Before I started talking about inland farming, prompted by the arrival of residential lords in the form of monasteries and minsters, we’d been talking about early settlements and farms. These lay within the large multiple estates mainly owned by itinerant kings, and also of course they lay in the estates owned by resident religious institutions. Just to be clear, Inland farms formed just part of monastic estates. So we ought to talk amore about the people that lived outside inland. So today that is what we are going to talk about; we are going to start with the first AS settlers and then talk about how their lives developed and how their lives and status varied from the inhabitants of the inland farms.
The first Anglo Saxon settlements, then, would often have conformed to the standard model of a northern European settlement, a kin-based group living in a small nucleated settlement surrounded by its own land. Most of the settlements might have had something like 4 or so families; the largest yet excavated in Essex, has about 12 families. Again, holding hands carefully with the responsible and extensive use of qualifiers and weasels, such as possibly, maybe perhaps and often, two types of early building seem to be standard, all built in timber. A large hall type building, and dugout, sunken featured buildings. Within these settlements you have to guess that small clusters might be not just neighbours but relatives, mixing and growing with other further off clusters, as women married into new groups and left, or arrived in the settlement with their new family. However far down the line you move from the old genocide model to the new who knows if there were more than a handful of invaders at all approach, it is in this process that Germanic and Briton became one and became English.
There is no sign in the law codes of the time of a broader, clan based ownership of land, but there is a strong sense of deep connection with a specific area over generations; Waecel’s people of Watlington, and Banesa’s people of modern Benson would have put down deep roots, identified very close with their landscape and region. There is the tradition that the basic unit of family landholding would have been the hide, a unit of land sufficient to support one family.
Evidence survived until quite late, of old ‘hide farms’ – farms of one hide in size, that is to say, shadowy survivals of that original tradition. One at a place called Yatton in Somerset for example survived until 18th century, but over, time settlements would have become broken up. There remains the shadow also of those old family settlements in the idea of folcland. Folcland is a form of landholding, which gradually becomes partially replaced by land given by written charter, or bookland. It’s a shadowy concept and open to all sorts of wrangling by historians, but it seems to be the oldest form of legal landholding, within which four generations of a family shred rights to a landholding; restricted to Great Grandfather, grandfather, father and son, rather than a wider model of cousins. Over time though, the model that asserts itself is of land being passed down only to sons, or to daughters if there were no sons. Partibility of land in inheritance survives much longer among the Peasantry than it did amongst the nobility, with far fewer pressures to conform to a strict model of primogeniture. It’s easy to think of primogeniture as the obvious and inevitable model, but of course it was not. In itself primogeniture took time to be adopted fully until well after the Normans arrived even in the higher reaches of society in England. And so farm holdings tended to get smaller as they were split up between children. Taken together, inheritance, culture and the pressures and demands of lordship all tended towards smaller groups exercising rights over land, and exercising those rights over smaller areas of land, but the idea of group rights and group responsibility does not disappear. Nonetheless the landscape I want you to imagine sometime around 800 or afterwards, outside the developing inland areas of the large estates, is of a patchwork of fairly small landowners, where the ownership of every bit land is well known. That means the ownership of shared rights over land as well, not just who owned the physical land itself – this was meat and drink, life and limb to people, all these types of asset essentially, were jealously guarded. One of the things Susan Oosthuizen also emphasises is just how old shared rights over land are – prehistoric in some places like highland and moorland, for example.
Let us return to landscape for a moment then to illustrate the importance of how that patchwork is organised and designed. A couple of examples. I always assumed that the reason that boundaries often ended at streams was because they are instantly recognisable, and so make a clear edge to a territory; and maybe because they are defensible. And those probably do play their part. But a defining aspect of settlement was also access to water, not just for people but critically for livestock. By creating borders at streams, access to water is of course doubled. Then again, we mentioned that the arrival of the mouldboard plough had some consequences; it opened up new areas of land to arable farming. But that had an impact also; it reduced the amount of pasture available to lowland farms, until in some places it could be that farms below our Chiltern scarp, for example, had little land set aside, and the only grazing might have been the stubble, or land in rotation. And added to that problem is that you now have many more Oxen to feed, because you’ve got these whopping great teams of eight to look after to pull these whopping great ploughs. So you have a problem.
