Plows Laws, Laws, and Sanctuary in Medieval England and in the Wakefield Mactacio Abel
The ancient association of the plow with fertility ritual and ceremony accords to the plow and to the man operating it an enhanced status under the law in the Middle Ages. The ritualistic function of the plow survives in the traditional customs represented in the English Plow Plays, and in the use of plowshares and coulters in trial by ordeal. The “king’s peace” accorded to the sanctuary of the church and to travellers on the highway extends to the plowman as well. The sanctity of the plowman derives from his critical role in food production, and contributes to the popular conception of the plowman as a man in a state of grace. In the Mactatio Abel, the Wakefield Master draws upon contemporary ceremonial and legal associations with the plow to designate Cain as a type of the agricola inutilis.