Landholding in England

Contents:
Author: Joseph Fisher the Younger of Youghal

VI. The Tudors

The protracted struggle of the Plantagenets left the nation in a state of exhaustion. The nobles had absorbed the lands of the FREEMEN, and had thus broken the backbone of society. They had then entered upon a contest with the Crown to increase their own power; and to effect their selfish objects, setup puppets, and ranged under conflicting banners, but the Nemesis followed. The Wars of the Roses destroyed their own power, and weakened their influence, by sweeping away the heads of the principal families. The ambition of the nobles failed of its object, when "the last of the barons" lay gory in his blood on the field of Tewkesbury. The wars were, however, productive of one national benefit, in virtually ending the state of serfdom to which the aborigines were reduced by the Scandinavian invasion. The exhaustion of the nation prepared the way to changes of a most radical character, and the reigns of the Tudors are characterized by greater innovations and more striking alterations than even those which followed the accession of the Normans.

Henry of Richmond came out of the field of Bostworth a vistor, and ascended the throne of a nation whose leading nobles had been swept away. The sword had vied with the axe. Henry VII. was prudent and cunning; and in the absence of any preponderating oligarchical influence, planted the heel of the sovereign upon the necks of the nobles. He succeeded where the Plantagenets had failed. His accession became the advent of a series of measures which altered most materially the system of landholding. The Wars of the Roses showed that the power of the nobles was too great for the comfort of the monarch. The decision in Taltarum’s case, in the reign of Edward IV., affected the entire system of entail. Land, partly freed from restrictions, passed into other hands. But Henry went further. He destroyed their physical influence by ridigly putting down retainer; and in one of his tours, while partaking of the hospitality of the Earl of Oxford, he fined him L15,000 for having greeted him with 5000 of his tenants in livery. The rigid enforcement of the laws passed against retainers in former reigns, but now made more penal, strengthened the king and reduced the power of the nobles. Their estates were relieved of a most onerous charge, and the lands freed from the burden of supporting the army of the state.

Henry VII. had thus a large fund to give away; the rent of the land granted in knights’ service virtually consisted of two separate funds—one part went to the feudee, as officer or commmandant, the other to the soldiery or vassals. The latter part belonged to the state. Had Henry applied it to the reestablishment of the class of FREEMEN (LIBERI HOMINES), as was recently done by the Emperor of Russia when he abolished serfdom, he would have created a power on which the Crown and the constitution could rely. This might have been done by converting the holdings of the men-at-arms into allodial estates, held direct from the Crown. Such an arrangement would have left the income of the feudee unimpaired, as it would only have applied the fund that had been paid to the men-at-arms to this purpose; and by creating out of that land a number of small estates held direct from the Crown, the misery that arose from the eviction and destruction of a most meritorious class, would have been avoided. Vagrancy, with its great evils, would have been prevented, and the passing of the Poor laws would have been unnecessary. Unfortunately Henry and his counsellors did not appreciate the consequence of the suppression of retainers and liveries. By the course he adopted to secure the influence of the Crown, he compensated the nobles, but destroyed the agricultural middle class.

This change had an important and, in some respects, a most injurious effect upon the condition of the nation, and led to enactments of a very extraordinary character, which I must submit in detail, inasmuch as I prefer giving the ipsissima verba of the statute-book to any statement of my own. To make the laws intelligible, I would remind you that the successful efforts of the nobles had, during the three centuries of Plantagenet rule, nearly obliterated the LIBERI HOMINES (whose rights the Norman conqueror had sedulously guarded), and had reduced them to a state of vassalage. They held the lands of their lord at his will, and paid their rent by military service. When retainers were put down, and rent or knights’ service was no longer paid with armed men, their occupation was gone. They were unfit for the mere routine of husbandry, and unprovided with funds for working their farms. The policy of the nobles was changed. It was no longer their object to maintain small farmsteads, each supplying its quota of armed men to the retinue of the lord; and it was their interest to obtain money rents. Then commenced a struggle of the most fearful character. The nobles cleared their lands, pulled down the houses, and displaced the people. Vagrancy, on a most unparalleled scale, took place. Henry VII., to check this cruel, unexpected, and harsh outcome of his own policy, resorted to legislation, which proved nearly ineffectual. As early as the fourth year of his reign these efforts commenced with an enactment (cap. 19) for keeping up houses and encouraging husbandry; it is very quaint, and is as follows:

