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Uncivilized compared with England, the northern part of the island must certainly have been, if we may trust the indignant references by Simeon of Durham and Henry of Huntingdon to the savage practices of the Scots who swarmed over the border, with or without their king to lead them, or the remark by William of Malmesbury concerning the Scots who went on the Crusade leaving behind them the insects of their native country.
Giraldus intended to have written an itinerary or topography of England also, but his purpose does not appear to have been fulfilled. Higden, his immediate successor in that kind of writing a century and a half later, is content, in his section on England, to reproduce the generalities of earlier authors from Pliny downwards. On the other hand, the impression made by the details of the Domesday survey upon a historian of the soundest judgment, Hallam, is an impression of poor cultivation and scanty sustenance.
Though almost all England had been partially cultivated, and we find nearly the same manors, except in the north, which exist at present, yet the value and extent of cultivated ground are inconceivably small.
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With every allowance [Pg 23] for the inaccuracies and partialities of those by whom that famous survey was completed, we are lost in amazement at the constant recurrence of two or three carucates in demesne, with folkland occupied by ten or a dozen villeins, valued all together at forty shillings, as the return of a manor which now would yield a competent income to a gentleman . Whether, the population at the Domesday survey were nearer two millions than one, the people were almost wholly on the land.
Of the size of the chief towns, as the Normans found them, we may form a not incorrect estimate from the Domesday enumeration of houses held of the king or of other superiors .
London, Winchester and Bristol do not come at all into the survey. Norwich had burgesses in the time of Edward the Confessor; in the borough were English burgesses rendering custom, and bordarii rendering none on account of their poverty; there were also more than one hundred French households. Thetford had burgesses before the Conquest, and at the survey , with houses vacant. York was so desolated just before the survey that it is not easy to estimate its ordinary population; but it may be put at about houses.
Gloucester had burgesses. Many of these houses were exceedingly small, with a frontage of seven feet; the poorest [Pg 24] class were mere sheds, built in the ditch against the town wall, as at York and Canterbury. It would be within the mark to say that less than one-tenth of the population of England was urban in any distinctive sense of the term. After London, Norwich, York, and Lincoln, there were probably no towns with five thousand inhabitants.
There were, of course, the simpler forms of industries, and there was a certain amount of commerce from the Thames, the East Coast, and the Channel ports. The fertile soil of England doubtless sustained abundance of fruit trees and produced corn to the measure of perhaps four or six times the seed. There were flocks of sheep, yielding more wool than the country used, herds of swine and of cattle. The exports of wool, hides, iron, lead, and white metal gave occasion to the importation of commodities and luxuries from Flanders, Normandy, and Gascony.
A bad season brought scarcity and murrain, and two bad seasons in succession brought famine and pestilence. Of the general state of health we may form some idea from the Anglo-Saxon leechdoms, or collections of remedies, charms and divinations, supposed to date from the eleventh century . The maladies to which the English people were liable in these early times correspond on the whole to the everyday diseases of our own age.
Maladies peculiar to women occupy a chief place, and there is evidence that hysteria, the outcome of hardships, entered largely into the forms of sickness, as it did in the time of Sydenham. Among the curiosities of the nosology may be mentioned wrist-drop, doubtless from working in lead.
One great chapter in disease, the sickness and mortality of infants [Pg 25] and children, is almost a complete blank.
It ought doubtless to have been the greatest chapter of all. The population remained small, for one reason among others, that the children would be difficult to rear. There is no direct evidence; but we may infer from analogous circumstances, that the inexpansive population meant an enormous infant mortality. We come, then, to the chronology of famine-pestilences, and first in the Anglo-Saxon period. The years from to are occupied, as we have seen, by a great plague, probably the bubo-plague, which returned in as the Black Death, affecting, like the latter, the whole of England and Ireland on its first appearance, and afterwards particular monasteries, such as Barking and Jarrow.
But it is clear that famine-sickness was also an incident of the same years. But that historian does make a clear reference to famine in Sussex about the year .
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But on the very day when the people accepted the Christian baptism, there fell a plenteous [Pg 26] rain, the earth flourished anew, and a glad and fruitful season ensued . The anarchy in Northumbria which followed the death of Beda in , with the decline of piety and learning in the northern monasteries, is said to have led to famine and plague . It is not until the year that an entry of famine and mortality occurs in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
It is in keeping with the disappointing nature of all these early records that Simeon of Durham and Roger of Howden, the two compilers who had access to lost records, are more particular in enumerating the portents that preceded the calamity than in describing its actual circumstances. In that mortality, many of the chief thanes died, and there was a murrain of cattle, with a scarcity of food in Ireland.
At no long intervals there are two more famines, in and Then in or comes the incident of St Elphege, already given. From to we find mention of four, or perhaps five, famines, those of the years and being marked by a great mortality of men and murrain of cattle. Except in Yorkshire, the Norman Conquest had no immediate effects upon the people of England in the way of famine and pestilence.
The harrying of Yorkshire, however, is too important a local incident to be passed over in this history. Of these ruthless horrors in the autumn of we have some particulars from the pen of Simeon of Durham, who has contemporary authority. There was such hunger, he says, that men ate the flesh of their own kind, of horses, of dogs, and of cats. Others sold themselves into perpetual slavery in order that they might be able to sustain their miserable lives on any terms like the Chinese in later times.
Others setting out in exile from their country perished before their journey was ended. It was horrible to look into the houses and farmyards, or by the wayside, and see the human corpses dissolved in corruption and crawling with worms. There was no one to bury them, for all were gone, either in flight or dead by the sword and famine. The country was one wide solitude, and remained so for nine years. Between York and Durham no one dwelt, and travellers went in great fear of wild beasts and of robbers . William of Malmesbury says that the city of York was so wasted by fire that an old inhabitant would not have recognized it; and that the country was still waste for sixty miles at the time of his writing .