Scotland experienced many of the disasters that influenced England at this time. The Scots did not escape the Black Death or the other plagues, and they also suffered from repeated wars.
Scotland paid heavily for its "Auld (Old) Alliance" with France. Because it supported France during the Hundred Years War, the English repeatedly invaded the Scottish Lowlands, from which most of the Scots king's wealth came. England renewed its claim to overlordship of Scotland, and Edward IV's army occupied Edinburgh in 1482.
Like the English kings, the Scottish kings were involved in long struggles with their nobles. Support for France turned attention away from establishing a strong state at home. And, as in England, several kings died early. James I was murdered in 1437, James II died in an accident before he was thirty in 1460, and James III was murdered in 1488. The early death of so many Scots kings left government in the hands of powerful nobles until the dead king's son was old enough to rule. Naturally these nobles took the chance to make their own position more powerful.
As in England, the nobles kept private armies, instead of using serfs for military service as they had done earlier. This new system fitted well with the Celtic tribal loyalties of the Highlands. The Gaelic word for such tribes, "clan", means "children", in other words members of one family. But from the fourteenth century, a "clan" began to mean groups of people occupying an area of land and following a particular chief. Not all the members of a clan were related to each other. Some groups joined a clan for protection, or because they were forced to choose between doing so or leaving the area. The most powerful of the Highland clans by the fifteenth century was Clan Donald. The clan chiefs were almost completely independent.
By the end of the Middle Ages, however, Scotland had developed as a nation in a number of ways. From 1399 the Scots demanded that a parliament should meet once a year, and kings often gathered together leading citizens to discuss matters of government. As in England, towns grew in importance, mainly because of the wool trade which grew thanks to the help of Flemish settlers. There was a large export trade in wool, leather and fish, mostly to the Netherlands.
Scotland's alliance with France brought some benefits. At a time when much of the farmland was repeatedly destroyed by English armies, many Scotsmen found work as soldiers for the French king. Far more importantly, the connection with France helped develop education in Scotland. Following the example of Paris, universities were founded in Scotland at St Andrews in 1412, Glasgow in 1451 and at Aberdeen in 1495. Scotland could rightly claim to be equal with England in learning. By the end of the fifteenth century it was obvious that Scotland was a separate country from England. Nobody, either in England or in Scotland, believed in the English king's claim to be overlord of Scotland.
Lecture Nine. Government and society.
Government and society. The condition of women. Language and culture.
Government and society
The year 1485 has usually been taken to mark the end of the Middle Ages in England. Of course, nobody at the time would have seen it as such. There was no reason to think that the new King Henry VII would rule over a country any different from the one ruled over by Richard III. Before looking at the changes in England under the House of Tudor it might be worth looking back at some of the main social developments that had taken place in the late Middle Ages.
Society was still based upon rank. At the top were dukes, earls and other lords, although there were far fewer as a result of war. Below these great lords were knights. Most knights, even by Edward I's time, were no longer heavily armed fighters on horses. They were "gentlemen farmers" or "landed gentry" who had increased the size of their landholdings, and improved their farming methods. This class had grown in numbers. Edward I had ordered that all those with an income of £20 a year must be made knights. This meant that even some of the yeoman farmers became part of the "landed gentry"; while many "esquires", who had served knights in earlier times, now became knights themselves. The word "esquire" became common in written addresses, and is only now slowly beginning to be used less.
Next to the gentlemen were the ordinary freemen of the towns. By the end of the Middle Ages, it was possible for a serf from the countryside to work for seven years in a town craft guild, and to become a "freeman" of the town where he lived. The freemen controlled the life of a town. Towns offered to poor men the chance to become rich and successful through trade. The most famous example of this was Dick Whittington. The story tells how he arrived in London as a poor boy from the countryside, and became a successful merchant and Lord Mayor of London three times. Whittington was the son of a knight. He was probably an example of the growing practice of the landed families of sending younger sons to town to join a merchant or craft guild. At the same time, many successful merchant families were doing the opposite thing, and obtaining farmland in the countryside. These two classes, the landed gentry and the town merchants, were beginning to overlap.
In the beginning the guilds had been formed to protect the production or trade of a whole town. Later, they had come to protect those already enjoying membership, or who could afford to buy it, from the poorer classes in the same town. As they did not have the money or family connections to become members of the guilds, the poorer skilled workers tried to join together to protect their own interests. These were the first efforts to form a trade union. Several times in the fourteenth century skilled workers tried unsuccessfully to protect themselves against the power of the guilds. The lives of skilled workers were hard, but they did not Buffer as much as the unskilled, who lived in poor and dirty conditions. However, even the condition of the poorest workers in both town and country was better than it had been a century earlier.
