Page images

Most goods in the medieval world were produced on the manor
by the villeias or serís who worked the land. Each serí
had a personal contract with his lord which spelled out the
terns of his tenancy. Generally these contracts were not
written out, but were remembered as custom. But as the
centuries passed and lord and serf found it difficult to
remember what their respective ancestors had agreed to
generations before, the lords of the manor's began to keep
account books which spelled out what was to be expected of
each tenant, An example from such an account book follows.

They say that John of Cayworth holds one house and thirty acres of land, and he owes 2s, (shillings) a year at Easter and Michaelmas, and he owes one cock and two hens at Christmas worth 4 s.

And he ought to harrow for two days at the sowing at Lent with one man and his own horse and harrow, the value of the work is 4d. (pence); and he receives from the lord on each day three meals worth 3d.; ...

And he ought to carry the manure of the lord for two days with one cart using his own two oxen, the work to value 8s., and he receives from the lord three meals of the above value each day; and so the work is worth 3 d. clear. And he ought to carry wood from the woods of the lord to the manor house for two days in summer with one cart and three of his own animals, the price of the work is 9d.; and he receives from the lord for each day three meals of the above price. And so the work is worth 4d. clear. And it must be noted that all the aforesaid villeins (serfs) may not marry their daughters nor have their sons tonsured (let them become members of the clergy), nor can they cut down timber growing on the lands they hold, without the personal approval of the bailiff or servant of the lord, and then for building and no other purpose. And after the death of any one of the aforesaid villeins the lord will have as a heriot (a payment) the best animal that he had; if, however, he had no living beast, the lord will have no heriot, as they say. The sons or daughters of the aforesaid villeins will give to enter the tenement (the holding) after the death of their ancestors as much as they gave in rent per year.

S. R. Scargil1-Bird, ed., CUSTUMALS OF BATTLE ABBEY (The Camden Society, 1887), pp. 19-23.


The following selection is taken from Walter of Henley's
book on husbandry which was written some time in the
thirteenth century.

Walter's book is a peculiar combina-
tion of traditional precepts mixed with quite modern
ideas for farming a large estate.

The book is addressed
to the owners of the manors, that is the noble lords,
and the following is part of what he had to say to them:

This is the treatise on husbandry that a good man once made, whose name was Sir Walter of Henley; and this he made to teach those who have lands and tenants and may not know all the points of husbandry and tilling the soil from which great wealth may come if only those who are ignorant will heed these teachings and then carry them out in practice.

then you

The father, having become old, said to his son, "Dear son, live prudently towards God and the world. With regard to God, think often of the passion and death that Jesus Christ suffered for us, and love Him above all things and fear Him and keep His commandments; with regard to the world, think how a man, if he is fortunate, little by little accumulates wealth and when he become prosperous, then little by little he falls into poverty and finally into wretchedness. Therefore I pray, live within the income which your lands can provide you yearly and nothing beyond that. If you can improve your lands then put the surplus into savings so that if your corn fails, or your cattle die, or a fire should befall you, or some other mishap should occur, will have something to help you. If you spend in a year the value received from your lands and any profit you might make in addition, and then one of these mishaps should befall you, you have no way to recover except by borrowing, and he who borrows from another robs himself. .. . It is said in the proverb, 'Who provides for the future enjoys himself in the present.' You see some with great lands and many tenants, and yet are constantly in debt. Why? I will

Because they live without rule or forethought and spend and waste more than their lands pay them each year, and when they have wasted their goods, they can only live from hand to mouth and are always in want. Furthermore, they can make no bargains that shall serve their interests. • .Dear son, be prudent in your doings and be on your guard against the world, which is so wicked and deceitful.

[ocr errors]

tell you.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"Survey your lands and tenements with true and sworn men. First survey your courts, gardens, dove-houses, and out-buildings, to find out what they are worth in yearly income. Then determine how many acres are in your domain and how many acres are planted and what they should be worth in income each year; and how many acres of pasture, and what they are worth each year, and would that you can sell at without loss and destruction and what it is worth yearly; and how much each tenant holds and what services he must render to hold it, and what this is worth yearly. And by the surveyors find out how much wheat


From WALTER OF HENLEY'S HUSBANDRY, Elizabeth Lamond, trans. (Longman's Green, New York: 1890) pp. 3-15, passim. (Language simplified and modernized by John M. Good.)

you can sow on an acre of land and how much cattle you can have on each manor. By this method you can figure out what your lands are worth, yearly, and by this way you can order your living, as I have said before.

"Some men will tell you that you cannot .plough 160 or 180 acres yearly, but I will show that you can. Now you know that fields should be laid out in strips of 660 feet in length and 66 feet wide. Now in ploughing, go thirty-six times around the field to make the furrows narrower and making sowing easier and more productive. In plowing in this way you will have gone nine miles in plowing an acre, and a horse or an ox must be a very poor animal, indeed, that cannot go nine miles in a day. In alloting one-third of your land to lie fallow and a due portion to cattle your tenants should easily be able to plough the remainder of 160 acres.


