Walter of Henley's Husbandry


This translation of Walter of Henley's Treatise on Husbandry, by Elizabeth Lamond FRHS, was published by Longman, Green & Co. of London in 1890, under the title Walter of Henley's Husbandry, together with an anonymous husbandry, Seneschaucie and Robert Grosseteste's Rules. Ms. Lamond herself died on October 13 1891 and her work is now, to the best of my knowledge, public domain.

There are caveats for the casual reader. First of all, Walter of Henley was not above manipulating his figures to prove a particular point - his comparison between the relative costs of ploughing with horses and oxen is a good example, where he outrageously overinflates the cost of shoeing horses. Secondly, the manuscript Ms. Lamond used for her translation was itself a corrupt copy - no original of the work survives. This is most notable in the section explaining how many acres each plough could work in a year, when the scribe failed to understand Walter's argument. There is a further point to make for American readers: in British English, corn means "grain" not "maize".

Who was Walter of Henley? We do not know for certain. This is his only known work. It seems almost certain from his practical knowledge of his chosen subject that he had worked as a professional bailiff - indeed he refers to such a role in the treatise - probably in the south of England. One of the numerous manuscript copies of his treatise hints that, in later life, he became a Dominican friar. It is thought he wrote The Treatise on Husbandry in the third quarter of the 13th century, probably in the 1270s, early in the reign of Edward I.

The treatise is aimed at the owners of medium and large estates who worked their demesne lands, rather than farmed them out for cash rents, but might have little direct knowledge of agriculture. Direct working of demesnes was the norm for most of the 13th century, when the markets were developed enough to provide sufficient means of exchanging goods for cash, and before the agricultural disasters and social upheavals of the 14th century. Walter is particularly keen to inform his readers of the tricks and scams dishonest employees can get up to; some of these may prove difficult to understand in a casual reading, but a little thought will pluck out the gist of his meaning.

Neither the italicised introduction nor the section headings are original, but were added to a later manuscript copy. Although the section headings are occassionally inappropriate I have left them in because they not only provide this work with some structure, but help to break up the large chucks of text.

For a fuller discussion of all these issues, a transcription of an accurately copied manuscript in French and a translation of it, both copiously annotated, you should seek Dorothea Oschinsky's Walter of Henley and Other Treatises on Estate Management and Accounting (Oxford, 1971).

The Treatise on Husbandry

This is the treatise on husbandry that a goodly man once made, whose name was Sir Walter of Henley; and this he made to teach those who have lands and tenements and may not know how to keep all the points of husbandry, as the tillage of the land and the keeping of cattle, from which great wealth may come to those who will hear this teaching and then do as is found written down.

The father having fallen into old age said to his son: Dear son, live prudently towards God and the world. With regard to God, think often of the passion and death that Jesus Christ suffered for us, and love Him above all things and fear him and lay hold of and keep His commandments; with regard to the world, think of the wheel of fortune, how man mounts little by little to wealth, and when he is at the top of the wheel, then by mishap he falls little by little into poverty, and then into wretchedness.

Wherefore, I pray you, order your life according as your lands are valued yearly by the extent, and nothing beyond that. If you can improve your lands by tillage or cattle or other means beyond the extent, put the surplus in reserve, for if corn fail, or cattle die, or fire befall you, or other mishap, then what you have saved will help you.

If you spend in a year the value of your lands and the profit, and one of these chances befall you, you have no recovery except by borrowing, and he who borrows from another robs himself; or by making bargains, as some who make themselves merchants, buying at twenty shillings and selling at ten. It is said in the proverb, "Who provides for the future enjoys himself in the present." You see some who have lands and tenements and know not how to live. Why? I will tell you. Because they live without rule and forethought and spend and waste more than their lands are worth yearly, and when they have wasted their goods can only live from hand to mouth and are in want, and can make no bargain that shall be for their good. The English proverb says, "He that stretches farther then his whittle will reach, in the straw to his feet he must stretch." Dear son, be prudent in your doings and be on your guard against the world, which is so wicked and deceitful.

