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Excerpts from Fitzherbert's Book of Husbandry c. 1543

Original edition 1534, these excerpts taken from the edition prepared by the Rev. Walter Skeat and published by The English Dialect Society, London, 1882

Generally spelling has been modernised, although some archaic words have been left.
Just as a general comment, 'meat' is here used as a general term for 'food', 'corn' for all grain and legume crops, 'cattle' is used for all four-legged and hoofed livestock, and the odd 'countries' equates to counties.

This book was written in the early sixteenth century. While much of what it describes equates very well to medieval life, there are two major differences. First, feudal society had long since collapsed, Fitzherbert's husbandman is his own man, he has no feudal ties, and he rents or owns his land outright. Secondly, land is more enclosed than it would have been under the medieval three field system.

Whether is better, a plough of horses or a plough of oxen:


It is to be known, whether is better, a plough of horses, or a plough of oxen, and therein me seemeth ought to be made some distinction. For in places an ox-plough is better than a horse-plough, and in some places a horse-plough is better: that is to say, in every place whereas the husband hath several pastures to put his oxen in when they come from their work, there the ox-plough is better. For an ox may not endure his work, to labour all day, and then to be put to the commons, or before the herdman, and to be set in a fold all night without meat [food], and go to his labour in the morning. But and he be put in a good pasture all night, he will labour much of all the day daily.

And oxen will plough in tough clay, and upon hilly ground, whereas horses stand still. And whereas is no several pastures, there the horse-plough is better, for the horses may be tethered or tied [up], whereas oxen may not be kept: and it is not used to tether them, but in few places.

And horses will go faster than oxen on even ground or light ground, and be quicker in carriage; but they be far more costly to keep in winter, for they must have both hay and corn [grain] to eat, and straw for litter; they must be well shod on all four feet, and the gear that they must draw with is more costly than for the oxen, and shorter will it last. And oxen will eat but straw, and a little hay, the which is not half the cost that horses must have, and they have no shoes, as horses have. And if any sorance [injury] come to the horse, or he wax old, bruised or blind, then he is of little worth. And if any sorance come to an ox, and he wax old, bruised or blind, for [2 shillings] he may be fed, and then he is man's meat, and as good or better than ever he was. And the horse, when he dieth, is but carrion. And therefore me thinketh, all things considered, the plough of oxen is much more profitable than the plough of horses.

To plough for peas and beans:

How to plough for peas and beans were necessary to know. First, thou must remember which is mostly clay ground and that plough first, and let it lie a good space, ere thou sow it: because the frost, the rain, the wind and the sun may cause it to break small, to make much mould, and to rigge it. And to plough a square furrow, the breadth and the depth all one, and to lay it close to his fellow. For the more furrows, the more corn, for a general rule of all manner of corns. And that may be proved at the coming up of all manner of corn, to stand at the lands end and look toward the other end; and then may ye see, how the corn grows.

How all manner of corn should be sown:

... In some countries [counties] they begin to sow peas soon after Christmas: and in some places they sow both peas and beans under furrow: and those of reason must be sown betimes. But most generally, to begin soon after Candlemas is good season, so that they be sown ere the beginning of March, or soon after. And especially let them be sown in the old of the moon. For the opinion of old husbands is, that they should the better coode and the sooner be ripe. But I speak not of hasty peas, for they be sown before Christmas, etc.

To sow barley:

Every good husband hath his barley-fallow well dunged and lying rigged all the deep and cold of winter; the which rigging makes the land to be dry, and the dunging makes it to be mellow and rank. And if a dry season come before Candlemas, or soon after, it would be cast down and water furrowed between the lands, that the wet rest not in the rain: and in the beginning of March, ridge it up again, and to sow in every acre five London Bushells, or four at the least. And some years it may be so fortune, that there comes no seasonable weather before March, to plough his barley-earth. And as soon as he has sown his peas and beans, then let him cast his barley-earth, and shortly after rig it again, so that it be sown before April ... [much discussion on various types of barley].

To sow oats:

And in March is time to sow oats, and especially upon light ground and dry, how so be they will grow on wetter ground than any corn else; for wet ground is good for no manner of corn; and three London bushells will sow an acre.

And it is to be known, that there be iii manner of oats, that is to say, red oats, black oats, and rough oats. Red oats are the best oats, and when they be threshed, they be yellow in the bushell, and very good to make oatmeal out of. Black oats are as great as they be, but they have not so much flour in them, for they have a thicker husk, and also they be not so good to make oatmeal. The rough oats be the worst, and it quitteth not the cost to sow them: they be very light, and have long tails, whereby they will hang each to the other. All these manner of oats wear the ground very sore, and make it to bear quyche. A young husbandman ought to take heed, how thick he sow all manner of corn, two or three years: and to see, how it cometh up, and whether it be thick enough or not: and if it be thin, sow thicker the next year: and if it be well, hold his hand there other years: and if it be too thin, let him remember himself, whether it be for the unseasonableness of the weather, or for thin sowing. And so his wisdom and discretion must discern it.

To harrow all manner of corns:

Now these lands be ploughed, and the corn sown, it is convenient, that they be well harrowed; or else crows, doves and other birds will eat and bear away the corns. It is used in many countries [counties], the husbands to have an ox-harrow, the which is made of six small pieces of timber ... [lengthy description of the harrow] ... This harrow is good to break the great clots, and to make much mould, and the horse-harrow to come after, to make the clots smaller, and to lay the ground even. It is a great labour and pain to the oxen, to go to harrow: for they were better to go to the plough two days, than to harrow one day. It is an old saying, "The ox is never woe, till he to the harrow go." And that is because it goes by twitches, and not always after one draught .... [description of the horse-harrow] .... The horses that draw these harrows, must be well kept and shod, or else they will soon be tired, and sore beat, that they may not draw. They must have hombers or collars, holmes tied about their necks, tresses to draw by ....

Please go to page two of Fiztherbert's Rules.




Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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