Without wanting to sound as though I am digressing, one of the glories, then, of the English countryside is the network of pathways, the vast majority of them beautifully marked and mapped on easily accessible ordnance survey maps if you happen to be a walker. England may not have the wilderness other countries have but let me tell you that does not mean it is anything other than a glorious destination for walkers – there are few better ways of seeing its glory and history than just walking it, urban or rural of something in between. I am wiping my eyes with a hankie as we speak. In our south Oxfordshire vale landscape then, you will see a complex of straight trackways, the pathways themselves being land with common rights of access. These tracks lead ribbon-like up the scarp between lowland and upland. There are many reasons for these paths, but one of them is to create rights of way for peasants and farmer to take their oxen up the hills to pastures and wood pastures. Now you can see again the value of what looks at first glance like nothing more than poorer quality land in the hills; without that land the effectiveness and productivity of the arable of the vale is greatly reduced.
I mentioned wood pasture also which is a term I am literally panting to explain – you might well know all of this yourself, but of the many revelations for me of folks like Rackham and Richard Muir is the way that woodland was used in the past, very differently to how it is used now and how I imagined. I don’t know about you but I had this innate belief that woodland is about tall trees, big things which when they are big enough you chop down, cut into planks and then replant. I learn from Rackham that while this is indeed a thing, it is an approach that should not be mentioned without hawking violently, making the sign of the evil eye and falling to your knees in a fit of tears while howling the words ‘modern forestry’, which are incidentally, to be used as though being tortured to utter them. Imagine Smeagol, and the screams of Baggins! Shire! Issuing from the dungeons of Barad Dur, and you’ll just about have it. Because in days medieval, big trees used for building would have been just one use for trees, and a less common and day to day occurrence than other methods. Just behemoths would have been left to the older more ancient and impenetrable woods like those on the wealds of Sussex, famously cut down to create a navy for Henry VIII, though that may be a myth, not sure. Or you would have big trees growing out of hedgerows.
For the most part, medieval woodsmen used the a critical qualities of the trees that pre-dominated in England, largely deciduous trees – their ability to regenerate . Chop down a tree from near the base, and it will regenerate from the stem or from suckers to create poles, which you could leave for a number of years, depending on what kind of usage you were looking for and the size of pole you needed. You might need thin, and whippy for baskets or hurdles. Or you might need something a bit more chunky for the vertical posts of hurdles or fences, or you might be looking for wood for charcoal. Or for whatever, the point being that the use of wood was far more diverse and central to medieval life than today, with the astounding proliferation of materials available to the modern world. So you harvest poles when required at the appropriate time. And then they’d regenerate again and so on. Cutting near the base is called coppicing as you probably know, and as you walk around the Chiltern hills in particular you will see much evidence of old coppiced trees, with wide stools now heavily overgrown.
You might also see, although I have to say I’ve not seen survivals near me, a gnarled, ancient old tree with an unfeasibly thick stem and relatively little top growth. Some such trees are split and hollow with age, but none the less still growing. What you might be looking at is a survival of a pollarded tree, which was driven by the need for pasture I was supposed to be describing before I went into this level 1 digression on medieval woodmanship. Pollarding and coppicing, incidentally, tend to prolong the age of trees, as far as 450 to 500 years old, and Rackham claims that England is unique in its survival of these ancient trees. I don’t know if that’s true or not, you’ll have to take that up with Oliver though he’s been dead a few years so that’ll be tricky, but anyway I am open to comment. Anyway, pollarding. So with the extra Oxen and reduced pasture I was talking about, ooh, minutes ago, solutions had to be found in the wooded uplands of the Chilterns. Obviously, trees and grass don’t really mix very well as the tree canopy deprives the grass of light, so you could cut down all the trees, but then you wouldn’t have the wood you so badly need, so that’s not good. You could coppice the trees, but then your livestock or wild animals would probably feast on the fresh shoots so that’s no good or at least would need managing. The solution was wood pasture. You’d allow the stem of your trees to grow until they are above the reach of the animals, and then you’d cut the tree there – the stem would get ticker each year, and is called the bolling, and from the top of the bolling would grow the same shoots as you get from a coppiced tree, and which you’d cut for poles before an over large canopy developed. Bingo, easy peasy, squeeze the lemon. Wood Pasture. Wood. Amd Pasture. Pasture and Wood. Simple but effective. As it happens, although pollarding was carried out in the Chilterns, the southern Oxfordshire Chilterns favoured the coppicing approach, enclosing the coppice for 7 years until the shoots were well established and then allowing grazing. The world’s your lobster essentially, and the importance again of local tradition and custom is clear. I might at this point mention, very briefly mention, the ancient and very beautiful art of hedge laying – the creating of a neat and impenetrable living fence by cutting back and training an overgrown hedge. There are multiple styles around the country, and they reflect both local tradition and the kind of agriculture carried out. The Midland Bullock for example, is a style designed to resist heavy animals pushing against them. The south of England tends to create a double layer. I really have gone off on one now, you didn’t come to the History of England to hear about hedge laying for crying out loud but look there is a Hedge Laying society if this is the sort of thing that floats your boat, so hie thee to the intertubes, hedgelaying.org.uk. The thing is, here is another way in which history, culture and landscape all so exist.
