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services (servicia prius inde debita et consueta) 1. The manorial rolls of a Cambridgeshire manor 2 tell how a tenant was admitted in 1396 to a holding at a rent of twelve shillings to hold to him and his sequela (posterity), until some one should come to take it at the accustomed services, and in case such a one appeared the tenant was to have the option of continuing to hold at the old services, and should he reject this option he was to receive from the incoming tenant the costs that he had laid out upon the tenement. Even as late as 1417 a tenant received a holding on a Middlesex manor 3 for five years at a money rent on the understanding that the lease should terminate, if a newcomer would take it "according to the custom of the manor for rent and services". But at the moment the lords were powerless to resist forces that brooked no opposition. The villeins, owing to their depleted numbers, held a weapon in their hands which rendered their masters impotent; this was the threat of desertion. "If their masters challenge them and offer to pay them for their services according to the form of the said statutes, they fly and run suddenly away out of their own country from county to county, from hundred to hundred, and from village to village, in strange places unknown to their masters". This description (1376) was no less true of serfs than of free labourers. In earlier times flight from the manor, though not altogether unknown, was rare. The law which annexed the serf to the glebe was enforced primarily because the economic conditions of the period served to retard any general fluidity of labour. These economic conditions had been twofold. In the first place, the position of the villein, whatever its drawbacks, was sufficiently equitable on the whole to induce him to abide on the manor, rather than abandon his holding and expose himself to all the risks of the unknown world beyond. In the second place, the world beyond offered scanty prospects to incline the peasant to throw away a substantial holding
1 Eynsham Abbey was enjoined by Bishop Gray not to grant leases beyond five years: Eynsham Cartulary, ed. H. E. Salter (1908), ii. 190. Cf. Page, End of Villainage, 67, 76. 2 English Hist. Review, ix. 427. Rot. Parl. ii. 340 a.
3 Vict. County Hist. Middlesex, ii. 74.
for acres in Utopia. But after the Black Death both conditions were now reversed. The tenant in villeinage was no longer contented with his lot, for the burden of his V responsibilities remained unchanged, although his household was sadly diminished in numbers. This alone, however, would not have sufficed to drive the villein from his heritage, and the determining factor in the situation was the new inducements which urged him to relinquish his holding and seek his fortunes farther afield. Confronted with ruin, their land bare of inhabitants, their harvests rotting on the ground1, the lords were driven to every device by which to attract settlers to their estates 2. Sometimes not a single tenant survived on the manor, and on court rolls appeared the significant entry 3: "No one is willing to buy or hire the land of the dead tenant". No less eloquent is the passage in the Eynsham Cartulary, which relates how in 1349 scarce two tenants remained in the manor of Woodeaton, and they would have withdrawn, had not the abbot" entered into fresh agreements with them". In this evil plight the lords were ready to accept as free tenants fugitives from neighbouring manors, in order to induce them to take up the holdings which were left upon their hands and repopulate the manor. The feverish rivalry of the lords for possession of the labourers left the latter masters of the situation, and placed them in a position to dictate their own terms and claim a monopoly value for their services. Moreover, the ✓ cloth trade was beginning to afford a fresh opening to restless spirits, discontented with their mode of life and craving for new opportunities of advancement. Herein lies the significance of the century from 1350 to 1450 as a stage in the process of manorial decay. The mediaeval organization of rural labour broke down completely when the villeins suddenly found at hand alternative and more profitable sources of livelihood, whether in trade and industry, or as
1 Chronicon Henrici Knighton, ii. 62.
2 At Forncett 250 acres of land reverted to the lord, and were let by him to new tenants: Trans. Royal Hist. Soc. N.S. xiv. 126.
3 Gasquet, The Black Death, 116, 117. At Stepney (Vict. County Hist. Middlesex, ii. 78) no less than 105 tenements were vacated in 1349.
Eynsham Cartulary, ii. 19.
free labourers. The old relations between capital and labour were for the moment transformed, and the customary system of land-holding was no longer able to hold its own in the face of new and more attractive prospects. At the same time, the period of anarchy impaired the authority of the lord, and enabled the serfs to defy with impunity the legal restrictions that bound them to the soil.
