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Paternal despotism: restoration of the purity of the coinage; a definite commercial policy: revival of the wool trade: new era of prosperity among landed gentry and occupiers of land: a time of adversity for small landowners and wage-earning labourers: Statute of Apprentices; hiring fairs; growth of agricultural literature: Fitzherbert and Tusser: their picture of Tudor farming: defects of the open-field system: experience of the value of enclosures; improvement in farming: Barnaby Googe; Sir Hugh Plat: progress in the art of gardening.
THE reign of Elizabeth marks a definite stage in English history. The mediaeval organisation of society, together with its trade guilds and manorial system of farming, had broken down. Out of the confusion order might be evolved by a paternal despotism. The Queen's advisers, with strong practical sagacity, set themselves to the task. They sate loosely to theories and rode no principles to death. But so firmly did they lay their foundations, that parts of their structure lasted until the nineteenth century. National control displaced local control. The central power gathered strength: it directed the economic interests of the nation; it regulated industrial relations; through its legislation and administration it fostered the development of national resources.
The restoration of the standard purity and weight of the coinage was resolutely taken in hand. Its debasement had been the cause of much of the economic distress in previous reigns; credit was ruined, and the treasury bankrupt. The debased, sweated, and clipped silver coinage was called in, and new coins were issued. As silver flowed into the country from the New World, the amount of money in circulation increased. More capital was available in a handy form, and, when legitimate interest ceased to be confused with usury, more people could borrow it on reasonable terms. The way was thus paved for a new era of commercial prosperity.
In mediaeval times the whole external trade of the country had been in the hands of foreigners. Elizabeth followed and developed the commercial policy of England, which first assumed a deliberate continuous shape under Henry VII. Foreign traders were discouraged, and English merchants favoured. The Hanseatic League lost the last of its privileges; the Venetian fleet came to England less and less frequently, and at last ceased altogether to fly its flag in the Channel. The import of manufactured goods was checked. The export of raw material and of English sheep was narrowly restricted, though long wool, as the staple of a great trade, was still sent abroad freely. The Government realised to the full all the abuses of patents and monopolies; but they did not hesitate to grant both privileges in order to stimulate native enterprise. Companies were formed with exclusive rights of trading in particular countries. The oldest and most powerful of these Companies, the Merchant Adventurers, obtained a royal charter in 1564. The Muscovite, Levant or Turkey, Eastland or Baltic, and Guinea or African Companies were formed to push English trade in foreign parts. In 1600 the East India Company was chartered. The mercantile marine was encouraged by fishery laws, which gave English fishermen a monopoly in the sale of fish. Men who argued that abstinence from meat at certain seasons was good for the soul's health risked the stake or the rack; but, for the sake of multiplying seamen, the Government did not hesitate to ordain fast-days on which only fish was to be eaten. (The rule of eating fish twice a week was continued from Catholic times; but a third day was added by Elizabeth from motives of "civile policy.") To foster the home manufacture of cloth, it was made a penal offence for any person over the age of six not to wear on Sundays and holy days a cap made of English cloth. Stimulated by such methods, trade throve apace, and English goods were carried in English-built ships, owned by Englishmen, and manned by English seamen. While foreign merchants were discouraged, foreign craftsmen, especially religious refugees from France or Flanders, were welcomed as settlers, bringing with them their skill in manufacturing paper, lace, silk, parchments, light woollens, hosiery, fustians, satins, thread, needles, and in other arts and industries.
The English wool trade was restored to more than its former prosperity. On it had long depended the commercial prosperity of the country. John Cole, "the rich clothier of Reading" at the end of the thirteenth century, was as famous as his fellow-craftsman, John Winchcomb, the warlike "Jack of Newbury," became in the days of Henry VIII. Wool was the chief source of the wealth of traders and of the revenues of the Crown. It controlled the foreign policy of England, supplied the sinews of our wars, built and adorned our churches and private houses. The foreign trade consisted partly in raw material, partly in semi-manufactured exports such as worsted yarns, partly in wholly manufactured broad-cloth. As the manufacture of worsted and cloth goods developed in this country, the demand and consumption rapidly increased at home. According to the purpose for which it was to be used, wool was divided into long and short. In England, long wool was employed mainly for worsted fabrics, but also to give strength and firmness to cloth. Abroad, it was eagerly bought in its raw state for both purposes. In long wool, or combing-wool, England had practically a monopoly of the markets, and to it the export trade of raw material was almost exclusively confined. Short wool, on the other hand, was used for broad-cloth. In its raw state it had a formidable rival abroad in the fleeces of the Spanish merino. Only in the manufactured state did it compete with Flemish and French fabrics on the Continent, and often found itself unable, owing to the excellence of merino wool and the skill of foreign weavers, to maintain its hold on the home market. Wool-staplers were the middlemen. They bought the wool from the breeder, sorted it according to its quality, and sold it to the manufacturer. Dyer, two centuries later (The Fleece (1757), bk. ii; II. 83-88 and 445-47), describes their work:
" Nimbly, with habitual speed,
They sever lock from lock, and long and short,
And soft, and rigid, pile in several heaps.
This the dusk hatter asks; another shines,
Tempting the clothier; that the hosier seeks;
The long bright look is apt for airy stuffs
If any wool, peculiar to our isle,
Is given by nature, 'tis the comber's lock,
The soft, the snow-white, and the long-grown flake."
In the long-wooled class Cotswold wool held the supremacy, with Cirencester as its centre, though the "lustres" of Lincolnshire always commanded their price. Among short-wools, Ryeland had the pre-eminence, with Leominster as the centre of its trade. "Lemster ore" was the equivalent of the "golden fleece" of the ancients, and poets compared the wool for its fineness to the web of the silk-worm, and for its softness to the cheek of a maiden.
