" Villeins," instead of free-holders, formed the most numerous class of the population.
It thus formed part of the common farm and was cultivated by the villeins and their oxen under the superintendence of a bailiff.
Below the villeins in the social scale came the cottiers possessing smaller holdings, sometimes only a garden, and no oxen.
This change led to the gradual disappearance of tenants in villeinage - the villeins and cottiers - and the rise on the one hand of the small independent farmer, on the other of the hired labourer.
At the latter date besides seventy-three villeins, bordars and serfs there were forty cervisarii, a species of unfree tenants who rendered their custom in the form of beer.
The enfranchisement of villeins granted by Richard at the Mile End conference was revoked by parliament in 1382, and no permanent results were obtained for the peasants by Wat.
The capitularies of 805 and 821 also contain vague references to sworn unions of some sort, and a capitulary of 884 prohibits villeins from forming associations "vulgarly called gilds" against those who have despoiled them.
English lurked in farms and hovels, amongst villeins and serfs, in the outlying country-districts, in the distant ' See Stevenson, Waring and Skeat, op. cit.
On the other hand, at Messina there were few or none, and we hear of both Saracen and Greek villeins, the latter doubtless abiding as they were in Saracen times.
In the terminology of the Domesday Inquest we find the villeins as the most numerous element of the English population.
Villeins are opposed to socmen and freemen on one hand, to bordarii, cottagers and slaves on the other.
The distinction as against bordarii and cottagers is based on the size of the holding: the villeins are holders of regular shares in the village - that is, of the virgates, bovates or half-hides which constitute the principal subdivisions in the fields and contribute to form the ploughteams - whereas the bordarii hold smaller plots of some 5 acres, more or less, and cottarii are connected with mere cottages and crofts.
The royal courts refused to entertain suits of villeins against their lords, although there was a good deal of vacillation before this position was definitely taken up. Bracton still speaks in his treatise of the possibility for the courts to interfere against intolerable cruelty on the part of the lord involving the destruction of the villein's waynage, that is, of his ploughteam, and in the Notebook of Bracton there are a couple of cases which prove that r3th-century judges occasionally allowed themselves to entertain actions by persons holding in villenage against their lords.
More especially the police association, organized for the keeping of the peace and the presentation of criminals - the frankpledge groups were formed of all " worthy of were and wite," villeins as well as freemen.
(2) Politically the villeins were not eliminated from the body of citizens: they had to pay taxes, to serve in great emergencies in the militia, to serve on inquests, &c., and although there was a tendency to place them on a lower footing in all these respects yet the fact of their being lesser members of the commonwealth did not remove the fundamental qualification of citizenship. (3) Even in civil matters villeins were deemed free as regards third persons.
There was one exception to this harsh treatment of villeins, namely, the rustic tenantry in manors of ancient demesne, that is, in estates which had belonged to the crown before the Conquest, had a standing-ground even against their lords as regards the tenure of their plots and the fixity of their services.
A material point for the application of the privilege consists in the fact that ancient demesne has to be proved from the time before the Conquest, and this shows clearly that the theory was partly derived from the recognition of tenant right in villeins of the Anglo-Saxon period who, as we have said above, were mostly ceorls, that is, freeborn men.
Of course, persons born from villein parents in lawful wedlock were villeins, but as to the condition of illegitimate children there was a good deal of hesitation.
The customary arrangements of the work of villeins, however, render this contrast rather fictitious.
The obligations of downright villeins became to that degree settled and regular that one of the ordinary designations of the class was custumarii.
This point brings us to consider the matter-of-fact conditions of the villeins during the feudal period, especially in the z 2th, 13th and r4th centuries.
As personal dependents of the lord native villeins were liable to be sold, and we find actual sales recorded: Glastonbury Abbey e.g.
At that time the courts of law begin to do away with the denial of protection to villeins which, as we have seen, constituted the legal basis of villenage.
But this interference of 15th-century chancellors paved the way towards one of the greatest revolutions in the law; without formally enfranchising villeins and villein tenure they created a legal basis for it in the law of the realm: in the formula of copyhold - tenement held at the will of the lord and by the custom of the manor - the first part lost its significance and the second prevailed, in downright contrast with former times when, on the contrary, the second part had no legal value and the first expressed the view of the courts.
Villeins and serfs in France rise gradually in the social scale, redeem many of the onerous services of feudalism and practically acquire tenant-right on most of the plots occupied by them.
To the French or Norman knight all peasants on his manor seemed to be villeins, and he failed to understand the distinction between freemen who had personally commended themselves to his English predecessor but still owned their land, and the mass of ordinary servile tenants.
Nor is it in the sphere of taxation alone that Williams organization of the realm stands on the old English customs. In the military sphere, though his normal army is the feudal force composed of the tenants-in-chief and the knights whom they have enfeoffed, he retains the power to call out the fyrd, the old national levee en masse, without regard to whether its members are freemen or villeins of some lord.
The landowners found thousands of the crofts on which their villeins had been wont to dwell vacant, and could not fill them with new tenants.
The villeins, as hard hit as their masters, resented the tightening of old duties, which in some cases had already been commuted for small money rents during the prosperous years preceding the plague.
Gradually the landowners discovered that the only practical way out of their difficulties was to give up the old custom of working the manorial demesne by the forced labor of their villeins, and to cut it up into farms which were rented out to free tenants, and cultivated by them.
The marrorial system was already doomed, and the rent-paying tenant farmers, who had begun to appear after the Black Death, gradually superseded the villeins as the normal type of peasantry during the two generations that followed the outbreak that is generally known as Wat Tylers rebellion.
As a result of the rebellion of 1173-1174 it was provided that an oath of fealty should be taken by all, to wit, barons, knights, freeholders and even villeins (rustici)", and that any one who refused should be arrested as the king's enemy, and the justices were to see that the castles whose demolition had been ordered were completely razed.
If, however, the two conditions mentioned were forthcoming, villeins, or, as they were technically called, villein socmen of ancient demesne manors, could resist any attempt of their lords to encroach on their rights by depriving them of their holdings or increasing the amount of their customary services.