Mark Starr: A Worker Looks At History


3. From Mark to Manor.

OUR last Outline brought us to the time when the written records of British history begin. The present outline will cover in a very brief survey that lengthy period of development down to about the year 1000 A.D., in which period the Roman and Anglo— Saxon occupations occurred. When found by the Rornans (55 B.C.) the Celts had metal weapons, domestic animals, a rude agriculture carried on chiefly in Kent and Sussex, and tin mines in Cornwall, with which the Greek and Phoenician merchants traded, bringing in exchange bronze, earthen ware, and salt.

Effects of Roman Occupation.—Though Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 B.C., a permanent settlement was not made by the Romans till about one hundred years later. They abandoned Britain in 410 A.D. The chief effects were:—

(1) The British rudimentary industries were developed and organized, agriculture especially being raised to a higher level. (2) Houses and towns were made. There are records of 59 cities by the year 250 A.D. (3) Roads were made, linking the cities together for military purposes. (4) Trade was encouraged. Corn, cattle, hides, dogs, metals, and slaves were exported; while the imports were chiefly salt, wine, ivory, and amber ornaments the finer cloths and other luxuries. (5) The Roman language, dress, habits, etc., were introduced.

Character of the Roman Occupation.—The Roman occupation was essentially a military one, based upon their superior military development and discipline. The Romans, in coming to Britain, were not prompted by altruism. "The conquest was followed by the exploitation of the conquered". The developments which they fostered and encouraged in tool—making, rough weaving and dyeing, in mining, and boat and house building were prompted by a desire for large revenue. Heavy taxes were laid upon the Britons. Huge levies of wheat — to feed Rome's rabble — and of men — to be slaves and soldiers — were enforced. The Roman villa of the conqueror stood in dangerous contrast to the hovel of the conquered. This exploitation was not suffered in silence, and we read of revolts which the Romans invariably subdued.

It will help to explain the relapse of civilisation which followed the Roman withdrawal if we understand that the Romans kept the weapons of warfare chiefly in their own possession, and that civilisation existed only in town centres, between which intervened the forests and much uncultivated land, interspersed only with the military roads. No effort was made towards British self government. It does not come within our present subject to deal with the reasons for the Roman withdrawal, and we will pass on to deal with the various invasions which followed, and their effects, before dealing with the development referred to in the heading of this outline.

Effects of Anglo—Saxon Occupation.— The invaders are generally grouped under the term Anglo—Saxon. The economic effects of their coming concern us more than their lineage or their fights with the island's inhabitants or between themselves. Suffice it to say that after a turbulent period of external and internal conflict the unity of England was achieved in the reign of Edgar (958—975).

The chief effects were :—(1) The towns were ravaged and, in some cases, destroyed. (2) Trade and industry declined. This relapse, however, was only temporary, and the student, if he wishes, can trace how gradually trade revived again ; how the invasion and settlement of the Danes stimulated this process ; how the self— sufficing Anglo—Saxon village was altered; how barter gave way to the use of coin in the markets and fairs, which often originated near religious shrines ; how the market gradually widened with the export of wool and agricultural produce—these are developments which we shall deal with in detail later. (3) Paganism was revived. Among the slaves of Britain doubtless Christianity had been introduced. Space forbids a digression to show how Christianity—at first a slave religion— was adopted by Constantine in 300 A.D. as the official religion of the Empire, and how, with the break—up of the Roman Empire, the church emerged as the only international organization. The Saxons were in time converted from their pagan beliefs in Thor, Woden, Eostre, and their other gods. (4) A relapse into a rougher life occurred. Agriculture was practised in a rude fashion. Swine, sheep, and cattle were kept. Many of the Roman roads were broken up, thus preventing intercourse between the villages. And many improvements in clothing and building were lost.

It is a controversial question whether the conquered British were entirely destroyed or driven back into Wales and Cornwall, or whether some of them became slaves to the Saxons. However, the British slave's existence is not necessary to explain the appearance of the serf of Feudalism. We will now endeavour to trace the evolution of this system. Historians now agree that the Normans did not introduce, but only re— organized the feudal system of land—holding in England. Before they came the Anglo—Saxon Manor was in existence—a very near approach to Feudalism proper.

