Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

more perfect freedom. He is, however, too fond of generalising from what seem to us insufficient data, and we are thus sometimes unable to accept his conclusions, though they are always suggestive and very frequently important.

The point on which M. Petit-Dutaillis lays great stress, and on which he differs from several distinguished English writers of the present century, is the extent to which the feudal service of the agricultural labourer (villein service) had been commuted for a money payment before the date of the insurrection. Thorold Rogers, whose authority carries great weight, put it that 'In all probability, in the latter half of 'the fourteenth century very few tenants in villenage paid

rent by service—almost all paid it by a pecuniary commu‘tation;' and added, “Was it not an attempt to transmute 'the pecuniary compensation into the labour rent, and so * revive the tenures and the labour prices of the earlier part of the century, which led to the insurrection ?'* This theory, says M. Petit-Dutaillis, though enunciated here as an hypothesis, reappears in Rogers’ later works as a statement of fact, and as such has been very generally adopted, amongst others by the Bishop of Oxford (Dr. Stubbs). Others, however-Professor Ashley is one-have refused to accept it; and Mr. Trevelyan, following him closely, says :

• When the insurrection took place the process of commuting villein services for money rents was going on fast, but not quite so fast as the serfs themselves wished. . . . But the release from forced service was not the only question at issue between lords and villeins, nor did the latter consider themselves wholly free when such services had been commuted. The lord possessed other rights over the person of the villein and his family, riglits varying in different counties and different manors, varying even from farm to farin on the same manor ---rights that were often petty, but so multitudinous as to be exasperating, and so humiliating that they were incompatible with the new ideal. One villein must pay a fine to the lord when he gave his daughter in marriage ; another must have his corn ground at the lord's mill only, and pay a high price to the monopolist miller. . . : The villein might not plead in court against his lord; . . . he could not sell his land and leave his farm. . . . Even if his services on the demesne had been commuted, he was still a serf bound to the soil.' M. Petit-Dutaillis, however, goes further than this. He thinks that the number of manors in which villein service was still rendered was very large—that, in fact, those manors in which the service had been commuted were almost exceptional. He lays stress on the manor of Wilburton, in

* History of Agriculture and Prices in England, vol. i. p. 81.

Cambridgeshire, the detailed history of which was published a few years ago by Professor Maitland,* who says, in so many words, that in the accounts of the time of Edward II. wages were ' a comparatively trifling item’; and the difference sixty years later was due not to commutation, but to the fact that the villeins, when thoroughly sick of the position, ran away, leaving their farm, their chattels, stock, and implements in the hands of the lord. These latter were seldom of much value; the farm, left without a tenant, was a dead loss till a tenant could be found, sometimes to hold at the accustomed services,' sometimes at a money rent, sometimes half at a money rent, half at the accustomed services. But with regard to the point at issue, the conclusion arrived at by Professor Maitland is that at the very end of the fourteenth century the lord was still no great payer of wages. For the regular field work he had no need of hired labourers; his only permanent wage-receiving hind was a shepherd, though some ploughmen received allowances of grain.

M. Petit-Dutaillis is probably correct in his inference that the manor of Wilburton may be taken as a fairly representatire one for the eastern counties, to which nearly all the evidence collected by himself and Réville, as well as by Mr. Powell, refers. But in any investigation of this kind the extreme variations spoken of by Mr. Trevelyan must never be forgotten. In the words of Professor Maitland, the ' time has not yet come when generalities about the English

manor and its fortunes will be safe or sound. That the state of East Anglia in respect of villein service was behind that of some of the other shires is possible ; little is known, but M. Petit-Dutaillis believes that even in them the amount of commutation has been much exaggerated. In any case, he refuses to admit the reality of the grievance on which Rogers laid so much stress—the attempt of the lords to compel the villeins who had commuted their works' for a money payment to return to the tenure of service. Only two instances have been mentioned--one of 1351, the other of 1371-and these for occasional services demanded, not instead of, but in addition to, the rent paid.

* We could certainly wish,' he says, for more convincing and more numerous instances, and especially for some relating to the early years of Richard II. If Rogers knew of any, why did he not refer to them? I rather suspect that he has taken, without acknowledgement, the unsupported statement made by Blomefield, the historian of Norfolk, that “the lords demanded the old services from the villeins and so provoked the insurrection.”'

* English Historical Review, July 1894.

