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ON THE AGRICULTURE AND LANDED PROPERTY OF THE ANGLO-SAXONS.
The agricultural state may have been coeval with the pastoral, in the climates of the East, where nature is so profuse of her rural gifts, that cultivation is scarcely requisite; but in the more ungenial regions of the north of Europe, where the food of man is not to be obtained from the earth, without the union of skill and labour, the pastoral state seems to have been the earliest occupation of uncivilized man. While this taste prevailed, agricultural attentions were disreputable and despised, as among the ancient Germans. But when population became more numerous and less migratory, husbandry rose in human estimation and use, until at length it became indispensable to the subsistence of the nation who pursued it.
When the Anglo-Saxons invaded England, they came into a country which had been under the Roman power for about four hundred years, and where agriculture, after its more complete subjection by Agricola, had been so much encouraged, that it had become one of the western granaries of the empire. The Britons, therefore, of the fifth century may be considered to have pursued the best system of husbandry then in use, and their lands to have been extensively cultivated with all those exterior circumstances which mark established proprietorship and improvement; as small farms; inclosed fields; regular divisions into meadow, arable, pasture, and wood; fixed boundaries; planted hedges; artificial dykes and ditches; selected spots for vineyards, gardens, and orchards; connecting roads and paths; scattered villages, and larger towns, with appropriated names for every spot and object that marked the limits of each property, or the course of each way. All these appear in the earliest Saxon charters, and before the combating invaders had time or ability to make them, if they had not found them in the island. Into such a country the Anglo-Saxon adventurers came, and by these facilities to rural civilization soon became an agricultural people. The natives, whom they despised, conquered, and enslaved, became their educators and servants in the new arts, which they had to learn, of grazing and tillage; and the previous cultivation practised by the Romanised Britons will best account for the numerous divisions, and accurate and precise descriptions of land which occur in almost all the Saxon charters. No modern conveyance could more accurately distinguish or describe the boundaries of the premises which it conveyed.
The Anglo-Saxons seem to have had both large and small farms, as both are enumerated in the Domesday Register; and it is most probable that the more extensive possessions, though belonging to one proprietor, were
cultivated in small subdivisions. The number of petty proprietors was, according to the same record, greater in Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, where the Northmen colonists settled themselves, than in other parts of the island. But the British custom of gavelkind, which preceded the Anglo-Saxon invasions, was favourable to the increase of small proprietorships. Large farms seem to be the best adapted to bring an extensive surface of the country into a state of cultivation, and may by the application of more capital raise the greatest quantity of produce on the whole : but small farms, manual labour, and more minute tillage, employ and support a valuable class of our rural population, whose worth and industry deserve encouragement, and greatly benefit every civilized country.
It must, however, be recollected, that large portions of the country were, in every part, in a state of forests, lakes, pools, marsh, moor, slough, and heath; but they turned the watery parts, which they had not the skill or the means to drain, to the best advantage, by making them productive of fish. In most of their ditches we read of eels, and in several descriptions, of fish waters. Brooks and bourns were so common as to form parts of almost all their boundaries.
The Anglo-Saxons cultivated the art of husbandry with some attention. The articles which they raised from the earth, and the animals which they fed, have been mentioned in the chapter on their food. A few particulars of their practical husbandry need only be mentioned here.
They used hedges and ditches to separate their fields and lands (1); and these were made necessary by law; for a freeman broke through a hedge, he had to pay six shillings (2). A ceorl was ordered to keep his farm inclosed both winter and summer; and if damage arose to any one who suffered his gate to be open, and his hedge to be broken down, he was subjected to legal consequences (3).
They had common of pasture attached to the different portions of land which they possessed; and they had other extensive districts laid out in meadow. Every estate had also an appropriated quantity of wood. In Domesday-book, the ploughed land, the meadow, the pasture and the wood, are separately mentioned, and their different quantities estimated.
They sowed their wheat in spring (4). It was a law, that he who had twenty hides of land should take care that there should be twelve hides of it sown when he was to leave it (5).
They had ploughs, rakes, sickles, scythes, forks and flails, very like those that have been commonly used in this country (6). They had also carts or waggons. Their wind-mills and water-mills are frequently mentioned, in every period of their history.
Their woods were an object of their legislative attention. If any one burnt or cut down another's wood without permission, he was to pay five shillings for every great tree, and five pennies for every other, and thirty shillings besides as a penalty (7). By another law, this offence was more severely punished (8).
