Description Of Elizabethan England

Author:      Harrison, William

Date:        1577


Chapter I




Of Degrees Of People In The Commonwealth Of Elizabethan England

[1577, Book III., Chapter 4; 1587, Book II., Chapter 5.] ^1


[Footnote 1: These references are to the first two editions of Holinshed's

Chronicles. The modernization of the spelling, etc., follows that of Mr. L.

Withington, whose notes are signed W.]


     We in England, divide our people commonly into four sorts, as gentlemen,

citizens or burgesses, yeomen, and artificers or labourers. Of gentlemen the

first and chief (next the king) be the prince, dukes, marquesses, earls,

viscounts, and barons; and these are called gentlemen of the greater sort, or

(as our common usage of speech is) lords and noblemen: and next unto them be

knights, esquires, and, last of all, they that are simply called gentlemen. So

that in effect our gentlemen are divided into their conditions, whereof in

this chapter I will make particular rehearsal.


     The title of prince doth peculiarly belong with us to the king's eldest

son, who is called Prince of Wales, and is the heir-apparent to the crown; as

in France the king's eldest son hath the title of Dauphin, and is named

peculiarly Monsieur. So that the prince is so termed of the Latin word

Princeps, since he is (as I may call him) the chief or principal next the

king. The king's younger sons be but gentlemen by birth (till they have

received creation or donation from their father of higher estate, as to be

either viscounts, earls, or dukes) and called after their names, as Lord

Henry, or Lord Edward, with the addition of the word Grace, properly assigned

to the king and prince, and now also by custom conveyed to dukes, archbishops,

and (as some say) to marquesses and their wives. ^2 . . .


[Footnote 2: Here follow etymologies of the terms "Duke", Marquess," and

"Baron." - W.]


     Unto this place I also refer our bishops, who are accounted honourable,

called lords, and hold the same room in the Parliament house with the barons,

albeit for honour sake the right hand of the prince is given unto them, and

whose countenances in time past were much more glorious than at this present

it is, because those lusty prelates sought after earthly estimation and

authority with far more diligence than after the lost sheep of Christ, of

which they had small regard, as men being otherwise occupied and void of

leisure to attend upon the same. Howbeit in these days their estate remaineth

no less reverend than before, and the more virtuous they are that be of this

calling the better are they esteemed with high and low. They retain also the

ancient name ("lord") still, although it be not a little impugned by such as

love either to hear of change of all things or can abide no superiors. For

notwithstanding it be true that in respect of function the office of the

eldership ^3 is equally distributed between the bishop and the minister, yet

for civil government's sake the first have more authority given unto them by

kings and princes, to the end that the rest may thereby be with more ease

retained within a limited compass of uniformity than otherwise they would be

if each one were suffered to walk in his own course. This also is more to be

marvelled at, that very many call for an alteration of their estate, crying to

have the word "lord" abolished, their civil authority taken from them, and the

present condition of the church in other things reformed; whereas, to say

truly, few of them do agree upon form of discipline and government of the

church succeedent, wherein they resemble the Capuans (of whom Livy doth speak)

in the slaughter of their senate. Neither is it possible to frame a whole

monarchy after the pattern of one town or city, or to stir up such an

exquisite face of the church as we imagine or desire, sith our corruption is

such that it will never yield to so great perfection; for that which is not

able to be performed in a private house will be much less be brought to pass

in a commonwealth and kingdom, before such a prince be found as Xenophon

describeth, or such an orator as Tully hath devised. ^4 . . .


[Footnote 3: I Sam. ii. 15; I Kings i. 7. - H.]


[Footnote 4: Here follows a long paragraph on the character of the clergy

which is more appropriate to the chapter on "The Church." - W.]


     Dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons either be created of the

prince or come to that honour by being the eldest sons or highest in

succession to their parents. For the eldest ton of a duke during his father's

life is an earl, the eldest son of an earl is a baron, or sometimes a

viscount, according as the creation is. The creation I call the original

donation and condition of the honour given by the prince for good service done

by the first ancestor, with some advancement, which, with the title of that

honour, is always given to him and his heirs males only. The rest of the sons

of the nobility by the rigour of the law be but esquires; yet in common speech

all dukes' and marquesses' sons and earls' eldest sons be called lords, the

which name commonly doth agree to none of lower degree than barons, yet by law

and use these be not esteemed barons.


