Town & Village
As a rule the invading English tribes avoided at first the walled towns of Roman days. By the beginning of the seventh century, however, they were drifting into many of these. Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester(, Anderida (Pevensey), Verullamium (the Roman town hard by St. Albans), and Viroconium (wroxeter) are still today grass-covered; but Canterbury, Rochester, London, Chichester, Winchester, Leicester, Colchester, Bath, Exeter and others were reinhabited long before Alfred’s day. The dwellers within the earliest English villages and those within Roman walls were alike tillers of the soil and tender of flocks and herds. Cows and sheep, loads of hay and grain, were driven alike through the gap in the earliest rampart or hedge that surrounded the English village, and through the stone archway in which Romano-British engineers had once swung their town gates.
But some of these communities began to feel other influences of government, of trade and traffic, of religion and of war, by means of which they ceased to be merely collections of tillers of the soil. In the first place, kings visited some of them and added to their importance. In Anglo-Saxon times kings had no fixed capitals in which the royal work of government was done, where their servants always lived and to which their realm, and where they were living for the moment there all royal business was transacted. On their journey they moved from one royal estate to another, taking a large retinue with them of thanes and their followers, chaplains, clerks, cup-bearers, queens, women servants, royal nurses, reciters, harpers, pack-horses, and riding-horses, stable boys, dogs, kennel-men, falcons and falconers. On each royal estate lived a royal steward, called a reeve. this official, in anticipation of the king’s visit, collected taxes in the shape of beef, beer, swine, cheese, eels, salmon, honey, eggs, candles, horses, hunting dogs, falcons, loads of rushes and of firewood. These came not only from tenants of the royal estate, which the reeve managed, but also from the dwellers in the villages of the surrounding countryside. They were collected in the barns, stables, cowhouses, kennels and pantries which were attached to the royal hall. For days and weeks before the royal arrival there must have been a vast amount of running to and fro with horses, carts and loads of provender, and much keeping of accounts by the reeve as he checked the incoming supplies. Carpenters and other servants must have been engaged in preparing the king’s apartments, his queen’s bowers, and his thane’s sleeping quarters, in mending roofs and chairs and beds, and in patching up all the barns and other outhouses. For such work many a load of timber must have been necessary, as well as cloth and skins.
The king on arrival settled down to work and to sport for as long a time as the supply of provisions allowed, perhaps only for two days, perhaps for a week or a fortnight. for the remainder of the year the village sank back into comparative quiet, until once more a fever of preparation began to arise in anticipation of another visit.
Kings naturally loved one estate more than another. For some reason or other Tamworth, in the rolling red-sandstone country of Staffordshire, seems to have been a favourite home of Mercian kings. Kentish kings lived for the most part at Canterbury. Alfred’s father seems to have liked his village of Wilton; at any rate, we know that he did a good deal of business there with his clerks. Southampton and Somerton were other spots which he may have frequented. Royal retinues need considerable accommodation and service, and therefore some, at any rate, of the royal estates must have gathered together and housed a considerable population for those days, and been on a fair way to become towns.
A second influence was that of traffic, which still makes big cities in our own time. London before Alfred’s day must have flourished on trade. It was there that travellers could cross the Thames. And below the bridge London Pool was the anchorage of ships from Flanders, Rouen, Poitou and elsewhere, bringing wine, fish, timber, and cloth, and buying provisions and cargo in the London market. And always on the spot were the royal officials, collecting dues in halfpennies, pennies, fourpences and shillings, and levying market tolls on pig dealers, on women selling butter, poultry and eggs to sailors and others. (A. Ballard’s “Domesday Boroughs,” p. 116, gives the scale of tolls levied in London on sailors and traders in the reign of Ethelred (978 to 1016), but similar tolls must have been levied long before this date). Similar tolls must have been levied at Dover, Southampton and other ports along the coast. Traders and tax-gatherers must have settled at other centres, for example, at crossing places of the Thames, such as Oxford and Wallingford, or at places such as Guildford, where travellers could pass through the gap in the North Downs, as our railways and motors do today. Possibly little Mortlake, Southwark and other Thames-side village were thriving on their eel fisheries, and Droitwich on its salt mines.