"The King, our Sovereign Lord, having singular pleasure above all things to avoid such enormities and mischiefs as be hurtful and prejudicial to the commonwealth of this his land and his subjects of the same, remembereth that, among other things, great inconvenience daily doth increase by dissolution, and pulling down, and wilful waste of houses and towns within this his realm, and laying to pasture lands, which continually have been in tilth, WHEREBY IDLENESS, THE GROUND AND BEGINNING OF ALL MISCHIEF, daily do increase; for where, in some towns 200 persons were occupied, and lived by those lawful labors, now there be occupied two or three herdsmen, and the residue full of idleness. The husbandry, which is one of the greatest commodities of the realm, is greatly decayed. Churches destroyed, the service of God withdrawn, the bodies there buried not prayed for, the patrons and curates wronged, the defence of the land against outward enemies feebled and impaired, to the great displeasure of God, the subversion of the policy and good rule of this land, if remedy be not hastily therefor purveyed: Wherefore, the King, our Sovereign Lord, by the assent and advice, etc., etc., ordereth, enacteth, and establisheth that no person, what estate, degree, or condition he be, that hath any house or houses, that at any time within the past three years hath been, or that now is, or heretofore shall be, let to farm with twenty acres of land at least, or more, laying in tillage or husbandry; that the owners of any such house shall be bound to keep, sustain, and maintain houses and buildings, upon the said grounds and land, convenient and necessary for maintaining and upholding said tillage and husbandry; and if any such owner or owners of house or house and land take, keep, and occupy any such house or house and land in his or their own hands, that the owner of the said authority be bound in likewise to maintain houses and buildings upon the said ground and land, convenient and necessary for maintaining and upholding the said tillage and husbandry. On their default, the king, or the other lord of the fee, shall receive half of the profits, and apply the same in repairing the houses; but shall not gain the freehold thereby."

This act was preceded by one with reference to the Isle of Wight, 4 Henry VII., cap. 16, passed the same session, which recites that it is so near France that it is desirable to keep it in a state of defence. It provides that no person shall have more than one farm, and enacts:

"For remedy, it is ordered and enacted that no manner of person, of what estate, degree, or condition soever, shall take any farm more than one, whereof the yearly rent shall not exceed ten marks; and if any several leases afore this time have been made to any person or persons of divers and sundry farmholds whereof the yearly value shall exceed that sum, then the said person or persons shall choose one farm, hold at his pleasure, and the remnant of the leases shall be void."

Mr. Froude remarks (History, p. 26), "An act, tyrannical in form, was singularly justified by its consequences. The farm-houses were rebuilt, the land reploughed, the island repeopled; and in 1546, when the French army of 60,000 men attempted to effect a landing at St. Helens, they were defeated and driven back by the militia, and a few levies transported from Hampshire and the surrounding counties."

Lord Bacon, in his "History of the Reign of Henry VII., says:

"Enclosures, at that time, began to be more frequent, whereby arable land (which could not be manured without people and families) was turned into pasture, which was easily rid by a few herdsmen; and tenancies for years, lives, and at will (whereupon much of the yeomanry lived) were turned into demesnes. This bred a decay of people and (by consequence) a decay of towns, churches, tithes, and the like. The king, likewise, knew full well, and in nowise forgot, that there ensued withal upon this a decay and diminution of subsidies and taxes; for the more gentlemen, ever the lower books of subsidies. In remedying of this inconvenience, the king’s wisdom was admirable, and the parliaments at that time. Enclosures they would not forbid, for that had been to forbid the improvement of the patrimony of the kingdom; nor tillage they would not compel, for that was to strive with nature and utility; but they took a course to take away depopulating enclosures and depopulating pasturage, and yet not by that name, or by any imperious express prohibition, but by consequence. The ordinance was, that all houses of husbandry, that were used with twenty acres of ground and upward, should be maintained and kept up for ever, together with a competent proportion of land to be used and occupied with them; and in nowise to be severed from them, as by another statute made afterward in his successor’s time, was more fully declared: this, upon forfeiture to be taken, not by way of popular action, but by seizure of the land itself, by the king and lords of the fee, as to half the profits, till the houses and land were restored. By this means the houses being kept up, did of necessity enforce a dweller; and the proportion of the land for occupation being kept up, did of necessity enforce that dweller not to be a beggar or cottager, but a man of some substance, that might keep hinds and servants, and set the plough a-going. This did wonderfully concern the might and mannerhood of the kingdom, to have farms, as it were, of a standard sufficient to maintain an able body out of penury, and did, in effect, amortise a great part of the lands of the kingdom unto the hold and occupation of the yeomanry or middle people, of a condition between gentlemen and cottagers or peasants. Now, how much this did advance the military power of the kingdom, is apparent by the true principles of war, and the examples of other kingdoms. For it hath been held by the general opinion of men of best judgment in the wars (howsoever some few have varied, and that it may receive some distinction of case), that the principal strength of an army consisteth in the infantry or foot. And to make good infantry, it requireth men bred, not in a servile or indigent fashion, but in some free and plentiful manner. Therefore, if a state run most to noblemen and gentlemen, and that the husbandman and ploughman be but as their workfolks and laborers, or else mere cottagers (which are but housed beggars), you may have a good cavalry, but never good stable bands of foot; like to coppice woods, that if you leave in them standing too thick, they will run to bushes and briars, and have little clean underwood. And this is to be seen in France and Italy, and some other parts abroad, where in effect all is nobles or peasantry. I speak of people out of towns, and no middle people; and therefore no good forces of foot: insomuch as they are enforced to employ mercenary bands of Switzers and the like for their battalions of foot, whereby also it comes to pass, that those nations have much people and few soldiers. Whereas the king saw that contrariwise it would follow, that England, though much less in territory, yet should have infinitely more soldiers of their native forces than those other nations have. Thus did the king secretly sow Hydra’s teeth; whereupon (according to the poet’s fiction) should rise up armed men for the service of this kingdom."

