網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

i

most destructive calamities. The monuments of more settled times were demolished; the country was laid waste; cities sunk into towns, while towns dwindled into villages: and universal desolation is said to have ensued. Nor, was the condition of the country much meliorated, by the reestablishment of domestic quiet.. If, indeed, we could implicitly credit the recitals of the laws of Henry VII. we should find sufficient evidence, " That great defolations daily do increase, by pull

*ing down and wilful waste of houses and towns, « and by laying to pasture lands which customably « have been used in tillage.”

An important change had certainly taken place mean while, in the condition of the great body of the people, which fortunately promoted their happiness, and which consequently proved favourable to the propagation of the species.

There existed in England, at the Conquest, no free bands, or freemen, who worked for wages; fince the scanty labour of times, warlike and unindustrious, was wholly performed by villains, or by Naves. The latter, who composed a very numerous class, equally formed an object of foreign trade, for ages after the arrival of the Conqueror, who only prohibited the sale of them to infidels *. But the Naves had happily departed from the land before the reign of Henry III. This we may infer from the law declaring, in 1225, How men

Dr. Henry's History of Great Britain, vol. ii. p. 479-80.

" of

" of all sorts shall be amerced *”: and it only mentions villains, freemen, (though probably not in the modern sense), merchants, barons, earls, and men of the church. Another order of men is alluded to rather than mentioned, during the same session; whom we shall find, in after times, rising to great importance, from their numbers and opulence. And a woollen manufacture, having already increased to that stage of it when frauds begin, was regulated by the act t, which required, " There shall be but one measure throughout the 6 realm.

Yet, this manufacture continued inconsiderable, during the warlike reign of Edward I. and the turbulent administration of his immediate succefsor, if we may judge from the vast exportations of wool.

The year 1331 marks the first arrival of Walloon manufacturers, when Edward III. wisely determined to invite foreigners into England I, to instruct his subjects in the useful arts.

As early as the Parliament of 1337, it was enacted, That no wool should be exported; that no one should wear any but English cloth; that no clothes made beyond seas should be imported; that foreign clothworkers might come into the king's dominions, and should have such franchises as might

9 Henry III. ch. 14. + 9 Henry III. ch. 25.

And. Chron. Ac. of Com. v.

i

p.

162.

C 3

fuffice

suffice them. This may be considered as one of the first statutes, which gave commercial efficacy to the mercantile system.

Before this time, says De Wit*, when the tumults of the manufacturers in Flanders obliged them to seek shelter in other countries, the English were little more than shepherds and wool-sellers. From this epoch, manufactures became often the objects of legiNation, and the spirit of industry will be found to have promoted greatly the state of population, and to have augmented considerably the opulence of all ranks of men.

The statutes of labourers of 1349 and 1350 demonstrate, that a considerable change had taken place in the condition and pursuits of the most numerous classes.

During several reigns after the Conquest, men laboured, because they were Naves. For some years before these regulations of the price of work, men were engaged to labour, from a sense of their own freedom, and of their own wants. It was the statutes of labourers T, which, adding the compulsion of law to the calls of necessity, created oppression for ages,

while they ought to have given relief. It is extremely difficult to ascertain the time when villainage ceased in Eng

. Interest of Holland.

+ See the 12th Richard II. ch. 3, 4, 5, 6, 9. By these, no artificer, labourer, fervant, or victualler, shall depart from one hundred to another, without licence under the kings seal. These laws, says Anderfon, are sufficient proofs of the flavish condition of the common servants in those times (1388).

land,

[ocr errors]

land, or even to trace its decline. The Edwards, during the pressure of their foreign conquests, certainly manumitted many of their villains for money. Owing to the previous fewness of inhabitants, the numerous armies, which for almost a century desolated the nation amidst our civil wars, must have been necessarily composed of the lower ranks: and we may reasonably suppose, that the men, who had been brought from the drudgeries of Navery to contend as soldiers, for the honour of nobles and the rights of kings, would not readily relinquish the honourable sword for the meaner ploughshare. The church, even in the darkest ages, laudably remonstrated against the unchristian practice of holding fellow-men in bondage. The courts of justice did not willingly enforce the master's claim to the servitude of his villains, till, in the progress of knowledge, interest discovered, that the purchased labour of freemen was more productive than the listless and ignoble coil of Naves. Owing to those causes, there were certainly few villains in England at the accession of Henry VII.*; and the great body of the people, having thus gained greater freedom, and with it greater comfort, henceforth acquired the nume

* The statute of 23 Henry VI. chap. 12. mentions only servants, artificers, workmen, and labourers; and there is a distinction made between husbandry servants and domestic servants. Yet villains are spoken of, even in our courts of justice, though seldom, as late as the time of James I.

[blocks in formation]

rous blessings, which every where result from an orderly administration of established government.

Duting almost a century, before the accession of Henry VII. in 1485, the manufacturers of wool, with their attendant artificers, had fixed the seats of their industry in every county in England. The principle of the act of navigation had been introduced into our legislation as early as 1381, by the law declaring*, “ That none of the king's

subjects shall carry forth, or bring in merchan“ dizes, but only in ships of the king's allegiance.” The fisheries too had been encouraged t. Agriculture had been moreover promoted, by the law which declared I, “ That all the king's subjects

may carry corn out of the realm when they « will.” And guilds, fraternities, and other companies, having soon after their creation imposed monopolizing restraints, were corrected by a law of Henry VI. $; though our legislators were not very steady, during an unenlightened age, in the application of so wise a policy.

In reading the laws of Edward IV. we think ourselves in modern times, when the spirit of the mercantile system was in its full vigour, before it had been so perspicuously explained and so ably

5 Richard II. ch. 3,-6 Richard, ch. 8. + By 6 Richard II. ch. 11, 12, I 17 Richard II. ch. 7. $ 15 Hen, VI. ch. 6.

exploded.

« 上一頁繼續 »