Religion stimulated town life. Bishop and monks made business; villages, workshops and markets grew up outside their doors. Winchester, Malmesbury, Bath, Canterbury, Rochster, Worcester and other places must have owed their importance largely to their bishops. Melrose in the Scottish Lowlands, Lastingham in Yorkshire that was “more like a lurking place for robbers and a retreat for wild beasts than a human habitation,” Medeshamstede (Peterborough) in the Fens, and many other spots owed their first settlement to monks. Under similar patronage other spots became more populous and busy.
But all such centres of government, trade and religion were rather big villages than towns; towns life in the real sense was a result of the inroads of the Northmen and of the efforts of Wessex first to resist these dreadful foes and then to dispossess them of the parts they had conquered. A nation passing through a crisis such as Wessex experienced in the late ninth century has to work and fight for its life; it has, therefore, to make full use of all the fighting men and of the labour, food and money of the rest; and it must have peace and order within. So it suddenly finds that it needs more officials whose duty it is to make Englishmen work harder, fight better, and behave decently. In our scanty records of the ninth and tenth centuries we can see Wessex waking up to all this, and producing in consequence for the first time communities which we can call towns.
The royal officials who stirred Englishmen up to greater energy lived for the most part in the burhs. These communities, therefore, were perpetually busy about government. Several times a year it seems that the thanes, who owned hagan, had to meet at their burhs, and provide for the maintenance of their defences. That this was an important gathering is evident form Athelstan’s law, that if a man failed to attend it on three occasions, and did not pay the fine imposed in consequence, the chief men of the burh were to ride to his place and seize his goods. The kings of Alfred’s house were determined at all costs to make thanes do their duty. Possibly the members of this gathering saw to it that supplies of food came in regularly to the hagan from the toiling peasantry of the surrounding estates. Crime was punished more severely in burhs and on roads leading to them than elsewhere; nothing must interfere with the discipline of the garrison or with the regular arrival of its rations. King Edward seems to have forbidden trade to take place outside the burhs. In this his chief object was good government. The giving and taking of receipts in those days were unknown, and yet it was of vast importance to every purchaser to be able to prove that such purchases as cattle or food were honestly paid for. It was probably for this reason that Edward confined trade to burhs; there was plenty of official witnesses there, before whom business could be done. The absence of witnesses in the open countryside must often have been a check on trade except between men well acquainted with one another and confident of each other’s honesty. Now that buying and selling were only possible within burhs, kings probably saw to it that official witnesses could always be found. Thus buying and selling with safety were always possible.On every purchase the king’s official levied toll, perhaps a measure of herrings or honey, or a number of eggs or chickens from dealers in such things. In return the king’s government gave peace and protection.
Within the burhs mints were established, and the coiners paid for a licence to coin, and bought a fresh one every time they changed or renewed their dies. There had been mints in England in early Anglo-Saxon days, but with the increase of commerce more money was needed, and the obvious places in which to coin it were burhs, which were well defended, garrisoned, and kept in order. Thus in the tenth century town life was growing up; town populations of 1000 or 2000 or more souls were appearing in such places as Winchester, Hertford, Bedford, London and elsewhere. It was not quite what some of us understood today by town life. In London, Liverpool, Manchester and other great populous modern centres we scarcely ever see a cow or a load of hay; the streets are full of business men only. but in the tenth century farmers, government officials, merchants, smiths, butter women, cows and swine, and loads of hay all jostled together in the market-places and narrow streets.
Some of the energy which Alfred and his descendants infused into English life through the burhs weakened in the reign of Edgar the Peaceful (958 to 975 A.D.), and very nearly disappeared altogether in the appalling times of Ethelred the Redeless, when the Northmen invaded England a second time, and found no Alfred to face them. But though lacking in the vigorous life of Alfred’s day the burhs survived to find a place in William the Conqueror/Crusader’s “Domesday Book,” and, in many cases, to become the boroughs of medieval England.
In Anglo-Saxon times, however, a very small proportion of English people lived in towns; by far the greater majority lived in country villages.
