Pinfold Politics – Violence and the Impounding of Animals in Early Modern England
By Jonathan Healey
Paper given at Taming the Many-Headed Monster: Regulating Society in Early Modern England, colloquium held at Oxford, June 2012
Abstract: Historians and anthropologists are increasingly interested in ‘everyday resistance’: the minor acts of rebelliousness and disorder that could have a big impact on the social relations of peasant societies. This paper describes a hitherto barely recognised form of popular direct action in the early-modern countryside: the use of violence during the distraining and impounding of animals. It argues that ‘pinfold politics’ were just as widespread and potentially violent as the much better-known enclosure riots of the age.
Introduction: I’m going to start today with an incident deep in the Wiltshire downland country; ‘Martin Ingram country’, in other words. It was the 14th day of September, in the second year of the reign of Queen Mary, and it was the time of ‘shack’, just after the harvest was gathered. The tenants of Erlstock, a small village in the northern shadow of Salisbury Plain, had – armed with assorted threatening agricultural implements – led their cattle to graze in the recently harvested fields of their neighbouring village of Coulston. But the lord of the manor of Coulston had other ideas. Aldhelm Lambe, for it was he, was in dispute with the tenants over what they claimed was their right to let their cattle loose in the time of shack, and he had, they later swore, ‘sundry times’ driven their cattle off the land. And this is what he did on this occasion, too: ordering his servants to chase the cattle off with dogs, leading them eventually to the common pound in Coulston.
Here they remained, but not for long. What happened next is best captured in a deposition from Anthony Onyon, a weaver of Bratton, who remembered being at Lambe’s house, near the pound . He heard, he said, ‘a great noise at the said pound, and so went further, and saw there John Lloyd, John Marks, John Poryer, Bartelman Parrott, and others which he knew not, to the number of ten persons there’. They were, he said, ‘checking and taunting’ Lambe ‘for the cattle there pinned’. One of the men, Marks, did then and there call Lambe ‘churl’, and declared that ‘he would have the said cattle do the complainant what he could ’ . What happened next is unclear. It seems that the men of Erlestock brought a replevin, a common-law writ demanding the release of the goods, but that Lambe disputed its validity. According to one witness, the crowd then threatened to break down the door of the pound unless it was opened, shaking hard at the door until the wife of the hayward came and opened it for them. Whatever happened exactly, the animals – witnesses agreed – were promptly back on the common, guarded by their owners.