1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Village Communities
VILLAGE COMMUNITIES. The study of village communities has become one of the fundamental methods of discussing the ancient history of institutions. It would be out of the question here to range over the whole field of human society in search for communal arrangements of rural life. It will be sufficient to confine the present inquiry to the varieties presented by nations of Aryan race, not because greater importance is to be attached to these nations than to other branches of humankind, although this view might also be reasonably urged, but principally because the Aryan race in its history has gone through all sorts of experiences, and the data gathered from its historical life can be tolerably well ascertained. Should the road be sufficiently cleared in this particular direction, it will not be difficult to connect the results with similar researches in other racial surroundings.
The best way seems to be to select some typical examples, chiefly from the domain of Celtic, Slavonic and Germanic social history, and to try to interpret them in regard to the general conditions in which communal institutions originate, grow and decay. As the principal problem will consist in ascertaining how far land was held in common instead of being held, as is usual at present, by individuals, it is advisable to look out for instances in which this element of holding in common is very clearly expressed. We ought to get, as it were, acclimatized to the mental atmosphere of such social arrangements in order to counteract a very natural but most pernicious bent prompting one to apply to the conditions of the past the key of our modern views and habitual notions. A certain acquaintance with the structure of Celtic society, more especially the society of ancient Wales, is likely to make it clear from the outset to what extent the husbandry and law of an Aryan race may depend on institutions in which the individual factor is greatly reduced, while the union first of kinsmen and then of neighbours plays a most decisive part.
F. Seebohm has called our attention to the interesting surveys of Welsh tracts of country made in the 14th century, soon after these regions passed into the hands of English lords. The fragments of these surveys published by him and his commentary on them are very illuminating, but further study of the documents themselves discloses many important details and helps to correct some theories propounded on the subject. Let us take up a concrete and simple case, e.g. the description of Astret Canon, a trev or township (villata) of the honour of Denbigh, surveyed in 1334. In the time of the native Welsh princes it was occupied entirely by a kindred (progenies) of free tribesmen descended from a certain Canon, the son of Lawaurgh. The kindred was subdivided into four gavells or bodies of joint-tenants. On the half-gavell of Monryk ap Canon, e.g. there are no less than sixteen coparceners, of whom eight possess houses. The peculiarity of this system of land tenure consists in the fact that all the tenants of these gavells derive their position on the land from the occupation of the township by their kindred, and have to trace their rights to shares in the original unit. Although the village of Astret Canon was occupied under the Survey by something like fifty-four male tenants, the majority of whom were settled in houses of their own, it continued to form a unit as well in regard to the payment of tungpound, that is, of the direct land tax and other services and payments, but also in respect of the possession and usage of the soil. On the other hand, movable property is owned in severalty. Services have to be apportioned among the members of the kindreds according to the number of heads of cattle owned by them. From the description of another township—Pireyon—we may gather another important feature of this tribal tenure. The population of this village also clustered in gavells, and we hear that these gavells ought to be considered as equal shares in respect of the arable, the wood and the waste of the township. If the shares were reduced into acres there would have fallen to each of the eight gavells of Pireyon ninety-one acres, one rood and a half and six perches of arable and woodland, and fifty-three and one-third of an acre and half a rood of waste land. But as a matter of fact the land was not divided in such a way, and the rights of the tenants of the gavell were realized not through the appropriation of definite acres, but as proportionate opportunities in regard to tillage and as to usages in pasture, wood and waste. Pastoral habits must have greatly contributed to give the system of landholding its peculiar character. It was not necessary, it would have been even harmful, to subdivide sharply the area on which the herds of cows and the flocks of sheep and goats were grazing. Still Welsh rural life in the 14th century had already a definite though subordinate agricultural aspect, and it is important to notice that individual appropriation had as yet made very slight progress in it.
