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WORK AND WAGES.
RURAL ENGLAND BEFORE THE PLAGUE.
HE archives of English history are more copious and more continuous than those of any other people. The record of public events begins with the Teutonic invasion of the fifth century, and is prolonged, with scarcely a break, down to our own times. There are periods in which the information is scanty. The events of the reign of Edward IV. have not been preserved in such abundance as those of Edward I. But we are rarely left without contemporary annalists, and those authoritative materials by which the historian can give continuity and vivacity to his narrative. As the political history of England can be written from its beginnings, so can the history of its laws, which are founded on the customs of the Teutonic races. Again, the constitutional history of our people has been traced back to customs which long precede the Conquest. Its financial history is contained in a series of documents engrossed annually from the days of the first Plantagenet to those of the fifth monarch of the House of Hanover, which exist in unbroken continuity
in the great collection of national archives. No other country possesses such a wealth of public records.
The information from which the economical history of England, and the facts of its material progress, can be derived, become plentiful, and remain continuously numerous from about the last ten or twelve years of the reign of Henry III. Before this time there is not, I believe, a farm account or a manor roll in existence. Suddenly these documents, from which this aspect of English history can be constructed, are found abundantly.
The English village or manor, as the earliest court rolls inform us, contained several orders of social life. At the head of the settlement was the lord, to whom belonged the manor house, the demesne, which was a several estate, enclosed and occupied exclusively by him, and such rights over the inhabitants or tenants of the manor as ancient compact or more ancient custom secured to him. Sometimes these tenants held military fees, and were bound to such obligations as tenancy in knight service defined. Thus the Warden and Scholars of Merton College, in Oxford, at the close of the thirteenth century, were lords of Cuxham manor, in Oxfordshire, and its demesne, with divers rents and services. The two principal tenants, Quartermain and Pageham, each hold the fourth part of a military fee within the limits of the manor. The Prior of Holy Trinity, of Wallingford, holds a messuage, a mill, and six acres of land in free alms, i. e., under no other obligation or liability than the offering of prayers on behalf of the donor. A free tenant has a messuage, with three and three-quarter acres, the portion of his wife. The rector of the parish church has part of a furrow—i. e., one of the divisions by which the common arable field is parcelled out. For this he pays two-pence a year. Another tenant holds a cottage in the demesne under the
obligation of keeping two lamps lighted in the church. Another person is tenant at will of the parish mill, at forty shillings a year. The rest of the tenants are serfs (nativi), or cottagers (coterelli)-thirteen of the former, and eight of the latter. Each of the serfs has a messuage and half a virgate of land at least, i. e., certainly not less than twelve acres of arable. His rent is almost entirely corn and labor, though he makes two money payments-a half-penny on November 12th, and a penny whenever he brews.
The actual rent paid in this indirect way is the ordinary amount paid for fairly good arable land. After their harvest work they are to have together sixpennyworth of beer, and each a loaf of bread. The amount of the bread given to all is to be the produce of three bushels of wheat. Every evening, after the hours are over, each of the reapers is entitled to carry off as large a sheaf of corn as he can lift on his sickle.
I have given these rents in money, in produce, and in labor, partly because they exhibit the social economy of the time, and show how the services, which in the early part of the next century were entirely commuted for money payments, were imposed on freeholders and serfs respectively; partly to point out that, onerous as these labor rents occasionally were, they indicate a real bargain between lord and serf, and, by implication, point to an arrangement which is very far removed from that ideal state of villeinage which is described in our law books, and has been incautiously accepted by those who have written on the social state of England. According to these authorities the serf had no rights of property or person against his lord. But as long as these dues were satisfied, it is plain the tenant was secure from dispossession. The serf was disabled from migrating to any other habitation than the manor of