A fruteful, and pleasaunt worke of the beste state of a publyque weale
About this text
Thomas More’s (1478-1535) Utopia is a socio-political satire whose first book describes contemporary conditions and problems affecting Europe. The second book describes the religious, social and political structures of a fictional island called Utopia. First published in Latin in 1516, it was revised by More and re-published in 1518. It was translated and published in English by Ralph Robinson in 1551, and later by Gilbert Burnet. This extract, from Book I, is More’s well-known description of the suffering caused by enclosures, and the displacement of agricultural labourers. Perhaps by coincidence, in 1517-19, soon after the publication of More’s Utopia in Latin, a Commission was issued to enquire into the progress and outcomes of enclosures in the 24 counties mainly affected.
A fruteful /
and pleasaunt worke of the
beste state of a publyque weale, and
of the newe yle called Utopia: written
in Latine by Syr Thomas More
knyght, and translated into Englyshe
by Raphe Robynson Citizein and
Goldsmythe of London, at the
procurement, and earnest re
quest of George Tadlowe
Citezein & Haberdassher
of the same Citie.
Imprinted at London
by Abraham Vele, dwelling in Pauls
churcheyarde at the sygne of
the Lambe. Anno.
PUBLISHED BY S. Mierdman
PUBLISHED FOR Abraham Vele
Trewly howe soever the case stondeth, thys me thinketh is nothyng a veyleable to the weale publique, for warre sacke, whyche yowe never have, but when yow wyll your selfes, to kepe and mainteyn an unnumerable flocke of that sort of men, that be so troblesome and noyous in peace, wherof yow owght to have a thowsande times more regard then of warre. But yet this is not onlye the necessary cause of stealing. There is an other which as I suppose is proper and peculiare to yow Englishe men alone. What is that, quod the Cardenall forsoth (quod I) your shepe that were wont to be so myke and tame, and so smal eaters, now, as I heare saie, be become so greate devowerers and so wylde, that they eate up and swallow downthe very men them selfes. They consume destroy and devoure hole fieldes howses and cities. For looke in what partes of [Page] the realme doth growe the fynyst, and therfore dearist woll, there noble men, and gentlemen: yea and certeyn Abbottes, holy men god wote, not contenting them selfes with the yearely revennues and profyttes that were wont to grow to theyr fore [...]athers and predecessours of their landes, [...]or beynge content that they live in rest and pleasure nothyng profytyng ye muche noyinge the weale publiqu [...]: leave no grounde [...]or ryllage: they enclose all in pastures: they throw downe houses: they plucke downe townes, and lea [...]e nothing stondynge but only the churche to make of it a shepehowse.
And as thoughe yow loste no small quantity of grounde by forestes chases laundes and parkes, those good holy men turne all dwellinges places and all glebelande into desolation and wildernes. Therfore that one covetous and unsatiable [...]ormaraunte and verye plage of his natyve contrey may compasse abowte and inclose many thousand acres of grounde to gether within one pale orhedge, the husbandmen be thrust owte of their owne, orels other by co [...]eyne [Page] or fraude, or by vyolent oppression they be put besydes it, or by wronges and injuries they be so weried that they be compelled to sell all: by one meanes therfore or by other, other by howke or crooke they must nedes departe awaye, pore, sylie, wretched soules men, women, husbandes, wyves fatherles chyldren, widdowes, wofull mothers with their yonge babes, and their hole housholde smal in substaunce, and muche in nombre, as husbandrie requireth many handes. Awaye they trudge I say out of their knowen and accustomed howses, fyndyng no places to rest in. All their housholde stuffe, whiche is verye lytle worth, though it myght well abyde the sale: yet beyng sodeynelye thrust out, they be constrayned to sell it for a thyng of nought.