Enough of this maudlin nonsense. Ok, so where were we? I was describing a landscape where land, outside inland areas, is held within the large multiple estates, by a patchwork of individual farms of varying size, but generally reducing in size over time, held by individuals with some family rights over parts of the farm. Of smallish settlements of farm buildings, in groups which you might describe as polyfocal. Actually this is quite important; we tend to think of English villages as having a focus, a centre, often near the church. That comes later, for particular reasons. Hold on to that thought, we’ll get to it, but for the moment these are just cluster of dwellings, which no particular centre of focus.
Ok, it is time I think to try and define what we should call this area outside the inland of monastic estates. And naming it will incidentally help identify some of the ways in which the people who inhabited it differed from the inland farms. It’s helpful to begin at the end; because the characteristics of the late Anglo Saxon state of the 10th century and 11th century gave expression to concepts which derived from the earlier centuries. And When the Anglo Saxon state in all its glory was pulled down by the Norman invaders in 11th Century, it had a few defining characteristics.
Firstly it was unusually centralised state with great landowners that held public administrative and judicial powers, which they held by delegation from the king. Those powers were public and they could be revoked; this is absolutely unlike the hereditary offices of the Norman and medieval age like Earl. England therefore developed very differently to France. In France ,after the dissolution of the 8th and 9th century Carolingian empire, central power was weak, and so magnates were able to establish autonomous power bases many of which became the almost independent states of France –Gascony, Toulouse, Poitou and so on. This did not happen in England.
Secondly, this centralised power, and centralised law had preserved the right of the free peasantry. Outside inland estates, peasants and smaller landholders retained a direct relationship with the king, they did not become subject to those semi autonomous magnates. So the Anglo Saxon peasantry retained a large measure of freedom and independence. They have been described as
Small statesmen…small freemen charged with public duties
Thirdly, rights and public duties became associated with land rather than with personal lordship. So in one model of lordship, you are lord of a people and you have rights over them; there is no need to have any land at all, people obey your will because you are their lord. My understanding is that this is the model to which Celtic states conform. In Anglo Saxon England, it was different rights were associated with land. So, if a king had a companion, he would reward them with land. That land carried with it status, rights and obligations.
The rights carried by the land are public rights – whoever you were, large landowner or small, you owed the same type of rights and obligations. There’s a famous statement which recounts that any ceorl who can muster up 5 hides of land is entitled to the rights of a Thegn – so it was land that defined status, and with that status came public responsibility as part of the free individual’s role in the community.
There is a critical difference here with Inland tenants – those unfree Inland tenants acquired no public obligations or rights with the land; one sign of this was that Inland for example, did not carry an obligation to pay geld to the king.
It is at this point that I can finally refer back to my Spiderman statement way back when, that with great rights came great responsibility, and look, snaps to me for managing to remember all the way back there, whoop and generally speaking, I rock, go me.
Does that make any sense? So, in Anglo Saxon England it is not the fact that you are a lord that defines your rights, it is the land that you hold that defines your rights and your obligations to the broader community.