     The barony or degree of lords doth answer to the degree of senators of

Rome (as I said) and the title of nobility (as we used to call it in England)

to the Roman Patricii. Also in England no man is commonly created baron except

he may dispend of yearly revenses a thousand pounds, or so much as may fully

maintain and bear out his countenance and port. But viscounts, earls,

marquesses, and dukes exceed them according to the proportion of their degree

and honour. But though by chance he or his son have less, yet he keepeth this

degree: but if the decay be excessive, and not able to maintain the honour (as

Senatores Romani were amoti a senatu), so sometimes they are not admitted to

the upper house in the parliament, although they keep the name of "lord"

still, which cannot be taken from them upon any such occasion.


     The most of these names have descended from the French invention, in

whose histories we shall read of them eight hundred years past. ^5 . . .


[Footnote 5: Here follows a learned disquisition upon "Valvasors." - W.]


     Knights be not born, neither is any man a knight by succession, no, not

the king or prince: but they are made either before the battle, to encourage

them the more to adventure and try their manhood; or after the battle ended,

as an advancement for their courage and prowess already shewed, and then are

they called Milites; or out of the wars for some great service done, or for

the singular virtues which do appear in them, and then are they named Equites

Aurati, as common custom intendeth. They are made either by the king himself,

or by his commission and royal authority given for the same purpose, or by his

lieutenant in the wars. ^6 . . .


[Footnote 6: Here follows a discourse upon Equites Aurati. - W.]


     Sometime diverse ancient gentlemen, burgesses, and lawyers are called

unto knighthood by the prince, and nevertheless refuse to take that state upon

them, for which they are of custom punished by a fine, that redoundeth unto

his coffers, and (to say truth) is oftentimes more profitable unto him than

otherwise their service should be, if they did yield unto knighthood. And this

also is a cause wherefore there be many in England able to dispend a knight's

living, which never come unto that countenance, and by their own consents. The

number of the knights in Rome was also uncertain: and so is it of knights

likewise, with us, as at the pleasure of the prince. And whereas the Equites

Romani had Equum Publicum of custom bestowed upon them, the knights of England

have not so, but bear their own charges in that also, as in other kind of

furniture, as armour meet for their defence and service. This nevertheless is

certain, that whoso may dispend forty pounds by the year of free land, either

at the coronation of the king, or marriage of his daughter, or time of his

dubbing, may be informed unto the taking of that degree, or otherwise pay the

revenues of his land for one year, which is only forty pounds by an old

proportion, and so for a time be acquitted of that title. ^7 . . .


[Footnote 7: Here is a description of dubbing a knight. - W.]


     At the coronation of a king or queen, there be other knights made with

longer and more curious ceremonies, called "knights of the bath." But

howsoever one be dubbed or made knight, his wife is by-and-by called "Madam,"

or "Lady," so well as the baron's wife: he himself having added to his name in

common appellation this syllable "Sir," which is the title whereby we call our

knights in England. His wife also of courtesy so long as she liveth is called

"my lady," although she happen to marry with a gentleman or man of mean

calling, albeit that by the common law she hath no such prerogative. If her

first husband also be of better birth than her second, though this latter

likewise be a knight, yet in that she pretendeth a privilege to lose no honour

through courtesy yielded to her sex, she will be named after the most

honourable or worshipful of both, which is not seen elsewhere.


     The other order of knighthood in England, and the most honourable, is

that of the garter, instituted by King Edward the Third, who, after he had

gained many notable victories, taken King John of France, and King James of

Scotland (and kept them both prisoners in the Tower of London at one time),

expelled King Henry of Castille, the bastard, out of his realm, and restored

Don Pedro unto it (by the help of the Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine,

his eldest son, called the Black Prince), he then invented this society of

honour, and made a choice out of his own realm and dominions, and throughout

all Christendom of the best, most excellent, and renowned persons in all

virtues and honour, and adorned them with that title to be knights of his

order, giving them a garter garnished with gold and precious stones, to wear

daily on the left leg only; also a kirtle, gown, cloak, chaperon, collar, and

other solemn and magnificent apparel, both of stuff and fashion exquisite and

heroical to wear at high feasts, and as to so high and princely an order

appertaineth. . . .