Have nothing from anyone wrongfully, nor seek occasion towards anyone to have his goods, for it is said in the English proverb, "One year or two, wrong will on hand go, and ever at an end, wrong will wend." If anyone comes into your court, let him be amerced [fined] by his peers; if your conscience tells you that they have amerced him too highly do you lessen it, so that you do not be reproved here or before God. Acquaint yourself with true men and have the love of your neighbours, for it is said in the French proverb, "Who has a good neighbour has a good morrow." Keep your mouth prudently, that you be not justly reproved.

How a man ought to spend the wealth that God has given him

The wealth that God lends you keep and spend prudently. In outlays and expenses you must know four things: when you ought to give, how, to whom and how much.

The first is, that you give before you are obliged to, for how much more shall two shillings be worth beforehand than ten when one is forced to give. The second is, if you must give or spend, do it with good will, and it shall be reckoned double to you, and if you do it grudgingly you shall lose as much as you put out. The third is, give to him who can help and hurt you. The fourth is, how much you ought to give, neither more or less than according to the person, and according as the business is small or great that you have to do with him.

Have regard to the poor, not to have praise of the world, but to have praise of God, who finds you all.

Survey your lands and tenements by your sworn men

Survey your lands and tenements by true and sworn men. First survey your courts, gardens, dove-houses, curtilages, what they are worth yearly beyond the valuation; and then how many acres are in the demesne, and how much is in each cultura, and what they should be worth yearly; and how many acres of pasture, and what they are worth yearly; and all other several pastures, and what they are worth yearly; and wood, what you can sell without loss and destruction and what it is worth yearly beyond the return; and free tenants, how much each holds and by what service; and customary tenants, how much each holds and by what services, and let customs be put in money. And of all other definite things put what they are worth yearly.

And by the surveyors inquire with how much of each sort of corn you can sow and acre of land, and how much cattle on each manor. By the extent you should be able to know how much your lands are worth yearly, by which you can order your living, as I have said before. Furthermore, if your bailiffs or provosts say in their account that so many quarters have been sown on so many acres, go to the extent, and perhaps you shall find fewer acres than they have told you and more quarters sown than necessary. For you have at the end of the extent the quantity of each kind of corn with which one shall sow an acre of land.

Further, if it is necessary to put out more money or less for ploughs, you shall be confirmed by the extent. How? I will tell you. If your lands are divided in three, one part for winter seed, the other part for spring seed, and the third part fallow, then is a ploughland ninescore acres [180 acres]. And if your lands are divided in two, as in many places, the one half sown with winter seed and spring seed, the other half fallow, then shall a ploughland be eightscore acres [160 acres]. Go to the extent and see how many acres you have in the demesne, and there you shall be confirmed.

Some men will tell you that a plough cannot work eight score or nine score acres yearly, but I will show you that it can. You know well that a furlong ought to be forty perches long and four wide, and the king's perch is sixteen feet and a half; then an acre is sixty-six feet in width [an acre is one furlong (40 perches; 220 yards) long and four perches (22 yards) wide]. Now in ploughing go thirty-six times round to make the ridge narrower, and when the acre is ploughed then you have made seventy-two furlongs, which are six leagues, for be it known that twelve furlongs are a league [this is the "Domesday league" of 1.5 miles]. And the horse or ox must be very poor that cannot from the morning go easily in pace three leagues in length from his starting place and return by three o'clock.

And I will show you another reason that it can do as much. You know that there are in the year fifty-two weeks. Now take away eight weeks for holy days and other hindrances, then there are forty-four working weeks in all. And in all that time the plough shall only have to plough for fallow or for spring or winter sowing three roods and a half daily [a rood is 1/4 acre], and for second fallowing an acre. Now see if a plough were properly kept and followed, if it could not do as much daily.

And if you have land on which you have cattle, take pains to stock it as the land requires. And know for truth if you are duly stocked, and your cattle well guarded and managed, it shall yield three times the land by the extent.

If free tenants or customary tenants deny services you will see the definite amount in the extent.

To know how to select servants

If you must choose a bailiff or servant, do not choose them for kindred or liking, or other reasons, if they are not of good reputation, and let them be true and prudent and know about cattle and tillage. Have no provosts [reeves] or messors [haywards] except from your own men, if you have them, and that by election of your tenants, for if they do wrong you shall have recovery from them.