During the Tudor period, a change was passing over the wool trade, which may have influenced the labour troubles of the period as well as the policy of land-holders. As enclosures multiplied, sheep were better fed, and the fleece increased in weight and length, though it lost something of the fineness of its quality. In other words, the wool was less adapted for the manufacture of broadcloth. The old pastures were also wearing out. During long and cold winters, if the sheep is half-starved, the fleece may retain its fineness, but it loses in strength. There also was a deterioration in the quality of short wool. How far these considerations may have influenced pasture-farming is necessarily uncertain. But it is at least a coincidence that, in spite of the increase in the number of sheep, there was, in the early years of the Tudor period, considerable distress in the clothing trade. As the reign of Elizabeth advanced, the great development of home manufactures provided a remedy. The newly established Merchant Companies opened up fresh markets abroad for English cloth. At the same time France and the Low Countries, distracted by civil or religious wars, ceased for the moment to be our rivals in the trade. English broadcloths were exported abroad in increasing quantities. The suspension of continental manufactures checked the exportation of English long wool. But again the religious troubles of the Continent relieved the situation. Foreign refugees settled in England, bringing with them secrets in the manufacture of worsted, light woollen stuffs, and hosiery, for all of which English wool was specially adapted.
Thus England was once more growing prosperous, and farming shared in the general prosperity. As the reign advanced, agricultural produce rose rapidly in price. The rise no longer depended on those fluctuations in the purity of the coinage, which had been so frequent that no man knew the real value of the coin in which he was paid. For a time the influx of silver had cheapened the precious metals, diminished their purchasing power, and so created dearness. But the great expansion of trade gradually absorbed the new supply of silver. The later rise in agricultural prices was due to the relative scarcity of produce, which was caused by the increased consumption consequent on revived prosperity, by a higher standard of living, and by a growing population. The necessary spur of profit was thus applied to farming energies. Leaseholders for a long term or for lives, and copyholders at fixed quit-rents had their golden opportunity, and many of them used it to become wealthy.
Of the general prosperity of the landowning and land-renting portion of the rural community, there is sufficient evidence. Every man, says Harrison,* turned builder, "pulled downe the old house and set up a new after his owne devise."
* Harrison, Description of England (1577), bk. ii. cc. vi. xii. xxii.
In ten years more oak was used for building than had been used in the previous hundred. Country manor-houses were built not of timber, but of brick or stone, and they were furnished with "great provision of tapistrie, Turkie work, pewter, brasse, fine linen and . . . costlie cupbords of plate." Ordinary diet had become less simple. "White-meats," --milk, butter, eggs, and cheese,--were despised by the wealthy, who preferred butcher's-meat, fish, and a "diversitie of wild and tame foules." The usual fare of the country gentleman was abundant, if not profuse. The dinner which Justice Shallow ordered for Falstaff might be quoted as an illustration. But more direct evidence may be produced. Harrison says that the everyday dinner of a country gentleman was "foure, five, or six dishes, when they have but small resort." Gervase Markham in his English Housewife gives directions for a "great feast," and for "a more humble feast, or an ordinary proportion which any good man may keep in his family, for the entertainment of his true and worthy friend." The "humble feast" includes "sixteen dishes of meat that are of substance and not emptie, or for shew." To these "sixteen full dishes," he adds "sallets, fricases, quelque choses, and devised paste, as many dishes more, which make the full service no lesse then two-and-thirtie dishes." In dress, also, the country gentry were growing more expensive, imitating the "diversities of jagges and changes of colours" of the Frenchman. Already, too, as Bishop Hall has described in his Satires, they were in the habit of deserting their country-houses for the gaiety of towns, and the "unthankful swallow" "built her circled nest" in
"The towered chimnies which should be
The windpipes of good hospitalitie."
Of the yeomen, who included not only farming owners, but lessees for lives and copyholders, Harrison says that they "commonlie live wealthilie, keepe good houses, and travell to get riches." Their houses were furnished with "costlie furniture," and they had "learned also to garnish their cupbords with plate, their joined beds with tapistrie and silke hangings, and their tables with carets and fine naperie." Though rents had risen and were still rising, "yet will the farmer thinke his gaines verie small toward the end of his terme if he have not six or seven yeares rent lieing by him, therewith to purchase a new lease, beside a faire garnish of pewter on his cupbord, three or foure featherbeds, so manie coverlids and carpets of tapistrie, a silver salt, a bowle for wine, and a dozzen of spoones to furnish up the sute." Old men noted these changes in luxurious habits--"the multitude of chimnies latelie erected," "the great amendment of lodging," and "the exchange of vessel as of treene platters into pewter and wodden spoones into silver or tin." Writing of the Cheshire yeomen in 1621, William Webb says: "In building and furniture of their houses, till of late years, they used the old manner of the Saxons; for they had their fire in the midst of the house against a hob of clay, and their oxen also under the same roof; but within these forty years it is altogether altered, so that they have built chimnies, and furnished other parts of their houses accordingly. . . . Touching their housekeeping it is bountiful and comparable with any shire in the realm. And that is to be seen at their weddings and burials, but chiefly at their wakes, which they yearly hold . . . for this is to be understood that they lay out seldom any money for any provision but have it of their own, as beef, mutton, veal, pork, capons, hens, wild fowl, and fish. They bake their own bread and brew their own drink. To conclude, I know divers men, who are but farmers, that in their housekeeping may compare with a lord or a baron in some countries beyond the seas. Yea, although I named a higher degree, I were able to justify it." In the Isle of Wight, Sir John Oglander compares the state of the country at the close of Elizabeth's reign with that at the outbreak of the Civil War. At the former period he says that "Money wase as plentiful in yeomens purses as nowe in ye beste of ye genterye, and all ye genterye full of monyes and owt of debt."
The small copyholder's house is described by Bishop Hall as being:
"Of one bay's breadth, God wot, a silly cote
Whose thatched spars are furred with sluttish soote
A whole inch thick, shining like blackmoor's brows
Through smoke that downe the headlesse barrel blows,
At his bed's feete feeden his stalled teame,
His swine beneath, his pullen o'er the beame."
The outside walls were made of timber uprights and cross-beams, forming raftered panels which were thickly daubed with clay. But the fare which the small copyholder enjoyed was at least as plentiful as that of landless labourers in modern times. In one of the Elizabethan pastoral poems a noble huntsman finds shelter under a shepherd's roof. The food, even if something is allowed for Arcadian licence, was good, though, in the language of the day, it consisted mainly of "white meat." The guest was supplied with the best his host could provide:
"Browne bread, whig, bacon, curds, and milks,
Were set him on the borde."