We should discuss what these public obligations were, but in principle they were held together by one unifying and binding concept. All these public rights and obligations were for one purpose, embedded in the Old English word, waru, the word for defence. The rights and obligations existed to defend the land; defend the land in the broadest sense, to keep it strong and hale and free from its enemies, which is a thoroughly powerful concept and I feel my patriotic breast swelling as I speak. So, the land from which these services were due became referred to as services to utware, services in defence of the land, utware, or as you might put it, warland, which is the phrase we will use. And warland is a good word is it not, a very evocative word that smells of earth and leafmould.
One of the obligations owed by Warland is the tribute owed to the king, as we discussed in the episode about life on the Scir; think back to all those tributes in Ine’s laws about the Ambers of ale being taken to the King’s Reeve at his tribute centre, ready for the kings circuit, for his appearance. But there are three common public services which Warland then owed to the community, which runs through laws and charters, and these are
- Military service
- Bridge repair, and
- fortification repair.
The inhabitants of Warland were not homogenous however; they fall into broad groups, with all the qualifications that nothing is wholly standard, everything varies according to individual and regional context. But there are broadly 3 recognisable groups –Thegns, Geneats and Ceorls.
The Thegn is probably the figure you know most about and have heard of before. He is a landowner, and from the later 9th century, as land given by written charter, or bookland, becomes a clearly articulated and desirable thing, they will expect to hold that land by charter. The Thegn acquired their name and status originally from the service they performed the king – land was then given to them by the king to reward their service. Law codes from Kent as early as the late 7th century tell us that Thegns were given a value or Wergild that set them apart from peasants, or Ceorls. They were of a class that was worthy to be made into an earldorman, an Earldorman being a state regional official, almost like the governor of a shire.
The extent of public obligations due from a Thegn became increasingly defined, and was based on a 5 hide unit that survives into Domesday. 11th century Law codes such as those of Aethelred are reasonably clear that a Thegn with 5 hides need to provide himself to fight, with all the armour and weapons he needed.
Particular estates might also attract different kinds of military service or repair work. Here is that all- important 11th century Anglo saxon document we have used before, the Rectitudines singularum personarum, an estate management document prepared probably at Bath abbey in the early 11th century.
The law of the thegn is that he should be worthy of his book-rights, and that from his land he [must] do three things: levy a company, and be liable for the building and repair of town walls, and build bridges. Also, on many estates more land-right is originated at the king’s command such as, [to maintain] the animal-hedge for the king’s estate, and [to supply] equipment for a defence ship, and to guard the coast, and [to be a] head-guard and [to perform] military watch, [to give] alms money and church tribute and many other diverse things.
The gobbet makes it clear that the Thegn expected to have land granted by charter, Bookland as it was called for obvious reasons. This was probably not all the land they held – they probably expected to also hold land of their own by ancient tradition and family right, by folcland, land not given him by the king but his from time imemmoral. Little two Ronnies reference there for you. Folcland’s possibly like land called allodium in France; this is land held by ancient and inalienable rights. The king has no power to take it away or grant it out; Folcland or allodial land is the antithesis of the feudal idea that all land is owned by the king, and everybody is in end his tenant. Nonetheless, folcland of course still owed the public obligations.
In Rectitudines you can see the three public obligations can’t you right there in front of you for all to see – levy a company, military service, repair town walls, fortifications, and build bridges. But then there’s other stuff peculiar to this estate. Here the thegn is required to pay ship money. Then there are obligations to give alms, just like the gebur, but unlike the gebur the Thegn has to give Church scot.
The rectitudines also mentions another couple of categories. There is a Geneat, a term which does not seem to be widely used, but is a kind of lesser Thegn. They pay tax, their services are at times agricultural – like
provide food for the lord, reap and mow, cut the animal-hedge, and maintain snares
sometimes they are more general or military
build and fence the dwellings within an enclosure, and lead newcomers to the enclosure…hold head-guard (duties) and guard horses, go on errands, either further or nearer or to wherever he is sent.