[See Tower Of London: Both King John and King James were prisoners in the

Tower of London at one time.]


     The order of the garter therefore was devised in the time of King Edward

the Third, and (as some write) upon this occasion. The queen's majesty then

living, being departed from his presence the next way toward her lodging, he

following soon after happened to find her garter, which slacked by chance and

so fell from her leg, unespied in the throng by such as attended upon her. His

grooms and gentlemen also passed by it, as disdaining to stoop and take up

such a trifle: but he, knowing the owner, commanded one of them to stay and

reach it up to him. "Why, and like your grace," saith a gentleman, "it is but

some woman's garter that hath fallen from her as she followed the queen's

majesty." "Whatsoever it be," quoth the king, "take it up and give it me." So

when he had received the garter, he said to such as stood about him: "You, my

masters, do make small account of this bule garter here," and therewith held

it out, "but, if God lend me life for a few months, I will make the proudest

of you all to reverence the like." And even upon this slender occasion he gave

himself to the devising of this order. Certes, I have not read of anything

that having had so simple a beginning hath grown in the end to so great honour

and estimation. ^8 . . .


[Footnote 8: Long details are given of Garter history, very inaccurate, both

here and in the last omitted passage. - W.]


     There is yet another order of knights in England called knights

bannerets, who are made in the field with the ceremony of cutting away the

point of his pennant of arms, and making it as it were a banner, so that,

being before but a bachelor knight, he is now of an higher degree, and allowed

to display his arms in a banner, as barons do. Howbeit these knights are never

made but in the wars, the king's standard being unfolded. ^9 . . .


[Footnote 9: Derivations of "Esquire" and "Gentleman" are given. - W.]


     Moreover, as the king doth dub knights, and createth the barons and

higher degrees, so gentlemen whose ancestors are not known to come in with

William Duke of Normandy (for of the Saxon races yet remaining we now make

none accounted, much less of the British issue) do take their beginning in

England, after this manner in our times.


     Whosoever studieth the laws of the realm, whoso abideth in the university

(giving his mind to his book), or professeth physic and the liberal sciences,

or beside his service in the room of a captain in the wars, or good counsel

given at home, whereby his commonwealth is benefited, can live without manual

labour, and thereto is able and will bear the port, charge, and countenance of

a gentleman, he shall for money have a coat and arms bestowed upon him by

heralds (who in the charter of the same do of custom pretend antiquity and

service, and many gay things thereunto, being made so good cheap, be called

master (which is the title that men give to esquires and gentlemen), and

reputed for a gentleman ever after, which is so much less to be disallowed of

for that the prince doth lose nothing by it, the gentleman being so much

subject to taxes and public payments as is the yeoman or husbandman, which he

likewise doth bear the gladlier for the saving of his reputation. Being called

also to the wars (for with the government of the commonwealth he meddleth

little), whatsoever it cost him, he will both array and arm himself

accordingly, and shew the more manly courage, and all the tokens of the person

which he representeth. No man hath hurt by it but himself, who peradventure

will go in wider buskins than his legs will bear, or, as our proverb saith,

"now and then bear a bigger sail than his boat is able to sustain."