We do not notice any systematic equalization between members of the tribal communities of the trevs. In fact, both differences in the ownership of cattle and differences of tribal standing, established by complex reckonings of pedigree and of social rank, led to marked inequalities. But there was also the notion of birthright, and we find in the laws that every free tribesman considered himself entitled to claim from his kindred grazing facilities and five erws for tillage. Such a claim could be made unconditionally only at a time when there was a superabundance of land to dispose of. In the 14th century, to which our typical descriptions refer, this state of things had ceased to be universal. Although great tracts of Welsh land were undoubtedly still in a state of wilderness, the soil in more conveniently situated regions was beginning to be scarce, and considerable pressure of population was already felt, with a consequent transition from pastoral pursuits to agriculture. The tract appropriated to the township of Astret Canon, for instance, contained only 574 acres of land of all kinds. In this case there was hardly room for the customary five erws per head of grown-up males besides commons. And yet although the population lived on a small pittance, the system of tribal tenure was not abandoned.
Although there are no rearrangements or redivision within the tribe as a whole, inside every gavell, representing more narrow circles of kinsmen, usually the descendants of one great-grandfather, i.e. second cousins, the shares are shifted and readjusted according to one of two systems. In one case, that of the trevcyvriv or joint-account village, every man receives “as much as another yet not of equal value”—which means, of course, that the members of such communities were provided with equal allotments, but left to make the best of them, each according to chance and ability. This practice of reallotment was, however, restricted in the 14th century to taeog trevs, to villages occupied by half-free settlers. The free tribesmen, the priodarii of Wales, held by daddenhud, and reallotted shares within the trev on the coming of each new generation or, conversely, on the going out, the dying out, of each older generation. In other words at the demise of the last of the grandfathers in a gavell, all the fathers took equal rank and claimed equal shares, although formerly some of the portions had been distributed equally only between the grandfathers or their offspring (stirps). The right to claim redivision held good only within the circle of second cousins. Members of the kindred who stood further than that from each other, that is, third cousins, were not entitled to reallotment on the strength of daddenhud.
Another fact which is brought out with complete evidence by the Welsh Surveys is that the tenure is ascribed to communities of kinsmen and not to chiefs or headmen. The latter certainly existed and had exerted a powerful influence on the disposal of common land as well as on government and justice. But in the view of 14th-century surveys each township is owned not by this or the other elder, but by numerous bodies of coparceners. The gavell of Owen Gogh, for instance, contained twenty-six coparceners. In this way there is a clear attribution of rights of communal ownership, if we like to use the term, and not merely of rights of maintenance. Nor is there any warrant for a construction of these arrangements on a supposed patriarchal system.
Let us now compare this description of Celtic tribal tenure with Slavonic institutions. The most striking modern examples of tribal communities settled on a territorial basis are presented by the history of the Southern Slavs in the Balkan Peninsula and in Austria, of Slovenes, Croats, Serbs and Bulgarians, but it is easy to trace customs of the same kind in the memories of Western Slavs conquered by Germans, of the Poles and of the different subdivisions of the Russians. A good clue to the subject is provided by a Serb proverb which says that a man by himself is bound to be a martyr. One might almost suggest that these popular customs illustrate the Aristotelian conception of the single man seeking the “autarkeia,” a complete and self-sufficient existence in the society of his fellow-men, and arriving at the stage of the tribal village, the γένος, which is also a κώμη, as described in the famous introductory chapter of the Greek philosopher's Politics. The Slavs of the mountainous regions of the Balkans and of the Alps in their stubborn struggle with nature and with human enemies have clustered and still cluster to some extent (e.g. in Montenegro) in closely united and widely spreading brotherhoods (bratstva) and tribes (plemena). Some of these brotherhoods derive their names from a real or supposed common ancestor, and are composed of relatives as well as of affiliated strangers. They number sometimes hundreds of members, of guns, as the fighting males are characteristically called. Such are—the Vukotići, Kovacevići, as one might say in Old English—the Vukotings or Kovachevings, of Montenegro. The dwellings, fields, and pasturages of these brotherhoods or kindreds are scattered over the country, and it is not always possible to trace them in compact divisions on the map. But there was the closest union in war, revenge, funeral rites, marriage arrangements, provision for the poor and for those who stand in need of special help, as, for instance, in case of fires, inundations and the like. And corresponding to this union there existed a strong feeling of unity in regard to property, especially property in land. Although ownership was divided among the different families, a kind of superior or eminent domain stretched over the whole of the bratstvo, and was expressed in the participation in common in pasture and wood, in the right to control alienations of land and to exercise pre-emption. If any of the members of the brotherhood wanted to get rid of his share he had to apply first to his next of kin within the family and then to the further kinsmen of the bratstvo.