The enactment above quoted was followed by others in that reign of a similar character, but it would appear they were not successful. The evil grew apace. Houses were pulled down, farms went out of tillage. The people, evicted from their farms, and having neither occupation nor means of living, were idle, and suffering. Succeeding sovereigns strove also to check this disorder? and statute after statute was passed. Among them are the 7th Henry VIII., cap. 1. It recites:

"That great inconveniency did daily increase by dissolution, pulling down, and destruction of houses, and laying to pasture, lands which customarily had been manured and occupied with tillage and husbandry, whereby idleness doth increase; for where, in some town-lands, hundreds of persons and their ancestors, time out of mind, were daily occupied with sowing of corn and graynes, breeding of cattle, and other increase of husbandry, that now the said persons and their progeny are disunited and decreased. It further recites the evil consequences resulting from this state of things, and provides that all these buildings and habitations shall be reedificed and repaired within one year; and all tillage lands turned into pasture shall be again restored into tillage; and in default, half the value of the lands and houses forfeited to the king, or lord of the fee, until they were re-edificed. On failure of the next lord, the lord above him might seize."

This act did not produce that increased tilth which was anticipated. Farmers’ attention was turned to sheepbreeding; and in order to supply the deficiency of cattle, an act was passed in the 21st Henry VIII., to enforce the rearing of calves; and every farmer was, under a penalty of 6s. 8d. (about L3 of our currency), compelled to rear all his calves for a period of three years; and in the 24th Henry VIII. the act was further continued for two years. The culture of flax and hemp was also encouraged by legislation. The 24th Henry VIII., cap. 14, requires every person occupying land apt for tillage, to sow a quarter of an acre of flax or hemp for every sixty acres of land, under a penalty of 3s. 4d.

The profit which arose from sheep-farming led to the depasturage of the land; and in order to check it, an act, 25 Henry VIII., cap. 13, was passed. It commences thus:

"Forasmuch as divers and sundry persons of the king’s subjects of this realm, to whom God of His goodness hath disposed great plenty and abundance of movable substance, now of late, within few years, have daily studied, practised, and invented ways and means how they might gather and accumulate together into few hands, as well great multitude of farms, as great plenty of cattle and in especial sheep, putting such lands as they can get to pasture and not to tillage: whereby they have not only pulled down churches and towns, and enhanced the old rates of the rents of possessions of this realm, or else brought it to such excessive fines that no poor man is able to meddle with it, but have also raised and enhanced the prices of all manner of corn, cattle, wool, pigs, geese, hens, chickens, eggs, and such commodities almost double above the prices which hath been accustomed, by reason whereof a marvellous multitude of the poor people of this realm be not able to provide meat, drink, and clothes necessary for themselves, their wives, and children, but be so discouraged with misery and poverty, that they fall daily to theft, robbery, and other inconveniences, or pitifully die for hunger and cold; and it is thought by the king’s humble and loving subjects, that one of the greatest occasions that moveth those greedy and covetous people so to accumulate and keep in their hands such great portions and parts of the lands of this realm from the occupying of the poor husbandmen, and so use it in pasture and not in tillage, is the great profit that cometh of sheep, which be now come into a few persons’ hands, in respect of the whole number of the king’s subjects, so that some have 24,000, some 20,000, some 10,000, some 6000, some 5000, and some more or less, by which a good sheep for victual, which was accustomed to be sold for 2s. 4d. or 3s. at most, is now sold for 6s., 5s., or 4s. at the least; and a stone of clothing wool, that in some shire of this realm was accustomed to be sold from 16d. to 20d, is now sold for 4s. or 3s. 4d. at the least; and in some counties, where it has been sold for 2s. 4d. to 2s. 8d., or 3s. at the most, it is now 5s. or 4s. 8d. at the least, and so arreysed in every part of the realm, which things thus used to be principally to the high displeasure of Almighty God, to the decay of the hospitality of this realm, to the diminishing king’s people, and the let of the cloth making, whereby many poor people hath been accustomed to be set on work; and in conclusion, if remedy be not found, it may turn to the utter destruction and dissolution of this realm which God defend."

