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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Appendix G.


In Bacon’s History of Henry VII. we find the following passage:—‘ Inclosures at that time began to be more frequent, whereby arable land, which could not be manured without people and families, was turned into pasture, which was easily rid by a few herdsmen; and  tenancies for years, lives, and at will, whereupon much of the yeomanry lived, were turned into demesnes. This bred a decay of people, and by consequence a decay of towns, churches, tythes, and the like. The king likewise knew full well and in nowise forgot that there ensued withal upon this a decay and diminution of subsidies and taxes; for the more gentlemen ever the lower books of subsidies. In remedying of this inconvenience, the king’s wisdom was admirable, and the parliament’s at that time. Inclosures they would not forbid, for that had been to forbid the improvement of the patrimony of the kingdom; nor tillage they would not compel, for that was to strive with nature and utility; but they took a course to take away depopulating inclosures and. depopulating pasturage, and yet not by that name, or by any imperious express prohibition, but by consequence. The ordinance was "That all houses of husbandry. that were used with twenty acres of ground or upwards should be maintained and kept for ever."

In the preambles to several acts of parliament about that date, we find, references to the same progress, e.g. 4th Henry VII. c.16.

Forasmuch as it is to the king our sovereign lord great surety and also to the surety of this realm of England, that the Isle of Wight, in the county of Southampton, be well inhabited with English people, for the defence as well of his ancient enemies of the realm of France as of other parties, the which isle, is lately decayed of people by reason that many towns and villages have been beaten down, and the fields ditched and made pastures for beasts and cattles; and also many dwelling pIaces, farms and farmholds, have of late times been used to be taken in one man’s hold and hands, that of old time were wont to be in many persons holds and hands, and many several households kept in them, and thereby much people multiplied, and the same isle well inhabited, the which now by the occasion aforesaid is desolate and not inhabited, but occupied with beasts and cattles, &c. &c.:’ the enactment is, that none shall take more farms than one in the Isle of Wight exceeding ten merks rent.

Another preamble not less remarkable is that of Henry VIII. chap. 13 :—‘. Forasmuch as divers and sundry persons of the king’s subjects of this realm, to whom God of his goodness hath disposed great plenty and abundance of moveable substance, now of late within few years have daily studied, practised, and invented ways and means how they might accumulate and gather together into few hands, as well great multitude of farms as great plenty of cattle, and in especial sheep, putting such lands as they can get, to pasture, and not tillage, whereby they have not only pulled down churches and towns, and enhanced the old rates of the rents of the possessions of this realm, or else brought it to such excessive fines that no poor man is able to meddle with it, but also have raised and enhanced the prices of all manner of corn, cattle, wool, pigs, geese, hens, chickens, eggs, and such other; almost double above the prices which have been accustomed; by reason whereof a marvellous multitude and number of the people of this realm be not able to provide meat, drink, and cloaths, necessary for themselves, their wives, and children, but be so discouraged with misery and poverty that they fall daily to theft, robbery, and other inconveniences, or pitifully die for hunger and cold; and as it is thought by the king’s most humble and loving subjects, that one of the greatest occasions that moveth and provoketh those greedy and covetous people so to accumulate and keep in their hands such great portions and parts of the grounds and lands of this realm from the occupying of the poor husbandmen, and so to use it in pasture and not in tillage, is only the great profit that cometh of sheep, which comes to a few persons hands of this realm, in respect of the whole number of the king’s subjects, that some have four-and-twenty thousand, some twenty thousand, some ten thousand, some six thousand, some five thousand, and some more and some less; by the which a good sheep for victual, that was accustomed to be sold for two shillings fourpence, or three shillings at the most is now sold for six shillings or five shillings, or four shillings at the least; and a stone of clothing wool that in some shires in this realm was accustomed to be sold for eighteen-pence or twenty-pence, is now sold for four shillings, or three shillings fourpence at the least; and in some Countries where it hath been sold for two shillings four-pence or two shillings eight-pence, or three shillings at the most, it is now sold for five shillings, or four shillings eightpence the least, and so raised in every part of this realm; which things, thus used, principally to the high displeasure of Almighty God, to the decay of the hospitality of this realm, to the diminishing of the king’s people, and to the let of the cloth making, whereby many poor people have been accustomed, to be set on work; and iii conclusion, if remedy be not found, it may turn to the utter destruction and desolation of this realm, which God defend.