By way of showing what can be learned from “Domesday Book” of village life in late Anglo-Saxon times let us take two passages from it, one dealing with Chadlington in Oxfordshire, and a second with Mortlake, where the University Boat Race now finishes. Chadlington still can be found on our modern maps. It is a little village on the river Evenlode, 3 1/2 miles/5.6km from Chipping Norton. There are 3450 acres/1,396,2ha in the parish; its population in 1911 was 578. Mortlake in 1911 had a population of 16,253, living on a space of 1554 acres/628ha. The passages from “Domesday book” which deals with these two places are as follows:-
“Siward, the hunter, holds of the king 2 1/2 hides in Chadlington. There is land for two ploughs. He has these in demesnse with one serf and three bordars. There was 3 acres/1.2ha of meadow. It was worth and is worth 40 shillings. Siward himself held it freely in the time of king Edward.”
“The archbishop (of Canterbury) himself holds Mortlake in demesne. In the time of king Edward it defended itself for 80 hides. The Canons of St. Paul’s hold 8 of these hides, which have paid and do pay geld with these. Altogether it now pays geld for 25 hides. There is land for 35 ploughs. In demense there are five ploughs. And there are 80 villeins and 14 bordars with 28 ploughs. There is a church there and 16 serfs and 2 mills of a 100 shillings in value. There are 20 acres/8ha of meadow. From the wood come 55 swine by way of pannage. In London there are 17 houses paying 52 pence. In Southwark there are 4 houses paying 27 pence. And from the township of Putney comes no rent. Earl Harold had this fishery in Mortlake in the time of king Edward. Stigand, the archbishop, had it for long in king William’s time. And yet they say Harold constructed it by force in the time of king Edward in the land of Kingston and in the land of St. Paul’s. The whole estate in the time of king Edward was worth 32 pounds, afterwards 10 pounds, now 38 pounds.”
Remembering that these passages describe chiefly a condition of things existing in 1086, we have to ascertain what we can from them as to village conditions in the reign of Edward the Confessor, the last king of Alfred’s house. We cannot learn much, for “Domesday Book” is concerned with taxation only; and it is a difficult book for us to understand. Scholars have studied it very carefully for many years, but there are problems in it which are still unsolved.
Chadlington was clearly a small place in the eleventh century as it is today. Siward the hunter, says the last sentence of the record, held it “freely” in Edward the Confessor’s time. The interpretation of this word “freely” is one of the many problems which meet us in the pages of “Domesday Book.” Possibly it means that Siward, before the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade, was the absolute owner of Chadlington; he could give it away or sell it, if he liked; he paid rent or services by way of rent to none; he owed only his taxes to the king. After the Conquest/Crusade his position was changed. King William owned it; Siward was his tenant, and could no longer sell it or give it away without the king’s permission. But Siward was a lucky man, for, unlike many an Englishman, he was still holding and farming the lands he had owned and farmed before the Conquest/Crusade. “Domesday Book” does not tell us why King William was generous in his case; perhaps as a sport-loving king he had an eye to the future sport at Chadlington, and thought a hunter was a good man to leave there as gamekeeper.
“Domesday Book” says that Siward hold 2 1/2 hides. The hide was an Anglo-Saxon measure of land which scholars think works out as 120 acres/48.5ha. (A hide varies depending on the fertility of the soil, so it could be more or less, as its aim is to support a family). At first sight, therefore, it seems that Siwald held 300 acres/121.4ha of land. But “Domesday Book” does not mean this at all. By the labours of scholars it has been proved that here the hide is not a unit of measurement but of assessment. Siward probably held much more than 2 1/2 hides in Chadlington, but then the tax-gatherer collecting Danegeld came along, he pretended that there were only 2 1/2 hides there. So if Ethelred the Redeless or William the Conqueror/Crusader was collecting a Danegeld of 2 shillings on each hide, then at Chadlington Siward’s forerunner, or Siward himself, would pay 5 shillings. In other words, Danegeld was levied on the rateable area of Chadlington, 2 1/2 hides, not on its actual area.
“Domesday Book” then says: “There is land for 2 ploughs.” This would enable us to learn how much arable land Siward had if we know how much land one plough could cope with in Anglo-Saxon times. It is generally believed that the plough of those days was drawn by a team of eight oxen, but we cannot be sure of this, for there are early pictures showing ploughs drawn by two. Scholars think that a plough and eight oxen to draw it formed a normal equipment for a man who owned and farmed 120 acres/48.5ha, i.e. 1 hide. If Siward’s ploughs were drawn by eight oxen, then he may have had 240 acres/97.1ha of arable land. We cannot tel for certain. Of these 240 acres/48.4ha only 160 acres/64.7ha would be under crops at any one time, for one of the three big fields would be lying fallow in each year.