It was enacted that no person shall have or keep on lands not their own inheritance more than 2000 sheep, under a penalty of 3s. 4d. per annum for each sheep; lambs under a year old not to be counted; and that no person shall occupy two farms.

Further measures appeared needful to prevent the evil; and the 27th Henry VIII., cap. 22, states that the 4th Henry VII., cap. 19, for keeping houses in repair, and for the tillage of the land, had been enforced on lands holden of the king, but neglected by other lords. It, therefore, enacted that the king shall have the moiety of the profits of lands converted from tillage to pasture, since the passing of the 4th Henry VII., until a proper house is built, and the land returned to tillage; and in default of the immediate lord taking the profits as under that act, the king might take the same. This act extended to the counties of Lincoln, Nottingham, Leicester, Warwick, Rutland, Northampton, Bedford, Buckingham, Oxford, Berkshire, Isle of Wight, Hertford, and Cambridge.

The simple fact was, that those who had formerly paid the rent of their land by service as soldiers were without the capital or means of paying rent in money; they were evicted and became vagrants. Henry VIII. took a short course with these vagrants, and it is asserted upon apparently good authority that in the course of his reign, thirty-six years, he hanged no less than 72,000 persons for vagrancy, or at the rate of 2000 per annum. The executions in the reign of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth, had fallen to from 300 to 400 per annum.

32 Henry VIII., cap. 1, gave powers of bequest with regard to land; as it explains the change it effected, I quote it:

"That all persons holding land in socage not having any lands holden by knight service of the king in chief, be empowered to devise and dispose of all such socage lands, and in like case, persons holding socage lands of the king in chief, and also of others, and not having the lands holden by knight service, saving to the king, all his right, title, and interest for primer seizin, reliefs, fines for alienations, etc. Persons holding lands of the king by knight’s service in chief were authorized to devise two third parts thereof, saving to the king wardship, primer seizin, of the third paid, and fines for alienation of the whole lands. Persons holding lands by knight’s service in chief, and also other lands by knight’s service, or otherwise may in like manner devise two third part thereof, saving to the king wardship of the third, and fines for alienation of the whole. Persons holding land of others than the king by knight’s service, and also holding socage lands, may devise two third parts of the former and the whole of the latter, saving to the lord his wardship of the third part. Persons holding lands of the king by knight’s service but not in chief, or so holding of the king and others, and also holding socage lands, may in like manner devise two thirds of the former and the whole of the latter, saving to the king the wardship of the third part, and also to the lords; and the king or the other lords were empowered to seize the one third part in case of any deficiency."

The 34th and 35th Henry VIII., cap. 5, was passed to remove some doubts which had arisen as to the former statute; it enacts:

"That the words estates of inheritance should only mean estates in fee-simple only, and empowers persons seized of any lands, etc., in fee-simple solely, or in co-partnery (not having any lands holden of knight’s service), to devise the whole, except corporations. Persons seized in fee-simple of land holden of the king by knight’s service may give or devise two thirds thereof, and of his other lands, except corporation, such two thirds to be ascertained by the divisor or by commission out of the Court of Ward and Liveries. The king was empowered to take his third land descended to the heir in the first place, the devise in gift remaining good for the two thirds; and if the land described were insufficient to answer such third, the deficiency should be made up out of the two thirds."

"The next attack," remarks Sir William Blackstone, vol. ii., p. 117, "which they suffered in order of time was by the statute 32 Henry VIII., c. 28, whereby certain leases made by tenants in tail, which do not tend to prejudice the issue, were allowed to be good in law and to bind the issue in tail. But they received a more violent blow the same session of Parliament by the construction put upon the statute of fines by the statute 32 Henry VIII., cap. 36, which declares a fine duly levied by tenant in tail to be a complete bar to him and his heirs and all other persons claiming under such entail. This was evidently agreeable to the intention of Henry VII., whose policy was (before common recovery had obtained their full strength and authority) to lay the road as open as possible to the alienation of landed property, in order to weaken the overgrown power of his nobles. But as they, from the opposite reasons, were not easily brought to consent to such a provision, it was therefore couched in his act under covert and obscure expressions; and the judges, though willing to construe that statute as favorably as possible for the defeating of entailed estates, yet hesitated at giving fines so extensive a power by mere implication when the statute DE DONIS had expressly declared that they should not be a bar to estates-tail. But the statute of Henry VIII., when the doctrine of alienation was better received, and the will of the prince more implicitly obeyed than before, avowed and established that intention."

