Page16 - History: Empires falls but the ploughman goes on

Empires fall but the ploughman goes on

In the Autumn issue we left England in a sorry state if, indeed, there were ever any other through the centuries.

The young and pious Henry VI (1422-61 with interruptions) had been betrothed to Margaret of Anjou. lt was a chapter in a debilitating tale of disaster. We lost Burgundy as a long-time ally on the continent. The marriage was not popular and slowly the French, by superior tactics, overcame us in battle and we lost all our French possessions except for the Channel Islands and Calais. The great Angevin empire was dust. The warnings of Henry V (1413-22) to ensure we nurtured Burgundy as an ally had gone unheeded. 

Revolts in Kent did not encourage harmony. A Jack Cade, in the pretence his name was Mortimer, occupied London, murdering the Bishop of Salisbury along with Lord Saye. Henry VI's temporary madness confused the political issues and there was trouble everywhere.

As stated previously, the so-called Wars of the Roses, beginning in 1455, did little to touch Chorleywood and surrounding villages. The peasants ploughed the fields with their sturdy oxen and went to market, while their wives wove and spun and carried out all the domestic tasks expected of them. Was there such a thing as a war they asked? However, they had a glimpse of it - a sudden shock. The one exception I have confirmed is that our villagers could well have seen the campfires burning brightly. spotted across the open countryside.

While a distance away, the Yorkists sharpened their steel at St. Albans, the Lancastrians virtually made their base at Watford with a much smaller army. The  current view is that the armies only numbered a few thousand, but the slaughter was great among leading families, as the nobility appeared intent on wiping each other out.

The war was futile, the lesson not being learnt down the centuries, the understanding still ragged. After the first battle of St. Albans, Henry VI, peaceful and retiring, may not have provoked further trouble, but his wife, Margaret. the "she wolf` of France, remained tempestuous and merciless. an inspirational symbol of these bloody times. She now sought sanctuary with her son, having been put to flight while Henry remained temporarily a captive. Intermittent fighting over the years would occur, but administration continued. The causes of the war are complicated, but the main reason might be attributed to sheer naked power- seeking. which the nation as a whole had no part in.

St. Albans abbey and the abbots, our lords of the manor who have figured greatly in these articles. were fairly neutral, taking no side. In the first battle in the city the abbey was spared, but the vicious Lancastrian, Margaret allowed her troops to wreck the neighbouring streets and plunder the countryside. There is no record of Chorleywood being despoiled.

Watford market seemed to survive, a rich trading place for the hamlets, with Rickmansworth equally flourishing. But the abbey lost much of its dominance and the idea of sacredness foundered in simple peasant minds when it received scant respect from the soldiers in the second battle there. 

St. Alban, himself, in their eyes had failed to protect the church from sacrilege. It is reponed that the reigning abbot became inclined to the Yorkists! A timber-frame house, called The More, in Rickmansworth escaped the conflict, but was not immune to other threats. After the Archbishop of York bought the manor in the 1460s, Edward IV (1461-83) Yorkist victor of the wars, seized it in 1472. Strangely enough, forty-eight years later in 1520, the manor reverted to its original owners - St. Albans abbey. This is not surprising, although at first sight it looks complicated. However, manors existed within manors with ownership widespread. Being under the lordship of the abbot and the manor of Rickmansworth, Chorleywood might have been part of these transactions, but the evidence is faint.

The peasants had no part in matters of land and finance. They continued in their monotonous daily toil. ln truth, the majority of the population was roughly-hewn. They worked in the fields and tended the sheep and cows and produced the food for the nation. The townspeople were a comparatively small number. Nonetheless, there were stirrings of independence as witness the fight over the ownership of mills where the lord of the manor claimed a monopoly.

The woolpack trains began to open up the restricted life of the peasant as they travelled miles on rough tracks, hence the name 'Woolpack' for inns that survive on these routes. The malting trade locally was a wealth-maker of long duration. Everybody drank ale and there the peasantry found even greater opportunities. Many lords were short of money and slowly peasants found it satisfactory to commute labour and other services for money payments. There was a quiet revolution underway, which affected Chorleywood as much as anywhere else. It took a long time, but an England emerging was far different than what had gone before. Then Caxton set up his printing press in Westminster in 1477 and that  development began a general desire for education.

Although lords of the manor still had much control, the easy ways of the past and the accepted attitude of the local people eroded the years of custom. At one time St. Albans abbey was nearly bankrupt. Whether farms were sold off at this time it is difficult to gauge. l estimate there were at least 31 farms in Chorleywood as the 15th century closed. Some might have been jointly owned or could only claim mere tenancies. For example, Wyatts and Appletree were disposed of together years later as part of an estate, so more detailed investigation is necessary. What is clear is that Chorleywood and its companion villages were expanding. The shadow cast by Richard lll (1483-85) was brief and it is evident that his demise would encourage growth. Proof enough that the setting was ready. Houses already built in Church Street, Rickmansworth, handsome new tithe barns and manors at West Hyde. Chorleywood could not escape the tide of development.