Well, we’ve seen now how the
early Tudors managed to reestablish the authority of the
monarchy; how that achievement was
threatened by the succession crisis which was looming under
Henry VIII; how that problem was met by
actions which further extended royal authority over the church,
but at the same time, of course, introduced a new
form of instability into the kingdom–
potential conflict over religion.
But that wasn’t all that was
going on and there were other sources of instability which
were set in motion at around the same time in the second quarter
of the sixteenth century. What adds additional complexity
to the whole situation is the fact that there were
simultaneous shifts in some of the basic aspects of economic
and social life which in 1500 would have been more or less
taken for granted. The problem then had been
political instability, not social instability.
But soon social instability was
to be on the agenda. And people knew by the 1530s
and 1540s that they lived in radically changing times in more
ways than one. The phenomenon of which they
were most acutely aware was rising prices,
rising prices for the basic necessities of life.
Prices of goods had been fairly
stable for most of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries,
but around about the second decade of the sixteenth century
they began rising. If you look at your handout,
section one, you’ll find there an index of
prices for what’s described as a basket of basic consumables,
mostly foodstuffs and other essentials of life.
You can see from that index,
which stands at around 100 in 1500, how prices rose rapidly in
the course of the sixteenth century.
At first it was a modest trend.
It picked up momentum in the
1530s. Price rises were very rapid
indeed in the 1540s and ’50s and they continued to rise more
slowly thereafter. So, they faced a problem of
inflation, and the causes of that inflation were complex.
They’re much debated,
but amongst them one of the most principal seems to have
been the fact that population was also growing.
The pressure was being felt of
increasing numbers of people on relatively inelastic resources,
forcing up prices. If you look at section two of
your handout, you’ll see the best figures
available from demographic historians of what the
population of England was at different points in the earlier
sixteenth century. The best estimates we have
suggest that in the 1520s about 2.4 million.
By the 1550s that had risen to
about 3 million, by 1570 3.3 million,
and still rising. The annual rate of increase can
be calculated and it’s there on the right-hand side.
In the 1540s about 0.64% per
annum, in the 1560s almost 1% per annum, 1570s over 1% per
annum. These are quite rapid rates of
increase for a preindustrial population.
In fact, that kind of rate of
population increase was not matched again in England until
the late eighteenth century at the height of the Industrial
Revolution. So the population was rising.
Now explaining why that was so
is far from easy, but in all likelihood it was to
do with a fall in death rates in the early sixteenth century in a
population which had a fairly high fertility rate and high
propensity to grow if it wasn’t culled by severe mortality.
So death rates,
still high by our standards, seem to have been falling
somewhat. If you’re interested in that
kind of historical demography and would like to pursue the
issue of population dynamics, then I’d be happy to advise you
on more detailed reading. But for the moment it’s enough
to just register the essential facts: prices are rising;
population is rising; the two are probably connected.
What I want to focus on today
is the fallout from all of that: some of the stresses in society
which were produced by this dynamic of population growth and
price inflation, how it impacted on different
groups in society. And one can start at the top
with the landlords, gentlemen, noblemen,
the monarchy. In most cases the bulk of
landlords’ incomes, as you know,
came from rents and they needed that income to sustain the
lifestyles which were appropriate to their station as
gentlemen, to sustain their magnificence.
In that situation their biggest
problem as the sixteenth century went on was rising prices but an
inflexible income. At worst many of them had
tenants who enjoyed fixed rents; they’d been granted fixed rents
at some point in the past. At best they were in a position
to periodically modify the rents they got for their lands,
but they were still relatively inflexible.
Land was often granted for long
periods of time on a fixed agreement for that term.
It might be twenty,
thirty years. Land was also let according to
customs, as you know,
which had been established in particular areas which might
inhibit the landlords’ capacity to adjust the rent levels.
That’s very bad news when
prices are rising. So, how did these people cope?
For the most part landlords
coped by gradually trying to alter the terms on which they
granted their land to the peasantry.
They tried to let it for
shorter leases which they could renegotiate more often,
try to get the lease down to seven years,
ten years or whatever rather than ninety,
which had been quite common in the past.