Fitzherbert, one of the judges of the Common Pleas in the reign of Henry VIII., wrote a work on surveying and husbandry. It contains directions for draining, clearing, and inclosing a farm, and for enriching the soil and reducing it to tillage. Fallowing before wheat was practised, and when a field was exhausted by grain it was allowed to rest. Hollingshed estimated the usual return as 16 to 20 bushels of wheat per acre; prices varied very greatly, and famine was of frequent recurrence. Leases began to be granted, but they were not effectual to protect the tenant from the entry of purchasers nor against the operation of fictitious recoveries.

In the succeeding reigns the efforts to encourage tillage and prevent the clearing of the farms were renewed, and among the enactments passed were the following:

5 Edward VI., cap. 5, for the better maintenance of tillage and increase of corn within the realm, enacts:

"That there should be, in the year 1553, as much land, or more, put wholly in tillage as had been at any time since the 1st Henry VIII., under a penalty of 5s. per acre to the king; and in order to secure this, it appoints commissioners, who were bound to ascertain by inquests what land was in tillage and had been converted from tillage into pasture. The commission issued precepts to the sheriffs, who summoned jurors, and the inquests were to be returned, certified, to the Court of Exchequer. Any prosecution for penalties should take place within three years, and the act continues for ten years."

2 and 3 Philip and Mary, cap. 2, recites the former acts of 4 Henry VII., cap. 19, etc,, which it enforces. It enacts:

"That as some doubts had arisen as to the interpretation of the words twenty acres of land, the act should apply to houses with twenty acres of land, according to the measurement of the ancient statute; and it appoints commissioners to inquire as to all houses pulled down and all land converted from pasture into tillage since the 4th Henry VII. The commissioners were to take security by recognizance from offenders, and to re-edify the houses and reconvert the land into tillage, and to assess the tenants for life toward the repairs. The amount expended under order of the commissioners was made recoverable against the estate, and the occupiers were made liable to their orders; and they had power to commit persons refusing to give security to carry out the act."

2 and 3 Philip and Mary, cap. 3, was passed to provide for the increase of milch cattle, and it enacts:

"That one milch-cow shall be kept and calf reared for every sixty sheep and ten oxen during the following seven years."

The 2d Elizabeth, cap. 2, confirms the previously quoted acts of 4 Henry VII., cap. 19; 7 Henry VIII., cap. 1; 27 Henry VIII., cap. 22; 27 Henry VIII., cap. 18; and it enacts:

"That all farm-houses belonging to suppressed monasteries should be kept up, and that all lands which had been in tillage for four years successively at any time since the 20th Henry VIII., should be kept in tillage under a penalty of 10s. per acre, which was payable to the heir in reversion, or in case he did not levy it, to the Crown."

31 Elizabeth, cap. 7, went further; and in order to provide allotments for the cottagers, many of whom were dispossessed from their land, it provided:

"For avoiding the great inconvenience which is found by experience to grow by the erecting and building of great number of cottages, which daily more and more increased in many parts of the realm, it was enacted that no person should build a cottage for habitation or dwelling, nor convert any building into a cottage, without assigning and laying thereto four acres of land, being his own freehold and inheritance, lying near the cottage, under a penalty of L10; and for upholding any such cottages, there was a penalty imposed of 40s. a month, exception being made as to any city, town, corporation, ancient borough, or market town; and no person was permitted to allow more than one family to reside in each cottage, under a penalty of 10s. per month."

The 39th Elizabeth, cap. 2, was passed to enforce the observance of these conditions. It provides:

"That all lands which had been in tillage shall be restored thereto within three years, except in cases where they were worn out by too much tillage, in which case they might be grazed with sheep; but in order to prevent the deterioriation of the land, it was enacted that the quantity of beeves or muttons sold off the land should not exceed that which was consumed in the mansion-house."

