we peasants

james armstrong james36army at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 20 10:25:28 BST 2008

Subjugation in England  by means of the land 
The acknowledged expert on the land laws by which the medieval English were  subjugated and society divided,  turns out to be a tsarist professor of Moscow University, Professor Paul Vinogradoff, "Villainage in England",(O.U.P.),  1892 

Since Bede wrote "A history of the English Church and People" around the year 700,  there has been no excuse for  not knowing that ownership of land  carries with it the penalty of  injuring people. There we learn  
(King Ethelwahl  granted  87 hides of land near Selsey to Bishop  Wilfrid ) ….
 " the king had given him not only the land but all the inhabitants on it. " - so we learn incidentally that 250 male and female slaves were part of the deal.  It is to the credit of the good bishop that he granted them their freedom, but unless they somehow obtained land to sustain them this would have been a doubtful privilege.  

Ignoring the basic truth, that purchases or gifts of land carry an injurious human consequence is inexcusable since ever people read - 
( Joshua,) "there distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions"  ( J 18.10)
The fate of the Hittites etc who inhabited the land, the men, women and chidren  contrasts unfavourably with that of the Selsey slaves. You can learn of the Hittites fate in Numbers 31.

What emerged about the reality of serfdom in England when the  professor explored the shelves of the Bodleian Library, of the Records Office and of the Abbey cartularies?
- a radical viewpoint with which to judge our origins and of  just what constitutes  British history.
-  how  the peasantry, especially women were omitted from our  history   unless they were heads of households and generally that day laboureres and squatters were groups who fell through the legal and historical net.
- You also get an understanding of the defects of present  land law, based on  feudal law  which  was, in his words, 'one-sided'. He found it had 'abortive features'  because  it failed to describe and match the reality of everyday life.
- that land is not only important in the agricultural context but causes social divisions and shapes our politics, the economy  and costitution and so affects us all. 

The foundations of our modern laws are questioned  and their dependence on Norman law 
which was socially divisive as against customary law which had a tradition of  a free peasantry and arose from a strong communal village society.
Law was not immaculate- it often trailed behind day to day life- and did not match changing ideas of fairness.
Here is the name of one peasant,  Emma Lovel. Another is Ralph Crips, both alive shortly before the  time of the peasants revolts in the 1300's,  whose names we can now  introduce into the electronic age and do something however small to acknowledge their place in our history.

JA  August 2008


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