They also tried to change local
customs regarding what kind of fine or down payment they could
get when they let land. For example,
on the estates of the Herbert family,
which were located in Wiltshire in the southwest,
in the first half of the sixteenth century they managed
to roughly double the fines which they were getting when a
new tenant took land from them. Well, it was only possible for
landlords to squeeze their tenants a little harder in that
way because land was in demand. The rise in population,
rise in population for the first time in a century and a
half, meant that there was demand for
land in a way that hadn’t really been known since the fourteenth
century. There’s a lot of evidence of
people nibbling at wasteland, forest land,
moor land, bringing land into cultivation.
In the Forest of Inglewood for
example, which was located up in the
northwest of England, up here, there was a survey
made of illegal ‘encroachments’ in the forest,
people cutting out a little piece of land for themselves
where they could squat, and it revealed that over a
period of twenty or thirty years almost 200 encroachments had
been made into the forest there. So pressure on the land.
And inevitably also as the
population rose the size of the wholly landless population rose
too. There were more young people
surviving to adulthood for whom there was no inheritance,
no place on the land. Now those shifting
circumstances, the pressures on landlords,
the pressures that they’d pass on to their tenants,
the pressure of population growth, helped to explain the
emergence in the early sixteenth century of some quite severe
tensions in the relationships between landlords and farm
tenants. Tensions in particular over
customs and the emergence of one particular cardinal grievance,
the grievance of ‘enclosure’. Now as I’ve explained earlier,
in some areas of the kingdom agriculture had never been
practiced in great open fields but had been practiced already
on enclosed farms. Before 1500,
in the areas where there was–there were–open fields,
some of them had been reorganized by enclosing them to
make sheep pastures. This was done by landlords who
were short of tenants. They found that doing that was
a good way of keeping their land in production,
although a low-intensity production,
when otherwise it might go vacant or might be unprofitable.
Wool was in demand from the
cloth industry so they went over to a kind of sheep ranching.
At the time that wasn’t
particularly controversial, but after the 1510s steps to
enclose land which had formerly been open became much more
controversial. In the Midlands,
which was a major wool-supplying area,
many landlords withdrew land from the plow to turn it into
sheep ranches despite the growing demand from tenants for
land. Some landlords also took in and
enclosed for their own use land which had formerly been the
common pastureland of particular villages.
Thereby they reduced the area
of common pasture available to their tenants,
which was a further grievance, especially since common land
was particularly valuable in conditions of land hunger.
Well, these changing conditions
meant that enclosure, which had previously been
merely a tactic you could adopt on your estate,
became a quite significant grievance in many areas of the
kingdom. It seemed to many people a very
visible sign of the changing balance of power in rural
society between lords and tenants.
Sir Thomas More in his
Utopia refers to the phenomenon of sheep eating men
in England at this time, reflecting that sense of
grievance. It’s for these reasons that
issues of rents and fines and customs and common land became a
quite explosive cocktail in landlord-tenant relations by the
mid-sixteenth century. And there was also a little
more to it than that. The economic trends and the
population trends of the period were gradually producing a
greater differentiation in village society amongst tenants.
There were those who did quite
well in these circumstances, especially the bigger farmers,
the yeomanry. Quite often they held part of
their land in freehold; they were somewhat protected.
Quite often they produced a
large surplus which they could market and if prices were rising
they could make bigger profits. They were able to pay higher
rents without too much trouble. They might take on more land to
extend their operations, and if they wanted to do that
they were in a far better position to compete for
available land than were their poorer neighbors.
So this is a period when one
sees the yeomanry becoming increasingly differentiated in
their wealth and living standards from their poorer
neighbors. These were people who were able
to benefit from the trends of the period.
They showed a lot of ambition
in the way they did that, and the ambition of those who
were best able to take advantage of the trends of the–
this generation, that ambition is also shown in
response to another economic development of the period and
this time it’s an economic development which wasn’t
directly connected to population or price trends but was
connected to religious changes. And I’m thinking of course of
the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the bringing on
to the market of vast quantities of former monastic land.
Some figures relating to this
are there on your handout in section three.
Basically, between 1536 and
1540 about 60% of the land which was owned by the church was
transferred to the crown through the Dissolution of the
Monasteries. Many studies have been done of
individual counties. In the county of Essex,
down here to the east of London, for example,
the church had owned about 28% of the manors in that county.