In these various enactments of the Tudor monarchs we may trace the anxious desire of these sovereigns to repair the mistake of Henry VII., and to prevent the depopulation of England. A similar mistake has been made in Ireland since 1846, under which the homes of the peasantry have been prostrated, the land thrown out of tillage, and the people driven from their native land. Mr. Froude has the following remarks upon this legislation:

"Statesmen (temp. Elizabeth) did not care for the accumulation of capital. They desired to see the physical well-being of all classes of the commonwealth maintained in the highest degree which the producing power of the country admitted. This was their object, and they were supported in it by a powerful and efficient majority of the nation. At one time Parliament interfered to protect employers against laborers, but it was equally determined that employers should not be allowed to abuse their opportunities; and this directly appears from the 4th and 5th Elizabeth, by which, on the most trifling appearance of a diminution of the currency, it was declared that the laboring man could no longer live on the wages assigned to him by the Act of Henry VIII.; and a sliding scale was instituted, by which, for the future, wages should be adjusted to the price of food. The same conclusion may be gathered also indirectly fom the acts interfering imperiously with the rights of property where a disposition showed itself to exercise them selfishly.

"The city merchants, as I have said, were becoming landowners, and some of them attempted to apply their rules of trade to the management of landed estates. While wages were rated so high, it answered better as a speculation to convert arable land into pasture, but the law immediately stepped in to prevent a proceeding which it regarded as petty treason to the state. Self-protection is the first law of life, and the country, relying for its defence on an able-bodied population, evenly distributed, ready at any moment to be called into action, either against foreign invasion or civil disturbance, it could not permit the owners of land to pursue, for their own benefit, a course of action which threatened to weaken its garrisons. It is not often that we are able to test the wisdom of legislation by specific results so clearly as in the present instance. The first attempts of the kind which I have described were made in the Isle of Wight early in the reign of Henry VII. Lying so directly exposed to attacks by France, the Isle of Wight was a place which it was peculiarly important to keep in a state of defence, and the 4th Henry VII., cap. 16, was passed to prevent the depopulation of the Isle of Wight, occasioned by the system of large farms."

The city merchants alluded to by Froude seem to have remembered that from the times of Athelwolf, the possession of a certain quantity of land, with gatehouse, church, and kitchen, converted the ceorl (churl) into a thane.

It is difficult to estimate the effect which the Tudor policy had upon the landholding of England. Under the feudal system, the land was held in trust and burdened with the support of the soldiery. Henry VII., in order to weaken the power of the nobles, put an end to their maintaining independent soldiery. Thus landlords’ incomes increased, though their material power was curtailed. It would not have been difficult at this time to have loaded these properties with annual payments equal to the cost of the soldiers which they were bound to maintain, or to have given each of them a farm under the Crown, and strict justice would have prevented the landowners from putting into their pockets those revenues which, according to the grants and patents of the Conqueror and his successors, were specially devoted to the maintenance of the army. Land was released from the conditions with which it was burdened when granted. This was not done by direct legislation but by its being the policy of the Crown to prevent "king-makers" arising from among the nobility. The dread of Warwick influenced Henry. He inaugurated a policy which transferred the support of the army from the lands, which should solely have borne it, to the general revenue of the country. Thus he relieved one class at the expense of the nation. Yet, when Henry was about to wage war on the Continent, he called all his subjects to accompany him, under pain of forfeiture of their lands; and he did not omit levying the accustomed feudal charge for knighting his eldest son and for marrying his eldest daughter. The acts to prevent the landholder from oppressing the occupier, and those for the encouragement of tillage, failed. The new idea of property in land, which then obtained, proved too powerful to be altered by legislation.

Another change in the system of landholding took place in those reigns. Lord Cromwell, who succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as minister to Henry VIII., had land in Kent, and he obtained the passing of an act (31 Henry VIII., cap. 2) which took his land and that of other owners therein named, out of the custom of gavelkind (gave-allkind), which had existed in Kent from before the Norman Conquest, and enacted that they should descend according to common law in like manner as lands held by knight’s service.

The suppression of the RELIGIOUS HOUSES gave the Crown the control of a vast quantity of land. It had, with the consent of the Crown, been devoted to religion by former owners. The descendants of the donors were equitably entitled to the land, as it ceased to be applied to the trust for which it was given, but the power of the Crown was too great, and their claims were refused. Had these estates been applied to purposes of religion or education they would have formed a valuable fund for the improvement of the people; but the land itself, as well as the portion of tithes belonging to the religious houses, was conferred upon favorites, and some of the wealthiest nobles of the present day trace their rise and importance to the rewards obtained by their ancestors out of the spoils of these charities.

