English Economy and Society at the End of the Anglo-Saxon Era

An essay by Raymond Makewell


This essay is one of a series revisiting the Economic and Social History of England since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. The two previous essays have examined aspects of the Anglo-Saxon world. Some of the concepts to be discussed here are dealt with in more detail in the earlier essays.

The Domesday Book makes three valuations of estates found by the assessors as they toured the country in 1087. Valuations are based on the actual or estimated revenue that an estate could earn at farm.[1] Farming in Anglo-Saxon times was when the landholder gained an income from his estate by renting it, wholly or in parts, instead of cultivating it himself. The first was an estimate of the value during the reign of Edward the Confessor (died 5th January, 1066), the second, the value shortly after the invasion at the end of 1066, and the third, the current value. This method has provided a useful basis on which to consider the wider economic and social issues in the three essays which follow. The first will describe the situation at the end of the Anglo-Saxon era, the second the changes that resulted from the Norman invasion, and the last progressive developments up to the time of the Black Death in 1348.

[1] Words in Italics in this essay are Anglo-Saxon words, or words used for their meaning in the period discussed.

The England that Duke William of Normandy conquered was an old country. The Anglo-Saxons had quite early laid out the framework of rural England largely as we know it today, but with substantial areas of unused land – waste or forest[1] – within settled territories. There were large expanses of high moor, fen, woodland and around Kent, the Sussex coast, the Somerset Levels, along the Humber estuary, the lower Ouse, the Wash and the Vale of Pickering there were extensive marshlands. The highlands above say 900 – 1,000ft included many woodlands. Despite the quadrupling of the population from approximately five hundred thousand shortly after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, less than one hundred towns can be identified in the Domesday survey and of these, only thirty-two have populations of more than one thousand, and seven of more than four thousand.[2] The habitable area of England seemed fully occupied but the vitality that had led the Angles and Saxons to burst out of Europe and overwhelm the land of England was gone.

Fifty years before the arrival of the Normans, Archbishop Wulfstan,[3] delivered a sermon bemoaning the state of the English nation. “(4) … the Devil” he said, “has now led this nation astray for very many years … (5) … daily one evil is piled upon another, and injustices committed and many violations of law all … throughout this entire land.” The result of which he describes as being that “(25) Nothing has prospered now for a long time either at home or abroad, but there has been military devastation and hunger, burning and bloodshed in nearly every district time and again. (26) And stealing and slaying, plague and pestilence, murrain and disease, malice and hate, and the robbery by robbers have injured us very terribly. (27) And excessive taxes have afflicted us, and storms have very often caused failure of crops; therefore in this land there have been, as it may appear, many years now of injustices and unstable loyalties everywhere among men. …”.

There are many other sources which support Wulfstan’s observations. The entry in Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1000 says, for instance, “This year the king went into Cumberland and nearly laid waste the whole of it with his army …” and for 1001, “This year there was great commotion in England in consequence of an invasion by the Danes who spread terror and devastation wheresoever they went, plundering and burning and desolating the country with such rapidity …”. Barely a year passes between the turn of the millennium and the Norman conquest for which the chronicler does not record some socially or economically disastrous event in the form of civil war, foreign invasion, reimposition of Danegeld, disease causing death of animals and weather causing destruction of both crops and animals. Resisting foreign invasions required additional revenue[4] and took farmers from their fields.[5] Sometimes the destruction was extremely widespread. The entry for 1011 says, for instance, that the invaders had “overrun East Anglia and Essex, and Middlesex and Oxfordshire, and Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, and Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire, and half of Huntingdonshire, and much of North Hampshire, and south of the Thames, all Kent, and Sussex, and Hastings, and Surrey, and Berkshire, and Hampshire, and much of Wiltshire … and they went everywhere in troops; plundering and spoiling and slaying our miserable people. …”.

But surviving the slaying and surviving the spoiling were two different matters. Without animals and seed the survivors could not continue as free independent farmers. And further in Wulfstan’s words:

“… (14) … and laws of the people have deteriorated entirely too greatly, since Edgar died.[6] (15) And sanctuaries are … violated, and God’s houses are entirely stripped of all dues and are stripped within of everything fitting. (16) And widows are widely forced to marry in unjust ways and too many are impoverished and fully humiliated; and poor men are sorely betrayed and cruelly defrauded, and sold widely out of this land into the power of foreigners, though innocent; and infants are enslaved by means of cruel injustices, on account of petty theft everywhere in this nation. (17) And the rights of freemen are taken away and the rights of slaves are restricted and charitable obligations are curtailed. (18) Free men may not keep their independence, nor go where they wish, nor deal with their property just as they desire; (19) nor may slaves have that property which, on their own time, they have obtained by means of difficult labour, (20) or that which good men, in God’s favour, have granted them, and given to them in charity for the love of God. (21) But every man decreases or withholds every charitable obligation that should by rights be paid eagerly in Gods favour, for injustice is too widely common among men and lawlessness is too widely dear to them. …”.

