Forsooth my lord, your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, be become so wild, that they swallow down the very men themselves!

inclosure = enclosure
dearest = most expensive
hedge = a thick prickly bush planted along boundaries between fields, to act as a fence
tillage = land for planting and growing crops
pasture, pasturage = land for sheep to live on – no crops can be grown there because the sheep eat everything
compass about = draw a circle around
pale = a fence enclosing an area
husbandman = a farmer who cultivates crops
coveyne = deceit
by hook or by crook = one way or another, by fair means or foul
dearth = lack

The following is an excerpt from ‘Utopia’ by Sir Thomas More, 1516:

Forsooth my lord (quoth I), your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I heard say, be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up, and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses, and cities.

For look in what parts of the realm doth grow the finest, and therefore dearest wool, there noble men, and gentlemen, yea and certain Abbots, holy men no doubt… leave no ground for tillage: they inclose all into pastures, they throw down houses, they pluck down towns, and leave nothing standing, but only the church to be made a sheephouse.

… [he] may compass about and inclose many thousand acres of ground together within one pale or hedge, the husbandmen be thrust out of their own, or else either by coveyne and fraud, or by violent oppression they be put besides it, or by wrongs and injuries they be so wearied, that they be compelled to sell all: by one means therefore or by other, either by hook or crook they must needs depart away, poor, silly, wretched souls, men, women, husbands, wives, fatherless children, widows, woful mothers, with their young babes…

Away they trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no place to rest in. All their household stuff, which is very little worth, though it might well abide the sale, yet being suddenly thrust out, they be constrained to sell it for a thing of nought. And when they have wandered abroad, till that be spent, what can they then else do but steal, and then justly pardy be hanged, or else go about a begging. And yet then also they be cast in prison as vagabonds, because they go about and work not: whom no man will set a work, though they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto. For one Shepherd or Herdman is enough to eat up that ground with cattle to the occupying whereof about husbandry many hands were requisite.

And though the number of sheep increase never so fast, yet the price falleth not one mite, because there be so few sellers. For they be almost all comen into a few rich men’s hands, whom no need forceth to sell before they lust, and they lust not before they may sell as dear as they lust.

Cast out these pernicious abominations, make a law, that they, which plucked down farms, and towns of husbandry, shall reedify them, or else yield and uprender the possession thereof to such as will go to the cost of building them anew. Suffer not these rich men to buy up all… and with their monopoly to keep the market alone as please them… let husbandry and tillage be restored…

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