The Mark.—When agriculture was carried on by the Teutonic tribes, to which belonged the Anglo—Saxons, this communal system of wealth production existed. The unit of this system was called the Mark. Engels says this method of kindred grouping was brought from Asia in migration. The word "mark" or "march," which had at first denoted the boundary or division between certain pieces of land, became in time the name of the division of land thus marked off. This mark or common holding of land was probably at first cultivated and occupied in common by a group of kinsfolk. These tribes had no slaves, and there was no person without land, for they all owned communally the means of production, i.e., the land.["For many years past there has been sufficient evidence to warrant the assertion that the oldest discoverable forms of property in land were forms of collective property, and to justify the conjecture that separate property had grown through a series of changes out of collective property or ownership in common". Sir H. Maine.]

Later, the common land was divided into strips, which were held and tilled by an individual family for one year only. Under this Three Field System each family would have one strip for wheat or rye, another strip for oats and barley, while the third lay fallow. The length of the tenure gradually increased; instead of redistribution of the land taking place yearly, it was performed only once in three years, and at longer intervals of six, nine, and so on, until redistribution was entirely omitted and the holding became the permanent possession of the individual family. Roman influence and advancements in technique created a desire to retain in the family the improved land.

Originally the Saxon tribes were an association of free communities, owning each their common lands. It is interesting to note the superstructure built upon this economic basis. Each village or township had its Mark—moot, in which th officials, who administered the affairs of the mark and carried out the annual redistribution of the arable land, were elected. Higher aggregations were the hundred—moot and the shire—moot. The eldermen carried out the will of the community, which elected them. With common ownership of the means of production every mark—man possessed economic freedom and equality with each other. There was no class war, because there were no classes; private ownership of the means of production had not begun.

Some historians doubt whether the Mark system was introduced into England by the Saxons. But the evidence of the existence of common lands (as late as the years 1760—1867 seven million acres were enclosed by Enclosure Acts), as well as the survival in the older towns of ancient customs, e.g., "the beating of the bounds" or "the riding of the marshes," should overcome their doubts. "Add to this the evidence of the historic development of other peoples in Europe and, still further, the observed practice of peoples found living in our own time in other parts of the world, at lower stages of development than ourselves, and there is no escape from the conclusion that, 'in the general evolution of mankind, common property precedes separate and private property.'"

The Anglo—Saxon Manor.— Our task is now to show how the Manor evolved from the Mark. It can be easily understood that in the struggle for a new land, in beating back other would—be occupants, and in fighting out their own internal rivalries, the Anglo—Saxons would find it impossible to settle down to an agricultural life. In early times all the tribesmen went to battle, and they could use both the spade and the sword with equal facility. But in continued warfare this could not be and soon there arose a division of labour between the farmers and the fighters. One part of the community went to fight, the other stayed at home to till the soil. The nominal protector—the fighter—soon became the overlord of the farmer. In marauding raids he would acquire wealth, e.g., oxen, and these acquisitions made him more powerful than the tiller of the soil. From a temporary war—chief evolved the hereditary ruler, with his chosen bodyguards. Under the chief lord there would he the lords of each manor, who were now in a position to demand the service and produce of the tillers of the soil upon his domain. The best house in the village and the best land became my lord's demesne and residence. The three—field system was still in vogue, and the common pasture, fuel, and fishing rights were only slowly stolen from their original owners. Thus what was at first a voluntary arrangement became in time an accepted permanent state of affairs in which the farmer or tiller of the soil was forced into an inferior position. Under Norman Feudalism the baronial and ecclesiastical hierarchies are seen more clearly, and we have more reliable information about the status and services of the serf. However, we can say that the reason of the development which we have traced from mark to manor, was "the need for protection in turbulent times of the cultivator. The baron's castle offered protection against earthly dangers. The monastery—the castle of the ecciesiastics—with its defences in many cases, just as the baron's castle was fortified, was not only a place where men might flee from refuge from the dangers of this world, but also from the dangers in the world to come."

Here we pause. It is of interest to Socialists to know of a time when "class struggle" did not exist; and thus, by tracing the conditions of its birth, we shall be able to understand the conditions under which it will die. The means of production in the Mark were crude and undeveloped, and there is no need to hanker after this past community of pauperism. The intervening years have seen much progress, and we, as workers, must recognise, in the words of Untermann, that— "There is only one sound and indestructible basis for human society—the free labour of free producers on terms of economic equality for all without exception!" We must complete the circle, but on a higher level.

Books.—Gibbins' Industrial History of England (Methuen). Period 1, Chap. I. and II, and Lafargue's Evolution of Property, Is. 6d. Hyndman's Economics of Socialism, Chap. I, contains a fine appreciation of the benefits of Communism and "the bed rock inventions of humanity" then made.