By 1540, after the Dissolution
it owned only 2%; a massive transfer of land.
Well, these seizures of church
land were probably intended by Thomas Cromwell to endow the
crown in perpetuity with massive land holdings which would render
it absolutely unchallengeable and indeed might even render it
independent of any grants of taxation from Parliament.
But if that was Cromwell’s
intention it failed to materialize, because most of the
monastic land was quite rapidly disposed of by the crown.
By the time Henry VIII himself
died in 1547, he had already sold something
like two thirds of the monastery land which had come in to him,
and still more of this land was sold later.
there’s been a study done of the whole of Wales which shows
that of the monastic land there 60% had gone by the death of
Henry in 1547 and by the time Elizabeth came to the throne in
1558 75% of the monastery land had been disposed of.
Why would the crown dispose of
the land in this kind of way? Well, basically to pay for wars;
wars which were getting more expensive, requiring fortresses,
modern weapons, new ships and so forth.
Henry VIII in his last years
engaged in short, inconclusive,
utterly futile, assertions of his rights,
as he saw them, against France and against
Scotland resulting in wars and massive expenditure which
accounted for much of the monastic land.
For our purposes today it’s
interesting to note the results of studies which have looked at
the identities of who’s buying this land from the crown.
Quite a lot went to the heads
of established noble and gentry families,
people who were anxious to take advantage of this wonderful
opportunity to consolidate their estates,
to rationalize the estates and so forth,
to build up their holdings in particular areas of their
strength. Another group who emerged quite
strongly are people who were the youngest sons of such gentry and
noble families, people who in the normal course
of events would expect most of the family’s property to pass to
their older brothers, but who now had an opportunity
to get in and get some land for themselves.
They could set up cadet
branches of the family and sometimes they did so with the
money which they had generated in trade or in professions.
Younger sons were often put
into trade or into professions and were able to make the money
which enabled them to return to landed society and set
themselves up as minor gentlemen.
Another significant group were
upwardly mobile people from the middle ranks of society:
yeoman farmers piecing together field to field until they could
emerge with a sufficient estate to call themselves gentlemen;
people from the towns who had no gentry ancestry,
perhaps lawyers, perhaps merchants,
prosperous craftsmen and tradesmen,
who were able to acquire land and its superior social status,
perhaps in some cases on a level which would again bring
them into the lower ranks of the gentry.
So there were customers enough
for this monastic land, and to serve their needs there
were many speculators. A lot of the monastic land was
bought by speculators who rapidly sold it on.
The overall effects of this was
a kind of feeding frenzy in the land market.
It resulted of course not only
in the severe reduction of the position of the church as a
great landowner, but it also resulted ultimately
in a very significant rise in both the numbers of those who
called themselves gentlemen and in the relative wealth of the
gentry as a whole. So some people were doing very
well out of all of this, but of course it’s not all
buoyancy. No process of change of this
kind ever is, and so one has to ask,
“who were the losers in these processes?”
And there are some large and
quite obvious groups. Amongst the losers were the
small farm tenants who couldn’t easily meet rising rents,
who didn’t sell enough on the market to produce the profits
which would pay them, who were finding it difficult
to make ends meet. Then there were those who
were–one could think of as would-be farm tenants,
those who might aspire to getting a foothold on the land
but found it increasingly difficult because rents were
rising, fines were rising and so forth,
and they couldn’t compete with the bigger guys in the village
who could take up land that came available on the local market.
It could be quite a difficult
time for the young in that respect.
But above all there were the
growing numbers of landless people in the countryside or in
the towns whose living depended principally on what they could
earn from wage earning as laborers and the rights to use
commons which they might enjoy in the places where they lived.
Those who depended on wages
were particularly hard hit by inflation and despite the fact
that prices were rising, squeezing their living
standards, wages rose only slowly because the population
was growing and there was plenty of labor available.
Wages tended to remain pretty
sticky at customary levels for long periods of time.
