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of the towns, where the superior comforts and privileges enjoyed by the inhabitants inspired the agricultural population with a desire for similar freedom and comfort. The
uplandish folk," however, had no means of forming that union which gave to the towns their strength and influence. Each serf, therefore, endeavoured, with the little stock of savings he had secretly accumulated, to escape to some enfranchised town, and there hide himself for a year and a day, after which he became legally free. In such a country as England, a villein could easily escape. The different counties were much more unequal than now as regarded their agriculture and population, and when the serfs were allowed to hire themselves to other masters, they naturally emigrated to those counties where provisions were cheap and employment plentiful. If the villein, therefore, engaged his voluntary labour to a distant employer, he might well hope to be forgotten, or to remain undiscovered by his lord; and there was so little communication between remote parts of the country that it was the villein's own fault, or else his singular ill-fortune, if his master ever claimed him. Even then the law did all it could to favour him, and threw every obstacle in the way of the lord's suit.
Another series of circumstances which operated favourably in converting the villeins into free labourers was the long wars carried on against France by our Plantagenet kings. To recruit their exhausted armies these sovereigns were obliged to manumit their villeins, because none but a freeman was allowed to engage in war.
When the campaign was over these emancipated villeins returned home, and the freedom they had thus acquired excited discontent in those who still remained in servitude, and induced them to form confederacies for the attainment of their liberty, and to raise that formidable rebellion under Wat Tyler, which at one time threatened the very existence of the government.
About the same time, i. e. in 1949, there broke out the great pestilence called the Black Death, which swept from the earth nearly one-half the inhabitants. The majority of these were, as we may easily apprehend, of the lower orders, and the consequence was that after the calamity was over labour became scarce, and therefore extremely dear. The labourers, practically acquainted with the natural law of supply and demand, asked for unusually high wages. Instead of leaving the matter to regulate itself, the government, totally ignorant, as everybody then was, of the principles of political economy, issued a proclamation to fix the price of labour. But the proclamation was not attended to; and the parliament enacted the famous Statute of Labourers, to enforce obedience by fines and corporal punishment. A mower, after the pestilence, demanded 12d. a day, and a reaper 8d., with food; wages which were respectively equal to 15s. and 10s. a day in our money.
This was exorbitant, and, if persisted in, would soon have ruined capital. The statute therefore enacted that carters, ploughmen, plough-drivers, shepherds, swineherds, and other servants should be content with such liveries and wages as they had received before the pestilence. That where they had been paid in wheat they should receive wheat; that mowers should receive 5d. a day, reapers 2d. and 3d. a day, without food, and weeders and haymakers 1d. a day. And the statute further enacted, that farm labourers were to be hired by the year and not by the day, and that they were to carry the implements of husbandry openly in their hands to the market towns, and apply for hire in the public streets. One would suppose that such a needless interference with the freedom of industry should soon have led to results which would have opened the eyes of the parliament to the folly of such enactments. But it was not so; and the principle of legislation thus begun was maintained and considerably
extended for some centuries after this. In 1363 the Statute of Apparel was passed, to regulate the diet and dress of labourers and artisans. It directed that artificers and servants should be served only once a day with meat and fish, or the waste of other victuals, as milk and cheese ; and that they should wear cloth of the value of 12d. a yard, and
The cloth worn by yeomen and tradesmen was not to cost more than 18d. a yard, while farm labourers were to wear no kind of cloth except that called black russet, at 12d. a yard. Clothiers were commanded to manufacture the qualities of cloth thus specified, and tradesmen to have a sufficient stock upon hand at the above prices. In 1388 another statute, called the Second Statute of Labourers, was enacted, confining the labourers to one locality, and empowering the justices of the peace to fix the price of labour every Easter and Michaelmas by proclamation.
Now, I should be wasting your time if I dilated upon the absurdity of this legislation, that fixed the wages for which a workman should labour, what he should eat, and how he should be clothed, all which is so utterly at variance with the feelings and intelligence of the present age. But there is one important deduction which may be drawn from it, and to which I would direct your observation : this is, the evidence which these statutes afford of the new social elements that had risen into importance. A great portion of the labourers must have clearly emancipated themselves from the grasp of their feudal masters, when, instead of the arbitrary will of their employers, it was found necessary to resort to acts of parliament to compel them to work. The time was the end of the fourteenth century; the great mass of the people were, as compared with their forefathers three hundred years before, rich, thriving, and independent; and the change in their opinions had kept pace with the improvement in their social condition. In the popular outbreak
under Wat the Tyler, of Deptford, the demands which the villeins made bespoke men not unacquainted with the essentials of personal liberty, and showed that the spirit of freedom was abroad, which would soon remove the last harsh and oppressive bonds which yet bound the villein to his master. The rebellion of Jack Cade, seventy years later, confirmed in the people this conviction of their strength, and helped them forward in their course. In this second rising not a word was said about villeinage ; that question had been settled, but the people demanded the redress of national grievances, and complained of the unjust administration of the government. The fact is, that in the fifteenth century the old feudal relations of lord and villein, master and slave, had become superseded by the modern ones of landlord and tenant, master and workman, rent and wages. The landlord had now tenants, who held leases, instead of being bound to the soil by feudal service. The man who farmed the land had now hired and free labourers, whom he paid partly in money and partly in board and lodging, or whom he paid wholly in money.
There were no thralls, with collars on their necks, like dogs. Instead of the spirit of mutual dependence which had in the early Feudal age bound lord and vassal together--when the lord looked to his vassal for service, and the vassal looked to his lord for maintenance and protection—there had now arisen a spirit of commerce, and of hard bargaining between landlord and tenant ; distraints for rent were common occurrences, for agriculture was so imperfect that bad seasons often occurred, and they always produced misery. The full average crop of an acre of wheat was seldom more than nine or ten bushels, and the price of corn rose and fell in a most extraordinary manner. Just before harvest it would be £5 or £6 a quarter, and just after harvest it would suddenly fall as low as 6s. 8d. The reason of this was that farmers sold
their crops as soon as they were got in, when the market was glutted : such a tradesman as a corn factor was nowhere to be found, and the only stores of corn were in the castles, abbeys, and granges. When the people bought their corn, or labourers received their quantity from their employers, they bought and received their supply for the year; and as they bought it cheap, and received it in large quantities, they were improvident in their consumption of it, so that, before the next harvest came, it was scarce, and its price beyond their means. Famines therefore resulted.
Robert Langland, a poet of that day, refers to this in his poem called “ The Vision of Piers Plowman.” Immediately after a favourable harvest the people were very particular in what they ate, but just before harvest they were only too glad to get anything. In the poem, a personage named Hunger comes to the Plowman, gives him some advice as to the regulation of his appetite, and then demands his dinner in return. “If God permit,” says he, “hence not will I wend, till I have dined by this day, and drunken both." To this the Plowman replies that he has "no penny to buy either pullet, or goose, or pig; but that he has two green cheeses, a few curds and cream, and an havercake (oatcake); besides which he has two loaves of beans and bran, which he had baked for his folk.” “But, by my soul," quoth he, “I have no salt bacon, nor yet a cokenay (or cook) collops for to make. I have, however, parsley and porets (leeks), and many coleplants. " And eke a cow and a calf, and a cart mare To draw a-field my dung, the while the drought lasteth. And by this livelihood I must live till Lammas time, By that I hope to have harvest in my croft;
And then, I may dress my dinner as me pleaseth." So Piers Plowman and all the poor folk fed Hunger with peascods, beans, baken apples, onions, ripe cherries, and