stock of money soever he gathereth in all his years it is often seen that the landlord will take such order with him for the same when he reneweth his lease (which is commonly eight or ten years before it be expired, sith it is now almost grown into a custom that if he come not to his lord so long before, another shall step in for a reversion, and so defeat him outright), that it shall never trouble him more than the hair of his beard when the barber hath washed and shaven it from his chin.” 2
At the same time these same economic causes worked against the small feudal holder. For the commercial item, so to speak, in his business was small. He looked for his living, not so much to the use of any commercial capital, or of any extensive power of management and farming skill, as to the employment of his labour on his little holding or otherwise; and with rising prices the interests of labour went to the wall. The increase of population, which by increasing the demand for land increased its price, and favoured the large farmer under a long lease, increased the supply of labour, and so knocked down the value of the commodity in which the small farmer, or feudal tenant, dealt. It is true that the small freehold or copyhold tenant, like the lord of the manor, grew into an owner of his holding on the top of the tide of rising prices. But what was the use of the increased value of his holding so long as he farmed it himself, and made no more profit on it than before? We have
(1) Harleian Miscellanies, lx. 149. (2) Fol. 86.
seen that the customary tenant did not live only out of his land. His little holding was what enabled him to keep his yoke of oxen for his dung-cart and his plough; so that his trade, after all, was not so much that of a farmer as a ploughman or carter. He was what Chaucer called a “true swinker”—a hard-worker for his bread; and, as I have said, his prosperity followed the lot of labour, not of capital. The rage for pasture was, moreover, directly detrimental to his trade of ploughing, and often ruinous to it. Lastly, his copyhold rents and fines to some extent were arbitrary; in some cases not being absolutely fixed in amount, but rather a fixed proportion of the improved value of the land.' Hence sometimes a fine was demanded sevenfold what he had been wont to pay before the great rise in prices, and so was sometimes greater in amount than his store of cash. Non-payment was too often to him, as to the Irish tenant, ejectment from his holding. Harrison says every trifling excuse was taken advantage of “to lay infinite acres of corn-land into pasture;” and “ as for taking down of houses, a small fine will bear out a great many."2 And in another place he tells us that
“When some covetous man espies a further commodity in their commons, holds, and tenures, he doth find such means as thereby to wipe out many of their occupyings.”3 And this was one of the grievances to which Sir Thomas More alluded in his “ Utopia.” He speaks of tenants “ being got rid of by force or fraud, or tired out by repeated injuries into parting with their property.”
It is evident, then, that the good times for large farmers and landowners were hard times for small farmers and copyholders; and that, as a consequence, the economic tendency towards large estates and farms set in which, whether bad or good, continues to the present day. It is not needful in this connection to discuss the question whether it be good or bad ; but it may be well to point out the fact how rapidly, under its influence, the agriculture of England had advanced. The vast extension of sheep-farming was of course selfevident, but arable farming had also made great advances. To show this, I will simply compare the yield of crops in the fourteenth century, as computed by Professor Rogers 4 from the College farm accounts, and in the last half of the sixteenth century, as recorded by Harrison:5_
2 . . . . . . 5
(1) Thus a fine on admission of the tenant's heir on his death was ultimately fixed at not more than two years' improved value. (2) Fol. 92. (3) Fol. 107.
(4) Vol. i. p. 51. - (5) P. 38. “Throughout the land in common and indifferent years."