The record adds that Siward had these ploughs “in demesne.” this means that they were Siward’s own private property. No one else in Chadlington had a plough.
To help him on his farm he had one serf and two bordars. The serf was a slave who worked for his keep. He probably got no wages. He did any job he was given, acting as a plough-man, thatcher, milker, herdsman, as occasion required. He probably lived in some outhouse or hovel attached to Siward’s own dwelling. The two bordars may have had little houses of their own, and perhaps each had five acres/2ha of arable land in three open fields, on which, working with spade and hoe, they could grow a little corn. Perhaps, however, Siward lent them a plough in the ploughing season. They probably also possessed a few cows and pigs. For the most part they laboured under Siward’s orders, and in return he probably gave them something wherewith to eke out a living.
There was 3 acres/1.2ha of meadow land. This was valuable property. On the hay raised from it Siward would feed his plough oxen, possibly sixteen in number, in the winter-time. It surely lay along the river Evenlode, and was enriched by the floods of early spring.
The whole estate was worth 40 shillings a year. Possibly this means that after Siward had fed his serfs and his bordars, and maintained his plough oxen, and allowed something for repairs to ploughs and buildings, he had 40 shillings worth of goods on which to maintain himself. “Domesday Book” says nothing about the numbers of Siward’s family, or of the families of his serf and bordars. It says nothing of cows, swine, sheep, goats, horses, and yet there must have been more beasts on the estate than the sixteen possible plough oxen, and the supervision of these must have been called for more labour than that of Siward and of his three men. Possibly women and boys lent a hand, and the total population of the estate may easily have been twenty-four in all.
Possibly, the original return sent in about Chadlington contained information on these and other points, but this may has been lost for ever. On the other hand, the original return has preserved much more than “Domesday Book” has preserved. When the commissioners entered Oxfordshire and summoned the meeting at which they collected information about Chadlington and the neighbouring villages of the hundred, Siward would certainly have attended. And when he had heard the questions of the commissioners and the replies, he may have gone home quite happily, feeling that the king had not learned quite everything about Chadlington. Our feelings today are usually different. As we survey our assessment to income, we feel that the government konws too much about us.
When we read what “Domesday Book” has to say about Mortlake we realise that it was a vastly bigger, richer and populous place than Chadlington. Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury in Edward the Confessor’s time, owned Mortlake, till he was deposed in 1070, and Lanfranc put in his place. The “Domesday Book” entry says the Archbishop of Canterbury, both before and after the French-Norman/Conquest-Crusade, held Mortlake in demesne. This means that he held it as a tenant of the king, and that the produce of it went into the barns of his archiepiscopal palaces or towards the maintenance of his numerous retinues. He did not put in a tenant who was to come up for military service when called, and in return have the right to consume all the produce himself.
In Edward the Confessor’s reign Mortlake “defended itself for 80 hides.” This simply means that the whole estate was rated or assessed at 80 hides, and that when Danegeld was levied at 2 shillings on the hide it paid 160 shillings. The sentence must not be taken to mean that there were 80 times 120 acres/48.5ha in Mortlake.
Then “Domesady Book” goes on to say that in Edward’s reign the canons of St. Paul’s Cathedral were responsible for the geld due from 8 of these 80 assessment hides. Thus the archbishop before 1066 paid only on 72 hides. We know from another entry in “Domesday Book” that these 8 assessment hides lay at Barnes, about a mile/1.6km further down the river, where the canons of St. Paul’s had a small estate. Why their tax was lumped in what that paid on 72 hides at Mortlake by the archbishop does not appear in “Domesday Book.” All that we can see is that in the eyes of the government Mortlake and Barnes were one estate, when it was a matter of collecting geld.
The next sentence (“altogether it now pays geld on 25 hides”) means that the assessment of Mortlake by thev year 1086 has dropped from 80 to 25 hides, and it is clear that in 1086 eight of the 25 hides had still their tax paid by the canons of St.. Paul’s. This reduction in the assessment of the archbishop’s estate at Mortlake from 72 to 17 hides (leaving out the eight assessment hides at Barnes on which the canons of St. Paul’s paid tax) is an extraordinary and interesting one, to which further reference must be made later.
