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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603

 
   

England

England's Green and Pleasant Land

Since long before the Norman conquest, the population of England has been ethnically diverse. Domesday Book (1086-88) provides a glimpse into social structures after the Norman invasion in 1066, and gives a clear sense of division between the Norman conquerors, who possessed most of the land, and the Anglo-Saxon conquered.

For more on the Domesday Book, visit our Treasures exhibition.

 

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Domesday Book for Warwick

 

Monks with the plague

Post-Conquest feudalGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window society was largely rural, divided into administrative units called manorsGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window. Land was held by under-tenants from an overlord in return for certain obligations, such as manual labour. A steady increase in population, coupled with price inflation through the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, put pressure on this relationship, but the population rise was ended by the Black DeathGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window of 1348-9. This wiped out up to half the population. The Statute of LabourersGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window (1351) aimed both to tie peasants to the land in order to guarantee food production, and to regulate their wages. This proved unpopular and was a major cause of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt.

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Before and after the Black Death the wool trade with the continent became one of the central pillars of the English economy as well as an important source of rural employment. Immigrants from the Low Countries, and later refugees from religious persecution in France, brought new skills into regions such as East Anglia. However, renewed population growth during the sixteenth century created rural unemployment, and vagrancy lawsGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window were introduced in response to the growing numbers of the poor who roamed the countryside in search of work.

An accompanying drift to towns and cities stimulated urban growth in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. By this date London had already established itself as the capital city and the centre for trade and commerce. Trade guildsGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window prospered here, and brought a sense of unity to members of the same occupation.

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Detail from Parliament at Work. By permission of the British Library.
 
Detail from Parliament at Work. By permission of the British Library.