As the Welsh kindred (progenies) were subdivided into gavells formed of extended family communities, even so the Bosnian, Montenegrin, Servian, Slovene tribes fell into house communities, Kućas, Zadrugas, which were built up on the principle of keeping blood-relatives and their property together as long as possible. They consisted generally of some 15 to 20 grown-up persons, some 6 or 7 first and second cousins with their wives and children, living in a hamlet around the central house of the domaćin, the house leader. In some instances the number of coparceners increased to 50 or even to 70. The members of the united house community, which in fact is a small village or hamlet, joined in meals and work. Their rights in the undivided household of the hamlet were apportioned according to the pedigree, i.e. this apportionment took account first of the stirpes or extant descendants of former scions of the family, so that, say, the offspring of each of two grandfathers who had been brothers were considered as equal sharers although the stirps, the stock, of one was represented only by one person, while the stirps of the other had grown to consist of two uncles and of three nephews all alive. There was no resettlement of shares, as in the case of Wales, but the life of the house community while it existed unbroken led to work in common, the contributions to which are regulated by common consent and supervised by the leader. Grounds, houses, implements of agriculture (ploughs, oxen, carts) and of viticulture—casks, cauldrons for the making of brandy, &c., are considered to be common capital and ought not to be sold unless by common consent. Divisions were not prohibited. Naturally a family had to divide sooner or later, and the shares have to be made real, to be converted into fields and vineyards. But this was an event which marks, as it were, the close of the regular existence of one union and the birth of similar unions derived from it. As a rule, the kuća kept together as long as it could, because co-operation was needed and isolation dangerous—for economic considerations as well as for the sake of defence.
Attention, however, should be called more particularly to the parallel phenomena in the social history of the Russians, where the conditions seem to stand out in specially strong contrast with those prevailing among the mountain Slavs of the Balkans and of the Alps. In the enormous extent of Russia we have to reckon with widely different geographical and racial areas, among other, with the Steppe settlements of the so-called Little Russians in the Ukraina and the forest settlements of the Great Russians in the north. In spite of great divergences the economic history of all these branches of Slavonic stock gravitates towards one main type, viz. towards rural unions of kinsmen, on the basis of enlarged households. In the south the typical village settlement is the dvorišće, the big court or hamlet consisting of some four to eight related families holding together; in the north it is the pećišće, the big oven, a hamlet of somewhat smaller size in which three to five families are closely united for purposes of common husbandry.
It is interesting to notice that even the break-up of the joint household does not lead to an entire severance of the ties between its members. They mostly continue in another form, viz. in the shape of an open-field system with intermixture of strips, compulsory rotation of crops, commons of pasture, of wood, sometimes shifting allotments as regards meadows. There is, e.g. an act of division between six brothers from the north of Russia of the year 1640. They agree to divide bread and salt, house and liberties, money, cloth and stores of all kinds and to settle apart. As to arable, Shumila is to take the upper strip in the field by the settlement, and next to him Tretjak, then Maxim, then Zaviala, then Shestoy, then Luke. In the big harvest furlong likewise, and in the small likewise, and by the meadow likewise and so on through all the furlongs. So that in this case and in innumerable other cases of the same kind the open-field system with its inconvenient intermixture of plots and limited power of every husbandman to manage his land appears as a direct continuation of the joint tribal households.