Fresh butcher's meat was rarely seen on the table. Of the "Martylmas beef," hung from the rafters and smoked, Andrew Borde thought little. If, he says, a man have a piece hanging by his side and another in his belly, the piece which hangs by his side does him more good, especially if it is rainy weather. Bacon, souse, and brawn were the peasant's meat. "Potage," Borde elsewhere writes, "is not so moch used in all Crystendom as it is used in England." It was part of the staple diet of the peasant, whether made of the liquor in which meat had been boiled, thickened with oatmeal, and flavoured with chopped herbs and salt, or made from beans or pease. Oatmeal, porridge, and "fyrmente," made of milk and wheat, were largely used. His bread was generally made of wheat and rye, often mixed, as Best states, with pease--a peck of pease to a bushel of rye, or two pecks of pease to the same quantity of rye and wheat. Even "horse-bread," as Borde calls it, made of pease and beans, was better than the mixture of acorns which Harrison says was eaten in times of dearth. Yet the husbandman had his feastings, such as "bridales, purifications of women and such od meetings, where it is incredible to tell what meat is consumed and spent."
The prosperity of the rural community was not universal. For many of the smaller gentry, and for day-labourers for hire, times were hard. Landowners, whose income was more or less stationary, suffered from the rise in prices, accompanied, as it was, by a higher standard of luxury. When leases fell in, or lives were renewed, or copyholders were admitted, rents might be increased or fines enhanced. But in an extravagant age, when country gentlemen began to be attracted to London, such opportunities, if the tenants belonged to a healthy stock, might come too rarely or too late. Many owners were compelled to sell their estates. Land was often in the market. Thus two opposing tendencies characterised the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The division of church lands among grantees who already owned estates strengthened the landed aristocracy, while continual sales democratised the ownership of land. It is said that only 330 families can trace their titles to land beyond the dissolution of the monasteries. In the two centuries that followed, few of the gentry retained their hold on their estates, unless they were enriched by wealthy marriages, by trade, or by the practice of the law. The buyers generally belonged to the rising middle classes. Harrison, in his Description of England, says that yeomen, "for the most part farmers to gentlemen," by attention to their business "do come to great welth in somuch that manie of them are able and doo buie the lands of unthriftie gentlemen." Fynes Moryson, in his Itinerary (1617) notes that the English "doe . . daily sell their patrimonies, and the buyers (excepting Lawyers) are for the most part Citizens and vulgar Men." Sir Simon Degge (1669), a learned lawyer, declares that in Staffordshire, during the past sixty years, half the land had passed into the possession of new men. He attributes this change of ownership, partly to divine punishment for the sacrilege of those who were grantees of ecclesiastical property, partly to the extravagance of the country gentry who now took pleasure in spending their estates in London. He makes these comments on Erdeswick's Survey of Staffordshire, drawn up between 1593 and 1603, and goes on to say that there were then in the county only "three citizen owners" of land, and that now, in 1669, there were three Barons, four Baronets, and twenty calling themselves Esquires who had bought estates with money made in trade. Similar is the evidence of the compiler of Angliae Notitia (1669). "The English," he says, "especially the Gentry are so much given to Prodigality and Slothfulness that Estates are oftner spent and sold than in any other Countrey . . . whereby it comes to passe that Cooks, Vintners, Innkeepers, and such mean Fellows, enrich themselves and begger and insult over the Gentry . . . not only those but Taylors, Dancing Masters and such Trifling Fellows arrive to that Riches and Pride, as to ride in their Coaches, keep their Summer Houses, to be served in Plate, etc. an insolence insupportable in other well-govern'd Nations."
Another class, that of labourers, suffered from the dearness of agricultural produce, because their wages were fixed by law, and only by slow degrees followed the upward tendency of prices. In some respects the worst evils of the period 1485-1558 were passing away, or were modified by the expansion of trade. Enclosures still continued. Acts of Parliament were still passed against the decaying of towns and against the substitution of pasture for tillage, and one of the most vehement of protests against enclosures, was made by Francis Trigge, in 1604. But land was now more frequently enclosed for arable farming, and there was consequently less displacement of labour. The great extension of gardens attached to country houses provided new occupations. Industries like spinning, weaving, and rope-making, which were previously confined to particular towns by the craft-organisations of guilds, spread into rural districts, and employed villagers in supplying not merely their domestic wants but the needs of manufacturers. Agriculturally, a change was taking place in the labourer's condition. For the cultivation of the soil, farmers, except in the North and East, looked less to servants in husbandry and more to the day-labourers, whose wages assumed a new importance in the assessments of the Justices of the Peace. As the prices of agricultural produce rose, and as, here and there, the improvement of roads brought new markets within the reach of farmers, it was cheaper to pay wages to hired labourers than to board agricultural servants, especially if, as Tusser says, they required roast meat on Sundays and Thursdays. Free labour, sometimes, but not invariably, still associated with the occupation of land, was becoming in the southern and midland counties the chief agent in cultivating the soil. Where enclosures were fewest, the largest number of labourers supplemented their wages by the profits of their land, their rights of common, and their goose-runs. Where enclosures were most extensive, those labourers were most numerous who were dependent only on their labour-power. Apparently there was difficulty in lodging this increasing class of landless labourers, and an attempt was made to use existing cottages as tenement houses. The Government endeavoured to check these tendencies by legislation. Not more than one family was allowed to occupy each cottage, and to every cottage four acres of land were to be attached.