He admits that such cases are possible, but not in sufficient numbers as to have any great influence or to give rise to the very general discontent among the peasantry; and while he lays greater stress on the villein service as a crying grievance, he is in accord with Mr. Trevelyan in believing that, after it, the most important cause of the revolt was the incidence of the many minor and irritating feudal dues which, after the Black Death and the great rise in wages, were levied and insisted on more rigorously than ever. When these became intolerable, or the men fancied they had better chances elsewhere, they deserted. Those, too, who were bound to service demanded to be placed on the same footing as their fellows, and when their demand was refused, they also fled, hoping to be accepted as hired labourers on some other manor. If we may take the manor of Wilburton as in any degree representative, the running away or 'flight' of the villeins was a very striking and important feature in the social history of the time. After the Black Death, says Mr. Trevelyan, 'it was with the greatest difficulty that hands could be kept on an estate at all. Like the free labourer, the villein had now the whip hand of his master. If the lord refused to commute bis services for money rent, and still continued to exact the day labour which had now become so far more valuable than of old, the villein, like the free labourer, could "flee.” To retire off the estate to another part of the country was forbidden to the free labourer only by the Statute of 1350; but in the case of the villein “bound to the soil " it was a breach of immemorial custom and the ancient law of the land. Yet the "flights” of villeins form as marked a feature in the later fourteenth century as the “flights" of negroes from the slave States of America in the early nineteenth. The one was as definitely illegal as the other, and in both cases the frequency of the flights marked the thorough determination of the class to set itself free and to revoluztionise the old state of things. But instead of finding the whole country against him, the fugitive villein, whether he escaped to city or village, was sure of a welcome from merchants and bailiffs, whose business, in consequence of the Black Death, was being ruined by lack of hands. The master from whom he had fled would learn too late that it was impossible to replace his lost services or to fill his deserted toft. It is not, therefore, surprising that the lords were compelled to make every concession in order to retain their serfs on their estates. So far from trying to revive obligations that bad been previously commuted, we find them parting with the villein's services more largely than ever, and often for a rent by no means equivalent.'

Of course, men so flying were summoned to return, or were arrested and punished when possible; but they kept out of the way, or, if the pursuit became too hot, took to the woods, still, it will be remembered, a very marked characteristic of English scenery. It was this, it is suggested by M. Petit-Dutaillis, that gave new life to the ancient legends of Robin Hood and his merry men. But Robin Hood was a more charming character in an old ballad than in living reality. For many years,' says Mr. Trevelyan, before and many years after the rebellion the waste places and pleasant woodlands were the haunt of desperate men, 'whose numbers were a shame to Government and a danger

to society. When to these outlaws we join a considerable number of disbanded soldiers, we have a social element which was a standing danger to the country. They were but waiting a fitting opportunity. That Essex should take the lead in finding it is not surprising. The lot of the Essex villeins appears. to have been hard beyond the average. The riverside fishermen knew more of the Government's shortcomings than any other men of their degree; above all, their villages were near enough to London to be the comnion resort of professional agitators, discontented townsmen, and runaway apprentices. Men who had made London too hot for them might find secure hiding in the Essex woods or the Essex marshes, and in the intervals of being hunted could have plenty of time to preach sedition.

In Kent the conditions were very different. Theoretically, the peasants were freemen; they belonged to a county that claimed to be invicta ; they could plead in court; but practically they were subject to many feudal dues, and in some instances to labour service, which were the more exasperating because, though sanctioned by custom, they were thought to be illegal, and because the men, having more freedom, had more intelligence than elsewhere. By reason of this greater intelligence, too, they took a greater interest in political questions; and when the revolt broke out, they showed themselves the most bitterly hostile to the Government and to John of Gaunt. It is also probable that they numbered among them many old soldiersmen who could contrast the glories of Crécy or Poitiers with the disgrace of Gravesend. Wat Tyler himself is said to have served in France, and his bold conduct in a difficult position seems to support the rumour.

For the rest, every county had its own peculiar grievances; and nothing less than a long series of examinations similar to those made by

[ocr errors]

Mr. Powell and Professor Maitland, in East Anglia, will clear away the many obscurities. The towns, also, had their grievances, and these, too, differed in detail in each. The Statutes of Labourers limited the wages of journeymen and curtailed the profits of master craftsmen; and in very many instances the corporation or the burgesses collectively had some deep grudge against the lord of the manor.

The popular grievance,' says Mr. Trevelyan, 'was sometimes, as at Northampton, against the mayor; sometimes, as at Bury, against a neighbouring religious house ; sometimes, as at Cambridge, against the university; sometimes, as at Oxford, mayor and citizens joined to exact a grant from the King. . . . To know the causes of the rising in the towns would be to know the history of a hundred different municipalities, their lawsuits and their quarrels, long buried in dust. . . . At Bridgewater they burnt title-deeds and court-rolls, marched under the royal standard, and exposed the heads of their enemies in public places. It is also at Bridgewater that we find an interesting case of a religious house forced by the parishioners to surrender its dues for the more useful purpose of supporting the vicar, ... a man of the name of Frompton, who was in London when the rising broke out. He at once left the capital and started for the west, to see what could be done there. He arrived in Bridgewater in time to lead his parishioners on June 19 against the House of St. John of Jerusalem.'

Nothing can well seem, at first sight, more curious than the conduct of the lower ranks of the clergy at this time. In reality it is easy to understand it. They belonged, as a rule, to the peasant class, and had not been educated out of it; all their sympathies, by birth, upbringing, and professional life, were with the peasants; and their own grievances were very real. The tithes of the parishes were, as originally intended, sufficient for the comfortable maintenance of the priest; but since the Norman Conquest the custom had grown up of appropriating' the tithes--sometimes to a foreign rector, a cardinal, or other Church dignitary provided for by the Pope in defiance of the Statute of Provisors; sometimes to the bishop of the diocese; sometimes, and more frequently, to a neighbouring monastery. Whoever received the tithes was supposed to arrange for the religious services of the parish, which he did by appointing a vicar at the smallest possible stipend--from four to six marks per annum-barely sufficient to tempt some peasant who had got ordained to escape from the tyranny of his feudal lord. With a stipend already at starvation point, the rise in wages and prices after the pestilence and the war pressed on the vicars with

« VorigeDoorgaan »