(1) These appear in most of the boundaries described in the Saxon grants. Hedges are mentioned in Domesday. A nemus ad sepes faciendum occurs in Middlesex,
(2) Wilk. Leg. p. 4.
(3) Ibid. p. 21.
(4) Bede, p. 244.
(5) Wilk. Leg. p. 25.
(6) Their drawings in their MSS. show a great resemblance between the Saxon instruments and those still used in the northern counties of England. (7) Wilk. p. 37.
(8) Ibid. p. 21.
They were careful of the sheep. It was ordered by an express law, that these animals should keep their fleece until midsummer, and that the value of a sheep should be one shilling until a fortnight after Easter (1).
There are some curious delineations in a Saxon calendar, which illustrate some of their agricultural labours (2).
In January are men ploughing with four oxen; one drives, another holds the plough, and another scatters seeds.
In February men are represented as cutting or pruning trees, of which some resemble vines.
In March one is digging, another is with a pick-axe, and a third is sowing.
In April three persons are pictured as sitting and drinking, with two attendants; another is pouring out liquor into a horn; and another is holding a horn to his mouth.
In May a shepherd is sitting; his flocks are about, and one man has a lamb in his arms; other persons are looking on.
In June some are reaping with a sickle, and some putting the corn into a cart. A man is blowing a horn while they are working.
In July they are felling trees.
In August they are mowing.
In September is a boar-hunting.
In October is hawking.
In November a smithery is shown.
In December two men are threshing, others are carrying the grain in a basket; one has a measure, as if to ascertain the quantity; and another, on a notched stick, seems to be marking what is measured and taken away. In the Saxon dialogues already quoted, the ploughman gives this account of his duty :
"I labour much. I go out at day-break, urging the oxen to the field, and I yoke them to the plough (the syl). It is not yet so stark winter that I dare keep close at home, for fear of my lord; but the oxen being yoked, and the share and cultro fastened on, I ought to plough every day one entire field or more. I have a boy to threaten the oxen with a goad, who is now hoarse through cold and bawling. I ought also to fill the bins of the oxen with hay, and water them, and carry out their soil." He adds, "It is a great labour, because I am not free.
In the same MSS. we have this statement of a shepherd's and a cowherd's duty. "In the fir, part of the morning I drive my sheep to their pasture, and stand over them in heat and in cold with dogs, lest the wolves destroy them. I lead them back to their folds, and milk them twice a day, and I move their folds, and make cheese and butter; and I am faithful to my lord." The other says, "When the ploughman separates the oxen, I lead them to the meadows; and all night I stand watching over them, on` account of thieves; and again, in the morning, I take them to the plough, well fed and watered."
Some circumstances may be selected from their grants, which illustrate the customs and produce of an Anglo-Saxon farm. "I give food for seventy swine in that woody allotment which the countrymen call Wulferdinleh, and five waggons full of good twigs, and every year an oak for
(1) Wilk. p. 23. 25.
(2) Cott. MS. Tib. B. 3. See them copied in Strutt's Hord. Angl. vol. i. tab. x. xi. xii.
building, and others for necessary fires, and sufficient wood for burning (1).”
A noble lady ordered out of her lands a yearly donation of forty ambra of malt, an old ram, four wethers, two hundred and forty loaves, and one weight of bacon and cheese, and four fother of wood, and twenty henfowls (2).
In Ina's laws, ten hides were to furnish ten vessels of honey, three hundred loaves, twelve ambra of Welsh ale, thirty of clear ale, two old rams, ten wethers, ten geese, twenty hens, ten cheeses, an ambra full of butter, five salmon, twenty pounds weight of fodder, and an hundred eels (3).
Another gives ten mittas of malt, five of grits, ten mittas of the flour of wheat, eight gammons, sixteen cheeses, and two fat cows; and in Lent eight salmon (4).
Offa, in 785, grants some land, with permission to feed swine in the wood of Andreda; and another district to cut wood for building or for burning; and also wood sufficient to boil salt; and the fishing of one man ; with one hundred loaded waggons, and two walking carts, every year (5).
We frequently find salt-pans, or places to boil salt in, conveyed, as, "with four vessels for the boiling of salt," and "with all the utensils and wells of salt (6)."
