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Servitude in Anglo-Saxon England; Searching for the Serfs

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Penultimate draft headed for edited volume. Maybe we have exaggerated the dominance of slavery in Anglo-Saxon culture. It is not that it does not exist but that scholars seldom consider serfdom as a serious co-partner, or whether either had an
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  DRAFT NOT YET READY FOR CITATION Servitude in Anglo-Saxon England; Searching for the Serfs * When the Blickling homilist wrote hopefully of the freodom unaræfnedlican  þeowdomes , he was comparing the unbearable slavery of humankind to the Devil before theIncarnation with the inferior human brand of servitude. 1  his paper aims to set the horrors that some humans inflict on those whom they dominate within its full conte!t of unbearability."ost accounts of #ngland before 1$%% mention slavery. &ew say much about serfdom, which tends to appears, only as an add'on or aside. ( . "odern discussion of servitude in early medieval #urope has been very much shaped by a posthumous paper of "arc Bloch)s, whose uestion was )Why and how did the slavery of +ntiuity come to an end -  e thus implied that slavery was an institution moving towards a definite end, from a starting point in imperial /ome with its highly developed its systems of law and slavery, towards a new kind of servitude called )serfdom) in the 1($$s. Bloch)s approach has remained very influential, and the idea of slavery and serfdom as distinct institutions lingers as a premise of much early medieval social history. 0  ertainly, treatments of +nglo'2a!on society feature slavery much more prominently than serfdom. 3   +nother conseuence of starting the narrative with the particular /oman brand of slavery is 1 *I have benefted rom many helpul r!t!al omment" about the !dea" !n th!" paper# vo!ed ormally and !normally# more than I an than$ here% I am &rateul to them all# andtru"t that they $no' 'ho they are% (ar$ Atherton# )tephen a+ter# and the late ,!"! Ol!ver her"el# de"erve to be "!n&led out or "pe!al than$"# but bear no re"pon"!b!l!ty or the re"ult"% I -uote rom Dav!d A%E% .elteret# )lavery !n Early (ed!eval En&land /0oodbr!d&e# )u% and Rohe"ter NY#2 oydell# 13345# 677% Th!" boo$# by ar the mo"t omprehen"!ve# "holarly# and 8ud!!ou" treatment o the "ub8et ha" been my &u!de throu&hout% Thou&h I $eep !tat!on" to a m!n!mum# I am proud to have un'!tt!n&ly playeda very m!nor role !n !t" development# !b!d%# +!% I have ta$en areul note too o Dav!d 0yatt# )lave" and 0arr!or" !n (ed!eval r!ta!n and Ireland# 9::;16:: /,e!den < o"ton (A2 r!ll# 6::35% 6  I one"" to an add!t!onal# per"onal mot!ve or th!" !n-u!ry# a" a preparat!on or a boo$ on the "er!e" o "er manum!""!on" over the =lon&> th!rteenth entury% )!ne th!" overlapped '!th an early "er!e" o ="lave> manum!""!on" !n the 11?:" and 11@:"# I needed to on"!der 'hat mea"ure o "o!al han&e atually too$ plae !n Norman En&land% I have "$ethed my pro8et !n ,a 8o!e de la l!bertB et le pr!+ de la re"petab!l!tB% Autour de" harte" d>aranh!""ement an&la!"e" et d>ate" rana!"e" analo&ue" /v% 11:;1?:75# !bl!oth-ue de l>Bole de" harte" 1@ /6::5 and A Three;ornered Dynam! o Redempt!on !n the =,on&> Th!rteenth Century2 !lle!n (anum!""!on" and the  Theolo&y o the Inarnat!on># An&lo;Norman )tud!e" 6 /6:1?5% ?  Comment et pour-uo! fn!t le"lava&e ant!-ue G13@7H# !n h!" (Blan&e" h!"tor!-ue"# ed% C;E% .err!n /)%E%%.%E%N%2 .ar!"# 13?5# 61;94% @  The l!terature ha" advaned a lon& 'ay "!ne loh# '!thout -u!te lo"!n& the !n"t!tut!onal prem!"e% I have &a!ned muh rom am the "oph!"t!ated "tud!e" o Al!e R!o no' approah!n& omplet!on !n boo$ orm% 4  One !mportant e+ept!on !" R% Fa!th# The En&l!"h .ea"antry and the ro'th o ,ord"h!p /,ondon < Ne' Yor$2 ,e!e"ter Jn!ver"!ty .re""# 13375% 1  DRAFT NOT YET READY FOR CITATION something of a fi!ation on finding a clear legal line between freedom and unfreedom, resembling that which became in thirteenth'century #ngland the main concern of the common law of villeinage. %  It may therefore seem that a high proportion of the #nglish population before 1$%% were slaves, and that anyone who ceased to be unfree must indeed have crossed a line to freedom. 