But the most important attempt to regulate the labour-market was the Statute of Apprentices (1563). This industrial code "touching divers orders for artificers, labourers, servants of husbandry, and apprentices" deals with labour in the towns as well as in the country. It was framed, partly as a consolidating Act, partly because, as the Preamble states, the allowances limited in previous legislation had, owing to the advance in prices, become too small. It was passed in the hope that its administration would "banish idleness, advance husbandry, and yield unto the hired person both in the time of scarcity and in the time of plenty a convenient proportion of wages." It proceeds on the old lines that men could be compelled to work. But it contemplates a minimum wage at the rates current in the district, establishes a working day for summer and winter, and endeavours to provide for technical instruction by a system of apprenticeship. Any person between the age of twelve and sixty, not excepted by the Statute, could be compelled to labour in husbandry. All engagements, except those for piecework, were to be for one year. Masters unduly dismissing servants were fined. Servants unduly leaving masters were imprisoned. No servant could leave the locality where he was last employed without a certificate of lawful departure. Hours of labour were twelve hours in the summer and during daylight in winter. Wages were to be annually fixed by the Justices of the Peace, after considering the circumstances, in consultation with "such grave and discreet persons as they shall think meet." No higher wages than those settled under the assessment were to be given, or received, under severe penalties. At harvest time, artificers and persons "meet to labour" might be compelled to serve at the mowing or "inning" of hay and corn. Persons over twelve and under eighteen might be taken as apprentices in husbandry and compelled to serve till the age of twenty-one. By agreement the age might be extended to twenty-four.
Under the provisions of this Statute agricultural labourers and servants were engaged annually. Shortly before Martinmas, the chief constable of the division sent out notices that he would sit at a certain town or village on a given day, and required the petty constables to attend with lists of the masters and servants in their districts. At the appointed place and time the chief constable met his subordinates and the masters: the servants also assembled, all "cladde," as Henry Best describes them (Rural Economy in Yorkshire in 1641, being the Farming and account Books of Henry Best), "in their best apparrell," in the market square, the churchyard, or some other public place. The chief constable took the lists, called each master in turn according to the entries, and asked him whether he was willing to set such and such a servant at liberty. If the master replied in the negative, the constable stated what were the wages fixed by the Justices, received a penny fee from the master, and bound the servant for a second term of a year. If the answer was in the affirmative, the constable received from the servant a fee of twopence, and gave him his certificate of lawful departure. Meanwhile masters who wished to hire labourers, whether men or women, walked about among the assembled crowd in order to choose likely-looking servants. When a master had made his choice, his first enquiry was whether the man was at liberty. If the servant had his ticket, the master took him aside, and asked where he was born, where he was last employed, and what he could do. Best once heard the answer:
"I can sowe,
I can mowe,
And I can stacke,
And I can doe
My master too,
When my master turner his backe."
If the last employer was present at the sitting, he was sought out, and asked whether the man-servant was "true and trustie . . . gentle and quiett . . . addicted to company-keepinge or noe," or whether the woman-servant was a good milker, not "of a sluggish and sleepie disposition for dainger of fire." Then followed the bargaining for wages. Sometimes the servant asked for a " godspenny " on striking the bargain, "or an old suite, a payre of breeches, an olde hatte, or a payre of shoes; and mayde servants to have an apron, smocke, or both." Sometimes it was a condition to have so many sheep wintered and summered with the master's flock, and to have the twopence which was paid for the certificate refunded before handing over the ticket to the new master. Once hired, the servant could not leave the master, nor the master dismiss the servant, without a quarter's warning. In Yorkshire a servant liked to come to a new place on Tuesday or Thursday. Monday was counted an unlucky day, and the proverb ran
Farming annals are comparatively silent as to the conditions in which day-labourers for hire lived in the reign of Elizabeth. But in one respect, as has been said, they undoubtedly shared the general prosperity. Though their wages remained low, and only fitfully rose as the purchasing power of money declined, they were more secure of employment. In the increased demand for labour resulting from improved methods of agriculture lay their best hopes for the future. It is probable that the decay and ultimate dissolution of the monasteries had for the time inflicted a heavy blow on the development of agriculture as an art. To English farming in the early centuries the monks were what capitalist landlords became in the eighteenth century. They were the most scientific farmers of the day: they had access to the practical learning of the ancients; their intercourse with their brethren abroad gave them opportunities of benefiting by foreign experience which were denied to their lay contemporaries. Already, however, there were signs that their places as pioneers would be occupied. Throughout Europe agricultural literature was commencing, and writers were at work urging upon farmers the improved methods which enclosure revealed to them. In Italy Tarello and the translators of Crescentius, in the Low Countries Heresbach, in France Charles Estienne and Bernard Palissy, in England Fitzherbert and Tusser, wrote upon farming. It was not long before the gentry began to pay attention to agriculture. As Michel de l'Hôpital solaced his exile with a farm at Etampes, so Sir Richard Weston in the reign of Charles I., and Townshend in that of George II., occupied their leisure in farming, and in their retirement conferred greater benefits on the well-being of England than they had ever done by their political activities.
Up to the sixteenth century Walter of Henley's farming treatise had held the field. Now it was superseded. In 1523 appeared the Boke of Husbandrye, "compyled," as Berthelet says in his edition of 1534, "sometyme by mayster FitzHerbarde, of Charytie and good zele that he bare to the weale of this moost noble realme, whiche he dydde not in his youthe, but after he had exercysed husbandry with greate experyence XL yeres." In the same year was also printed, by the same author, the Boke of Surveyinge and Improvements. The Book of Husbandry is a minutely practical work on farming, written by a man familiar with the Peak of Derbyshire and by a horsebreeder on a large scale who possessed "60 mares or more." The Book of Surveying is a treatise on the relations of landlord and tenant and on the best methods of developing an estate. Only an experienced farmer could have written the first; the second required no greater acquaintance with law than might be acquired by a shrewd landowner in the administration of an estate. The authorship of the two books has been claimed for Anthony Fitzherbert, who was knighted in 1521-2 on becoming a Justice of the Common Pleas, and also for his elder brother John Fitzherbert. It is difficult to credit the Judge--immersed in judicial and political duties, and absorbed in the composition of legal works--with the practical knowledge of farming displayed in the Book of Husbandry. It is much less difficult to imagine that John Fitzherbert should combine minute experience of agricultural details with a sufficient knowledge of law to write the Book of Surveying. At any rate, the Book of Husbandry became, and for more than half a century remained, a standard work on English farming.