The importance of the measures of the Tudors upon the system of land-holding can hardly be exaggerated. An impulse of self-defence led them to lessen the physical force of the oligarchy by relieving the land from the support of the army, and enabling them to convert to their own use the income previously applied to the defence of the realm. This was a bribe, but it brought its own punishment. The eviction of the working farmers, the demolition of their dwellings, the depopulation of the country, were evils of most serious magnitude; and the supplement of the measures which produced such deplorable results was found in the permanent establishment of a taxation for the SUPPORT of the POOR. Yet the nation reeled under the depletion produced by previous mistaken legislation, and all classes have been injured by the transfer of the support of the army from the land held by the nobles to the income of the people.

Side by side, with the measures passed, to prevent the Clearing of the Land, arose the system of POOR LAWS. Previous to the Reformation the poor were principally relieved at the religious houses. The destruction of small farms, and the eviction of such masses of the people, which commenced in the reign of Henry VII., overpowered the resources of these establishments; their suppression in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth aggravated the evil. The indiscriminate and wholesale execution of the poor vagrants by the former monarch only partially removed the evil, and the statute-book is loaded with acts for the relief of the destitute poor. The first efforts were collections in the churches; but voluntary alms proving insufficient, the powers of the churchwardens were extended, and they were directed and authorized to assess the parishioners according to their means, and thus arose a system which, though benevolent in its object, is a slur upon our social arrangements. Land, the only source of food, is rightly charged with the support of the destitute. The necessity for such aid arose originally from their being evicted therefrom. The charge should fall exclusively upon the rent receivers, and in no case should the tiller of the soil have to pay this charge either directly or indirectly. It is continued by the inadequacy of wages, and the improvidence engendered by a social system which arose out of injustice, and produced its own penalty.

Legislation with regard to the poor commenced contemporaneous with the laws against the eviction of the small farmers. I have already recited some of the laws to preserve small holdings; I now pass to the acts meant to compel landholders to provide for those whom they had dispossessed. In 1530 the act 22 Henry VIII., cap. 12, was passed; it recites:

"Whereas in all places through the realm of England, vagabonds and beggars have of long time increased, and daily do increase, in great and excessive numbers by THE OCCASION OF IDLENESS, THE MOTHER AND ROOT OF ALL VICES, [Footnote: See 4 Henry VII., cap, 19, ante, p. 27, where the same expression occurs, showing that it was throwing the land out of tilth that occasioned pauperism.] whereby hath insurged and sprung, and daily insurgeth and springeth, continual thefts, murders, and other heinous offences and great enormities, to the high displeasure of God, the inquietation and damage of the king and people, and to the marvellous disturbance of the commonweal of the realm."

It enacts that justices may give license to impotent persons to beg within certain limits, and, if found begging out of their limits, they shall be set in the stocks. Beggars without license to be whipped or set in the stocks. All persons able to labor, who shall beg or be vagrant, shall be whipped and sent to the place of their birth. Parishes to be fined for neglect of the constables.

37 Henry VIII., cap. 23, continued this act to the end of the ensuing Parliament.

1 Edward VI., cap. 3, recites the increase of idle vagabonds, and enacts that all persons loitering or wandering shall be marked with a V, and adjudged a slave for two years, and afterward running away shall become a felon. Impotent persons were to be removed to the place where they had resided for three years, and allowed to beg. A weekly collection was to be made in the churches every Sunday and holiday after reading the gospel of the day, the amount to be applied to the relief of bedridden poor.

5 and 6 Edward VI., cap. 2, directs the parson, vicar, curate, and church-wardens, to appoint two collectors to distribute weekly to the poor. The people were exhorted by the clergy to contribute; and, if they refuse, then, upon the certificate of the parson, vicar, or curate, to the bishop of the diocese, he shall send for them and induce him or them to charitable ways.

2 and 3 Philip and Mary, cap. 5, re-enacts the former, and requires the collectors to account quarterly; and where the poor are too numerous for relief, they were licensed by a justice of the peace to beg.

5 Elizabeth, cap. 3, confirms and renews the former acts, and compels collectors to serve under a penalty of L10. Persons refusing to contribute their alms shall be exhorted, and, if they obstinately refuse, shall be bound by the bishop to appear at the next general quarter session, and they may be imprisoned if they refuse to be bound.

The 14th Elizabeth, cap. 5, requires the justices of the peace to register all aged and impotent poor born or for three years resident in the parish, and to settle them in convenient habitations, and ascertain the weekly charge, and assess the amount on the inhabitants, and yearly appoint collectors to receive and distribute the assessment, and also an overseer of the poor. This act was to continue for seven years.

