The royal reply to a petition in gave the lords as defendants the right to have the inquest taken in the neighbourhood of the plaintiff's birth- place. What this implied was shown by a petition of the same year which may have been connected with this ruling. Bloch, op. Vicens Vives, Historia de los Remensas p. He further alleged that the Bishop had delayed a trial of the case, with Spynk as plaintiff, before the justices of oyer and terminer in Norwich.
The Bishop also petitioned, alleging that he was being persecuted by his villeins of Doddington Cambs. He wanted to deal with Spynk by a writ of excepcio villenagii in Cambridgeshire. Spynk said that the Bishop's power in Cambridge was so great that he would get no justice there since all men of value that is liable for jury service were either the Bishop's tenants or his paid retainers. The Bishop denied this and the King in Parliament ordered the excepcio villenagzi" to be tried in Cambridge.
It was alleged that villeins and tenants in villeinage were being advised by certain persons to get copies of the relevant portions of 'Domesday Book' concerning the manors where they were villeins, and that they were being further advised not to do any services on the grounds that they were discharged from all forms of serfdom whether of body or of tenure. This seems to be a reference to attempts to claim the rights of tenants on manors of the ancient demesne of the Crown. Such claims, as we have mentioned, fell short of a demand for full freedom, 2 and here the villeins are in fact accused of going much further.
They were further stated to be resisting the lords' officials, threatening them with death should they dare to distrain on their property in order to force them to do their due services. The result, say the petitioners, is that the harvest is uncut to the great loss of the lords. The petitioners then hold out the alarming prospect of civil war, or aid to an invading enemy, if these rebellious elements are not crushed, for they have already collected expenses to pursue their cause and some are already at court ready to plead.
The King is asked to take quick action against the villeins and their advisers - so as to avoid the peril of an alliance between villeins against their lords, such as. After the defeat of the rising and its immediate aftermath, parliamentary petitions continued, now stressing principally the concern of the lords that villeins were evading them by moving into towns whose franchises protected them from recapture.
This reflects the great mobility of the rural population at the end of the fourteenth century, due, as we shall see, to many causes. But petitions reflecting the same sort of concern about villeins obtaining free status almost entirely die out in the fifteenth cen- tury.
The main preoccupation of the classes represented in Parliament, as far as the social order was concerned, was rather their helplessness in face of the demands of wage-labourers. Indeed this preoccupation had been very much to the fore ever since Moreover, the problems of villeinage and of the control of labourers were by no means unconnected. The interpretation which has been generally accepted of the end of villein servility is that which closely relates it to the com- mutation of labour services and the dissolution therefore of the close tie between the dependent tenures and the manorial demesne.
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Page's pioneering monograph entitled, in English, The End of Villeinage in England originated in a German thesis with the title Die Umwandlung der Frondiensl in Geldrenten, that is, the 'commutation of labour service into money rent'. Vinogradoff in his Villeinage in England , in spite of the many nuances in his description of villein con- ditions, clearly considered labour services to be the basic feature of villeinage and commutation to be the crucial factor in ending it. This view was repeated by E.
Cheyney in 'The Disappear- ance of English Serfdom' in Attention may be drawn to two attempts to sum up the commutation controversy, those of E. Kosminsky, op. It has already been mentioned that neither servage nor vileinage in France was causally linked to the performance of labour services on the demesne. In parts of England, such as the sparsely populated and economically backward north and north-west, there was plenty of serfdom without labour services even in the thirteenth century when these were generally at their height.
We have already argued that, in the twelfth century and earlier, customary tenants owing labour service were probably free in public law. The connection between labour services and villein servility was made by the landowners as a matter of deliberate policy in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, because they wanted to guarantee an abundant demesne labour force so as to increase cash incomes through production for the market. This is the reason why, as investigations into the connection between the commutation of services and production for the market have shown, labour service used in lords' demesnes lasted longest where there was a combination of market pull and landlord control of the situation, that is in the south and south-east of the country.
It is true, of course, that landlords had tended to maintain the theoretical apparatus of the labour-service system, organising various forms of temporary commutation while in practice using hired labour for most of the work done on the demesne. Labour services most called on were boon works during peak periods of sudden labour demand, when weather conditions required quick mobilisation to get the hay or corn in. Many of these boon workers were in fact free tenants. The essence of free status and tenure was not freedom from the acquittance of rent in the form of labour service, though the labour discipline required for enforcing unwillingly performed services must have made forced labour seem, for many a villein, a very important element in his servitude.
In a peasant society the fundamental freedom, obviously enough, was the right of the peasant, if not to the full product of his labour, at any rate to enough to sustain a traditional standard of living. But any medieval peasant knew, of course, that his surplus product was going to be taken away bit by bit by landowner, by lord, by Church and by State.