Of overseeing your labourers

At the beginning of fallowing and second fallowing and of sowing let the bailiff, and the messor, or the provost, be all the time with the ploughmen, to see that they do their work well and thoroughly, and at the end of the day see how much they have done, and for so much shall they answer each day after unless they can show a sure hindrance. And because customary servants neglect their work it is necessary to guard against their fraud; further it is necessary that they are overseen often; and besides the bailiff must oversee all, that they work well, and if they do not well let them be rebuked.

With a team of oxen with two horses you draw quicker than with a team of all horses, if the ground is not so stony that the oxen cannot help themselves with their feet. Why? I will tell you: the horse costs more than the ox. Besides, a plough of oxen will go as far in the year as a plough of horses, because the malice of the ploughmen will not allow the plough (of horses) to go beyond their pace, no more than the plough of oxen. Further, in very hard ground where the plough of horses will stop, the plough of oxen will pass.

And will you see how the horse costs more than the ox? I will tell you. It is usual and right that plough beasts should be in the stall between the feast of St. Luke [October 18] and the feast of the Holy Cross in May [May 3], five-and-twenty weeks, and if the horse is to be in a condition to do his daily work, it is necessary that he should have every night at the least the sixth part of a bushel of oats, price one halfpenny, and at the least twelve pennyworth of grass in summer. And each week more or less a penny in shoeing, if he must be shod on all four feet. The sum is twelve shillings and fivepence in the year, without fodder and chaff.

How you must keep your oxen

And if the ox is to be in a condition to do his work, then it is necessary that he should have at least three sheaves and a half of oats in the week, price one penny, and ten sheaves of oats should yield a bushel of oats in measure; and in summer twelve pennyworth of grass: the sum three shillings, one penny, without fodder or chaff. And when the horse is old and worn out then there is nothing but the skin; and when the ox is old, with ten pennyworth of grass he shall be fit for the larder, or will sell for as much as he cost.

April is a good time for fallowing, if the earth breaks up after the plough; and for second fallowing after St. John's Day [June 24], when the dust rises behind the plough; and for ploughing for seed when the earth is firm and not too cracked. But he who has much to do cannot wait for good seasons. And when you fallow, if you find any good earth deep down, then plough a square ridge, to let the good land rest, but do not cut off the bad land; and plough cleanly, so that none remains covered or uncovered. At the second fallowing do not go too deep, but so that you can just destroy the thistles, for if the earth is ploughed too deep at second fallowing, and the earth is full of water, then when one must plough for sowing the plough shall reach no sure ground, but goes floundering, as in mud. And if the plough can go two finger-lengths deeper than at second farrowing, then the plough will find sure ground, and clear and free it from the mud, and make fine and good ploughing.

To keep the ridge

At sowing do not plough large furrows, but little and well laid together, that the seed may fall evenly; if you plough a large furrow to be quick, you will do harm. How? I will tell you. When the ground is sown, then the harrow will come and pull the corn into the hollow which is between the two ridges, and the large ridge shall be uncovered, that no corn can grow there. And will you see this? When the corn is above ground go to the end of the ridge, and you will see that I tell you truly.

And if the land must be sown below the ridge, see that it is ploughed with small furrows, and the earth raised as much as you are able. And see that the ridge which is between the two furrows is narrow. And let the earth which lies like a crest in the furrow under the left foot after the plough be overturned, and then shall the furrow be narrow enough.

To sow your lands

Sow your lands in time, so that the ground may be settled and the corn rooted before great cold. If by chance it happens that a heavy rain comes or falls on the earth within eight days of the sowing, and then a sharp frost should come and last two or three days, if the earth is full of holes the frost will penetrate through the earth as deep as the water entered, and so the corn, which has sprouted and is very tender, will perish.

There are two kinds of land for spring seed which you must sow early, clay land and stony land. Why? I will tell you. If the weather in March should be dry, then the ground will harden too much and the stony ground become much more dry and open, so it is necessary that such ground be sown early, that the corn may be nourished by the winter moisture.

To free lands from too much moisture

Chalky ground and sandy ground need not be sown so early, for these are two evils escaped to be overturned in great moisture, but at sowing let the ground be a little sprinkled. And when your lands are sown let the marshy ground and damp ground be well ridged, and the water made to run, so that the ground may be freed from water.