Much of the evil to which Wulfstan was referring had been incubating for centuries amid the virtues that had sustained the Anglo-Saxons since their arrival as an invading force six centuries earlier.

The Early Anglo-Saxons

The original Anglo-Saxons on arrival in England had no interest in the economic or social arrangement of the existing inhabitants. Towns, mines, industry and latifundia[7] were abandoned in favour of village communities of independent free men usually consisting of less than twenty households, hiwiscs. Households had more or less equal social and economic status, and in the early years after settlement each household probably owned slaves, wealas, the captured survivors of the former population.[8] Each household held an area of land called a hide, being the amount of land required to support a family. A hide[9] comprised a hedged private area around the house called a haga which the family often used for a kitchen garden, strips in the common field, grazing rights in the meadows and rights of access to the surrounding forest for hunting, collecting wild food and firewood and keeping pigs. The village used a two-field system in which one field was a meadow for grazing animals (and fertilizing the land), and the other was allocated in strips to individual households for cultivating crops. After each harvest the animals were moved onto the stubble and the meadow was prepared for the next crop.

Each farmer was a ‘jack of all trades’ including being a part-time soldier, and with the exception of the blacksmith there was neither specialisation nor trade. Crop yields were poor and the way of life basic, but the Anglo-Saxons valued honour and valour above many aspects of material life.[10]Except in military situations they were fiercely independent and self-sufficient. The weak or distressed had little support, but the law required the perpetrator of a crime to compensate the victim, his family, and the king according to the victim’s rank. A widow could inherit the property of her husband, but would return to her father’s or brother’s household in the event of distress.

Individual farmers had personal duties towards the village and the nation,[11] and the village collectively was obliged to provide a food rent (feorm) to support the royal household.[12] Although households were independent, harvesting and rotation of the fields and many other aspects of life were collective activities, governed by the customs or laws of the village with a village moot, or formal democratic meeting, to make collective decisions. Social and economic stability within the village was maintained by each farmer passing his holding to his eldest son, thus village populations did not grow nor were individual holdings dissipated.[13] The strength of custom and the requirement for consensus within a village community were powerful restraints on innovation.

The arrival in England of Augustine in the year 597 had provided an impulse to overcome this inertia. To establish his embryonic church Augustine required accommodation and sustenance for his followers, whose activities were evangelism, study and prayer rather than farming and warfare. For these monks Augustine envisaged a communal life based on St Benedict’s Rule under the command of an abbot. Such a way of life was completely alien to Anglo-Saxon society, but the illiterate King Ethelbert courageously endorsed the experiment.[14] Using an authority he did not possess, Ethelbert signed a charter, a document he could not read, written in Latin, a language he did not speak, granting Augustine some authority over an area of land and the feorme due from it.[15] His illiterate witan supported him. This first charter, like most of those that followed, covered an area including an established village together with the fields, meadows and forests which supported it.

Charters surrendered the king’s rights to the ‘person’[16] named as the beneficiary. The gift could not diminish the rights or livelihoods of the existing villagers. Nor was this intended. In fact the charter holder became a member of the village community with a share of the strips in the main field, rights in the common field and the opportunity to vote at the village moot. Some charters even delegate responsibility for justice, sake and soke, on the estate.

Christianity flourished among the Anglo-Saxons and the demand for additional monasteries grew. Kings were induced to grant charters by the promise of eternal prayer for the wellbeing of their soul, or the queen’s soul in the case of nunneries. But once the idea of a charter was established, the companions of the king[17] were able to extract similar privileges for themselves.[18] Land thus granted became known as bokland, book land, and traditional holdings became known as folcland, or people’s land. The holder of the charter would construct a house, a hall, on the estate which by the time of the Domesday Book (1088) had become known as a manor house, and the estate, a manor.

The concept of bokland and folcland created the first significant division in Anglo-Saxon society. Holders of bokland, whether lay or ecclesiastical, enjoyed an unearned income in addition to anything they produced themselves. This made them significantly more economically powerful than the farmers around them.

The advent of Christianity led to social changes such as the sanctification of marriage, discouragement of excessive drinking, and the gradual elimination of slavery. Monasteries provided literacy, general education (including Latin and Greek) and artistic achievements. Local priests working beside farmers in the fields uplifted village life and took on the provision of charity. But charity required revenue. The church initially recommended amounts that Christians should donate.[19] Voluntary donations in turn became Christian duties and subsequently legally binding imposts on all landholders, extracted ruthlessly by civic authorities together with punitive excess for late payment. Notwithstanding how Wulfstan might have understood it, charity did not extend to consideration of the circumstances of the ‘donors’.