Another fact to be noticed is the tendency to form artificial associations on the pattern of the prevailing unions of kinsmen. People who have no blood-relations to appeal to for clearing the waste, for providing the necessary capital in the way of cattle and plough implements, for raising and fitting out buildings, join in order to carry on these economic undertakings, and also to help each other against enemies and aggressors. The members of these voluntary associations, which at once call to mind German, Norse and English gilds, are called “siabri,” “skladniki,” and the gilds themselves “spólkíe,” in south Russia. In a district of the Ukraina called the “Ratensky Sharostvo” there were no fewer than 278 such gilds interchanging with natural kindreds. The organization of all these unions could in no way be called patriarchal Even in cases when there is a definite elder or headman (bolshoy), he was only the first among equals and exercised only a limited authority over his fellows: all the important decisions had to be taken by the council of the community.
In Great Russia, in the districts gathered under the sway of the Moscow tsars, the basis of the household community and of the rural settlements which sprang from it was modified in another direction. The entire agricultural population was subjected to strict supervision and coercive measures for purposes of military organization and taxation. Society was drilled into uniformity and service on the principle that every man has to serve the tsar, the upper class in war and civil administration, the lower class by agricultural labour. A consequence of the heavy burden laid on the land and of the growth of a landed aristocracy somewhat resembling the gentry and the noblesse of the West was a change in the management of land allotments. They became as much a badge of service and a basis for fiscal requirements as a means of livelihood. The result was the practice of reallotments according to the strength and the needs of different families. The shifting of arable (peredel) was not in this case a reapportionment of rights, but a consequence of the correspondence between rights and obligations. But although this admeasurement of claims appears as a comparatively recent growth of the system, the fundamental solidarity between kinsmen or neighbourly associates grouped into villages was in no way an invention of the tsars or of their officials: it was rooted in traditional customs and naturally suggested by the practices of joint households. When these households become crowded in certain areas, open-field systems arise; when they are burdened with public and private service their close co-operation produces occasional or periodical redivisions of the soil between the shareholders.
Let us now pass to village communities in Teutonic countries, including England. A convenient starting-point is afforded by the social and economic conditions of the southern part of Jutland.
Now the Saxon or Ditmarschen portion of this region gives us an opportunity of observing the effects of an extended and highly systematized tribal organization on Germanic soil. The independence of this northern peasant republic, which reminds one of the Swiss cantons, lasted until the time of the Reformation. We find the Ditmarschen organized in the 15th, as they had been in the 10th century, in a number of large kindreds, partly composed of relatives by blood and partly of “cousins” who had joined them. The membership of these kindreds is based on agnatic ties—that is, on relationship through males—or on affiliation as a substitute for such agnatic kinship. The families or households are grouped into brotherhoods, and these again into clans or “Schlachten” (Geschlechter) corresponding to Roman gentes. Some of them could put as many as 500 warriors in the field. They took their names from ancestors and chieftains: the Wollersmannen, Hennemannen, Jerremannen, &c.—that is, the men of Woll, the men of Henne, the men of Jerre. In spite of these personal names the organization of the clans was by no means a monarchical one: it was based on the participation of the full-grown fighting men in the government of each clan and on a council of co-opted elders at the head of the entire federation. We need not repeat here what has already been stated about the mutual support which such clans afforded to their members in war and in peace, in judicial and in economic matters.
