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Economic, Social and Cultural Life in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages saw the development of a Norman manor as a main economic unit and its decline. The manor contained land of two kinds — folk-land, which was given to the peasants by a tenure known as folk-right and book-land, which was the land of the feudal. Book-land was granted to the nobles by "books" or "charters" from the King, who remained the ultimate owner of all land. Serfs and villains, who were unfree and couldn't leave the manor, cultivated the land.

As the lord exacted service from the villeins, so the King took service and taxation from the lord. The obligations included military service and giving three feudal aids — to help the King to knight his eldest son, to dower his daughter and to ransom himself.

The system of villeinage started to decline because of rapid economic disintegration. As the manors produced wool, it soon led to trading connections with Flanders and appearance of merchant capital. Towns grew and by the time of Edward the Confessor every county had one chief town. Just as the people in the country, who had then- shire moot, the people in the town had their borough moot. There was also a reeve, who collected taxes, held the local courts to administer justice and became the town's representative in all affaires with the King.

The towns were granted certain privileges by the King and by the Lords. These privileges had a form of charters, they gave the right for self-government, which was administered by a mayor and aldermen. Burgesses also took part in the government, they made a smaller part of the town population. Burgesses were originally holders of land within the town, they paid the duties to the King and kept the government of the town to themselves.

Town people were usually grouped into three classes — guilds. There were social or religious guilds, craft guilds and merchant guilds. The social or religious guilds flourished between the 13th— 16th centuries, but were suppressed in 1547—1548, when then- property was confiscated by the Crown.

The craft guilds united the men of the same trade and regulated then-activities. These guilds protected trade, distinguished working standards and conditions, the number and training of apprentices. By the 14* century, the guilds became so important, that their government was usually hi the hands of the town authorities, they also controlled merchant guilds. These guilds united burgesses, who obtained privileges from the King for then-commerce. They controlled the whole trade of the town, could supply town councils and had big influence over them.

By the beginning of the 14th century, appeared a new class — the journeymen organised the Yeomen guilds, which were often discouraged and forced to work secretly. They were a part of the growing overseas trade with European countries. Early in the 14th century, most of the English textile-market was supplied by English industry, so the export of raw wool and textile became an important part of English economy.

The growth of national industry was interrupted by the epidemic of plague, which struck Britain hi 1349. The Black Death reduced the population of the country by a third or even by a half. The living peasants and craftsmen had now certain advantage — they were paid more and could ask for the reduction of working hours.

The employers, in their turn, tried to safeguard their interests in the Statute of Labourers, which refused the demands of rise in wages. The labourers were not eager to work for nothing, so the Statute proved ineffective. A great number of peasants went to towns, where the wages were higher.

The fields in many villages were waste; there were even not enough people to look after sheep. As sheep couldn't be kept in open fields, the first enclosures were made. This first step led to the further enclosure movement, which on the one hand drew peasants off the land, but on the other hand led to the enormous increase in wool production and accumulation of wealth in the country — the land now could be rented, the landlord gave stock and land lease. These were important steps to capitalism, to making the land a field for the investment of capital from which a regular return could be obtained. The personal relations of the manor were replaced by simple money relation.

Task 10. Match the columns representing different notions to their descriptions.


1. Borough moot a) country moot
2. Shire moot b) head of the town serf-government
3. Reeve c) town council
4. Charter d) a representative of the King in a town
5. Burgess e) a town or a division of a large town
6. Mayor (aldermen) f) a union of people of commerce
7. Craft guild g) a citizen of a town with self-government
8. Religious guild h) a special privilege from the King
9. Merchant guild i) a union of clergymen
10. Borough j) a union of the people of the same trade
11. The Yeomen guild k) an early example of privatisation of public land
12. Enclosure 1) a union of travelling merchants


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