Fisheries were frequently given with land. To three plough lands in Kent a fishery on the Thames is added (7). Ethelstan gives a piece of land for the use of taking fish (8). So forty acres, with fishing, were given on the condition of receiving every year fifteen salmon (9). So half of a fishery is given to a monastery, with the buildings and tofts of the fishermen (10).
A vineyard is not unfrequently mentioned in various documents. Edgar gives the vineyard situate at Wecet, with the vine-dressers (11). In Domesday-book, vineyards are noticed in several counties.
A wolf-pit is mentioned in one of the boundaries of an estate (12).
In Domesday we frequently meet with parks. Thus, speaking of Rislepe, in Middlesex, it adds, "There is a park (parcus) of beasts of the wood (13)." At St. Albans and Ware, in Herts, similar parks are mentioned, and in other places.
Gardens also occur several times in Domesday. Eight cotarii and their gardens (14) are stated in the manor of Fuleham in Middlesex. And we may remark that Fulham still abounds with market gardeners. A house with its garden is mentioned in the burg of Hertford (15).
Two or three intimations occur in Domesday of the increasing conversion of pasture into arable land. Thus at Borne in Kent," a pasture from which strangers have ploughed six acres of land (16).”
We have many contracts extant of the purchases of land by the AngloSaxons, from which we may expect to gain some knowledge of the price of land. But this source of information is by no means sufficient to form an accurate criterion, because we cannot tell the degree of cultivation, or the quality of the land transferred; and also because many of the grants seem
(1) Bede, App. 770.
(4) 3 Gale, Hist. R. 410.
(2) Hickes's Diss. Ep. 10.
(3) Wilk. Leg. Sax. p. 25. (5) Astle's MS. Charters, N. 4. p. 48. (7) Thorpe Regist. 20. (9) Ibid. p. 171.
(11) MS. Claud. c. 9. p. 116. (13) Domesday, 129. b.
(16) Ibid. p. 9.
(14) Ibid. p. 127. b.
to have been rather gifts than sales, in which the consideration bears little proportion to the obvious value. A few of the prices given may however be stated:
1 hyde and a field for 100 shillings.
10 hydes and two mills for 100 aureos.
7 hydes and an half for 200 aureos (1).
6 cassatorum for 5 pundus argenti.
10 manentium for 31 mancosas.
20 manentium for 10 libris argenti.
2 mansiones for 20 manecusis auri probatissimi (2).
15 manentes for 1500 solidis argenti.
5 manentium for 10 libras inter aurum et argentum.
5 manentium for 150 mancas de puro auro.
8 mansas for 90 mancusa of purest gold. 10 mansas for 50 mancusas of pure gold. 8 mansas for 500 criseis mancusis (3).
It is obvious from this short specimen of the sums mentioned in their documents, that no regular estimate can be formed of the usual price of their land.
By the exorcisms to make fields fertile which remain, we may perceive that our superstitious ancestors thought that they could produce abundant harvests by nonsensical ceremonies and phrases. They who choose may see a long one in Caleg. A. 7. It is too long and too absurd to be copied. But we may recollect in justice to our ancestors, that Cato the censor has transmitted to us a recipe as ridiculous.
The course of nature, in he revolutions of seasons, has suffered no essential change since the deluge, which human records notice. We may therefore presume that the seasons in the Anglo-Saxon period resembled those which preceded and have followed them. Bede calls October Winterfylleth, because winter begins in this month. And we have a description of Anglo-Saxon winter from a disciple of Bede: "The last winter far and wide afflicted our island horribly, by its cold, its frosts, and storms of rain and wind (4).”
To give some notion of the state of the atmosphere and of the seasons in these times, it may not be uninteresting to mention some of the years which were more remarkable for the calamities of the weather which attended them.
A. D. 763-4. This winter was so severe, for its snow and frost, as to have been thought unparalleled. The frost lasted from the first of October to February. Most of the trees and shrubs perished by the excessive cold (3).*
793. A great famine and mortality (6).
799. Violent tempests, and numerous shipwrecks in the British Ocean (7).
807-8. A very mild and pestilential winter (8).
(1) 3 Gale, p. 483. 485. 480. 486.
(3) MS. Claud. c. 9.
(2) Heming. Chart. p. 69, 70. 222. 230.
Ann. Astron. ap. Ruberi, p. 18. Sigeb. Gembl. p. 551.
(5) Simeon Dunelm, p. 105.