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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 14

28.—Oppressive Incidence of the Tenures

28.—Oppressive Incidence of the Tenures.

The amount of the rent-charge which it was in contemplation to substitute for the king's feudal rights, was £200,000 a year q; and since it appears from the account which has been published of James's revenue, during the first fourteen years of his reign, that his ordinary income did not exceed £450,868 r, it follows that at that time those feudal rights of the crown were equal to nearly one-half of the whole revenue of the kingdom.

It is to be observed that in the plan given by Lord Coke the rent charge proposed to be substituted in lieu of the feudal profits and services was to be of "greater yearly value than his Majesty or any of his predecessors had for them all." The reason of this will be apparent when it is considered that the benefit to the king's tenants would not be measured by the actual amount paid by them under this head into the king's coffers, but would be considerably greater in this way. There was, from the nature of the thing, almost inevitably a great deal of waste, and not unfrequently a great deal of hardship and oppression, which only ended in the utter ruin of the tenant. This is forcibly described by Sir Thomas Smith in the following passage of his Commonwealth; and this description, it is to be remarked, is not merely applicable to the earlier times, but to those of the writer, who was one of the principal secretaries of state to King Edward VI. and Queen Elizabeth.

"When the father is dead, who hath the natural care of his child, not the mother, nor the uncle, nor the next of kin, who by all reason would have most natural care for the bringing up of the infant and minor, but the lord of whom he holdeth his land in the knight-service, be it the king or queen, duke, marquis or any other, hath the government of his body and marriage, or else who that bought him at the first, second or third hand. The prince as having so many, must needs give or sell his wards away to other, and so he doth. Other do but seek which way they may make most advantage of him, as of an ox or other beast. These all (say they) have no natural care of the infant, but of their own gain; and especially the buyer will not suffer his ward to take any great pains, cither in study or in other hardness, lest he should be sick and die, before he hath married his daughter, sister, or cousin, for whose sake he bought him, and then all his money which he paid for him should be lost. So he who had a father which kept a good house, and had all things in good order to maintain it, shall come to his own, after he is out of wardship, woods decayed, houses fallen down, stock wasted and gone, lands let forth and ploughed to be barren, and, to make amends, shall pay yet one year's rent for relief, and sue ouster le maine, besides other page 189 charges, so that not of many years, and per adventure never, he shall be able to recover, and come to the estate where his father left it" s.

Mr. Justice Blackstone's summing up of the whole matter will further support the above proposition, viz., that the amount received by the lord would be an adequate measure of the amount paid or lost in one way or another by the tenant.

"Besides the scutages to which they were liable in defect of personal attendance, which, however, were assessed by themselves in parliament, they might be called upon by the king, as lord paramount, for aids, whenever his eldest son was to be knighted, or his eldest daughter married; not to forget the ransom of his own person. The heir, on the death of his ancestor, if of full age, was plundered of the first emoluments arising from his inheritance, by way of relief and primer seisin; and if under age, of the whole of his estate during infancy. And then, as Sir Thomas Smith very feelingly complains, 'when he came to his own, often he was out of wardship, his woods decayed, houses fallen down, stock wasted and gone, lands let forth and ploughed to be barren,' to make amends he was yet to pay half a year's profits as a fine for suing out his livery, and also the price or value of his marriage; if he refused such wife as his lord and guardian had bartered for, and imposed upon him, or twice that value if he married another woman. Add to this the untimely and expensive honour of knighthood, to make his poverty more completely splendid. And when, by these deductions, his fortune was so shattered and ruined, that perhaps he was obliged to sell his patrimony, he had not even that poor privilege allowed him without paying an exorbitant fine for a license of alienation" t.