The view that fugitive villeins were exceptional1 is The flight untenable, for we have abundant evidence to show how of villeins. general was the practice of migration after the Black Death. We may take in illustration an East Anglian manor, Forncett in Norfolk 2. Prior to 1349 there were but two instances, so far as the records go, of tenants who 'waived' their holdings, and in either case poverty was the compelling motive. But within the generation succeeding the pestilence, between sixty and seventy holdings had reverted to the lord on account of the death or flight of their occupants. Some became tenants on neighbouring manors, others joined the ranks of free labourers, others turned artisans. At Forncett the manorial system was undermined, not by commutation, but by the dispersion of the peasantry over the country-side. The mobility of the rural population is strikingly demonstrated in the rolls of an Essex manor, Hutton 3. In 1281 the customary tenants numbered forty. A generation later (1312) twenty-five of the names enumerated in 1281 had disappeared, and eight new names are mentioned. In 1424 out of twenty-seven tenants only one name is reproduced of the tenants who were present on the manor in 1312; and in 1523 there were only three names identical with those of 1424. The inhabitants of this district evidently shifted from generation to generation, and if the example of Hutton is at all typical it must compel us to revise our notions of the immobility of rural society. The stability of mediaeval agrarian life, as we shall have occasion to see in tracing the dissolution of the open field system, was often more apparent than real. The conservatism and tenacity of manorial
1 E. P. Cheyney in English Hist. Review, xv. 29.
2 Trans. Royal Hist. Soc. N.S. xiv. 127.
• English Hist. Review, xxvi. 337.
progress of com
arrangements were not incompatible with a degree of internal
told how in 1364 a virgater who held a tenement of twenty-
The progress of commutation can be studied from the account and court rolls of a Cambridgeshire manor (temp. mutation. Edward I. to Henry VII.). Their evidence falls into three well-defined periods: to 1350, to 1410, and from 1410 onwards. In the first period the customary services of the tenants are reckoned in terms of money, and though this 1 English Hist. Review, ix. 423.
2 Chronicon, ii. 65.
3 English Hist. Review, ix. 432, 434, 438.
facilitates the advance of commutation, very will not serve paid in money. The demesne continues to be ctome rather the tenants, but all the works are not always exacliving". the lord then obtains pecuniary compensation at fixed bond, In the second period, extending over two generations, thice is still no permanent commutation of labour dues for money payments. Even after the Black Death the manorial accounts are kept upon the old basis of calculation, and it is assumed that there are due to the lord some 3000 winter and summer works and 800 autumn works. In 1397 only 8 works are sold, while no less than 800 works are actually performed in kind; the rest may apparently be accounted for by the fact that many tenements had escheated to the lord and were let at a money rent. Hence at the close of the fourteenth century predial services are still the rule upon this manor, and customary holdings are still burdened with labour dues. Under Henry V. a general commutation takes place, the tenant paying a shilling an acre, and forced labour is abolished once and for all. On other manors we can trace the occasional survival of customary services even beyond the reign of Henry V. At Harmondsworth in Middlesex 1 works were rendered in 1434, at Wistowe 2 in 1466, on some Dorsetshire manors 3 at the end of the fifteenth century, and at Souldrop in Bedfordshire in 1530. At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries the tenants of Faversham, a monastic estate in Kent 5, worked in the fields, while under Elizabeth twelve copyholders on the manor of Pirbright in Surrey 6 were bound to work with their lord in mowing and reaping. As late as 1563, every tenant at Netherhampton was required "to plough three half acres for the lord's winter seed and to harrow them, and also to wash and shear the lord's sheep... and further each of them shall mow one
1 Vict. County Hist. Middlesex, ii. 74. Even as late as 1492 two tenants paid for their services: ibid. ii. 75. For Shalford (1490), see Vict. County Hist. Essex, i. 318.
2 Neilson, Ramsey Manors, App. XII. For Leckwith (1456), see Cardiff Records, ii. 60.
3 Vict. County Hist. Dorsetshire, ii. 240.
Vict. County Hist. Bedfordshire, ii. 90.
A. Savine, English Monasteries on the Eve of the Dissolution (1909), 160. ⚫ O. Manning and W. Bray, Antiquities of Surrey (1804), i. 149.