Let us notice the influence of this tribal organization on husbandry and property. The regular economic arrangement was an open-field one based on a three-field and similar systems. The furlongs were divided into intermixed strips with compulsory rotation on the usual pattern. And it is interesting to notice that in these economic surroundings indivisible holdings corresponding to the organic unities required for efficient agriculture arose of themselves. In spite of the equal right of all coheirs to an estate, this estate does not get divided according to their numbers, but either remains undivided or else falls into such fractions, halves or fourths, which will enable the farming to be carried on successfully, without mischievous interruption and disruption. Gradually the people settled down into the custom of united succession for agrarian units. The Hufe or Hof, the virgate, as might have been said in England, goes mostly to the eldest son, but also sometimes to the youngest, while the brothers of the heir either remain in the same household with him, generally unmarried, or leave the house after having settled with the heir, who takes charge of the holding, as to an indemnity for their relinquished claims. This indemnity is not equivalent to the market price, but is fixed, in case of dispute or doubt, by an award of impartial and expert neighbours, who have to consider not only the claims of interested persons but also the economic quality and strength of the holding. In other words, the heir has to pay so much as the estate can conveniently provide without being wrecked by the outlay.
This evidence is of decisive importance in regard to the formation of unified holdings; we are on entirely free soil, with no vestige whatever of manorial organization or of coercion of tenants by the lord, and yet the Hufe, the normal holding, comes to the fore as a result of the economic situation, on the strength of considerations drawn from the efficiency of the farming. This “Anerben” system is widely spread all through Germany. The question whether the eldest or the youngest succeeds is a subordinate one. Anyhow, manorial authority is not necessary to produce the limitation of the rights of succession to land and the creation of the system of holdings, although this has been often asserted, and one of the arguments for a servile origin of village communities turns on a supposed incompatibility between unified succession and the equal rights of free coheirs.
We need not speak at any length about other parts of Germany, as space does not permit of a description of the innumerable combinations of communal and individual elements in German law, the various shapes of manorial and political institutions with which the influence of blood relationship, gild and neighbourly union had to struggle.
But we must point out some facts from the range of Scandinavian customs. In the mountainous districts of Norway we notice the same tendency towards the unification of holdings as in the plains and hills of Schleswig and Holstein. The bönder of Gudbrandsdalen and Telemarken, the free peasantry tilling the soil and pasturing herds on the slopes of the hills since the days of Harold Hárfagr to our own times, sit in Odalgaards, or freehold estates, from which supernumerary heirs are removed on receiving some indemnity, and which are protected from alienation into strange hands by the privilege of pre-emption exercised by relatives of the seller. Equally suggestive are some facts on the Danish side of the Straits, viz. the arrangements of the bóls which correspond to the hides and virgates of England and to the Hufen of Germany. Here again we have to do with normal holdings independent of the number of coheirs, but dependent on the requirements of agriculture—on the plough and oxen, on certain constant relations between the arable of an estate and its outlying commons, meadows and woods. The ból does not stand by itself like the Norwegian gaard, but is fitted into a very close union with neighbouring bóls of the same kind. Practices of coaration, of open-field intermixture, of compulsory rotation of lot-meadows, of stinting the commons, arise of themselves in the villages of Denmark and Sweden. Laws compiled in the 13th century but based on even more ancient customs give us most interesting and definite information as to Scandinavian practices of allotment.
We catch a glimpse, to begin with, of a method of dividing fields which was considered archaic even in those early times. The Swedish laws use the expression “forniskift,” which means ancient mode of allotment, and another term corresponding to it is “hamarskift,” which may possibly be connected with throwing the hammer in order to mark the boundary of land occupied by a man's strength. The two principal features of forni or hamar skift are the irregularity of the resulting shapes of plots and the temporary character of then: occupation. The first observation may be substantiated by a description like that of Laasby in Jutland: “These lands are to that extent scattered and intermixed by the joint owners that it cannot be said for certain what (or how much) they are.” Swedish documents, on the other hand, speak expressly of practices of shifting arable and meadows periodically, sometimes year by year.