Let your land be cleaned and weeded after St. John's Day [June 24]; before that is not a good time. If you cut thistles fifteen days or eight before St. John's Day, for each one will come two or three.

Let your corn be carefully cut and led into the grange.

To make the issue of the grange

When the stock of the grange is taken, place there a true man in whom you trust, who can direct the provost rightly, for one often sees that the grange-keeper and barn-keeper join together to do mischief. Make your provost and barn-keepers fill the measures, so that for every eight bushels a cantle shall be left for the waste which takes place at the putting in and taking from the barn, for in the comble [heap; pile] is fraud.

How? I will tell you. When the provost has rendered account for the return of the grange, then cause the bushel which he filled with to be proved. If the bushel be large, then four heaped up will make five, more or less; if it be smaller, five will make six; of smaller six will make seven; if smaller still eight will make nine, and so on for each, more or less. Now some of these provosts will only render account for eight in the seam, whether the bushel be large or small, and if the bushel is large there is great deceit. If the return of your grange only yields three times the seed sown you will gain nothing unless corn sells well.

For how much you shall sow an acre

You know surely that an acre sown with wheat takes three ploughings, except lands which are sown yearly; and that, one with another, each ploughing is worth sixpence, and harrowing a penny, and on the acre it is necessary to sow at least two bushels. Now two bushels at Michaelmas are worth at least twelvepence, and weeding a halfpenny, and reaping fivepence, and carrying in August a penny; the straw will pay for the threshing. At three times your sowing you ought to have six bushels, worth three shillings, and the cost amounts to three shillings and three halfpence, and the ground is yours and not reckoned.

How you ought to change your seed

Change your seed every year at Michaelmas [September 29], for seed grown on other ground will bring more profit that that which is grown on your own. Will you see this? Plough two selions at the same time, and sow the one with seed which is bought and the other with corn which you have grown: in August you will see that I speak truly.

How you ought to keep and prepare manure

Do not sell your stubble or take it from the ground if you do not want it for thatching; if you take away the least you will lose much. Good son, cause manure to be gathered in heaps and mixed with earth, and cause your sheepfold to be marled every fortnight with clay land or with good earth, as the cleansing out of ditches, and then strew it over. And if fodder be left beyond that estimated to keep your cattle cause it to be strewed within the court and without in wet places. And your sheep-house and folds also cause to be strewed. And before the drought of March comes, let your manure, which has been scattered within the court and without, be gathered together. And when you must cart marl or manure have a man in whom you trust to be over the carters the first day, that he may see that they do their work well and without cheating, and at the end of the day's work see how much they have done, and for so much must they answer daily unless they are able to show a definite hindrance.

Put your manure which has been mixed with earth on sandy ground if you have it. Why? I will tell you. The weather in summer is hot, and the sand hot and the manure hot; and when these three heats are united after St. John's Day [June 24] the barley that grows in the sand is withered, as you can see in several places as you go through the country. In the evening the earth mixed with manure cools the sand and keeps the dew, and thereby is much corn spared. Manure your lands, and do not plough them too deeply, because manure wastes in descending.

Now I will tell you what advantage you will have from manure mixed with earth. If the manure was quite by itself it would last two or three years, according as the ground is cold or hot; manure mixed with earth will last twice as long, but it will not be so sharp.

Know for certain that marl lasts longer than manure. Why? Because manure wastes in descending and marl in ascending. And why will manure mixed last longer than pure manure? I will tell you. Of manure and earth which are harrowed together the earth shall keep the manure, so that it cannot waste by descending as much as it would naturally. I tell you why that you may gather manure according to your power.

And when you manure has been spread and watered a little, then it is time that it should be turned over; then the earth and the manure will profit much together. And if you spread your manure at fallowing it shall be all the more turned over at second ploughing, and at sowing shall come up again and be mixed with earth. And if it is spread at second ploughing it is all the more under the earth and little mixed with it, and that is not profitable.

And the nearer the fold is to the sowing the more it shall be worth. At the first feast of our Lady [March 25] enlarge your fold as your have sheep, either more or less, for in that time there is much manure.