4ne would certainly like to know how many slaves there were, what proportion of the total they constituted, and whether we should term +nglo'2a!on #ngland a slave society, in the sense that slavery was a significant determinant of its overall culture. We shall never, of course, be able to answer such uestions satisfactorily. he first opportunity to estimate howmany slaves there were in the country and in which direction the numbers might have been moving does not come until after the 4ld #nglish kingdom had come to an end. 2cholars have counted the servi recorded in Domesday Book and compared the totals in the time of king #dward with that of William, to argue for a substantial decrease in the two decades between 1$%% and 1$5%. hey have tended then to regard this as the end of a process of numerical decline from much higher numbers in the distant past. his is incapable of conclusive proof, even were the abolitionist assumptions that once seemed to support it not now largely discredited. 6   + further assumption that bears a lot of the weight in the received view is the belief that 7atin servus  and its various 4ld #nglish euivalents denote something close to our 8ideal type9 of slave. We take them as )legal) terms with a relatively precise meaning, capableof deciding cases in a court. 2ome of the assumptions behind this belief will receive attentionbelow. I would suggest that #nglish law before the legal revolution of the eleventh and twelfth centuries with its revival of law schools and a learned law tradition functioned with less precision than is sometimes thought. 4ne pointer in this direction is the absence of some of the familiar distinctions of modern Western law derived ultimately from /ome. 5  I shall therefore e!amine both the nature and location of any line between free and unfree, and the e!tent to which our modern conceptual differentiation of slavery and serfdom might apply to tenth' and eleventh'century #ngland.   (y o'n aount o th!" !" K!n&# ,ord" and .ea"ant" !n (ed!eval En&land2 the Common ,a' o !lle!na&e !n 16th and 1?th Century En&land# /O+ord2 O+ord Jn!ver"!ty .re""# 139:5 Ghereater K,.H% 7  An older &enerat!on o "holar" 'anted to bel!eve that the Churh d!"approved o "lavery and 'or$ed a&a!n"t !t (ore reently# "holar" l!$e 0yatt# )lave" and 0arr!or"#1;6# 1:;6# 17;9# 63;?1# 49;:# and )% Lura"!n"$!# The Old En&l!"h .en!tent!al" and An&lo;)a+on ,a' /Ne' Yor$2 Cambr!d&e Jn!ver"!ty .re""# 6:145# 9;34 have eet!vely r!t!-ued "uh v!e'"% 9  I have made my o'n prel!m!nary "u&&e"t!on" !n =.roperty Tal$2 D!d An&lo;)a+on En&land $no' the Conept o )e!"!nM> !n Te+t" and Conte+t" !n ,e&al !"tory2 E""ay" !n onor o Charle" Donahue# ed% L% 0!tte# )% (Dou&all# and A% d! Rob!lant /Robb!n" Collet!on2 er$eley CA# 6:15# hap% ? 6  DRAFT NOT YET READY FOR CITATION he 4ld #nglish laws make fairly freuent use of an opposition between free and unfree when e!pounding differential punishments for )criminal) offenses and failure to meet various social obligations. hey occasionally note, for e!ample, occasions when the rules for )slaves) differed from those for the )free), or pronounce upon slaves alone, or state occasions when, unusually, slave and free merited the same treatment. But there is no general statement that everyone was either one or the other in the way :aius had provided for /oman law. ;  he #nglish valued their freedom as much as any other people but seem not tohave thought of it as any protective legal fence. I shall suggest that they envisioned it as a kind of continuum along which men and women were located by relation to their local reference groups. It is no surprise, then, to encounter many who were neither obvious slaves nor noble but fitted somewhere in between the two, and seemed evidently free than their noble betters.4ne cannot easily argue this from the contemporary names by which they were known, for we cannot always document social labels that served local purposes and may never have been written down. <ings never addressed this incoherent mass as a single entity in the laws written for them by their ecclesiastical