Now the uncertainty of these practices based on occupation became in process of time a most inconvenient feature of the situation and evidently led to constant wrangling as to rights and boundaries. The description of Laasby which I have just quoted ends with the significant remark: “They should be compelled to make allotment by the cord.” This making of allotments by the cord is the process of rebning, from reb, the surveyor's cord, and the juridical procedure necessary for it was called “solskift”—because it was a division following the course of the sun.
The two fundamental positions from which this form of allotment proceeds are: (1) that the whole area of the village is common land (faellesjord), which has to be lotted out to the single householders; (2) that the partition should result in the creation of equal holdings of normal size (bóls). In some cases we can actually recognize the effect of these allotments by ancient solskift in the 18th century, at a time when the Danish enclosure acts produced a second general revolution in land tenure.
The oldest twelve inhabitants, elected as sworn arbitrators for effecting the allotment, begin their work by throwing together into one mass all the grounds owned by the members of the community, including dwellings and farm-buildings, with the exception of some privileged plots. There is a close correspondence between the sites of houses and the shares in the field. The first operation of the surveyors consists in marking out a village green for the night-rest and pasture of the cattle employed in the tillage (fortá), and to assign sites to the houses of the coparceners with orchards append ant to them (tofts); every householder getting exactly as much as his neighbour. From the tofts they proceed to the fields on the customary notion that the toft is the mother of the field. The fields are disposed into furlongs and shots, as they were called in England, and divided among the members of the village with the strictest possible equality. This is effected by assigning to every householder a strip in every one of the furlongs constituting the arable of the village. Meadows were often treated as lot-meadows in the same way as in England. According to the account of a solrebning executed in 1513 (Oester Hoejsted), every otting, the eighth part of a ból (corresponding to the English oxgang or bovate), got a toft of 40 roods in length and 6 in breadth. One of the coparceners received, however, 8 roods because his land was worse than that of his neighbours. Of the arable there were allotted to each otting two roods' breadth for the plough in each furlong and append ant commons “in damp and in dry”—in meadow and pasture. After such a “solskift” the peasants held their tenements in undisturbed ownership, but the eminent demesne of the village was recognized and a revision of the allotment was possible. Many such revisions did actually take place, and in such cases all rights and claims were apportioned according to the standard of the original shares. Needless to say that these shares were subjected to all the usual limitations of champion farming.
After having said so much about different types of village communities which occur in Europe it will be easier to analyse the incidents of English land tenure which disclose the working of similar conceptions and arrangements. Features which have been very prominent in the case of the Welsh, Slavs, Germans or Scandinavians recur in the English instances sometimes with equal force and at other times in a mitigated shape.
There are some vestiges of the purely tribal form of community on English soil. Many of the place-names of early Saxon and Anglican settlements are derived from personal names with the suffix ing, as designations like Oakington, the town of the Hockings.
True, it is just possible to explain some of these place-names as pointing to settlements belonging to some great man and therefore taking their designation from him with the adjunct of an ing indicating possession. But the group of words in question falls in exactly with the common patronymics of Saxon and German families and kindreds, and therefore it is most probable, as Kemble supposed, that we have to do in most of these instances with tribal and family settlements, although the mere fact of belonging to a great landowner or a monastery may have been at the root of some cases.
A very noticeable consequence of tribal habits in regard to landownership is presented by the difficulties which stood in the way of alienation of land by the occupiers of it. The Old English legal system did not originally admit of any alienation of folkland, land held by folk right, or, in other words, of the estates owned under the ordinary customary law of the people. Such land could not be bequeathed out of the kindred and could not be sold without the consent of the kinsmen. Such complete disabilities could not be upheld indefinitely, however, in a growing and progressive community, and we find the ancient folk right assailed from different points of view. The Church insists on the right of individual possessors to give away land for the sake of their souls; the kings grant exemption from folkright and constitute privileged estates held by book and following in the main the rules of individualized Roman law; the wish of private persons to make provision for daughters and to deal with land as with other commodities produces constant collisions with the customary tribal views. Already, by the end of the Saxon period transfer and alienation of land make their way everywhere, and the Norman conquest brings these features to a head by substituting the notion of tenure—that is, of an estate burdened with service to a superior—for the ancient notion of tribal folkland.
