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By Edward Potts Cheyney

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Later it came to be in some towns indistinguishable from the municipal government in general, its members the same as the burgesses, its officers represented by the officers of the town. In some other towns the gild merchant gradually lost its control over trade, retaining only its fraternal, charitable, and religious features. In still other cases the expression gradually lost all definite significance and its meaning became a matter for antiquarian dispute. 16. —By the fourteenth century the gild merchant of the town was a much less conspicuous institution than it had previously been.

An appreciable part of the income of the government even was derived from the manors still in the possession of the crown. The mediæval manor was a little world in itself. The large number of scattered acres which made up the demesne farm cultivated in the interests of the lord of the manor, the small groups of scattered strips held by free holders or villain tenants who furnished most of the labor on the demesne farm, the little patches of ground held by mere laborers whose living was mainly gained by hired service on the land of the lord or of more prosperous tenants, the claims which all had to the use of the common pasture for their sheep and cattle and of the woods for their swine, all these together made up an agricultural system which secured a revenue for the lord, provided food and the raw material for primitive manufactures for the inhabitants of the vill, and furnished some small surplus which could be sold.

This was a matter of legal status quite independent of the amount of land which the tenant held or of the services which he performed, though, generally speaking, the great body of the smaller tenants and of the laborers were of servile condition. In general usage the words villanus, nativus, servus, custumarius, and rusticus are synonymous, and the cotters belonged legally to the same servile class. The distinction between free tenants and villains, using this word, as is customary, to include all those who were legally in servitude, was not a very clearly marked one.

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An Introduction to the Industrial and Social History of England by Edward Potts Cheyney


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