It was long believed that the word "yeomen" was the contraction of two Anglo-Saxon words meaning "young men"; it is now agreed that the word is more likely to have been derived from a term in the early Teutonic languages which meant "the district," "the local country." There are references to yeomen gilds in a large number of Medieval records and polychronicons, but in no instance does the context make clear what they were.
A number of Masonic writers have proposed the theory that they were gilds of Apprentices, or of new Fellows of the Craft before Setting up as Masters, or of Fellows while spending one or two years traveling abroad after having graduated from apprenticeship, but there is nowhere evidence for the theory, and it does not harmonize with other uses of the word.
In the typical Medieval manor the lord lived in a house, set in grounds of its own, on a hill or other high ground if any was available; his cotters, serfs, villeins with their families lived in a village of huts and cottages at its foot, each with its garden patch. If one of these later became a free man and was able to own his own place, he was called a yeoman--an independent small farmer.
When in the reign of Henry VII a national militia of volunteers was formed it was so largely recruited from among these small freemen that the soldiers were called yeomen. In the course of time they came to form a class between merchants and lords on the one side, and farm laborers and craftsmen on the other.
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