Warfare, population growth, plague, famine and taxation at different times separated individuals and families from their land in their ancestral villages. Without livestock, seed and tools many of the displaced had to look for support and those able to offer it were the holders of bokland.

The relationship of the landless to the holders of bokland had both social and economic characteristics. Among the influx of ideas that came from Europe with the church was the concept that as each man has a relationship to the Lord God, and should serve Him, so also should each man have a lord in this world whom he should serve and obey. The relationship required the man to swear allegiance to and serve the lord. The lord in turn should protect his sworn man.[20] In the economic relationship the landless in return for some contribution to the lord’s welfare (most commonly labour) were provided with some means to support themselves on the lord’s land. But invariably once their obligations to the lord had been fulfilled the livelihood they were able to afford themselves was meagre.

The Manor

By Wulfstan’s time the manor had replaced the independent peasant farmer as the primary basis for the economic organisation of England.[21] The social structure was perceived as being divided into three orders, laboratores, oratores and bellatores,[22] with manors held by the oratores and the bellatores and worked by the laboratores. The manor can be described as an estate, on bokland, held by a temporal or ecclesiastical lord,[23]and occupied by a diverse community of cultivators bound by a complex mix of customary obligations due to their neighbours and the lord. Although the lord nominally ‘owned’ the entire estate only a portion of it, the ‘demesne’, was available for his own use.[24] The ‘demesne’ amounted to a home farm comprised as a general rule of strips of land interspersed among those of the village community. The ‘demesne’ also shared the village common land for grazing. The demesne may have produced some surplus for market, but was essentially managed to provide for the lord and his household. On the demesne was a manor house, the lord’s hall (his home, administrative centre, court, etc), stores, mills and a church. Whilst the manor had become the primary means of economic organisation there were still many villages over which no lord could claim authority.

Everything on the manor was governed by custom with its roots in the village that pre-dated it. The methods of farming, the crops and the handicrafts had not changed since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century; spinning still used the staff and spindle; weaving a simple vertical loom; fulling involved trampling underfoot and beating with sticks; pottery, in the few centres where it was practiced, was still made without a wheel. Agriculture retained the two-field system, rather than the three-field system that had improved productiveness in France.[25] The standard of building remained low. Masonry work was rare and crude. Most building was done with wattle and daub, using techniques that had arrived with the Anglo-Saxon tribes. Across almost the entire country, agriculture was primarily arable, with some bias towards specialisation in particular regions, such as sheep in Norfolk and Essex, and salt marshes in Suffolk.

Customs of the manor, over time, became the laws of the manor.[26] Although they bound the lord as well as the village community their evolution favoured the powerful. Where the original charter mentioned sake and soke the lord presided over the court which prosecuted and collected finesfor offences and resolved many of the disputes that arose between villagers and the lord. Collecting the ‘profits of justice’ in the manorial court was such a significant source of income that it was explicitly mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The community on the manor comprised people of various social ranks holding different amounts of land with different duties to the lord.[27] The largest class were villeins (villani).[28] Like the lord the villein held strips dispersed across the common field. The number and size of the strips varied with local conditions. The villein also shared with the lord the meadow and the forest and held a home surrounded by a haga. The villein’sduties usually included work in the lord’s fields each week (contributing his own pair of oxen as required), with extra services at specific times of year such as harvest, and perhaps a range of other duties on or off the manor. Some villeins had their own labourers and/or slaves and would use them to discharge some of these duties, but generally the customs of the manor had evolved to favour the lord and restricted the villein’s economic freedom. He was often, for example, not allowed to fell timber in the forest or convert the garden around his house to arable land; he was obliged to pay both for his wheat to be ground in the lord’s mill and his bread baked in the lord’s ovens;[29] and obliged to fold his sheep so that the lord’s land was fertilized.

The word villein not only described the nature of the man’s tenure of land but also his social status. A man could be a tenant in villeinage but either free or unfree. An unfree villein was annexed to the soil; if he became a fugitive he could be reclaimed and punished, unless he found sanctuary in a church or abbey. The bound villein could not sell his stock (lest he diminish the stock of the estate). His son could not be sent to school, apprenticed, or enter the church, nor his daughter marry without the lord’s consent, which was usually available on payment of a fine.[30]Commonly everything possessed by the bound villein was the property of his lord though the custom associated with this varied from one estate to another. On one hand, the bound villein was not a chattel like a slave; he could take action at law against anyone except his lord, and shared civic duties such as being on a jury, bearing arms and paying taxes. On the other hand, slaves of Anglo-Saxons had traditionally been able to hold property, accumulate wealth and purchase their freedom, but for the unfree villein there was no escape from this social status nor any means to alleviate the economic hardship.