Thirty-four years later appeared Thomas Tusser's Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie (1557). The work was afterwards expanded into Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie, united to as many Good Pointes of Huswifery (1573). Like Fitzherbert, Tusser was a champion of enclosures, and his evidence is the more valuable because he was not only an Essex man, a Suffolk and a Norfolk farmer, but began to write when the agitation against enclosures in the eastern counties was at its height. His own life proved the difficulty of combining practice with science, or farming with poetry. "He spread his bread," says Fuller, "with all sorts of butter, yet none would ever stick thereon." He was successively "a musician, schoolmaster, serving-man, husbandman, grazier, poet-more skilful in all than thriving in his vocation." To the present generation he is little more than a name. But his doggerel poems are a rich storehouse of proverbial wisdom, and of information respecting the rural life, domestic economy, and agricultural practices of our Elizabethan ancestors. His work was repeatedly reprinted. It is also often quoted by subsequent writers, as, for example, by Henry Best in his Farming Book (1641), by Walter Blith in his English Improver Improved (1649), and by Worlidge in the Systems Agriculturae (1668-9). The practical parts of the poem were edited in 1710 by David Hillman under the title of Tusser Redivivus, with a commentary which continually contrasts Elizabethan practices with those of farmers in the reign of Queen Anne. When Lord Molesworth in 1723 proposed the foundation of agricultural schools, he advised that Tusser's "Five hundred points of good husbandry" should be "taught to the boys to read, to copy and get by heart."
From the pages of Fitzherbert and Tusser may be gathered a picture of Tudor agriculture at the time when Elizabeth came to the throne. But even in this literature, which probably represents the most progressive theory and practice of farming, it is difficult to trace any important change, still less any distinct advance on thirteenth century methods. Here and there, on the contrary, there are signs that farmers had gone backwards instead of forwards. Agricultural implements remained unaltered. Ploughs were still the same heavy, cumbrous instruments, though several varieties are mentioned as adapted to the different soils of the country. But Fitzherbert was familiar with the same device for regulating the depth and breadth of furrows, which was one of the most notable improvements in the eighteenth century ploughs. Oxen were still preferred to horses for ploughing purposes by both Fitzherbert and Tusser. Iron was more used in the construction of ploughs; both share and coulter were more generally of iron, and the latter was well steeled. Iron also entered more largely into the building of waggons. Instead of the broad wheels made entirely of wood, Fitzherbert recommends narrower wheels, bound with iron, as more lasting and lighter in the draught. So long as artificial grasses and roots were unknown, the farmer's year necessarily remained the same--its calendar of seasonable operations regulated by the recurrence of saints' days and festivals, and controlled by a belief in planetary influences as unscientific as that of Old Moore or Zadkiel. Since the Middle Ages, the only addition to agricultural resources had been hops, introduced into the eastern counties from Flanders at the end of the fifteenth century. The date 1524, which is usually given for their introduction, is too late; so also is the rhyme, of which there are several variations
"Hops, reformation, bays, and beer,
Came into England all in one year."
Hops were apparently unknown in 1523 to Fitzherbert in Derbyshire; but in 1552 they were sufficiently important to be made the subject of special legislation by Edward VI. In Tusser's day they were extensively cultivated in Suffolk. On enclosed land their cultivation rapidly increased. Harrison (1577) questions whether any better are to be found than those grown in England. Reginald Scot, himself a man of Kent, published his Perfite Platforme of a Hoppe Garden in 1574, with minute instructions for the growing, picking, drying and packing of hops. The book was reprinted in 1575, and again in 1576. It was still the standard work in 1651. In Hartlib's Legacie it is called "an excellent Treatise, to the which little or nothing hath been added, though the best part of an hundred years are since past."
Fitzherbert starts his Book of Husbandry with the month of January. But Tusser begins his farmer's year at Michaelmas as the usual date of entry. Both writers note that an open-field farmer entered by custom on his fallows on the preceding Lady-Day, in order that he might get or keep them in good heart for his autumn sowing. As the Julian Calendar was still in force, the dates are twelve days earlier than they would be under the present Gregorian Calendar. Even with this difference, few farmers of to-day would accept Tusser's advice to sow oats and barley in January; they would be more likely to agree with Fitzherbert that the beginning of March is soon enough. All wheat and rye were sown in the autumn,--from August onwards,--and the heaviest grain was selected for seed by means of the casting shovel. Neither of the writers speak of spring wheat, possibly because the preparation for it would not fit in with the rigid rules of open-field farming; but both mention other varieties in the three corn crops. Fitzherbert thinks that red wheat, sprot barley, and red oats are the best, and peck wheat, bere barley, and rough oats the worst varieties. Mixed crops were popular, such as dredge, or barley and oats; bolymong, or oats, pease, and vetches; and wheat and rye. As to the mixed sowing of wheat and rye, the authors differ. Probably their respective experiences in Derbyshire and Suffolk diverged. Fitzherbert advises that wheat and rye should be sown together, as the blend makes the safest crop and the best for the husbandman's household; but he recommends that white wheat be chosen because it is the quickest to arrive at maturity. He was therefore no believer in the slowness of rye to ripen. Tusser, on the other hand, condemns the practice of sowing the two corns together because of the slow maturity of rye as compared with the relative rapidity of wheat. If they are to be blended, he says, let it be done by the miller. The seed was to be covered in as soon as possible. On the time-honoured question whether rooks are greater malefactors than benefactors,--whether they prefer grubs and worms to grain,--neither writer has any doubt. Both give their verdict against the bird, in the spirit of the legislation of their day. As soon as the corn is in, says Fitzherbert, it should be harrowed, or "croues, doues, and other Byrdes wyll eate and beare away the cornes." Tusser advises that girls should be armed with slings, and boys with bows, "to scare away pigeon, the rook, and the crow." Both writers urge the preparation of a fine tilth for barley,--in rural phrase "as fine as an ant-hill,"--and advise that it should be rolled. Tusser recommends that wheat should also be rolled, if the land is sufficiently dry. For seeding, Fitzherbert adopts the mediaeval rule of two bushels of wheat and rye to the acre. All seeds were scattered broadcast by the hand from the hopper. Neither writer mentions the dibbing of beans, though that useful practice had been introduced by thirteenth century farmers. For barley, oats, and "codware," Fitzherbert recommends a thicker seeding than was practised in mediaeval farming. The best yield per acre is obtained from moderate or thin sowing. But it has been suggested that Elizabethan farmers more often allowed their land to become foul, and that crops were more thickly sown in the hope of saving them from being smothered. The suggestion is perhaps confirmed by the space which Fitzherbert devotes to weeds, and by his careful description of the most noxious plants. At harvest, wheat and rye were generally cut with the sickle, and barley and oats were mown with the scythe. Fitzherbert advises that corn ricks should be built on scaffolds and not on the ground. In the eighteenth century the advice was still given and still unheeded.
