A Description of Elizabethan England. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Of Cities and Towns in England
[1577, Book II., Chapter 7; 1587, Book II., Chapter 13.]
AS in old time we read that there were eight-and-twenty flamines and archflamines in the south part of this isle, and so many great cities under their jurisdiction, so in these our days there is but one or two fewer, and each of them also under the ecclesiastical regiment of some one bishop or archbishop, who in spiritual cases have the charge and oversight of the same. So many cities therefore are there in England and Wales as there be bishoprics and archbishoprics.1 For, notwithstanding that Lichfield and Coventry and Bath and Wells do seem to extend the aforesaid number unto nine-and-twenty, yet neither of these couples are to be accounted but as one entire city and see of the bishop, sith one bishopric can have relation but unto one see, and the said see be situate but in one place, after which the bishop doth take his name .2
Certes I would gladly set down, with the names and number of the cities, all the towns and villages in England and Wales with their true longitudes and latitudes, but as yet I cannot come by them in such order as I would; howbeit the tale of our cities is soon found by the bishoprics, sith every see hath such prerogative given unto it as to bear the name of a city and to use Regaleius within her own limits. Which privilege also is granted to sundry ancient towns in England, especially northward, where more plenty of them is to be found by a great deal than in the south. The names therefore of our cities are these: London, York, Canterbury, Winchester, Carlisle, Durham, Ely, Norwich, Lincoln, Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford, Salisbury, Exeter, Bath, Lichfield, Bristol, Rochester, Chester, Chichester, Oxford, Peterborough, Llandaff, St. Davids, Bangor, St. Asaph, whose particular plots and models, with their descriptions, shall ensue, if it may be brought to pass that the cutters can make despatch of them before this history be published.
Of towns and villages likewise thus much will I say, that there were greater store in old time (I mean within three or four hundred years passed) than at this present. And this I note out of divers records, charters, and donations (made in times past unto sundry religious houses, as Glastonbury, Abingdon, Ramsey, Ely, and such like), and whereof in these days I find not so much as the ruins. Leland, in sundry places, complaineth likewise of the decay of parishes in great cities and towns, missing in some six or eight or twelve churches and more, of all which he giveth particular notice. For albeit that the Saxons builded many towns and villages, and the Normans well more at their first coming, yet since the first two hundred years after the latter conquest, they have gone so fast again to decay that the ancient number of them is very much abated. Ranulph, the monk of Chester, telleth of general survey made in the fourth, sixteenth, and nineteenth of the reign of William Conqueror, surnamed the Bastard, wherein it was found that (notwithstanding the Danes had overthrown a great many) there were to the number of 52,000 towns, 45,002 parish churches, and 75,000 knights fees, whereof the clergy held 28,015. He addeth moreover that there were divers other builded since that time, within the space of a hundred years after the coming of the Bastard, as it were in lieu or recompense of those that William Rufus pulled down for the erection of his New Forest. For by an old book which I have, and some time written as it seemeth by an under-sheriff of Nottingham, I find even in the time of Edward IV. 45,120 parish churches, and but 60,216 knights fees, whereof the clergy held as before 28,015, or at the least 28,000; for so small is the difference which he doth seem to use. Howbeit, if the assertions of such as write in our time concerning this matter either are or ought to be of any credit in this behalf, you shall not find above 17,000 towns and villages, and 9210 in the whole, which is little more than a fourth part of the aforesaid number, if it be thoroughly scanned .3
In time past in Lincoln (as the same goeth) there have been two-and-fifty parish churches, and good record appeareth for eight-and-thirty; but now, if there be four-and twenty, it is all. This inconvenience hath grown altogether to the church by appropriations made unto monasteries and religious housesa terrible canker and enemy to religion.
But to leave this lamentable discourse of so notable and grievous an inconvenience, growing as I said by encroaching and joining of house to house and laying land to land, whereby the inhabitants of many places of our country are devoured and eaten up, and their houses either altogether pulled down or suffered to decay little by little, although some time a poor man peradventure doth dwell in one of them, who, not being able to repair it, suffereth it to fall downand thereto thinketh himself very friendly dealt withal, if he may have an acre of ground assigned unto him, wherein to keep a cow, or wherein to set cabbages, radishes, parsnips, carrots, melons, pompons,4 or such like stuff, by which he and his poor household liveth as by their principal food, sith they can do no better. And as for wheaten bread, they eat it when they can reach unto the price of it, contenting themselves in the meantime with bread made of oats or barley: a poor estate, God wot! Howbeit, what care our great encroachers? But in divers places where rich men dwelled some time in good tenements, there be now no houses at all, but hop-yards, and sheds for poles, or peradventure gardens, as we may see in Castle Hedingham, and divers other places. But to proceed.