An important attraction of English free tenure was that an increase in services could be appealed against in the public courts. An important aspect of free status was that a free man could increase or reduce the size of his landed holding by buying and selling according to his family's needs and his own capabilities. Another was that he could sell up and get out - or threaten to do so. Freeholders also had a more secure access to common rights than customary tenants, and this meant not only pasture rights but as the demands of villagers on the St Albans estates in indicate access to fisheries and hunting grounds.
And if he got beyond the stage where his main worry was to keep himself alive, and thought in terms of profiting by selling for the market, all these things- freedom to accumulate, freedom to build up an inheritance, freedom to dispose of his marriageable daughters - would still be of importance. The question we must ask therefore is 'to what extent, when and how did the villein tenants of late medieval England acquire the advantages usually associated only with free tenure and status?
And as John Smyth, the seventeenth- century historian of the Berkeley family wrote, 'the laws con- cerning villeinage are still in force, of which the latest are the sharpest'. It was in the fourteenth century that the withering process began, but it was an uneven process and in many areas it was long before the manorial lords faced up to the fact. McLean p. Rents and such incidents of villeinage as merchets and entry fines tended to fall in value. Money rent almost universally replaced labour rent. Conditions of customary tenure approached those of free tenure whether freehold or leasehold.
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Agricultural wages, which must have been an important element in many middling and poorer peasant family incomes, rose, particularly towards the end of the fourteenth century. On such estates as still maintained manorial demesnes worked for the lords, leasing out to farmers often well- off peasants became a general policy, particularly from the s. A jury from the Durham Priory village of Heworth summed up the general situation in whereas before the first pestilence each tenant had a separate holding, each now had three.
One of the most significant features of the post-Black Death situation was the great mobility of the rural population. It affected tenant families and labourers alike - in so far as we can separate these into different categories. As is well known, men and women left their villages in search of high wages both in agriculture and in industry. The demand for labour did not only result from the shortages caused by the Black Death, however important these may also have been.
These shortages coincided with the growth in the importance of peasant holdings of a size which would demand the employment of labour additional to that provided by the family.
The Decline of Serfdom in Medieval England
They often contained upwards of fifty acres of arable. These were already becoming important before 1 Halmota Dwzelmensis, p. The importance of urban and industrial demand for labour in that period has been doubted. Nevertheless such prosecutions under the Statutes of Labourers as have been found, for Wiltshire and for Essex, for example, show that there was a move of former workers in agriculture to industrial villages and towns, and to a variety of non-agricultural occupa- tions.
The opportunities presented to peasants with inadequate or barely adequate holdings must have been frequently taken up. Such alternatives cannot but have had a great effect on the relations between landlords and tenants.
The Decline of Serfdom in Medieval England by R.H. Hilton
There is, of course, no shortage of corroborative evidence to that quoted from Durham which indicated a surplus of holdings to tenants. Estate accounts show large numbers of vacant holdings immediately after the first plague, the immediate consequence of the heavy mortality. But, as Miss Levett showed, for the estates of the Bishop of Winchester these vacancies were often quite quickly refilled. This has been confirmed for other manors in Wiltshire, for the manors of the Ramsey Abbey estate in Huntingdonshire, for the estate of the Cathedral Priory in Durham, for the Crowland Abbey estate in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, to quote only a few cases which demonstrate the geographically widespread nature of the phenomenon.
This reoccupation was, however, deceptive. By the end of the century a more permanent situation of unoccupied holdings in the lords' hands is to be seen, and this, too, is very 1 A. Levett,' Notes on the Statute of Labourers', Ec. Raftis, The Estates of Ramsey Abbey p.
The decline of serfdom in late medieval England: From bondage to freedom [Book Review]
In some cases this was due as much to the flight of villein tenants as to a high death-rate. The striking figures quoted from the records of the Earl of Norfolk's manor of Forncett for the years show a lapse of 20 to 25 per cent of sokeman holdings and of 76 per cent of custom- ary holdings. At that time in particular, but especially after the s and throughout the whole of the fifteenth century, there was a steady drift of tenants to Norwich, to the coastal towns and to some other places, many being villages within a twenty-mile radius.
In the s Ramsey Abbey villagers began to move around in greater numbers than ever before until, around , 'the trickle of emigration burst into a veritable tide'. Not that there was a general exodus from the countryside. The situation was rather that peasant families moved around, perhaps not very far from their original homes, perhaps even just moving from one holding to another in the same village. In Thaxted Essex , for instance, between and , three-quarters of the holdings were taken up by new families, though only 60 per cent of these new families came from outside the village.