How you ought to inspect your cattle

Sort out your cattle once a year between Easter and Whitsuntide - that is to say, oxen, cows and herds - and let those that are not to be kept be put to fatten; if you lay out money to fatten them with grass you will gain. And know for truth that bad beasts cost more than good. Why? I will tell you. If it be a draught beast he must be more thought of than the other and more spared, and because he is spared the others are burdened for his lack. And if you must buy cattle buy them between Easter and Whitsuntide, for then beasts are spare and cheap. And change your horses before they are too old and worn out or maimed, for with little money you can rear good and young ones, if you sell and buy in season. It is well to know how one ought to keep cattle, to teach your people, for when they see that you understand it they will take the more pains to do well.

How you ought to keep your beasts for the plough

You must keep your plough beasts so that they have enough food to do their work, and that they be not too much overwrought when they come to the plough, for you shall be put to too great an expense to replace them; besides, their tillage shall be behindhand. Do not put them in houses in wet weather, for inflammation arises between the skin and the hair and between the skin and the wool, which will turn to the harm of the beasts.

And if your cattle are accustomed to have food, let it be given at midday by one of the messors or the provost, and mixed with little barley, because it is too bearded and hurts the horses' mouths. And why shall you give it to them before come one and with chaff? I will tell you. Because it often happens that oxherds steal the provender, and horses will eat more chaff for food and grow fat and drink more.

And do not let the fodder for oxen be given them a great quantity at a time, but little and often, and then they will eat and waste little. And when there is a great quantity before them they eat their fill and then lie down and ruminate, and by the blowing of their breath they begin to dislike the fodder and it is wasted.

And let the cattle be bathed, and when they are dry curry them, for that will do them much good. And let the oxen be curried with a wisp of straw every day, and thereby they will lick themselves more.

And let your cows have enough food, that the milk may not be lessened. And when the male calf is calved, let it have all the milk for a month; at the end of the month take away a teat, and from week to week a teat, and then it will have suckled eight weeks, and put food before it that it may learn to eat. And the female calf shall have all the milk for three weeks, and take from it the teats as with the male.

And let them have water in dry weather within the houses and without, for many die on the ground of a disease of the lungs for lack of water. Further, if there be any beast which begins to fall ill, lay out money to better it, for it is said in the proverb, "Blessed is the penny that saves two."

How much milk your cows should yield

If your cows were sorted out, so that the bad were taken away, and your cows fed in pasture of salt marsh, then ought two cows to yield a wey of cheese and half a gallon of butter a week. And if they were fed in pasture of wood, or in meadows after mowing, or in stubble, then three cows ought to yield a wey of cheese and half a gallon of butter a week between Easter and Michaelmas without rewayn [possibly a kind of cheese]. And twenty ewes which are fed in pasture of salt marsh ought to and can yield cheese and butter as the two cows before named. And if your sheep were fed with fresh pasture or fallow, then ought thirty ewes to yields butter and cheese as the three cows before named.

Now there are many servants and provosts and dairymaids who will contradict this thing, and that is because they give away and waste and consume the milk; and know for certainty the milk is not wasted otherwise but in the same thing, for so much they ought to and can yield, for I have proved it.

And you will see it with regard to the three cows that ought to make a wey. One of these cows would be poor, from which one could not have in two days a cheese with a halfpenny; that would be in six days three cheeses, price three halfpence. And the seventh day shall help the tithe and the waste there may be. Now that will be three halfpence in twenty-four weeks which are between Easter and Michaelmas - that is, three shillings. Now put as much for the second cow, and as much for the third, and then you will have nine shillings, and thereby you have a wey of cheese by ordinary sale. Now one of these cows would be poor, from which one could not have the third of a pottle of butter a week, and if the gallon of butter is worth sixpence then is the third of a pottle worth a penny.

How you ought to sort out your swine

Sort out your swine once a year, and if you find any which is not sound take it away. Do not have boars and sows unless of a good breed. Your other female swine cause to be kept, that they do no farrow; then shall their bacon be worth as much as that of the males. And let them be able to dig. They have need of help in three months, in February, March and April. Three times a year ought your sows to farrow, unless it be for bad keeping. It is a good thing for swine to lie long in the morning, and to lie dry. Let your sucking pigs be well kept, and they will grow the better.