     Certes the making of new gentlemen bred great strife sometimes amongst

the Romans, I mean when those which were Novi homines were more allowed of for

their virtues newly seen and shewed than the old smell of ancient race, lately

defaced by the cowardice and evil life of their nephews and descendants, could

make the other to be. But as envy hath no affinity with justice and equity, so

it forceth not what language the malicious do give out, against such as are

exalted for their wisdoms. This nevertheless is generally to be reprehended in

all estates of gentility, and which in short time will turn to the great ruin

of our country, and that is, the usual sending of noblemen's and mean

gentlemen's sons into Italy, from whence they bring home nothing but mere

atheism, infidelity, vicious conversation, and ambitious and proud behaviour,

whereby it cometh to pass that they return far worse men than they went out. A

gentleman at this present is newly come out of Italy, who went thither an

earnest Protestant; but coming home he could say after this manner: "Faith and

truth is to be kept where no loss or hindrance of a future purpose is

sustained by holding of the same; and forgiveness only to be shewed when full

revenge is made." Another no less forward than he, at his return from thence,

could add thus much: "He is a fool that maketh account of any religion, but

more fool that will lose any part of his wealth or will come in trouble for

constant leaning to any; but if he yield to lose his life for his possession,

he is stark mad, and worthy to be taken for most fool of all the rest." This

gay booty got these gentlemen by going into Italy; and hereby a man may see

what fruit is afterward to be looked for where such blossoms do appear. "I

care not," saith a third, "what you talk to me of God, so as I may have the

prince and the laws of the realm on my side." Such men as this last are easily

known; for they have learned in Italy to go up and down also in England with

pages at their heels finely apparelled, whose face and countenance shall be

such as sheweth the master not to be blind in his choice. But lest I should

offend too much, I pass over to say any more of these Italianates and their

demeanour, which, alas! is too open and manifest to the world, and yet not

called into question.


     Citizens and burgesses have next place to gentlemen, who be those that

are free within the cities, and are of some likely substance to bear office in

the same. But these citizens or burgesses are to serve the commonwealth in

their cities and boroughs, or in corporate towns where they dwell, and in the

common assembly of the realm wherein our laws are made (for in the counties

they bear but little sway), which assembly is called the High Court of

Parliament: the ancient cities appoint four and the borough two burgesses to

have voices in it, and give their consent or dissent unto such things as pass,

to stay there in the name of the city or borough for which they are appointed.


     In this place also are our merchants to be installed as amongst the

citizens (although they often change estate with gentlemen, as gentlemen do

with them, by a mutual conversion of the one into the other), whose number is

so increased in these our days that their only maintenance is the cause of the

exceeding prices of foreign wares, which otherwise, when every nation was

permitted to bring in her own commodities, were far better, cheaper, and more

plentifully to be had. Of the want of our commodities here at home, by their

great transportation of them into other countries, I speak not, sith the

matter will easily betray itself. Certes among the Lacedaemonians it was found

out that great numbers of merchants were nothing to the furtherance of the

state of the commonwealth: wherefore it is to be wished that the huge heap of

them were somewhat restrained, as also of our lawyers, so should the rest live

more easily upon their own, and few honest chapmen be brought to decay by

breaking of the bankrupt. I do not deny but that the navy of the land is in

part maintained by their traffic, and so are the high prices of wares kept up,

now they have gotten the only sale of things upon pretence of better

furtherance of the commonwealth into their own hands: whereas in times past,

when the strange bottoms were suffered to come in, we had sugar for fourpence

the pound, that now at the writing of this Treatise is well worth

half-a-crown; raisins or currants for a penny that now are holden at sixpence,

and sometimes at eightpence and tenpence the pound; nutmegs at twopence

halfpenny the ounce, ginger at a penny an ounce, prunes at halfpenny farthing,

great raisins three pounds for a penny, cinnamon at fourpence the ounce,

cloves at twopence, and pepper at twelve and sixteen pence the pound. Whereby

we may see the sequel of things not always, but very seldom, to be such as is

pretended in the beginning. The wares that they carry out of the realm are for

the most part broad clothes and carsies ^10 of all colours, likewise cottons,

friezes, rugs, tin, wool, our best beer, baize, bustian, mockadoes (tufted and

plain), rash, lead, fells, etc.: which, being shipped at sundry ports of our

coasts, are borne from thence into all quarters of the world, and there either

exchanged for other wares or ready money, to the great gain and commodity of

our merchants. And whereas in times past their chief trade was into Spain,

Portugal, France, Flanders, Danske [Denmark], Norway, Scotland, and Ireland

only, now in these days, as men not contented with these journeys, they have

sought out the East and West Indies, and made now and then suspicious voyages,

not only unto the Canaries and New Spain, but likewise into Cathay, Muscovy,

and Tartaria, and the regions thereabout, from whence (as they say) they bring

home great commodities. But alas! I see not by all their travel that the

prices of things are any whit abated. Certes this enormity (for so I do

account of it) was sufficiently provided for (Ann. 9 Edward III.) by a noble

statute made in that behalf, but upon what occasion the general execution

thereof is stayed or not called on, in good sooth, I cannot tell. This only I

know, that every function and several vocation striveth with other, which of

them should have all the water of commodity run into her own cistern.


[Footnote 10: Kerseys.]