And when they have wande rynge about so [...]e spent that, what can they els do but steale, and then justelye God wo [...]e behanged, or els go about a beggyng? And yet then also they be cast in prison as vagaboundes, because they go about and worke not: whom [Page] no man will set a worke, though they never so willingly offer them selfes therto. For one shepherde or heard man is ynough to eate up that grounde with cattel, to the occupying wherof about husbandrye many handes were requysyte. And this is also the cause that victualles be nowe in many places dearer. Yea besydes this y [...] pryce of wolle is so rysen that poore folkes, whiche were wont to worke it and make cloth of it, be nowe able to bye none at all. And by thys meanes verye manye be fayne to forsake worke, & to gyve them selfes to ydelnes. For after that so muche grounde was inclosed for pasture, an infinite multitude of shepe died of the rotte, suche vengeaunce God toke of their inordinate and unsaciable covetousnes, sendyng amonge the shepe that pestiferous morreyn, which much more justely should ha [...]efallen on the shepemasters owne heades. And though y [...] numbre of shepe increase never so fast, yet the pryce falleth not one myte, because there be so fewe sellers. For they be almoste all commen into a fewe [Page] riche mens handes, whome no neade driveth to sell before they lust, and they luste not before they may sell as deare as they lust. Now the same cause bryngeth in licke dearth of the other kindes of cattell, yea and that so much the more, bycause that after farmes pluckyd downe, and husbandry decayed, ther is no man that passyth for the breadyng of yonge stoore. For thees ryche men bry [...]ge not up the yonge ones of greate cattell as they do lan [...]es. But first they bye them abrode very chepe, and afterward when they be fattede in their pastures they sell them agayne excedyng deare. And therfor (as I suppose) the hole incommoditie herof is not yet felte. For yet they make dearth only in those places where they sell.
But when they shall fetche them awaye from thens wheare they be bredde faster then they can be brought up: then shall there also be felte great dearth when stoore begynnyth to fayle their, whear the ware ys bought. Thus the unreasonable covetousnes of a fewe hath turned y [...] thyng to the utter undoyng of your Ilande in [Page] the whiche thyng the chiefe felicitie of your realme dyd consist. For this great dearth of victualles causeth every man to kepe as lytle houses and as small hospitalitie as he possible maye. And to put awaye their servauntes: whether I praye you but a beggynge: or els whiche thies gentle blood is and stoute stomakes, wyll soner set theyr myndes unto a stealinge? Nowe to amende the matters to this wretched beggerye, and myserable povertie is joyned great wantonnes, imp [...]rtunate superfluytie, and excessive ryote. For not only gently mens servauntes, but also handy craft men: yea and almoste the ploughemen of the countrey, with all other sortes of people, use muche straunge and prowde newe fanglenes in their apparrell, and to muche prodigal riotte and sumptuous fare at their table. Nowe bawdes, qweynes, hoores, harlottes, strumpettes, brothelhouses, stewes, and yet an other stewes, wine tavernes, ale houses, and [...]ipling houses, with so many noughty lewde and unlawfull games, as dice, [Page] cardes, tables, tennyes, bolles, coytes, do not al thys sende the haunters of the [...] streyght a stealynge when theyr money is gone.
Caste out thies per [...]ycious abomynacyons, make a lawe that they why [...]he plucked downe fermes and townes of husbandrye, shall buylde them up agayne, or els y [...]lde and uprender the possessyon of them to suche as wyll goo to the coste of buyldynge them anewe. Suffer not thies ryche men to bye up all, to ingrosse and forstalle, and with theyr monopolye to kepe the market alone as please them. Let not so manye be brought up in ydelnes, lett husbandrye and tyllage be restored agayne, let clothe workynge be renewed, that there maye be honest labours for thys ydell sorte to passe theyre tyme in profytablye, whyche hytherto other povertye hathe caused to be theves, or elles nowe be other vagabondes, or ydell servynge men, and shortelye wylbe theves. Dowteles oneles yowe fynde a remedye for thyes enormytyes, yowe shalbe [Page] in vayne avaunce your selfes of executinge justice upon felloves. For this justice is more beautyfull then juste or profytable.
For by sufferynge your youthe wantonlye a [...]d viciouslye to be brought up, and to be infected even from theyr tender age by lytle and lytle wyth vyce: than a goddes name to be punyshed, when they commytte the same faultes after they be commen to mannes state, whiche frome ther youthe they were ever lyke to doo: In thys pointe I praye yowe what other thynge doo yowe, then make theves, and then punyshe them? Nowe as I was thus speakynge, the [...]awier beganne to make hym selfe readye to aunswere, and was determyned wyth hym selfe to use the common fassyon and trade of disputers, whyche be more dylygent in rehersynge, then aunswerynge, as thynking the memorye worthye of the chiefe prayse.