How you ought to sort out your sheep

See that your shepherd be not hasty, for by an angry man some may be badly overdriven, from which they may perish there where your sheep are pasturing and the shepherd comes among them.

Sort out your sheep once a year, between Easter and Whitsuntide, and cause those which are not to be kept to be sheared early and marked apart from the others, and put them in enclosed wood or in other pasture where they can fatten, and about St. John's Day sell them, for then will the flesh of sheep be in season. And the wool of these may be sold by itself with the skins (of those) which died of the murrain. And when the sheep are sold, for them and their wool and the skins aforesaid replace as many head.

Some men replace others for those which died of murrain. How? I will tell you. If a sheep die suddenly they put the flesh in water for as many hours are are between midday and three o'clock, and then hang it up, and when the water is drained off they salt it and dry it. And if any sheep begin to fall ill they see if it be because the teeth drop, and if the teeth do not fall out they cause it to be killed and salted and dried like the others, and then they cut it up and distribute it in the household among the servants and labourers, and they shall then yield as much as they cost, for by this means and with the skins they can replace as many. But I do not wish you to do this.

See that your sheep are in houses between Martinmas and Easter, I say not if the weather be dry and the fold be properly prepared and strewed, and if the weather be fine your sheep may lie there, and let those that are in houses have more or less hay, according to the weather. And marl the ground of the sheepfold every fortnight, as I have said before, and let it be strewed on the top, and you shall have from these more profit than if they lie in the fold.

And if wethers [castrated rams] be in the house for a storm let them be by themselves, and let them have the coarsest hay or hay mixed with wheat or oat straw, well threshed. Why? I will tell you. They are driven for the night in the fold, and by chance the morrow also, that they cannot pasture, and then come to the manger starving, and push back the weak and choke themselves without chewing the small hay. And when the sheep has eaten its fill it ruminates, and that which is not chewed cannot be chewed again, but remains within its body, and wastes unnaturally, whereby several have perished. And if straw be mixed with the hay they will chew it better because of the coarseness of the straw. And if you have a lack of hay the pods and straw of peas are good for sheep.

How you ought to keep lambs

When your lambs are yeaned let the shepherd take away the wool about the teats, for often it happens that the wool adheres to the mouths of the lambs from the teats, and they swallow it, and it remains in their stomachs, and thereby many have died.

How you ought to change your wethers

At the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude [October 28] cause two of the best ones, and two of the middling, and two of the worst, to be killed, and if you find that they be not sound sell a part by true men for good security, until Hockday [second Tuesday after Easter], and then replace them.

Of geese and hens

Let your geese and hens be under the command of the bailiff. Notwithstanding this, when I was bailiff, dairymaids had the geese and hens to farm, geese at twelvepence and hens at threepence, and in another year fourpence.

To sell in season

Buy and sell in season through the inspection of a true man or two who can witness the business, for often it happens that those who render account increase the purchases and diminish the sales. If you must sell by weight, be careful there, for there is great deceit for those who do not know to be on their guard.

View of account

Have an inspection of account, or cause it to be made by some one in whom you trust, once a year, and final account at the end of the year. View of account was made to know the state of things as well as the issues, receipts, sales, purchases, and other expenses, and for raising money. If there is any let it be raised and taken from the hands of the servants. For it often happens that servants and provosts by themselves or by others make merchandise with their lord's money, and that is not lawful.

And if arrears appear in the final account let them be speedily raised, and if they name certain persons who owe arrears, take the names, for it often happens that servants and provosts are debtors themselves, and make debtors whom they can and ought not, and this they do to conceal their disloyalty.

How servants ought to behave

Those who have the goods of others in their keeping ought to keep well four things: To love their lord and respect him, and as to making profit, they ought to look on the business as their own, and as to outlays, they ought to think that the business is another's, but there are few servants and provosts who keep these four things altogether, as I think, but there are many who have omitted the three and kept the fourth, and have interpreted that contrary to the right way, knowing well that the business is another's and not theirs, and take right and left where they judge best that their disloyalty will not be perceived.

Look into your affairs often, and cause them to be reviewed, for those who serve you will thereby avoid the more to do wrong, and will take pains to do better.

Here ends the treatise of husbandry