advisers or elsewhere. But a few elite churchmendid imagine them as a collective, under the name of laboratores  or weorcmen , those who worked the land to feed and clothe everyone else. Distant though their goals may have beenfrom the practical realities of everyday life, we need to consider what effect these efforts at social ta!onomy might have had in the )real) world. I am out to return to the +nglo'2a!on serf and his womenfolk their rightful place in the sallow, #nglish sun.he remainder of this study comes in three sections. &irst, I shall sketch some of the ways in which clever churchmen divided up their society in order to place it within the reforming hristian visions they sought to promote. I pay special attention to the most famous of these, the hree 4rders, because, I will argue, the theory9s implications did something to determine the conceptual shape of +nglo'2a!on servitude. he second and central section then proposes a model of slavery as it appears in late +nglo'2a!on society and culture. 1$  <ey in my opinion is the uantum of control   taken away from slaves and e!ercised by the lord. hose labeled unfree but en=oying a certain level of control over themselves and their lives may, I suggest, be called serfs, and recogni>ed as a numerically significant element in 4ld #nglish society. In a third section of similar length, I seek to 3  a!u" In"t!tute"# III% 32  Et -u!dem "umma d!u!"!o de !ure per"onarum hae e"t -uod omne" hom!ne" aut l!ber! "unt aut "eru!% Th!" "!mple oppo"!t!on bet'een reedom and unreedom 'a" atually ompl!ated by the "tatu" o reedman and the e+!"tene o other le&ally reo&n!ed &roup" around the borderl!ne% I on"!der the ev!dene belo'# Gte+t at n"% 9:;9H% 1:  )!ne I omb!ne analy"!" '!th !llu"trat!on" rom the tenth; and eleventh# I do not la!mto oer any $!nd o &enerally appl!able theory% ?  DRAFT NOT YET READY FOR CITATION demonstrate that much contemporary material that has been read as evidence for slavery is better understood as a kind of servitude that slopes downwards, as it were, from the unbearable harshness, sometimes uite short'lasting, at one end of the spectrum, down to arather milder subordination at the other. ?arious conceptions of freedom coe!ist within #nglish society. Where it is visuali>ed as bounded by a line, this serves to mark off the nobility from their dependents, those who pray and fight from those who labor to feed and support the free men @and occasionally womenA who ran manors in their own interest. +ll from the wrong side of this line could be represented as in some sense unfree and compelled to work for their lords. Social Taxonomy in Anglo-Saxon England 2laves can be categori>ed, divided from others, and labeled as such, only by others, lords, masters, or owners with an interest in profiting from their service. 11  istorians of the early middle ages have little alternative but to rely on this downwards view. But some atypical individuals, a thinking few, sometimes feel the need to separate the sheep from the goats, say, and to construct consciously styli>ed descriptions of their society. We can learn something uniue about their culture from this social ta!onomy, even when it says nothing directly about one)s target interest, in this case servitude. :iles onstable has warned that inthe middle ages it was only )churchmen and writers) who responded to this urge, and that )the medieval schemas bear little relation to the realities of how people live and interact...but...reflect a profound need to understand and impose order upon their society.) 1(  heir writings, emerging from a felt need to tame and make better sense of their frightening, tumultuous, sinful world, tend to be cerebral and spiritual. It is most unlikely that writers had any conscious intention to organi>e and locate the inferiors on whose labor they, their service to :od, and their personal comfort, relied. #cclesiastical administrators tasked with running the houses and estates of their saints used the same vernacular vocabulary as their lay neighbors and benefactors. +mongst the good number of such schemas current over the medieval centuries, the most popular way to organi>e the material was to start from a binary. I have already mentioned one pertinent and neglected in this instance, the /oman law mantra of )aut liber, 11  I "hould ma$e !t lear rom the out"et that I u"e the 'ord lord or anyone 'ho en8oy"lord"h!p over dependent"# !nlud!n& po""!ble "lave"% I e+pla!n 'hy# belo'#:: Gte+t at n% 71H% 16  % Con"table# Three )tud!e" !n (ed!eval Rel!