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THE REVENUE FROM DEMESNE.
Extent of the demesne. The forest. The rural tenants, settlement of
their rent by Henry I. The urban tenants, their emancipation from the exactions of the sheriffs. The firma burgi. The royal prerogatives of purveyance, pre-emption and prisage of wine.
No new form of taxation resulted immediately from the Norman conquest of England. The king continued to derive his revenue mainly from the demesne, and eventually the administration of the revenue was consolidated and improved for the king by the establishment of the Court of Exchequer, of which more will be said hereafter. While the feudal system, which became gradually established, created between the king and the landowners well-defined obligations, in which we discover the germs of future taxes.
The king continued in effect to live of his ownthat is, from the revenue derived from the demesne. The demesne was of vast extent. It comprised the demesne that belonged to the Crown in the time of Edward the Confessor, which was termed ancient demesne, and was considered to be inalienable from the Crown, and more recent acquisitions, including the large reservations from the lands confiscated in consequence of the revolt of the English after the Conquest. Its extent, in 1086, as shown by the general survey of
lands ordered to be made by the Conqueror, recorded in Doomsday Book, amounted to no less than 1,422
or lordships, besides farms and lands in Middlesex, Shropshire and Rutland.
The three divisions of demesne were those of (1) forest ; (2) the land held by rural tenants; and (3) the holdings of urban tenants.
1. The forest formed the king's hunting ground and afforded a supply of venison for his table; and was secured against intruders by a savage code of special regulations known as the forest laws, which, among their less barbarous provisions, imposed upon offenders pecuniary penalties that produced under the Norman kings and their successors, occasionally, no inconsiderable amount of revenue.
2. From the land held by the king's rural tenants the royal table was maintained ; and originally the tenants rendered sheep, oxen, corn and other produce in kind,' non auri vel argenti pondera, sed sola victualia solvebantur,'' an arrangement similar to the feorm fultum of Anglo-Saxon times. This practice continued to prevail until the reign of Henry I., who, influenced by representations made to him by the rural tenants, who flocked to his court with complaints of the severity of the exactions to which they were subjected, and on his own part not unwilling to exchange this cumbersome process of collecting rent in kind for payments in money, which would be of use for his foreign expeditions, resolved to commute the rents in kind for money payments. In this view he directed prudent and discreet men to go round the kingdom, survey the royal farms and assess the rents to be paid, reducing them to a money value. The assessment was not a difficult task, inasmuch as the sheriffs, who were responsible for the collection of the king's rents, had been accustomed to reckon in account with the king's officers, by the value of produce in money; as, for a measure of corn for 100 men, so much ; for an ox, 1s.; for a sheep, 4d.; for provender for twenty horses, 4d., and so on. A separate assessment was made for every shire, and the sheriff of the shire was held responsible to the exchequer for the total amount of the rents of the tenants of the rural demesne in the shire.
1 Dial. de Scacc. i. 7.
3. As regards the holdings of the urban tenants. This division of demesne included most of the cities, boroughs and towns in the kingdom, which originally had been founded on royal demesne or the folk land. And the rent of these tenants, the tenants in burgage, artificers, tradesmen and others dwelling in townsbriefly, the rent of towns—was also collected by the sheriff, who, speaking generally, exercised, unless excluded by a grant of the town to some great lord or prelate, the same superintendence over the towns as over the rest of the shire, and compounded for the rent of the urban tenants as part of the ferm of the shire.
The comparative ease with which rent could be collected from the urban, as compared with the rural, tenants, induced many of the sheriffs to press hard upon the towns and squeeze out of the urban tenants much more than their fair quota towards the rent of