The cottage tenants, or cottars,[31] occupied a lower place in the manorial hierarchy. They had considerably less land than the villein, and fewer or no rights to the meadow or the forest. Having less land their obligations were lighter.[32] In Norman times they became known as lundinarii(Monday men) because each Monday they worked for the lord. They would provide occasional assistance to the lord and the more prosperous villeins according to the season. Cottars perhaps originated from those dispossessed of their own land and who sought the protection of stronger and richer landholders. Amongst this group we find the earliest agricultural specialisation, ploughmen, herdsmen and bee-keepers for example, who were allowed to keep some small part of their product,[33] the greater part being regarded as the rightful property of the lord. With the possible exception of the estate manager and professional soldiers there is no suggestion of wages being paid and the lord’s share was always due before any benefit was available to the workers.

Also on the manor were freemen who to some extent stood outside the manorial system. They may have had some slight duties to the lord but cases existed where their lord was the holder of another manor entirely.[34] They still participated in village life having strips in the common field and shared responsibility in the meadow. But free men, liberi homines, came with many subtle variations of rights and duties. A freeman could dispose of his land as he wished and could ‘recede[35] from his relationship with the lord of the manor to seek the protection for himself and his land from another lord. But a freeman could also be a sokeman,[36] a rent-paying tenant.

Manors, or more particularly the charters that gave rise to them, could be bought, sold, leased or bequeathed, and some individuals accumulated many of them.[37] The seven remaining earls, and senior churchmen especially, had accumulated large numbers of estates as well as houses in towns. [38] These were rarely contiguous and were usually managed by a third party. At the turn of the millennium there were only forty active monasteries and nunneries[39] and on the eve of the Norman Conquest only six of these had more than forty monks.[40] Whether or not they were religiously active, the Domesday Book shows one sixth of the land south of the Humber, with a total income of 11,000 pounds a year, in the hands of monastic orders.[41] One abbey at Ely is shown in the Domesday Book to have an income of 760 pounds a year from estates in six counties and control over more than one hundred villages.

Wulfstan would have watched with dismay the removal of treasures from these monastic orders and from churches around the country to provide for the Danegeld,[42] and the taxes and incomes from land due to the church diverted to the same end.

Further Oppression

If the coronation oath of Edward the Confessor is a guide,[43] Anglo-Saxon kings were expected to defend and protect the poor, duties that the king’s company and his agents should in turn have taken up. It appears unlikely that this was the case. The church had adopted this role and the tithe was collected for that purpose, but Wulfstan observes:

“… (29) Neither has any of us ordered his life just as he should, neither the ecclesiastic according to the rule nor the layman according to the law, but we have transformed desire into laws for us entirely too often, and have kept neither precepts nor laws of God or men just as we should.”

Anglo-Saxon law did not recognise institutions. Abbey land was held by the abbot together with manors associated with it and houses in some of the towns. His will determined how these properties were to be distributed on his death. He could bequeath them to his successor, but the abbot’s family could equally be a beneficiary, or friends and allies within the church. Similarly, the position of priest in some parishes had become hereditary, and in some others churches were owned by the lord of the manor, who thus became the beneficiary of the tithe. The powerful, whether lay or ecclesiastical, found endless ways to extract advantage from the poor. At some time during the tenth century an idea became accepted that when a man died his lord should be compensated for the loss.[44] This custom, the heriot, allowed a lord to choose the best cow from the estate of his deceased man. The village priest would also take a soul-scot.[45] The widow and other dependant survivors received what remained.

If poor farmers could not continue on their own land and were debt free, they could seek a bonded life on a manor for themselves, their children and all their descendants in perpetuity. If they had debts they were likely to be sold as slaves through Bristol to Viking traders in Dublin. “(35) … too many Christian men have been sold out of this land, now for a long time, …” said Wulfstan. The church attempted to ban slavery but could only require that slaves owned by bishops should be freed on the death of their master.[46] King Canute[47] legislated against the export of slaves but his own sister continued the trade bringing English slaves directly to Denmark.[48] The abundance of bonded men eventually made the practice redundant and the use of slaves fell away.

The greatest oppression though was the Geld or Danegeld. The Geld was levied at a rate per hide, being originally the area of land required to support a household. By the eleventh century the term was only used as a basis for levying taxation, a geld hide. The levy was based on hideage estimates for each district, and then applied to manors and individual landholders on the manors. ‘Relief’ was applied by reducing the hideageestimate of particular holdings as the administrators saw fit. The rate per hide for the district increased to compensate for any relief granted.[49]The geld began as an emergency levy to purchase peace from the Vikings. By the eleventh century it had become a principle source of government revenue on a day-to-day basis. It proved to be an extremely efficient way of raising revenue and vast amounts of money were collected.[50] In the year 1084 King William laid a geld of six shillings on every hide, when the price of an ox was two shillings and the value of a hide was estimated to be twenty shillings a year.[51] The amounts raised for the Danish tribute must have been of similar magnitude.

