history of england_david hume

For there is little mention of leases among the

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Unformatted text preview: to disturb the execution of the laws, we may judge of the authority, acquired by the aristocracy in England. When earl Godwin besieged the Confessor in London, he summoned from all parts his huscarles, or houseceorles and retainers, and thereby constrained his sovereign to accept of the conditions, which he was pleased to impose upon him. The lower rank of freemen were denominated ceorles among the Anglo-Saxons; and where they were industrious, they were chiefly employed in husbandry: Whence a ceorle, and a husband-man, became in a manner synonimous terms. They cultivated the farms of the nobility or thanes for which they paid rent: and they seem to have been removeable at pleasure. For there is little mention of leases among the AngloSaxons: The pride of the nobility, together with the general ignorance of writing, must have rendered those contracts very rare, and must have kept the husband-men in a dependant condition. The rents of farms were then chiefly paid in kind.m But the most numerous rank by far in the community seems to have been the slaves or villains, who were the property of their lords, and were consequently incapable, themselves, of possessing any property. Dr. Brady assures us, from a survey of Domesday-book,n that, in all the counties of England, the far greater part of the land was occupied by them, and that the husbandmen, and still more the socmen, who were tenants that could not be removed at pleasure, were very few in comparison. This was not the case with the German nations, as far as we can collect from the account given us by Tacitus. The perpetual wars in the Heptarchy, and the depredations of the Danes, seem to have been the cause of this great alteration with the Anglo-Saxons. Prisoners taken in battle, or carried off in the frequent inroads, were then reduced to PLL v5 (generated January 22, 2010) 127 http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/695 Online Library of Liberty: The History of England, vol. 1 slavery; and became, by right of war,o entirely at the disposal of their lords. Great property in the nobles, especially if joined to an irregular administration of justice, naturally favours the power of the aristocracy; but still more so, if the practice of slavery be admitted, and has become very common. The nobility not only possess the influence which always attends riches, but also the power which the laws give them over their slaves and villains. It then becomes difficult, and almost impossible, for a private man to remain altogether free and independant. There were two kinds of slaves among the Anglo-Saxons; household slaves, after the manner of the ancients, and praedial or rustic, after the manner of the Germans.p These latter resembled the serfs, which are at present to be met with in Poland, Denmark, and some parts of Germany. The power of a master over his slaves was not unlimited among the Anglo-Saxons, as it was among their ancestors. If a man beat out his slave’s eye or teeth, the slave recovered his liberty:q I...
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