Friday, June 29, 2012

Ploughlands and work weeks Ch 4: 'Virgates and Bovates'

Here we introduce some new terms, and in particular one to replace 'hide', which early on in actual English history and now perhaps even for our Anglish history diverged from a strict association with ploughlands and land sufficient to support a family and instead became mostly a taxation unit. The new term, which clearly continues its more direct connection to land units and plough teams is the 'carucate' of the English Danelaw but which we will adopt here to replace the hide across all of our Angle-Land. From Wiki Carucate:
The carucate (Medieval Latin: carrūcāta, from carrūca, "wheeled plough") or ploughland (Old English: plōgesland, "plough's land") was a unit of assessment for tax used in most Danelaw counties of England, and is found for example in Domesday Book. The carucate was based on the area a plough team of eight oxen could till in a single annual season. It was sub-divided into oxgangs, or "bovates", based on the area a single ox might till in the same period, which thus represented one eighth of a carucate; and it was analogous to the hide, a unit of tax assessment used outside the Danelaw counties.[1]
In the schematic adopted here one carcuate = 120 acres = 8 oxgangs = 15 acres each. In the sidebar of the Wiki article we find another term, the virgate of 30 acres which in later medieval England and hence our Angle-Land is basis for land holdings. That is a substantial peasant would typically be a 'virgater' while the next level down, but still largely self-sufficient would be a 'half-virgater' or a 'semi-virgater' in our sources. And richer peasants and 'farmers' (which means something different in England than it does in America) would be described as holding so many and a half virgates rather than any larger unit.

In chapter 3 we established the equation one ploughteam = one acre per day, to which we can add our carucate/ploughland = one ploughteam per year. And further we established that under the three course system one plough year = eighty half days broken into two forty day plough seasons.

Now the illustration in the Wiki piece shows a two-oxen team and represents the stock of a typical ox-gang (or semi-virgate) of fifteen acres, which indeed implies two oxen in a single yoke. But as the definition asserts an actual plow team would include eight oxen which together would give enough traction power to plough a furrough-long in a single pull. What this implies, and is borne out by even some casual browsing in the English Domesday Book of 1086, is that in most cases supplying a plough team is a cooperative endeavor, with virgaters and semi-virgaters supplying oxen in proportion to their own holdings. Which in turn means that each virgater would supply two oxen EVERY day which with those of another three virgaters or perhaps six semi-virgaters would make up a full ploughteam sufficient to plough all four to seven of their holdings during ploughing season. But since it only took one ploughman to handle the plow (plus an ox-boy to goad the oxen) that same virgater only has to supply heavy labor in his own person or via some other able bodied member of his household EVERY FOURTH day. And the semi-virgater only one day in eight.

Which begins to turn our view of the relation of labor time in a peasant economy right around. The notion often found in popular historical depictions of peasants being exploited by their landlords and simply not having time to tend to their own plots starts getting turned around. Indeed the more 'capital' wealthy you are in terms of land holdings and live stock the more you have to supply labor in your own person or by hiring it, while a peasant living closer to subsistence, (and families did support themselves on a semi-virgate (although perhaps not solely on its actual physical harvest)) the more spare time you had.

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