It must be noted that the record says there was land for 35 ploughs, and yet it only mentions 33 ploughs as existing, 5 belonged to the demesne and 28 to the villeins and bordars. Evidently the commissioners saw a chance of the estate producing more grain in the future, and having more villeins and bordars on it, when the possible extra 2 ploughs were set to work. So they noted this, and “Domesday Book” as a tax-book has preserved their note. No doubt the archbishop’s agent at Mortlake was not too pleased when he heard the commissioners get hold of that bit of information and write it down.
In Mortlake, then, there was arable land sufficient to keep 35 ploughs at work. Now if each of these ploughs had a full team of 8 oxen, and if each plough was the natural complement of 120 acres/48.5 ha (ploughing 80 acres/32.3ha in a year, and leaving 40 acres/16.1ha to lie fallow) then there may have been 35 times 120 acres/48.5ha of arable land in Mortlake, i.e. 4,200 acres/1,699,7ha. This causes a difficulty, for Mortlake nowadays covers only 1,554 acres/626.9ha altogether. Possibly its lands were more extensive in those days than now. It is very doubtful, therefore, whether we can draw conclusions as to the amount of arable land in Mortlake from the number of ploughs which were there, or could be there.
Only five ploughs belonged to the archbishop. The demesne on which they worked was the home farm, or, in other words, those part of the arable fields which were tilled under the orders of the reeve or agent of the archbishop who managed the estate at Mortlake. The next sentence of the record explains whence the labour came for this purpose. It says there were 80 villeins and 14 bordars, possessing between them 28 ploughs, who lived on the estate. “Villein” and “bordar” are French-Norman names for certain kinds of labourers or peasants. A villein usually held and cultivated a virgate of ground lying in strips dispersed in various parts of the three arable fields. A virgate is a quarter of a hide, i,e. 30 acres/12.1ha. He also had plough oxen, probably two. The bordars of Mortlake seem a little different from the bordars of Chadington. They seem to have had a share with the villeins in the 28 ploughs, so they must have had plough oxen, possibly one each, and strips in the arable fields amounting perhaps to 5 acres/2ha. The villeins and bordars were tenants of some of the archbishop’s land at Mortlake, and by way of paying rent used to supply him with various services and food. We may be sure that the archbishop’s reeve needed the services of more than his five ploughs to till the arable strips, which he kept in his own hands as the archbishop’s agent. To meet his needs he could call on the ploughs and plough oxen of the villeins and bordars on a certain number of days in the ploughing season. When he wanted them the villeins and bordars had to give up their ploughing work, combine their oxen teams of eight, and go off to plough the archbishop’s strips on the demesne.
The sixteen serfs probably worked about the demesne farm, and lived with their families in some outhouses. They certainly held no land, and they received nothing but their keep.
The two watermills (windmills were unknown) brought 100 shillings annually into the archbishop’s pocket. His villein and bordar tenants probably had to grind all their corn there, and leave a quantity behind in payment, or pay a money fee. Somehow or other, either in corn or hard cash, the mills were worth 100 shillings a year, so William’s commissioners made a note of that.
There were 20 acres/8ha of meadow, which can only have supplied a very scanty hay allowance for the winter feed of the plough oxen. Hay was always a difficulty in Anglo-Saxon and French-Norman times. The 20 acres/8ha in question probably lay along the river bank, and received a certain richness from the materials deposited by the Thames in flood time. The modern practice of sowing hay seed was unknown, and the hay crop would be judged short and thin by modern standards.
The archbishop evidently had a wood at Mortlake, in which his own and the villeins’ and bordars’ swine lived. By way of recompense he levied on his tenants an annual toll of fifty-five swine called Pannage. Anglo-Saxon were great pig-killing in the autumn.
The house mentioned in the record as lying in London and Southwark seem to have been originally hagan, maintained by the estate of Mortlake, and occupied by some of the burhware, which defended those burhs, when the scheme of Alfred and his son Edward for the defence of Wessex was in working order. The archbishop in 1086 still owned those houses, but he seems to have let them for a total rent of 79 pence. And we suspect that he has let them to peace-loving citizens, and not to soldiers. The old scheme for maintaining burhwares in London and Southwark had probably died out.
