VI. THE TUDORS
The protracted struggle of the Plantagenets left the nation in a state of exhaustion. The nobles had absorbed the lands of the FREEMEN, and had thus broken the backbone of society. They had then entered upon a contest with the Crown to increase their own power; and to effect their selfish objects, setup puppets, and ranged under conflicting banners, but the Nemesis followed. The Wars of the Roses destroyed their own power, and weakened their influence, by sweeping away the heads of the principal families. The ambition of the nobles failed of its object, when "the last of the barons" lay gory in his blood on the field of Tewkesbury. The wars were, however, productive of one national benefit, in virtually ending the state of serfdom to which the aborigines were reduced by the Scandinavian invasion. The exhaustion of the nation prepared the way to changes of a most radical character, and the reigns of the Tudors are characterized by greater innovations and more striking alterations than even those which followed the accession of the Normans.
Henry of Richmond came out of the field of Bostworth a vistor, and ascended the throne of a nation whose leading nobles had been swept away. The sword had vied with the axe. Henry VII. was prudent and cunning; and in the absence of any preponderating oligarchical influence, planted the heel of the sovereign upon the necks of the nobles. He succeeded where the Plantagenets had failed. His accession became the advent of a series of measures which altered most materially the system of landholding. The Wars of the Roses showed that the power of the nobles was too great for the comfort of the monarch. The decision in Taltarum's case, in the reign of Edward IV., affected the entire system of entail. Land, partly freed from restrictions, passed into other hands. But Henry went further. He destroyed their physical influence by ridigly putting down retainer; and in one of his tours, while partaking of the hospitality of the Earl of Oxford, he fined him L15,000 for having greeted him with 5000 of his tenants in livery. The rigid enforcement of the laws passed against retainers in former reigns, but now made more penal, strengthened the king and reduced the power of the nobles. Their estates were relieved of a most onerous charge, and the lands freed from the burden of supporting the army of the state.
Henry VII. had thus a large fund to give away; the rent of the land granted in knights' service virtually consisted of two separate funds - one part went to the feudee, as officer or commmandant, the other to the soldiery or vassals. The latter part belonged to the state. Had Henry applied it to the reestablishment of the class of FREEMEN (LIBERI HOMINES), as was recently done by the Emperor of Russia when he abolished serfdom, he would have created a power on which the Crown and the constitution could rely. This might have been done by converting the holdings of the men-at-arms into allodial estates, held direct from the Crown. Such an arrangement would have left the income of the feudee unimpaired, as it would only have applied the fund that had been paid to the men-at-arms to this purpose; and by creating out of that land a number of small estates held direct from the Crown, the misery that arose from the eviction and destruction of a most meritorious class, would have been avoided. Vagrancy, with its great evils, would have been prevented, and the passing of the Poor laws would have been unnecessary. Unfortunately Henry and his counsellors did not appreciate the consequence of the suppression of retainers and liveries. By the course he adopted to secure the influence of the Crown, he compensated the nobles, but destroyed the agricultural middle class.
This change had an important and, in some respects, a most injurious effect upon the condition of the nation, and led to enactments of a very extraordinary character, which I must submit in detail, inasmuch as I prefer giving the ipsissima verba of the statute-book to any statement of my own. To make the laws intelligible, I would remind you that the successful efforts of the nobles had, during the three centuries of Plantagenet rule, nearly obliterated the LIBERI HOMINES (whose rights the Norman conqueror had sedulously guarded), and had reduced them to a state of vassalage. They held the lands of their lord at his will, and paid their rent by military service. When retainers were put down, and rent or knights' service was no longer paid with armed men, their occupation was gone. They were unfit for the mere routine of husbandry, and unprovided with funds for working their farms. The policy of the nobles was changed. It was no longer their object to maintain small farmsteads, each supplying its quota of armed men to the retinue of the lord; and it was their interest to obtain money rents. Then commenced a struggle of the most fearful character. The nobles cleared their lands, pulled down the houses, and displaced the people. Vagrancy, on a most unparalleled scale, took place. Henry VII., to check this cruel, unexpected, and harsh outcome of his own policy, resorted to legislation, which proved nearly ineffectual. As early as the fourth year of his reign these efforts commenced with an enactment (cap. 19) for keeping up houses and encouraging husbandry; it is very quaint, and is as follows: