1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hide

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HIDE[1] (Lat. hida, A.-S. higíd, híd or hiwisc, members of a household), a measure of land. The word was in general use in England in Anglo-Saxon and early English times, although its meaning seems to have varied somewhat from time to time. Among its Latin equivalents are terra unius familiae, terra unius cassati and mansio; the first of these forms is used by Bede, who, like all early writers, gives to it no definite area. In its earliest form the hide was the typical holding of the typical family. Gradually, this typical holding came to be regarded as containing 120 “acres” (not 120 acres of 4840 sq. yds. each, but 120 times the amount of land which a ploughteam of eight oxen could plough in a single day). This definition appears to have been very general in England before the Norman Conquest, and in Domesday Book 30, 40, 50 and 80 acres are repeatedly mentioned as fractions of a hide. Some historians, however, have thought that the hide only contained 30 acres or thereabouts.

“The question about the hide,” says Professor Maitland in Domesday Book and Beyond, “is ‘pre-judicial’ to all the great questions of early English history.” The main argument employed by J. M. Kemble (The Saxons in England) in favour of the “small” hide is that the number of hides stated to have existed in the various parts of England gives an acreage far in excess of the total acreage of these parts, making due allowance for pasture and for woodland, an allowance necessary because the hide was only that part of the land which came under the plough, and each hide must have carried with it a certain amount of pasture. Two illustrations in support of Kemble’s theory must suffice. Bede says the Isle of Wight contained 1200 hides. Now 1200 hides of 120 acres each gives a total acreage of 144,000 acres, while the total acreage of the island to-day is only 93,000 acres. Again a document called The Tribal Hidage puts the number of hides in the whole of England at nearly a quarter of a million. This gives in acres a figure about equal to the total acreage of England at the present time, but it leaves no room for pasture and for the great proportion of land which was still woodland. On these grounds Kemble regarded the hide as containing 30 or 33, certainly not more than 40 acres, and thought that each acre contained about 4000 sq. yds., i.e. that it was roughly equal to the modern acre. Another argument brought forward is that 30 or 40 acres was enough land for the support of the average family, in other words that it was the terra unius familiae of Bede. Another Domesday student, R. W. Eyton, puts down the hide at 48 acres.

But formidable arguments have been advanced against the “small” hide. There is no doubt that at the time of Domesday the hide was equated with 120 and not with 30 acres. Then, taking the word familia in its proper sense, a household with many dependent members, and making an allowance for primitive methods of agriculture, it is questionable whether 30 or 40 acres were sufficient for its support; and again if the equation 1 hide = 120 acres is rejected there is no serious evidence in favour of any other. A possible explanation is that, although in early Anglo-Saxon times the hide consisted of 30 acres or thereabouts, it had come before the time of Domesday to contain 120 acres. But no trace of such change can be found; there is no break in the continuity of the land-charters which refer to hides and manses. Reviewing the whole question Professor Maitland accepts the view that the hide contained 120 acres. The difficulties are serious but they are not insuperable. Bede, writing in a primitive age and speaking for the most part of lands far away from Northumbria, uses figures in a vague and general fashion; then the hide of 120 acres does not mean 120 times 4840 yds., it means much less; and lastly at the time of Domesday the hide was not a unit of measurement, it was a unit for purposes of taxation. On the other hand, Mr. H. M. Chadwick (Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions) says there is no evidence that the hide contained 120 acres before the 10th century. He suggests that possibly the size of the hide in Mercia may have been fixed at 40 acres, while in Wessex it was regarded as containing 120 acres. Dr Stubbs (Const. Hist. i.) suggests that the confusion may have arisen because the word was used “to express the whole share of one man in all the fields of the village.” Thus it might refer to 30 acres, his share in one field, or to 120 acres, his share in the four fields. He adds, however, that this explanation is not adequate for all cases. But these differences about the size of the hide are not peculiar to modern times. Henry of Huntingdon says, Hida Anglice vocatur terra unius aratri culturae sufficiens per annum, while the Dialogus de scaccario puts its size at 100 acres, though this may be the long hundred, or 120. Perhaps, therefore, Selden is wisest when he says, “hides were of an incertain quantity.” Certainly he gives a very good description of the early hide when he says (Titles of Honour): “Now a hide of land regularly is and was (as I think) as much land as might be well manured with one plough, together with pasture, meadow and wood competent for the maintenance of that plough, and the servants of the family.” The view that the size of the hide varied from district to district is borne out by Professor Vinogradoff’s more recent researches. In his English Society in the Eleventh Century he mentions that there was a hide of 48 acres in Wiltshire and one of 40 acres in Dorset. In addition some authorities distinguish between English hides and Welsh hides, and in Sussex the hide often contained 8 virgates. Sometimes again in the 11th century hides were not merely fiscal units; they were shares in the land itself.