A tax of this size would have ruined many small landholders. Some would have borrowed to pay their due.[52]

By Wulfstan’s time the whole of England had been ruled by foreign kings for several generations, and for periods the north of England had been ruled and settled by the Vikings. The succession to the throne of Edward the Confessor restored the Anglo-Saxon blood-line, although the king had been born and educated in Normandy and was a stranger to the language, law and customs of his nobles, his church and his people..

Yet England was regarded as a rich nation.[53] William the Conqueror’s chaplain, wrote that England is “fertile by virtue of its own fecundity, the wealth of which merchants have increased by bringing in riches. Treasures have been amassed here which are remarkable for their number, their quality and workmanship.”[54] William of Malmesbury wrote of the abundance and quality of the grapes in the Vale of Gloucester;[55] English gold work and embroidery were famous in the markets of Flanders and France.[56] Even the amount of Danegeld collected in the eleventh century indicated the extent of the wealth of the nation. The Domesday Book records 6000 corn mills, probably more than one for every village, and lists vast numbers of ploughs so that agriculture was well equipped. But the seeds of potentially greater prosperity had been sown both in England and nearby.

Seeds of Prosperity

Although the early Anglo-Saxon kings had encouraged their people to develop international trade[57] it remained primarily in foreign hands. As in much of mainland Europe most international trade took place at annual fairs. In England these fairs were organised at locations called wics,[58]with itinerant merchants progressing around an annual circuit from one fair to another. Like markets, fairs required royal sanction in the form of a charter. To be successful the fair had to provide protection for merchants and their wares, witnesses to agreements, disclosure and collection of tolls and charges, as well as courts for the immediate resolution of commercial and other disputes.[59] By the eleventh century the sites of these fairs had become permanent centres of population with specialist trades and skills.

The Viking menace of the ninth century had forced the English nation to overcome its disinclination toward seafaring. King Alfred had fostered maritime skills with an English navy supported by Flemish shipwrights and Frisian sailors. In the north where the Vikings had settled shipbuilding and maritime activities had also flourished and trade links had been established through Scandinavia to the Black Sea, the Moslem world and Asia. In many ways the Vikings had provided the foundations for England’s future commercial and maritime greatness.[60]

In the Danelaw area of England the patterns of land use and land holding had diverged from those in the south. The Viking violence caused the decimation of the population in many areas; but in others farmers often had smaller individual holdings and shared much larger common pastures. Their wealth was more often to be found in their flocks than in their corn. Their sheep were raised for wool which even before the end of the tenth century was being sold to factories in the Low Countries desirous of the softest available fleeces.[61] Methods of trade were also changing. Merchants at fairs still offered a cornucopia of the manufactured wealth of the world, and fairs continued to grow for many centuries. But fairs no longer represented the bulk of international trade. Traded commodities each had unique requirements for sale, collection, shipment and finance.[62] For the wool trade buyers knowledgeable in the qualities of different fleeces would ride around the country to purchase wool from larger producers, and local men would aggregate the production of smaller farmers.[63] Sales often included future production. The quantities of wool sold were soon to dwarf the turnover of the fairs.

Trade of this nature and volume required a medium of exchange and England had evolved a sound, regulated currency that was preferred by traders across Europe. Mints were licensed in major towns of England to support trade, the purchase of property and the payment of taxation (including church taxes).

The England of Edward the Confessor had a single ruler and administration, a single language and a sense of national identity that was far more developed than in almost all other European countries.[64] There was a very well established and extremely effective hierarchy for the civil and military administration of the kingdom based on the shires and hundreds, an effective system of raising taxation, and the most reliable currency in northern Europe. The reports of the Battle of Maldon (991) show that the fundamental Anglo-Saxon values of valour, loyalty and service were still strong. But the manorial system had grown to the extent that land required for any man to support himself was only available with the consent and for the profit of the owners of manors. For the landless man, whether bonded or free, the living he was able to scratch out was so meagre that he was not capable of participation in civil or military service and did not even contribute to the church.

On the death of Edward the Confessor in January 1066 the witan according to the Anglo-Saxon tradition. elected to the throne Harold Godwinson, Oearl of Wessex. Although he wore the crown for less than a year, he had for the last twelve years of the reign been the power behind Edward’s throne. He was to be the last elected monarch to rule England. He inherited courage, ability and genius for administration from his father, preserved peace within the kingdom, administered justice and allowed the realm to increase in prosperity. But England did not share the new religious energy or enjoy the spiritual revival taking place on the continent. All this would have to wait for William to cross the channel.

Five hundred years earlier St Gildas had described the Britons as corrupt and the Anglo-Saxons as the instrument for the vengeance of God. Wulfstan’s sermon spoke of an England as similarly led astray by the devil and suffering the consequences. This was the situation when Edward became king. Worse was to come. It was reported that Edward on his deathbed had a dream in which God cursed the English nation for its sinfulness. Not long after Edward’s death William of Malmsbury wrote, “We now experience the truth of this prophecy as England is made home of foreigners and the domain of aliens.”[65]



Original Texts

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles; Anonymous; Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/angsax.asp.

