Landowners started enclosing fields in the medieval period but the majority of fields were still open and unfenced. More fields were enclosed from the sixteenth century. Can you think of any benefits of having fences around your fields instead of large open fields with no boundaries?
Larger landowners enclosed fields so they could breed flocks of sheep. Many smallholders did not like fields being enclosed. Read this quote from a sixteenth century book:
“…your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I hear say, be 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.” Sir Thomas More, Utopia. 1516.
What do you think the writer means when he says the sheep “eat up, and swallow down the very men themselves”? Tick the answer you agree with:
1. That there were man-eating sheep in the Tudor period.
2. That sheep were able to wander freely in the fields.
3. That the landowners enclosed lots of land for sheep.
Sheep was the reason for a lot of the enclosure in the sixteenth century. Wool was the main export from Britain and brought in much wealth.
The parish of Quarrendon, just north of Aylesbury, only has a few farms in it now. In the late sixteenth century there was the house of Sir Henry Lee, Queen Elizabeth I’s champion. The Lee family had gone up in the world, starting out as sheep graziers from Warwickshire in the fifteenth century and by the sixteenth they were often at the royal court.
Ponds, a water garden, a church, a hospital and rabbit warrens surrounded the house at Quarrendon. They still made money out of grazing sheep. The Lees had channels dug in the surrounding fields to drain the naturally wet area. And people from a nearby village were evicted to make way for the sheep and a rabbit warren.
Think about what you have learnt about enclosure of fields in the sixteenth century. You class will be split into two. One half represent the landowners who are enclosing the land for sheep grazing and the other half represents the people who are having their land taken from them. After thinking about what you want to say have a debate using the statement “Enclosure is a good thing” as a starting point.
Go back to find more Changes in the landscape.