     Yeomen are those which by our law are called Legales homines, free men

born English, and may dispend of their own free land in yearly revenue to the

sum of forty shillings sterling, or six pounds as money goeth in our times.

Some are of the opinion, by Cap. 2 Rich. 2 Ann. 20, that they are same which

the Frenchmen call varlets, but, as the phrase is used in my time, it is very

unlikely to be so. The truth is that the word is derived from the Saxon term

Zeoman, or Geoman, which signifieth (as I have read) a settled or staid man,

such I mean as, being married and of some years, betaketh himself to stay in

the place of his abode for the better maintenance of himself and his family,

whereof the single sort have no regard, but are likely to be still fleeting

now hither now thither, which argueth want of stability in determination and

resolution of judgment, for the execution of things of any importance. This

sort of people have a certain pre-eminence, and more estimation that labourers

and the common sort of artificers, and these commonly live wealthily, keep

good houses, and travel to get riches. They are also for the most part farmers

to gentlemen (in old time called Pagani, et opponuntur militibus, and

therefore Persius calleth himself Semipaganus), or at the leastwise

artificers, and with grazing, frequenting of markets, and keeping of servants

(not idle servants, as the gentlemen do, but such as get both their own and

part of their masters' living), do come to great wealth, insomuch that many of

them are able and do buy the lands of unthrifty gentlemen, and often setting

their sons to the schools, to the universities, and to the Inns of the Court,

or, otherwise leaving them sufficient lands whereupon they may live without

labour, do make them by those means to become gentlemen. These were they that

in times past made all France afraid. And albeit they be not called "Master,"

as gentlemen are, or "Sir," as to knights appertaineth, but only "John" and

"Thomas," etc., yet have they been found to have done very good service.


[See An Inn: The Oldest Inn in England]


     The kings of England in foughten battles were wont to remain among them

(who were their footmen) as the French kings did amongst their horsemen, the

prince thereby shewing where his chief strength did consist.


     The fourth and last sort of people in England are day-labourers, poor

husbandmen, and some retailers (which have no free land) copyholders, and all

artificers, as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, brickmakers, masons, etc. ^11


[Footnote 11: Capite censi, or Proletarii. - H.]


     As for slaves and bondmen, we have none; nay, such is the privilege of

our country by the especial grace of God and bounty of our princes, that if

any come hither from other realms, so soon as they set foot on land they

become so free of condition as their masters, whereby all note of servile

bondage is utterly removed from them, wherein we resemble (not the Germans,

who had slaves also, though such as in respect of the slaves of other

countries might well be reputed free, but) the old Indians and the

Taprobanes, ^12 who supposed it a great injury to Nature to make or suffer them

to be bond, whom she in her wonted course doth product and bring forth free.