Battle of Maldon, poem; trans Wilfrid Berridge; 1951; www.battleof maldon.org.uk/poem_htm.

Bede: Ecclesiastical History of England; Tran Sellar, A. M; George Bell & Sons, London, 1907.

Dialogue of the Exchequer; FitzNigel, Richard; in Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages; Ernest Henderson; George Bell & Sons, London, 1896.

Domesday Book; Anonymous; Editors Dr Ann Williams & Prof G. H. Matin; Penguin Classics, London, 2003.

Rectitudes Singularum Personarum; Anonymous; Trans Lemanski, Jay; from a Thesis presented to University of Akron, 2005.

Saint Gildas; De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae; In – ‘Six old English chronicles, of which two are now first translated from the monkish Latin originals’; Trans Giles J. A; Imprint: London, G. Bell & sons, 1891; http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gildas-full.asp.

Tacitus; Germany; Translation, Edward Brooks; in ‘The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus’; David McKay, Philadelphia, 1897.

Wolfstan; Sermo Lupi ad Anglos; trans Dorothy Whitelock; in Volume 3 of Methuen’s Old English Library; Methuen & Co, 1939.[66]

Other Sources

Chibnall, Marjorie; Anglo-Norman England 1066-1166; Wiley, 1991

Clancy, M.T; Early Medieval England; Folio Society London (Original Published as ‘England and Its Rulers 1066-1272’, Fontana, 1983)

Darby, H. C; Domesday England; Cambridge University Press 1979

Duby, Georges; The Early Growth of the European Economy; Trans Howard Clarke; Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1978

Fisher, Joseph; The History of Landholding in England, Longmans, Green and Co 1876

Green, John Richard; A short History of the English People; Folio Society; London 1992

Hodgen; Domesday Watermills; in Antiquity 12 (1939)

Lipson, F; The Economic History of England, Vol 1 The Middle Ages; A & C Black; London 1929

Maitland F. W; Domesday Book and Beyond – Three Essays on the Early History of England; Cambridge University Press, 1907

Miller, Edward & Hatcher, John; Medieval England – Rural Society & Economic Change 1086 – 1348; Longman, London, 1970

Postan, M.M; Cambridge Economic History Vol 1, 2nd Edition

Power, Eileen; The Wool Trade in Medieval History (being the Ford Lectures); 1941

Russel, Josiah Cox; British Medieval Population; University of New Mexico Press, 1948

Stenton, Frank: Anglo-Saxon England; Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1943

Stenton, Frank; The First Century of English Feudalism 1066-1166; Oxford at the Claredon Press, 1961 (being the Ford Lecture delivered in the University of Oxford in Hilary Term 1929)

Stenton, Frank; William the Conqueror & the Rule of the Normans; Putnam’s Sons, London 1908

Trow-Smith, Robert; History of British Livestock Husbandry to 1700; Routledge, Oxford 2006

Vinogradoff, Paul; English Society in the Eleventh Century (Essays in English Medieval History), Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1908

Vinogradoff, Paul; The Growth of the Manor; George Allen & Unwin, London 1920

[1] In earlier times the word forest was used in the sense of its Latin root forestum ‘outside wood’, meaning ‘an area that was not fenced in’. In this sense it was not limited to woodlands.

[2] Based on the Domesday Book the population is estimated to be between 1,200,000 and 1,600,000. See Darby H. C., Domesday England page 88, 89

[3] Wulfstan, Archbishop of York 1002 – 23. Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, 1014.

[4] E.g. In 1008 a man possessed of 310 hides was required to provide a galley, and man possessed of 8 hides was required to find a helmet and breastplate.

[5] Only freemen who were landholders were asked to do military service.

[6] King Edgar (the Peaceful) d 975. Reputedly the king who cemented the unity of England.

[7] The remains of Roman large scale farming, Latin: lātus, “spacious” + fundus, “farm, estate”.

[8] Wealas, meaning foreigner or slave, from which we get the word ‘Welsh’. Anglo-Saxon custom had farmers working alongside their slaves, allowed slaves to accumulate property of their own, and allowed them to purchase their freedom. According to Tacitus Anglo-Saxons could become slaves to other Anglo-Saxons in the event of unpaid debts but it was regarded as shameful to hold Anglo-Saxons as slaves and they were usually quickly sold to foreigners.

[9] Hide and hiwisc are both from the Germanic root hiwan, meaning family. Many academics speculate on how much land a ‘hide’ represented. This seems to miss the point. The way of life required all four forms of land tenure and the importance of each would vary from place to place.

[10] Tacitus reports for instance that a pottery bowl received as a gift was valued higher than a silver bowl, irrespective of the utility of the bowls.