The fact that the hide was a unit of assessment, has been established by Mr J. H. Round in his Feudal England, and is regarded as throwing a most valuable light upon the many problems which present themselves to the student of Domesday. The process which converted the hide from a unit of measurement to a unit for assessment purposes is probably as follows. Being in general use to denote a large piece of land, and such pieces of land being roughly equal all over England, the hide was a useful unit on which to levy taxation, a use which dates doubtless from the time of the Danegeld. For some time the two meanings were used side by side, but before the Norman Conquest the hide, a unit for taxation, had quite supplanted the hide, a measure of land, and this was the state of affairs when in 1086 William I. ordered his great inquest to be made. The formula used in Domesday varies from county to county, but a single illustration may be given. Huntedun Burg defendebat se ad geldum regis pro quarta parte de Hyrstingestan hundred pro L. hidis. This does not mean that the town of Huntingdon contained a certain fixed number of square yards multiplied by 50, but that for purposes of taxation Huntingdon was regarded as worth 50 times a certain fiscal unit.

This view of the nature of the hide was hinted at by R. W. Eyton in A Key to Domesday and was accepted by Maitland. Its proof rests primarily upon the prevalence of the five-hide unit. By collating various documents which formed part of the Domesday inquest Mr Round has brought together for certain parts of England, especially for Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, the holdings of the various lords in the different vills, and vill after vill shows a total of 5 hides or 10 hides or only a slight discrepancy therefrom. A similar result is shown for the hundreds where multiples of 5 are almost universal, and the total hidage for the county of Worcester is very near the round figure of 1200. This arrangement is obviously artificial; it must have been imposed upon the counties or the hundreds by the central authority and then divided among the vills. Another proof is found in what is called “beneficial hidation.” It is shown that in certain cases the number of hides in a hundred has been reduced since the time of Edward the Confessor, and that this reduction had been transferred pro rata to the vills in the hundred. Thus Mr Round concludes that the hide was fixed “independently of area or value.” Some slight criticism has been directed against the idea of “artificial hidation,” but the most that can be said against it is that its proof rests upon isolated cases, a reproach which further research will doubtless remove. However, Professor Vinogradoff accepts the hide primarily as a fiscal unit “which corresponds only in a very rough way to the agrarian reality,” and Maitland says the fiscal hide is “at its best a lame compromise between a unit of area and a unit of value.”

What is the origin of the five-hide unit? Various conjectures have been hazarded, and the unit is undoubtedly older than the Danegeld. Rejecting the idea that it is of Roman or of British origin, and pointing to the serious difference in the rates at which the various counties were assessed, Mr Round thinks that it dates from the time when the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were independent. Possibly it was the unit of assessment for military service, possibly it was the recognized endowment of a Saxon thegn. In Anglo-Saxon times a man’s standing in society was dependent to a great extent upon the number of hides which he possessed; this statement is fully proved from the laws. Moreover, in the laws of the Wessex king, Ine, the value of a man’s oath is expressed in hides, the oath for a king’s thegn being probably worth 60 hides and that of a ceorl 5 hides.

The usual division of the hide was into virgates, a virgate being, after the Conquest at least, the normal holding of the villein with two oxen. Mr Round holds that in Domesday at all events the hide always consisted of four virgates; Mr F. Seebohm in The English Village Community, although thinking that the normal hide “consisted as a rule of four virgates of 30 acres each,” says that the Hundred Rolls for Huntingdonshire show that “the hide did not always contain the same number of virgates.” The virgate, it may be noted, consisted of a strip of land in each acre of the hide, and there is undoubtedly a strong case in favour of the equation 1 hide = 4 virgates.