This fourth and last sort of people therefore have neither voice nor authority

in the commonwealth, but are to be ruled and not to rule other: yet they are

not altogether neglected, for in cities and corporate towns, for default of

yeomen, they are fain to make up their inquests of such manner of people. And

in villages they are commonly made churchwardens, sidesmen, aleconners, now

and then constables, and many times enjoy the name of head boroughs. Unto this

sort also may our great swarms of idle serving-men be referred, of whom there

runneth a proverb, "Young servingmen, old beggars," because service is none

heritage. These men are profitable to none; for, if their condition be well

perused, they are enemies to their masters, to their friends, and to

themselves: for by them oftentimes their masters are encouraged unto unlawful

exactions of their tenants, their friends brought unto poverty by their rents

enhanced, and they themselves brought to confusion by their own prodigality

and errors, as men that, having not wherewith of their own to maintain their

excesses, do search in highways, budgets, coffers, mails, and stables, which

way to supply their wants. How divers of them also, coveting to bear an high

sail, do insinuate themselves with young gentlemen and noblemen newly come to

their lands, the case is too much apparent, whereby the good natures of the

parties are not only a little impaired, but also their livelihoods and

revenues so wasted and consumed that, if at all, yet not in many years, they

shall be able to recover themselves. It were very good therefore that the

superfluous heaps of them were in part diminished. And since necessity

enforceth to have some, yet let wisdom moderate their numbers, so shall their

masters be rid of unnecessary charge, and the commonwealth of many thieves. No

nation cherisheth such store of them as we do here in England, in hope of

which maintenance many give themselves to idleness that otherwise would be

brought to labour, and live in order like subjects. Of their whoredoms I will

not speak anything at all, more than of their swearing; yet is it found that

some of them do make the first a chief pillar of their building, consuming not

only the goods but also the health and welfare of many honest gentlemen,

citizens, wealthy yeomen, etc., by such unlawful dealings. But how far have I

waded in this point, or how far may I sail in such a large sea? I will

therefore now stay to speak any more of those kind of men. In returning

therefore to my matter, this furthermore among other things I have to say of

our husbandmen and artificers, that they were never so excellent in their

trades as at this present. But as the workmanship of the latter sort was

newer, more fine, and curious to the eye, so was it never less strong and

substantial for continuance and benefit of the buyers. Neither is there

anything that hurteth the common sort of our artificers more than haste, and a

barbarous or slavish desire to turn the penny, and, by ridding their work, to

make speedy utterance of their wares: which enforceth them to bungle up and

despatch many things they care not how so they be out of their hands, whereby

the buyer is often sore defrauded, and findeth to his cost that haste maketh

waste, according to the proverb.


[Footnote 12: The Ceylonese. The Greek name for the island of Ceylon was

Taprobane, which Harrison used merely as a classical scholar. - W.]


     Oh, how many trades and handicrafts are now in England whereof the

commonwealth hath no need! How many needful commodities have we which are

perfected with great cost, etc., and yet many with far more ease and less cost

be provided from other countries if we could use the means! I will not speak

of iron, glass, and such like, which spoil much wood, and yet are brought from

other countries better cheap than we can make them here at home; I could

exemplify also in many other. But to leave these things and proceed with our

purpose, and herein (as occasion serveth) generally, by way of conclusion, to

speak of the commonwealth of England, I find that it is governed and

maintained by three sorts of persons -


     1. The prince, monarch, and head governor, which is called the king, or,

(if the crown fall to a woman), the queen: in whose name and by whose

authority all things are administered.


     2. The gentlemen which be divided into two sorts, as the barony or estate

of lords (which containeth barons and all above that degree), and also those

that be no lords, as knights, esquires, and simple gentlemen, as I have noted

already. Out of these also are the great deputies and high presidents chosen,

of which one serveth in Ireland, as another did some time in Calais, and the

captain now at Berwick, as one lord president doth govern in Wales, and the

other the north parts of this island, which later, with certain counsellors

and judges, were erected by King Henry the Eighth. But, for so much as I have

touched their conditions elsewhere, it shall be enough to have remembered them

at this time.


     3. The third and last sort is named the yeomanry, of whom and their

sequel, the labourers and artificers, I have said somewhat even now. Whereto I

add that they may not be called masters and gentlemen, but goodmen, as Goodman

Smith, Goodman Coot, Goodman Cornell, Goodman Mascall, Goodman Cockswet, etc.,

and in matters of law these and the like are called thus, Giles Jewd, yeoman;

Edward Mountford, yeoman; James Cocke, yeoman; Harry Butcher, yeoman, etc.; by

which addition they are exempt from the vulgar and common sorts. Cato calleth

them "Aratores et optimos cives rei publicae," of whom also you may read more

in the book of commonwealth which Sir Thomas Smith some time penned of this



Chapter II


Of Cities And Towns In England

[1577, Book II., Chapter 7; 1587, Book II., Chapter 13.]


     As in old time we read that there were eight-and-twenty flamines and

archflamines in the south part of this isle, and so many great cities under

their jurisdiction, so in these our days there is but one or two fewer, and

each of them also under the ecclesiastical regiment of some one bishop or

archbishop, who in spiritual cases have the charge and oversight of the same.

So many cities therefore are there in England and Wales as there be bishoprics

and archbishoprics. ^1 For, notwithstanding that Lichfield and Coventry and

Bath and Wells do seem to extend the aforesaid number unto nine-and-twenty,

yet neither of these couples are to be accounted but as one entire city and

see of the bishop, sith one bishopric can have relation but unto one see, and

the said see be situate but in one place, after which the bishop doth take his

name. ^2 . . .


[Footnote 1: If Harrison means to give us the impression that a city has any

direct connection with episcopal affairs, he is quite in error. Cities are

distinctly royal and imperial institutions. The accident of the number of

cities and sees being the same comes from the natural tendency of the two

institutions to drift together, though of distinct origin. - W.]