[11] Three forms of service to the nation are referred to, participation in the national militia, or fyrd, building and repairing bridges, and building and repairing fortifications.

[12] The origin of taxation was ‘victuals only’ according to ‘The Dialogue of the Exchequer’. This broad concept also included housing and quartering the king’s men.

[13] During the expansion phase of Anglo-Saxon England, second and subsequent sons could start a new village adjacent to the existing one (hence we have for instance in Buckinghamshire the villages of Steeple Claydon, Middle Claydon, East Claydon and Botolph Claydon), or fight to push back the boundaries of the kingdom with the possibility of occupying newly won land and being rewarded with captured livestock and slaves.

[14] According to Bede, Ethelbert welcomed Augustine to England with the words: “Your words and promises are fair, but because they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot consent to them so far as to forsake that which I have so long observed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far as strangers into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we desire not to harm you, but will give you favourable entertainment, and take care to supply you with all things necessary to your sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion.”

[15] Legally speaking, creating an ‘estate’.

[16] All relationships in Anglo-Saxon society are personal, even to the King. There is no concept of institutions. Land and property can only be held by what we might describe as ‘real people’.

[17] The thegn was originally ‘companion of the king’. Oearls tended to be family of the king.

[18] The charters almost always acknowledge that the grant was in recognition of previous service.

[19] The church scott (varies from place to place, but never negligible, paid in relation to the size of each man’s holding), peter’s pence (by the time of King Cnut, a penny due from every estate with a rental value of more than 30 pence), plough arms (a penny paid for each plough within two weeks of Easter), and the tithe.

[20] This was formalized by a solemn ceremony with the man placing his hands between those of his new lord and taking an oath of allegiance. These relationships were not limited to the landless. Lords could be spiritual or temporal, and even lords could have lords.

[21] Although some traditional Anglo-Saxon villages had survived – (need somewhere to note the lack of uniformity in just about everything.)

[22] The earliest articulation of this is that of King Alfred, who wrote that the ‘tools by which a king reigns are prayer-men gebedmen, and army-men fyrdmen, and workmen weorncmen, without which no king can exhibit his craft’. At the end of the tenth century the monk Aelfric wrote, ‘It is well known that in this world there are three orders, set in unity; these are laboratores, oratores, bellatores.’. He elaborates on each and especially the great battles that spiritual men have to fight. (http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/middleages/topic_1/aelfric.htm

[23] Manors were also held by the king. Some were estates that had returned to the king’s possession, others were Folc Land divided into manors for administrative purposes, others still, manors used to support officials while they held the role, such as the sheriff, or shire reeve.

[24] Using the information in the Domesday book, the lord cultivated between 1/3 and 2/5 of the arable land (Miller p22).

[25] The French were also using nitrogen-fixing legumes and were achieving yields of 4 bags of wheat for every bag planted, much greater than English farmers (Chibnall p146).

[26] Customs included when the field was turned over to grazing and how strips were allocated in the field, who had responsibility for different aspects of communal life, and how much food should be given to a destitute widow. See for example ‘The Rectitudes Singularum Personarum’.

[27] At its most complex, some of the free men of the village man owe no duties to the lord of the manor, and even have chosen for protection the lord of another manor. Similarly, the heirs of the original landholders in the village may owe collective duties to the lord, notwithstanding individual obligations.

[28] Miller (page 22) quotes figures from the Domesday survey (1086) as follows; villain 109,000 (41% of the population with 45% of the land; cottars 87,000 (32% of the population with 5% of the land); liberi homines and sokemen 37,000 (14% of the population with 20% of the land); servi(10% of the population and usually landless).

[29] For a fee determined by the lord. Failure to do so invoked extreme penalties determined in the lord’s court.

[30] The original meaning of the word ‘fine’ from ‘final’, meaning that the matter was resolved.

[31] 32% of the Domesday population.

[32] The very least land that was held seems to have included enough space for a cottage garden, even houses in towns (A.S. words) included this space.

[33] Rectitudes Singularum Personarum Note this was rarely a proportion, but what was left after the lord had had his proper rewards. It of course added to their vulnerability in difficult times.

[34] Maitland in Domesday and Beyond (p129) cites the village of Grantchester near Cambridge, where 15 families lived, and each man was sworn to a different lord.

[35] To recede from a relationship with a lord was exactly the opposite to swearing allegiance and required a similar ceremony. In many areas it was common that freemen of one manor could be sworn to a variety of different thegns, and the thegns sworn to different oearls. This tended to weaken the power to take political and military action.

[36] A sokeman was a tenant who paid rent, or socage.

[37] That this could be done was an idea which developed over time. Earlier many charters were endorsed by a king to recognize the change of ownership. As confidence grew this became unnecessary.

[38] Fighting over long periods of time was largely responsible for the reduction of the number of earls. Curiously the lack of contiguous holds of land, and diverse loyalties made civil war extremely difficult.

