A Social History of the English Countryside by G. E. Mingay

By G. E. Mingay

Strains the increase and fall of rural England from the center a long time to the second one international warfare and the character of the adjustments that have happened.

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In due time, however, the fall of population had the effect of easing the land-hunger of the previous age; and with more land, higher wages, commutation and manumission, the common people entered into the so-called golden age of the fifteenth century. The experience of individuals, of course, even of whole communities, might well not conform to the broad pattern of economic trends. Local and personal factors were always of significance. And at any time in the medieval period life for many was inevitably nasty, brutish and short.

We cannot be sure of the exact size of the population before the catastrophes which marked the period after 1315 but some authorities have suggested that it might have been as large as that of the middle eighteenth century, that is to say, some 5 1/2 million. As a result of the conditions of the fourteenth century numbers were cut back drastically, perhaps to only some 2 or 2 1/2 million. Recovery, despite fairly frequent years of poor harvests and near-famine conditions, and further outbreaks of epidemics in the later fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, took the figure to perhaps 2 1/2 million in 1500, some 3 million by the 1550s and 1560s, and to 4 million by the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Geese were sometimes so numerous as to require the attention of a gooseherd, while ducks and pigeons seem to have become popular by the thirteenth century, if not earlier. Dovehouses, some having as many as 600 holes, were established by early in the following century, while many lords kept peacocks, partly as a dish for festivals and partly for the brilliant feathers. 9 Fish also formed an important element of the medieval diet, brought fresh from the coast to places a few miles inland, while dried herrings were transported greater distances.

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