[Footnote 2: Here follows a long and learned disquisition upon the Roman and

other early towns, especially about St. Albans, a portion of which will be

found in the Appendix. - W.]


     Certes I would gladly set down, with the names and number of the cities,

all the towns and villages in England and Wales with their true longitudes and

latitudes, but as yet I cannot come by them in such order as I would; howbeit

the tale of our cities is soon found by the bishoprics, sith every see hath

such prerogative given unto it as to bear the name of a city and to use

Regaleius within her own limits. Which privilege also is granted to sundry

ancient towns in England, especially northward, where more plenty of them is

to be found by a great deal than in the south. The names therefore of our

cities are these: London, York, Canterbury, Winchester, Carlisle, Durham, Ely,

Norwich, Lincoln, Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford, Salisbury, Exeter, Bath,

Lichfield, Bristol, Rochester, Chester, Chichester, Oxford, Peterborough,

Llandaff, St. Davids, Bangor, St. Asaph, whose particular plots and models,

with their descriptions, shall ensue, if it may be brought to pass that the

cutters can make desp tch of them before this history be published.


     Of towns and villages likewise thus much will I say, that there were

greater store in old time (I mean within three or four hundred years passed)

than at this present. And this I note out of divers records, charters, and

donations (made in times past unto sundry religious houses, as Glastonbury,

Abingdon, Ramsey, Ely, and such like), and whereof in these days I find not so

much as the ruins. Leland, in sundry places, complaineth likewise of the decay

of parishes in great cities and towns, missing in some six or eight or twelve

churches and more, of all which he giveth particular notice. For albeit that

the Saxons builded many towns and villages, and the Normans well more at their

first coming, yet since the first two hundred years after the latter conquest,

they have gone so fast again to decay that the ancient number of them is very

much abated. Ranulph, the monk of Chester, telleth of general survey made in

the fourth, sixteenth, and nineteenth of the reign of William Conqueror,

surnamed the Bastard, wherein it was found that (notwithstanding the Danes had

overthrown a great many) there were to the number of 52,000 towns, 45,002

parish churches, and 75,000 knights' fees, whereof the clergy held 28,015. He

addeth moreover that there were divers other builded since that time, within

the space of a hundred years after the coming of the Bastard, as it were in

lieu or recompense of those that William Rufus pulled down for the erection of

his New Forest. For by an old book which I have, and some time written as it

seemeth by an under-sheriff of Nottingham, I find even in the time of Edward

IV. 45,120 parish churches, and but 60,216 knights' fees, whereof the clergy

held as before 28,015, or at the least 28,000; for so small is the difference

which he doth seem to use. Howbeit, if the assertions of such as write in our

time concerning this matter either are or ought to be of any credit in this

behalf, you shall not find above 17,000 towns and villages, and 9210 in the

whole, which is little more than a fourth part of the aforesaid number, if it

be thoroughly scanned. ^3 . . .


[Footnote 3: Here follows an allusion to the decay of Eastern cities. - W.]


     In time past in Lincoln (as the same goeth) there have been two-and-fifty

parish churches, and good record appeareth for eight-and-thirty; but now, if

there be four-and twenty, it is all. This inconvenience hath grown altogether

to the church by appropriations made unto monasteries and religious houses - a

terrible canker and enemy to religion.


     But to leave this lamentable discourse of so notable and grievous an

inconvenience, growing as I said by encroaching and joining of house to house

and laying land to land, whereby the inhabitants of many places of our country

are devoured and eaten up, and their houses either altogether pulled down or

suffered to decay little by little, although some time a poor man peradventure

doth dwell in one of them, who, not being able to repair it, suffereth it to

fall down - and thereto thinketh himself very friendly dealt withal, if he may

have an acre of ground assigned unto him, wherein to keep a cow, or wherein to

set cabbages, radishes, parsnips, carrots, melons, pompons, ^4 or such like

stuff, by which he and his poor household liveth as by their principal food,

sith they can do no better. And as for wheaten bread, they eat it when they

can reach unto the price of it, contenting themselves in the meantime with

bread made of oats or barley: a poor estate, God wot! Howbeit, what care our

great encroachers? But in divers places where rich men dwelled some time in

good tenements, there be now no houses at all, but hop-yards, and sheds for

poles, or peradventure gardens, as we may see in Castle Hedingham, and divers

other places. But to proceed.