[39] In the 8th and early 9th centuries there were hundreds if not thousands of religious houses. Most didn’t survive the earlier Viking raids. Their wealth made them targets. The land though was still covered by the original charter, and the holder of the charter, usually someone in the church, still collected the revenues. NB the Domesday Book lists 45.

[40] At the height of the English monastic movement (the English Renaissance) the numbers were vastly more. The monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow had 600 monks between them in 716, and the nearby nunnery at Winborne had 50 nuns.

[41] Burton, p 9. Other figures in the church also held substantial amounts of land.

[42] The Anglo-Saxon word ‘geld’ derives from ‘geldan’ meaning, to pay, restore, make an offering, serve, or worship. It is not related to gold.

[43] Coronation oath of Edward the Confessor: ‘…The justice of a consecrated king is that he condemn no man [unjustly?]; and that he defend and protect widows and orphans and foreigners; and forbid theft; and correct adulteries; and separate those who commit incest; and completely forbid witches; destroy spells; drive kin-murderers and perjurers out of the country; feed the needy with alms; have the old and wise and temperate as his counsellors; and appoint righteous men as officers; because, whatever they do unjustly by means of his might, he must give a reckoning on judgement day for all of it.’

[44] The original may have stemmed from an earlier custom that the armour of a fighting man was returned to the king on the man’s death.

[45] Sometimes spelt sawlscot, and sometimes referred to as church scot. Technically a soul present, or a corpse present, and in practice allowing the local priest to have second choice of the deceased’s possessions after the lord.

[46] Synod of 816.

[47] Danish. Ruled England 1016 – 1035.

[48] Wulfstan, when Bishop of Worcester, had seen the slave trade in Bristol. He wrote elsewhere ‘They used to buy men from all over England and carry them to Ireland in the hope of gain; nay they even set forth for sale women whom they had themselves gotten with child. You might well groan to see the long rows of young men and maidens whose beauty and youth might move the pity of a savage, bound together with cords, and brought to market to be sold.’

[49] Exemption or reduction appears to often have been based on privilege. The Domesday book notes many of these situations and is obviously looking at withdrawing them (especially where the person originally granted the privilege was no longer associated with the manor. For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s manor of Aldintone in Kent was taxed as though it was an area of 21 units in the reign of Edward and 15 units in the reign of William. After William barons were exempted from the geld.

[50] Although by no means the only one. The others included, tolls, market dues and the proceeds from justice. One great advantage of the geldsystem was it could be geared to raise the amount of revenue required.

[51] Lipson page 10. These figures of course do not show a farmer’s net revenue, from which the Geld would be paid. But consider today how many businesses (or families) could cope with an overnight 30% increase in rent.

[52] How widespread usury was is not known, but sufficient for Edward the Confessor to prohibit the practice. It was already condemned by the church. To avoid mention of interest, contracts were expressed in terms of purchasing a weight of silver to be delivered now, for a monetary price (such as shillings) to be paid at a future date.

[53] Economic growth had really resumed in the middle of the 10th century after the worst of the Viking raids.

[54] As quoted by Miller and Hatcher.

[55] ‘The frequency of vines there is more concentrated, their produce more fruitful, and their taste sweeter than in any other place in England’.

[56] Green, page 68

[57] Early law codes mention that if the North Sea was crossed three times by a man for trade he would be raised to the rank of thegn.

[58] From which we get place names such as Sandwich and Norwich. London (Lundenwic) may have been sufficiently well established to have survived as a trading town through the entire period. Wics were established where there was the ability to ship goods, or in one or two cases, simply at the borders of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, such as Cambridge. For further descriptions, in a European context see Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy.

[59] The vehicle for the settlement of disputes and other offences within markets and fairs known after the Norman invasion as Pie Powder Courts, of which Blackstone notes that they were ‘the lowest, and at the same time the most expeditious, courts of justice known to the laws of England.’ Get source here.

[60] Lipson (page 445) notes that the Vikings were simultaneously pirates and merchants, ‘In whose graves a pair of scales were laid side by side with battle axe and sword.’

[61] Fisher p47. The Low Countries were an extremely advantageous location for cloth production. Local soils were rich in fuller’s earth, and suited to the cultivation of dye plants. The local wool though was coarse and unsuitable for softer cloths.

[62] Eileen Power suggests that Wine, Olives, hides and Wool were all produced to exchange for cash and almost entirely for export.

[63] Nine sacks became the generally merchantable quantity.

[64] The Normans seem to have reinforced this. For example, in 1107 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle speaks of this year as being the 41st year of rule by the Franks.

[65] Quoting Clancy page 34.

[66] The translation quoted here was found at www.phil-fak.uni-duesseldorf.de/…I/Downloads/…/WulfstSermo.doc which does not show the translator. It was used because the embedded verse numbers showed where in the text I was quoting from.