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red-hot iron on the breast with the letter V, and be adjudged the slave for two years of the person who informed against the idler. And the master is directed to feed his slave with bread and water, or small drink, and such refuse meat as he thinks proper; and to cause his slave to work by beating or chaining him. If the slave absconds for fourteen days, he is condemned to slavery for life; and if he runs away a second time, he is liable to suffer death as a felon.
These enactments were too severe even for the age, and were speedily repealed. The latter part of the statute provides that certain of the poor shall be employed by the town, or by individuals who would provide them meat and drink for their work. This is the mode by which the poor in many of the parishes in the south of England are maintained. They are called roundsmen, from going round the town from house to house to solicit employment.
Decay of the Nobility-Progress of the Middle Classes-Rise
of Country Gentlemen-Industry fettered by Patents and Monopolies—Absence of Police, and dreadful DisordersManners and Education- Diet and Dress-Abortive Efforts to fix Price of Labour-Compulsory Assessment for the Poor forced on the Legislature after the Failure of other Expedients.
Having adverted to the changes consequent on the introduction of commerce and manufactures, and to the influence of the Reformation on property and the condition of the labouring classes, it is important to mark the progress of the middle orders about the same period.
In pursuing the various occupations of industry, the people had discovered the means of emancipating themselves from feudal servitude: and the nobility, in judiciously preferring a turn of expense, which promoted the arts, to the coarse enjoyments of baronial splendour, which were the source of idleness and disorder, had necessarily exchanged their personal authority for private luxury and comfort. While their individual influence over their dependents was thus gradually wasting away, their, collective preponderance in the scale of government which had often enabled them to resist, even kingly power, with success, was completely overthrown by the destructive wars between the Yorkists and Lancasterians. So many ancient families were annihilated in the contest, and so many noblemen on both sides perished either in the field or on the scaffold, that Henry VII. could only summon twenty-eight peers to his first parliament: nor was the number much increased during his reign; only thirty-six temporal peers were summoned to the first parliament of Henry VIII. By the dissolution of the monasteries, the ecclesiastical branch of the aristocracy was destroyed; and many of the obstacles that had opposed the progress of industry being removed, the middling ranks insensibly advanced to wealth and independence; although it is justly observed by
Hume, that in the interval between the fall of the nobles and the rise of this order, many of our monarchs availed themselves of the times, and assumed an authority almost absolute.
Other causes had materially contributed to lessen the ascendancy of the aristocratic orders. It had been the sage policy of Henry VII. to unfetter the territorial possessions of the great landholders, and thereby promote a more general partition of proprietary influence. The statutes which enabled the nobility to alienate their estates, the seizure and sale of the abbey-lands, and the general effects of increasing opulence must have powerfully operated towards a more equal division of property, than could possibly have taken place in times when the nation was poorer, and the shackles of mortmain and entails more rigidly observed. Under the influence of this policy, a great portion of the estates of the nobility and church passed into the hands of the COUNTRY GENTLEMEN,—an intermediate order of proprietors which was now fast increasing in number and importance, and forming a new and influential section of society. Contemporary with the rise of this class, was the decay, and ultimate extinction of the cottar tenantry, which was a consequence necessarily resulting from the improved state of agriculture. The half-starved proprietor of ten or twenty acres, will often be persuaded to part with his land to a rich neighbour, who farms, with peculiar advantages on a larger scale. These changes, which indicated increasing wealth, caused no little alarm to the legislature; and it was often attempted to “make farms and houses of husbandry of a standard ;” a device, which Lord Bacon dignifies with the appellation of “profound and admirable !" The mistaken idea of limiting the size of farms, appears to bear some analogy to the late doctrine of equality in possessions, and would have been alike hostile to improvement, enterprise, and national wealth.
Another change in society may be noticed about this period in the decline of cities and boroughs. In the 3d Henry VIII. c. 8, it is remarked that most cities, boroughs, and towns corporate, had fallen into decay, and were no longer inhabited by merchants and men of substance, but principally by brewers, vintners, fishmongers, and other victuallers, which is the state of many country towns, where the only business carried on is created by the consumption of the inhabitants. Mr. Hume ascribes the decay of provincial towns to the establishment of a more regular police and stricter administration of justice, which, by the greater protection they afforded, encouraged men of property to retire into the country. But the principal cause was doubtless the decline of corporate immunities, which though useful in the early establishment of towns for their security, yet when industry had taken firm root in the kingdom, became not only unnecessary but oppressive, as tradesmen were prevented carrying on their occupations within them unless qualified by patrimony, apprenticeship, or purchase. Manufacturers, no longer requiring the protection of corporations, settled in places enjoying local advantages best adapted to their pursuits, and where they were unfettered by chartered immunities. That such was the case is evinced by the flourishing state of the open towns in the sixteenth century. Birmingham, even in Leland's time, was eminent for its cutlery; and Manchester, so early as 1552, appears to have been a place of considerable importance. An act passed in that year notices its “cottons, rugges, and frizes.” In the 33d Henry VIII. c. 15, passed in 1541, it is remarked, that Manchester had a long time been well inhabited; and the inhabitants well set to work in making of cloths as well of linen as of woollen, whereby the inhabitants of the said town have gotten and come unto riches and wealthy livings; and by reason of great occupying, good order, strict and true dealing of the inhabitants of the said town, many strangers as well of Ireland as of other places had resorted thither."
Notwithstanding these evidences of improvement, various causes continued to impede the progress of national industry. One of these was the prerogative of the crown as exercised in purveyance and monopolies. Of the oppressions arising from the former, Lord Bacon has given a long detail, and with regard to monopolies, there was hardly a commodity of importance that was not tied up in the grasp of a patentee. Iron, tin, leather, paper, starch, wool, yarn, salt, sea-coal, and beer, form but a small part of the long list of articles, the exclusive sale of which was vested in individuals, who by virtue of