Home, in his History of England, remarks that during a century and a half after this period, there was a continual renewal of laws against depopulation, whence we may infer that none of them were ever executed. The natural course of improvement at last provided a remedy.

Of the popular clamours on the subject, a curious specimen occurs in some lines, preserved in Lewis’s history of the Englidh Translations of the Bible.

Before that sheepe so much dyd rayne,
Where is one plough then was there twayne;
Of corne and victual right greate plentye,
And for one pennye egges twentye.
I truste to God
it will be redressed,
That men by sheepe be not subpressed.
Sheepe have eaten men full many a yere,
Now let men eate sheepe and make good cheere.
Those that have many sheepe in store
They may repente it more and more,
Seynge the greate extreme necessitee,
And yet they shewe no more charitee.

These ideas appear to have had no less sanction than that of Sir Thomas More.—In a dialogue on the causes of the prevalence of crimes in England, which he introduces in the first book of Utopia, he expresses himself as follows:

Your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small caters, now, as I hear say, he become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses, and cities.

For look in what part of the realm doth grow the finest, and therefore dearest wool, there noblemen and gentlemen, yea and certain abbotts, holy men no doubt, not contenting themselves with the yearly revenues and profits, that were wont to grow to their forefathers and predecessors of their lands, not being content that they live in rest and pleasure nothing profiting, yea much knowing the weale publique: leave no ground for tilIage  they. enclose all into pastures: they throw down houses: they pluck down towns, and leave nothing standing, but only the church to be made a sheep house. And as tho’ you lost no small quantity of ground by forests, chases, lands, and parks, those good holy men, turn all dwelling places, and all glebe land into desolation, and wilderness—Therefore, that one covetous and unsatiable cormorant and very plague of his native country, may compass about and enclose many thousand acres of ground together within one pale or hedge, the husbandmen be thrust out of their own, or else either by corine and fraud, or by violent oppression they be put besides it, or by wrongs and injuries they be so wearied, that they be compelled to sell all: by one means therefore or by other, either by hook or crook they must. needs depart away, poor silly wretched souls, men, women, husbands, wives, fatherless children. widows, woful mothers, with their young babes, and their whole household, small in substance, and much in number, as husbandry requireth‘many hands.

Away they trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no place to rest. In all their household stuff, which is very little worth, tho’ it might well abide the sale: yet being suddenly thrust out, they be constrained to sell it for a thing of nought. And when they have wandered abroad till that be spent, what can they then else do but steal, and then justly perhaps be hanged, or else go about a begging? And yet then also they be cast in prison as vagabonds, because they go about and work not: whom no man. will set at work, tho’ they never so willingly profer themčelves thereto. For one shepherd or herdsman is enough to eat up that ground with cattle, to the occupying whereof about husbandry many hands were requisite. And this is also the cause why victuals be now in many places dearer. Yea besides this the price of wool is so risen, that poor folks, which were wont to work it, and make cloth thereof, be now able to buy none at all. And by this means very many be forced to forsake work and to give themselves to idleness.

From these observations of so great a man, combined with the testimony conveyed in the preamble to the act of Henry VilIth, no doubt can be entertained, that in England the change from the feudal to the commercial system was accompanied by an unusual prevalence of crimes: nor is this difficult to be explained. Men educated amidst the idleness and irregularities of the feudal times, could not at once acquire the habits of industrious workmen; and nothing is more probable than that on being deprived of their accustomed means of support, they should seek relief in criminal practices. Perhaps this effect might have been alleviated, if such a vent as emigration affords had then been open to people of this description.


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