You will notice the complete absence of any mention of nightsoil. As far as the Geneat is concerned, nightsoil is a dirty word, they are not at home to Mr or indeed Mrs Nightsoil. Or anything to dirty the hands. It is all honourable service. Leading newcomers to the enclosure is very much the work of a trusted companion, who can be relied on not to pick their nose at an inappropriate moment, say the right thing at the right time, and look the part. Again, honurable service.
The Rectitudines also mentions a character somewhere in between the Geneat and the unfree peasant, the Kotsetlan, the Cottager. Now we are beginning to look more like a peasant, since they owe 1 day’s week-work and additional work at harvest time; but they may perform thegn’s service on the thegn’s behalf and they pay church-scot so probably still a free man. You might notice that I have not mentioned the word Ceorl, the general name for a free non noble that appears in the early laws, and probably the cottager come closest here; but ceorl by the stage of the Rectitudines had become a very general term, which might cover a very broad range of statuses.
So these are the people of the warland then, Thegn, Geaneat, Kotsetlan or coerl. You might think the dues they owe look pretty heavy, and there’s agricultural and week work in there for the Kotsetlan, and they owe of course, their regular tribute to the king. So on the face of it you might conclude that it’s all nit picking, hair splitting stuff, that the difference between the workers of the Inland and the obligations of Warland is a bit ikrrelevant. But in fact the difference is fundamental; the rights between inland and Warland make a clear faultline in AS society.
The first difference is the type of work required to their lord. Let’s take that agricultural commitment of the Geneat and Kotsetlan. Before I do, let me remind you of some of the dues of the Gebur we heard of last week so that we can compare and contrast. Here’s the gebur
‘He must work [for] two days in each week, [doing] such work as he is directed to, throughout the year, and to work [for] three days each week during the harvest, and for three [days each week] from Candlemas to Easter.
That by the way was just the start, but I didn’t want to go overboard. Meanwhile, the Kotsetlan or The Cottager of the warland on the Bath estate was required to
labour for his lord each Monday throughout the year, or for three days each week throughout the harvest.
It’s interesting that the day of work is specified – the gebur just had to do what he was told when he was told, on Tuesdays the Cottager can tell his lord to go jump in a lake. But the 3 days each week throughout the harvest is the most interesting. In this obligation you can trace the life of the community of the ancient scir, working together at the heavy times of year to get the hard work done on the time the community needed it to survive and thrive – the ploughing, bringing in the harvest. This kind of obligation was often called boon work. The word boon has a Old English root, which is ben, or prayer – something prayed for, requested, needed. The sense is of the owner of the land going round to his neighbours and asking them to come together to help bring the harvest in; in return for which he will feed them and provide them with ale. There is a sense of equality. Now, in later centuries the more powerful lords and landowners put pressure on their peasantry and these dues begin to look more compulsory, and indeed they are – but there is still a quid pro quo, a favour done in return for something. There is still a sense of neighbourliness, the community together.
The same applies to other boon work. Some geneats did horse work, in the sense of droving or carting; here was work to support the economic health of the estate, taking salt, lead, cattle, hides, wool to market on its behalf. Again, all of this is honourable type work, and it’s very related to the origin of all these dues – to the tribute owed to the king. So when the king came to visit the scir and stay on the estate, the warland inhabitants might be required to turn out to help the hunt, or carry out riding and messenger duties.
The other key difference between the duties of gebur and geneat is the idea of public service. The Inland gebur owed work in return for livelihood to the lord, their status did not require or allow them to carry out any public service for the state at all, all the service they owed was part of a contract with their lord.
The proud warlander – geneat, Thegn, Kotsetlan – all owed public service, Military, bridge and fortification work as we said. The requirement for military service would of course include the requirement to bear arms. That is of course, an utterly daft statement, I mean Duh, no really? But I make this super obvious statement because the relationship between personal freedom and arms-bearing is absolutely fundamental. So if we see a man with a spear we are looking at a freeman, and if we see a man being berated for carrying a spear when he has no right to do so, we are looking at a serf. Although there is much debate about the nature of the fyrd, it was the militia of the Anglo Saxon community, called out by the Earldorman of the shire when danger threatened. A section in Domesday for example explains that
When the king goes against his enemy
Each man was summoned and must serve who was
So free that he has his sake and soke and can go with his land wherever he wishes
Sake and Soke are another pair of words for a freeman’s right rights. The Fyrd, then, is associated with freedom.