Putney, in those days, like Barnes, was evidently part of Mortlake, and paid 20 shillings in tolls. There is no indication whence the tolls came. Perhaps there was a ferry there which the archbishop maintained and got the profits of; or the tolls may have come from buying and selling at Putney. The ferry, if there was one, working where the bridge is now, would bring customers making their way, perhaps, up Putney Hill to Wimbledon or Kingston-on-Thames.
Then we get hints of a curious story, illustrating some illegality against the Church by no less a person than Earl Harold? (he was officially crowned King of England by the Witan the day after King Edward the Confessor’s death crowned on Epithany/Wassail night, so he was officially king of an independent country, it was the French-Normans who invaded England under the behest of the Pope of Rome to enforce the new Roman Catholic Church on England by his French-Norman enforcers, we must remember the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was the army which protected the Pope in Rome then, but like the English was of the Western Rite Orthodox Church, not the newly instigated Roman Catholic Church), who fought William for the crown of England? at Hastings/Senlac Ridge in 1066. The record says there was, in 1086, a fishery at Mortlake that was paying no rent. The commissioners naturally noted this; but the curious point is that although Mortlake belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Earl Harold had constructed the fishery by force, and evidently without the archbishop’s consent? The passage is too condensed to tell us a clear story. The fishing at Mortlake must have been good in those days, or else Harold would not have made the fishery. Besides eels and lampreys that were no doubt salmon in the Thames. They were caught in constructions of reeds and wickerwork built out from the bank into the stream.
Finally we read that the estate in King Edward’s day was worth 32 pounds. Afterwards (in “Domesday Book” this means in 1066) it was only worth 10 pounds. In 1086 it was worth 38. These figured represent the money value to the archbishop of the proceeds of the estate. The drop in 1066 was probably due to the ravages of William’s soldiers, when they marched up the south bank of the Thames to cross it at Wallingford on their way to London after the battle of Hastings/Senlac Ridge. It was probably owing to these ravages that the assessment of the estate dropped from 80 to 25 hides. Despite the increase in revenue, which had taken place by 1086, the assessment still remained at the lower level. No doubt the increase was due to restocking of lands, rebuilding of barns, and an addition both to the number of ploughs at work and to the number of inhabitants. But knowing the French-Norman business man, we may assume that villeins and bordars were working a great deal harder and contributing a great deal more from their own lands to the barns, pantries and mills of the archbishop. Even bishops were hard task masters in the days following the French-Norman/Conquest-Crusade, especially if they were building new cathedrals, as Lanfranc was doing at Canterbury.
Chadlington and Mortlake are but two examples of an infinite variety in “Domesday Book.” In them we have caught a glimpse of the different classes of Englishmen who lived in the country places in the eleventh century, such as villeins, bordars and serfs. But the three passages already quoted do not bring before us another very important class of Englishman who is frequently mentioned in other passages, namely the freemen. Here is a quotation from “Domesday Book,” taken from a passage dealing with Halstead in Essex.
“In Halstead William de Gare holds two hides all but 4 acres/1.6ha. These lands were held in the time of Edward by 300 free men.”
The interpretation of the words “free men” is one of the greatest difficulties in “Domesday Book.” It seems that at Halstead in Edward the Confessor’s time these thirty free men were the owners, and not merely the tenants of the lands in question. They could sell them or give them away without asking any one’s permission. thus Siward, the hunter who held Chadlington “freely” in the time of Edward the Confessor, was evidently a free man. But “Domesday Book” is full of free men of another kind, who in Edward’s time were not owners of the lands they tilled, but there tenants of some one else who owned them. These free men were not so that they could give away their holdings or sell them. And yet they were free men.
Even when we have added the two kinds of free men to the other classes already mentioned, we have not exhausted the various kinds of people who lived in England in the eleventh century. (For further information of this document is given in “English Society in the Eleventh Century” and “The Growth of the Manor,” Both by P. Vinogradoff.)
Much of all this is very dry bones. Perhaps a little life can be given with the aid of a document called Rectitudines Singularum Personarum or The Rights and Duties of Each Person, which it is thought was written about 1025 A.D. (An English translation of this document is given in “English Economic History, Select Documents,” by Brand, Brown and Tawney, See also “Cambridge Mediaeval History,” vol. iii, p. 410.) Its author probably knew a great deal about the management of some estate, and about the various classes who lived on it. He set out to make a record of the rights and duties that ought to belong to these classes, but he points out that it is very difficult to do so, because the customs of estates differ very considerably. We are faced with another difficulty; in mentioning classes on the estate the writer uses names which are not those of “Domesday Book.” The French-Norman records uses Latin forms of French words, such as villeins and bordars; the Rectitudines, etc., uses Anglo-Saxon terms, and so it is not easy to compare them with the French ones.