That meant that people’s real
wages, the real purchasing power of their wages,
was falling. And quite close studies of this
have been done and they suggest that between 1510 and 1550 the
purchasing power of wages fell by about 40% in the south of
England. By the 1550s,
they were down 50% and they began to recover modestly only
in the later sixteenth century. So these were quite hard times
for a lot of people. William Harrison,
who wrote a famous description of England at the beginning of
the reign of Elizabeth, described how many of what he
described as the “inferior sort of people”
lived principally on what he called “white meats”:
eggs and cheese and bread. In times of dearth they were
particularly hard hit and might have to live on peas and beans
or even ground acorns which they tried to bake into bread.
He added, “I will not say
that this extremity is often also found in times of plenty,
but if I should I could easily stand my trial.”
That’s Harrison’s ironic
comment on the living standards of the poor in his time.
Well, all of this is reflected
in a growing contemporary concern with the problem of
poverty. There had always been poor of
course, but poverty as a major social problem hadn’t been a
major issue in the fifteenth century.
It was more a matter of the
poverty that resulted from life cycle crises of a small minority
of people: the widowed, the aged, the sick,
orphaned children. These were the ones that
contemporaries referred to as the “impotent poor,”
those who could not help themselves,
those who were poor by circumstance beyond their
control. But as the sixteenth century
advanced people began talking and writing about poverty in two
worryingly expanded forms. They first became aware of the
problem of vagrancy, the problem of what they called
‘rogues and vagabonds’, homeless people visible on the
streets of the towns or on the roads of the countryside.
People like one man who was
arrested by the justices of the peace over near the Welsh border
who, in the examination which they
took from him, told them that he was a person
who dwells no– I’m quoting the
examination–who “dwells nowhere nor has no abiding but
where he might find work.” The vagrant looking for work,
moving around the countryside. People like this were a much
more common sight as the sixteenth century advanced.
It’s quite interesting that in
his translation of the New Testament William Tyndale,
in trying to describe a scene from the Acts of the Apostles
where Saint Paul is attacked by a mob in Thessalonica,
translated the Greek word which literally means people standing
in the street, he translated it as
“vagabonds.” When Tyndale tried to imagine
people hanging around in the street he imagined them as some
of these vagrants who he would have seen in the streets of
London. So vagrancy,
rogues and vagabonds, are emerging as a significant
problem. On the other hand,
there was the growing problem of what they described as the
“laboring poor,” people whose whole style of
life was based increasingly on a kind of economy of makeshifts,
getting work wherever they could.
but finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
The laboring poor,
people who would also fall into really severe poverty if they
suffered any misfortune; if they couldn’t find work,
if there was a depression in the cloth industry,
if they fell sick, and so forth.
These people were especially
visible in areas where wage workers were concentrated,
principally the towns or those areas of the countryside where
many people worked in rural industries.
Let’s just take stock.
By the 1540s,
rising prices and demographic growth had seen in some ways a
quickening of economic activity. For some people this brought
new opportunities and indeed enhanced prosperity.
But at the same time there was
also a growing sense of tension in the relationships between
landlords and their peasant tenants,
an emerging problem of land hunger,
a growing problem of a wage laboring population which was
very vulnerable to poverty on an unaccustomed scale.
Now people were aware of these
changes, they were aware of the
tensions, but from their perspective at the time it was
the symptoms of change which were more apparent than the
actual causes. It was exceedingly difficult
for people in the sixteenth century to comprehend what was
happening to them. They didn’t keep official
statistics. The figures which are on your
handout have been calculated by historians using a variety of
sources. Contemporaries didn’t have
information of this kind. They tended to perceive changes
and emergent problems of this kind through their inherited
attitudes, their essentially medieval moral philosophy;
a view of the world in which economic behavior wasn’t treated
as a distinct area of activity, a phenomenon to be studied in
itself by the science of economics,
they saw it as a branch of personal and social morality.
The ideal world in their view
was the world of the commonwealth,
which I’ve described to you. They saw these problems as
failings in the ideal of the commonwealth,
failings which could be attributed to the misdeeds of
specific people. Well, these ideas not only
persisted throughout the early sixteenth century but they were
powerfully reemphasized in the 1540s with the emergence of a
group of moralists, most of them Protestant
clergymen, in the reign of Edward VI,
who addressed these social and economic grievances.
They were known at the time as
the “Commonwealth’s Men” because they talked
constantly about the needs of the commonwealth.
Such people also saw the
reformation not simply in terms of the jurisdictional
independence of the Church of England from the Church of Rome,
or simply in terms of fundamental doctrinal changes.