The 18th Elizabeth, cap. 3, provides for the employment of the poor. Stores of wool, hemp, flax, iron, etc., to be provided in cities and towns, and the poor set to work. It empowered persons possessed of land in free socage to give or devise same for the maintenance of the poor.

The 39th Elizabeth, cap. 3, and the 43d Elizabeth, cap. 2, extended these acts, and made the assessment compulsory.

I shall ask you to compare the date of these several laws for the relief of the destitute poor with the dates of the enactments against evictions. You will find they run side by side.

[Footnote: The following tables of the acts passed against eviction, and enacting the support of the poor, show that they were contemporaneous:

Against Evictions.
4 Henry VII., Cap. 19.
7 Henry VIII, Cap. 1.
21 Henry VIII,
24 Henry VIII, Cap. 14.
25 Henry VIII, Cap. 13.
27 Henry VIII, Cap. 22.
5 Edward VI., Cap. 2.
2 and 3 Philip and Mary, Cap. 2.
2 and 3 Philip and Mary, Cap. 3.
2 Elizabeth, Cap. 2.
31 Elizabeth, Cap. 7.
39 Elizabeth, Cap. 2.

Enacting Poor Laws.
22 Henry VIII., Cap. 12.
37 Henry VIII., Cap. 23.
1 Edward VI., Cap. 3.
5 and 6 Edward VI., Cap. 2.
2 and 4 Philip and Mary, Cap. 5.
5 Elizabeth, Cap. 3.
14 Elizabeth, Cap. 5.
18 Elizabeth, Cap. 3.
39 Elizabeth, Cap. 3.
43 Elizabeth, Cap. 2.]

I have perhaps gone at too great length into detail; but I think I could not give a proper picture of the alteration in the system of landholding or its effects without tracing from the statute-book the black records of these important changes. The suppression of monasteries tended greatly to increase the sufferings of the poor, but I doubt if even these institutions could have met the enormous pressure which arose from the wholesale evictions of the people. The laws of Henry VII and Henry VIII., enforcing the tillage of the land, preceded the suppression of religious houses, and the act of the latter monarch allowing the poor to beg was passed before any steps were taken to close the convents. That measure was no doubt injurious to the poor, but the main evil arose from other causes. The lands of these houses, when no longer applicable to the purpose for which they were given, should have reverted to the heirs of the donors, or have been applied to other religious or educational purposes. The bestowal of them upon favorites, to the detriment alike of the State, the Church, the Poor, and the Ignorant, was an abuse of great magnitude, the effect of which is still felt. The reigns of the Tudors are marked with three events affecting the land—viz.:

1st. Relieving it of the support of the army;

2d. Burdening of it with the support of the poor;

3d. Applying the monastic lands to private uses.

The abolition of retainers, while it relieved the land of the nobles from the principal charge thereon, did not entirely abolish knight’s service. The monarch was entitled to the care of all minors, to aids on the marriage or knighthood of the eldest son, to primerseizin or a year’s rent upon the death of each tenant of the Crown. These fees were considerable, and were under the care of the Court of Ward and Liveries.

The artisan class had, however, grown in wealth, and they were greatly strengthened by the removal from France of large numbers of workmen in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. These prosperous tradespeople became landowners by purchase, and thus tended to replace the LIBERI HOMINES, or FREEMEN, who had been destroyed under the wars of the nobles, which effaced the landmarks of English society. The liberated serfs attained the position of paid farm-laborers; had the policy of Elizabeth, who enacted that each of their cottages should have an allotment of four acres of land, been carried out, it would have been most beneficial to the state.

The reign of this family embraced one hundred and eighteen years, during which the increase of the population was about twenty-five per cent. When Henry VII. ascended the throne in 1485 it was 4,000,000, and on the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 it had reached 5,000,000, the average increase being about 8000 per annum. The changes effected in the condition of the farmers’ class left the mass of the people in a far worse state at the close than at the commencement of their rule.

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Chicago: Joseph Fisher the Younger of Youghal, "VI. The Tudors," Landholding in England, ed. Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945 and trans. Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853- in Landholding in England (London: Smith, Elder & Co., November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues)), Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SYI7IMWE6RE3SP.

MLA: Joseph Fisher the Younger of Youghal. "VI. The Tudors." Landholding in England, edited by Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945, and translated by Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853-, in Landholding in England, Vol. Volume One, London, Smith, Elder & Co., November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues), Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SYI7IMWE6RE3SP.

Harvard: Joseph Fisher the Younger of Youghal, 'VI. The Tudors' in Landholding in England, ed. and trans. . cited in November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues), Landholding in England, Smith, Elder & Co., London. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SYI7IMWE6RE3SP.