But although the tribal basis of communal arrangements was shaken and removed in England in comparatively early times, it had influenced the practices of rural husbandry and landholding, and in the modified form of the village community it survived right through the feudal period, leaving characteristic and material traces of its existence down to the present day.
To begin with, the open-field system with intermixture of strips and common rights in pasture and wood has been the prevailing system in England for more than a thousand years. Under the name of champion farming it existed everywhere in the country until the Inclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries put an end to it; it may be found in operation even now in some of its features in backward districts. It would have been absurd to build up these practices of compulsory rotation of crops, of a temporary relapse of plots into common pasture between harvest and ploughing time, of the interdependence of thrifty and negligent husbandmen in respect of weeds and times of cultivation, &c., from the point of view of individual appropriation. On the other hand, it was the natural system for the apportionment of claims to the shareholders of an organic and perpetual joint-stock company.
Practices of shifting arable are seldom reported in English evidence. There are some traces of periodical redivisions of arable land in Northumberland: under the name of runrig system such practices seem to have been not uncommon in the outer fields, the non-manured portions of townships in Scotland, both among the Saxon inhabitants of the lowlands and the Celtic population of the highlands. The joining of small tenants for the purpose of coaration, for the formation of the big, heavy ploughs, drawn by eight oxen, also produced sometimes the shifting in the possession of strips between the coparceners of the undertaking. But, as a rule, the arable was held in severalty by the different members of the township.
On the other hand, meadows were constantly owned by entire townships and distributed between the tenements entitled to shares from year to year either by lot or according to a definite order. These practices are in full vigour in some places even at the present day. Any person living in Oxford may witness the distribution by lot on Lammas day (1st of August) of the Lammas meadows, that is, the meadows inclosed for the sake of raising hay-grass in the village of Yarnton, some three miles to the north of Oxford.
Let us, however, return for a moment to the arable. Although held in severalty by different owners it was subjected to all sorts of interference on the part of the village union as represented in later ages by the manorial court framing by-laws and settling the course of cultivation. It might also happen that in consequence of encroachments, disputes and general uncertainty as to possession and boundaries, the whole distribution of the strips of arable in the various fields had to be gone over and regulated anew. In an interesting case reported from a Cartulary of Dunstable in Bedfordshire, all the possessions of the villagers in a place called Segenhoe were thrown together in the 12th century and redivided according to an award of experts chosen by a meeting of the villagers from among the oldest and wisest inhabitants.
Exactly as in the Danish examples quoted before, the strips were apportioned, not to the single owners, but to the normal holdings, the hides, and the actual owners had to take them in proportion to their several rights in the hides. This point is very important. It gives the English village community its peculiar stamp. It is a community not between single members or casual households, but between determined holdings constructed on a proportional scale. Although there was no provision for the admeasurement and equalization of the claims of Smith and of Brown, each hide or plough land of a township took as much as every other hide, each virgate or yardland as every other yardland, each bovate or oxgang as every other oxgang. Now the proportions themselves, although varying in respect of the number of acres included in each of these units in different places, were constant in their relation to each other. The yardland was almost everywhere one-fourth of the hide or plough land, and corresponded to the share of two oxen in an eight-oxen plough; the oxgang was reckoned at one-half of the yardland, and corresponded to the share of one ox in the same unit of work. The constant repetition of these fractions and units proves that we have to do in this case with phenomena arising not from artificial devices but from the very nature of the case. Nor can there be a doubt that both the unit and the fractions were produced by the application to land of the chief factor of working strength in agrarian husbandry, the power of the plough team for tillage.