In their treatment of drainage and manure, neither author makes any advance on mediaeval practice. To prevent excessive wetness, both advise a water-furrow to be drawn across the ridges on the lowest part of the land; but neither describes the shallow drains, filled with stones, and covered in with turf, which were familiar to farmers in the Middle Ages. Mole-heaps, if carefully spread, are not an unmixed evil. But when Tusser champions the mole as a useful drainer of wet pastures, it is evident that the science of draining was yet unborn. In choice of manure, neither writer appears to command the resources of his ancestors. The want of fertilising agencies was then, and may even now prove to be, one of the obstacles to small holdings. At the present day the small cultivator can, if he has money enough, buy chemical manures, and, unlike his Elizabethan ancestor, he no longer uses his straw or the dung of his cattle as fuel. But when chemical manures were unknown, it was imperatively necessary to employ all natural fertilisers. Fitzherbert does indeed deplore the disappearance of the practice of marling. But Tusser does not mention the value of marl, lime, chalk, soot, or town refuse, all of which were used in the Middle Ages, and it is doubtful whether mediaeval farmers followed his practice of rotting straw in pits filled with water, or of carting manure on to the land and leaving it in heaps for a month before it was spread or ploughed in. One new practice, and that a miserable one, is recommended. It is suggested that buck-wheat should be sown and ploughed in, in order to enrich the soil. (Arthur Standish, writing in 1611, says that straw and dung were used as fuel (The Commons Complaint, p. 2), and Markham (Enrichment of the Weald of Kent ) shows the antiquity of the practice of marling by saying that trees of 200 or 300 years old may be seen in "innumerable" spent marl-pits.)
Both Tusser and Fitzherbert advise that on open-field land the sheep should be folded from May to early in September. But Fitzherbert believed that folding fostered the scab. Among the practical advantages of enclosures which he urges is the opportunity that they afforded to farmers of dispensing with the common fold, saving the fees to the common shepherd and the cost of hurdles and stakes, and keeping their flocks in better health. June was the month for shearing. Fitzherbert recommends that sheep should be carefully washed before they were shorn, "the which shall be to the owner greate profyte" in the sale of his wool. Probably the modern farmer has found that his unwashed wool at a greater weight but a lower price is worth as much as his washed wool at less weight and a higher price. Fitzherbert considers sheep to be "the most profitable cattle that any man can have." But, until the introduction of turnips, the true value of sheep on arable land could not be realised. Hence the two branches of farming, which are now combined with advantage to both the sheep farmer and the corn-grower, were entirely dissevered. Until clover, artificial grasses, turnips, swedes, mangolds took their place among the ordinary crops for which arable land was cultivated, no farmer experienced the full truth of the saying that the foot of the sheep turns sand into gold. The practice of milking ewes still continued. Fitzherbert condemns it; but Tusser, though he notices the injurious results, weakens the effect of his warning by promising that five ewes will give as much milk as one cow. Neither Fitzherbert nor Tusser has anything to say on the improvement of breeds of cattle for the special purposes that they serve. The "general utility" animal was still their ideal. Yet the root of the matter is in Fitzherbert, when he says that a man cannot thrive by corn unless he have live-stock, and that the man who tries to keep livestock without corn is either "a buyer, a borrower, or a beggar." If once the difficulty of winter keep could be solved, here was the secret of mixed husbandry realised, and the truth of the maxim verified that a full bullock yard makes a full stack-yard. On horses and horse-dealing Fitzherbert is full of shrewdness. He defines the horse-master, the "corser" and the "horse leche." "And whan these three be mette," he dryly observes, "if yeh adde a poty-carye to make the fourthe, ye myghte have suche foure, that it were harde to truste the best of them."
The times at which Fitzherbert and Tusser respectively wrote give special interest to their championship of enclosures. As has been already noticed, both wrote when the agitation against the progress of the movement was at its height, and Tusser was familiar with the eastern counties at the moment of Kett's insurrection in Norfolk. As practical farmers both writers insist on the evils of the open-field system; but it fell within the province of neither to criticise the tyrannical proceedings by which those evils were often remedied. They rather dwell on the superior yield of enclosed lands, and on the obstacles to successful farming presented by open-fields-the perpetual disputes, the damage to crops, the waste of land by the multitude of drift-ways, the cost of swineherds, cowherds, and shepherds who were employed as human fences to the corn and meadows. Incidentally also they reveal many practical difficulties of the open-field farmer in ploughing and draining. During the winter months, he was obliged to bring his live-stock in sooner, keep them longer, and feed them at greater cost, than his neighbour on enclosed land. For winter keep, when his hay and straw were running out, he had nothing to rely on but "browse" or treeloppings. In rearing live-stock he was heavily handicapped. Unless he had pasture of his own, he was forced to time his lambs to fall towards the middle of March. Hence the proverb
"At St. Luke's day (Oct. 18, Greg. Cal.)
Let tup have play."
Thus he risked losing lambs because the common shepherd had too much on his hands at once; his lambs lost a month on the meadow before it was put up for hay; and the owner missed the profits of an early sale at Helenmas (May 21), and had to sell, if he sold at all, at the same time as all other open-field farmers. The same restrictions hampered him in rearing calves. He could not afford to keep the cow and calf in the winter; therefore he was obliged to time the calf to come after Candlemas.