The Anglo-Saxon document first mentions the time or landlord of the estate in question. The thanes was entitled to the lawful possession of his land; possibly he had received it from a king, and must in return for it do military service, help to repair the neighbouring burh, and to maintain bridges. The writer says that the owners of many other estates have much more than this to do at the king’s command. If close at hand there was a royal estate, they must maintain the hedges that confine the deer on it. If they lived near the sea they must guard the coast. Sometimes they must attend court, and act as bodyguard to the king. They also had to contribute to the support of the church, and do “many other diverse things.”
Secondly, the writer mentions “Geneats’ Service.” Possibly geneats were free men, who did not own land, but were tenants of land owned by the thane. “Geneat Service,” says the document, “varies according to the custom of the estate.” A geneat paid rent in food and services for his tenancy. He gave swine to the thane in return for the thane’s permission to pasture his swine on the waste land of the estate. He carried the thane’s messages on horseback. He did carting work. He reaped and mowed for the thane, and cut the king’s deer hedge on the thane’s behalf, and maintained the hedge which surrounded the thane’s house. He protected the thane, and looked after his horses. He also helped to maintain the priest and his church. There is no hint in our document as to the amount of land normally held by a geneat. No doubt the amount varied from estate to estate.
Next mentioned are the cotsetle or cottars. The cotters’ services also varied according to the estate. On some estates cottars worked for the thane on each Monday throughout the year; in harvest-time, however, they worked for him on three days a week. On some estates they worked for the thane on every day of the week in harvest-time, and were supposed as fair day’s work to reap an acre/0.4ha of oats; in return they got a sheaf for each day’s labour from the thane’s steward or reeve. They did not pay rent for land. This seems to imply that they had no arable land in the three open fields. But the document says that each ought to have 5 acres/2ha of ground; apparently these formed little enclosures or paddocks which were attached to the cottars’ houses, and on which they raised with spade and hoe such crops as they could, and had their little barns. They also could be called on to assist in repairing the king’s deer hedge for their master, and to do coastguard for him. They paid dues to the church like the geneat and thane.
The document next mentions the Gebura. from the description of their duties that follows, they look like free Englishmen, who from some reason or other have lost all their own property and have been accepted as tenants by thanes, and have received from them an outfit in land, cattle and furniture, on condition of giving labour, money and goods in return. They have declined so far in the social scale that they ceased to be free, and become serfs.
On some estates geburs’ services were heavy, and on others light. It was usual for a gebur to work for his thane on two days a week. In harvest-time, however, and from February 2 Candelmass to Easter, he worked for the thane on three days a week. He and his horse did carrying work for the thane. On Michaelmas, September 29, he paid ten pence by way of rent. On Michaelmas Day he gave the thane twenty-three sesters of barley and two hens. At Easter he gave a young sheep or else twopence. From Martinmas to Easter “he must lie at the lord’s fold as often as his turn comes.” Probably this means that he had to fold his sheep at night at some spot on the thane’s land in order that the thane’s crops might receive the benefit of the manure. From the time when ploughing began till Martinmas he had to plough every week an acre/0.4ha of the thane’s land, and sow it with the thane’s seed. As an extra gift to the thane he had to manage to plough another 3 acres/1.2ha as well. By way of rent for the acres which he held as tenant he had to regard the produce of three of them as belonging to the thane, and had to plough these with his own plough, and sow them with his own seed. He and another gebur had to join in feeding one of the thane’s hunting dogs. When the swineherd took out the swine to feed on the beech-nuts and acorns he had to give him six loaves of bread; probably these were more of the size of big buns than loaves. He also had to pay church dues.
Each gebur received from the thane an outfit of two plough oxen, a cow and six sheep, and 7 acre/28ha of his land were sown for him in his first year with the thane’s seed. Thereafter all the above-mentioned duties fell upon him. He also received a certain outfit of tools and utensils for his house. At his death his whole outfit returned to the thane, and his son, if he wished to be a gebur on the same estate, had to buy them back.