The natural composition of the holdings has its counterpart, as in Schleswig-Holstein and as in the rest of Germany, in the customs of united succession. The English peasantry worked out customary rules of primogeniture or of so-called Borough English or claim of the youngest to the land held by his father. The German examples adduced in the beginning of this article teach us that the device is not suggested primarily by the interest of the landlord. Unified succession takes the place of the equal rights of sons, because it is the better method for preserving the economic efficiency of the household and of the tenement corresponding to it. There are exceptions, the most notorious being that of Kentish gavelkind, but in agricultural districts the holding remains undivided as long as possible, and if it gets divided, the division follows the lines not of the casual number of coheirs, but of the organic elements of the plough lands. Fourths and eighths arise in connexion with natural fractions of the plough team of eight oxen.
One more feature of the situation remains to be noticed, and it is the one which is still before our eyes in all parts of the country, that is, the commons which have survived the wholesale process of inclosure. They were an integral part of the ancient village community from the first, not only because the whole ground of a township could not be taken up by arable and meadows, at a time when population was scanty, but because there existed the most intimate connexion between the agricultural and pastoral part of husbandry in the time of the open-field system. Pasture was not treated as a commodity by itself but was mostly considered as an adjunct, as appendant to the arable, and so was the use of woods and of turf. This fact was duly emphasized, e.g. in an Elizabethan case reported by Coke—Tyrringham's case. The problem of admeasurement of pasture was regulated in the same way as that of the apportionment of arable strips, by a reference to the proportional holdings, the hides, yardlands and oxgangs of the township, and the only question to be decided was how many heads of cattle and how many sheep each hide and yardland had the right to send to the common pasturage grounds.
When in course of time the open-field system and the tenure of arable according to holdings were given up, the right of freeholders and copy holders of the old manors in which the ancient townships were, as it were, encased, still held good, but it became much more difficult to estimate and to apportion such rights.
In connexion with the individualistic policy of inclosure the old writ of admeasurement of commons was abolished in 1837 (3 & 4 Will. IV.) The ordinary expedient is to make out how much commonable cattle could be kept by the tenements claiming commons through the winter. It is very characteristic and important that in the leading modern case on sufficiency of commons—in Robertson v. Hartopp—it was admitted by the Court of Appeal that the sufficiency has to be construed as a right of turning out a certain number of beasts on the common, quite apart from the number which had been actually turned out at any given time. Now a vested right has to be construed from the point of view of the time when it came into existence. The standards used to estimate such rights ought not to be drawn from modern practice, which might help to dispense altogether with commons of pasture by stable feeding, substitutes for grass, &c., but ought to correspond to the ordinary usages established at a time when the open-field system was in full vigour. The legal view stands thus at present, but we cannot conceal from ourselves that after all the inroads achieved, by individual appropriation it is by no means certain that the reference to the rights and rules of a previous period win continue to be recognized. However this may be, in the present commons we have certainly a system which draws its roots from customs, as to the origin of which legal memory does not run.
We may, in conclusion, summarize very briefly the principal results of our inquiry as to the history of European village communities. It seems that they may be stated under the following heads: (1) Primitive stages of civilization disclose in human society a strong tendency towards mutual support in economic matters as well as for the sake of defence. (2) The most natural form assumed by such unions for defence and co-operation is that of kinship, (3) In epochs of pastoral husbandry and of the beginnings of agriculture land is mainly owned by tribes, kindreds and enlarged households, while individuals enjoy only rights of usage and possession, (4) In course of time unions of neighbours are substituted for unions of kinsmen. (5) In Germanic societies the community of the township rests on the foundation of efficient holdings—bóls, hides, hufen—kept together as far as possible by rules of united or single succession. (6) The open-field system, which prevailed in the whole of Northern Europe for nearly a thousand years, was closely dependent on the customs of tribal and neighbourly unions. (7) Even now the treatment of commons represents the last manifestations of ancient communal arrangements, and it can only be reasonably and justly interpreted by reference to the law and practice of former times.
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- They range from 80 or 90 to 700.