During the fourteenth century a number of English merchants established trading stations, "factories", in different places in Europe. The merchant organisations necessary to operate these factories became important at a national level, and began to replace the old town guilds as the most powerful trading institutions. However, they copied the aims and methods of the guilds, making sure English merchants could only export through their factories, and making sure that prices and quality were maintained.
One of the most important of these factories was the "Company of the Staple" in Calais. The "staple" was an international term used by merchants and governments meaning that certain goods could only be sold in particular places. Calais became the "staple" for all English wool at the end of the fourteenth century when it defeated rival English factories in other foreign cities. The staple was an arrangement which suited the established merchants, as it prevented competition, and it also suited the Crown, which could tax exports more easily. The other important company was called the "Merchant Adventurers". During the fourteenth century there had been several Merchant Adventurers' factories in a number of foreign towns. But all of them, except for the Merchant Adventurers in Antwerp, Flanders, closed during the fifteenth century. The Antwerp Merchant Adventurers' factory survived because of its sole control of cloth exports, a fact recognised by royal charter.
Wages for farmworkers and for skilled townspeople rose faster than the price of goods in the fifteenth century. There was plenty of meat and cereal prices were low. But there were warning signs of problems ahead. More and more good land was being used for sheep instead of food crops. Rich and powerful sheep farmers started to fence in land which had always been used by other villagers. In the sixteenth century this led to social and economic crisis.
Meanwhile, in the towns, a new middle class was developing. By the fifteenth century most merchants were well educated, and considered themselves to be the equals of the esquires and gentlemen of the countryside. The lawyers were another class of city people. In London they were considered equal in importance to the big merchants and cloth manufacturers. When law schools were first established, student lawyers lived in inns on the western side of the City of London while they studied. Slowly these inns became part of the law schools, just as the student accommodation halls of Oxford and Cambridge eventually became the colleges of these two universities.
By the end of the Middle Ages the more successful of these lawyers, merchants, cloth manufacturers, exporters, esquires, gentlemen and yeoman farmers were increasingly forming a single class of people with interests in both town and country. This was also true in Wales and Scotland. A number of Welsh landowners came to England; some studied at Oxford, and some traded, or practised law in London. Fewer Scots came to England, because rhey had their own universities, and their own trade centres of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
The growth of this new middle class, educated and skilled in law, administration and trade, created a new atmosphere in Britain. This was partly because of the increase in literacy. Indeed, the middle class could be described as the "literate class". This literate class questioned the way in which the Church and the state were organised, for both religious and practical reasons. On the religious side support for Wycliffe came mainly from members of this new middle class, who believed it was their right to read the Bible in the English language. They disliked serfdom partly because it was now increasingly viewed as unchristian; but also for the practical reason that it was not economic. The middle class also questioned the value of the feudal system because it did not create wealth.
The development of Parliament at this time showed the beginnings of a new relationship between the middle class and the king. Edward I had invited knights from the country and merchants from the towns to his parliament because he wanted money and they, more than any other group, could provide it. But when Edward III asked for money from his parliament, they asked to see the royal accounts. It was an important development because for the first time the king allowed himself to be "accountable" to Parliament. Merchants and country gentlemen were very anxious to influence the king's policies both at home and abroad. They wanted to protect their interests. When France threatened the wool trade with Flanders, for example, they supported Edward III in his war.
During the time of Edward Ill's reign Parliament became organised in two parts: the Lords, and the Commons, which represented the middle class. Only those commoners with an income of forty shillings or more a year could qualify to be members of Parliament. This meant that the poor had no no way of being heard except by rebellion. The poor had no voice of their own in Parliament until the middle of the nineteenth century.
The alliance between esquires and merchants made Parliament more powerful, and separated the Commons more and more from the Lords. Many European countries had the same kind of parliaments at this time, but in most cases these disappeared when feudalism died out. In England, however, the death of feudalism helped strengthen the House of Commons in Parliament.
There was another important change that had taken place in the country. Kings had been taking law cases away from local lords' courts since the twelfth century, and by the middle of the fourteenth century the courts of local lords no longer existed. But the king's courts could not deal with all the work. In 1363 Edward III appointed "justices of the peace" to deal with smaller crimes and offences, and to hold court four times a year.
These JPs, as they became known, were usually less important lords or members of the landed gentry. They were, and still are, chosen for their fairness and honesty. The appointment of landed gentry as JPs made the middle classes, that class of people who were neither nobles nor peasants, still stronger. Through the system of JPs the landed gentry took the place of the nobility as the local authority. During the Wars of the Roses the nobles used their private armies to force JPs and judges to do what they wanted. But this was the last time the nobility in Britain tried to destroy the authority of the king. The JPs remained the only form of local government in the countryside until 1888. They still exist to deal with small offences.