They also thought it was an
opportunity for the re-moralizing of society,
the revitalization of Christian values in society.
They advocated an ideal
Christian commonwealth. They thought this was the
opportunity to achieve it, and yet they saw all around
them evidence of the corruption of social relationships by what
they saw as the cardinal sin of covetousness,
one of their favorite words, covetousness–
greed–and the pernicious idea again which they constantly
refer to that, quote, “every man may do
with his own as he will.” The motion that every man may
do with his own as he will, which they regarded as an
unchristian attitude. In their view,
worldly goods were given by God to be handled with stewardship,
with an interest to society as a whole.
So their social vision was
essentially conservative. They saw change in terms of
social dislocation and moral corruption.
They denounced the
representatives of covetousness whom they identified.
They spoke for example of
“ungentle gentlemen.” They attacked what they called
the “caterpillars of the commonwealth”
who were eating up its green shoots.
They attacked what they saw as
exploitation and oppression of the poor, and they did all of
this in a language reminiscent of Old Testament prophets.
a great historian of these changes,
says they used the moral rhetoric, in his words,
of “an age that had rediscovered the Bible.”
Well, it hadn’t rediscovered it.
It had discovered it for the
first time in English, and as I say,
the language of Jeremiah or Isaiah is the kind of language
that they used to denounce what they saw as a world out of
joint. Well, the pamphlets written by
these people in the 1540s and 1550s are a quite magnificent
literature of moral indignation. It still has the capacity to
thrill when you read it. It indicated also what’s been
described by one recent historian as a “crisis of
legitimation,” a crisis of legitimation.
The world seemed out of joint
in so many ways, but response to change also
took a more direct form. There were not only those who
were appealing for reform, for moral reformation,
for people to behave as they should,
there were also those who were prepared to directly resist
these changes especially in the countryside.
From about the 1530s onwards,
researchers working on records of local government and on the
courts find that the country was increasingly pockmarked with
minor forms of disorder as the peasantry of particular
localities resisted initiatives on the part of their landlords,
perhaps rioting against the enclosing of fields or of common
land and so forth, or against changes in their
customs and tenures. And such resistance becomes
above all evident in some of the great risings of the commons
which took place in the middle third of the sixteenth century,
risings which convulsed first the north of England and then
the east of England in particular.
The first of these risings was
the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536, a rising of much of the north
of England. This was a complex event.
It combined religious hostility
to the reformation and a desire to defend the monasteries,
which had been ordered to be dissolved,
with a variety of other grievances and in particular
agrarian grievances against the enclosing of commons and the
forcing up of entry fines to land.
It was described by those who
took part in it as a “pilgrimage of grace for
the commonwealth,” for the commonwealth as a
whole, and those who mustered for the
pilgrimage, some 20,000 men,
regarded themselves as defending each branch of the
commonwealth. They wanted the king to turn
away from his evil counselors, they wanted the ancient rights
of the nobility to be properly recognized,
they wanted the rights of the church to be respected and,
as they put in one of their statements of grievances,
they also demanded that the “commonalty be used as they
should be”– “the commonality be used
as they should be”– particularly in matters
relating to the land. So this was a complex event.
It led to the rebel army
eventually mustering near Pontefract in South Yorkshire,
having taken the city of York where it faced a standoff with
royal troops under the Duke of Norfolk.
The Duke negotiated with the
rebels, persuaded those gentlemen who
had joined them, in particular,
to act as negotiators with the crown,
promised that their grievances would be met,
and persuaded them to disperse. The rebels were wrong to trust
Norfolk. He was already writing to the
crown that he regarded no promises made to a rebel as
binding. And when the crown got the
opportunity with the flurry of a few more agrarian troubles in
the northwest at the beginning of the following year royal
troops went in and suppressed them with considerable violence.
the leader of the rebels who was a lawyer from York,
along with a number of other figures, was arrested,
tried and executed for treason. That was the Pilgrimage of
Grace, probably the biggest threat that the Tudor monarchy
ever faced. Then in 1549 came another
widespread burst of unrest known as the “Camping Time,”
because many tenants from particular areas were gathering
together in protest and forming camps.
These were scattered all over
central, eastern and southern England.
