England in the Fifteenth Century

By W. Denton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I.
Statistics in the Middle Ages not to be relied on--Estimate of popu-
lation--Rural aspects of England--English agriculture--Forests, fens,
morasses--Corn districts--Manures-- Enclosures -- Game, poaching --
Rabbit warrens -- Woodlands -- Cattle-- Highways, parish and manor
roads--Water carriage--Broken ways and dangers of the roads--Rate
of travelling and carriage of goods--Postage of letters.

LITTLE reliance can be placed on the numbers found in our old chroniclers. The value of statistics seems not to have been understood by these writers, and even kings and parliament, interested as they were in getting correct information, deceived themselves continually as to the probable produce of a tax through want of knowing the number of the people from whom it was to be levied.1 Statesmen guessed at the number of parishes and parish churches, of knights' fees and of acres under tillage, of manors and of the people who dwelt on them, and, as in other instances of guessing, they seldom guessed rightly. Hence the sums raised from these sources of revenue rarely equalled the estimate made beforehand or of the expectation of those who needed the money. In some instances these guesses were very wide of the mark, and surprise us by their great inaccuracy.2 Since then we have little more to guide us than the statements of the chroniclers or of the rolls of parliament as to the number of the people of England and of their increase at various periods of our national history, we are without means of gaining any precise information on this point. We cannot rely on the vague numbers which occur in the pages of Fitz-Stephen, or in those of William of

____________________
1
Macpherson Annals of Commerce, vol. i., p. 423; Hallam Hist. Middle Ages, vol. iii., p. 367 (edit. 1855). If the items in a subsidy roll or a reeve's account are at all numerous, the totals frequently disagree with the various sums which they are supposed to represent.
2
Rolls of Parliament (45 Edward III.), vol. ii., p. 304, § 10, 11; Longman Hist. Edward III., vol. ii., p. 184.-- Dowell Hist. of Taxation, vol. i., p. 100.

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