The book's failure to connect the variable narrative of ethnological geohumoralism to that of the equally erratic narrative of English slavery before the slave trade (in the sixteenth century transitions from villeinage
to indentured servitude and apprenticeship)--and which has the unfortunate effect of confirming the contemporary fallacy of believing that the slave trade sprang up full-grown in the later seventeenth century--weakens the effectiveness of its argument.
Indeed, "liberty and property were at war in slavery." Much of counsels' arguments are reproduced here, including the brilliant statements by one of Sharp's lawyers arguing for the first time as a barrister, later described by American abolitionist Charles Sumner as "one of the masterpieces of the bar." Somerset's lawyers argued that the ancient practice of villeinage
(serfdom) had died out because the English despised it, and that permitting its return in the form of African slavery corrupted the people of England.
In November, the theme of the Lord Mayor's Show summoned the image of John Ball to make a link between the fourteenth century 'fighting against the fleecing of the people by that particular form of fleecing then in fashion, viz.: serfdom or villeinage
', implying that contemporary life had its equivalents.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Digest's definition of servitude was well known to the English common law because it was precisely Henry de Bracton's definition of servitude--or villeinage
, or serfdom: "Servitude is an institution of the jus gentium, by which, contrary to nature, one person is subjected to the dominion of another" (Henry de Bracton, De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae, book 1, chapter 6; edition of London 1640, f.
One problem that Somerset and his supporters faced was the medieval law of "villeinage
," still on the books even though it had long since fallen into disuse.