Many of these camps were
ultimately dispersed. The Earl of Arundel in Sussex
for example, down towards the south coast,
met the protesting peasants, assured them that he would
speak for them on their behalf, and persuaded them to disperse.
This was the way that it could
sometimes be handled and Arundel kept his word;
he did speak for them. But one particular rising did
not disperse and that was the one in the county of Norfolk led
by Robert Kett, a yeoman farmer.
Kett’s rebels advanced to set
up a camp just outside Norwich, on Mousehold Heath outside
Norwich, where Kett, who was very well
organized, had a supply system to keep
the–to keep his army, as it was by then,
well supplied. He sat under an oak tree on the
heath which was known as the Oak of Reformation and there with
his counsel he delivered justice to the local farm tenants
against their gentlemen landlords.
The principal grievances of the
Norfolk rising were agrarian. They were protesting against
enhanced rents and against the abuses of common land by their
landlords. And they’re also remarkable in
that Kett’s rebels refused to disperse.
Eventually, a royal army was
sent against them. It consisted mostly of
mercenaries who had been hired from Germany and Italy.
They didn’t dare use English
troops for fear they would sympathize with the rebels.
Kett’s army refused to disperse
and went down fighting in a battle at Dussindale just
outside the city of Norwich. It’s been said of these peasant
rebels that they were trying to create “a world in which
gentlemen were kept at arm’s length.”
They were trying to preserve
the rights that they had in the land in a changing economic
climate which threatened to diminish them,
trying to create a world in which gentlemen were kept at
arm’s length, and their statements of
grievances and demands make very interesting reading.
There’s a rich literature on
these rebellions. If anyone’s interested in that
for an essay topic, I’d be happy to advise you.
So in seeking to restore what
was essentially an idealized vision of stable social
relationships, the just commonwealth,
an ideal which they located in a past golden age,
both the peasant rebels and the literary Commonwealth Men,
the preachers and clergy, had a great deal in common.
And together they give perhaps
the most vivid expression, literary expression and
practical expression, to the sense that many people
had in the mid-sixteenth century that the bonds of society,
the bonds of commonwealth, were fraying and falling apart.
But neither the Commonwealth’s
Men in their books and sermons nor the peasant rebels could
turn back the dynamic of change. Moral exhortation or localized
protest by people who couldn’t face a royal army effectively
were not enough and both were swept aside after 1549.
It’s one of the nice ironies of
history that the place outside Norwich,
now in the suburbs, where Kett’s rebels were
finally defeated very bloodily– many were
slaughtered–Dussindale, is now the site of a shopping
mall. So the English peasantry made
their last stand there and it’s now a shopping mall,
a sort of shrine to modern consumerism.
Amongst the murals that
decorate it there’s one of Robert Kett sitting under the
Tree of Reformation, which I hope schoolchildren in
Norwich will all recognize as they go about their shopping.
But it wasn’t all repression.
There’s another side to the
story. By 1549, some people in
positions of authority in the kingdom were equally concerned
about all of this and they were trying to come to grips with
change in an alternative way. A striking piece of evidence of
this is a wonderful composition written for circulation in
manuscript in 1549 by Sir Thomas Smith and entitled The
Discourse of the Commonweal of England.
It’s a remarkable piece of
writing. It wasn’t published until after
Smith’s death, and at one time it was actually
attributed to William Shakespeare,
but it’s now pretty certain that it was written by Sir
Thomas Smith. He was professor of civil law
at the University of Cambridge and a leading member later in
his career of the royal Privy Council under Edward VI and
subsequently under Elizabeth I. Smith was trying to think out
the problems of his day, not to denounce the moral
failings of particular individuals or groups,
but to try to understand what was going on,
to try to understand the motives and the pressures that
were felt by different people in society.
And he did that by having a
discussion. He wrote a dialog between a
gentleman, a husbandman–a peasant,
a craftsman– a wage worker,
and a figure called the Doctor who is a sort of academic figure
who acts as a kind of moderator for this discussion.
He imagines them all sitting
outside a pub discussing the affairs of the commonwealth.
It’s because of this dialog
form that it was once attributed to Shakespeare.
The representatives of the
different groups in The Discourse of the Commonweal
put their own perspectives, their own grievances.
The different voices of
different interest groups are heard.