These and other disadvantages convinced practical agriculturists of the inferiority of the open-field system. Experience was in favour of enclosures. Fitzherbert points to the prosperity of Essex as an example of the advantage of enclosures. The author of the Compendious or Briefe Examination says that "the countries where most enclosures be are most wealthie, as Essex, Kent, Devenshire." So also Tusser compares " champion " (open) counties, like Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, with "enclosed" counties, like Essex and Suffolk and says that the latter have
"More plenty of mutton and biefe,
Come, butter, and cheese of the best,
More wealth anywhere, to be briefe
More people, more handsome and prest. . . ."
The proverbial expression "Suffolk stiles" seems to point to the early extinction of open-fields. Norden in his Essex Described (1594) calls the county the "Englishe Goshen, the fattest of the Lande; comparable to Palestina, that flowed with milke and hunnye." So "manie and sweete" were the "commodeties" of Essex, that they compensated for the "moste cruell quarterne fever" which he caught among its low-lying lands. Every practical argument that could be pleaded against open-field farms in the days of Henry VIII. or Elizabeth might be urged against the system with treble force from the end of the eighteenth century onwards, when farming had grown more scientific, when new crops had been introduced, when drainage had been reduced to a science, and when, under the pressure of a rapidly increasing population, farms were becoming factories of bread and meat.
Enclosures undoubtedly assisted farming progress. Before the end of the reign the effect of the movement, combined with increased facilities of communication, is distinctly visible. Under the spur which individual occupation and better markets gave to enterprise, "the soil," as Harrison says, "had growne to be more fruitful, and the countryman more painful, more careful, and more skilful for recompense of gain." Increased attention was paid to manuring. In Cornwall, farmers rode many miles for sand and brought it home on horseback; sea-weed was extensively used in South Wales; in Sussex, lime was fetched from a distance at heavy expense; in Hertfordshire, the sweepings of the streets were bought up for use on the land. The yield of corn per acre was rising. On the well-tilled and dressed acre, we are told that wheat now averaged twenty bushels, and that barley sometimes rose to thirty-two bushels, and oats and beans to forty bushels. The improvement of pastures is shown in the increased size and weight of live-stock. The average dead weight of sheep and cattle in 1500 probably did not exceed 28 lbs. and 320 lbs. respectively. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the dead weight of the oxen and sheep supplied to the Prince of Wales's household was no doubt exceptional; but the difference is considerable. "An ox should weigh 600 lbs. the four quarters . . . a mutton should weigh 46 lbs. or 44 lbs." A new incentive to improvement in arable farming and stockrearing was supplied by the lower price of wool, consequent partly on over-production, partly on deterioration in quality. This deterioration was in some cases the result of enclosures. The wool was sacrificed to the mutton, and the demand for butcher's meat was not yet sufficient to make the sacrifice profitable. When English wool first came into the Flemish market, it was distinguished for its fineness, and sold at a higher rate than its Spanish rival. It was indispensable for the foreign weaver. The best fleeces were those of the Ryeland or Herefordshire sheep, for which Leominster was the principal market. In the days of Skelton, Elynour Rummynge, ale-wife of Leatherhead, had no enviable reputation; but when her customers made a payment in kind, she was a shrewd judge of its value
"Some fill their pot full
Of good Lemster wool."
Drayton's Dowsabel had a "skin as soft as Lemster wool." Rabelais makes Panurge cheapen the flock of Ding-dong; and when the latter descants upon the fineness of their wool, the English translator (Motteux, 1717) compares them to the quality of "Lemynster wool." From the preamble to a statute of the reign of James I. (4 Jac. I. c. 2.) it would seem that Ryeland flocks were cotted all the year. The second price was fetched by Cotswold wool. The sheep that are kept on downs, heaths and commons produce the finest, though not the heaviest, fleeces. It was the experience of Virgil:
"Si tibi lanicium curse, . . . fuge pabula laeta."
In the same sense wrote Dyer
"On spacious airy downs, and gentle hills,
With grass and thyme o'erspread, and clover wild,
The fairest flocks rejoice!"
As the commons and wastes of England began to be extensively enclosed, the quality of the fleece deteriorated. Heavier animals--better suited to fat enclosed pastures, and producing coarser wool--were introduced. English wool lost its pre-eminence abroad; and, though still commanding high prices, was no longer indispensable for foreign weavers. The loss was to a great extent counterbalanced by increased consumption at home. But, at the time, the decrease in value was at least as influential in checking the conversion of arable land to pasture as were Acts of Parliament.
Open-field farms were not as yet such obstacles to agricultural progress as they became after the discovery of new resources and new rotations of crops which could only be utilised to full advantage on enclosed lands. But already these new sources of wealth were in sight. The great difficulties in the way of mediaeval and Tudor farmers were want of winter keep and lack of means to maintain or restore the fertility of exhausted soils. In the agricultural literature of Elizabeth the remedy for both is dimly suggested.
In 1577 appeared Foure Bookes of Husbandry, to which Barnaby Googe, a better poet than Tusser, gave his name. The work was a translation of Heresbach, with 16 additional pages by the translator. Googe mentions Fitzherbert or Tusser as writers worthy to be ranked with "Varro, Columella, and Palladius of Rome"; advises agriculturists to read "Maister Reynolde Scot's booke of Hoppe Gardens"; and quotes an imposing list of "Aucthors and Husbandes whose aucthorities and observations are used in this book." By this reference he does not necessarily mean that all the men whose names he mentions had written books on farming, but rather that he had consulted those who were reputed to be most skilful in its practice. In other words, there were already agriculturists, like "Capt. Byngham," "John Somer," "Richard Deeryng," "Henry Denys," or "William Pratte," whose methods were an object lesson to their less advanced neighbours. Googe's book has been despised because it was "made in Germany." But in this fact lies its chief value. The farming of the Low Countries was better than the farming of England, and Googe gives English agriculturists the benefit of foreign experience. He is the first writer to mention a reaping machine--"a lowe kinde of carre with a couple of wheeles and the frunt armed with sharpe syckles, whiche, forced by the beaste through the corne, did cut down al before it." He insists on the extreme importance of manure, and the value of marl, chalk, and ashes. But he does not consider that farmers can thrive by manure alone. On the contrary, he thinks that "the best doung for ground is the Maister's foot, and the best provender for the house the Maister's eye." He also gives a caution against the persistent use of chalk, because, in the end, it "brings the grounde to be starke nought, whereby the common people have a speache, that grounde enriched with chalke makes a riche father and a beggerly sonne." He mentions the use of rape in the Principality of Cleves, a valuable suggestion whether for green-manuring, for the oil in its seeds, or for use as fodder for sheep. He commends "Trefoil or Burgundian grass," which he believes to be of Moorish origin and Spanish introduction, for "there can be no better fodder devised for cattell." He says that turnips have been found in the Low Countries to be good for live-stock, and that, if sown at Midsummer, they will be ready for winter food. In English gardens turnips were already known. They appear under the name of " turnepez" among "Rotys for a gardyn" in a fifteenth century book of cookery recipes; Andrew Borde (Dietary, ch. xix.,1542) recommends them "boyled and eaten with flesshe"; William Turner, the herbalist, mentions that "the great round rape called a turnepe groweth in very great plenty in all Germany and more about London then in any other place of England": Tusser classes them among "roots to boil and to butter"; but Googe, though only as a translator, was the first writer to suggest that field cultivation of turnips which revolutionised English farming.