It is so that, our soil being divided into champaign ground and woodland, the houses of the first lie uniformly builded in every town together, with streets and lanes; whereas in the woodland countries (except here and there in great market towns) they stand scattered abroad, each one dwelling in the midst of his own occupying. And as in many and most great market towns, there are commonly three hundred or four hundred families or mansions, and two thousand communicants (or peradventure more), so in the other, whether they be woodland or champaign, we find not often above forty, fifty, or three score households, and two or three hundred communicants, whereof the greatest part nevertheless are very poor folks, oftentimes without all manner of occupying, sith the ground of the parish is gotten up into a few mens hands, yea sometimes into the tenure of one or two or three, whereby the rest are compelled either to be hired servants unto the other or else to beg their bread in misery from door to door.
There are some (saith Leland) which are not so favourable, when they have gotten such lands, as to let the houses remain upon them to the use of the poor; but they will compound with the lord of the soil to pull them down for altogether, saying that if they did let them stand, they should but toll beggars to the town, thereby to surcharge the rest of the parish, and lay more burden upon them. But alas! these pitiful men see not that they themselves hereby do lay the greatest log upon their neighbours necks. For, sithethe prince deth commonly loose nothing of his duties accustomable to be paid, the rest of the parishioners that remain must answer and bear them out: for they plead more charge other ways, saying: I am charged already with a light horse; I am to answer in this sort, and after that matter. And it is not yet altogether out of knowledge, that, where the king had seven pounds thirteen shillings at a task gathered of fifty wealthy householders of a parish in England, now, a gentleman having three parts of the town in his own hands, four households do bear all the aforesaid payment, or else Leland is deceived in his Commentaries, lib. 13, lately come to my hands, which thing he especially noted in his travel over this isle. A common plague and enormity, both in the heart of the land and likewise upon the coasts. Certes a great number complain of the increase of poverty, laying the cause upon God, as though he were in fault for sending such increase of people, or want of wars that should consume them, affirming that the land was never so full, etc.; but few men do see the very root from whence it doth proceed. Yet the Romans found it out, when they flourished, and therefore prescribed limits to every mans tenure and occupying. Homer commendeth Achilles for overthrowing of five-and-twenty cities: but in mine opinion Ganges is much better preferred by Suidas for building of three score in India, where he did plant himself. I could (if need required) set down in this place the number of religious houses and monasteries, with the names of their founders, that have been in this island: but, sith it is a thing of small importance, I pass it over as impertinent to my purpose. Yet herein I will commend sundry of the monastical votaries, especially monks, for that they were authors of many goodly borowes and endwares,5 near unto their dwellings although otherwise they pretended to be men separated from the world. But alas! their covetous minds, one way in enlarging their revenues, and carnal intent another, appeared herein too, too much. For, being bold from time to time to visit their tenants, they wrought oft great wickedness, and made those endwares little better than brothel-houses, especially where nunneries were far off, or else no safe access unto them. But what do I spend my time in the rehearsal of these filthinesses? Would to God the memory of them might perish with the malefactors! My purpose was also at the end of this chapter to have set down a table of the parish churches and market towns throughout all England and Wales; but, sith I cannot perform the same as I would, I am forced to give over my purpose; yet by these few that ensue you shall easily see what I would have used according to the shires, if I might have brought it to pass.
And these I had of a friend of mine, by whose travel and his masters excessive charges I doubt not but my countrymen ere long shall see all England set forth in several shires after the same manner that Ortelius hath dealt with other countries of the main, to the great benefit of our nation and everlasting fame of the aforesaid parties.
Note 1. If Harrison means to give us the impression that a city has any direct connection with episcopal affairs, he is quite in error. Cities are distinctly royal and imperial institutions. The accident of the number of cities and sees being the same comes from the natural tendency of the two institutions to drift together, though of distinct origin.W. [back]
Note 2. Here follows a long and learned disquisition upon the Roman and other early towns, especially about St. Albans, a portion of which will be found in the Appendix.W. [back]
Note 3. Here follows an allusion to the decay of Eastern cities.W. [back]
Note 4. The old and proper form of the modern pumpkin.W. [back]
Note 5. The first is a variant on a Keltic, the second on a Saxon, word, both relating to matters sufficiently indicated in the text.W. [back]