Free Essay About A Comparative Essay: “Charters And Fueros” And “Digger Pamphlet”
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Before the formation of nation states, tributary systems were widespread. In such a system, the elites exacted tributes, in cash or in kind, from their subjects. Tributary systems can be characterized by the absence of institutions – general political administration, judicial and religious politics - that could have reached and intervened on behalf of the masses. Effective arbitration institutions did not exist, forcing people to settle their conflicts through customary practices. In the Middle Ages, the tributary system was reflected in charters and fueros. In the early modern period, at the time nation states already existed, the use of tributary systems had already diminished. Instead, the peasantry was forced to seek work from outside their lands, still largely owned by the nobility, to survive. These systems are the subject of the documents this essay is tackling: “Charters and Fueros,” a composite of documents from the 11th and 12th centuries, and; “A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England,” written and published in 1649. Both these set of documents provide inkling as to the stratification of European society and the distinct and opposing places held by noblemen and peasants.
The first element that distinguishes the set of two documents is the era in which they were written, published and were in effect. “Charters and Fueros” consisted of three separate charters, namely Charter of the northern French town of Lorris was written in 1155, Charter of Jaca in 1077, and Charter of Siurana in 1153. On the other hand, “A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England" was written in 1649. The eras in which these documents were written provide the first important difference between the writings. On one hand, “Charters and Fueros” was written in the Medieval Period before the modern state emerged between the 15th and 18th centuries. On the other hand, the “Digger Pamphlet” was written in the mid-17th century, when the modern state and its institutions had already started to be integrated into the political and social life of the European people.
The Medieval Period was characterized primarily by feudalism where political power was concentrated in the hands of private persons, rather than by political institutions. Charters began in the 11th century and into the following century with agreements that determined the rights and obligations of peasants to their kings or of peasants to their lords. Thus, in the first document of “Charters and Fueros”, the grant was made by King Louis VII, in the second by king of the Aragonese and Pamplonese, and the third by a count. In these charters, the king or noble laid down the contributions that the inhabitants of certain towns under the charter owed to the king or noble. Payments were set for certain activities, such as owning a house, killing another or for committing a despicable act in the presence of the king or noble.
The 17th century was a part of the early modern period and as such, political and social changes were starting to occur that made life in that era different from that in the Middle Ages. The Digger movement emerged in 17th century England. It was triggered by the dismal economic conditions of Europe. Diggers were individuals who formed groups to cultivate common lands and share their properties with each other. In “A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England,” the issue was the private ownership of lands by the nobility, which kept the common people from using them. Even the use of the common, which theoretically belonged to no one, could only be used for profit by the lords.
Thus, while Charters was primarily about the imposition of contributions and the rights available to the inhabitants of a charter town in exchange for such contributions, Digger highlighted the inequality in society because land ownership was still confined to the nobility. In a sense, the two documents are similar because they are focused on land ownership and land use. However, in 17th century Europe, the peasants had a more unpleasant experience because of the rapid population growth and the increasing direct control of landowners of their farms. By 1650, large landowners and large-scale tenant farmers dominated the rural regions. This displaced the peasants who owned small lands with small cottages, but needed to work for others to survive. (Dewald 173). Although five centuries separated “Charters and Digger,” the medieval problem of tributary system arising from land ownership, continued to exist in the early modern period.
Another distinction between Charters and Digger is that they were written from a totally opposite point-of-view. The former is written by the king or the nobleman, or on their behalf, while the latter by peasants. From the point-of-view of the former the grant was judicious and an act of benevolence by one who has rightful ownership and authority not only over the land, but also on the inhabitants of the land. Thus, in Charters the king of Aragonese and Pamplonese decreed that anyone who strikes another in his presence shall be meted a fine of 100 s., but required no such fine if committed in his absence. The grantor who cited God in the charter, thus, believed that imposing fines for acts he considered despicable was a god-given right. This belief of natural self-entitlement of the nobility was cited in Digger. There, the rebels decried the inequality of the classes that stemmed from the view of the nobles that they were a naturally privileged class and had natural rights that were not available to the peasants. The diggers pointed out that all men are equal before the Creator and all things created were for the enjoyment of not only one class, but for all.
Both documents made impositions and demands on the other party. In Charters, the kings and noble imposed tributes, and indirectly limit the activities of peasants. Since law enforcement and judicial institutions were not yet established during the medieval period, these charters served as informal control on the activities of the peasants and even as bill of rights except that it is one-sided and heavily favored the nobles. Lorris, for example, exempted residents from toll or road tax, guaranteed right from arrest upon return from fairs and markets to his home, right to bail, right to dispose property, and right to abode. In Jaca, murder was made punishable by a fine of 500 s, attacking another using certain weapons by 1000s and obligating a rapist to marry the woman he raped or find another man to marry the woman. In Siurana, the count-grantor imposed only tithes and first fruits in exchange for the protection of the security and free use of natural resources in the land by the people.
In Digger, on the other hand, the writers did not simply impose, but demand that they be given the rights that they believed they possessed as children of God. The tone of the writing was one of self-righteousness decried the evil of private ownership and the discourse had socialist or communistic tendencies as they demanded a society bereft of class division and the common sharing of all produce of the earth. The diggers not only denounced private ownership, but also commerce and the use of money as currency of commerce.
“Charters and Fueros” and “Digger Pamphlet” were written five centuries apart, but they similarly mirrored the wide gap that the noblemen and peasants held in European society. The noblemen were the privileged class who owned lands and held the peasants by the throat because of such ownership. With land ownership, came the right to impose contributions, taxes and tithes, as well as the right to impose limitations on the activities of the peasants. This problem persisted from the Medieval Period to the early modern period as evidenced by the writings in the two documents tackled in this essay. This weighed down more on the early modern peasant because of the rapidly growing population, increasing competition for food and work. The tributary system, thus, were largely grounded on land ownership and the nobles claim to it.
Boissonade, P. Life and Work in Medieval Europe. Routledge, 2013.
Charters and Fueros. 1155, 1077 and 1153.
CQPress. Chapter 2. “The Modern State.” Introducing Comparative Politics, Concepts and Cases in Context, 2015, http://college.cqpress.com/sites/drogusorvis/Home/chapter2.aspx
Dewald, Jonathan. “The Early Modern Period.” The Periods of Social History. Encyclopedia.com. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3402800145.html
Kaser, Karl. The Balkans and the Near East: Introduction to a Shared History. LIT Verlag Münster. 2011.
Pastoor, Charles and Johnson, Galen K. 2009. The A to Z of the Puritans. Scarecrow Press, 2009.
Winstanley, Gerrard. 1649. Digger Pamphlet.
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