The Doctor who acts as
moderator provides a kind of disinterested analytical
authority helping to explore the underlying causes to propose
solutions, to think of ways that the
interests of different groups might be reconciled.
So, for example,
when the view is put by the gentlemen that all men are free
“to make their most advantage of that which is their
own,” the phrase– well, close to the
phrase–which was always being denounced by the Commonwealth’s
Men, Smith has the Doctor reply not
by denouncing covetousness but by saying,
yes, they may, but they “may not abuse
their own… to the damage of the
commonweal.” Good lords should set limits to
the pursuit of individual economic interest.
In short then,
he’s willing to accept the simple reality of
self-interested behavior but he seeks to prevent abuses or to
channel that behavior in ways that it might serve the common
interest through the encouragement of enterprise.
It’s because of that kind of
attitude that Smith has been described as the father of
political economy and there’s some justice in that.
putting him in his own time, he was in the classical
humanist tradition. He had great faith in the
positive effects of good government as a means of
harmonizing conflicting interests,
and that’s what he’s trying essentially to achieve.
Well, Sir Thomas Smith wasn’t
alone and he had considerable influence upon like-minded
statesmen under Edward VI and still more in the early years of
Elizabeth I. He sat himself in Elizabeth’s
council. He was responsible for drafting
some of the early legislation of her parliaments.
He was a very close friend of
her chief advisor, Sir William Cecil.
And it led, this kind of
attitude among Smith and others, to a kind of dual strategy on
the part of government which is gradually emerging in the
mid-sixteenth century. On the one hand,
they want to stabilize things; they want to dampen things down;
they want to re-knit the fraying fabric of the
commonwealth. On the other hand,
they were very aware of the need to pursue,
where possible, orderly economic growth.
And this issued in a number of
statutes, which are listed in the last
part of your handout and which I’ll just briefly mention,
which were intended to be steps towards these ends.
In 1551, the coinage was
revalued and reissued in an attempt to curb the worst
excesses of inflation. In 1552, legislation was passed
against abuses in marketing again with a view to the
problems occasioned by the price rise.
In the 1550s,
the royal courts were made more open to hear the grievances of
the peasantry, some of whom had not previously
been able to plead in royal courts.
In 1563–we’re now into the
reign of Elizabeth– the Statute of Artificers was
passed, the longest single act of
Parliament passed in England before the twentieth century,
which went into great detail in attempts to regulate
relationships between employers and employees;
to lay down rules, to introduce for example annual
assessments of wages so that wages could be adjusted in line
with prices. In 1563, legislation was passed
to restrict not all forms of enclosure but those forms of
enclosure which were thought to be harmful.
If enclosure was beneficial it
would be permitted. And in addition they
introduced, on the model of experiments which had been
attempted in a number of towns, forms of relief for the
impotent poor; a constructive system of poor
relief which was to operate at the level of the parish
involving the raising of money from local taxation of those who
could afford it, the “poor rate,”
and the dispersal of that money to the impotent poor.
Finally, efforts were made to
encourage economically enterprising people who brought
projects to the government: the establishment of new trade
routes, the encouragement of shipping
and fishing, the establishment of new
manufacturing industries which might be granted a royal patent,
giving them a monopoly until they were established,–
it’s the origins of the patent system–
the encouragement of immigration of skilled
Protestant refugees from abroad, especially from the Netherlands
where the religious wars were raging.
So one mustn’t exaggerate the
impact of all of this. This is the sixteenth century.
Their powers of enforcement
were limited. But efforts were being made,
very visible efforts to do something about the situation.
And that marked a significant
step forward in the conception of the responsibilities of the
Tudor state, a broadening of its role,
an increasing presence in attempting to shape,
to channel, the economic and social developments of the time,
to develop policy to deal with the problems that they produced.
And that helped shape the
environment of change as people gradually moved from the first
shocks of response to these changing features of the
economic and social environment and began to enter a period of
transition in the late sixteenth century towards a more
thoroughly commercial economy, which is something I’ll touch
on later. But for now we need to turn
back again, having looked at what was
happening in the mid-sixteenth century outside the religious
sphere, to the issues of the
reformation and the settlement which was attempted with the
accession in 1558 of Elizabeth, and we’ll take that up on