Mr Seebohm, propounding his theory that English institutions are rooted in those of Rome, argues for some resemblance between the methods of taxation of land in Rome and in England; he sees some connexion between the Roman centuria and the hide, and between the Roman system of taxation called jugatio and the English hidage. Professor Vinogradoff (Villainage in England) summarizes the views of those who hold a contrary opinion thus: “The curious fact that the normal holding, the hide, was equal all over England can be explained only by its origin; it came full-formed from Germany and remained unchanged in spite of all diversities of geographical and economical conditions.”

In the Danish parts of England, or rather in the district of the “Five Boroughs,” the carucate takes the place of the hide as the unit of value, and six supplants five, six carucates being the unit of assessment. In Leicestershire and in part of Lancashire the hide is quite different from what it is elsewhere in England. According to Mr Round the Leicestershire hide consisted of 18 carucates; Mr W. H. Stevenson (English Historical Review, vol. v.) argues that it contained only 12 and that it was a hundred and not a hide. Mr Seebohm thinks there was a solanda or double hide of 240 acres in Essex and other southern counties, but Mr Round does not think that this word refers to a measure or unit of assessment at all. For Kent, however, the word sullung or solin, is used in Domesday Book and in the charters instead of hide and carucate as elsewhere, and Vinogradoff thinks that this contained from 180 to 200 acres.

Under the Norman and early Plantagenet kings a levy of two or more shillings on each hide of land was a usual and recognized method of raising money, royal and some other estates, however, as is seen from Domesday, not being hidated and not paying the tax. This geld, or tax, received several names, one of the most general being hidage (Lat. hidagium). “Hidage,” says Vinogradoff, “is historically connected with the old English Danegeld system,” and as Danegeld and then hidage it was levied long after its original purpose was forgotten, and was during the 11th century “the most sweeping and the heaviest of all the taxes.” Henry of Huntingdon says its usual rate was 2s. on each hide of land, and this was evidently the rate at the time of the famous dispute between Henry II. and Becket at Woodstock in 1163, but it was not always kept at this figure, as in 1084 William I. had levied a tax of 6s. on each hide, an unusual extortion. The feudal aids were levied on the hide. Thus in 1109 Henry I. raised one at the rate of 3s. per hide for the marriage of his daughter Matilda with the emperor Henry V., and in 1194, when money was collected for the ransom of Richard I., some of the taxation for this purpose seems to have been assessed according to the hidage given in Domesday Book.

By this time the word hidage as the designation of the tax was disappearing, its place being taken by the word carucage. The carucate (Lat. caruca, a plough) was a measure of land which prevailed in the north of England, the district inhabited by people of Danish descent. Some authorities regard it as equivalent to the hide, others deny this identity. In 1198, however, when Richard I. imposed a tax of 5s. on each carucata terrae sive hyda, the two words were obviously interchangeable, and about the same time the size of the carucate was fixed at 100 acres. The word carucage remained in use for some time longer, and then other names were given to the various taxes on land.

One or two other questions with regard to the hide still remain unsolved. What is the connexion, if any, between the hundred and a hundred hides? Again, was the size of the hide fixed at 120 acres to make the work of reckoning the amount of Danegeld, or hidage, a simple process? 120 acres to the hide, 240 pence to the pound, makes calculations easy. Lastly, is the English hide derived from the German hufe or huba?  (A. W. H.*) 

  1. The homonym “hide,” meaning to conceal, is in O. Eng. hýdan; the word appears in various forms in Old Teutonic languages. The root is probably seen in Gr. κεύθειν to hide, or may be the same as in “hide,” skin, O. Eng. hýd, which is also seen in Ger. Haut, Dutch huid; the root appears in Lat. cutis, Gr. κύτος. The Indo-European root ku-, weakened form of sku-, seen in “sky,” and meaning “to cover,” may be the ultimate source of both words. The slang use of “to hide,” to flog or whip, means “to take the skin off, to flay.”