The people of warland, then, with their public obligations whatever the extent of their land, whether 5 acres or 5 hides, would take their spears and answer the personal summons of the king. The geburs and bordars of the inland estates would watch them go. There were other kinds of military service; King Alfred would organise this defence against the Vikings by requiring free men to do service at the local burgh defending the walls. Even the Kotsetlans of Bath Abbey, some with as few as 5 acres to their name
[must] guard his lord’s land if one asks him [to], [and] guard the coast, and [work] at [maintaining] the king’s animal-hedge.
Another two public obligations were work on repairing and maintaining those fortifications, and doing the same for bridges. This latter was skilled work – there’s a reference to the work required to maintain the Roman Bridge at Rochester for example, which makes it clear this is skilled work that would require the people that carried it out to supply valuable stock, such as Oxen to drag the heavy, 50 foot oak trunks.
Inhabitants of warland were required to pay tax to the king, or geld as it was called. The association between king’s taxation and freedom went way back, and would last a long time. In twelfth century Glastonbury for example a proud peasant defended his freedom sby aying
In the old days his father held this geldable yardland freely by the king’s taxation
His freedom was all bound up with the land he held which was geldable and therefore warland, and the taxation meant he was free, he had a direct relationship with the king. This also meant that he was required to get involved in the business of state justice – the free ceorl had a wergild, they were law worthy. That meant they could appeal to the law’s protection and judgement; but they also had a responsibility to maintain and sustain the law and it’s delivery. One of the other interesting features of the Anglo Saxon state was the strength of the King’s justice; the lord’s justice and court, the manorial court, which was an essential part of continental practice and world become so in England after the conquest; until that point, the manorial court was rare and peripheral in the Anglo Saxon state. The law worthy ceorl was required to travel to the public courts – the local hundred court or the court of the scir or the later shires. All free males over 12 were to be in a tithing of 10 people, presided over by one of their own as the tithingman. Their obligations ignored secular or religious boundaries; they must present crimes for the court to consider, answer queries from the state, make arrangements for the collection of alms and observance of fasts. They took part in the deliberations of assemblies, the folk moot, in which custom and collective memory were important; the Ealdorman presided over the public Shire and Hundred courts, but they were not exactly judges – more presidential and executive than judicial. Every dispute or settlement was essentially confirmed by oath, by the witnesses and oath helpers who swore as to the credit and reputation of the parties involved. This was a duty and a right open only to freemen, and laws specifically stated they were obligations to
Every person who wishes to be held worthy of his wergild
The picture I am building here then, is of the participatory nature of the state. It’s not that mid and late Anglo Saxon England was some sort of farmer republic as might have existing in the very early days of the settlement, or you can see on the highlands and islands of Scotland around this time and indeed later – farmers who got together every so often to discuss and decide things together. Anglo Saxon England has its structure of king and ealdormen and Thegns, or hierarchy and elites. But it is deeply participatory; participatory irrespective of economic status and all the way down the social ladder – as long as you are able to maintain your status by delivering your public obligations.
There we go then; we have an early and mid Anglo Saxon world where land had a big impact on your status; if you continued to hold your land as warland, you participated in a state to which you owed public obligations. The warland Ceorls were part of a class which contained both lesser landowners and small scale subsistence farmers. The warland peasant considered they owned their land as of their own right, they paid their geld and attended public courts, served in the fyrd or help pay for a soldier to go from their area, contributed to bridge and fortification work. They were obliged to turn up at the estate centre to do occasional harvesting and ploughing work, but they did that from an enduring sense of being good neighbours – boon work as good members of the community.
In the later Anglo Saxon state, though, the pressures that had led to some of the peasantry giving up the rights associated with their warland status and becoming unfree, were growing stronger and broadening. The changes would have a fundamental impact not just on society and individual lives, but on England’s the very fabric, in a way that you can still see everytime you step out of the door; they will lead to the creation of manors; to the differences about how the landscape was organised. And from it will come one of the glories of the English countryside, the English village.