Hide (unit)

The hide was a unit used in assessing land for liability to "geld", or land tax, in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th to the 11th centuries. It continued in use for some time after the Norman Conquest. A hide was made up of 4 virgates. The geld would be collected at a stated rate per hide. A similar measure was used in the northern Danelaw, known as a carucate, consisting of 8 bovates, and Kent used a system based on a "sulung", consisting of 4 "yokes", and equivalent to two hides. [Stenton, pp. 281-2, 647.] Originally the hide seems to have represented an amount of land sufficient to support a peasant and his household, but it became the basis of an artificial system of assessment of land for purposes of taxation. Many details of the development of the system remain obscure. According to Sir Frank Stenton, "Despite the work of many great scholars the hide of early English texts remains a term of elusive meaning." [Stenton, p.279.] By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period it was a measure of the taxable worth of an area of land, but it had no fixed relationship to its acreage, the number of ploughteams working on it, or its population; nor was it limited to the arable land on an estate. According to Bailey, "It is a commonplace that the hide in 1086 had a very variable extent on the ground; the old concept of 120 acres cannot be sustained." [Bailey, p.5.]

The total number of hides in a given area was imposed from above. [See for example the Tribal Hidage and the Burghal Hidage. By way of contrasting example, Domesday Book was compiled from local information.] In later Anglo-Saxon England, each county was assigned a round number of hides, for which it would be required to answer. For instance, at an early date in the 11th century, Northamptonshire was assigned 3,200 hides, while Staffordshire was assigned only 500. [Stenton, p. 646.] This number was then divided up beween the hundreds in the county. Theoretically there were 100 hides in each hundred, but this proportion was often not maintained, for example because of changes in the hundreds, in the estates comprising them, or because of favourable assessments. The hides within each hundred were then divided between villages, estates or manors, usually in blocks or multiples of 5 hides, though this was not always maintained. Differences from the norm could result from estates being moved from one hundred to another, or from adjustments to the size of an estate. [Stenton, pp.644-6; Darby, pp.1-12.]

Domesday Book, completed in 1086, records the assessment of estates in hides across southern England, except Kent. By that date the assessments showed many anomalies. [See for example Darby, pp.106-8, and Bailey.]


Bailey, Keith, 'The Hidation of Buckinghamshire', in "Records of Buckinghamshire", Vol.32, 1990 (pp.1-22)

Darby, Henry C., "Domesday England", Cambridge University Press, 1977

Stenton, Frank M., "Anglo-Saxon England" (3rd edn.), Oxford University Press, 1971


External links

* [http://www.sizes.com/units/hide.htm "Hide" on sizes.com] - a highly detailed description but in part outdated and lacking modern references

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