&!ou" < )o!al Thou&ht /Cambr!d&e Jn!ver"!ty .re""2 Cambr!d&e# 13345# hap% ? The Order" o )o!ety# 641# 63@;4% I have al"o u"ed T% E% .o'ell# PThe =Three Order"> o )o!ety !n An&lo;)a+on En&landP# An&lo;)a+on En&land# 6? /133@5# 1:? ; 1?6 and (% Arnou+# et'een .arad!"e < Revolt2 Laboratores !n the )o!ety o the Three Order"# !n Normandy and !t" Ne!&hbour"# 3::Q164: E""ay" or Dav!d ate"# ed% D Crouh and K% Thomp"on /repol"2 Turnhout# 6:115# 6:1;1@# 'h!h reer ully to reent l!terature% @  DRAFT NOT YET READY FOR CITATION aut servus). But the most famous e!emplars of the genre are rinitarian, organi>ed into threegroups. he most famous of these, the hree 4rders of oratores, bellatores, and  laboratores @those who pray, fight, and workA is very much to the present purpose, for its final ordo  singles out tenant farmers, peasants and the lower levels of society. he effect is to divide society by function, by the contribution each order makes to the wellbeing of hristendom. he unknown churchman who introduced the third order to divide laymen up according to their social function chose to place his line of separation between fighting and feeding. o doso, he converted a rather rare 7atin term into a workers) collective, and his 4ld #nglish adaptor strengthened the point by translating 7atin ordo  as geferscipe , fellowship, which   denotes something rather more than a mere collection of individuals. he laboratores , then, were assigned a common loyalty to their realm as well, perhaps, as a common interest with each other . 1-  When one views the hree 4rders from this perspective, it is tempting to link it to the freuently made opposition of  pauper   and  potens , which highlighted over much the same period the oppression and e!ploitation of the disempowered by the great. hurchmen e!pected their kings to counter this and protect the weak, but increasingly in the ninth century, they were failing in this duty under pressure of invasion. hey came to recogni>e theneed to substitute protection from :od and Is saints for this secular default, and in due course provided an alternative of their own in the so'called eace of :od. 10  In this manner, the e!ercise in social ta!onomy helped pave the way for a significant religious initiative into politics. a!onomic schemas of this kind always imply some degree of comparative assessment between groups or individuals. It is natural for people to compare their own situation and conditions of life with those of their neighbors or the reference group they feel most relevant to their own =ust e!pectations. 13  omparatives are one way to e!press difference, to situate oneself on the social ladder, amongst peers but also against both superiors and inferiors. 2ervitude is a natural candidate for this treatment. Instead of asking the too simple uestionC who was to be free and who unfree, they might well prefer to ask how   free, how   dependent on their lordly will, was this group or that Were they free enough to marry their daughters as they wished, or not so free that they could leave the lordship, 1?  .o'ell# The Three Order" !n En&land# 1:@ /or geferscipe 5# 116# 11;7# 163% C% al"o the 'ord" o Abbo o )t% erma!n# -uoted by .elteret# )lavery# 3% 1@  The .eae o od# ed% T% ead and R% ,ande" /Cornell2 Ithaa NY# 13365 K% S"l# = Potens  und  pauper. B e&r!"&e"h!htl!he )tud!en ur &e"ell"hatl!hen D!eren!erun& !m rhen (!ttelalter> /13?5# !n h!" Frhormen der e"ell"hat !m m!ttelalterl!hen Europa /(un!h and !enna# 13@5# 1:;?@% 14  (y th!n$!n& here be&an '!th 0%% Run!man# Relat!ve Depr!vat!on and )o!al Lu"t!e /er$eley2 Jn!ver"!ty o Cal!orn!a .re""# 135% ut I m!&ht have ta$en my ue rom the ta& Keep!n& up '!th the Lone"e"# on 'h!h http2UUen%'!$!ped!a%or&U'!$!UKeep!n&VupV'!thVtheVLone"e" !" -u!te !normat!ve% 4

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