"In sowing, do not plough large furrows, but little and close together so that the seed may fall evenly. ...For if you plough large furrows and in harrowing turn the large furrow on top of the seed, the seed cannot grow. But turning small furrows on top of a seed will make it grow. And more seed can grow and your yearly return shall be the greater."

* * * * * * * * * *



XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth CENTURIES (London: Longman's Green
and Co.,

) 239-240.

These ordinances of the Hatter's Guild of London prohibit the selling
of hats in London by non-members of the guild, making hats by night,
and the making of hats in London by anyone outside the guild. The
ordinance also establishes a committee of wardens to oversee the
work of the guild.



Like the political and economic systems of the Middle Ages, the medieval social system was based largely on tradition. The same values that supported the feudal political system and the manorial economy encouraged the structuring of society into distinct and fairly rigid classes. Those with power gained wealth, and wealth and power brought privileges. Not the least of these privileges was the lord's right to pass power and wealth on to his children. Inheritance helped concentrate wealth and power in the same families generation after generation.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Historians have always been interested in the structure of society, that is, in the way in which the members of a society are grouped, and the manner in which groups relate to one another. They have developed a number of analytical questions to help them analyze social groupings. Among these questions are: What were the major groups in a society, and how were they determined? What privileges and responsibilities were assigned to each group? How, and under what circumstances, did various groups come into contact with one another? How did one become a member of a particular social group? How did a particular social group influence the behavior of its members?

Reading XVII contains selections from medieval documents that cast light on the social system of the Middle Ages. As you examine this evidence, keep the following questions in mind :


On the basis of this evidence, what answers can you
give to the analytical questions in the introduction?


What values underlie the organization of medieval


Did the medieval social system contain any possi-
bilities for change?


This selection from the eleventh century describes the
organization of society as it was understood by Adalberon,
the Bishop of Laon and an advisor of the French King,
Hugh Capet.

[ocr errors]

From Adalberon, CARMEN AD ROTHERTUM REGEM, in Robert Boutruche,
SEIGNEURIE ET FÉODALITÉ (Paris: 1959) 371-372.

Adalberon states that society is divided into three orders, those who pray--the clergy, those who fight--the nobility--and those who work the land--the peasants.

[blocks in formation]

The foremost political theorist of the Middle Ages was
John of Salisbury. In this selection he outlines the
duties and privileges of the warrior class.


From John Dickinson, trans., THE STATESMAN'S BOOK OF JOHN OF
SALISBURY, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927) 199-203, passim.

In this section of the Statesman's Book, Salisbury explains the role and privileges of the warrior class, the medieval nobility. Не explains that they are the fighters who protect God's earthly city against heathen. For this service to society they are excused from performing menial services.


The following selection by Jean Froissart describes how an
unusually prominent, educated and good nobleman lived his
life in the fourteenth century.

Count Gaston Phoebus de Foix, of whom I am now speaking, was at that time fifty-nine years old; and I must say, that although I have seen very many knights, kings, princes, and others, I have never seen any so handsome, either in the form of his limbs and shape, or in countenance, which was fair and ruddy, with grey and amorous eyes, that gave delight whenever he chose to express affection. He was so perfectly formed, one could not praise him too much. He loved earnestly the things he ought to love, and hated those which it was becoming him so to hate. He was a prudent knight, full of enterprise and wisdom. He had never any men of abandoned character with him, reigned prudently, and was constant in his devotions. There were regular nocturnals from the Psalter, prayers from the rituals to the Virgin, to the Holy Ghost, and from the burial service.

In such manner did the count de Foix live. When he quitted his chamber at midnight for supper, twelve servants bore each a large lighted torch before him, which were placed near his table and gave a brilliant light to the apartement. The hall was full of knights and squires; and there were plenty of tables laid out for any person who chose to sup. No one spoke to him at his table, unless he first began a conversation. He commonly ate heartily of poultry, but only the wings and thighs; for in the daytime he neither ate nor drank much. He had great pleasure in hearing minstrels, as he himself was proficient in the science, and made his secretaries sing songs, ballads, and roundelays. He remained at table about two hours; and was pleased when fanciful dishes were served up to him, which having seen, he immediately sent them to the tables of his knights and squires.

[ocr errors]

In short, everything considered, though I had before been in several courts of kings, dukes, princes, counts, and noble ladies, I was never at one which pleased me more, nor was I ever more delighted with feats of arms, than at this of the count de Foix. There were knights and squires to be seen in every chamber, hali, and court, going backwards and forwards, and conversing on arms and amours. Everything honourable was there to be found. .


THE ADJOINING COUNTRIES, London, 1857, vol. ii, pp. 94-95.

« PreviousContinue »