[Footnote 4: The old and proper form of the modern pumpkin. - W.]


     It is so that, our soil being divided into champaign ground and woodland,

the houses of the first lie uniformly builded in every town together, with

streets and lanes; whereas in the woodland countries (except here and there in

great market towns) they stand scattered abroad, each one dwelling in the

midst of his own occupying. And as in many and most great market towns, there

are commonly three hundred or four hundred families or mansions, and two

thousand communicants (or peradventure more), so in the other, whether they be

woodland or champaign, we find not often above forty, fifty, or three score

households, and two or three hundred communicants, whereof the greatest part

nevertheless are very poor folks, oftentimes without all manner of occupying,

sith the ground of the parish is gotten up into a few men's hands, yea

sometimes into the tenure of one or two or three, whereby the rest are

compelled either to be hired servants unto the other or else to beg their

bread in misery from door to door.


     There are some (saith Leland) which are not so favourable, when they have

gotten such lands, as to let the houses remain upon them to the use of the

poor; but they will compound with the lord of the soil to pull them down for

altogether, saying that "if they did let them stand, they should but toll

beggars to the town, thereby to surcharge the rest of the parish, and lay more

burden upon them." But alas! these pitiful men see not that they themselves

hereby do lay the greatest log upon their neighbours' necks. For, sithethe

prince deth commonly loose nothing of his duties accustomable to be paid, the

rest of the parishioners that remain must answer and bear them out: for they

plead more charge other ways, saying: "I am charged already with a light

horse; I am to answer in this sort, and after that matter." And it is not yet

altogether out of knowledge, that, where the king had seven pounds thirteen

shillings at a task gathered of fifty wealthy householders of a parish in

England, now, a gentleman having three parts of the town in his own hands,

four households do bear all the aforesaid payment, or else Leland is deceived

in his Commentaries, lib. 13, lately come to my hands, which thing he

especially noted in his travel over this isle. A common plague and enormity,

both in the heart of the land and likewise upon the coasts. Certes a great

number complain of the increase of poverty, laying the cause upon God, as

though he were in fault for sending such increase of people, or want of wars

that should consume them, affirming that the land was never so full, etc.; but

few men do see the very root from whence it doth proceed. Yet the Romans found

it out, when they flourished, and therefore prescribed limits to every man's

tenure and occupying. Homer commendeth Achilles for overthrowing of

five-and-twenty cities: but in mine opinion Ganges is much better preferred by

Suidas for building of three score in India, where he did plant himself. I

could (if need required) set down in this place the number of religious houses

and monasteries, with the names of their founders, that have been in this

island: but, sith it is a thing of small importance, I pass it over as

impertinent to my purpose. Yet herein I will commend sundry of the monastical

votaries, especially monks, for that they were authors of many goodly borowes

and endwares, ^5 near unto their dwellings although otherwise they pretended

to be men separated from the world. But alas! their covetous minds, one way in

enlarging their revenues, and carnal intent another, appeared herein too, too

much. For, being bold from time to time to visit their tenants, they wrought

oft great wickedness, and made those endwares little better than

brothel-houses, especially where nunneries were far off, or else no safe

access unto them. But what do I spend my time in the rehearsal of these

filthinesses? Would to God the memory of them might perish with the

malefactors! My purpose was also at the end of this chapter to have set down a

table of the parish churches and market towns throughout all England and

Wales; but, sith I cannot perform the same as I would, I am forced to give

over my purpose; yet by these few that ensue you shall easily see what I would

have used according to the shires, if I might have brought it to pass.



[See Table 1.: Table of Shires, Market Towns and Parishes]


[Footnote 5: The first is a variant on a Keltic, the second on a Saxon, word,

both relating to matters sufficiently indicated in the text. - W.]


     And these I had of a friend of mine, by whose travel and his master's

excessive charges I doubt not but my countrymen ere long shall see all England

set forth in several shires after the same manner that Ortelius hath dealt

with other countries of the main, to the great benefit of our nation and

everlasting fame of the aforesaid parties.


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