Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Decay of the Yeomanry
By Hugh Latimer (c. 14851555)
MY father was a yeoman and had no lands of his own, only he had a farm of three or four pound by year at the uttermost, and hereupon he tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had walk for a hundred sheep; and my mother milked thirty kine. He was able, and did find the king a harness, with himself and his horse, while he came to the place that he should receive the kings wages. I can remember that I buckled his harness when he went unto Blackheath field.1 He kept me to school or else I had not been able to have preached before the kings majesty now. He married my sisters with five pound, or twenty nobles apiece, so that he brought them up in godliness and fear of God. He kept hospitality for his poor neighbours, and some alms he gave to the poor. And all this he did of the said farm, where he that now hath it payeth sixteen pound by year or more, and is not able to do anything for his prince, for himself, nor for his children, or give a cup of drink to the poor.
Thus all the enhancing and rearing goeth to your private commodity and wealth. So that where ye had a single too much you have that; and since the same, ye have enhanced the rent, and so have increased another too much; so now ye have double too much, which is too too much. But let the preacher preach till his tongue be worn to the stumps, nothing is amended. We have good statutes made for the commonwealth, as touching commoners and inclosers; many meetings and sessions; but in the end of the matter there cometh nothing forth. Well, well, this is one thing I will say unto you; from whence it cometh I know, even from the devil. I know his intent in it. For if ye bring it to pass that the yeomanry be not able to put their sons to school (as indeed universities do wonderously decay already) and that they be not able to marry their daughters to the avoiding of whoredom; I say, ye pluck salvation from the people, and utterly destroy the realm. For by yeomens sons the faith of Christ is and hath been maintained chiefly. Is this realm taught by rich mens sons? No, no; read the chronicles; ye shall find sometime noblemens sons which have been unpreaching bishops and prelates, but ye shall find none of them learned men. But verily they that should look to the redress of these things be the greatest against them. In this realm are a great many folks, and amongst many I know but one of tender zeal, who at the motion of his poor tenants hath let down his lands to the old rents for their relief. For Gods love let him not be a phnix, let him not be alone, let him not be an hermit closed in a wall; some good man follow him, and do as he giveth example.
Surveyors there be, that greedily gorge up their covetous guts: hand-makers2 I mean; honest men I touch not; but all such as survey, they make up their mouths, but the commons be utterly undone by them; whose bitter cry ascending up to the ears of the God of Sabaoth, the greedy pit of hell and burning fire (without great repentance) do tarry and look for them. A redress God grant! For surely, surely, but that two things do comfort me, I would despair of the redress in these matters. One is, that the kings majesty, when he cometh to age, will see a redress of these things so out of frame; giving example by letting down his own lands first, and then enjoin his subjects to follow him. The second hope I have is, I believe that the general accounting day is at hand, the dreadful day of judgment, I mean, which shall make an end of all these calamities and miseries. For, as the scriptures be, Cum dixerint, Pax, pax, When they shall say, Peace, peace, Omnia tuta, All things are sure; then is the day at hand, a merry day I say, for all such as do in this world study to serve and please God, and continue in his faith, fear, and love; and a dreadful horrible day for them that decline from God, walking in their own ways; to whom, as it is written in the twenty-fifth of Matthew, is said, Ite, maledicti, in ignem æternum, Go, ye cursed, into everlasting punishment, where shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. But unto the other he shall say, Venite, benedicti, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, possess ye the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world; of the which God make us all partakers! Amen.