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servitude. Their tenure was called villein socage; they were the villeins regardant, who by prescription were attached to the manor of their lord, and, according to some authorities, could not be separated from it. Hallam, however, quoting from Bracton, says they could at any time be dispossessed by the will of their lord, though their chattels were secure from seizure and their person from injury. To this body belonged the bordarii and cottarii of Domesday Book ; cottagers who held their cottage and patch of land on condition that they provided the lord's table with poultry (called hen rents), eggs, and other small provisions, and also paid scharnpenny and averpenny, that is, dung penny and arable land (aver) penny. Craftsmen, such as smiths, carpenters, and armourers, who had been instructed in their trades at the charge of their masters, also belonged to this class.
One of these villein socmen was Chaucer's Ploughman, whom he thus describes :
“ A trué swinker and a good was he;
Living in peace and perfect charity.
To the craftsmen had also formerly belonged the Reeve, who in youth had learned “a good misteré” and “was a well good wright, a carpenter.” But he was a cautious, calculating, reserved kind of man, who was determined to rise by some scheme or other. He was therefore an excellent business man; so excellent, indeed, that no auditor was able to overreach or detect him in his accounts; yet he contrived to make great gains out of his lord, and always made better purchases for himself than for his master. For all which he pleased his lord right “subtilly," and obtained from him not only thanks but occasionally “a coat and hood.”
Under these half-emancipated tenants, and lowest of all, were the pure villeins or villeins in gross, who could be bought and sold without any regard to the manor. They were the servi, the thralls, and were the absolute property of their masters both in body and chattels. Therefore they could acquire no property of their own; they had no right of action against their lord, and if they fled from his service he could legally recover them by the writ de nativitate probanda. Their children were born to the same state of servitude, and, though their mother might be a freewoman, their father being a slave, they were slaves also. The absolute dependence of these villiens in gross upon their lord is well illustrated in the Clerk's Tale, the most affecting of all the stories told by the Canterbury Pilgrims. The Lord Walter, being urged by his people to take a wife, consents to wed, and presently, to the surprise of all, proposes to marry Grisildis, the daughter of Janicola, one of his villeins. The latter, quaking with fear, and knowing that he has no choice of acceptance or denial, can only say, as by feudal law he is bound, “Lord, my will is as ye will ; nor against your liking may I determine aught-right as you list, governeth this mattére.” Grisildis herself is not consulted ; she is simply told that the marriage is to be, and that she will be expected to carry into her new position all the allegiance and submission, in every extremity, which she owes to her lord, as his villein. He demands of her
“ Be ye ready with good heart
She swears as he requires, and then, as her children are born, and she is asked to give them up one after another, to be taken away from her, her language under every trial and provocation is
“Lord, all lieth in your pleasance.
Right as ye list." In other words, she acknowledges that he is absolute master of her life, liberty, and honour, by the recognised laws of the Feudal System, and that it is her duty, even though she is his wife, not to presume upon his will or wish, for he is still her lord, and she is still his villein. Nay further. Even when he puts her away, and requires her to prepare the chambers for a new wife that he intends to bring in her stead, she still replies—
I am glad
Withouten fainting.” “ To love you best with all my true intent.” Having thus seen what were the mutual relations which existed between the lord and the agricultural tenants on his manor, let us now take a general view of the estate. The persons employed on the manorial farm were the reeve or steward, the bailiff, the head harvestman, carters, ploughmen, plough-drivers, shepherds, swineherds, and deyes, the lowest of farm labourers. The steward held the manorial courts, and preserved all the manorial privileges; he kept the chief accounts of the household and farm, and superintended the domestics. Next to the steward was the bailiff, who super
intended all the farming operations; then came the head harvestman, who was annually elected by the tenants, and during his year of office ate at the lord's table, and had a horse kept for him in the stables. The plough-driver, the farrier, and the huntsman slept in the same building with their cattle. The lighter labours of husbandry, as the winnowing of corn, the care of the poultry, and the tending of the young cattle, were undertaken by women. duly taken care of by the lord, and, as the villeins were saleable property, Magna Charta forbade guardians to waste the men of their wards. This selling of villeins was a common practice, especially in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries ; Bristol and York were the chief slave markets, whence they were sent to Ireland, Scotland, and Denmark. Gradually, however, the serfs passed from this miserable condition to the position of free labourers, and many circumstances aided them in their progress upwards.
The first of these in the order of time was the rise of the copyholders-villeins who, instead of being obliged to perform every mean and servile office that the arbitrary will of their lord demanded, had been allowed to hold the lands they occupied on condition of rendering agricultural services which were free and certain. For example, they were to reap the lord's corn or cleanse his fish-pond, harrow his land or cart his timber, so many days in the year. These men sprang from the bordarii, and they were called copyholders, because the services by which they were bound were recorded in the lord's book or roll of his Court Baron, a copy of which, signed by the steward, was the proof of their tenancy. The number of these copyholders began sensibly to increase about the time of Edward I., though it was not till the reign of Edward IV. that the tenants' copy of the court roll was a complete legal bar against dispossession by the lord.
The next steps towards the emancipation of the villeing
were the payment of wages, and the hiring of labourers. As early as 1257, a serf, if employed before midsummer, received wages; and he was allowed to find a substitute, if he did not work himself. From which it is obvious, first, that the serf had already acquired a right of property, and must have possessed the means of hiring a labourer and, secondly, that there had arisen a class of labourers who were practically free, because they were at liberty to sell their services. This state of things had probably been brought about in this manner.
The lord's domain, originally large enough to occupy all his villeins, had gradually become contracted by alienations, sales, and demises, so that he had not so many means of employment as formerly. He therefore allowed them to become free and voluntary labourers for others. But he still retained his original rights over them; they were still his villeins; their earnings were, by law, entirely at his disposal, and he had every right, as their master, to make a profit of their labour. The lord, however, was wealthy beyond his wants; he was too haughty and proud to descend to such pitiful gains; the rapacity of commercial times had not yet corrupted society, and the lord was more ambitious to win the affections of his dependents than to improve his fortune at their expense. Villeins therefore became hired labourers in husbandry for the greater part of the year, by which they obtained a part of the immunities of freemen; and this, together with the right of property which the copyholders acquired, placed them in that position of the social scale which enabled them to treat and contend with their masters for the remainder. All the advances they made after this were but extensions and improvements of these two concessions; and, as many opportunities for acquiring freedom offered themselves after this, the villeins rapidly rose to emancipation.
The most important of these was the improved condition