Page:VCH Surrey 1.djvu/431

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


POLITICAL HISTORY In 1381, according to the poll tax returns, there were 11,778 persons in rural Surrey above fifteen years old, and 844 lay persons above that age in Southwark. 1 These may be at least doubled for the whole population. The Black Death had come three times since 1339, and though there was time for some recovery since the last visitation in 1369, there was not a chance of much increase since the earlier date. The pestilence had no doubt raged in Surrey as elsewhere. In 1349, during the first visitation, the Prior of Reigate died, and it is said the prior and all the brethren of the hospital at Sandon. In the second, in 1361-2, a baron, the Abbot of Chertsey and the Prior of Merton died. In the third, 1369, the Prior of Merton. Only one of these deaths, apart from the great mortality at Sandon, is recorded as owing to the pestilence, but the coincidences of date suggest other deaths from this cause. In the year of the first visitation the benefices in Surrey changed occupants about twice as often as usual. At all times changes were frequent, and every change did not mean a death by any means. The mediaeval chronicler habitually exaggerates numbers, whether of soldiers, population, victims of a plague or sums of money. The certain exaggeration of the number of knights' fees in England may perhaps be distantly imitated by the statement that half of the population died of the Black Death. We can correct one statement more easily than we can check the other. But the phenomena of mediaeval social life and the accidents of the time, the military system, the dominance of great landowners, the splendour of ecclesiastical establishments, the busy life of petty trading towns, under the protection of king, lord or abbot, the absolute insignificance of the mass of the suffering population, the diffi- culties of travel, the miseries of civil war and the ravages of disease all find their expression in the records of mediaeval Surrey. In 1381, when social discontent, commercial depression, unsuccess- ful war, bad government and religious agitation all combined to produce insurrection, Surrey, being close to Kent, one of the foci of the rebellion, and lying between Kent and London, was sure to be involved. Early in June Essex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex were up in arms, the labourers compelling, we are told, others to join with them, slaying men and burning houses. The country parts of Surrey were as back- ward as any part of England. Though we need not believe Aubrey when he says that the very worst outrage of feudal oppression existed in the customs of the manor of Dorking, 3 yet villenage was not extinct in Surrey in the middle of the sixteenth century. In Kent it was practically extinct before 1381, and it is in accord with analogy to find most violent social uprisings in countries near a better state of things. At Chertsey there was a riot among the tenants of the abbey, who Q. R. Lay Subsidies, -^ and ^.

  • See on Dorking Aubrey's Perambulations. The alleged right is probably mythical in

England. 3 6l