During the Middle Ages - from the 5th to the 12th centuries - the Latin word feudum was used to refer to the freehold properties that were commonplace at the time; however, in the 17th century, to create a history of enlightened European nation states, historians buried the past under their new term, feudalism, the quasi-barbarism from which these states could then be seen to have heroically evolved.

From the Middle Ages, local lords had expanded the territories subject to them, and intensified their control over the peoples living there until, in the 17th century, the Inclosure Acts began to be passed. These created property rights over the land that had previously been held in common. Between 1604 and 1914, in England and Wales, around 28,000 km2 of open fields and common land were inclosed by over 5,200 such Acts. Tenants and their descendants were evicted from their homes and the land on which they depended, to live in tenements and slums in the consequently burgeoning cities, as the labour for their factories. A poem from the 18th century, The Goose and the Common, by an unknown writer, protests the injustice:

They hang the man and flog the woman Who steals the goose from off the common Yet let the greater villain loose That steals the common from the goose. The law demands that we atone When we take things we do not own But leaves the lords and ladies fine Who take things that are yours and mine. The poor and wretched don't escape If they conspire the law to break This must be so but they endure Those who conspire to make the law. The law locks up the man or woman Who steals the goose from off the common And geese will still a common lack Till they go and steal it back.

For the history of the Inclosure Acts in the UK see e.g: "Enclosing the Land", published on the British Government website, and: "Inclosure Acts", on Wikipedia.

The total land area of England and Wales is approximately 151,000 km2. The Inclosed land represented nearly 20% of this.


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