Already at this time a class of men had made its appearance who were "dependent wholly or in part on the wages they received for agricultural labor." 13* * *
Following these early changes, subsequent developments took the form of gradual shifts in the same direction. The strong, free yeoman type evolved from the full-fledged villeins. In France the stable peasant type evolved gradually through the centuries, so that at the time of the Revolution the relations of serfs to lords were only remotely similar to what they had been at the time of Charles the Great. Some of the peasants of France had advanced into respectable, middle class rank. (Many of the nobles were by then unable to dress to visit the capital.)
It is not true that agrarian feudalism was a rigid system, in the social class sense. Even economically and in terms of customary rights there was a strong tide of evolution. Those who find the feudal classes "closed" are thinking in terms of personal percolation from one legal class designation into another; but there is another form of social class mobility, the kind represented by the rise in power of the provincial senatorial class at the time of the break up of the Roman Empire and the kind represented by the evolution of the Bavarian type of peasants with their large and independent farms.
The manner in which the agricultural laboring class and the yeoman farmer in England developed from the earlier serfs, and the nature of that differentiation, is shown in the table on page 239. In toto, of course, the chart reveals the limitations on movement during the whole period. Social class mobility certainly was not characteristic of any portion of the history of Crawley, certainly not of the last two hundred years.
In the evolution of social opportunity and human institutions under agricultural feudalism one disruptive movement entered, commercial and industrial capitalism. The sharpest break came in England, causing the development among the agricultural classes there to be more abruptly broken than in France, for instance. The Beards summarize as follows, and from their statement one gets the impression that the new era of commercialism was not one of opportunity for agricultural persons to rise on the social scale: 14
As things turned out, the whole rural economy of England was altered with the disappearance of serfdom. Greedy lords now seized the common lands of villages under acts of Parliament, made by their agents, authorizing them to enclose great areas and extinguish the ancient rights of the peasant . . . city streets were filled with paupers . . . .
(This statement pertains to the early enclosures but would be just as applicable to the great enclosures at the end of the eighteenth century, when industrial cities mushroomed and workers' families were huddled together in slums and made to work from dawn to dark.
Feudalism, then, immediately began to allow for social differentiation. "Once commutation got well started, the medieval tendency toward fixity got hold of it, and it became itself customary." 15 Movement, in a word, becomes a fixed policy. This movement toward more freedom and more rights for the stronger families among the serfs was evident in England (the yeomen), in France (les paysans), in Germany (die Bauern), in Russia (the Kulaks). Some families tended to become displaced and to become hereditary agricultural laborers. Such is, in outline, the social class mobility and immobility of agricultural feudalism. More will be said later about the nobility and the break up of agricultural feudalism.
13. Loc. cit.
14. Charles A. and Mary R. Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, vol. I (New York, 1927) p. 24.
15. Knight, op. cit., p. 188.