On some estates geburs had to give the thane a proportion of meat, honey and ale. The document does not say how much land a gebur usually held; possibly it amounted to 30 acres/12.1ha.
Then the document enumerates the rights and duties of many other people on the estate, such as the beekeeper, who must pay the thane five sesters of honey in return for the hives of bees which the thane had given him, and do many jobs at the thane’s bidding, such as ploughing and reaping, and, if he had a horse, carrying loads and “many things that a man so placed must do; I cannot tell all.” The swineherd gave fifteen swine to the thane, sometimes more, sometimes fewer, according to the custom of the estate. After killing them he singed and otherwise prepared the carcases, and if he did his job well he got their entrails. He was also allowed one or two young porkers for himself; but he had to be ready for many other jobs like the beekeeper. The oxherd was allowed to pasture two oxen along with the thane’s. The cowherd was allowed milk. The shepherd was entitled to twelve nights’ manure from the herd for the benefit of his own plot of land, and got a lamb, a fleece and some ewe’s milk. The woman who made cheeses kept some for herself, and had a share of the buttermilk.
Out of “Domesday Book,” and out of the Rights and Duties of Each Person, a picture with the indefiniteness of a dream can rise for us of English village life of the eleventh century. We need not think of the landowner as grinding the faces for the poor, nor of his tenants as thirsting for freedom. In those days people demanded protection, not freedom.
The lord’s steward must have been a man of business capacity, receiving the geburs and others as they appeared for orders at his office outside the thane’s hall, and sending one to the threshing floor, another to the king’s deer hedge, another to the thane’s plough land, and others elsewhere, going his rounds daily to watch them at work and to keep them to it, keeping an eye on the hives of bees, watching for out-breaks of cattle plague, checking accounts in his office of the measure of honey and quantities of other produce handed in by the tenants to the thane’s pantries and barns, and ordering repairs to buildings and farm implements. We can imagine him as just, but scarcely as popular.
Into the minds of the tenants we cannot penetrate; a thousand years separate us and them. To us they are silent figures. Their life was not idyllic; England in those days was no paradise. Cattle plague, bad harvests, human pestilence and war might quickly reduce a village to starvation or completely extinguish it. In the spring, even of normal years, there must have been anxious times when the produce of the previous year’s harvest and pig-killings was sinking low in meal-tubs and salt-barrels, and flocks and fields had not yet given their new increase. Farmers in those days had little skill. Cattle, judged by our standards, must have been woefully thin and small. Their food was scanty, consisting in autumn of the stubble left after the harvest or of what herbage there was a very scanty ration of hay. Winter feed, such as turnip and mangold-wurzel, was unknown. Most cattle and sheep must have suffered from starvation in hard winters. An ox probably weighed about 400 pounds/181.4kg; an average ox, which is three years or more old, may today weigh 2200 pounds/997.9kg or more, and a cow of similar age 1600 pounds/647.5kg or more. Sheep were small, being about 40 pounds/18.1kg in weight, and producing a fleece of about 1 1/2 pounds/0.6kg in weight. A full-grown Cheviot sheep today may easily weigh 200 pounds/90.7kg or more, and carry a fleece of 5 or 8 pounds/2.2 or 3.6kg.
Crops in the eleventh century were pretty poor also. An average crop was about 6 bushels/218.2l (dry measure litres) an acre/0.4ha, and as an acre/0.4ha took 2 bushels/16 dry measure litres of seed at sowing-time that gave a clear profit of 4 bushels/32 dry measure liters. The twentieth-century farmer is accustomed to more than 30 bushels/240 dry measure litres an acre/0.4ha. A man and his wife and children in the eleventh century could live on a yearly supply of about 40 bushels/320 dry measure litres, but a good many of these 40 went in brewing ale. When each family needed 40 bushels/320 dry measure litres a year, and each acre only produced on an average a profit of 4 bushels/32 dry measure litres, it is clear to us that every village needed very wide stretches of arable land. Every man must have had an average of at least 10 acres/4.0ha under crops in each year, if he wished to be even moderately well fed. But as he had to give tithe to the priest, give supplies of grain to his landlord, and sometimes give a little corn to his hardworking plough oxen in winter-time, when hay was short, each man ought to have had an average of at least 15 acres/6.0ha of ploughed land under seed in each year. It seems poor farming to us.