Another Elizabethan writer makes the first attempt to combine science with practice. Sir Hugh Plat was an ingenious inventor, and, as Sir Richard Weston calls him, "the most curious man of his time." He devotes the second part of his Jewell House of Art and Nature (1594) to the scienfitic manuring of arable and pasture land. Manure presents itself to his poetic mind as a Goddess with a Cornucopia in her hand. If land, he says, is perpetually cropped, the earth is robbed of her vegetative salt, and ceases to bear. The object, therefore, of the wise husbandman must be to restore this essential element of fertility. His list of manurial substances is long. He recommends not only farm-yard dung, but marl, lime, street refuse, the subsoil of ponds and "watrie bottomes," salt, ashes from the burning of stubble, weeds, and bracken; the hair of beasts, malt dust, soap-ashes, putrified pilchards, garbage of fish, blood offal and the entrails of animals. He warns farmers of the difficulty in discovering the right proportion of marl to lay on different sorts of soil. He condemns the waste of the richest properties of farm-yard manure, and recommends the use of covers to all pits used for its accumulation. He himself used a barn roof at his farm at St. Albans, which moved up and down on upright supports, so that the muck-heap could be raised, yet always remain under cover. In his Arte of setting of Corne (1600) he advocates dibbing as superior to broadcast sowing. He traces the origin of the practice to the accident of a silly wench, who deposited some seeds of wheat in holes intended for carrots. He goes so far as to say that, by dibbing, the average yield of wheat per acre would be raised from 4 quarters to 15 quarters!
The growth of an agricultural literature, as well as Googe's list of notable authorities, suggest that landowners were beginning to interest themselves in corn and cattle. Probably their taste for farming was encouraged by the fashionable love for horticulture. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries both had declined: in the Tudor age both revived. The garden was the precursor of the home-farm. In the reign of Elizabeth, gardening became one of the pursuits and pleasures of English country life. The art was loved by Bacon; it was patronised by Burghley and Walsingham; it gathered round it a rich literature; it claimed the services of explorers and builders of Empire like Sir Walter Raleigh. Tudor architects used pleasure gardens to carry on and support the lines of their main buildings, and even repeated the patterns of their mural decorations in the geometrical "Knots" of their flower borders; but they banished kitchen gardens out of sight. The cultivation of vegetables made less progress than that of flowers and fruits. This useful side of horticulture, like farming, was as yet comparatively neglected by the Tudor gentry. But an advance was made. The first step was to recover lost ground. In order to flatter Elizabeth, Harrison probably exaggerated the disuse of vegetables before the accession of her father. He over-states his case when he says that garden-produce, which before was treated as fit for hogs and savage beasts, now supplied not only food for the "poore commons" but "daintie dishes at the tables of delicate merchants, gentlemen, and the nobilitie." It was doubtless true that the art of gardening, like that of farming, had declined during the period which preceded Tudor times. Yet in the decadent fifteenth century, rape, carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbages, leeks, onions, garlic, as well as numerous "Herbes for Potage," and "Herbes for a salade" appeared in a book on gardens, (The Feate of Gardeninge, by Mayster Ion Gardener, printed in Archaeotogia, vol. liv., with a glossary by Mrs. Evelyn Cecil) or in the recipes of cookery books. On the other hand, it is said that, in the reign of Henry VIII., Queen Catherine was provided with salads from Flanders, because none could be furnished at home, and that onions and cabbages, known in the reign of Henry III. and praised by Piers Plowman, were in the first part of the fifteenth century imported from the Low Countries. Now, however, in the reign of Henry VIII. and onwards, gardening, as Fuller says, began to creep out of Holland into England. In Shakespeare's day, it may be remembered that potatoes as yet only "rained from the sky" and that Anne Page would rather
"be set quick i' the earth,
And bowled to death with turnips,"
than marry the wrong man. Sandwich became famous for its carrots, and in the neighbourhood of Fulham, and along the Suffolk coast, gardens were laid out in which vegetables were extensively cultivated. In rich men's gardens potatoes found a place after 1585, though for some years to come, they were regarded, and sold, as luxuries. Here then were accumulating new sources of future advance in farming. Yet progress must have been slow. Robert Child, writing anonymously on the "Deficiencies" of agriculture in 1651, (Hartlib's Legacie, pp. 11-12) says: "Some old men in Surrey, where it (the Art of Gardening) flourisheth very much at present, report, That they knew the first Gardeners that came into those parts, to plant Cabages, Colleflowers, and to sowe Turneps, Carrets, and Parsnips, and to sowe Raith [early] Pease, all of which at that time were great rarities, we having few, or none in England, but what came from Holland and Flaunders." He goes on to say that he could name "places, both in the North and West of England, where the name of Gardening and Howing is scarcely knowne, in which places a few Gardiners might have saved the lives of many poor people, who have starved these dear years."